Trump & Clinton Debate Prosperity, Security and America’s Direction

By Jono Davis 
International Relations Student

“Well, I don’t expect us to cover all the issues of this campaign tonight” sighed a brazen Lester Holt, as he unknowingly summarized the debate in the first five seconds of opening, the only section of the night Holt would receive the respect worthy of a moderator in a presidential debate.

In truth, debate has become somewhat of a misnomer in this election cycle, both on the political stage and off in the wings of the internet; hateful comments, illicit “facts” and even violence have all been employed to convey messages and policies. The Republicans, and although militant wings of the Left are also partial to these sort of tactics, must take substantial responsibility in what has been an incredulous, spiteful, and altogether discredited Donald Trump campaign. The first debate, taking place in Hofstra University, New York, illustrated subtle hints of this, but more importantly highlighted the gulf of difference between the two candidates, on both policy and experience (note this is not necessarily a negative comment on Trump; it is his inexperience or rather, “anti-establishment” stature that almost certainly gained him the Republican primary).

The opening question would be in regards to “achieving prosperity” (Holt’s words), involving the creation of jobs and maintaining infrastructure and industry growth. Clinton, going first, would play an interesting angle; going after undecided Sanders and Stein supporters, Clinton pledged higher taxes and the closing of tax loopholes, as well as investment in green energy. At least, that is what could be picked out of a speech packed with waffle, including the line “I want us to invest in you. I want us to invest in your future” which means pretty much whatever one wants it too.The only reason Clinton knows she can get away with avoiding the big domestic questions (she is much stronger on foreign policy and always has been) is because her opposing candidate makes her non-sentences sound like solid gold.

Trump, on the same question of jobs would spew “our jobs are fleeing the country. They’re going to Mexico,” which sounded rather ironic given Trump’s previous statement about Mexico as being a den for rapists and drug-dealers. Trump’s biggest issue on the national stage is that he hasn’t adapted his tone since the Republican primary, a much more niche audience than the general electorate: vagueness, making statements such as “we’re losing our good jobs, so many of them” and “a friend of mine who builds plants said it’s the eighth wonder of the world,” doesn’t play well with Independents, Democrats and let’s be honest moderate Republicans. Another facet is the vitriol and tenacity of Trump, which played extremely well next to an unenthusiastic Jeb Bush and Ben Carson, but makes his Democrat counterpart look calm and collected, somewhat removing her title as “too polished and fake.”

The two candidates would come to clash directly on tax and trade issues; Trump looking to proudly lower corporation tax (for small and big business) by 35 percent to 15 percent while Clinton’s is actually a little vaguer, merely stating “We … need to have a tax system that rewards work and not just financial transactions,” but further distancing herself from Donald by emphasising overseas trade.

It is worth noting at this point that Trump’s plan is set to “reduce federal revenue by $4.4 trillion over the next decade on a static basis under the higher-rate assumption,” and Clinton’s trade deals that she is referring to (TTIP, TPP, NAFTA etc.) when she says “we are 5 percent of the world’s population; we have to trade with the other 95 percent,” when combined, are unpopular among almost every American. Each are appealing to their voter base in these statement; Trump, to his hardcore Tea Party-esque small government slashing social welfare Republican, and Clinton to her loyal globalist Liberalists who look to the concept of “global citizenry.”  Attacks on both sides at this point ensue, mud being slung left and right (with Holt made to sit quietly in a corner), leading to a moment that will almost certainly be turning up in the next wave of Clinton attack ads:

