My family and I watched the 2016 Presidential debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton last night (Sept. 26). It was one of the most intense programs I’ve ever witnessed on television, and I was almost exhausted when it was over. Mostly because I honestly believe the fate of the country is on the line, and because I so desperately wanted Donald Trump to hang himself with his own big mouth and lying tongue. He did, and for that I was grateful, but the other part of the equation is, it might not matter. His supporters love him. The race, at this point, is tight. Hillary could still lose.
I’ve been watching debates since 1988 and the Bush-Dukakis contest – in other words, since I was old enough (18 at the time) to be cognizant of the debates and recognize their importance in American life. Not just political life, but life – the debates often shape the culture, impact our entertainment, introduce new zingers, catchphrases and, in today’s terms, “memes,” into our consciousness. Debates make great entertainment – remember, “You’re no Jack Kennedy,” from Lloyd Bentsen to Dan Quayle? – but they are also real and relevant and incredibly meaningful. My college classmates and I were riveted by the debates between and among Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Ross Perot in 1992; similarly, I was transfixed by those between Barack Obama and John McCain and Joe Biden and Sarah Palin, almost two decades later. Those were watershed moments in politics and history; there was no way you couldn’t watch.
Monday night’s Super Bowl-level showdown between Trump and Clinton was another great moment in debate history. Not only did it feature the first female to be nominated for president by a major party, it featured a man who is, by almost all accounts, the worst candidate to be nominated by any party, anywhere, at any time. Certainly, he is being judged today as the worst and most ineffective debater. I couldn’t agree more. Donald Trump was not only terrible last night, he was offensive. Bullying, loud, disruptive, discourteous, rude, pompous, irritating, self-congratulating (don’t break your arm patting yourself on the back, there, Don), sniffing, filibustering, complaining and, at times, virtually incoherent. All Hillary had to do was close her mouth and look good and let Donald bury himself with his often incomprehensible word salads – which she did, much of the time. I caught myself shouting “Shut up!” at the TV more than once, as Donald interrupted, talked over, refused to cede the floor, etc. I don’t care if it was a “typical” Donald performance, or if it was simply more of “Donald being Donald,” which his supporters seem to love. No, I wanted an adult at the podium, and instead, the Republican Party gave us a petulant child.
I don’t really blame Donald for being Donald. I remember Donald’s antics from the late 1980s, when he first became famous for being famous. He’s long been a household name, and prior to the past six months, I have never really minded or even paid much attention to Donald. I don’t care about celebrity real estate magnates. I never watched “The Apprentice.” I do, however, blame the Republican Party. These people are responsible for Donald getting a spot on that stage, debating the Democratic nominee. They are completely and utterly to blame. They seemed powerless to stop a man who, throughout the primaries, came increasingly unhinged. And his supporters – his “base” – shoulder even more of the blame. They are so angry, so vindictive, so unreasonable, so illogical, that they back a candidate who has ABSOLUTELY NO BUSINESS being anywhere near the codes to our nuclear arsenal. They are to blame. Not Donald.
Yet there we sat, watching Trump try to filibuster and bully his way through a debate with a woman who has decades – an entire adult lifetime – worth of experience debating MEN on public stages. Hillary has been building her whole career for this moment, this run at the White House, yet Trump had the gall to criticize her for taking a couple of days to prepare for their debate. (He had obviously done no prep at all.) She nailed his ass with a well-deserved zinger, which I cheered, but the moment made me reflect on the fact that this election, more than any other, has given us not just a set of choices between two candidates, two political parties – it has given us a bad guy whose defeat must be guaranteed. I want Donald defeated not just because he’s an asshole; I want Donald defeated because he knows nothing, offers nothing, and boils every moral, political, philosophical, or even militarily strategic question down to one thing: money. He has no morals, no chivalry, no shame. If there is no profit to it, it’s not worth discussing, and if it’s name isn’t Donald Trump, he has no respect for it. These qualities alone disqualify him from sitting as president.
I started to qualify that last statement with the phrase “in my opinion.” No, it’s not just my opinion. I am convinced that, objectively speaking, from a place that has nothing to do with “my opinion,” Donald Trump is not qualified to be president. Anybody should be able to take one look at Trump – read just one quote of his from the debate last night – and see, empirically, that he has no business in the White House. Yet the press wants to give him the benefit of the doubt or treat his candidacy as the normal outcome of the will of the people. No, his candidacy is not normal. That a major political party has put up a man of his low character, which such thin skin and disregard for facts, research, etc., is an indictment of that very outcome. How did it come to this?
Part of it is the ultimate distillation of the nut-job hysteria that has surrounded the election of Barack Obama. This is where the Tea Party has gotten us, eight years later. I never bought the argument that the Tea Party was the end result of years of distrust of government in general – its proponents waited until AFTER America legitimately elected its first black president to raise their crazy heads, to make their repugnant voices heard. (Prior to Obama, I guess no one cared.) That high-pitched, keening sound of crazy has resulted in Donald Trump, the ultimate know-nothing, the proud bigot, the unrepentant sexist, seizing control of the very party that once championed the crazy. Now, of course, “traditionally conservative” Republicans want to distance themselves from the barking lunacy that Donald Trump blows into the wind, but it’s too late – as far as I’m concerned, the shit has stuck permanently to their faces. I’ll never trust or vote for a Republican again.
Shame on them.
Shame, too, on the networks that have, in the words of Patton Oswalt, enabled Trump over the years. Shame on journalists who want to give him points for merely appearing competent. Shame on news organizations that treat seriously, insist on giving him air time and allowing him to shape coverage, content and discussion. Shame on people in my neighborhood who put up Trump-Pence signs (who the hell is Pence, anyway?). Shame on this country if it elects Donald Trump.