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The 2016 Presidential Debates: Round 1

The contenders:

For months, the world has been waiting with… well, if not exactly baited breath, at least a hefty amount of trepidation… for the Verbal Boxing Match of the Century, featuring contenders who seem to have very little in common aside from the desire to become the next President of the United States. Upon closer inspection, however, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump do share a few similarities.

For one thing, each of the candidates has amassed quite a bit of money, a fact which, contrary to what they would like the American people to believe, places neither of them in the same arena as the Middle Class that they have been courting. Also, both of the candidates are extremely intelligent, a fact that has contributed in large part to their success in the realms of business and politics. Another similarity is, shall we say, a “lack of transparency,” which in Trump’s case might refer to his refusal to make his income tax records public and in Clinton’s case, her (illegal) use of a private email server when she served as Secretary of State. Their campaigns, too, have thus far, at least, been run in a similar manner: mud-slinging definitely seems to be the name of that game.

Probably the most surreal- and sad- aspect of the 2016 campaign for President is this: many Clinton supporters don’t as much support Mrs. Clinton as they despise Mr. Trump, and vice versa. In previous campaigns, a potential voter was able to point out specific reasons why his/her candidate would be better suited to serve as President. This time, though, many of the reasons (at least the ones I’ve heard) for supporting a candidate deal with examples of why the opposing candidate would NOT be suited to serve in the position.


And they're off...

The first of the three scheduled debates was sponsored by the nonpartisan Committee on Presidential Debates. Hofstra University hosted the event, which was moderated by Lester Holt. Before the debate began, viewers were informed that it would be divided into six fifteen-minute segments focusing on three major themes: Achieving Prosperity, Securing America, and What Direction America Should Take. Both candidates would have two minutes each to answer each question asked of them.

The beginning of the debate, though far from a love fest, was surprisingly cordial. Secretary Clinton’s, “How are ya, Donald?” was certainly homey, and Mr. Trump actually refrained from making any comments that would offend even the most dedicated feminist. Secretary Clinton did begin her response to the initial question, “Institutional inequality remains significant; why are you the kind of candidate that will provide the kinds of jobs needed?” with a non sequitur by noting the fact that it was her granddaughter’s second birthday, but she quickly moved on, stating, “We need new jobs. Most of the jobs will come from middle America,” a mantra that was repeated in various ways throughout the evening. Clinton assured the audience that she would fight for equal pay for women and that she would support people who are trying to balance family and work “by having the wealthy pay their fair share” and by “closing the loopholes.”

Trump responded by noting that “thousands of jobs are leaving (the country) and firing their people.” He emphasized that “we can’t allow it to happen anymore” and later offered, “The first thing you do is, you don’t let the jobs leave.” He emphasized that it is extremely important that we impose a tax (similar to Mexico’s 16% import tax) on goods imported into the United States. He did acknowledge that he and Clinton essentially agree on a child care initiative (no response from Clinton), but added that he would reduce taxes from 35% to 15%, a move which he claimed would be a “job creator” which "will be a beautiful thing to see.” Clinton dismissed Trump’s plans as “Trumped-up, trickle-down economics,” a clever catch-phrase that she repeated throughout the debate. She also pointed out the fact that Trump “started his business with 14 million dollars borrowed from his father,” while her father printed drapery fabric, one of many attempts to place herself within the 'fabric' of the middle class. (Trump claimed that his father gave him “a small loan in 1975,” a sum which, he asserted, he eventually “grew into millions.”)

Were the issues really addressed?

Debate... Or Dirty Dancing?

Early in the debate, Trump suggested that Hillary has had years to effect positive change in this country. Hillary retorted, “Remember where we were eight years ago,” and strongly intimated that Republicans “created the perfect storm.” “We have come back from that abyss,” she continued. “The last thing we need to do is go back to the policies that failed us in the past.” A few minutes later, Trump reinforced his previous comments with “For thirty years you’ve been doing it (i.e., involving herself in the political spectrum), and now you’re just thinking of solutions.” He went on to contend, “We have no leadership, and that starts with Secretary Clinton.” With what only can be described as a self-satisfied smirk, Clinton prefaced her response to his criticism with, “Donald, I know you live in your own reality…” and suggested that voters should consult her website, which, she claimed, has become a “fact-checker.” She insisted that “my (economic) plan would create 10 million dollars, and yours would lose 3 million dollars” and added that “Broad-based, inclusive growth is what we need for America.” Trump’s response was short if not sweet. He insisted that Clinton is “a typical politician… all talk, no action.”

