The Night of the Shark

Many, if not most, of the network daytime soap operas of old disappeared long ago. Prime time soap operas like Dallas and Dynasty have disappeared too. Reality shows come and go. No one misses Duck Dynasty. Fewer and fewer people feel they should keep up with the Kardashians. Who are these people and why should we care about their trials and tribulations? Who needed Tony Soprano when there was Chris Christie? Dan Draper was massively conflicted, but so is your brother-in-law. The court intrigues in Game of Thrones really are incomprehensible, and utterly irrelevant. They enlighten nothing. What will happen next? Who cares? There comes a point when that question comes up.

That point, for one television show, came on September 20, 1977 – the first show of the fifth season of Happy Days. The Fonz jumped that shark and the show went downhill from there. They had run out of ways to show how outrageously fun the Fonz could be. He was who he was and it had all been said and done in the four previous seasons. On water skis, he jumped that shark. This was just more of the same, but done badly. The show hung on for seven more seasons, but the thrill was gone. Finally, no one was watching. ABC pulled the plug, and an idiom was born. “Jumping the shark” is when you’ve gone too far and don’t realize it, but everyone else does. You’ve made what was intriguing absurd and tiresome. People walk away.

That may be what happened with the second Republican primary debate held out here in Simi Valley at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. It was tiresome – three hours of Republican soap opera – intense conflict among sixteen folks who want the party’s 2016 nomination. There were zingers. There was drama. There was intrigue – but unless you’re a Republican political junkie it was tiresome. This had nothing to do with the rest of us. The Republicans have issues they need to work out. Guys, call us when you decide who to run. We’ll deal with it then.

As for now, this is just soap opera stuff:

Jeb Bush called for Donald Trump to apologize to his wiife Columba during Wednesday’s GOP presidential debate for comments Trump made about her in an interview in July, but Trump refused.

Trump was quoted as saying at the time that “if my wife were from Mexico, I think I would have a soft spot for people from Mexico.” Columba is a Mexican immigrant.

“To subject my wife into the middle of a raucous political conversation was completely inappropriate and I hope you apologize for that,” Bush told Trump, standing next to him on the debate stage, when asked about the comment.

Trump attempted to smooth over the situation, telling Bush, “I have to tell you, I hear phenomenal things. I hear your wife is a lovely woman.”

Trump suggested the quote was a mischaracterization, but Bush pressed him further.

“She’s absolutely the love of my life and right here and why don’t you apologize to her right now,” Bush said.

But Trump refused.

“I won’t do that because I said nothing wrong, but I do hear she’s a lovely woman,” Trump said.

Who cares? But at least someone was frustrated:

Republican presidential candidate and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie tried to shut down rival Carly Fiorina by saying she could interrupt anyone on the CNN debate stage Wednesday night – except for him.

Christie said he was tired of hearing Fiorina and real estate mogul Donald Trump talk about their experience in business. The governor said the conversations should instead focus on improving jobs for middle class Americans.

As Christie spoke, Ohio Gov. John Kasich attempted to interrupt him.

“John, John,” Christie said. “I’m not done yet, John.”

At which point, Fiorina also started talking over the banter. Christie was quick to comment on it.

“Carly, listen. You can interrupt anybody else on this stage, you can’t interrupt me,” Christie told Fiorina, as he launched back into his response.

He was angry. The spats made no sense to him. Wasn’t this supposed to be about issues?

Maybe not, because Josh Voorhees reviews what everyone was talking about:

Carly Fiorina jump-started her stalled campaign with a dominating performance at the first second-tier Republican debate last month. Her performance during the second first-tier GOP debate on Wednesday wasn’t quite as strong – but it may prove even more important to her upstart candidacy.

On a cramped and overcrowded stage at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, Fiorina repeatedly went head to head with Donald Trump, rattling the GOP front-runner in a way that no one else has been able to do, and in the process delivering the best zinger of the night.

Shortly after Trump said that Jeb Bush’s since-retracted suggestion that the nation spends too much on “women’s issues” would doom him in the general election (Trump pointed out that Bush gave the cop-out answer that he had “misspoke”), CNN moderator Jake Tapper asked Fiorina to react to Trump’s suggestion that Americans would never be able to vote for her because of her “face.” (The Donald now claims that when he said the word face, he meant the word persona.) “You know, it’s interesting to me,” Fiorina responded calmly, “Mr. Trump said that he heard Mr. Bush very clearly and what Mr. Bush said. I think women all over this country heard very clearly what Mr. Trump said.” The line garnered probably the biggest applause of the night.

