On Sunday evening we again sat in front of our TV’s watching another “debate” which again revealed the ugliness of this presidential campaign and the divisiveness of the country. It was not informative, it was not entertaining, and it left me feeling empty and anxious about the future of our nation.
But when both candidates are viewed by most Americans as being flawed and disliked, what else can we expect? We needed to see an honest discussion of the issues moving forward and a genuine debate of each candidate’s plans and strategies. Instead we had to witness an event where a belligerent Donald Trump made untruthful statements and accusations and where Hillary Clinton did her best to appear “presidential” in the face of those attacks while being forced to paint an unflattering picture of Trump.
But while Trump scowled and paced and followed Clinton around the stage as if he might physically attack her, Clinton projected her optimism, claiming “we’re great because we’re good”, urging that we respect each other and celebrate the diverse country that we have become.
The now infamous “grope tape” released a few days earlier was obviously fresh on people’s minds, as well as the massive defections away from Trump of many “establishment” Republican politicians. A normal candidate, indeed a normal person, would have at least appeared contrite and treated Clinton with respect, at least symbolically showing that he respected women. But instead Trump stubbornly repeated his half-hearted apology, diminished by his insistence that it was only harmless “locker room talk”. Then, mid-apology, Trump immediately pivoted and lashed out at Clinton about ISIS, as though it were her fault, bellowing that he will “knock the hell out of ISIS” without saying at all how he would do it. He made a mockery out of his own apology!
The moderators, Anderson Cooper and Martha Radditz, did their best to keep the discussion on track and to prod the candidates into answering the questions. They asked good questions and followed up when the candidates, mainly Trump, went on too long. But it soon became clear that Donald Trump is not interested in putting forth honest proposals that he would implement if elected. He used virtually every topic as a way to attack Clinton, blaming her for everything that has happened in the last 30 years that Republicans didn’t like. For example, he issued a scathing, dishonest attack on Clinton regarding Obamacare, insisting that it be repealed without offering any proposal for what to do with the people who are now using it and depending on it. He ignored the fact that she personally did not create this program but yet he blamed her, even though it has resulted in millions of Americans getting health insurance (as well as other benefits) and despite the fact that she agrees with the need to fix parts of it. But the Republican Party opposed it back in 2009 and consistently thereafter, even though they had proposed a plan very similar a decade earlier, demonstrating that they had no interest in genuinely working with Democrats to help Americans and that their only concern was obstructing President Obama’s agenda.
Trump’s false accusations, empty promises, and outright lies occurred with almost every other subject brought up, as well: ISIS is Hillary’s fault, the murder rate in the inner cities has increased, Hillary would allow an open border with no vetting of immigrants, Hillary has let in tens of thousands of Syrian refugees, Hillary would increase taxes for all Americans, drugs are pouring into this country at a record clip, African Americans have it worse than ever with a 45% poverty rate in the inner cities, he never urged people to look at the former Miss Universe’s “sex tape”, Hillary would put the energy companies out of business, Hillary is responsible for the decline in the coal industry, Hillary is opposed to the second amendment, NAFTA is responsible for our economic problems, climate change doesn’t exist, the Iran nuclear agreement did not stop Iranian production of nuclear weapons…. And when pressed by Anderson Cooper about whether he committed the sexual assaults he bragged about on the “grope tape”, he hedged until he finally said that he didn’t, another obvious lie that could very well be proven false with other leaked tapes that are rumored to exist.
And on top of all this, his most offensive insult of the evening was to threaten that as president, he would bring in a special prosecutor against Clinton and would make sure that she went to jail! The absurdity and pure hatefulness of this threat did not even deserve a response.
Trump’s lies, distortions and oversimplifications were more than Clinton could respond to in the time allotted! Yet she tried, arguing that the Republicans controlled the Presidency and/or Congress for much of the time she has been in politics, and therefore she is not responsible for many of the problems Trump and the Republicans are blaming her for. She stated that Muslim Americans must be part of the solution for fighting terrorism, not blamed and denied a place in our society simply because of their religion or where they’re from, and she emphasized that saying divisive things about them simply plays into the hands of terrorists. She spoke of her plan to raise taxes for the wealthy only, not the middle class as Trump has falsely stated, and that she would work to abolish the tax preferences that benefit people like Trump at the expense of the middle class. She talked about creating clean energy jobs, fighting climate change comprehensively while making sure that the coal miners are helped. She talked about the importance of filling the vacancy on the Supreme Court with a justice who would overturn Citizens United, protect Roe v. Wade and marriage equality, fix voting rights, and who would not consistently side with corporate interests.
So who “won” this debate? The polls indicated that Hillary Clinton did, by a healthy margin. She answered all the questions, countered many of Donald Trump’s lies, and articulated specific proposals and her vision for America. Her body language was strong, measured, and confident while Donald Trump scowled and interrupted.
The losers, in addition to Trump, were the American people and our ideal of Truth. How can we tolerate it, how can our democracy survive when lies are a regular part of our political discourse, being made as easily as giving the time of day? It is shameful and an insult to all Americans that lies and distortions have come to dominate the almost sacred institution that supports our democracy: voting and the election process. It is a shame and an insult to us all when hate-filled rhetoric and dangerous ideas are spouted out by a man who cares only about himself, his money, and power. Trump is the illegitimate candidate created by those who seek easy answers and respond to mindless slogans, nurtured and sustained by a political party who could not and did not want to stop him, and aided by a media grown lazy and self-satisfied, who ignored until it was almost too late the lies and ethical failures that would have disqualified any other candidate in any other election.
Beyond his debate performance, Trump will have difficulty escaping the backlash from the past weekend’s tape release. That appears to be the last straw in terms of his support both from the Republican leadership and the electorate at large. What the debate most likely did was to shore up support from his core, the former members of the Tea Party and other disaffected people who became his base when he declared his candidacy by attacking Mexican-Americans and Muslims and then proceeded to childishly insult the Republican politicians he faced in the primaries. He masqueraded the outrageous for the truth and thus became “believable” in the eyes of those betrayed by the Republicans for whom many had voted over the years, only to lose ground as a result of the Great Recession and seeing little hope for improvement in a recovery that has mainly helped the top 1%.
Looking ahead, even if she wins the election, it will be no picnic for Hillary. She must win at least the Senate, and, preferably for her, the House, as well. If the Democrats can’t control Congress, then the Republicans will block her at every turn, using the technique they perfected against President Obama. And even if she can counter a Republican Congress, she will likely be pressured by the Left as she tries to compromise with the Republicans. But that is a problem she would like to have.
In addition, the question must be asked, does Trump really even want to win at this point? Or would he prefer to keep his hostile group of supporters intact so that he can try to cause trouble for Clinton? Rumors have previously surfaced that he and Roger Ailes, recently deposed from Fox News, would join forces to create a new far-right wing news company. Unfortunately, whatever happens it seems that Trump will somehow stick around and do his best to make life miserable for everyone.
In the meantime, Clinton still faces a very hostile opposition and unknown occurrences between now and the election. There is another debate scheduled; frankly, the best thing for us all at this point would be to cancel it. But mainly, let’s hope that there are no more surprises to add more controversy into this campaign that has already descended to such a low point that we must hope that our democracy can sustain it