Relying On Someone Else’s Weakness To Make Yourself Look Strong Might Not Actually Work

A fun little subplot of the Presidential race has been whether Donald Trump will appear for the second and third debates with Hillary Clinton, owing to the fact that the debate is not a useful tool for advancing his kind of candidacy. Eight days after the first debate, though, I wonder if Mrs. Clinton isn’t the one who should skip them from now on. 

I’ve had a couple of troubling conversations with people who watched the debate last week and who came away with the impression that both candidates acted like children. These are people who fall easily into the “Are-These-My-Only-Two-Choices?” camp, cold on Clinton and afraid of Trump. I’m not in that camp. I arrived some time ago at an enthusiastic embrace of Mrs. Clinton’s candidacy, and so what I saw with her and Mr. Trump on the same stage was that only he acted like a child, while she behaved like a professional, composed adult. Confirmation bias, I know. But also this

Still, my undecided friends perceived both as childish. 

A rough theory: if you engage with a childish person in public, some of their childish behavior will cling to you. Though you take the high road, mud from your opponent’s jaunt on the low road will stain your pants suit. 

This is the danger of using other peoples’ weakness to sell our strength. We’re banking on a clear perceptible differentiation between their bluster and our poise, between their temper and our calm, between their half-baked ideas and our nuanced proposals. But maybe that’s not how it works. If we share the program, we share whatever it presents, even when it doesn’t come from us directly. 

I want to share the stage (and the meeting agenda, and the retreat program) with high class professional grade grown ups, simply because they make me look better by association, and the fear of sullying up the program is a strong motivator for improvement. Their work will reflect well on me. I don’t want my work to reflect poorly on them. Because it will. 

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