I want my money back.
Oh wait, I didn’t actually pay any money to watch this second presidential “town hall” debate from St. Louis last night. But I was hoping there might at least be something of a debate, you know where issues are discussed and we voters might be able to contrast the positions of the candidates and make an informed decision. Granted that in this case anyone truly informed is running away from Donald Trump and is likely voting for Hillary Clinton instead, but still! Why did this debate have to be Clash of the Titans instead? Why does it have to be so puerile, nasty and pointy fingery?
Watchers can be forgiven if they decided to quickly turn the channel because it was virtually all smoke and no light. Even Hillary Clinton couldn’t feign a smile at this debate and I can’t say I blame her. It was ninety minutes of fingernails on a chalkboard. So if you missed it, then good for you. Who won? Well, I’d say everyone lost. Most importantly the public lost an opportunity to see a real debate. This wasn’t a Lincoln-Douglas debate, that’s for sure.
The so-called “town hall” format was anything but. Moderators found it hard not to let their own questions overtake those from uncommitted voters invited onto the debate stage. There was no back and forth between the questioner and the candidate; they had to read their question from a card. Issues like our policy toward Syria were discussed and answers were muddled at best. Donald Trump seems to think that Mosul is in Syria and had no idea that we were supporting coalition troops on the grounds there who make the decisions, not waging the war. Syria is a huge mess and it’s everyone’s fault and the United States can take some of the blame. When you have a bunch of actors who are immovable, the wreckage there is wholly understandable.
Sadly, it’s not that (for the most part) the American people care about Syria. To the extent anyone “scored” on the issue it was Clinton who said she would not introduce American ground troops in the conflict. Syria makes Americans’ eyes glaze over. Could we debate a domestic issue please? The moderators tried with the Affordable Care Act. Clinton said she would improve it. Trump said it needed to be wholly replaced but could not articulate how he would replace it or what would happen to the twenty million people covered by the law. Clinton certainly won this one on points but it was perhaps the only issue discussed.
What we saw turned out to be far more important than what we heard. We heard Trump dismiss his 2005 off the record chat with Brian Bush as locker room talk and claimed he never engaged in any of those actions, although his history of sexual harassment lawsuits against him says otherwise. He then said Bill Clinton was guilty of far worse, although we have only one out of court settlement in his case plus Bill is not running, it’s Hillary so why is this germane? As rocky as the Clinton’s marriage got in the 1990s they are still together. Can’t say that about Trump who is on marriage #3 and who we know has cheated on spouses #1 and #2. Just ask spouses #2 and #3, who were willing participants.
Anyhow, the images were bad for Trump, particularly those images of him towering and lurking just behind Clinton in the camera’s frame when she replied to questions (not to mention more of his sniffing, like in the last debate). It’s a classic bullying tactic, as were his interruptions (18 for him, 1 for Hillary). His sole change from the first debate was to sound less shrill; he really worked on speaking calmly. But body language was everything and he looked like The Hulk instantly ready to start beating heads.
Unable to smile much, Hillary looked like she really wanted to be somewhere else. If she was rattled by the presence of some of her husband’s ex-paramours that Trump had invited (solely to rattle her of course, a classic bullying tactic) it was not evident but certainly spoke to the vile human being that he is.
Neither Trump nor Clinton changed any minds in this debate but it was successful in that Trump probably slowed the exit of his supporters. While I found the lack of debate annoying, Trump’s supporters got the red meat they wanted. He said he would put Hillary in jail, something a president can’t do. Okay, he said he’d have a special prosecutor look into her emails and he’d put her in jail, as if this hasn’t already been looked into in excruciating detail. Can’t do that either. He clearly slept through civics class and demonstrated yet again how appallingly ignorant he is about what the job of president entails.
At best the debate was a draw but as I said it was all smoke and no light. If you missed it, consider yourself lucky. In retrospect, I wish I had. It left a bad feeling in my stomach that deterred sleep and made me restless all night.
November 9 can’t come soon enough for me.