The Second Clinton-Trump “Debate”
Of course, it was not a debate. It was more of a cock fight. And the town hall format only provided window dressing for the moderators to field question (mostly vetted by organizations) to the two candidates, while allowing a half dozen or so questions, usually mundane though one incisive one on jobs and energy, from the audience. Anderson Cooper and Martha Raddatz perhaps did their best to reign in Donald Trump, but they largely failed and, instead, Trump trumpeted his charges that the debate was a three-to-one proposition. What the format did was to remove the lectern as a barrier between the candidates and the audience and, most importantly, from each other. While Trump spoke, Hillary Clinton tended to sit impassively on her stool, though occasionally smiling at another Trump whopper. Donald Trump used the time, when Hillary was speaking and when he was not interrupting and talking over her, to strut and cower as a hovering and glowering menace behind her as he paced and grimaced, snorted and sniffed, in belligerent displeasure.
So body language was even a greater part of this debate than the first. Prior to the debate, commentators pondered how Donald Trump would handle the audience questions and engage with them as individuals when they asked questions. Even though the opportunity was lost for most questions to come from the audience, Donald Trump simply used the queries to engage stridently as he did at his rallies to talk at the audience in general and never really address an individual let alone try to answer a question. Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, did talk to the individuals trying to answer the question directed to her rather than at the audience in general. But she has never mastered the art of talking with rather than to the person.
An excellent opportunity was offered to both of them when a Muslim woman in the audience stood up and asked how each of their policies would make her feel as a Muslim American citizen. Donald Trump was asked to respond first. He approached the woman and, though his back was turned to us, there was no indication in his body language – leaning forward, facing her directly – that he made any effort whatsoever to speak to her. What he in effect said was that he did not have a prejudicial bone in his body, but Muslims had to understand that terrorists were Muslims and that he was not afraid to say it, that Muslims had a special responsibility to look for terrorists among them and not abrogate their responsibilities to America as he claimed had occurred in a specific case of terrorism where they allegedly failed to report the explosives and arms the terrorist was assembling. He would not make the error of being politically correct and would call them radical Muslim terrorists. Though he did not state that he had revised his policy of keeping out all Muslims from America until they could properly be vetted, he did exhibit the new version of that policy called extreme vetting to be applied to a number of countries that he claimed nurtured and harboured Muslim radical terrorists. Clinton, on the other hand, he claimed would admit them by the tens of thousands allowing Muslims to come in freely and did not have the courage to call them what they were, radical Muslim terrorists.
Hillary Clinton called them radical jihadists and insisted that Donald Trump’s nomenclature fed to the false notion that America was at war with Muslims and raised the spectre of Islamophobia. Further, those same terrorists used Donald Trump as their recruiting tool. Hillary Clinton directly addressed the woman and insisted that she was as equal a citizen as any other American, that there have been Muslims in America going back to the days of George Washington, and that America was at war with terrorist extremists who were trying to hijack Islam for their own nefarious purposes. She never addressed the issue of whether there was or was not any connection between their Islamic faith and their extremist ideology. At the same time, she never drew the questioner closer into her confidence by asking her if she had suffered any discrimination herself because she was a Muslim given the current international situation and the fear of terrorism focused on Muslims.
If victory was to be awarded based on posture, and if the pose of a bully matters more in a cockfight, then the much more self-assured strutting and conventionally belligerent Donald Trump would be awarded the badge. In other words, Trump’s deplorable and irredeemable supporters would remain his supporters and would continue to be unredeemed. But if civility counted, if scoring points on policy and strategy counted, if getting credit for answering and not evading questions are to be valued, then Hillary once again doubtlessly won, but not as clear a victory as when Donald failed even his most ardent followers in the first debate. Except for the independents and wavering Republicans! For them the debate was another perpetrated by Trump on himself.
Since I really want to write about the terribly debased state of American politics much more than the debate between Clinton and Trump, I will use this analysis of the debate to set up my next blog on that subject. Let me begin, not with the lowest points in the debate when Trump denounced his own Vice-President’s suggested policy vis-a vis Russia and Assad in Syria and his prophecy or promise that Hillary would go to jail if he becomes president, but with his reiteration of his only apology which came at the very beginning of the “town hall debate.”
This is the week between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur when Jews ponder and seek forgiveness for their sins. That search for redemption is called tshuva. Jews are expected to recognize, acknowledge and ask forgiveness for their sins before God for their sins against Him and to their fellow humans for their sins against them. Now there are many iterations of the meaning of tshuva, but it is generally thought of as consisting of at least the following qualities:
• Identification or recognition of the sin
• Identification of who was hurt by the sin
• Acknowledgement of responsibility for committing the sin
• Requesting forgiveness from those hurt by the sin
• Accepting the consequences for having committed the sin
• Determining with conviction never again to recommit the offence.
All of these must be conveyed with the most profound and deepest sincerity. What did we hear from Donald Trump in this third reiteration of his “apology”? He was dismissive rather than sincere. And he as quickly as possible pivoted away from the issue to discuss fighting ISIS, a much more serious issue he claimed. That is, his offence, if it was an offence, was trivial. In any case, both Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton had allegedly committed much worse offences because they did terrible things to women. He had only talked about women, admittedly in a way he now regretted and he now considered wrong, but it was only locker room talk.
Did he recognize what he had done, a requirement for the very beginning of tshuva? Most certainly not. For what he had done was not even just locker room talk. I would argue, purely on personal anecdotal evidence, that it was not locker room talk at all. In my days swimming, playing basketball and playing football (yes, I once did all of these), I can recall male teenagers, much to my self-righteous disgust, discussing penis sizes and the size and quality of women’s breasts – my teenage associates at the time had a laser-beam approach in locker rooms in focusing on the female chest at the expense of the butt, the legs, the ankles and most times even the face and certainly never personality. But I never once heard boys or men discussing forcing themselves on women and grabbing their “pussies”. Perhaps they did not discuss it because they were not famous and did not, like Donald, think they could get away with it. But I dare say that they never even considered it, not simply because such acts are unequivocally illegal and constitute assault, but because such harsh moves on women were well beyond even their imaginations.
