People have struggled to find some analogue to American presidential candidate Donald Trump that might help explain him to Indians (as if dog-whistling misogynistic demagogues are unheard of in Indian politics). But the first presidential debate between the Republican candidate, and Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton on Monday night offered a new frame by which to understand the Trump phenomenon: WhatsApp.
You know WhatsApp uncles, right? They're always messaging, frequently interrupting other people's conversations, happy to send questionable jokes and blatantly misogynistic or racist content, praising the nation while also slamming some subset within the nation, constantly peddling conspiracy theories about the rest of the world and they do not like being called out on their positions.
That just about describes how Donald Trump behaved in the first of three presidential debates going up against the first woman to be a candidate for the American presidency. Analysts expected as many as 100 million people in America alone to be watching the first debate, simply because of how messy the election campaign has been so far and the curiosity over how Clinton would attempt to handle a reality television star-turned-presidential candidate.
What she ended up getting was a lot of interruptions. In fact, Vox reported that Trump interrupted Clinton 25 times in the first 26 minutes of the debate. And it didn't go unnoticed.
Trump also did that classic uncle thing where some words turned up that not everybody was familiar with. In one case it was close to a real word, when Trump boasted about how large his finances were and then said, "I don't say this in a braggadocious way." He was aiming for braggadocio, which is boastful or arrogant behaviour, and quickly became one of the most looked-up words in the dictionary.
Then Trump said he would cut taxes, "bigly."
And finally he pulled a classic WhatsApp uncle stunt and chose to add a 'the' in front of words that doesn't need it at all. "As far as the cyber, I agree to parts of what Secretary Clinton said." The Verge decided to collect all the words Trump chose to use to describe 'the cyber.' Trump later did this again for 'the nuclear.'
He also referenced a standard American trope when asked about potential Russian hacks on the Democratic National Convention, saying they could have been done by anyone including a 200-kilo man sitting on his bed.
And of course there was also some casual sexism thrown in, by way of criticising Clinton about her "temperament." In classic Trump braggadocious style, he insisted that he has a "winning temperament" and that Clinton didn't even have the presidential look, which provided viewers with the GIF of the evening.
Dropped in were references to Trump's past racism, Trump's recent racism and an ugly back and forth over the Republican candidate's unwillingness to release his tax returns as a foil to Clinton's deleted-email controversy. Actual policy debates seemed to somehow be sandwiched in the middle of all this, although there were some genuine areas where Clinton was pushed on her u-turns over trade policy and her appraisal of the Barack Obama era.
But it was hard to focus on this amid all the WhatsApp Uncle offerings to be had, including this glorious example of conspiracy theorising (earlier, on Twitter) which Trump blatantly denied during the debate.
There's one good thing about WhatsApp groups – you can mute them, or even exit and delete them if you'd like. You could also not pay attention to Twitter, Facebook and the news for the next couple of months but the basic fact is that the world's most prominent WhatsApp Uncle is not going anywhere. In fact, he's going to return on October 9 for the next presidential debate (and will surely say plenty between now and then).