The polls have tightened and the presidential election in the last few weeks has seemed like a toss-up. Trump blusters, lies, and exaggerates at every opportunity and his supporters rally to his side, not seeming to care. No answers to problems offered, just mottos. Insults and mottos from a possible president. Is this what democracy has degenerated into in this age of information overload, where people cannot differentiate between hyperbole and real solutions? Where knowledge and experience is no longer valued by voters. Where soundbites and slogans are favored over policy prescriptions.
The debate pitted a master entertainer against a policy wonk politician. A reality show celebrity against reality itself. An autocrat against a democrat. A woman against a man. A bully against an advocate for children. An insulter against the insultee. A predator of women against a woman who’s been victimized. A fat gasbag of a narcissist against a woman primed to take him down. Was she successful?
Trump generally maintained his composure throughout the debate, though he frequently interrupted Hillary and the moderator Lester Holt. There were no major attempts at bullying, though his facial expressions often showed his displeasure for what was being said, with a smirking and head shaking as Hillary spoke. Again, Trump’s ideas were put forth in general terms, rather than being specific about what he was going to do. As expected, he refused to reveal his “secret plan” to defeat ISIS which one wonders is a plan at all. But I forgot that he said he knows more about defeating ISIS than the generals fighting them (though this was not claimed last night).
Also as anticipated Trump still has refused to release his taxes, declaring that they were being audited. This was in spite of the fact that the IRS said this is no reason he cannot release them while they were still under review. Since this has been the custom of presidential candidates for the last forty years, it is obvious that he has something he is hiding; most likely that he is not paying any taxes, though he claims not paying taxes is merely being a good businessman. (Is this the kind of leader America needs?) He may also not be as rich as he claims and may have done deals with nefarious figures. (But we’ll never know with his taxes under lock and key.) Trump also wants to cut taxes mainly on the wealthy, anticipating that the benefits would trickle down to the middle class and that new jobs would be created. Most economists doubt that this would work, but Trump probably knows more than the economists as well.
Hillary also performed as expected, giving more detail on the ideas she had that she would like to see as laws. Higher taxes on the rich to cut student loan debt and mortgage debt, pay for college, and create more jobs. When Trump said that she didn’t “look presidential” and challenged her stamina to be president, Hillary came back with a quick repartee that mentioned her travel as Secretary of State and her testimony before the Benghazi committee.
Hillary was usually seen as smiling and upbeat, while Trump seemed negative. At the finish, he pushed his slogan of Making America Great Again, believing that it was no longer great and he was the guy to right the ship. I haven’t seen the data from the fact checkers yet, but it seemed to me that Trump came out with more whoppers than Hillary, particularly in denying his early support for the Iraq War. And why is he so secretive about his plans and his taxes which must be seen as a negative for him. There was also not enough explanation about Trump’s admiration for Putin and other dictators, why he asked for Hillary’s emails to be hacked by the Russians, and about how he was going to build his great wall.
My take is that Hillary won the debate but was not overwhelming. But her knowledge and preparation shows that she would make a far better president than Trump in spite of all her warts. Trump remains a narcissistic, unhinged, off-the-cuff candidate whose spontaneous declarations are often damaging. I’m for Hillary.
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