Monday, October 10, 2016

Ranting On...the Second Presidential Debate

I wasn't going to write an article about the debates from yesterday, but they're lingering with me 18 hours later, more than I expected they would, so you'll get your regular afternoon film review tomorrow.  I knew, going into them, that this was going to be nasty.  The first debate was horrifying, don't get me wrong, but perhaps it was more horrifying because watching Trump, callous, boorish, horrendous, on that stage with Hillary Clinton felt more like an embarrassment for the country than something more.  This is a man who has no concrete ideas of how to shape the country, no grasp on any major foreign or domestic policy issues.  He deals in generic platitudes, a man that works better in front of a ten-minute presentation written by his subordinates than someone who can thoughtfully handle anything to do with running his country, or for that matter, a campaign.

Sunday, though, was different.  Trump behaved like a dictator.  It reminded me, repeatedly, of Joseph Stalin, which feels like hyperbole but the evidence is pretty galling.  He promised, on stage, to imprison Hillary Clinton for a crime that she has been exonerated by already from the FBI (not to mention the congressional hearings she had to sit through).  He literally said "you'd be in jail," and backed that claim up on Facebook.  He paraded around multiple women from her husband's past in front of her daughter.  He said she had evil in her heart and called her the devil.

I know that it's hard for some people to grasp, but Hillary Clinton is a person, with real human emotions.  Even if it didn't register on her face, it had to have been defeating to sit there and take that, knowing that she was being judged by a team of pundits on her every facial expression, who care more about how much she smiles than how often Trump lies (punditry, particularly on CNN, is a cataclysmic joke and something that I think is in no small way responsible for where we're at at this point).  I would not be surprised if she, in the privacy of her hotel room later that night, wept while thinking what the Republican nominee for president just did to her.  I know I was weeping on my couch, wanting to know what I could do (other than campaign and vote) to stop this cruelty from taking place.

It's easy to get into the nastiness of Trump and dissect.  At points during last night, he sounded more like a third-world dictator than he did the successor of Dwight Eisenhower and Gerald Ford.  It's easy to get mad at him, scold him, admonish him, and it's sure as hell easy to vote against him, but there's something far worse we need to recognize about last night.  Hillary Clinton is going to be our next president.  Every poll indicates that, and it's hard to imagine that last night's performance endeared him to constituencies like married white women that are probably going to go to Clinton in droves after he figuratively tore her asunder.  She was our First Lady and Secretary of State.  Millions of American children over the past thirty years, including yours truly, grew up admiring her tenacity, intelligence, and deep care for those around her.  She's been one of the most admired women in poll after poll for decades.  She is the first woman ever to be a presidential nominee for a major party, and will almost assuredly be the first female president.  And last night, her chief rival for the White House called her the devil, and many Republicans and even some independents proclaimed that debate a draw, or a victory for Trump.

Think about, for a second, the message that that sends to young men and women across the world.  That you can stand on a debate stage and treat our next president like garbage.  It's appalling-it's something that has to be said out loud because it's impossible to move past this without at least acknowledging that the Republicans who still back Trump, people like Speaker Paul Ryan, Sen. Marco Rubio, Gov. Mike Pence, and Sen. Ted Cruz, all frontrunners for the nomination in 2020, endorsed this behavior by sticking by the nominee.  We let a monstrous, horrendous excuse for a human being berate our next president, not for her positions on policy, but for what he claimed to see in her heart and soul.  He was willing to throw her in jail just because it suited him, and these men still stuck behind him because they don't have the confidence in their own convictions to be able to stand up to someone that might gain them a couple of votes at a ballot box.

This is not par for the course, this is not politics as usual, at least not directly from a presidential candidate.  At no point did John Kerry ever say to George W. Bush in front of his daughters that he was Lucifer.  John McCain, despite knowing it could hurt him at the polls, stood up to a woman who called Barack Obama an Arab and corrected supporters who proclaimed the future president a terrorist.  There have been moments that approached this-things like the birther movement and Swiftboating-but this was on national television, to her face, in front of her daughter and family.  It's not the same, and I think we all realized that while we were watching it.

It also has to be said that it's hard to imagine Trump doing this to Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders.  Trump, a man who has shown time-and-again how little he thinks of women, is clearly angered on a different level that he is losing to a woman.  We saw that when he went after Carly Fiorina in the primaries, the first time he clearly lost his cool and went after her appearance, rather than attacking her on policy.  He has shown a nastiness to women and persons of color that coincide with his bigoted rhetoric.  I suspect that of all of the deflections this weekend from endorsing him, it will be Kelly Ayotte or Carly Fiorina he'll focus most upon.  I wish the media would point this out rather than just sticking to anything he says about Clinton being fair game.  They're not equal, they're not doing equally terrible things.  Clinton's judgement on an email server in no way is similar to the now hundreds of repugnant statements and massive scandals of the Trump campaign.  The GOP, the media, all of us, are going to have to take some responsibility for what we have shown the world in the past few months, but particularly Sunday night, when we allowed a barbaric, vile man to denigrate our former First Lady and Secretary of State in front of millions of people, and afterwards watched punditry largely proclaim them "about even" for the night.

I will be doing my part by volunteering for Clinton (and for Democrats who have stood against Trump), by voting on November 8th, and by making sure everyone I know knows what a valuable tool their ballot is this year.  It doesn't feel like enough, but it's the best I can do for the next 29 days at least.  Hopefully you'll join me.

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