Last night Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton faced off for the second of three debates, preceded by the kind of lurid scandal-tinged weekend that gave Trump his initial fame. Since the entire sentient country tuned in, Flavorwire staffers offered our reactions:
Sarah Seltzer: The last several days of following the campaign in the media — from Friday’s October surprise video drop through Sunday’s debate — have been the kind of rollercoaster that leaves you dizzy and nauseous, not the fun kind.
I admit to a kind of exultation and relief when the disturbing “Grab em by the pussy” video was first released; it was as if I didn’t even realize how much tension I’d been holding in in fear of a potential Trump victory. The satisfaction in seeing one Republican after another jump off the sinking Trump ship was cathartic, but it was soon replaced by a kind of dread: what and whom would the flailing candidate strike out against on his way down? What was his version of going nuclear? (Never mind that no reasonable candidate for President of the United States should inspire that fear; we’re all living in a new world now.)
Jason Bailey: Over the course of the weekend, the swift abandonment of even his own party (and the notion that this, and not the year-plus of previous garbage, was where they drew the line is another discussion for another time) made it increasingly clear to even the last holdouts that Donald Trump is not going to win this election. So what would happen at this debate? Would he cancel? Walk off? Melt down? Pull a Howard Beale? Let’s all tune in to watch.
Sarah Seltzer: We saw what he was capable of when he brought the parade of Bill Clinton accusers to be his guests at the debate; he literally wanted to engineer a reality-TV style stunt. As it was, the night felt nasty and vindictive enough for that genre. Threats to jail his opponent, lies, and that lurking stalker-like posture were highlights of a night that was hard to watch, more depressing than entertaining.
Moze Halperin: In all of this — even all of our talk— I’m troubled by how deeply tangential this election has become as its veered from politics into mass celebrity think-piecing, how scary (and how admittedly necessary) it is for the country to currently be engaged in a debate about two personas over two peoples’ policies.
Last night the debate began with 30 + minutes of back-and-forths about emails and repulsive “locker talk” — and of course, as Sarah stated, the reality TV stunt. I was impressed in all of this by how Clinton did keep attempting to steer the questions into the realm of vague policy description, and it was like watching two separate debates in one: one, featuring a bizarre mangled celebrity apology/defense, and another vaguely reflective of the less salacious, refreshingly dull presidential debates of yore.
As Hillary started talking foreign policy, and for one brief, shining moment — finally — climate change, I found myself excited to elect her not because I agreed with her on all fronts, but because she’s the kind of politician who you can at least disagree with on political issues rather than because of an abominable persona or dangerous, sensational rhetoric. There was clarity when she discussed a no-fly zone, despite the fact that this was a clear hint at the known fact that Clinton is more hawkish than Obama; I don’t like the idea of establishing a no-fly zone. But at least with Hillary Clinton, she’s laid it out: we have a policy plan, with a phrase, that we can speak against, as opposed to something mercurially nihilistic, apocalyptic, tyrannical, and utterly absurd that no one really quite understands how to fight without accidentally stoking its ego.
Lara Zarum: The news reports called the debate “ugly,” as if anything about this election cycle has been pleasant. Donald Trump rambled so incoherently you might have missed the part where he admitted to paying no federal income taxes or brushed aside his bragging about sexual assault as “locker-room talk.” You probably didn’t miss the part where he threatened — nay, promised — to jail his opponent should he win the presidency. You couldn’t have missed the way Trump creeped up behind Hillary every time she turned his back to him.
This isn’t a regular election cycle, and surely no one expected the debates to unfold without the kind of animosity and name-calling we saw last night. No woman who’s ever had to sit quietly while a belligerent man blathers on, or remain calm while a man makes physically threatening gestures towards her — which is all of us — could claim to be surprised by the dynamic onstage last night. What we saw wasn’t an aberration; it wasn’t “crazy.” It was gender inequality incarnate; it was Sexism: The Musical. Of course it was ugly. But like the revelation that Trump uses his celebrity to sexually assault women, it’s not news.