It was more than that:

Fiorina first sought to put Trump in his place, drawing loud applause from the Reagan Library audience when she said that “women all over this country heard very clearly what Mr. Trump said.”

Trump sheepishly offered her a compliment, saying, “I think she’s got a beautiful face, and I think she’s a beautiful woman.”

Fiorina didn’t acknowledge Trump’s remark, looking straight ahead with a stern expression.

The moment, reminiscent of the 2007 Democratic debate exchange in which Barack Obama told Hillary Rodham Clinton that she was “likable enough,” marked one of the few times during the campaign that Trump has appeared visibly uneasy.

And there was this:

Fiorina also engaged in a sharp exchange with Trump over his comments about her career at Hewlett-Packard, where she was fired after six years after the company’s stock dropped steeply. Fiorina has said she was let go in a boardroom shake-up because she challenged the status quo. Trump has called her a failure and said that she “ran HP into the ground.”

“She can’t run any of my companies. That I can tell you,” Trump said Wednesday night.

Fiorina shot back that Trump-led casinos had filed for bankruptcy four times.

“That is precisely the way you ran your companies. You ran up mountains of debt, as well as losses, using other people’s money,” Fiorina said. “Why should we trust you to manage the finances of this nation?”

He had no response, and the Washington Post’s Dan Balz explains this new dynamic:

Something unusual happened here Wednesday when the Republican presidential candidates met for their second debate: For the first time since he joined the race, Donald Trump wasn’t the commanding presence on the stage.

Not that Trump wasn’t the Trump whom Americans have seen nonstop on cable television. Among the first words out of his mouth was a personal and unprovoked attack on Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul. He sparred at times angrily with Carly Fiorina over who was the better business executive. He and Jeb Bush, standing next to each other, had repeated exchanges.

But at other times, particularly when the discussion shifted from what Trump has said about the others to issues of domestic and foreign policy, the candidate who has dominated the summer and leads the polls was far less a force.

The whole thing was just awkward:

Tangling with former Florida governor Jeb Bush over the Iraq war, Trump said he opposed former president George W. Bush’s 2003 invasion. “I’m a very militaristic person,” he said, “but you need to know when you need to use the military. It’s about judgment.”

Bush countered by noting that Trump once said he thought Hillary Rodham Clinton would have been the best negotiator to deal with the Iranians. “The lack of judgment and the lack of understanding about how the world works is really dangerous,” he said.

And when Trump said George W. Bush’s presidency was “such a disaster,” Jeb Bush defended his brother: “He kept us safe. He really did.”

“I don’t know,” Trump shot back. “I don’t feel so safe.”

This was soap-opera dialog with soap-opera conflict:

The CNN debate’s opening minutes revolved, as the Republican nominating contest has all summer, around Trump. Fiorina dismissed him as “a wonderful entertainer.” Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky slammed his character and temperament as “sophomoric.” Bush suggested he lacked a “steady hand.” Walker said he bankrupted his companies and warned he would do the same to the country.

Trump defended himself with the confidence bordering on braggadocio that has defined his campaign.

“I’ve dealt with people all over the world,” Trump said. “Everything I’ve done personally has been a tremendous success.”

And there was this:

Bush defended himself against Trump’s charges that he would be a “puppet” to his wealthy donors. He suggested it was Trump who once tried to control Bush, by donating to his Florida gubernatorial campaign at the same time he was pushing for legalized gambling in the state so his properties could profit.

As Bush talked, Trump smirked, made uncomfortable facial expressions and chimed in with insults. “More energy tonight,” he told Bush. “I like that.”

Trump’s insults of Rand Paul were even nastier. After suggesting Paul “shouldn’t even be on this stage” because he was polling so low, Trump added: “I never attacked him on his looks – and believe me, there’s plenty of subject matter right there.”

With so much attention paid to the personal barbs by or about Trump, some other candidates, including Ohio Gov. John Kasich, grew frustrated.

“If I was sitting at home watching this back and forth, I’d be inclined to turn it off,” Kasich interjected at one point. “People at home want to know what we’re going to do to fix this place.”

Kasich was not alone, as Josh Marshall offered this:

This reminds me of the heavyweight fights my dad and I used to watch on TV like forty years ago when you’re in the 14th round and Ali and the other guy are just sort of hanging on to each other because they’re so tired and the ref keeps having to break them up and demand they fight.

The New York Times’ Frank Bruni saw this:

As the hours dragged on, the issues were indeed hashed out: whether a Republican president should immediately tear up the Iran deal or wait and see; whether the federal government should be shut down in the service of defunding Planned Parenthood; whether a wall along the Mexican border is a feasible plan or empty bluster.

