Democracy & Government

Last Night: Debating the Merits of the First Presidential Debate

Moyers' contributors deliver their verdicts and reactions.

Last Night at the Presidential Debate


In this special debate-night edition of “Last Night,” our ongoing effort to monitor how politics is covered on prime-time television, some of our subject-matter experts join our regular media critics to offer their reactions and reviews.

A Good Night for Hillary

Scorecards may be odious, but overall, it has to be said that Hillary Clinton had a very good night. In the first half hour, Trump seemed to be doing his best to appear presidential and keep his Trumpiness under control but soon it came bursting out of him. Read more by Michael Winship, senior editor, BillMoyers com.

You Betcha

What strikes me from my own quick survey is how much consensus unfolded, and how quickly. Read more by Todd Gitlin, author and professor of journalism and sociology at Columbia University.

Last night Donald Trump lied about everything. It caused me to look again at his economic plan through this lens. The basic idea is that a program centered on a massive tax cut and deregulating finance (and everything else) would “pay for itself.” Yesterday I thought that the analysis was based on unrealistic assumptions and wishful thinking — very much like the arguments put forward by George W. Bush for his tax cuts and deregulation. After the debate, I am seeing this Trump campaign document differently. It is a huge lie, from top to bottom. This would actually be worse than what happened under Bush — and the results of those eight years were simply disastrous.”

— Simon Johnson, professor of economics at MIT and former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund

An Aggrieved Gorilla

So what happened? How did Trump snatch defeat from the jaws of victory? The way he behaved last night like an aggrieved gorilla, the pompous brow-furrowing poses he struck, the tumble of words — often utter nonsense — were no different than what we have become accustomed to from him. Read more by Neal Gabler, author and senior fellow at the University of Southern California’s Norman Lear Center.

The big surprise in last night’s debate was not what was said and done but what was not. What the heck happened to the entire Republican agenda of the past eight years? The upshot of last night is not merely that one candidate is hyper-qualified to the next president of the United States and the other one is not even a decent beauty-queen host; it’s that the entire Republican Party agenda of the past eight years has been a hoax. The party’s only priority has been satisfying the demands of its donors and holding onto its seats. Read more by Eric Alterman, CUNY distinguished professor of English and journalism at Brooklyn College, media columnist for The Nation.
Clueless About America’s Place in 21st Century World

I take it as a given that Trump is utterly ill-equipped to fill the office of president.  Yet little of what I heard from Clinton gives me a sense that she possesses the insight or creativity to appreciate the magnitude of the changes affecting the way the world works and the place of the United States in that world.  …She is our Herbert Hoover.  She may think she understands what ails the country.  But she’s clueless — unable to grasp the way the world has moved on. Read more by Andrew Bacevich, author and professor emeritus of international relations and history at Boston University.
The Issue That Wasn’t There

Our strongest reaction is a question: Given that many support Trump because they feel shut out of the political process by big money, why doesn’t Clinton seize upon her strong stance on democracy reforms spelled out powerfully in the Democratic Party Platform? Focusing on solutions such as public financing of elections, restoring voting rights, and overturning Citizens United would be a great way to respond to people’s anger.

— Frances Moore Lappe and Adam Eichen, Small Planet Institute
The Wall That Wasn’t There

Since moderator Lester Holt never asked about immigration or that border wall the Republican nominee insists Mexico will pay for, it wasn’t easy. But during his first debate with Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump did his best to alienate Latinos. Read more by Emily Greco, contributor,
Strategic Racism versus Personal Racism

When Hillary Clinton discussed Donald Trump’s dog whistling on birtherism and then talked about his personal racism from 40 years ago, she made an error a lot of critics make: equating dog whistling with personal bigotry minimizes the phenomenon. It’s not an expression of prejudice so much as a coldly calculated decision to seek advantage by manipulating the prejudice in others. Dog whistling is a strategy: it intentionally uses veiled terms to stimulate racial animosity, whipping up popular fears and stoking dangerous and misdirected resentments.” Read more by Ian Haney Lopez, author and law professor, University of California, Berkeley.
Clinton’s challenge

A new New York Times analysis of likely voters suggests Trump isn’t doing any better than Mitt Romney did. The problem for Clinton, though: she isn’t doing as well with that group as Obama in 2012. To win them over, Clinton needs to acknowledge that we have lost the trade war. Read more by John Russo and Sherry Linkon, Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor, Georgetown University
Two Economic Realities

As NBC’s Lester Holt noted in his opening question: “There are two economic realities in America today.” And boy were they on display in last night’s debate. Read more by Rebecca Vallas, managing director for the Poverty to Prosperity Program at the Center for American Progress.