The debate last night is already being called the ugliest in history, which: maybe? Who knows. But it was a terrible sign of our democratic decay.
So, I have a creeping feeling that we’re going to be seeing some stories today about how Trump did better, maybe enough to stop the bleeding from the “locker room” tapes, and staunch the exodus of Republicans leaving his campaign. And maybe he did! After all, he didn’t visibly stop paying attention after a half hour, and remembered most of his lines. And that’s progress, I guess, for a 70-yr-old who decided he wants to be President.
But, before we all read that sort of analysis today, it’s important to keep in mind a few things when discussing how Trump might have plugged some holes.
- He invited as his honored, front-tow guests 3 women who accuse Bill Clinton of sexual assault and one who is a right-wing martyr because Hillary, as a court-appointed defender, defended her rapist (she was raped when she was 12; I can’t imagine the life-shaking trauma, but that makes the use of her even more disgusting, issues of how people are entitled to counsel notwithstanding). This was insanely tacky and tawdry, and probably unprecedented. It was certainly gross, and shows again that he is a disgusting amalgamation of everything low in our culture, and has no shame, and would bring that to the White House.
- He said that if he were President, he’d basically make sure Hillary goes to prison. Again, that’s banana republic nonsense. It’s genuinely terrifying, because he probably believes it. Yes, it is red meat to his base, but considering that he knows even less than they do about her “crimes” (when pressed, he says stuff like “the server!”), it’s nothing but aspirational strongman talk.
- When asked, in the first question, about how he can be someone that people look up to, went through trade, ISIS, and Iran in 2 incredibly disjointed minutes in which he just somnambulated through a maze of his talking points, which in and of itself are nothing more than a sheaf of email forwards he “mostly skims”.
- He said he “doesn’t like” Bashar al-Asad, “but”. Right there, you should stop. Especially when you follow it up with “but he’s killing ISIS”, which he is manifestly not doing.
- Repeated easily-debunked slander about how neighbors of the San Bernadino murderers “saw the bombs” in the killers’ apartment. This is an absolute, 100% lie. It smears the entire Muslim community of America because he talks about it in the same thought of how the community needs to step up to denounce terror, with the implication that not only do they not denounce it, but they actively ignore it. It’s not that challenging a step from there to believing that American Muslims actively encourage terrorism. And again: this is a lie. No one “saw the bombs”. That didn’t happen. This is loose and dangerous talk, the only kind he really knows.
- And this was in direct response to a question on how will you address Islamaphobia?
So I don’t think Hillary was great. It was a weird mix of letting his lies go largely unchallenged, save for the terrible strategy of saying “go to my web site!”, and turned most of her answers into why Trump is terrible. If she wanted to attack, she should have done that. If she wanted to be above it all, she should have just demonstrated her remarkable competency on every question. Maybe allude to how ridiculous all his plans are, but keep on the high road. Let him snort and stomp around and interrupt and look childish and petulant, but mostly just focus on showing how smart she is.
That said, for the most part she answered forcefully and clearly, and didn’t rise to his “She got more time!” petulance. She talked to people answering questions, whereas he mostly just lectured her. There’s still obviously only one choice.
Now, if there are more tapes coming out, then her strategy looks different. A little prevent defense, and wait for the next implosion. Still, look for a few days of “is Trump back!” and his endless gloating. I don’t think it’s going to help in the polls at all. And none of this is particularly good for our democracy. It was an ugly and unredeemed spectacle, and showed the carnival depths to which we can sink. His very presence–childish, ignorant, bullying, whining, conspiratorial, paranoid, and devoid of any thought in his head more than s sentence in length–highlights again how close we are to history-changing madness. It reminds us that a huge amount of people voted for him not despite this, but because of it. It’s not enough to be grateful that he’ll probably lose. That he’s here, at all, is a lance through the quivering heart of our country.