But that substance had to muscle its way through the show business, by which I mean Donald Trump’s attempt to turn everything into an adolescent popularity contest and CNN’s willingness to reward that by filtering the entire evening through the prism of the Republican field’s proven ratings magnet: Trump, Trump, Trump.

What did Trump think of something mean that someone else on the stage had said about him? What did someone else think about something nasty that Trump had said about him or her?

Trump had insulted Jeb Bush’s wife: Discuss! Trump had insulted Carly Fiorina’s business career: Respond!

The only good thing was Rand Paul:

Paul took the precise measure of – and raised the correct question about – the egomaniacal front-runner.

“Do we want someone with that kind of character, that kind of careless language, to be negotiating with Putin?” Paul asked.

“I think really there’s a sophomoric quality that is entertaining about Mr. Trump, but I am worried,” he added, and I nodded so vigorously at the “worried” part that I’m going to need balm and a neck brace tomorrow.

Paul went on to single out Trump’s “visceral response to attack people on their appearance – short, tall, fat, ugly. My goodness, that happened in junior high. Are we not way above that?”

No, we aren’t. Or at least Trump isn’t. And “junior high” is too easy on him, too kind. Trump comes from, and belongs in, the sandbox, as he demonstrated the second that Paul paused and Trump fired back: “I never attacked him on his look, and believe me, there’s plenty of subject matter right there.”

How lovely. And how adult – and less than an hour later, Fiorina had to stand there and try not to squirm as she was asked to react to Trump’s recent comments about her in a Rolling Stone interview…

Bruni is not happy:

I know that Americans are turned off by politics as usual – justly. But have we sunk to a point where we’re prepared to reach for someone so careless with his insinuations, so merrily and irresponsibly ignorant, that he used some of his precious time on Wednesday night to fan irrational, repudiated fears about a link between vaccines and autism?

Are we buoyed by a bully who calls anyone who disagrees with him a “loser,” promises vaguely that his presidency will be “unbelievable” (his favorite adjective, and an unintentionally telling one), and presents little besides his tumescent ego and stagey rage?

The CNN anchor Jake Tapper, who was the debate’s moderator, pressed hard to get Trump to say, with even a scintilla of specificity, why he believes that he’d be more effective in dealing with Vladimir Putin than Obama has been.

And all that Trump could muster was: “I would get along with him.”

How? Why? Not a single detail.

And there were the others:

Marco Rubio showed great confidence about foreign affairs. Fiorina’s crispness came through. John Kasich seemed to vanish for long chunks but, when present, managed to be both avuncular and authoritative: an effective, appealing combination.

Cruz predictably won the awards for Most Strident and Most Smarmy, talking directly to the camera rather than whoever had asked him a question. Carson was the anti-Trump, as docile as Trump was domineering, and he brilliantly sought to reeducate Trump on vaccines.

Did Bush find some spine and spark? Yes, but he seemed to fumble for it. He picked a fight with Trump about casinos in Florida. He spoke succinctly about his brother’s administration, no longer pantomiming a deer in headlights. He made a marijuana joke and then another joke, about his energy level, saying that he’d want his Secret Service nickname to be “Eveready.” Like the battery.

But there remains something wan about him: In a season of such garish colors, he always looks a little pale.

He’s not enough of a clown, and Trump has done his best to turn this into a circus, erasing the blurry line between entertainment and politics and beckoning commentators and networks toward uncharted summits of breathlessness.

It was quite a show, but Slate’s Fred Kaplan is worried about foreign policy:

First, after Carly Fiorina said she wouldn’t so much as meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin for the evils he’s committed, Paul noted that Ronald Reagan – in whose library the candidates and their audience were gathered – talked with the Russians throughout the Cold War, to the world’s benefit.

Second, after hearing his rivals blast President Obama for not bombing Syria two years ago after pledging that he would if President Bashar al-Assad crossed the “red line” of using chemical weapons, Paul said, “If we’d bombed Syria, ISIS would be in Damascus today,” adding, “Sometimes intervention makes us less safe.” The specific claim is debatable (though no one debated it), but the broad point is indisputably true.

Third, contrary to almost all of his rivals (and his fellow Republicans on Capitol Hill), Paul said that he would not “tear up” the Iran nuclear deal upon entering the White House. “Let’s see if the Iranians comply with it,” he said, in a tone suggesting that he was making an obvious point – which, indeed, he was.

