Insults and abuse: not what the world wants from its most powerful nation

The final presidential debate offers Republican candidate Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton a chance to rescue the country’s reputation

PUBLISHED : Friday, 14 October, 2016, 12:29am
UPDATED : Friday, 14 October, 2016, 12:29am

Americans lamenting a perceived decline of the US need look no further than the past week of the presidential campaign. The tactics of the Republican Party’s Donald Trump and his Democratic challenger Hillary Clinton have gone down the dark path of character assassination, insult and abuse, not what should be expected from the world’s most powerful nation. Issues that should have been discussed at the second presidential debate were set aside, the talk dominated by the fallout of a decade-old audio recording leaked to the media days earlier of the male contender making the lewdest of comments about women. It is little wonder that the candidates are the least favoured ever to contest the country’s highest office.Whoever wins will have a tarnished reputation on the international stage.

Trump is the most to blame. Without the experience of public office, he has fallen back on his knowledge of big business, reality television and pro-wrestling to guide his campaigning. His flamboyant character, narcissistic ways and brash personality have ensured behaviour that is more sports stadium and bar room than presidential. The result, as highlighted during what was supposed to be a debate of important issues, was intimidation and harassment of his rival.

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The release of the tape, in which Trump talks privately with a television host about women in degrading terms, would under normal circumstances in a democracy lead to the end of a candidate’s electoral aspirations. But despite being disowned by many senior figures in his party, the tycoon has merely shrugged off what he said with an apology and gone on the offensive against Clinton. He has accused her husband, Bill Clinton, of doing and saying worse, and goaded his challenger by featuring at a press conference women who decades ago accused the former president of sexual assault.

But there was worse, with Trump invading Hillary Clinton’s personal space and threatening to jail her should he be elected. He referred to her as the devil and said she had “tremendous hate in her heart”, making clear that the campaign is likely to get dirtier still before the November 8 vote. That is behaviour more in step with a dictatorship, not a democracy. Clinton’s response has been sarcasm and a campaign strategy centred on negative advertising. The third and final debate next Thursday gives a chance for a different course. It is an opportunity for Trump to show respect for women, minorities, the disabled – all those he has spoken of disparagingly.