News Director, GNAT-TV News Project
The views expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect those of GNAT-TV, its board of directors, its staff or volunteers. They represent those of the writer alone.
By now, just about everybody, whether individually or institutionally, has weighed in on last night’s debate between presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
So here’s my two cents.
Was there ever a more unqualified, unsuited-to-be president candidate ever than Donald Trump?
Surely somewhere in the annals of American presidential politics there was a candidate now buried in the historical underbrush who sometime in the 19th century would have been a bigger disaster than Mr. Trump but who deservedly lost his election bid. I can’t think of one, but there probably was. There were also some who made it to the White House who shouldn’t have; James Buchanan, Lincoln’s predecessor and the man who could have forestalled the American Civil War but failed to rise to the occasion comes readily to mind, as does Warren Harding, he of the Teapot Dome scandal and winner of the 1920 election. About the best that can be said of Mr. Harding was that his untimely death by apparent heart attack paved the way for Vermont’s most recent contribution to the White House — Calvin Coolidge, who had been serving as Harding’s vice-president.
But Mr. Trump is in a league of his own when it comes to more recent history. Say what you want about Richard Nixon, but at least he knew his way around foreign policy and acted politely, in public at least. Mr. Trump can’t claim any cred in either area.
It was jaw-dropping to watch him repeatedly interrupt and try to talk over and browbeat Mrs. Clinton, who’s no shrinking violet herself and has struggled with numerous self-inflicted wounds (email servers, Clinton Foundation). In a post-debate interview, one of her handlers said they had prepped their candidate to confront the “good” Donald, the version that tries (sort of) to project presidential qualities of deference, respect and authority. Instead, we got the “bully” Trump, or the real version in other words, the one who is mean, nasty, rude and slippery with the facts. The facts get twisted to serve whatever line of argument Mr. Trump may be making at a given moment, which as we’ve seen over the long course of this endless presidential campaign, may be pivoted from tomorrow or next week depending on who he’s talking to.
Here’s a scene we’d like to see — the moderator asking Mr. Trump what he really thinks about X — having said this, that or the other — and more — since that doleful day he announced he was a candidate for the presidency. We all chuckled. That was a mistake.
Is it really possible that a majority — or at least a plurality of American voters — once finished with the pointless dalliance with third party candidates Gary Johnson and Jill Stein, will actually vote for this man who projects exactly none of the grace and class we expect from the person who represents this country overseas and drives public policy here at home?
My favorite moment in the debate came when Mrs. Clinton was finally able to put the screws — sort of — to Mr. Trump over the non-release of his tax returns. It’s inexcusable that he has gotten away with this or that so many of his supporters are untroubled by it. This is as basic as it gets for any presidential candidate, because voters deserve to know if a candidate has some sort of conflict that might color their thinking or prevent them from separating their personal interests from the public interest. And of all people, Mr. Trump, with his seemingly limitless appetite for business deals and investments, stands to have more conflicts than most, if not all candidates who have come before him.
Was Mr. Trump hiding something by not releasing his taxes? Not as wealthy or “successful” as he claimed? Maybe he hasn’t paid that much in taxes. Or given that much to charity. Mitt Romney, a vastly more qualified individual who must be wondering why he didn’t wait until this year to run for the presidency again, was crucified over his tax returns in 2012, which showed him legally shielding income while paying about 14 percent to the IRS, less than the Obamas did.
We can’t help but wonder what Mr. Trump’s tax return would show for the tax he owed. It might be zero.
With the polls showing the race between Trump and Clinton tightening considerably over the past few weeks, the debate was billed as an historic moment. The morning after reviews seemed to have given Hillary the edge and Trump on the defensive for a weak performance, especially after the first 30 minutes. But it may not matter to his supporters. Trump is selling emotion — strength, resolve, tough guy, skilled business negotiator. Inconvenient facts may not matter to these folks. Hopefully they will matter to the swing voters who are undecided. Hillary is not everyone’s cup of tea by a wide margin. This election should be over as far as knowing the outcome. The fact that it is still anyone’s to win or lose is a reflection on her flaws as a candidate. But you could say that about most candidates who wake up one morning and see a future U.S. president in the mirror.
My sense is that this was not a game changer. Neither side scored a knockout punch. If you started the evening favoring Trump or Clinton, nothing you saw or heard was likely to change your mind. Stay tuned for the next one on Sunday, Oct. 9, then the third and final one on Wednesday, Oct. 19. Mike Pence and Tim Kaine, the vice presidential candidates, go at it on Oct. 4.
We are a sharply polarized electorate right now. Educated workers who went to college are by and large not doing badly. Those who were in the path of globalization and technological change, and unable to adapt, aren’t. The next president should make it a priority to fund re-training programs for workers who got stuck in dead end jobs and now need help getting the skills necessary to succeed in the 21st century economy. As a nation, not doing enough in this area has been one of our deepest failures. Ditto on education — wow, if kids currently in high school or middle school aren’t getting the wake up call if they need it, then there are a lot of school principals who are in the wrong business. We need to have a lot of healing after this election, to regroup and face the many challenges from overseas and domestically. Donald Trump has repeatedly proved he is excellent at dividing us. It beggars the imagination to see him as any sort of healer, much less as an effective president who would do anything more than sully the reputation and image of this great country and his high office. Hillary Clinton may not inspire great affection, and she has huge trust issues, but there’s no question that she is far, far more prepared to be president, and possesses the sort of temperament — Mr. Trump’s self-assessment that “temperament” is one of his greatest strengths (huh?) notwithstanding — that we and folks overseas, friends or foe, expect from a President of the United States.
Can’t wait to hear more about how Mexico will pay for the “beautiful wall” he wants to build between the U.S.-Mexican border. Maybe we’ll get to hear more about that next time.
With all the details on how this is going to happen.