This is a foreigner’s personal experience and comment regarding the third presidential debate between Secretary Hillary Clinton and Mr Donald Trump on October 19, 2016, at the University of Las Vegas, Nevada, United States. It is the third part of a series covering the U.S. election from the viewpoint of a German freshman at Minerva Schools at KGI who has recently moved to California. Read the first two parts, My New Favorite Horror Movie and An Awful Sequel.
This is the debate no one was really waiting for anymore. Professional Quarrelling 3.0. Step in, step in, Las Vegas invites you! The ultimate political reality show has finally found its true home. I am on the road this time, earplugs in, phone live streaming, riding the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) back into the city. I am coming from San Jose Airport and a trip outside of the country. I dread the welcome show but as it turns out, I have underestimated the two protagonists. Finally, they deliver a debate that is worthy of the name. What’s more, I get to look into the faces of the people whose lives will bear the fruits of the policies discussed, of the decisions taken by whoever can convince this multicultural mix of citizens currently so disunited.
The start is promising. My German nature yearning for respect and order is exhilarated by the reserved frankness of the extraordinary moderator. Kudos, Mr Wallace, you have tamed the beasts! He organizes and introduces ideas. We know what they are talking about. And the best part? They have to follow the rules. For now. The first round is on the Constitution, the Supreme Court, and the gun debate — highly controversial topics — yet they stay calm and civilized; an unpredicted revelation of seriousness. No one gets loud or makes wild gestures. They try to make logical arguments and don’t interrupt each other. Even in the morally complicated, intrinsically emotional debate about abortion, the peace persists. They make their points. They know their facts. They tell stories. It’s almost enjoyable.
As the incredible unfolds, I look around and think about whose story they are quoting right now. Is anyone on this train the brother of an immigrant or the sister of a woman who got an abortion? Who would they vote for? Would they get deported or put into prison by Trump’s horrific policies? The debate is good. But the fear persists. Immigration gets them off the rails a little bit. Quite literally, builds a wall between them and rationality again. Then Clinton starts on Russia. Trump can be scary, but she gets vicious when it comes to Russia. Wallace tries to interfere but it goes down the drain. Shouting and wrong points about shooting and strong men. Facts? Not sure. Hope? Tumbling.
Luckily, they turn to the economy and Wallace is back in control. It is almost boring. The same old arguments we have been hearing for months. But this is great. We talk about politics, finally. Whether it makes sense or not; I don’t even care at this point. The political situation is still dim, polarized and uncertain but these two individuals for once look like they want to do something for the populace. It’s not a game or movie; not just entertainment anymore. You could almost call it a Presidential Debate instead of Presidential sand box play.
Trump talks about a jobs report as I step out of the station and stare at the homeless: is he right? The country may not be in the greatest state. But then he starts blaming Clinton for violence and his abuses and she looks hurt. Hurt by the ridiculousness of his statements and aggressions. And the laughs of disbelief when he says ‘nobody has more respect for women than me’ are witness to the disaster he would be as a President. When comical relief is the sole reaction imaginable, reason has faded.
Nevertheless, it is not the debate that casts doubt on the candidates this time. They perform better. I may not agree with many of their arguments, but then, their policies are not the problem. The second part of the debate brings out the personal deficiencies of the candidates. They rattle on about their philanthropic foundations with personal attacks and saddeningly feasible accusations. Neither seems beyond criticism at this point. Then Trump drops the bomb.
‘I’ll look at it at the time… It’s rigged… I’ll keep you in suspense.’ He is talking about nothing less than the crucial democratic principle of accepting the election result. And Hillary is right: ‘This is HORRIFYING.’ It is a stab at the heart of America’s democracy. The rest of the debate is a haze – an informed, sometimes confrontational exchange between two politicians who may do good or not in International politics, debt and jobs. They may succeed or fail in convincing parts of the populace. But it does not matter. The take-away, to me, is clear.
The debate was better this time. But this just makes the situation even more scary. It is not the talk style anymore, not the policies, it is the direct threat to one of the greatest and longest-lasting stable democracies on the planet. Trump is a menace to the rights and peace of the people I see walking around the street. I believe these people and their country are better than that. My two months here have shown me a divided and struggling but determined and resilient country. It cannot fall into chaos. I believe it will uphold its values and democratic tradition. But I am not looking forward to election night. It is a dull, fearful mood dampening the excitement of experiencing a great day celebrating the people’s choice of guiding their country’s role in the coming years.
I arrive home and dusk is setting in on San Francisco. Walking past TV screens with the debate highlights, I reflect. Three debates, disheartening and scary, each in their own way, have not convinced me that this country and its leaders know where they are headed. I see the people walking by, the cars rushing down the street, the neon signs of the stores and of the Twitter and Uber headquarters across the street. And I look to my side, to the homeless roaming around in drags. I have faith in this country but this is a warning, America: dusk is falling. On this city and on your democracy. If you do not rise up to this challenge and make sure the sun shines bright on all parts of your nation, beware. The night could be long and fearful.