It’s Debatable: Round One

If you didn’t stay up until 4am to watch the first of 2016’s Presidential Debates (maybe you have a job – or you know, a life), then you missed what was promised to be a brutal bitch fight, a clash of the titans, and absolutely not a reasonable discussion of policy ideas between two rational adults. On Tuesday night, the two most unpopular candidates in American presidential history went head-to-head, and they did not disappoint.

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Here I present the sassiest soundbites the debate had to offer (Hillz quotes in blue, Donny in red), organised by category so you can see how the debate progressed as a whole, rather than just through the 30 second clips littered over your timelines. As you will see, despite a strong start, as the night progressed Donald became more flustered, defensive, and therefore more incendiary; leaving Hillary to present herself as the cool, calm alternative. Personally, I wish she’d been more aggressive in her approach, particularly as the Donald insisted on Trump-terrupting her 28 times  (yep, that’s an actual stat) – but her ability to stay calm is I guess is what makes her a reasonable candidate for commander-in-chief as opposed to a narcissistic orangutan with tiny hands (and she’s a woman, so she’s probably used to being talked over by now #feminism).

I know I sound far from impartial, but like most of America I’m not a natural Hillary supporter, and there were areas, particularly in the first third, where I think her vulnerabilities were exposed. Unfortunately, most of the 100 million viewers will have made their mind up long before the debates aired, but nonetheless their performances have some value and are worth looking into – partly for the lols, but mostly because whoever wins this shit show will be the leader of the free world. God bless America.

The Economy

I call it Trumped-up trickle down economics!” in what is the most offensive linguistic combination since they tried to make ‘Bremain’ happen. Hillary’s attempt to ‘slam dunk’ Donald’s economic plan – which to be fair, was a realistic policy to cut corporation tax in line with traditional Republican economic values (aka it was relatively not-insane) – fell on deaf ears. As did her attempt to blame tax cuts and GOP economic policy for the 2008 crash rather than the deregulation of Wall Street, which was sanctioned under the former President Clinton as much as any Republican – a party which Donald is barely part of anyway, despite being its highest representative.

This was a clunky attempt to divert attention away from criticisms surrounding her support of NAFTA and the TPP (trade deals that impact the manufacturing jobs of many Americans in crucial rustbelt states) but just highlighted that the Clinton establishment was part of the problem, not the solution. It also led up to Trump’s best attack on Hillary, claiming “you’ve been doing this for 30 years – why are you just thinking about these solutions right now?” Experience and expertise might seem like natural allies for a candidate seeking the highest office in the land, but in this election being part of the status quo is apparently worse than being ‘mostly false, false and pants on fire’ 70% of the time. Cool.

Taxes

However, like all great things, Trump sounding like an effective candidate came to an end. By refusing to release his tax returns, claiming “I’m under a routine audit”, he stood apart from every candidate for 40 years, and not in the way he likes it. Trump deflected by agreeing to release his taxes when Hillary releases the emails deleted from her private server, a usually toxic issue that she managed well by acknowledging the mistake and moving on from it. However, by making the issue ‘negotiable’ he essentially admitted he has the option to release his returns and has chosen not to. Hillary’s soundbite-porn response was well-delivered and undermines Donald’s ‘successful businessman’ credentials – as well as putting him on the defensive, which is where he began to flounder.

I added the clip because I think this was Hillary’s best line of the night – Trump claiming he doesn’t pay income tax because “that makes me smart”, and that his father gave him “a small loan” (of $14 million…the only thing about Donald that isn’t small) is sadly not the electoral suicide it should be, but is surely insulting to the millions of Americans who aren’t in the 1%. This is the stuff that makes me grateful that UK politicians at least have the decency to pretend they aren’t richer than most of their electorate – despite their wealth, you can’t imagine Cameron or Osborne saying “I have a great company. I have a tremendous income. And the reason I say that is not in a braggadocios way. It’s because it’s about time that this country had somebody running it that has an idea about money.” Although Boris Johnson would 100% use the word braggadocios.

Race

Ah, race. You could practically hear America collectively hold its breath when this topic came up, and despite her own weaknesses in this area relative to primary rival Bernie Sanders, Hillary brought up the birther issue (a three year campaign demanding Obama produce his birth certificate, spearheaded by Trump) well, stating “he started his political activity based on this racist lie that our first black president was not an American citizen.” However, you don’t get many shocking shifts in support by proving Donald Trump, a man polling at 2% among African-Americans, is a racist, especially when by advocating stop-and-frisk, he basically did the hard work for her. This demonstrates the more tangible purpose of presidential debates; rallying your own troops, rather than convincing your opponent’s to jump ship.

