“Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” I said to myself (with huge apologies to William Hazlitt) as I drove up Route 12, about 8 o’clock on Monday the 26th of September, to inquire at West Boylston’s The Manor where the fight was to be.
This wasn’t an actual case of fisticuffs such as Hazlitt describes in his 1822 essay “The Fight,” but the first debate between the Democrat and Republican nominees for the highest office in our land.
While I recognize subtle variations in the two contending creatures, I prefer to label them as one: Occupant Clinton/Trump, Office of President of the United States, primarily because the OCTOPUS acronym expresses the horror we Americans have brought upon ourselves.
Octopuses are venomous, leave trails of ink in their wake, and arrange their suckers in rows, just like Congress.
Sinacola on Worcester: Protests, Michael Oppong and old New England skeptics
If I were Hazlitt, I would unleash reams of prose, relating how I employed the macadamized ways of I-290 and I-190 en route to the venue, procured a glass of Bacchus’ rosy decoction, greeted friends, and mingled with ladies and gentlemen whose self-appointed task it is to hold blackguards to account — in print, upon the electronic tablets, and through the ether.
Thankfully for all, I am not Hazlitt, and merely report that I went to The Manor to enjoy in the company of other politically active souls a WCRN radio broadcast of this first secretion of the OCTOPUS. Besides which, we recently canceled cable and didn’t feel like cooking.
By now, voters — likely and unlikely alike — have been regaled with any number of assessments and post-mortems regarding the Battle of Hofstra University. Few such accounts have persuaded partisans of either camp to cross the political No Man’s Land of 2016. Doing so in these parlous times is to expose oneself to wired barbs and live shelling upon one’s social media accounts.
I have no fear for my social media accounts, as I can count such cyber-friends as I have upon my fingers and toes. Moreover, these are the same people who have at least an occasional opportunity to tell me in person how wrong I am, and recognize the futility of online posts to which I am very unlikely to reply.
My reticence to evaluate the rougher points of the Debate of the Century (and what a sad century it shall be if that appellation holds) is more simply explained: I have no interest in evaluating the relative truthfulness of an OCTOPUS whose loathsome tentacles have enveloped the body politic.
That one candidate’s lies, half-truths, or scurrilous personal assaults are more or less egregious than the other’s is not sufficient reason to earn anyone’s vote. Although I had feared matters might well go poorly, my fundamentally optimistic nature had held out hope for something better. A civil and nuanced discussion of free trade, perhaps? A balanced view of American manufacturing and the need for job training? Or, say, an honest examination of race, and the responsibility all Americans share to comport themselves with integrity and treat others with dignity.
But the 90-plus minute debate was more like Hazlitt’s “The Fight,” which is quite a chore for a modern reader, consisting as it does of two dozen pages of barely comprehensible prose, stuffed with stagecoaches, obscure political allusions, several references to “Fancy,” a passing nod to Goths and Vandals, and enough circumlocutions to put the most determined soul to sleep long before reaching the good part.
The good part is only four pages, in which the pugilists — the Gas-man and Bill Neate — pummel one another in ways braggadocious and bigly, until we see “two men smashed to the ground, smeared with gore, stunned, senseless, the breath beaten out of their bodies.”
If only it had ended there. But one combatant inevitably arose, made a “tremendous lunge,” and struck the other in the face, until the latter “… was not like an actual man, but like a preternatural, spectral appearance, or like one of the figures in Dante’s Inferno.”
Alas, last Monday night’s encounter, having abandoned all pretense to substance, couldn’t even have the honesty of Hazlitt’s blood-soaked brawl. Nor can we consign the combatants to Dante’s “Inferno.”
That one or the other of them shall take an oath next Jan. 20 — the oath — is now all but inevitable and much to be lamented. I can only take solace in the all-but-inevitable likelihood that our republic will survive either of them, and a measure of relief that I will have cast my ballot for neither.