We open with a strong speech from Kenneth Sng, president of the Student Union at Washington University and a citizen of Singapore. Democracy, as he describes it, can sometimes be like a wildfire; sometimes it is more tempered.
What happened tonight can only be described as a garbage fire.
The first question of the night made it clear what we could expect from the candidates. Asked by an audience member if they feel this campaign season has set positive examples for children, Hillary spoke greatly of unity. Our nation, she said, is great and we should celebrate its diversity. Overcoming division will allow us to achieve wonderful things for our economy, for our education, for our children. We must lift each other up to continue improving the lives around us.
In classic Trump fashion, roughly ten seconds passed before he began attacking President Obama. Healthcare is costing more because of Obamacare; we're giving Iran the $150b they're owed, sponsoring terror; trade deficits are running rampant; there's no law and order as police are getting killed in California. We need to make America great again!
Three minutes on the mic, and Trump's gloomy vision of the current U.S. political atmosphere has already dodged a question while deploying at least four lies in the specifics. Nothing in his statement addressed how his campaign is positively influencing children. Rather, he decided to reiterate the fear aspect so prominent in his stump speeches.
His rope-a-dope tactics carried right over into a follow-up question from Anderson Cooper: Do you understand that the Access Hollywood tape released on Friday wasn't the "locker room talk"—as you've described it—but in fact a brag about sexual assault?
Putting his integrity on full display, Trump responded, "No I didn't say that at all." Doubling down on his integrity, he spent four sentences repeating that it was just locker room talk—before leaving the track entirely and focusing on beheadings by ISIS. It took seven minutes and sixteen seconds for the debate to arrive at Trump using ISIS to deflect from video of himself bragging about sexual assault.
Cooper didn't let him off the hook. He asked Trump if, for the record, he was denying that what he discussed in that video was sexual assault. Another deflection, as Trump said he has "tremendous respect for women" in a long ramble while Cooper was firm on asking Trump if he has ever committed sexual assault. The ramble paused for a second as Trump said he hasn't. (New York Times, CNN, The Atlantic, and Salon disagree, especially in light of a current civil suit against Trump concerning the sexual assault of an underage girl.) He pivoted immediately after this declaration to saying he'll make America safe again because we "don't have borders" and people are pouring in.
Surely someone—though I'm not sure who would, rationally—could argue Trump wanted to get the debate onto real issues. Whoever might make this argument is hoping their opponent is so intellectually vacant they would believe a nearly two-hour debate would focus solely on Trump's tape. Normally this wouldn't even be worth addressing, but 2016 apparently hasn't bottomed out yet.
Not for lack of trying, however; Trump was presented with a question provided by the internet about whether he'd actually changed, considering he's claimed his campaign transformed him. Here, he could've had an emotional moment. Imagine: a Donald Trump presenting himself in a truly human way, describing struggles he's had on the campaign trail and throughout life to become a better man.
Instead, he accused Hillary Clinton of getting a 12-year-old's rapist off without any charges, and of laughing at the victim (who Trump held a press conference with prior to the debate and made sure was in the crowd). All of this is false, because of course it is: Hillary was appointed to the case by the judge because she was a public defense lawyer yet to have a case; she told the prosecutor she wasn't comfortable with the case, but was reminded she's required by law to take the case when appointed; her client and the victim's mother agreed to a plea deal, with the perpetrator pleading guilty to lesser charges so the victim wouldn't have to relive her experience before a jury; the laughing she's claimed to have done comes from a recorded interview in which she states she knew her client was guilty yet he passed a polygraph test—Clinton's laugh was at how that outcome made her lose all faith in lie detector tests; and the victim was interviewed in 2008, stating she didn't feel ill-will towards Hillary as she was just doing her job.
Here's the thing: by this point, the debate hadn't even moved on to the second question yet almost a quarter of the time was gone. So much of this time was wasted because Donald Trump—the Family Values, Faith, and Accountability Candidate of the Republican Party—couldn't find an ounce of remorse inside of him and show it to the world.
Why couldn't he find it? Because it doesn't exist. He hasn't changed. He's never changed. In the 1980s, he hired his wife to be president of a new property he owned and told reporters she wasn't getting a salary; he would pay her with dresses. Her name was Ivana, and her testimony in their divorce proceedings included an allegation that Donald Trump had raped her while they were married.
No reasonable, rational, mildly intelligent person can look at the timespan from the 1980s to right now and say anything has morally changed inside the mind of Trump. Story after story, testimony after testimony, hot mic after hot mic has made this painfully clear. Yet we're meant to believe he's a reformed man after a short Facebook video where his apology is immediately followed up by commenting on Bill Clinton's sexual history.
Those watching at home will recognize this as the 'I may be bad but so are they' tactic most people grow out of by the time they graduate high school. The intent is to hope someone will be angrier about another person's deeds than those of the presenter. Throughout the debate, Trump deployed this tactic at any moment where he was questioned on his character. Taxes? "Well, Clinton didn't close a loophole and probably has millions from being secretary!" Birtherism? "Clinton actually started that! Benghazi emails! I'll make my Attorney General lock her up!" Attacking the family of a fallen soldier? "She voted for Iraq! Obama won't say radical islam!"
Deflection is only one of Trump's weakest traits. The other is a determination to seed his paranoia into the electorate.
Cooper and co-moderator Martha Raddatz tried their best to prevent this debate from devolving into a Jerry Springer episode. When a candidate was talking the other's allotted time, they firmly redirected to the next question regardless of protest. Trump was cutoff minutes into the debate as he talked over Clinton. Instantly, he accused Cooper of treating Clinton nicely. A diatribe later would see him claiming it was "one on three" before claiming Cooper didn't want to bring up Clinton's emails—immediately after around five minutes had been dedicated to emails.
