The “town-meeting”-formatted “debate” between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton Sunday night was, as could have been expected, a disappointing affair, with the two moderators generally avoiding any real challenge to the lies and distortions of the two candidates and declining to push them into critical areas that have been ignored throughout this fall’s presidential campaign — like climate change, an increasingly dangerous conflict between nuclear powers that could trigger a likely nuclear world war, and the worsening income gap in the US which, let’s face it, neither candidate has a program or even a desire to combat.
On balance though, while both candidates were awful, I would say the night went worse for Clinton. Trump’s challenge in this second outing, coming right after the release of an 11-year-old video in which he boasted of assaulting women, was firstly to defuse that damaging revelation, and secondly to avoid losing his cool and making outrageous extemporaneous statements that would worsen his standing as a sober “leader.” He largely met both challenges, apologizing for his lewd boasting and his obnoxious and abusive behavior as described in the video, which he dismissed as “locker-room talk” that he wasn’t proud of, and sticking for the most part to criticisms of Clinton’s actual actions (and inaction) and to her words. His performance probably was adequate to at least staunch the stream of defections of Republican candidates and Republican voters from his campaign and support base.
Clinton meanwhile, had the challenge of trying to get the public to trust her. In this she failed miserably. Smirking frequently when she was being accused by Trump of serious crimes and of blatant and repeated lying, she clumsily tried to dodge some serious and valid charges he made against her. These on-screen actions and lame efforts to change the subject will only succeed in making her less trusted by those voters who have still not made up their minds about which candidate, if any, to back on November 8.
For example, when Trump hammered at Clinton for having deleted and then “bleached” from her hard drive over 30,000 emails — actions taken after she had already received subpoenas for them — she tried to dodge the issue by referring, in a complete non-sequitor, to the 50,000 emails that “I did provide.” It was hardly an adequate response, and effectively simply confirmed her crime of obstruction. The two moderators, CNN’s Anderson Cooper and ABC’s Martha Raddatz, did almost nothing to press her on this failure to respond.
Clinton was even worse when it came to the matter of statements we now finally have learned she made in those secret private and highly-paid speeches she give to executives of some of the world’s biggest banks — speeches she for almost a year has stubbornly refused to make public. Portions were released over the weekend by Wikileaks, which had obtained emails hacked from Clinton 2016 Campaign Chair John Podesta’s email server.
Thanks to those hacked emails, we now know that Clinton told executives at Goldman Sachs, one of the felonious too-big-to-fail banks whose toxic mortgage products brought us the 2008 fiscal crisis and the resulting Great Recession that is still dragging down incomes and ruining lives in the US, speaking thusly of progressive forces inside the Democratic Party membership:
“…while the minority base (of the party) is probably still dominated by the Democratic messaging, a coalition of sub altern interests is forming that could, with an extremely weak Republican nominee, create an aperture for either a 3rd Party victory or, in essence, an election inflection point where an insurgent candidate could actually co-opt (take over) a major party.
“This coalition, a collection of generally under-represented, low social capital individuals, has become increasingly networked and increasingly motivated. This group that our analysts are calling (makes air quotes) bucket of losers could not only be a significant force in the next election, but could, on an outside percentile, even win.”
This is clearly a reference to the very forces that came together around the insurgent primary campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders. “Bucket of losers”? Quite a characterization of Sanders’ supporters, right? That’s sure not going to help her win over those millions of Sanders primary voters. Not to mention the remarkable denigration of Clinton’s supported core supporters, the “minority base” of the party, whom she says are “still dominated by the Democratic messaging.” How is this kind of condescension supposed to make those in that “minority base” feel?
Also damaging was a snippet of another purloined speech, where Clinton spoke of her brazenly two-faced approach to campaigning, vowing for example to oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal that she had as recently as last fall called “the Gold Standard” of trade deals, saying she opposed a pipeline for Canadian tar sands oil, when as Secretary of State she was pushing hard for its approval, and her campaign claim to want to rein in the big banks when in fact she was telling the bankers paying richly for her closed-door speeches that she thought they should be writing the regulations.
As Clinton said in another one of those paid private speeches to financial institutions, it’s critical for a politician to have both a “public and a private” position on some issues. She explained:
“If everybody’s watching, you know, all of the back room discussions and the deals, you know, then people get a little nervous, to say the least…So, you need both a public and a private position.”
In that same speech, she said:
“You just have to sort of figure out how to — getting back to that word, ‘balance’ — how to balance the public and the private efforts that are necessary to be successful, politically, and that’s not just a comment about today.”