Donald Trump, after persistent questioning from Anderson Cooper, did finally assert that he had only talked that way and never acted that way – contrary to the claims of many of his staff members on The Apprentice – but even if no further solid evidence comes out that he did actually assault women in this way, he did so in his mind and to a media host – who was fired by his news organization as a result of the revelations. Does this constitute a conspiracy to commit assault on women? I doubt it, but I know too little of criminal law to offer an opinion. But one need not go into the legal issues. One can simply recognize that Trump never once acknowledged the seriousness of what he said and its character as he tried to reduce what he had uttered to the level of his usual trash-talk in discussing women.
He certainly never acknowledged that he had hurt all women and asked for their forgiveness. Further, as my wife Nancy pointed out, he never acknowledged that he had defamed American men who engage in locker room talk across the country, but I daresay very rarely if ever would discuss grabbing women by their pussies, let alone without their consent. An apology that diminishes and dilutes the sin committed, that fails to come to the first level of recognizing what the sin was, that is not addressed to all those, female and male, hurt by Donald Trump’s boasts about locker room talk and his supposed very recent claims of contrition, does not even make the grade of 10% of what is required by a true apology.
Did Donald Trump take responsibility for what he had done? Well you cannot if you do not know, recognize and then acknowledge what you had done wrong. When he said, “I was wrong. I apologize,” he was not even taking responsibility for what he had done even at the level of his failure of recognition, for his error in his mind may have been that he had been indiscreet in talking that way in front of an open mike. He never requested forgiveness from those hurt by the sin, a willingness to accept that consequences should follow for having committed the sin, never mind expressing a determination never again to re-offend. Even Newt Gingrich, a stalwart supporter, had said, Trump would have to realize that he had to reach deep within himself and indicate that he was capable of so doing and would have to live with what he had done and live as a reformed character. There is absolutely not a whiff of evidence of Trump’s willingness or capability of doing any such thing.
The problem of ISIS is a crucial policy issue. But the character and personality of the president is even more important because it is his character, whereas policy is a collective enterprise, even though Trump as president would have a disproportionate influence on such policy, though not as disproportionate as he believes he would have. His grandiose belief in the powers he would wield as president unlimited by a system of laws, checks and balances was articulated when he fell to the bottom of the pit of politicking and promised not only to appoint a special prosecutor, which a president does not have the power to do, but to jail Hillary Clinton when he becomes president, a power usually assumed by tin pot dictators when they succeed someone they overthrow and never by an elected president of the United States. To threaten to do so was a repetition at his rallies to “lock her up,” and, in my mind, the single-most important indicator that Donald Trump is totally unfit to be president. And when his surrogates insisted he was joking – when he was so clearly not – they proved they are as deplorable and irredeemable as they continue to demonstrate that they are.
But Donald Trump proved that he was certainly not a politically correct person and definitely not a politically correct politician when, instead of simply pivoting, he trounced his vice-presidential candidate, Mike Pence and threw him under the bus for having said that the Trump administration would not only create a no-fly zone as Hillary promised (she is much more of a hawk than Obama), but would bomb the Assad military positions. Trump took an opposite tack. Aleppo was already lost. He would seek an alliance with both Russia and Syria (and, therefore, with Iran) in fighting ISIS. It is mindboggling. The whole international strategic thinking establishment of the United States must be shivering in their boots. Trump is simply politically stupid to the nth degree, but particularly in foreign policy. That was well in evidence in all the issues raised in that area last evening. And the result – the moral bankruptcy of much of the Republican Party was on full display when Mike Pence continued to back Trump in spite of what Trump had said, in spite of the ignorance of the Republican presidential candidate and in spite of the way he himself was treated.
What we saw and heard last night went well beyond Trump’s usual extreme mendacity, like his usual claim that the Iran deal was bad because America had to pay Iran $150 billion to sign the deal and his ignoring Clinton’s claim that the deal had reduced Iran’s capacity to make nuclear weapons without firing a single shot. The money at stake was at most $100 billion and probably more like $52 billion, but the money was Iran’s in the first place that had merely been embargoed. The money released from the embargo did not include monies embargoed because of Iran’s human rights record, its support for terrorism, etc. Further, deductions had to be made even from these funds to repay China. One big lie simply tumbled out and followed another.
Take one last point, his admission that he had not paid federal personal income taxes. Instead he claimed that Warren Buffet and George Soros, “Hillary’s friends,” had made similar deductions, not that they paid no taxes. Further, he lied when he said that it was really Hillary serving her rich friends when these very two friends had long advocated that America introduce a system that closed income tax loopholes for the rich and institute a much fairer tax regime. As Hillary insisted, Trump’s policies would reward the rich even more than they are currently rewarded while ratcheting up the deficit and creating large levels of unemployment by cancelling NAFTA.j
While admitting that the Canadian health insurance system is plagued with inordinate delays, it is far superior to the reformed American system under Obamacare and stratospherically superior to the previous American medical system. I will ignore his ignorance of and insults to Canada. After all, just last year he praised the single-payer system of Canada. If Trump is elected president, the whole American system – economic with respect to employment, finances, national debt, taxation; political; judicial, as well as foreign policy around the globe and domestic policies on education and especially health, would be, in one of Trump’s favourite words, a disaster.
Thnks to Alex Zisman for helingiling opponents,