It quickly became clear that the Presidential “debate” was far from Presidential and indeed gave the word “debate” a whole new meaning; in fact, what voters were treated to closely resembled a Character Assassination Forum. It was inevitable, then, that the much-maligned catchword “transparency” would crop up at some point. It didn’t take long for Clinton to demand that Trump release his tax returns; Trump assured her that he would do so (against his attorney’s advice) if she would release her 33,000 “missing” emails. Clinton (again) asserted that the email situation was a “mistake,” to which Trump countered, “That was not a mistake. That was done purposely.” Clinton attempted to turn the tables by stating that she’s “met a lot of the people who (sic: whom) you stiffed in your business deals.” ( Note the middle class-targeted verb in that sentence.) This afforded Trump the perfect opening: “It’s about time that this country has somebody running it who knows something about money.”

At one point during the debate, Secretary Clinton reminded voters that Mr. Trump began his political career based on the lie that President Obama wasn’t a U.S. citizen. Without hesitation, Trump asserted that he had watched some of her debates with Mr. Obama during the previous campaign for President and noticed that she wasn’t very nice, adding, “So when you try to act holier than thou, it really doesn’t work.” He also said that he is quite proud of the fact that “over 200 admirals and generals have just endorsed me,” and added that he’d certainly prefer them “over the political hacks that have run our country for the last ten years.”

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Law and Order

Regarding the issue of Law and Order in America, Clinton asserted that trust must be restored between law enforcement and minorities ( and noted that Trump started his career in 1973 being sued by the Justice Department for his refusal to rent his properties to African Americans.) She said that everyone should respect the law, “and that’s not the case.” She also noted that this country needs to “tackle the problem of gun violence.” Trump asserted, “If we don’t have law and order, we don’t have a country,” and agreed with Clinton that this country definitely needs better relations between the community and the police. Clinton added that we have to address the “systemic racism in our law and order” and asserted, “We have to keep guns out of the hands of terrorists.” Trump replied, “I agree with you.” He continued to reinforce the idea that when a someone is on a watch list or a no-fly list, that individual should not be allowed to own a gun.


A Secure America?

In the debate segment that was devoted to the topic Securing America, Moderator Lester Holt asked, “Who’s behind the cyber attacks, and how do we fight it?” Secretary Clinton asserted that there is “no doubt” that Russia is behind the attacks and we need to make it very clear “that we’re not going to allow it.” Trump weighed in with, “We have to get very tough with cyber warfare.” I don't recall that a specific solution was offered by either candidate.

Another issue that inevitably arose during the Secure America segment of the debate was, of course, the United States’ involvement in Iraq. Mr. Trump felt that President Obama and Secretary Clinton “created a disaster.” He also put the blame for the current ISIS threat on Obama and Clinton. Hillary responded with, “Donald supported the invasion of Iraq” and insisted that President Bush, not President Obama, decided when the troops would withdraw. Trump stated emphatically, “I did not support the war in Iraq.” He insisted that if anyone had “bothered” to call FOX commentator Sean Hannity, Hannity would have attested to that fact.

Trump’s comment that his judgment and temperament are far better than Clinton’s followed by the statement, “I know how to win,” prompted what might have been the most self-satisfied smirk of the evening from Clinton, who went on to claim that she started and President Obama and current Secretary of State John Kerry finished the Iran deal “without a shot being fired.”

When asked, “Do you support the current policy of securing American?” Trump replied, “I think that once the nuclear threat happens, it’s all over… but we have to remain prepared.” He had mentioned previously that he felt that our single greatest threat is nuclear, and, in an obvious jab at Clinton, added, “not global warming.” Secretary Clinton replied to the question on current policy of securing America with, “Words matter when you run for President, and they really matter when you are President.” (I’m still trying to figure out the difference between matter and really matter, let alone how her answer bore any relation to the question.) She added that she wants to assure other nations that “our word is good.”

And the winner (designated survivor?) is...

At that point, the debate seemed to have disintegrated into a political version of middle school name-calling. When Lester Holt reminded Trump, “You said she (Clinton ) doesn’t have the Presidential look,”Trump took the bait, substituting the word look with stamina. Clinton seemed to relish the opportunity to list her accomplishments, such as traveling to 112 countries and sitting through countless hours of Senate hearings, as proof that she, indeed, does have the stamina required for the job of President. Not to be outdone, Trump offered, "She has experience, but not good experience," to which Secretary Clinton responded, “This is a man who has called women pigs, slobs, and hogs.”

Debate or debacle? Depends on which news outlets, citizens, and/or political commentators you consult... or which party you staunchly support. What became very clear, however, was that, unlike many previous campaigns for the Presidency, this one has little to do with charm or charisma. As a spectator, all I can say is, “God Bless America…” Or is that phrase even legal anymore?



Patricia T Lowe (author) from Lehigh Valley on September 29, 2016:

Thanks, Jodah. I appreciate your comments!

John Hansen from Gondwana Land on September 28, 2016:

Good hub, Patricia. I didn't see the debate so this article really helped to fill me in on what was attempted character assassination more than a debate of policy and substance it seems. Thanks for sharing. I don't like either candidate so glad I am not a US citizen. The future will be interesting either way.

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