Sunday, October 9th arrived, and I found myself on the road for the majority of the day, unable to settle in and observe the spectacle from home that most Americans were watching: the second presidential debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. I was, however, able to stream the debate, and listen in while driving.
This situation struck me as being rather novel. I was reminded of the first televised debate before the American public, which was between Senator John F. Kennedy and his opponent, former Vice President Richard Nixon. It was a debate famous for the way in which the appearance of the two candidates before a television audience presented marked differences amidst opinions about who emerged the victor; though Nixon seemed to hold his ground among those tuning in via radio, television observers found favor in Senator Kennedy’s handsome appearance. Nixon’s unshaven chin, and the perspirant sheen that reflected off his brow, certainly had an effect, too… the rest is history, as they say.
Hence, through being unable to actually watch the candidates, and instead only listen to their interactions, I found it an unusual, though perhaps instructive opportunity to gain a different kind of perspective on the performance that was about to unfold.
Last night’s debate between Clinton and Trump had plenty at stake. In light of this, each candidate presented more substantive dialogue, despite Trump’s particularly evident stumbling in the beginning, as he (strangely) responded to Anderson Cooper’s questions about the recent release of a video in which he made disparaging remarks about women, by discussing the threat of the Islamic State. The attempted pivot seemed odd and clumsy, even for Trump… whose strategists had obviously managed line up the long list of women affected by the Clintons over the years, and have them present in for the town hall-style debate.
I’m not certain if that was a brilliant move on their part, or merely a brilliant example of exploitation… but somehow, it seemed to embolden Trump’s “bulletproof” demeanor, and even unsteady the balance of his opponent, despite her leading in the polls. And while clearly more knowledgeable than Trump, Clinton–even in midst of her opponent’s current campaign crisis–seems to ever-steadily evade coming across as likable.
Further evidence for this appeared at the conclusion of the debate; when asked to compliment their opponents (if they could!), Mrs Clinton could muster nothing better than to compliment Trump’s children; The Donald, on the other hand, regurgitated the same praise he once offered his rival, Senator Ted Cruz, calling her a tough opponent.
Interspersed throughout the 90-or-so minutes were numerous quips and zingers (Trump to Hillary: “You’d be in jail.”), which the post-debate wrap ups on various networks appeared to make folly of, while over-emphasizing their importance over the important issues of foreign policy and national defense, of which Clinton seemed to carry the strong suit, and economics, which Donald Trump had some impressive moments. This was shaded somewhat, however, with Trump’s outspoken difference in attitudes toward the Islamic State from that of his running mate, Mike Pence, a gasp-worthy moment which belies the inner-friction presently within the Trump camp.
Neither candidate seems ready to move forward with a comprehensive solution to the debacle of Obamacare, which even Clinton’s husband and former president recently disparaged. While its supporters say it must be changed, Clinton could offer no clear strategy on how this might be done; which still came across better sounding than Donald Trump’s insistence that, through the repeal of the program, and the removal of walls around the states (yes, in this case we can actually discuss removing a wall, in the same breath as a mention of Trump), we can still ensure “great coverage” through better competition.
In conclusion, what have we learned? Hillary Clinton will likely continue to pull ahead in the polls, following the release of Trump’s (latest) disparaging comments against women. Both Candidates did better in the debate last night, but neither seems to have a comprehensive plan, let alone an understanding for how to sell the American people on why their plan to tackle the problems we face is the best way forward… which is more than anyone can say about poor, absent-minded Gary Johnson, whose Libertarian party could also have chosen a better candidate to represent their ideals this year.
2016 will likely remain the bleakest year, in recent memory, for American politics. If our ideals were indeed represented by the values, demeanor, and actions of our candidates, we would indeed be in serious trouble.
Fortunately, I believe the American people are better than that… whether or not we can seem to elect officials that reflect this.