Okay, I was wrong.
When I wrote in this space last week that we should cancel the final presidential debate – mainly because I couldn’t bear to sit through another 90 minutes of Donald Trump’s ignorance, ugliness and lies – I could not believe there was anything left in this campaign to either startle or inform me. Had no idea that even one little remaining gem might emerge from the nastiest political campaign I’ve ever witnessed.
And then it happened, right near the end, while Hillary Clinton was talking about health care. She noted that her own Social Security taxes would go up, “and so will Donald’s, assuming he can’t find a way to get out of it…” Bingo. You could see Trump starting to take the bait, processing the insult in his own self-centered way. It took a few seconds. Then he raised his thin-skinned, little finger, shook his head, leaned into the mic and said, “Such a nasty woman.” Hook, line and sinker, she reeled him in.
And a business was born. Within nanoseconds of my tweeting out a plea for someone to fire up the “I am a nasty woman” T-shirt concession, I had orders in every size. And a suggestion for the back: “bad hombres” — another Trump slur slung at you-know-who during the discussion on immigration. Unisex ‘r’ us.
No, he has no decency. But hey, maybe he can create a job or two.
@LynnSherr i want one size M please??
— ilana mosser (@mossergirl) Oct. 20, 2016
@LynnSherr I'm standing in line behind you!
— Jane Condon (@janecondon) Oct. 20, 2016
— Lynae Steinhagen (@lynaesteinhagen) Oct. 20, 2016
And this morning:
— Helen Graves (@helengravesnyc) Oct. 20, 2016
Yes, I’m kidding that my T-shirt business validated the event. The debate was, as I predicted, a useless exercise in expanding our understanding of anything the Republican nominee might do to improve the civic good. His answers were largely incoherent (“Have you seen it? … Aleppo has fallen.”), often offensive (now he’s added Syria’s Assad to his smarter-and-stronger-than-Obama pantheon), and, as every political reporter worth her or his salt has lamented, breathtakingly anti-American. “You have been warning … that this election is rigged,” moderator Chris Wallace said. “Will you absolutely accept the results of this election?” Trump played it like the tease of a TV show. “I will tell you at the time,” he said, in one of the most unpatriotic, undemocratic expressions any would-be public official has ever uttered. “I’ll keep you in suspense.”
Historian Michael Beschloss, commenting on MSNBC, called it “a threat,” and noted the “radical” and “revolutionary” nature of such an irresponsible dismissal of the values of our republic. Our union is our strength, and the peaceful passage of power has sustained not only the United States for 240 years, but the dreams and goals of nations around the world looking for a role model.
Surely the republic will survive, whatever the mercurial man from Queens does on Election Day. But the malice in his heart, and the dark vision he has for this country, is more than disqualifying – for national leadership, for elective office, for ever taking up space in the public arena again. His petty outlook and his nonstop narcissism have reduced this important exercise to the awful whinings of – how did his wife put it? Of a teenage boy. With a terminal case of paranoia.
“There was even a time when he didn’t get an Emmy for his TV program three years in a row,” Clinton said at the debate, “and he started tweeting that the Emmys were rigged against him.” Once again, Trump swallowed the shiny lure. “Should’ve gotten it,” he said, interrupting. Which generated this you-can’t-make-it-up response from the Emmy folks:
— Television Academy (@TelevisionAcad) Oct. 20, 2016
To be clear, I thought this debate might actually be getting off on the right foot. Wallace steered the conversation sharply, moderating with a steady hand, and both candidates started out actually talking about positions rather than personalities. But while Trump veered quickly into the swamp of self-service, Clinton made good sense. She was calm, she was informed, she laid out her plans on issues from making college affordable to keeping abortion legal. “I do not think the United States government should be stepping in and making those most personal of decisions,” she said firmly, while he blustered on about ripping babies out of wombs. Suddenly we saw the magic of the first feminist president.
She was respectful and she commanded respect. And while she avoided too many details about the Clinton Foundation, for instance, overall she looked and sounded ready to rule.
Although no one, still, talked about climate change.
The good news is, the debates are over. Maybe the better news is, Americans did watch and learn, and wanted even more. My column urging the demise of Debate Three elicited some lively responses in the Twitterverse, and while I was encouraged by those who agreed with me (“Don’t make another mindless platform for Trump.” “Cancel it. For the children.”), I was equally heartened by those who wanted to keep the process going for all those high school history reasons: “No way!” argued one social mediate. “We need more information not less!”
And then there was this one, who won the prize for passion in arguing against eliminating last night’s debate: “No! you don’t let up on a snake you’re killing until sundown. It ain’t sundown yet!”
Last night the big orange ball dipped far below the horizon. And while I didn’t succeed in that attempt to truncate the campaign schedule, I’m happy to try again. Ready?
Can we please hold the election tomorrow?