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Listening Vs. Finding Listeners: A Day With Clinton And Trump

How do two not well-liked candidates want you to see them?

Back in 2000, Hillary Clinton began her Senate bid with a “listening tour.” It was supposed to signal her interest in learning what her new state cared about, as well as provide an opportunity to show off Clinton’s policy smarts on the issues she has spent her entire life saying that she has been thinking about “her entire life.” The Washington Post wrote at the time that Clinton “is an expert validator, mmm-hmming while she listens, asking follow-up questions before commenting, congratulating panelists on their insight.” Her familiar nod, like a drinking bird toy that perpetually reaches toward policy instead of water, is still her constant companion on the trail 16 years later. Although, as Ezra Klein points out, the compliment “she listens” feels like one applied only to female politicians, it’s one that Clinton seems to treasure.

If that wasn’t clear already, it definitely was after Tuesday night at the Democratic National Convention, when a carefully chosen crew was tasked with acting as Clinton’s policy-oriented character references. “Not only did she listen to our problems,” said Lucia McBath, mother of 17-year-old Jordan Davis, who was shot dead in Florida four years ago, “she invited us to become part of the solution.” Being there for people — and being in a position to listen in the first place — was a big theme too. ”In the darkest of days and the hardest of times, the people who show up mean everything,” said Laura Manning, who suffered horrible burns at the World Trade Center on September 11. “Hillary showed up.” Disability advocate Anastasia Somoza told the audience, “She has never lost touch with people like me.” Bill Clinton, who spent more than 40 minutes talking about how a girl he met in law school would grow up to become WD-40 for policy problems, tried to take the dramatic reading of the most positive parts of Clinton’s résumé and tie it all up with a sappy and yet entirely wonky bow.


Tuesday night felt like the beginning of the RNC had been rebroadcast on Opposite Day; both conventions featured people reflecting on Clinton’s résumé — albeit reaching very different conclusions. Donald Trump had no such night devoted to his ability to listen. When his children spoke, it seemed like they were reaching for the anecdotal equivalent of new picture frames with the bland stock families still trapped inside. His business partners and employees championed his deals and the fact that he was always there for them with platitudinal forcefulness that never found any specific moment to make their endorsements effective. These testimonials were also sprinkled over the course of the convention, which did not pack the same punch as having 12 people in a row speak kindly about the candidate.

Trump seems displeased that the Democratic convention did not return the favor and make an entire night about him. Trash-talking Trump was mostly outsourced to celebrities on Tuesday, as if the politicians had decided to follow the Huffington Post’s lead out in the real world and consign him to the Entertainment section.

Since no one else was going to talk about him as much as he’d like, Trump took the job on himself at a Wednesday press conference in Miami, taking the focus off of the active listener of the hour and turning it to the man eternally in search of active listeners. If he wanted to provide a stark contrast to the convention proceedings, he succeeded.

Hillary Clinton, first of all, should definitely not be getting classified briefings, Trump said, because her “number one person” is married to Anthony Weiner, a “sleazeball and pervert.” Also, “Russia, if you're listening” — and who is he kidding, people are always listening to Trump — “I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.” As the New York Times points out, Trump — who does think he is qualified to received the “coming soon” classified briefings because he does not know someone who is married to someone he thinks is the worst — is “essentially sanctioning a foreign power’s cyberspying of a secretary of state’s correspondence.”

When few people at his own convention could find it in their heart to mention his name all that often, at least not effusively, he found a fog machine. Since receiving the nomination, Trump has returned to his own favorite diversionary tactic — the obfuscating cloud cover emitted by his own mouth. It hasn’t led to his downfall yet; it’s hard to be hoisted by your own petard when these homemade bombs are just part of your daily nutritional requirements. And by the way, did you know that, according to Trump, Obama has “been the most ignorant president in our history?” Also, Trump definitely has “nothing to do with Russia,” and he does not want to talk about his reported financial ties with Russia, or his never-to-be-released tax returns, which could perhaps provide a bit of clarity on this issue. But enough on Russia — “I never met Putin!”

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Let’s go back to Trump’s annotations of the Democratic convention. Most importantly, Trump — whose main takeaway from his convention was that people clapped a lot during his speech which means he is the best candidate — wants everyone to know that the stage didn’t have any American flags until he mentioned it. Trump, who has the “world’s greatest memory,” also went on a rant about how vice-presidential nominee Tim Kaine was awful for New Jersey and no one likes him. Kaine, whose name has a passing resemblance to that of former Republican governor of New Jersey Tom Kean, is a senator representing Virginia.

For those hoping that Trump would talk more about his policy ideas, don’t worry — here are his thought on the minimum wage. He previewed his stance on Tuesday with Bill O’Reilly: He “would leave it and raise it somewhat” to $10. But not for too long. But really, shouldn’t the states be dealing with this? After a reporter at the Miami presser asked him to narrow down his many positions on the subject, Trump uncharacteristically limited himself to two stances — the federal minimum wage should be $10, but also the issues should be left to the states!

At the end of his appearance, Trump noted that Hillary Clinton would never speak so openly with the media, and he was right. She hasn’t held a press conference in nearly a year. The sentiment — Hillary Clinton would never do this — seemed to extend over the aura of the whole affair, which may have been Trump’s intent, even if it freaked out most people watching. But don’t worry, Marco Rubio told BuzzFeed on Wednesday. It will all change once Trump is president and he starts listening. “I also think there’s something to be said for," Rubio noted, "once you’re actually in that position, once you’re actually working at this thing, and you’re in there, and you start to have access to information that perhaps you didn’t have before, especially for someone that’s never been in politics, I think it starts to impact your views a little bit.” Rubio’s presumably crossed fingers were unavailable for comment.

For today, however, Trump’s political views are still, like his net worth, mostly governed by where his feelings have landed that day. But never mind that — he got what he wanted. People have stopped talking about the value of listening and are talking about him again. You showed up to hear him talk about how Russia should get involved in American politics. Even with the Democratic convention, you never lost touch. Did you see — Trump is on the front page of all of the websites! And stay tuned: There is a Trump Reddit AMA on Wednesday night.

If you want to know how both candidates want to be perceived, the past day about sums it up.