Down in the gutters as Trump-Clinton bout turns ugly

Kevin Rafferty says the second presidential debate was a dark day for democracy, as the insults flew and the game got personal and nasty

PUBLISHED : Monday, 10 October, 2016, 4:19pm
UPDATED : Monday, 10 October, 2016, 4:19pm

US Republican nominee Donald Trump threatened to jail opponent Hillary Clinton if he succeeded in becoming president in next month’s election. He accused her of “lies and deception” and endangering people’s lives when in office. Later, Trump called Clinton “the devil”.

Clinton responded that Trump was not fit to be president, in a debate that saw both leading candidates go straight to fighting in the gutter. The first 20 minutes were more personal and nasty than anything seen in 56 years of American presidential debates. It was more fitting for a banana republic than for the self-proclaimed largest democracy in the world. If this is democracy at work, it’s time to run far away.

Trump came to the debate just days after a leaked 2005 video showed him bragging in lewd and vulgar terms about getting his wicked way with women by assaulting them, grabbing their genitals and forcibly kissing them. “I am not proud of it,” he admitted when pressed. “I apologised to my family. I apologised to the American people.”

Trump’s message was that ... his crude words were merely ‘locker-room talk’

He then immediately diverted to the wickedness of the world today. “When we have a world where you have ISIS (Islamic State) chopping off heads and, frankly, drowning people in steel cages, where you have wars and horrible sights all over, where you have so many bad things happening, this is like medieval times. We haven’t seen anything like this, the carnage all over the world.”

His message was that in the grand scheme of things, his crude words were merely “locker-room talk”, an excuse he used several times, though at age 59, as Trump was then, he was old for a locker-room.

Immediately before the debate, Trump upped the stakes by appearing at a press conference with women who claimed to have been abused by former president Bill Clinton. Trump drew attention to their presence in the audience. “There has never been anyone in the history of politics in this nation that’s been so abusive to women (as Bill Clinton).”

Trump and Hillary Clinton repeatedly talked past each other. Trump proclaimed himself as the person who would single-handedly change the world, defeat Islamic State, create new jobs and restore the economy.

He presented Clinton as a failure, a figurehead of the Washington elite, who had achieved nothing in her 30 years of public life. In a show of chutzpah, Trump accused her of failing to close the tax loopholes under which he finally admitted, as an aside, using almost a billion dollars in company losses to avoid paying federal income taxes for years.

Clinton showed herself as a policy wonk with considerable achievements as a lawyer, first lady, US senator for New York and secretary of state, who understood where and how to fix the ailing Obamacare health system and how to get to grips with economic problems. But she looked uncomfortable when challenged about deleted emails and the private server she used when secretary of state.

In the end, pundits on both sides were satisfied that the two candidates had appealed to their own bases, so call it a draw. But for democracy, it was a terrible loss.

Kevin Rafferty has been in the US watching the debates