Tonight we will see the final big-stage performance of the long-running production of Donald Trump: Unshackled!, when he and Hillary Clinton take part in the final debate. He and his advisors must know that they are running out of time and, going by the poll numbers, have to do something dramatic to avoid going down to defeat next month. Although it is not clear how much these big set piece political events influence the race, this will be the last chance for Trump to speak directly to a large nationwide audience and I expect him to come out with both guns blazing as he tries to unsettle Clinton as well as lash out at anyone whom he sees as working against him. His list of enemies is, of course, a long one by now and growing longer by the day as more reports emerge about his predatory activities.
I suspect that the debate will command a huge viewership eager to see what an ‘unshackled’ Trump can unleash. There is no doubt that we will see a pugnacious performance from him. The only question is how far he will go. Will he reprise his greatest hits such as the wall, Mexican rapists, putting Clinton in jail, the election being rigged, and perhaps call for an uprising if he loses? The moderator this time is Chris Wallace of Fox News so Trump will find it a little harder to accuse him of bias, though lately he has turned his fire on that friendly network too.
On Clinton’s side, she may choose to do again what she did in the second debate, to duck and weave as much as she can and absorb and ignore the blows that she cannot avoid. She may also unleash an occasional squirrel, like the Alicia Machado story in the first debate, knowing that Trump cannot resist chasing after them.
The campaign reminds me of the biblical story of Samson and Delilah that you can find in the book of Judges, chapters 13 through 16. Some of you may know the story. Samson, a man of extraordinary strength, is brought down by a woman Delilah who, acting on behalf of his enemies, discovers that the secret source of his strength lies in his hair that has never been cut. She gets it cut and he loses his strength and becomes a normal man and is captured and humiliated by his Philistine enemies. But while shackled to the pillars of their temple, he manages to muster up the strength to pull down the pillars, collapsing the building and killing him and all his enemies in one go.
In this allegory, Trump is Samson and Clinton is Delilah, although the allegory, like all allegories, is admittedly strained, especially when it comes to the details of her role. Hair was important to both Samson and Trump, both saw themselves as shackled, and both promptly lose their senses in the presence of women. Both were not the brightest bulbs on the tree. Samson was repeatedly tricked and betrayed by Delilah but he still told her his secret. Unlike Samson, Trump’s strength was always phony but there is a parallel in his intent to make sure that if he goes down, he is going to bring down the entire edifice along with him, though it is not clear in my allegory if the biblical temple represents the current GOP or the country as a whole.
I doubt that Trump has the capacity to appreciate the irony of his current complaints about the media focusing on his problems and not Clinton’s. He is complaining, rightly, that the faults of Clinton are getting nowhere near the level of media coverage that the lurid stories about him are. Her problems with her emails, her coziness with Wall Street and the oligarchs, the terrible foreign policies she has advocated for, and the collusion by her campaign and the Democratic party establishment to undermine Bernie Sanders’s campaign would, in a more normal campaign, have been front and center of the news rather than peripheral.
But although he charges that this is due to a media conspiracy to shield Clinton, it is largely his own fault that this is happening. His successful campaign through the Republican primaries was made largely possible by his ability to hog the media spotlight, starving all his competitors of the exposure they needed to make themselves known to voters. During the primaries, Trump made himself irresistible to the media by his larger-than-life persona, his extravagant claims, his boastfulness, and his taunting and insulting of his opponents. He made himself newsworthy every single day and his every appearance and utterance was covered exhaustively, giving him an invaluable amount of free media.
He should not be surprised that the media continued their fascination with him when the situation changed, when he was no longer attracting attention because of what he was saying about others and instead because of what others were saying about him. And besides, sex scandals beat out everything else every time. For him to ask the media to turn away from him is like the Kardashians telling people to not pay any attention to them. When your entire life has been devoted to getting media attention, you cannot turn it off like a spigot.
If you live by the media, you will die by the media.