“Suppose they gave an election and nobody came.”
Okay, that was a paraphrase of a 1970s movie title, but it popped into my mind about halfway through the second agonising, awful debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.
I was sitting next to my wife, who was groaning nearly every time Trump spoke, and I was taking a lot of notes. I was looking forward to the debate in St Louis, but it started badly. Before a boxing match, the referee tells the two combatants to shake hands and come out fighting. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton did not shake hands until the fight was over.
The result was ninety minutes of a prowler making faces and sniggering at nearly everything Hillary Clinton said. For the first time in 12 months of watching nearly every Republican debate and the party’s convention, I felt myself getting angry at Donald Trump. Why? Because he’s a bully. He looked like a prune with his sourpuss face, and Hillary responded with a steely gaze. She had to do something because he was trying to intimidate her by walking around and standing behind her as much as he could. (The AP Pool Photo below by Rick T. Wilking is an example.) It was as if he was trying to get her in his line of sight. Remember he’s a great supporter of the 2nd Amendment.
This was after he accused Bill Clinton of abusing women, and just before the debate Trump had an impromptu press conference with three women who claimed to be sexual assault victims of the former president and another who was raped at the age of 12. The man accused of the rape was represented by his lawyer, Hillary Clinton. One of the four, Juanita Broaddrick, said Bill Clinton had raped her and Hillary threatened her. During the debate, Trump mentioned that Juanita and three others, Paula Jones, Kathleen Willey and Kathy Shelton, the woman raped at age 12, were in the audience. If you want more background on these women, you can find it on the Washington Post transcript of the debate, highlighted with annotations on various issues.
After the two candidates failed to shake hands, Trump was asked early in the debate if he understood the video released last Friday was describing sexual assault. The NBC 2005 video from Access Hollywood showed Trump bragging about how he could use his celebrity to do anything he wanted to women. His first response was bizarre to say the least: “I’m very embarrassed by it. I hate it. But it’s locker-room talk. It’s one of those things. I will knock the hell out of ISIS.”
ISIS? Why the hell was Donald Trump talking about ISIS when the question was whether he had ever treated women as described in his “locker room banter” with then host Billy Bush (suspended from the Today Show yesterday by NBC for his lewd comments). The CNN moderator, Anderson Cooper, persistently asked Trump if he had ever done “those things,” before he finally answered: “No, I have not.” This after saying: “I have great respect for women. Nobody has more respect for women than I do.”
Hillary’s reply was perfect: “Donald Trump is different. I said starting back in June that he was not fit to be president and commander-in-chief. And many Republicans and independents have said the same thing. What we all saw and heard on Friday was Donald talking about women, what he thinks about women, what he does to women. And he has said that the video doesn’t represent who he is.
“But I think it’s clear to anyone who heard it that it represents exactly who he is. Because we’ve seen this throughout the campaign. We have seen him insult women. We’ve seen him rate women on their appearance, ranking them from one to ten. We’ve seen him embarrass women on TV and on Twitter. We saw him after the first debate spend nearly a week denigrating a former Miss Universe in the harshest, most personal terms. So, yes, this is who Donald Trump is. “
She added the killer line: “But it’s not only women, and it’s not only this video that raises questions about his fitness to be our president, because he has also targeted immigrants, African-Americans, Latinos, people with disabilities, POWs, Muslims, and so many others.”
When one of the Town Hall audience, Gorbah Hamed, a Muslim, asked the candidates: “With Islamophobia on the rise, how will you help people?” Trump didn’t answer the question, saying, “We have to be sure that Muslims come in and report when they see something going on, when they see hatred going on.” Hillary Clinton did answer: “My vision is an America where everyone has a place if you are willing to work hard and do your part and you contribute to the community. That’s what America is. That’s what we want America for our children and grandchildren. It’s short-sighted and dangerous to be engaging in the kind of demagogic rhetoric that Donald has. We want Muslims to be on the side of our eyes and ears.”
Donald Trump could hardly wait for an opportunity to attack Hillary Clinton over her emails, saying she should be apologising for “the 33,000 e-mails that you deleted, and that you acid washed, and then the two boxes of e-mails and other things last week that were taken from an office and are now missing.” Secretary Clinton said it was all false, but not before Trump said he would “instruct his attorney-general to get a special prosecutor to look into your situation because there’s never been so many lies, so much deception.” President Obama’s former A-G, Eric Holder, said: “In the US we do not threaten to jail political opponents.”
Hillary Clinton tried to finish the discussion of the emails with this: “It’s just awfully good that someone with the temperament of Donald Trump is not in charge of the law in our country.”
As Clinton walked back to her chair, Trump quickly added: “Because you’d be in jail.” His supporters laughed and cheered.
It was at this point I wanted to throw something at the television, and I was hoping Hillary would get stuck into Donald. But I think she was a bit rattled by the bully. After such a weekend and such a debate, it’s no wonder the Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan told his fellow party members yesterday that he wouldn’t campaign with — or defend — Donald Trump, and urged his members to “do what’s best for you” in the month left before Election Day. He told them protecting the Republicans’ House majority must be their priority. Trump’s poll numbers are plummeting.
As far as the debate was concerned, Hillary Clinton was good on policy, and Donald Trump was good on interjections, but it was not a quality encounter. I can understand why only 63 million people were watching on Sunday, compared to the 84 million who tuned into the first debate: NFL Sunday Night Football and the Major League Baseball playoff games were certainly more entertaining.
The legendary news presenter and journalist, Dan Rather, summed up the night eloquently on his Facebook page: “We have serious problems facing our nation, and our world. Our ship of state must be prepared to navigate the perilous shoals of our complicated world – and yet I feel tonight as if we have been hijacked into an alternate universe. This national nightmare will end one way or another and we will awaken to the same world from which we have been so disengaged. That is our challenge and it is a challenge from which none of us can opt out.”
Suppose they gave an election and nobody came. I’m still afraid if the campaign gets any dirtier, the voter turnout will reach a new low. And the national nightmare will be the election of Donald Trump … a nightmare which may haunt America and the world for years to come.
Footnote: I got an email from Hillary Clinton this morning, asking me to donate to the Democrats, which she does every day. But I can’t afford it since I’m not making any money. However, I have already voted for her by absentee ballot, and in this case, it was pure serendipity. It was as if she had read the post above and was replying to me. The subject line was: “I know how to take on a bully.” Here’s what she said (before she asked for a donation!):
“Tom, I can take whatever Donald Trump wants to throw at me — I know how to deal with a bully. But what I cannot and will not accept is the way this man goes after entire groups of Americans.
His comments about the way he feels entitled to grope women are deeply disturbing — but he says it’s just “locker room talk.” When pressed on Sunday, he doubled down on his excuses and refused to admit he’d done anything wrong.
When a Muslim woman at the town hall asked him how he’d address Islamophobia, he responded by blaming innocent Muslim Americans for some imagined failure to report terrorism.
And he once again questioned the intelligence of military leaders who employ tried and proven strategies to save civilian lives.
He’s shown us again and again how deeply unfit he is to be president. I’m absolutely unwilling to take even the smallest chance that he might win — are you?”
No, I’m not, Secretary Clinton. Thanks for your email. Keep fighting the good fight.
“Suppose they gave an election and nobody came.”