The first presidential debate in the United States of America’s electoral season took place last night. I watched it online this morning. I have done my best to build you a picture of the event in Lego. Clicking sensible and pleasing things together being a good form of therapy after watching 90+ minutes of the candidate’s often unedifying exchange. I must admit to an inaccuracy in the above picture, while the Democrat candidate was wearing a red suit, the Republican candidate was wearing a blue tie.
This inversion of the traditional tribal colours got us thinking at Let’s All Hold Hands and Talk About Towers. Did the Republican’s blue call to mind cascading water that evaporates in the heat of the spotlight? Did the Democrat’s red represent an earthy clay, that while it had a few cracks, mostly held water? Did the Republican’s blue capture the hot air drifting off into blue skies? Did the Democrat’s red occasionally spark into flame to challenge hurtful and harmful perceptions of her opponent?
But beyond the colours or ‘colors’, what were the take home points? As was the consensus across most of the commentary I have seen, the Republican candidate failed to be composed and disciplined and the Democratic candidate failed to offer a compelling overall vision. The Republican candidate succeeded in not departing from the rails completely, and keeping to the niche soundbites that enthuse his core supporters. The Democratic candidate succeeded in saying probably the most important thing that has been said during the presidential campaign:
The role of president of the United States of America is a complex, paradoxical one. An individual that is granted enormous power but is simultaneously constrained by layers and layers of legal, organisational and political systems. The president is an unstoppable force held in check by an immovable object. Or perhaps a very fast object held in place by a very slow object. Perhaps this is constitutional success story where the myth of the president sustains the myth of the country?
In any case this static whirlwind leads to an immense build up of pressure around one person who demands the earth while feeling the weight of it on their shoulders. This pressure gets let out in various ways, often through compromise and conflict. Great things and terrible things happen. But much of it the president is powerless to stop or change.
It was rumoured a certain K Canute was considering standing as a third party candidate, confident his declarations about being able to control large bodies of water, personally effecting (rather than affecting) climate change, would go over well with voters…
Ultimately, regardless of how much they are able to achieve while in office, what the president gets to do is speak (a lot), and crucially, be listened to (a lot). The president gets four years to speak to the nation, and hopefully to listen to the nation speak. Loose lips sink ships. And whole neighbourhoods. And whole generations.
Last night the Democratic candidate reminded the electorate that words really matter.
In all the talk of credibility and records and experience and plans and facts – America, and the world, could do with remembering that perhaps more important than what you do as president is how you do it. Candidates make claims of what they would do in an ideal world.
And it’s their job to articulate that ideal world.
But it’s all of us, all over the world, that get us there. Not one woman. Or one man.