Halloween season is upon us, but ghouls and goblins don’t have the same fear factor that they did in years past. I for one am less afraid of the darkness than the stupid that surrounds us. Compliments of “nice mask” finally seem appropriate to those of us who have been hearing or saying it for months. When 2020 is truly hindsight, we should never speak of it again.
They say that if you have the same dream three times, it will come true. Works the same way for nightmares I am told. In this time of social distancing, even my nightmares can be virtual. In fact, the third act of a virtual nightmare is set to happen in coming days – the televised presidential debates.
Technically, this is only the second rendition of the debates as the candidates had dueling town hall meetings for number two. For consistency’s sake, let’s go ahead and count that. Debates can’t be changing minds because I don’t know a single undecided voter at this point. I would like to meet one, to find out how he or she has the willpower to choose to breathe but hasn’t picked a side in the upcoming election.
Debating is a skill no longer relevant to the responsibilities of the president. One could argue that it is detrimental to the office as an extremely persuasive president would not only listen to the voices in his head and ignore his advisors but get them to support his positions, no matter how unsound.
I understand the importance of debating to early Americans. It was the best way we had to choose a leader. As the country evolves, so should our politics. Kenny Therman got elected Class President after he bombed the debates sophomore year by handing out candy. If a candidate can convince me that candy corn shouldn’t go right from treat bag to garbage bag, he gets my vote this year.
In the modern information age, debates between presidential candidates are useless. As a good friend pointed out, the fact that we would choose to give the nuclear football to the candidate who argued most convincingly is beyond stupid. Remote presidential debaters are subject to immediate fact checking, which whittles away at their ability to color outside of the lines of truth. At least it would if truth still mattered.
For a lawyer, watching political debates is like watching a movie about trials or the law. Lawyers have to truly suspend disbelief to watch a law movie. If you can’t overlook the misuse of terms, lightning round pretrial work and other directorial shortcuts and mock each one out loud, you quickly find yourself sitting alone in the theater. Sometime after my second year practicing law, I made the connection and kept my editorializing to myself. More or less. Lawyers have to employ the same skills to watch a candidate’s debate.
Trial lawyers use language to make our living and the urge to critique an argument is instinctual. From our perspective, political debates are incomprehensible. If we fast forward through all of the tactics and statements that would not be tolerated in a courtroom, the debates end at hello. Don’t point that out to others in the room or your debate party ends.
In the first debate, Mr. Biden interrupted President Trump 22 times and was himself interrupted 71 times. If I interrupted an opponent more than once in a legal hearing, I would be promptly chastised by the Court. Speak beyond my allotted time for closing argument? I’d sooner go to jail and likely could. If the debates were moderated by a mean judge, they would at least be more civil.
Political candidates are not bound by any real rules, let alone the rules of evidence. Freed from the pesky requirement to prove one’s case using facts, candidates have always put their spin or frame around the truth. These days they don’t even attempt to recognize that convention and myths are not only made from whole cloth but listeners repeat a lie without even bothering to examine it.
It might be fun to try a lawsuit by political debate rules. Each side would tell their client’s story, embellishing as they went or completely fabricating evidence. Got an ugly client? Hire a professional actor to play him instead.
“You should find for my client because he is an orphan. There he is, seated with his parents.”
Instead of asking a jury for a verdict, the panel would post their thoughts of the case on social media- the side with the most responses wins. We just have to agree on the method of tabulation- do we count likes, smiley face emojis, retweets, or upvotes?
Appeals are instantaneous in the court of public opinion, and no briefing is really necessary. Instead of reporting large verdicts, the focus would shift to which side had the most meme-worthy conduct.
On the topic of public opinion, a personal note. After last month’s column, folks asked me if I was doing okay- they perceived my statements of Tiggerness and the rest of the topic as a song of sadness and longing. It wasn’t, really! I am thrilled that people ask how I am doing but I am in pretty good shape for the shape I am in. I am having a better day than many of my clients. These are actual facts, no rebuttal allowed.
I had considered dressing as Tigger for Halloween but decided against it. Instead, I will be disguised as a grumpy old man complaining about everything. I already have the costume. And I am giving out full sized candy bars in case you want to swing by.
©2020 under analysis llc. under analysis is a nationally syndicated column. Spencer Farris is the founding partner of The S.E. Farris Law Firm in St Louis, Missouri. Candy corn, raspberry Zingers, and Chic-o-sticks. Comments or criticisms about this column may be sent directly to Under Analysis via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.