My personal highlight, potentially of the whole debate, summed up Donald Trump entirely, was his proud mention of one of his Miami clubs that he got “really great credit for. No discrimination against African- Americans, against Muslims, against anybody. And it’s a tremendously successful club. And I’m so glad I did it. And I have been given great credit for what I did”. WELL DONE ON NOT DOING THE RACISM DON GIVE YOURSELF A ROUND OF APPLAUSE OH WAIT YOU JUST DID. Seriously America, if the bar was any lower you’d have to dig underground for it.

Foreign Policy

For me, Trump made his biggest blusters on foreign policy – from his references to “the cyber” and “the nuclear” to his discussion of the Iraq War that he claims he never supported; next to Hillary’s decades of diplomatic experience he looked like a circus act. Here was another chance I think Hillary missed; she took the ‘high road’ approach, asking people to “fact-check on hillaryclinton.com” rather than go in on Trump herself. I think national security as an issue is too important to rise above it – there is a winnable angle that a man with borderline personality disorder should not be leading the world order from an ivory tower with the letter ‘T’ on it, but I don’t think Hillary made it. The man talked about extending military presence in Iraq and that “we should have taken the oil”; AKA invading a sovereign nation and stealing their natural resources AKA AN ACTUAL WAR CRIME. Only in this election is ignorance an electoral asset – the only reason I can think Hillary didn’t push this is because its 2016, and apparently knowledge is no longer power.

And finally 

I also have a much better temperament than she has, you know (LAUGHTER)” I think in this quote, it’s what he doesn’t say, the *laughter*, that’s most important and exposes Trump at his most vulnerable. He wasn’t thriving in accusations of racism or a misogyny, he wasn’t riding the  anti-Establishment or stoking divisions for publicity points. In that unscripted, unsolicited laughter, it showed that the Donald was not controlling the conversation. They weren’t cheering for him, they weren’t even booing, they were laughing at how ridiculous both he and his candidacy have become. I’m glad Americans are laughing now, because come November, the joke might be on them.

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I wrote a thing about Trump 7 months ago! If you enjoyed this, read it next! Trumpelstiltskin: why the GOP got the candidate it deserves

Trumpelstiltskin: why the GOP got the candidate it deserves

DONALD Trump. Maverick or moron, hero or Hitler? He may seem shocking to our broadly progressive and tolerant society (otherwise known as the land of the liberal losers), but to a small-town America that worships the holy trinity of freedom, firearm and foetus, Trump is just saying what we’re all saying over our TV dinners. This isn’t the first time America has elected a #RockstarPresident, a charismatic outsider who drew crowds of thousands and came with a punchy slogan; this time things are different, but they aren’t that different.

In defining himself as the game changer, the outsider, the guy who’s not just broken every rule in the book, but made rule-breaking the defining feature of his campaign, Trump fails to understand the foundations of the bridge he’s crawled out from under. The Donald, the cartoon character, the populist figure whose only values are capitalism and consumerism, has seized upon the whims of an angry minority the GOP have been priming for years. They’ve been told their Muslim Kenyan President has ignored them, taken their taxes, retreated from their prominent position on the world stage and given their jobs to brown people like him. The Republican Party has spent seven years sowing the seeds; the Donald has come along and picked the fruit.

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For this group, the epitome of the stereotypical hillbilly America that thinks political correctness has gone mad, Trump is a manifestation of everything they’ve been told to think. The first rule in the dictator handbook is finding someone else to blame; the sneaky Chinese, the ‘rapist’ Mexicans, the terrorist Muslims. In saying the unsayable and playing the unplayable, the ‘race card’, Trump sets himself up as the outsider, giving a voice to the silent majority that’s really just an echo of the past seven years of Republican rhetoric. He’s saying it loudly, and more clearly, but he’s not saying anything they aren’t already thinking. As he writes in his 1987 memoir ‘The Art of the Deal’, “I play to people’s fantasies. I call it truthful hyperbole. It’s an innocent form of exaggeration – and a very effective form of promotion”.

And promotion is one thing that the Donald does better than anyone before him. His political capital is his name, plastered over business from sweatshirts to steaks, most of which have been far less successful than his ‘winner winner chicken dinner’ rhetoric might convey. Basing a campaign for most powerful person in the world on playground insults about “little Marco” and “liar Ted”, he plays the spoilt child, the brat no one else likes because he’s better than them; every retort making him stronger, feeding his self-perpetuated myth of garish success. Trump makes his lack of political knowledge a virtue; he’s flexible, he’ll do whatever it takes to win. Ask any voter and they’ll know about his name and his wall, but not a lot about what he wants to do inside it.

