Democracy & Government

At the Debate, Each Was Clueless on America’s Place in the World

Neither candidate has "a clear appreciation of the situation facing the United States globally."

At Last Night's Debate, Clueless on America's Place in the World

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton speak during the first presidential debate on Sept. 26, 2016. (Photo by Rick Wilking - Pool/Getty Images)

Donald Trump was Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton was Hillary Clinton.

Speaking in broad and general terms, Trump depicted a country in almost terminal decline, which he promised to rescue, without actually explaining how. Nothing new there.

My sense is that to the extent that the evening’s proceedings qualify as a debate — as opposed to an exhibition or an entertainment — then Clinton probably ‘won.’

For her part, with all of the scripted preparedness that has become her signature, Clinton offered a more measured assessment along with a more detailed set of solutions. There is no question to which she is unable to offer an answer that sounds plausible — more or less like a New York Times editorial. And like a Times editorial, her foremost characteristic is a carefully measured blandness.

Although Trump questioned Clinton’s “stamina” — and by extension her capacity to fill the office of commander in chief — it was Trump who appeared to tire as the debate unfolded. His own responses became less sharp and more querulous as the evening wore on. By comparison, Clinton remained focused and disciplined.

It’s difficult to tell whether any of this matters as a factor likely to influence the outcome of the election. My own sense is that to the extent that the evening’s proceedings qualify as a debate — as opposed to an exhibition or an entertainment — then Clinton probably “won.”

Yet more than anything else, it was the shallowness of the proceedings that impressed me. 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. Her very scriptedness — along with her annoying sense of entitlement — poses a problem.

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.

We each listen for different themes in these events. My own concerns tend to focus on national security policy. Nothing I heard this evening provided me with any sense that either candidate possesses a clear appreciation of the situation facing the United States globally.

The evening leaves unanswered the overriding question of the 2016 election: How can it possibly be that in a country of well over 300 million citizens, we end up with this choice?

Andrew Bacevich

Andrew Bacevich is a professor of history and international relations at Boston University. A graduate of the US Military Academy, he received his Ph.D. in American diplomatic history from Princeton University. Bacevich is also the author of America’s War for the Greater Middle East.

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