CLINTON: “Donald was one of the people who rooted for the housing crisis”
TRUMP: “That’s called business, by the way.”
Watching it back, the sound of palms hitting the faces of many Republicans are almost audible as Trump utters the phrase “That’s called business, by the way.” While Clinton’s ties to politics are her downfall, Trump’s connection to business is his failed dealings, ripping-off clients, but most embarrassingly his connections to the unofficial climate change sceptics caucus, as Clinton dug deep into his previous (and since deleted) tweets in which he wrote “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”
Watching it back, the sound of palms hitting the faces of many Republicans are almost audible as Trump utters the phrase “That’s called business, by the way.”
However, as Clinton continued the onslaught into the realm of tax returns, an area she hoped to score many a point from Trump, she accidentally opened herself up for an awkward moment involving her emails, as herself and Trump semi-cringingly fired questions to each other about their misdeeds, leading the entire American public to groan as they are reminded of their seemingly futile fate as “majorly screwed.”
There was a comment made by Trump towards the end of the debate regarding Clinton’s stamina as a political candidate, significant for two reasons. One, because it revealed Trump’s inconsistencies; not an hour earlier in the debate had Trump criticised Clinton for “doing this [politics] for 30 years.” Almost more importantly however, the second reason this comment is significant is because Trump was wrong. Whatever criticisms have of Hillary Clinton, whether too-polished, too-old, too-evil, nobody can say that she is not a seasoned veteran with a Mary Poppins sized handbag of experience; her stamina is actually what saved her in the debate.
On the domestic issue, it was in many ways like the first stroke in an Individual Medley race: paced, controlled, and equipped with a full tank. When it came to foreign policy however, it wasn’t just that Trump was already worked up into a frenzy, but also that Clinton appeared unfazed, as if she’d just walked out onto the stage while Trump had been tasked with running a marathon before attending. Spluttering and vaguely dancing around the issue of NATO, with factual quotes from this section including “I’m a businessperson. I did really well. But I have common sense. And I said, well, I’ll tell you. I haven’t given lots of thought to NATO” and “and I was very strong. And I said it numerous times,” Trump faulted.
It would be at this point that Hillary, consistently labelled “hawkish” and “war-mongering” (in all fairness, Hillary is a self-professed Hawk, and although not extensively covered, her future policies vis a vis Russia involve heavy expansion of military use) professionally smiles, does a sort of shoulder shimmy, and simply utters “Whew, OK.” At any other time, this could be seen as a candidate with no idea how to respond, but in this instance it has the exact opposite effect: Clinton looks in control, but more importantly she looks sane.
Clinton looks in control, but more importantly she looks sane.
After the audience laughter subdues, Clinton metaphorically rolls up her pantsuit sleeves and professionally and eloquently lays out the purpose of NATO, and Trump’s trigger-happy tendencies. In what can only be described as a perfect summary of the foreign policy section of the debate, the transcript reads something like this:
CLINTON: “He even said, well, you know, if there were nuclear war in East Asia, well, you know, that’s fine…”
TRUMP: “Wrong.”
CLINTON: “… have a good time, folks.”
TRUMP: “It’s lies.”
CLINTON: “And, in fact, his cavalier attitude about nuclear weapons is so deeply troubling. That is the number-one threat we face in the world. And it becomes particularly threatening if terrorists ever get their hands on any nuclear material. So a man who can be provoked by a tweet should not have his fingers anywhere near the nuclear codes, as far as I think anyone with any sense about this should be concerned.”
TRUMP: “That line’s getting a little bit old, I must say. I would like to… “
Going back to the earlier point about stamina while also referring to this section of the transcript, it is clear to see Clinton wore Trump down, exposed him and then ran rings around him. Trump not only said very little in the way of actual foreign policy, he also said very little in general, allowing Clinton to explain policy regarding global nuclear weapon stockpiles, the Asia-Pacific region, and the Middle East (in truth, not much was said other than vague promises, but compared to Trump, it looked like solid gold).
The debate revealed a clear win for Clinton despite an aggressive and altogether tied opening thirty minutes, and it would be her years of experience as both a previous presidential hopeful and politician that would be her Excalibur against a clearly unprepared and unfit — both in the sense of leadership material and political stamina — Donald Trump. The next debate (scheduled for October 9), will determine if Trump can learn from his mistakes and make a comeback, but in all honesty, his position as the underdog suits him perfectly, and it is worth remembering that the worst thing that could happen to Trump would be a surge in the polls for him, alarming complacent undecided voters into voting for Clinton.


Image by Evan Vucci/Associated Press.

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