by: Chris Thompson and Michael Shields
In the wake of a heated, scandal-ridden second Presidential Debate, Across the Margin attempts to make sense of the all senselessness…
The days leading up to the second 2016 Presidential Debate, which occurred last night in St. Louis, Missouri, have been flat out confounding to the American people. Constituents, on both sides of the political divide, have been forced to confront, once again, the alarming fact that one of the nominees is momentously unfit for the Presidency. Although bombshells about Donald Trump’s rampant racism, misogyny, and fascist nature seem to be unearthed almost daily, the surfacing of an eleven year old video of him joyfully bragging about being able to do “anything” to woman he desires, even “grab them by the pussy,” feels like a true game-changer. It is almost enough to make you forget that it was revealed last week that Donald Trump’s New Jersey and Connecticut state income tax filings from 1995 reveal a loss of $915,729,293, all but confirming that he was able to avoid paying any federal income taxes for up to 18 years. Almost.
Those defending Donald in his latest indiscretion have turned to the exceedingly dangerous “boys will be boys” retort, while others argue that Donald’s philandering has nothing to do with politics and his ability to Make America Great Again. Donald Trump’s base might be sticking with their man, but the pitiful behavior exhibited in the video does have numerous Republicans appropriately, and finally, concerned. Ever defiant, two hours before last evening’s debate, Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump held a brief news conference with four women, all of whom claim they had been mistreated by Bill and Hillary Clinton, further illustrating how conflict-orientated this Presidential election cycle has become. And so with the air rife with scandal, and the smell of blood in the air, the nation tuned in by the millions to see how Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton would respond to these uncommon turns of events.
In a Town Hall style debate, moderated by CNN’s Anderson Cooper and ABC’s Martha Raddatz, where questions were (supposed to be) lobbed at both candidates from (somehow?) undecided voters, Trump addressed the elephant in the room, defending his crass, insensitive conversation with Billy Bush by describing it as merely “locker room banter,” championing the dangerous culture that normalizes the sexual assault of woman. “It’s just words folks; It’s just words,” Trump barked and then veered quickly into his classic deflection mode, invoking the threat of ISIS and attacking Bill Clinton’s past alleged indiscretions. Soon thereafter, Trump went on to threaten Hillary, sniffling heavily all the while, that if elected he would enlist a prosecutor to look into her activities, even declaring later on in the debate that she should be ashamed of herself and that she should be put in jail. Attempting to deal with a man who decidedly stalked the stage in an obvious effort to intimidate his opponent all evening, Hillary invoked the sage advice of First Lady Michelle Obama, who said, “when they go low, you go high.” And most of the evening Clinton was able to do just that, keep her cool, and attempt to stick to the issues at hand, focusing on the fact that America is great now, “because we are good.” To Hillary’s credit she seemed calm and focused, like a boxer in a prize match, diligently pummeling away at Trumps obvious weaknesses, at his lack of “fitness” to be President, and exclaiming while gesturing to Donald Trump, that “this is not who we are.”
Trump wasn’t the only one who had to answer to his critics going into last night’s debate. Clinton’s presumed successes in the weeks since the first debate were overshadowed by the Wikileaks release on Friday of emails seemingly from Clinton adviser John Podesta, including excerpts from Clinton’s high-priced speeches to Wall Street firms. The speeches point to an all too-cozy relationship between Hillary Clinton and important players in the financial sector. With Hillary suggesting in an excerpt from one speech that in politics “you need both a public and a private position,” she had a lot to answer for in terms of proving to the American public that she wasn’t the two-faced candidate many see her as. In an odd rationale for invoking such a dubious position, Clinton referenced President Abraham Lincoln, and the lengths he had to go to to get the 13th Amendment passed, thus abolishing slavery in the United States.
