This is the second part of a three-part series on a foreigner’s experience of the presidential debates in the 2016 U.S. election. The first part was My New Favorite Horror Movie. This piece covers the second U.S. presidential debate which took place on October 09, 2016 at Washington University in St Louis, Missouri.
This horror movie is getting scary. Firstly, there are people up in the fourth floor of the Minerva residence watching with me. No one makes bets about the candidates this time. Talk is serious and focused on one topic: Trump’s scandals. Even before the debate most people agree that he has already lost. This will be his ultimate reckoning. His party is abandoning him. The anti-Trump Minerva crowd is anticipating a carnage of the man who should never have been here.
Then the debate starts. It is a carnage. Last time I thought it could be cultural differences; that something is wrong with the political discourse in this country. Even if that is the case though, this debate goes beyond. I drew comparisons to my pre-teen childhood in the last debate. Now, I wonder if this is kindergarten or gangster talk, the articulation level of kids barely able to talk and the viciousness of thug attack techniques (with no disrespect to thugs here, at least they do not try to sell people that they are apt to be president).
From Trump’s side, this is not politics. It is a random accumulation of insults and threats and it is scary. He starts talking about putting her in jail. It is an open fight; rules are broken, trampled upon. His blames become senseless. ‘She has fought ISIS her entire adult life’ — um what?!
Naturally, his aggressive attacks push Hillary into a defensive tone. I do not see, as the rational, respect-expectant German, how one could react differently. She tries to counterattack but it is hard to stay within bounds against such an opponent. So to me the most disturbing aspect — the one which really gets under my skin — is that many will later say he succeeded. The thug techniques earn the kindergarten bully more praise than the self-conscious nerd.
This is not to say that it is all his fault. They both show weaknesses on foreign policy. He seemingly accepts the impending annihilation of 250,000 people in Aleppo. She gets caught up in recurring aggressions towards Russia, almost lowering her arguments to his level. Only for brief instances, she tries to get the debate back on track and talks about issues and solutions.
The moderators do not help in that endeavor either. They attack Trump directly; often distract from topics with personal questions. When Trump declares a ‘one on three’ (him against Hillary and the two moderators), I do not think he is too far off. On the other hand, I cannot really blame the moderators after enduring his arguments. It is a mess. A mess that ‘the Donald’ can sell well: a disoriented America with a rigged media apparatus under the auspices of a greedy political elite.
The atmosphere is tense until the end. My emotions switch back and forth from ridicule to fear and shock. I honestly think the man would end American democracy as we know it. He is a monster.
The problem is, Hillary shows she does not fully believe in that democracy either. I am flabbergasted. The Democratic candidate praises how in the (brilliant) movie Lincoln, the famous former U.S. President achieves the passing of the crucial 13th amendment to abolish slavery by blatant corruption. Good cause, wrong measures. This plays into fears that Trump and the right wing create about Clinton pushing through her agenda without consideration for the people or due process. She fights for the right causes but lacks the passion for democratic values. I do not insinuate this. But neither am I fully convinced of her righteousness if she makes such references. The fear of disaster keeps creeping in.
At last, the saving sentence. Audience member Karl Becker asks the question of the night. He gives us light in the darkness, showing that this country has reasonable people with reasonable thoughts. ‘What do you respect in your fellow candidate?’ Hillary’s sneaky compliment about Trump’s children, cleverly tied to her own agenda shows her hawkishness but evades showing humanity. Meanwhile, Trump’s praise of her resilience prompts a surprised ‘That was human!’ in our audience; a glimpse that not all hope is lost.
Was this the awful sequel in a typical trilogy and are we to expect a happy ending? I am not convinced. I do hope it is not like the Star Wars prequel series. America, do not let the dark side win!
A third piece about the third and last presidential debate on October 19, 2016 at University of Las Vegas, Nevada, will follow. “Like” the Minerva Quest on Facebook or follow us on Twitter to be notified of additions to this series.