I’m not being sarcastic. If you’re reading this, you’re alive. That’s something. It means that you’ve survived this nightmarish presidential election season so far. Against all odds, you’ve persevered. Your body has not yet been crushed under the wheels. You remain unbroken. Congratulations.
The Audience’s Temperament
Those watching the debate at Hofstra University swore an oath to never speak, lest their cheers make things more interesting. Unfortunately, when you have a professional entertainer with his very own SAG pension onstage, the laugh lines are going to come. And when Donald Trump said he had a better temperament than Hillary Clinton, did you really expect the crowd not to chuckle uproariously?
The people wanted a show, and they got one. The candidates smirked and shrugged, shouted and rolled their eyes, delivered one-liners of varying levels of humor. Moderator Lester Holt mostly stayed out of it and let them do their thing. This debate, even more than most presidential debates, was never going to be about the issues. It was going to be about Trump and whether he was going to be credibly “presidential,” whatever that means. (It means nothing.) We can at least be thankful that they didn’t make the candidates fill out Mad Libs or play Truth or Dare. But who knows? We’ve still got plenty of time left in this election.
This Reporter, Who Properly Set the Tone of Debate Night
Those Living Below the Poverty Line
On an evening ostensibly dedicated to “America’s direction, achieving prosperity, and securing America,” there was not one question about poverty. At best, poverty is an afterthought in American political rhetoric, secondary to the needs of “small businesses” and “the middle class.” But in tonight’s debate, it apparently didn’t even warrant a brief mention from either candidate. There’s actually some good news on that front — a recent Census Bureau report found that poverty fell for every group last year, and 3.5 million Americans climbed above the poverty line. But there's still a lot more work to do, and nobody on the stage tonight even paid lip service to that fact.
Really? Really, though? Really?
Take a moment to think of these poor souls, working in the cramped and fetid environs of a nondescript office park under unnatural fluorescent lights, fingertips numb from typing, eyes hazy with exhaustion, foreheads shining with the sheen of unwiped sweat, desperately trying to keep abreast of an avalanche of unsubstantiated claims — and there are more coming every moment — while at the same time their subconsciouses are cataloguing all the minor decisions and major choices, all of the vagaries of luck and circumstance that have led them to this horrible fate. There is no escape. Two debates remain.
Trump really stood up on that debate stage, on live television, and fixed his mouth to chide Clinton for using inflammatory racist rhetoric. Which she did. But to have the shamelessness to condemn her for that while defending building his own career on asking the first black president to show his papers, while saying that blacks and Hispanics live in “Hell,” while calling for “law and order” and nationwide stop-and-frisk, while describing armed gangs of illegal immigrants roaming the streets — it really was breathtaking. This is a man who has been sued for housing discrimination and took out an ad in the newspaper calling for the death penalty for the Central Park Five. This is a presidential candidate whose entire campaign runs on stoking fear of immigrants, minorities, and Muslims. And he really wanted us to believe that he cared about Hillary using the term “superpredators.” Gimme a break.
Trump gave this policy a lot of credit for decreasing the crime rate in cities like New York, but there’s no proof that stop-and-frisk was responsible for the plummet. In fact, crime rates were dropping before the practice — later deemed unconstitutional — was put into effect, and in New York, the crime rate continued to fall even after stop-and-frisk was largely abandoned.
Also, Trump supported the Iraq War, and Clinton has certainly not been fighting ISIS for her entire life — unless she is a time traveler and has been visiting the late 20th century since she was a baby. Also, while we’re all here, Clinton did not start the birther controversy. Trump was able to appear onstage Monday night thanks mostly to the publicity that stemmed from his scavenger hunt for Obama’s birth certificate — even though the soon-to-be president released a good-enough-for-a-passport birth certificate in 2008. Also, yes, Trump did once call climate change a Chinese hoax. Anyway, what were we saying about fact-checkers?
“The Vaping Community”
This was the format of much of the debate: Clinton spoke and Trump interrupted, uttering the word “WRONG” so many times that it was easy to forget that it was a word that had meaning and not just the sound of your alarm going off, waking you up from this strange, plodding nightmare. By Vox’s count, Clinton was interrupted 25 times in the debate’s first 26 minutes. During these brief interruptions, she often just gazed at the camera like she was in an NBC single-camera sitcom. Her rejoinders always began by calling her opponent “Donald.” Not Mr. Trump. “Donald.”
Constantly punctuating the first female major-party nominee’s remarks with your own thoughts is bad enough, but every time Trump opened to mouth, he did himself a disservice. When Clinton pointed out moments of his life as weak links, he interrupted to reframe them as points of pride. When she called him out for profiting from the housing crisis, he added, “That’s called business.” When she said he didn’t pay taxes, Trump didn’t object; he merely said that was because he was “smart.” When Clinton said that he called women “slobs” and “pigs,” he added that Rosie O’Donnell deserved it anyway.
As most of us learned in kindergarten, you should wait your turn to speak — interrupting doesn’t make you look strong, it makes you look bad. File that away in the giant cabinet full of stuff Trump never bothered to learn before deciding to run for president.