In the history of televised debates, the Sunday evening “Town Hall Meeting” at Washington University in St. Louis was the most surreal, the darkest, the strangest, the WEIRDEST event ever.
There’s not even a close second.
Reeling from the audio tape in which he bragged about the sexual assault method of approaching women, Donald J. Trump sunk to a new low, even for him, by parading three women who have publicly accused Bill Clinton of sexual assault and/or harassment, and a woman who was raped by a man Hillary Clinton defended at a trial in 1975.
As the New York Times reported (link below), Clinton was appointed to defend the accused in the rape case, tried to get out of the case, but was denied that request by the judge.
Re: Bill Clinton’s accusers, there’s no attempt here to defend Mr. Clinton’s track record–but this is still the United States of America, and there is and should be a HUGE difference between accusations, actual criminal charges, AND convictions. (Often when I Tweet about a public figure who has been accused of a crime, I hear from people who make the leap of convicting those individuals, calling them “rapist” or “murderer” even though they were never convicted of such heinous crimes. You can’t go on and on about how America is the greatest country with the greatest freedoms–and then decide unilaterally who is guilty and who isn’t guilty.)
So Trump’s reaction to just the latest revelation of his piggish, boorish, decades-long history of demeaning women is to hold this fake ‘press conference.’
And that was just the precursor to the Main Event.
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After the awkward greetings between Bill Clinton and members of Trump’s family, the candidates were introduced.
They stood a few feet apart. They did not shake hands.
Asked about the now-infamous audio of him bragging about his technique for seducing aka assaulting women, Trump once again passed it off as ‘locker room talk.’
What idiot in Trump’s camp advised Trump and his stooges to use that phrase? First of all, as someone who played sports for a long time and has covered professional sports (and is hardly naive about the manner in which SOME athletes talk), I don’t know what locker rooms Trump is talking about. Maybe he’s talking about the locker rooms of country clubs? Or it’s just a stupid, immature turn of phrase?
You weren’t in a locker room, sir. You were a man who was nearly 60 years of age, pathetically trying to impress a giggling lightweight entertainment reporter. (Sidebar: NBC suspended Billy Bush on Sunday evening. I don’t know Billy Bush. I’ve been interviewed by him a few times, and he was always well-prepared, gracious and professional. I don’t believe his career should be torpedoed over this controversy. Give him a little time off and let the man continue with his career.)
When we finally moved on, moderators Anderson Cooper and Martha Raddatz did their best to keep the candidates from going over the time limit, interrupting each other and evading the questions.
Cooper seemed to almost disappear at times. Raddatz was far more assertive, but neither one was entirely successful at reigning in two of the biggest egos on the planet. (Not that I could do any better. Cooper and Raddatz are thoughtful, learned, dedicated and accomplished journalists. Moderating a debate, like hosting the Oscars or umpiring the World Series, is a thankless task. The best you can hope for is to not become the story.)
Trump held the mic close to his face like an unpracticed karaoke singer, which only served to amplify his odd sniffing. He paced about the stage, often looming behind Hillary, and couldn’t help but interrupt her again and again and again. Here is a man who clearly doesn’t know what to do when he’s in the same space with a woman who is so much smarter than him.
Clinton was much more focused, but on occasion she would laugh when laughter was not warranted.
When Trump talked about Clinton having “hate in her heart,” it sounded like a classic case of projection. Say what you will about Bill and Hillary–and I’ve written DOZENS of critical pieces about them over the decades–if you asked 100 people on the street who has more “hate in their heart,” Trump or Clinton, I’d be shocked if Trump didn’t get 90 percent of THAT vote.
And when Trump said if he’s elected president he would get the attorney general to appoint a special prosecutor to look into Clinton’s ‘situation’–that was a ludicrous, legally ignorant, chilling statement you’d expect from a dictator-in-waiting, not the Republican nominee for president of the United States.
In the history of this country, has there ever been a major party nominee who has been so incredibly uninformed about the way things work if one is elected?
Trump seems to think that if he wins the election, he gets to pose for a photo op with an oversized check, fire everyone he doesn’t like, build a wall that literally can’t be built, set into motion a legal vendetta against his vanquished opponent just because and order up bombings like room service.
He’s astonishingly obtuse.
At the very end of the debate, an audience member asked each candidate to say something positive about the other.
Clinton complimented Trump on his children and their loyalty to him. Trump responded by saying he THOUGHT that was a compliment, was that a compliment, OK that was a compliment, and thanked her for that, and then lauded Hillary for being a fighter.
It was a rare moment, when the two candidates with nearly 140 years of life experience between them actually sounded like reasonable, mature human beings.
The third and final debate is scheduled for Oct. 19th in Las Vegas.
What happens in Vegas won’t stay in Vegas. It’ll stay with us for weeks, maybe years, to come.