Despite capturing the Christian Coalition, as Ted Cruz will tell anyone who will listen, Trump is no ‘conservative’. Twice-divorced, opposing free trade, denouncing Republican leadership and past of patchy positions on abortion, gun rights and a host of other “New York values”; he’s even given money to the She Devil herself, Hillary Clinton, on no less than eight occasions. Into the void of plausible policy, Trump has seized on a distrust in the establishment, a disrespect for Wall Street, the elites and ‘politics as usual’. His outsider credentials have made for an easy, and in my opinion lazy comparison with Bernie Sanders. Where Trump has bigotry and bullying, veteran senator Sanders has decades of principled policies and viable alternatives. Bernie wants to replace the establishment, Trump wants to kick it down and dance on its grave.

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How did this happen? How did the man likely to be the Republican nominee emerge from a proposition so ludicrous that a Trump Presidency once featured on an episode of ‘The Simpsons’ as a metaphor for a dystopian future? Personally, I am going to express some gratitude that, if nothing else, I’m experiencing US politics at its absolute epoch. I would have probably been this invested in John Kerry circa 2004 and people would have thought I was weird, so I’m happy to be witnessing a time of such lunacy that everyone can’t help but get involved.

In this chicken and egg debacle, Trump makes headlines as the media chase every word that falls out of his perma-tanned trap, and as the polls consequently rise so does the coverage of this front page frontrunner. Was it the panels of pundits that constantly predict his inevitable implosion, or a condescending business elite that failed to realise not everyone was laughing as hard as they were back in economy? Or the news cycles or the Facebook feeds that found their clickbait candidate to real in the ratings, making millions for adverts no one is watching because Donald just tweeted about Megyn Kelly’s period?

But despite the coverage, the media can’t create a candidate out of thin air. In a two-finger salute to everyone that thought they knew better (myself included), Donald looks likely to make it to the convention and head towards Hillary. His opponents’ meek responses to his bullying and posturing and the queues of old-school politicians lining up to denounce him, from Rubio to Romney, merely confirm themselves as the faceless ‘system’ to which Trump pretends to be the answer. Concerning itself with obstructing legislation in Congress and creating a dark paranoia around the Obama Presidency, no more liberal than his predecessors, the Republican party have authored their own demise.

In pandering to their political whims, the GOP failed to provide answers to the legitimate concerns of its core electorate; the downward pressure on low-income wages from globalisation and immigration, America’s weakening hegemony on the world stage, the Iraq War, the distorted power of Wall Street, special interests and economic flat-lining. It’s no coincidence that Trump himself rose to prominence politically through vocal membership of the ‘birther’ movement, questioning the legitimacy of Obama’s American citizenship in a farcical manifestation of the racist sentiment that flows through the veins of the Republican party. As identified by Robert Kagan, Trump is no outsider; he is, rather, “the party’s creation, its Frankenstein’s monster, brought to life by the party, fed by the party and now strong enough to destroy its maker”.

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Bulimia, depression and me

This post is something I’ve thought about doing for a long time. I didn’t know whether I could put the indescribable into words (and I’m still not sure I do, so bear with me), but discussing this topic is something so important that my reluctance to do so has become a very low priority. In light of the New Year and taking inspiration from the awe-inspiring Isabel Kempner (whose far more coherent video is linked below) I’m writing here to talk about my experiences with mental health. While I hope this will give me some catharsis, what I’m really trying to do is encourage the open and frank discussion that is so, so necessary in order to dismantle the stigma that still surrounds mental health. If one person reading this can relate, recognise or gain any understanding, then my purpose here is served.

Whilst no one finds it easy to talk about their battle with mental illness, for me, this is the closest I ever have come to talking about my ’99 problems’, of which a bitch is definitely one (me). While I don’t think sticking a label onto something goes any way to defining or understanding it, part of my problem was recognising I had a problem, that I wasn’t just a neurotic drama queen with a dodgy bathroom habit; I was bulimic, and suffering with depression.

In case anyone has any illusions, there is nothing romantic about having an eating disorder. I will spare you the excruciating and literally nauseating details, mostly because I can’t actually find the words to express the repulsive routine I found myself in, the torture I put my body through and the guilt I felt in doing something that deep down, I knew I’d do all over again tomorrow. How I went from a baby-faced teenager crammed full of carbohydrates to crying into a toilet bowl every day is a topic better discussed another day, but can essentially be summarised by thinking “if I look a bit better, maybe I’ll hate myself a bit less”.