Tom Hawking: It’s been clear for months that Trump has little interest in actually winning the election, and a lot of interest in not being seen to have lost it. Somewhere, deep down, he knows that — I’m not the first to suggest this, but it seems clear that the plan was to drum up a lot of publicity by running in the Republican primaries, eventually losing in such a manner that would allow for plenty of complaints about “the establishment” and a profitable return to TV. Except, he won, and here we are — Trump is in far too deep, can’t extricate himself from this situation without doing something he can’t countenance doing (being a loser), and all that’s left for him now is to burn the whole thing down.
Jason Bailey: Right — Trump isn’t exactly a complex personality, and it’s not hard to figure out his logic. Donald Trump does not like to lose. That’s for losers. So he was going to return to the strategy that won him debates in the primary: playing Shecky the Racist, Sexist Insult Comic. He shot off “zingers,” he made wild accusations, he made illegal promises, he complained (embarrassingly, for such a self-styled “alpha male”) about the moderators, and he treated anyone who was not Donald Trump with the utmost contempt.
And readopting that persona allowed him, and anyone who would still consider voting for him, to feel that he “won” that debate – far more than the last one, where he wore the skin of a Serious Statesman about as comfortably as Leatherface wore the skin of his victims. He clearly made the decision to rile up his depressed supporters, the Jonestown inhabitants he was talking about when he made that crack about shooting someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue back in January. He didn’t win any undecided voters, and he certainly didn’t flip any Clinton or Sanders people. But he satisfied the deplorables, so they (and thus he) can feel the night was a success.
Frankly, about the only surprise of the evening was that he didn’t bring up Vince Foster. Maybe he’s saving that for the third one.
Tom Hawking: If there’s a less reptilian part of Trump’s brain, it’s probably trying to work out how he can get out of this bind without doing any more lasting damage to his brand. But the Trump on stage is the Trumpian id, the part of him that can’t stand the idea of being shown up, especially by a woman, and thus lashes out in any and every way it can think of. The more it becomes clear that there’s no good way out of this situation, the more we’re going to see this side of Trump — the nihilistic, cynical, ruthless creature that’d rather cause lasting damage to an entire country than it would admit to any failing or vulnerability. God knows how much more damage he’ll cause in the next month before he’s finally dispatched (and God help us all if he somehow manages to win.) Happy days!
Moze Halperin: It’s odd: I cannot wait to get this over with and vote Hillary Clinton into office — to have an exceedingly standard “establishment democrat” (and one who’s moved refreshingly far left of where she used to be on social issues) so that we can start questioning and dismantling establishment politics in a useful way, and pressing Clinton herself to live up to what she’s said in debates. I look forward to a time where something like those Wikileaks speeches about trade won’t have to be overlooked (or tossed aside following a weird citation of the movie Lincoln) — where we can interrogate government corruptions and try to demand better, without fearing that so doing will help a prospective racist dictator win an election and turn the country into more of an absurdist hell-scape than it already is at the moment. I’d so much rather elect Hillary and scrutinize her policies — as we’re supposed to do with these people — than elect Trump and continue to pick apart his persona and his politics of ugly extremes.
This debate for me seemed more revelatory than anything else: Hillary Clinton is a totally able politician who knows that her job is to be a politician — and who’ll likely be good on social issues, will hopefully work to make Obamacare less flawed (the detail with which she described her plans for this — and acknowledged its current flaws — was very assuring) as opposed to returning us to our purely exclusive healthcare system, and will probably be iffy when it comes to foreign policy. Again, she will be a politician — the kind of politician that always makes you a bit skeptical. Trump is not a politician — he is walking destruction. I’d like to actually be able to get back to discussing, with more nuance, the less reality TV-ish corruptions of politicians, to press them to honor the people and the environment over the corporations to which they’re so often beholden.
Because right now we’re all here, stuck desperately chipping away at an ego so pop-culturally engorged that it seems, if granted the opportunity by voters, it’d engulf the whole world in a mushroom cloud of chaos.