And then there was the Big Guy:

Donald Trump once more proved himself out of his element. On what to do about Assad and ISIS: “Let them fight each other and [we’ll] pick up the remnants” – as if we’d be in any position to pick up remnants. On Russia: “I will get along, I think, with Putin … and we’ll have a more stable world” – seemingly thinking that the world’s problems can be solved simply by talking about them with bonhomie and steel-eyed stares over brandy and cigars. Later in the debate, he admitted that he in fact didn’t know much about the topic. “I’m not sitting in the Senate, I am a businessman doing business transactions,” but, by the time he sits in the Oval Office, he claimed, “I will know more about the problems of the world.”

Right, and add this:

Fiorina said that, on Day One of her presidency, she would call Iran’s supreme leader, Khamenei, and tell him he needs to allow anytime-anywhere inspection of all his nation’s military facilities or she would block the movement of his money around the world. That would send the message, she said, that “the United States of America is back in the leadership business.”

First, no American has ever spoken with the Ayatollah. Second, no nation would allow foreign inspectors to enter any and all military facilities without notice and at will. Third, tearing up an accord that the United States negotiated alongside five close allies – whose leaders strongly endorse the results and say they won’t go back and renegotiate its terms – doesn’t augur well for leadership.

And add this:

Sen. Marco Rubio made the claim, to feisty applause, that President Obama is “more respectful to the Ayatollah of Iran than to the prime minister of Israel.” Does he really believe this? Even after getting thoroughly dissed and undermined by Benjamin Netanyahu, Obama will continue to provide Israel with more security assistance than any other American president in recent history – and, even after the nuclear deal, will sustain sanctions against Iran for its support of terrorist organizations.

Rubio did recite some dangerous developments in the world and with greater fluency than any of the other contenders in the main debate – the rise of China’s navy, the spread of ISIS, North Korea’s nuclear bomb. But does he really believe that the world is more dangerous than at any time in recent memory or that Obama is “eviscerating the military” (which continues to match the spending of the militaries in every other major nation of the world, combined)?

Finally, what does he propose doing about these problems, besides growling more loudly, clenching his fist more tightly, and canceling the state dinner with China?

Who are these people and why are they running for president? This was a silly episode of a melodramatic soap opera, or a bad night on a bad realty show – or it was September 20, 1977, when the Fonz jumped the shark. The debate ended a few hours ago. Who won? The shark won.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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1 Response to The Night of the Shark

  1. Rick says:

    I feel the same way about the shark. We had a neighbor over to eat dinner and watch the debate last night, and she left about halfway through, complaining of a headache.

    My wife went to bed early, too, so she didn’t see the interview Donald Trump had with CNN’s Chris Cuomo immediately after the debate . Cuomo asked Trump how he thought the debate went, and a fairly subdued Donald surprised me by saying, in just a few words, he thought everyone did quite well.

    Cuomo seemed to be trying to get him to “go all Trump” on us, with the boasting and the unbelievable and truly incredible superlatives, but Trump wasn’t having it. He answered with a gentle smile and was uncharacteristically kind about his rivals, and it was then that I remembered that, during the debate, often when he would be expected to take a shot, he instead said something nice, or at least something he thought was nice — that he thought Carly Fiorina was beautiful, or that he had heard that Columba Bush was very pleasant or something — as if he had decided to cut back on the usual nastiness, as if he realized his act was starting to work against him.

    Oh, yes, he took the occasional shot, such as those aimed at Rand Paul, but I write them off as his wandering off script, his not being able to help himself, but mostly I noticed him making nice-nice with Jeb — that low-five thing — and something similar with Dr. Carson, and Hugh Hewitt, a man he had just last week or so called a “third-rate radio announcer”, was now his new best friend, after Hewitt reportedly apologized to him.

    So at breakfast, I said to my wife, “I guess the story today is that Donald Trump tried to play nice last night?”, and her answer was, no, the story was that Donald Trump brought nothing to the debate, and fell flat — to which I replied, “Oh. Well, maybe the story is, he tried to play nice, which caused him to fall flat?”

    Maybe he is now at that inevitable fork in the road, where he realizes that, if he continues acting like the playground bully, picking on the smart kids, that he can’t win. Then again, maybe if he takes that other road to normal, he will leave behind all those people who were attracted to him because he wasn’t.

    I think the reason I can’t join in the popular celebration of Carly Fiorina’s so-called “win” last night is because I just don’t like her very much, and so I’m letting that bias color my judgement.

    Yes, she’s now impressing people with her articulate put-downs of Donald Trump, and even a little sound-bite where it sounded as if she actually knew something about foreign policy, but she still has essentially nothing going for her except a false history of what a great leader she was at HP, whereas very few of anyone else views her career as anything more than the destruction of what had been one of the best companies in the world to work for, the stock of which skyrocketed upward when they announced her resignation.