This is as far as I have come to understanding how the two pillars of my mental instability collide, tied together by a twisted bond of constant and consistent self-loathing, which descended together into a downward spiral throughout my second year at university…or at least I think so; depression doesn’t have a starting point, and it definitely doesn’t have a finish line.

It’s hard to describe it a way that does it justice, but for the purposes of trying to help people lucky enough to escape the ‘common cold’ of mental illness, I’ll try my best. ‘I lie in my bed and cry all day’ is so inadequate it’s almost funny, until you try and imagine that as your entire life. I was doing nothing other than staring blankly into space, and yet even this was the most difficult thing I’d ever had to do, and I knew that I’d have to do it every second of every day for what felt like eternity. Existence was its own punishment.

A therapist described to me how self-loathing has the same effect within the brain as a physical beating, it shuts down to protect itself from further torment (similar to how people in catastrophic accidents often can’t remember feelings of intense pain). Telling a person who is depressed to try harder, get up, get dressed, do the things that they know will probably help, is like telling a person in a wheelchair to get up and walk. It’s an impossibility. Unless you’ve experienced the physical agony of constant misery, you’ll be lucky enough not to understand how simply being alive can be absolute relentless torture.

If you know someone with depression, please don’t blame them for their actions. At its worst, I pushed my friends away with a cruelty I barely knew I was capable of, but all with the genuine intention and certain knowledge that they would be so, so much better off without me. I knew that despite my illness, I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by people I will never deserve; two of whom I would be doing a disservice were I not to mention specifically. Firstly, my now ex-boyfriend, to whom I stopped being a girlfriend and became a responsibility, a burden that needed everything and was grateful for nothing. Secondly, my wonderful mummy, who put her life on hold and suffered alongside me. I have never and will never meet someone so selfless and full-hearted, a woman who would and could and did everything possible to pull me out of my own living hell.

If you are someone who can recognise this is someone that you know; I know you don’t know what to do, I know you’ve tried for so long and I know they’re pushing you away as hard as they can. Don’t let them. Even if they tell you they’re just tired, or just coming down with a cold, even if they’re still posting stupid tweets like nothing is wrong. They’re trying their best to convince you they’re fine, and they’re good at it. Please, please be there for them, because being alone is everyone’s greatest fear; mine was realised on the day my illness drove away the person I thought would never leave, they day when my dependence was shattered for good. At the time, this seemed like the worst thing that could have ever happened, but it turned out to be the best; once you’re at rock bottom, there’s only one way to go from there.

I wish I could say to anyone going through this horor story that it can get better overnight, that you can see a doctor or take a pill and it’ll all go away. I wish I could say that you’ll go back to ‘normal’, whatever that is, and that you won’t have moments where the darkness will reappear. What I can tell you, as someone who was absolutely certain this was how it would always be, it won’t. For me, this came with the realisation that I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy, and that no matter how much I hated myself, I couldn’t wish it on myself. This break in the clouds was a minor moment or relief from the ongoing drudgery of self-hatred, but it was enough to break through.

Whilst no one’s experience will mirror my own (depression is a fun path we carve for ourselves, and mine is by no means the atypical experience if such a thing exists), I hope exposing my soul to the whims of the internet will put a dent in the stigma surrounding mental illness, even for just one person. I hate clichés like the plague, but they exist because they’re all true; depression is not a deep dark secret, it’s pure, unadulterated shit, but it’s an illness like any other.

I thought, with every fibre of my being, that it would always be as bad as it was, and I can confirm even more resolutely that I now know it won’t. I can’t say its all rainbows and smiles, but I can say that everything I just described sounds like, as Isabel puts it, “a weird nightmare” compared to my life now. I realised I have some unbelievably amazing people around me, and that I have the potential to do some really good things (bet Barack Obama didn’t know all of this hot mess was sat just 10ft away from him this summer), but more importantly, I have the potential to be happy.

I shall end this here in case my mum is reading this and drowning her iPad in tears, so for once I’d surrender the last word. Firstly, Caitlin Moran, who said “nine times out of ten, you probably aren’t having a nervous breakdown – you just need a cup of tea and a biscuit. You’d be amazed how easily and repeatedly you can confuse the two. Get a big biscuit tin”. And the second piece of advice, from the woman I admire most in the entire world, is you don’t have to do it all at once; illness, recovery, stress and anxiety make you feel like the world is falling down on top of you. You only ever have to do the next minute, the next day, and the next thing as it comes along. Just breathe, and take it one step at a time. It’ll be okay.