As these hugely damaging words, which Clinton had successfully kept hidden from the voters for over a year now, were finally exposed, and she was asked by Trump to explain them at the “debate,” her response was to ignore the question and to divert attention instead to the unproven allegation by Obama administration sources that the evil Russians had hacked Democratic Party emails and to claim that Russian President Vladimir Putin was “trying to influence the outcome” of the US election in favor of Trump.
Clinton also lamely tried to pretend her talk in one secret speech about having both “public and private” positions on issues was a specific reference to Abraham Lincoln’s having turned to a one-time political opponent to help him pass a specific piece of legislation. This was clearly not true, and of course the only way for her to prove that would have been to release the entirety of her private paid speech — something she will not do.
Trump’s riposte that she was shamelessly trying to compare herself to “Honest Abe” was on the mark and, one of his better lines of the night, elicited loud laughs and guffaws that had to be quieted by moderator Cooper. (Trump missed his best moment, though, when he could have channeled the late Sen. Lloyd Bentsen and said, “Honest Abe wasn’t a friend of mine, but I do know a bit about him, and you, Madam Clinton, are not Abraham Lincoln.”)
Now of course virtually all politicians lie, and we all know that politicians during campaigns say one thing and then often, once elected, do the opposite. But many of those who are planning to vote for Hillary Clinton are deluding themselves by believing that her promises to help them are real. Clearly, as she has told her big banker bankrollers, they are not. She has no intention of seriously reining in the too-big-to-fail banks, and equally clearly, she was not some innocent internet naïf when she had the private server she used illegally during her years as secretary of state erased and “bleached” so her email messages during that period — a time when she and her husband became fabulously wealthy, clearly through influence peddling — could never be recovered and read.
On balance, it was a bad night for Clinton, who thanks to Wikileaks and her own stumbling and dissembling on stage stands exposed as a crooked politician whose words on the campaign trail cannot be believed, and whose actions show that she considers herself to be above the law.
Voters may well and properly conclude from this campaign that Donald Trump cannot be trusted, whether it’s promising to “make America great again,” or to “end poverty” in America’s inner cities, or claiming he actually pays taxes. They may believe too that Trump the sexual predator of 2005 is still abusing and debasing women in 2016. But after Sunday’s pitiful performance, surely no one can any longer pretend that Hillary Clinton is in any way a progressive candidate or a person of any integrity or credibility.
The real losers though, are the American public, who continue to be deprived of a real debate in this election by the corrupt exclusion of third-party candidates from these fraudulent presidential debates. As Jill Stein, presidential candidate of the Green Party — blacked out of this election by the corporate media — told Democracy Now! in that program’s offering of a kind of three-way debate following the Trump-Clinton televised show:
“The American people have very serious issues before us, and we need to get past this debate over whether Hillary or Donald is more corrupt, who has the more offensive history.
“Let me, you know, just say, there are critical issues before us. The American people have really had it economically. This recovery has been a recovery at the top, despite some minor—minor suggestions that income is rising. Indeed, this is only a small amount among lower- and middle-income families…An entire generation is locked in debt. Black lives are struggling for safety, walking down the street or driving down the street. Millions of immigrants are living in fear of deportation. Donald Trump has shown that the Republicans are the party of hate and fearmongering, but the Democrats are the party of deportation, detentions and night raids.
“We have wars for oil that are massively expanding, have no end. The Obama administration is now bombing seven countries. This is bankrupting our budget. Half of our discretionary budget is being spent on these wars, which are not making us more safe, but rather less safe. Almost half of your income taxes are going to this massive Defense Department, which is not really not a Defense Department, it is an offense department.
“And the climate is in meltdown. We are seeing superstorms now in the Caribbean, a thousand people tragically killed in the country of Haiti, illustrating again how it is people of color and people in undeveloped nations and poor people who are really on the front lines of climate change; extended drought, continuing fires in the—in the West of the country. We have a climate crisis here.
“And these two are bickering about who is more abusive and who has been more derelict in their responsibilities towards the American people. And I—personally, I think they’re both right.”
Just imagine if 90 million American voters could have heard that response on Sunday night!
Instead, by keeping a tight lid on who is really running for the presidency, and on what the real issues are, the corporate media make it likely that, at the end of this crazy election, the winner will be the most distrusted and disliked president in the history of the republic, a woman without a mandate and without any real mass base of support.