    Hers is a self-delusion only matched by the dreamworld of his own creation surrounding the Donald himself. In fact, one of the highlights of the debate, for me, was hearing the two of them going at it about who was most right when criticizing the other — he on her infamous flameouts in the business world, and she on his four bankruptcies — with both of them being equally right! The truth is, both these business honchos (one being a honchette?) seemingly really go the distance in trying to cover their tracks.

    Trump kept denying that he’s ever gone bankrupt even once, much less four times, of course, but this is that typical Trumpy slight-of-hand that, had his supporters ever cared the slightest about the veracity of anything he says, would have killed his candidacy at birth. It’s just that he has apparently never declared personal bankruptcy:

    Four of Trump’s businesses have declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy. According to a 2011 report by Forbes, these were due to over-leveraged hotel and casino businesses in Atlantic City: Trump’s Taj Mahal (1991), Trump Plaza Hotel (1992), Trump Hotels and Casino Resorts (2004), and Trump Entertainment Resorts (2009). Trump said “I’ve used the laws of this country to pare debt. … We’ll have the company. We’ll throw it into a chapter. We’ll negotiate with the banks. We’ll make a fantastic deal. You know, it’s like on ‘The Apprentice’. It’s not personal. It’s just business.” He indicated that other “great entrepreneurs” do the same.

    And apparently those “great entrepreneurs” also got involved in some fascinating lawsuits:

    Over the course of his career, Trump has initiated and been the target of “hundreds” of civil lawsuits, which Trump lawyer Alan Garten said in 2015 was “a natural part of doing business in this country”. …

    In March 1990, after an analyst at Janney Montgomery Scott said that Trump’s Taj Mahal project would initially “break records” but would fail before the end of that year, Trump threatened to sue the firm unless the analyst recanted or was fired. The analyst refused to retract the statements, and was fired by his firm. Taj Mahal declared bankruptcy for the first time in November 1990. A defamation lawsuit by the analyst against Trump for $2 million was settled out of court. The analyst’s statements regarding the Taj Mahal’s prospects were later called “stunningly accurate”.

    At least one of the suits had nothing to do with a failing business, but is of interest nonetheless:

    In 1973, the Justice Department unsuccessfully sued Trump Management Corporation for alleged racial discrimination, at which time Trump was the company’s president. The federal government filed the lawsuit against his New York City real estate company for allegedly discriminating against potential black renters, which Trump never admitted. The case was settled out of court in 1975.

    Which means we can’t be sure what the settlement was, although it might have been just a misunderstanding that was cleared up once the feds realized Trump gets along very well with “the blacks”.

    But as for any contest between Fiorina and Trump over who is the more self-delusional, Trump has just been at it longer.

    For one thing, exactly how tall is he, anyway?

    If you watched the debate last night, you could see Jeb Bush, one podium over, towering above Trump, even though Fox News Insider says they’re both 6′ 3″. And yeah, while that’s what Trump once told the New York Times, various people, some who have seen him in person, estimate him to be, variously, 6′ 2″, 6′ 1″, 6 feet even, and even down to 5′ 11″. But Jeb is definitely several inches taller, so I wonder if this is another case of Trump exaggerating his size.

    Speaking of which, there’s always been some question of his personal wealth, of which he has said, “my net worth fluctuates, and it goes up and down with markets and with attitudes and with feelings — even my own feelings”. True, that! I think maybe everything that Donald Trump says about Donald Trump fluctuates with his feelings.

    To put his real wealth in perspective, at this writing, Forbes says Warren Buffet, at $65.2-billion, is the 4th richest human on earth, and it also says Donald Trump, at $4.1-billion, ties for the 405th richest, a position he shares with 12 other people.

    Then again, according to Wikipedia:

    In 2015, Forbes pegged it as $4 billion, while the Bloomberg Billionaires Index (which scrutinized Trump’s FEC filings) estimated a net worth of $2.9 billion. On June 16, 2015, just prior to announcing his candidacy for president of the United States, Trump released to the media a one-page prepared financial disclosure statement “from a big accounting firm—one of the most respected”, stating a net worth of $8,737,540,000. “I’m really rich”, Trump said.

    Forbes called the nearly $9 billion figure a “100%” exaggeration. In July 2015, the Federal election regulators released new details of Trump’s wealth and financial holdings when he became a Republican presidential candidate, reporting that his assets are worth above $1.4 billion…

    So, if it’s really only $1.4-billion, that would mean he’s the 1,324th richest person in the world, a ranking he shares with 59 other billionaires. But please stay tuned, since his wealth apparently “fluctuates” with his mood.

    In other words, if we all wait long enough, we just might find that, actually, he’s only about as wealthy as you and me put together!

    Rick

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