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Cockburn Donald Trump US Politics

Why ‘town halls’ are a sham

In the age of scripted television and scripted campaigns, American viewers will never get to enjoy a real town hall

October 17, 2020

6:00 AM

17 October 2020

6:00 AM

Of all the frauds and indignities that are foisted on the American people every presidential election cycle, the ‘town hall’ may be one of the saddest.

To be clear, actual town halls are wonderful and would be a grand addition to the American political system. Cockburn would wholly support conscripting 50 randomly selected voters and locking them in a room to question each presidential candidate for four hours. Giving actual citizens truly unfettered access to America’s prospective leaders would make for wonderful entertainment.

But in the age of scripted television and scripted campaigns, Americans will never get to enjoy such an experience. The entire point of a presidential campaign is to intensely micromanage the candidate’s interaction with everybody for maximum advantage. So instead of real debates between candidates, we have the gross display of modern presidential debates where the candidates fight the moderator as much as each other, and instead of real town halls we have the ersatz television town hall, which manages to be not only less entertaining but less informative as well.

The dueling town halls on Thursday night were billed by ABC and NBC as forums for ‘undecided voters’ to question the candidates. The problems begin right there with that phrase: ‘Undecided voters.’ What on earth is wrong with these people? The North Sentinelese have dutifully killed every outsider who set foot on their island in the past century, but Cockburn has no doubt that if a CNN crew could survive long enough to interview them, even they would have an opinion on Donald Trump. What excuse do Americans have? After five years of Donald Trump dominating public life, who hasn’t reached a conclusion about whether he should or should not be president? Do they need to see another five or six tweets to decide whether Trump is really a viable political outsider or just a cartoon? Can they not figure out if Joe Biden’s corn has popped?

The difficult task of finding undecided voters bright enough not to eat their own ballots makes it inevitable that a lot of town hall participants aren’t undecided at all.

One woman at Biden’s town hall demanded to know what Biden would do to protect her eight-year-old transgender child. Cockburn would like to assert without offering any evidence whatsoever that no woman who claims to have a transgender child under 10 has ever voted Republican or ever will.


The indignities continue with how the town halls themselves are covered. During President Trump’s town hall, supposedly serious people went into convulsions over a woman in the audience who nodded a lot at what President Trump said.

The Lincoln Project claims its anti-Trump campaign is an effort to restore decency to American politics. For Lincoln Project senior adviser Tom Nichols, there is apparently no better marker of decency than obsessively stalking a woman for nodding her head in the background of a TV program.

Taken together, Nichols’s tweets suggest he is not wholly well:

By the end of it all, Cockburn was ready for Nichols to declare that nodding was a racist dog whistle, like the ‘OK’ hand sign or opposing pederasty.

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By Friday morning, multiple publications had produced article-length profiles of the ‘nodding woman,’ revealed to be Miami attorney and former Congressional candidate Mayra Joli. Joli seems to have been a fan of Trump, so Democrats shrieked that Joli was a paid plant who revealed the entire town hall to be a sham. Of course, if anybody had paid attention to the town hall’s start, they would have heard Savannah Guthrie say that the audience included Trump and Biden supporters. But honestly, even if Joli had lied her way into the town hall, so what? If a woman nodding in the background is enough to change people’s votes and the outcome of an election, that’s not an indictment of the town hall. It’s an indictment of democracy.


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