The Great Debate


Only my devotion to journalism made me watch the Clinton-Trump debate. It’s not my idea of fun to observe the collision of two giant gasbags somewhere above Long Island. And, as many people have pointed out, the meaning of such events, if any, ordinarily emerges not from what actually happened but from what was spun out of it, later.

So color me bored and irritated, before the thing even started.

The following is what your bored and irritated correspondent thought he observed. I’ll make it snappy, since you probably observed the damn debate yourself and have just as much right to an opinion as I have.

  1. In response to the introductory question about creation of jobs, Clinton revealed her conviction that you can do it by funding daycare, paying students’ way through college, and “making the rich pay their fair share.” Trump asserted that foreign countries are “stealing our jobs,” but Clinton returned to the idea of taxing the rich. She accused Trump of having “started [in business] with $14 million he received from his father.” She claimed that the economic collapse of 2008 had been created by a low-tax policy. She then began a long rant about government-sponsored “clean energy” creating millions of jobs.
  2. Responding to Trump’s verbal jabs about her failure to do anything good about the economy during her long career, Clinton smirked in a way I have often seen from schoolteachers who aren’t very bright. She then uncorked one of the most superior laughs I have ever seen, thus confirming one’s worst impressions of her character. She kept this up throughout the debate. She also continued her chronic habit of nodding her head while hearing things she disagrees with but cannot figure out how to respond to — for instance, Trump’s accusation that she had invented, or popularized, the term “’super-predator,” as applied to “black youths.”
  3. Trump frequently interrupted Clinton with little sarcastic remarks, to which the sworn-to-silence audience frequently made a favorable response. But I was wondering how, when Clinton brought up Trump’s failure to reveal his tax returns, he didn’t ask her why she hasn’t revealed the texts of the speeches she gave to Wall Street crony capitalists in return for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Didn’t he listen to Bernie Sanders’ successful attacks on her about that? Accused of initially supporting the Iraq war, Trump failed to mention the fact that Hillary voted for the war. He failed to mention, a propos the job-creation issue, that she bragged about her intention of putting coal miners out of their jobs. At other times, however, he provided facts (mainly about his own economic proposals) that were much more specific than hers.
  4. Clinton tried to popularize a catchphrase for Trump’s economic plan. The phrase seems to have been her idea of the one thing the audience should take home with them. The phrase was “Trumped-up trickle-down.” I rate that a failure.
  5. “Moderator” Lester Holt’s questions were filled with attempted zingers against Trump — such as a reiterated question about his birtherism — but none that I perceived against Clinton. In the second half of the event, Holt began to do “no, you’re wrong” “fact checking” against Trump, as advocated by the Clinton forces. I did not perceive him doing that against Clinton. To use a Trumpian word, Holt was a disaster. At many junctures, he seemed to be channeling Clinton.
  6. Trump made a clever transition from a question about internet security to a reminder that the hacking of the DNC revealed Clinton’s mistreatment of Sanders. Why, I wondered, didn’t he ask her why she, of all people, had been commenting with assurance about the security of electronic communications?
  7. Trump cleverly obscured his lack of thoughtfulness about nuclear war by discussing it in terms that no one could interpret.
  8. Hillary not so cleverly asserted — almost at the end, as if she thought that nothing else had worked — that Trump regards women as “pigs and dogs.”

The Summing Up:

Trump used the words disaster and unbelievable a lot, but most of his favorite verbal tics were absent, showing a degree of self-control that must have been heroic. He didn’t make a fool of himself, although he came close when he went off on a tangent about his “winning temperament,” as opposed to Clinton’s bad temperament, as witnessed in her remarkable “Why aren’t I 50 points ahead?” speech. He didn’t clearly identify the speech, so the uninformed were left to wonder, “What the hell is he talking about?” Hillary didn’t shriek like a maniac, which makes me wonder who on her staff had the unenviable job of telling her that she usually shrieks like a maniac.

I’ll agree with Charles Krauthammer’s instant analysis and call the thing a draw, although I’m not quite sure what I mean by that. Neither of them did demonstrably better than the other, although the media immediately started chattering about Clinton being on the offensive and Trump on the defensive. Each showed the ability to confirm the preexisting opinions of supporters. Since Trump was the underdog, he probably got a marginal advantage from his almost patient endurance of Clinton’s enormous sense of superiority. For me, the most memorable part of the debate was his comment, “She’s got experience, but it’s bad experience.” That doesn’t go far to compensate me for an hour and a half lost from what otherwise would have been a richer and fuller life.

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Jon Harrison

Trump showed self-control? By his standards, perhaps. He's a 13-year-old boy running for a grownup job. He's utterly unqualified for the big seat, and we will rue the day if he gets elected. Hillary, in my opinion, will be a disaster, or nearly so, but a President Trump would mark the end of civilization as we've known it (slight hyperbole). If you're old enough to have wanted to vote for Huey Long in the 1930s, then Trump's your guy. (Of course, there probably aren't many centenarians out there who were planning to vote for Long in '36.)

Barbara Jean Bradford

Well put with your usual wit.

Scott Robinson

Dear Stephen,

I agree that Donald was lacking in any effective counterattacks, and Hillary's statements don't hold water for anyone who knows the truth and would challenge her statements in the non-canned way. In short, I think that it was a draw.

In regards to "trickle down economics," what would you label it when money and wealth is confiscated by the lords of the land and distributed to the people of the land according to their needs and jobs? It does seem to me to be people being taken care of by wealth trickling down from the government. Lobbying is trickle down. Of course that's based on the assumption that lobbyists are "down", and that's a fool's assumption. Government economics is really "trickle out", the "up" take money from the "down" and distribute it among their fellow "ups".

Boredom is Better than Caring :(,

Jo Ann Skousen

I really enjoyed reading your review of last night’s debate, and agree with your assessment. Clinton was definitely better prepared and looked surprisingly well and strong. (I mostly tuned in to see if she would collapse partway through. Alas, no such drama.) You could see that she had practiced several "aha" moments, especially the one you mentioned ("Trumped-up trickle-down") and her response to his crack about her staying home. And the silly little wiggle of delight as she prepared to respond to his personal attacks.

But I was mostly angry at Trump for not preparing and not going after her for the big deals: the perjury, the security leaks, and the sale of 20% of our uranium to the Russians in exchange for an honorarium for her husband. That would have been the proper response when she said nuclear war is our greatest threat! And when she criticized his business practices (which are egregious) he should have nailed her on pay-for-play. But of course he can’t, because he has paid to play so many times.

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