When questioned on whether or not he still proposes a ban on muslims, Trump claimed that was an incorrect morphing of what he wanted, followed by another rant about Clinton. Raddatz stopped Trump, demanding he answer the quest or explain how his own words declaring a ban on muslims were morphed. His response was to accuse Raddatz of unfairly interrupting him while never interrupting Clinton.
Texas Observer's Andrea Grimes wrote a very good description of how these two traits combine into a national gaslighting. I absolutely recommend reading it, because there's no better explanation for what Trump does. Every word he spoke in this debate would try to convince the viewer reality did not exist except as described by Donald Trump. Those who disagree with him are liars, part of a conspiracy, low-energy, weak, trying to keep the underdog down.
A quick lie none of the fact checkers picked up on came right after the early question of the sexual assault tape. The question was presented by Cooper with a follow-up from Raddatz, yet Trump accused Clinton of bringing bringing it up: "And I will tell you that when Hillary brings up a point like that and she talks about words that I said eleven years ago, I think it's disgraceful. And I think she should be ashamed of herself, if you want to know the truth."
He will brazenly stand in front of nearly 100 million people and tell them quotes of his own words are fabricated, too. The biggest example of the night? A question on discipline. Trump was asked if a pre-dawn tweet was an example of a good leader. The tweet in question was telling the entire country to look at the sex tape of a woman who accused him of misogyny and racism, Alicia Machado.
Did Crooked Hillary help disgusting (check out sex tape and past) Alicia M become a U.S. citizen so she could use her in the debate?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 30, 2016
Donald Trump was so confident in his ability to deny reality without consequence that he didn't even take the precaution of deleting this tweet. But that's because, just moments later, he says he's not "un-proud" of his tweets.
Neither is he "un-proud" of lying about Wikileaks.
Multiple times throughout the night, he made sure to namedrop Bernie Sanders when asserting that Clinton couldn't be trusted. Likely on a roll of confidence—or cocaine—Trump would mention Wikileaks' dump of thousands of DNC emails. You would almost be convinced he actually looked through the leaks and was well-informed.
Until he tried to drag Wikileaks' already tarnished reputation down with him. The most recent dump was brought up by Cooper due to an online question regarding a quote from one of the emails regarding Clinton's private speeches with Wall Street. She had allegedly said in her speech that a balance of public and private efforts was required for being politically successful with legislation. The Wikileaks dump is where this information comes from, and Cooper makes that clear in the question.
Hillary responds that she had recently seen Lincoln—the movie recounting his time as president—before that speech, and was referencing the balance in arguments he had to use with various people to accomplish his goals.
Trump called it a lie. He said she was blaming "Honest Abe" for her own nefarious and dastardly actions.
But, again, the very Wikileaks he cited when trying to court Sanders voters in this same debate had published the email that led to Cooper's question—and the email proved she was indeed talking about the movie. Trump even cited Wikileaks as proof that Clinton was lying about this, referring to the exact same email dump that quoted her talking about Lincoln.
We're approaching 2000 words right now and barely touched on a minority of the lies, distortions, and outright denials of reality Trump gave to American citizens in this debate. It's almost impossible for any single fact-checking team to note all of them. Three separate fact checks—NPR, New York Times, and Politifact—each missed things the other picked up, while Twitter has seen other fact checks none of those three noticed.
These aren't small lies, either. Trump showed a complete ignorance on ISIS, feigned any understanding of Aleppo (going so far as to say it's not worth saving), and yelled at a moderator who had to inform him about basic parts of the Geneva Convention. His concept of military strategy couldn't even be said to have come from a cursory playing of Call of Duty because you'd figure he would have picked something up from after-death quotes.
By comparison, Clinton's most extreme lie was to claim the U.S. is energy independent. Her most over-the-top fib was stating the income gains mostly favored the rich.
But she will still be referred to as a pathological liar by the left and the right. It's happened throughout this entire election despite fact check after fact check after fact check showing her as the most honest candidate in the field. I'm not going to say her fibs and occasional lies deserve to be forgotten because of Donald Trump's constant battle with reality. As a candidate for public office, she needs to be held accountable to the public she represents.
What I will say, however, is we should take stock of the officials, representatives, and everyday voters who greased the cogs which placed Trump on the national stage; we need to consider how comfortable we are engaging with people who have no interest in being informed, who treat opinions and memes as indisputable facts; we must firmly decide you can no longer have a job loss or poverty prevent you from being held accountable to unrestrained bigotry—nor should a bigot be given the benefit of the doubt where we assume their bigotry is caused by a tough economic situation.
Finally, we must accept we are wasting our time trying to perform outreach to these voters:
HAPPENING NOW: Pro Trump rally in front of the RNC HQ in DC. Unbelievable how ignorant some of the signs are. The GOP must reject this crap! pic.twitter.com/ILSLvkKhZb
— Tara Setmayer (@TaraSetmayer) October 10, 2016
We can fight for equality in justice, economics, and society and improve lives once we stop pretending neo-nazis and bigots have come to the table ready for rational debate. Like their Trash King Trump, they are interested only in the attention to which they feel entitled. Some of their lives may improve through osmosis of the changes we make when no longer bogged down by fact-checking every new meme they try trending on social media; others may not, as they never had problems or theirs were self-imposed.
The most important question that will never be asked in a debate is who we're willing to leave behind. You may disagree on disengaging with a percentage of voters, but I think we can all agree the Trash King and His Disciples can be left to wallow in Trash Tower and nobody will come out any worse for wear.