In Clinton’s mind, Lincoln had to present different arguments to different parties, even if they sometimes conflicted with each other, in order to achieve his greater aim, something which she found to be a “great display of Presidential leadership.” In a Presidential election cycle so steeped in controversy, and with Hillary’s reputation for lying and false narratives so front and center, her reasoning for her remarks were thin and nothing but fuel for Donald Trump’s well tested rhetoric. Responding that Clinton had been caught in a lie and was trying to blame her actions on the “late, great Abraham Lincoln,” which he found “ridiculous,” Trump gave the voters a glimpse of the type of punches he is capable of throwing. And the point rings true, for Clinton does have a lot of explaining to do in terms of her perceived “cozy” relationship with Wall Street and the greater Clinton Foundation’s influence.
Trump did manage to staunch some of the bleeding to his first debate appearance, and his overall campaign, by putting in a solid performance hammering away at Clinton’s faults as a Presidential candidate throughout the debate. But with the first thirty minutes of Trump’s performance marred by his inability to properly provide a robust personal apology for his ugly and insensitive comments, and instead deflecting his transgressions to pile on Hillary’s and her husband’s character, The Donald missed out on a solid opportunity to explain himself and reach out to those he has offended, thus putting to rest the growing controversy over his 2005 remarks. And his bitter attacks on Clinton and her years of political service did nothing to reach out to moderate voters. But the greater question on everyone’s mind, especially those in Republican camps, was whether Trump was able to save a campaign that, going into the debate last night, was in a freefall.
On the topic of foreign policy (translation: the Middle East), Clinton seemed composed and informed and capable of presenting concrete examples of how she would handle the catastrophes in war-torn Syria and the greater influence of Russia and Iran in the area, speaking of “leverage” and prosecution of key players for “war crimes.” Trump, however, failed again to give specifics on what he would commit to in terms of addressing the unfolding atrocities, instead pivoting his response to the rise of ISIS under President Obama’s and Secretary of State Clinton’s tenure. Trump was continually called out by moderator Martha Raddatz, with her insisting that he answer the questions and clarify his point of view. But her repeated insistences fell on deaf ears, with Trump furthering his attacks on the current administration, asking “How stupid is our country?” and pouncing on the role the U.S. is currently undertaking militarily in the Middle East. And where Clinton declared she would stand up to Putin and Russia and its rising influence in the region, Trump failed to take a stance, instead stating that “I know nothing about Russia,” and even questioning whether it was actually responsible for the hack of the Democratic National Committee’s email servers in order to influence the election. To boot, in a move that undoubtedly served to embarrass his Vice-Presidential running mate Mike Pence, Trump used a question about Pence’s hard-line stance on Russia on last week’s’ Vice Presidential debate to further prove his inadequacy as a candidate stating “He and I haven’t spoken, and I disagree.” Another banner moment for the Trump campaign.
Donald Trump came to play last evening, in stark contrast to the first debate. He was fired up and wasn’t going to allow a little controversy to mitigate his bluster. But what was so very apparent through the debate is that Donald Trump is a child. A whiny, prone to tantrum, toddler who roamed the debate stage in the manner of a bully looking for someone to pick on. Who bellyached about being ganged up on by Hillary and the moderators (“three against one”) and who interrupted Hillary’s responses time and again with juvenile quips. Who spoke of Latinos and black Americans steadily as if a foreign species (“I’m going to help the African-Americans, I’m going to help the Latinos”) and who responded to a question about Islamophobia by accusing Muslims of not informing on other Muslims and perpetuated the lie that “many people” saw bombs in the San Bernardino shooters’ apartment. Who without hesitation called Hillary Clinton “the devil” and lied once again about his stance on the Iraq War. Say what you will about Hillary, but she is surely an adult, one who was prepared to talk about the issues that affect Americans most. She spoke clearly and pragmatically, and it was obvious throughout the debate who is more fit for the position of Commander in Chief. And it isn’t even close. But what lingers over these debates, more than anything, is the question that so many of us are ask ourselves over and over again amid the weirdest Presidential Campaign of all time: Is this really happening? It’s mind-blowing that Donald Trump is in this position. Or in the words of the great Robert De Niro, “it makes me so angry that this country had gotten to the point that this fool, this bozo, has wound up where he has.”