Debate Night in America

by / Sep. 27, 2016 6am EST

Monday night, the world watched an adult female, who had spent time and effort preparing for an important meeting with her opponent, debate a petulant, unprepared child who eschewed preparation, relying instead on interruptions, one-liners, and lies. 

As the American right hastens its march to the depths of anti-intellectualism, it now denigrates hard work and preparation, likening it to “cheating”. Donald Trump’s embarrassingly cringe-worthy debate performance probably didn’t move the needle for him. With his rudeness, condescension, and incomprehensible word salad, he behaved like any similarly situated D student with disciplinary issues might. On the C-Span split screen — which was devoid of vapid anchors and hot takes — Secretary Clinton appeared calm, poised, professional — Presidential. She took the hits and interruptions with a smile. Understanding Trump’s brand of domination politics, she wouldn’t refer to him the way all of his sycophants are likely instructed to on their non-disclosure forms, “Mr. Trump”. She called him Donald, and the more she got into his head, he dropped the faux-respectful “Secretary Clinton” in favor of dismissive pronouns. The candidates didn’t need to play to their respective bases — they’re chasing after undecided voters in swing states, and Clinton was the better salesperson. Here’s a chart recording his interruptions: 

He sounded okay when discussing trade deals, if ranting repetitiveness is your jam. But when the topic turned to race relations and temperament, Clinton was as cogent as Trump was weak. Clinton went after Trump for what she termed the “racist birther” issue, and it hit him hard, knocking him far off-balance. There were no raucous audiences to cheer him on, there was no array of right-wing demagogues for Trump to insult and demean — just one smart, prepared woman who was ready, willing, and able to hit back. President Obama released his long-form birth certificate in 2011, and Trump didn’t stop until August 2016 — for that he offered African-Americans, “nothing”. Trump never denied Clinton’s charge that he paid “no taxes”, ranting instead about how the government spends them in a way he dislikes, and claiming he’s “smart”. 

When asked what he meant when he said Secretary Clinton lacks a “presidential look”, Trump said he meant she doesn’t have stamina, all the while audibly sniffing, pounding back glasses of water, and losing his cool at the slightest provocation. When confronted on his refusal to release his tax returns, he got a cheer from his audience partisans when he said he’d do it, even against his “lawyer’s advice”, when Secretary Clinton releases the 33,000 emails she deleted. Maybe Clinton should demand that Trump then produce proof that he’s actually under audit — he keeps saying it, but doesn’t uphold for himself the standard he sets for everyone else. 

Meanwhile, the Clintons have released 30+ years’ worth of tax releases, and Trump is the first candidate in modern times to refuse to release any. I wonder why a lawyer is advising him not to show them? 

The most effective part of Clinton’s presentation, however, was after a particularly ugly and ill-informed swipe Donald Trump took at our friends and allies in various military alliances — Germany and Japan, in particular. He insulted them as deadbeats whom America shouldn’t protect if they won’t pay for the protection. Clinton didn’t respond to Trump, looking instead at the camera and reassuring our friends and allies around the world that she knows the election has caused them a lot of consternation, but that they can be sure that America will uphold its commitments under our various military alliances, then reminded Trump that the only time NATO invoked its mutual self-defense clause under Article 5 of the treaty was after September 11th, and our NATO allies continue to fight terrorism around the world. 

Trump? “I haven’t given a lot of thought to NATO”, he said before launching into his spiel about how the other members need to pay up. 

Clinton also came prepared with the story of Alicia Machado, a former Miss Universe from Venezuela, whom Trump had derided as “Miss Piggy” and “Miss Housekeeping”. 

If “telling it like it is” means being unable to handle 90 minutes’ worth of predictable questioning from a network anchor, and coming across as a ranting, lying lunatic, then I guess Trump’s base came away satisfied with his performance. But if you think being President is an important job that demands thought, good temperament, information, and preparedness, then there’s only one candidate who showed up Monday night to meet that standard. Amazingly enough, being President is more complex than calling in to “Fox and Friends”.