Only in America's increasingly anti-intellectual hothouse could the second half of these presidential debate-prep musings, from Trump's Art of the Deal's ghostwriter, Tony Schwartz, be credible:
Trump has severe attention problems and simply cannot take in complex information — he will be unable to practice for these debates. Trump will bring nothing but his bluster to the debates. He’ll use sixth-grade language, he will repeat himself many times, he won’t complete sentences, and he won’t say anything of substance.
Even so, Clinton has to be careful — she could get everything right and still potentially lose the debates if she comes off as too condescending, too much of a know-it-all.
I submit that for Clinton it will be as humanly impossible to be non-condescending to a substanceless, swaggering dolt like Trump as it was for Al Gore to treat George W. Bush as a political equal. However theatrically ill advised Al's sighing was, it was also irresistible. Here was a sitting vice president who knew every policy rope in depth, while at the other podium lounged a bumper sticker. Mr. Gore entered those 2000 debates in the genuine but mistaken belief that the American electorate was fond of knowledge and experience; fonder of these, anyway, than of shallow bundles of Rovian-crafted platitudes. Only a true, calculating automaton could have stood there and resisted serial sighing at W.'s vast opaqueness.
And therein lies the contemporary irony of Clinton's reputed insincerity. A plausible argument can be made that in fact Hillary suffers from an excess of genuine expression, and that this will brim over in the debates. Is it humanly, or I should ask, genuinely, possible to be "too condescending" to a bullying charlatan like Trump? I think not. Thus Clinton is likely to find condescension irresistible. A calculating automaton could pull off an act of non-condescension, but anyone genuinely inspirited by a fondness for knowledge and experience is bound to sigh — or "crack wise," as my theatrical hero, Bogey, would have said.
I think back to early February of this year, when, at a town hall meeting, CNN's Anderson Cooper was drilling Hillary about her Goldman Sachs largess. "Did you have to be paid $675,000?" he asked. Answered Hillary: "I don't know, that's what they offered." Now I happened to think her answer was funny as hell, mostly because the best comedy lines are grounded not in farce, but realism. How many speakers negotiate a proffered fee downward? Hillary took a lot of flak for that answer. But please note that the flak came in reaction to the answer's genuineness, not disingenuity.
One could argue as well that the same, fundamental human honesty is at work in what Eugene Robinson sees, this morning, as admonishable. "There is still a defensiveness in her explanations" of her email predicament, he writes, "that makes me wonder if her contrition is more situational than genuine. I’m sorry this caused me such grief isn’t the same as I’m sorry I did it." To which I would answer but Hillary can't: Duh. Of course her contrition is situational — and nothing could be more humanly genuine. As any spouse-besieged husband knows, the quickest and most genuine route to redemption is to fake contrition for any situational transgression he doesn't quite comprehend. Throttling up true remorse for a mysterious sin lies beyond the emotionally possible. And so Hillary, too, is left with that most genuine reaction to the outsized email kerfuffle: Good grief.
What Hillary's critics seem to want from her is a kind of political method-acting. She is to crawl into the disembodied soul of St. Mary the Blessed Virgin and decry all insufficient auras of humility. But she's too human, too genuine, for that. Most often, she just plays herself. And this, no doubt, will get her into debate trouble. For her irrepressible knowledge and experience will just as doubtless be vilified by the increasingly anti-intellectual crowd as sighing manifestations of condescension. Which they will be.