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Hillary Clinton Lets Donald Trump Be Trump in First 2016 Presidential Debate

7:48 p.m. PDT:

We’ll end with observations from Truthdig contributor Bill Boyarsky:

From the outset, Clinton went after Trump, personally but politely. “Trumped-up trickle down,” is how she referred to his tax plans, which lower taxes on high incomes. In the first segment, she hit taxes hard. Trump hit the jobs issue, talking—as he has done during the campaign—about jobs fleeing the country. Moderator Lester Holt let him go on and on about jobs, with Trump saying Ford jobs were leaving the country—something the president of Ford denied the other day.

As the debate warmed up, Trump interrupted Clinton, saying, “You have no plan” about jobs. Clinton said she had written a book about it—not a great reply. He kept insisting on tax cuts for the wealthy. This is a clear difference between the two. He’s tossing around figures about how much the tax structure is hurting the wealthy. He nods his head and mugs, looks bored, disgusted.

Clinton beat him up on the tax issue and his business practices. She talked about all the subcontractors he had stiffed, mentioning an architect, in the audience, who didn’t get paid for designing a country club clubhouse. “Maybe he didn’t do a good job,” Trump said. “I’m glad my late father [a small-businessman] didn’t do business with you,” she said. She noted that Trump had “taken bankruptcy six times.” He looked mad, grimacing. “It’s all words and sound bites,” he said. It was a good exchange for her.

Trump thinks he can win it by mugging and shaking his head. He did it when Clinton brought up his admirer, Vladimir Putin, and he did it when she hit him hard on the birther issue. He tried to blame a Clinton pal for spreading the story and said that he dropped it as soon as he found President Obama’s Hawaii birth certificate. Holt lie-detected him on this one, noting that Obama showed his birth certificate in 2011 while Trump continued to press the issue in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015. Clinton said, “He stayed with it year after year” because it was something Trump’s followers wanted to believe. On Iraq, she said that Trump supported the invasion, and he replied, “Wrong, wrong.”

In the very end, Trump went low. When Holt tried to interrupt him, he shouted him down. He said of Clinton, “I have better judgment than she does. I have a better temperament. … She doesn’t have the stamina.” Clinton talked of her trips to 112 countries, negotiating a cease-fire and testifying for 11 hours before the Benghazi committee. “She has experience, but it is bad experience,” Trump said.

In the end, his mugging, his long rants, his failure to answer the questions about his taxes, the housing discrimination suit and the birther movement gave viewers a picture of the true Trump. This was the real deal. His shrugs, sour expressions and drinks of water didn’t give a picture of a man in charge. Clinton just let Trump be Trump.

7:39 p.m. PDT:

Trump says Clinton doesn’t have the stamina to be president. Clinton replies that she traveled to over 100 countries, negotiated deals, survived the Benghazi inquiry, etc. Trump says, “She has experience, but it’s bad experience.” Clinton says Trump “is a man who has called women ‘pigs’ ” and that “a woman in a beauty contest” whom he called “Miss Piggy” became a U.S. citizen and is going to vote in November.

Final question: Will the candidates accept the outcome when one of them wins? Clinton says she supports the U.S. democracy. Trump says he wants to “make America great again.” He talks about immigration, says Clinton won’t “make America great again,” but if Clinton wins, he will support the election’s result.

7:28 p.m. PDT: Clinton is concerned about cybersecurity, especially when it comes to such states as Iran and Russia. Trump is happy to be endorsed by military leaders. Under President Obama, he says, “We’ve lost control over things we used to have control over. … [Islamic State] is beating us at our own game” with regard to the internet. Clinton says, “We have to defeat [Islamic State].”

How will the candidates prevent “homegrown” terrorist attacks? Trump says the formation of Islamic State could have been prevented if the U.S. had left 10,000 U.S. soldiers in Iraq. Clinton says Trump alienated Muslims and that this makes repairing relations between police and communities in the United States more difficult. Trump says NATO should focus on terrorism in the Middle East, helping the U.S. “knock the hell out of [Islamic State].”

Holt says Trump supported the war in Iraq. Trump says he never did and that Fox News host Sean Hannity will corroborate it. Trump claims that his judgment and temperament are superior to Clinton’s. Clinton says NATO already fights terrorism along with the U.S. Regarding Iran, in her early years as secretary of state, she says she helped improve relations with Iran through the deal to curtail its nuclear program “without firing a single shot.” Trump said he’d “blow them out of the water,” she says, referring to Iran. On nuclear weapons, Clinton says Trump has said he doesn’t care if other nations get nuclear weapons. “His cavalier attitude about nuclear weapons is troubling,” she says. “That is the number one threat we face in the world.”

Trump agrees with Clinton that nuclear weapons are “the single greatest problem the world has.” The countries the U.S. defends should pay for the defense, he says.

7:09 p.m. PDT: How will the candidates bridge America’s yawning racial divide? Clinton says we have to “restore trust,” make sure communities and police respect each other and “get guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them.”

Trump says, “We need law and order in our country.” Blacks and Latinos in American inner cities “are living in hell.” To “stop the violence,” we need to restore “law and order.” Stop-and-frisk worked in New York, he says, adding that illegal immigrants form gangs, “have guns and they shoot people.” Holt interjects that stop-and-frisk was ruled unconstitutional in New York. Trump confidently says Holt is wrong and asserts that opinion in courts across the country is divided. Violence in the cities is getting worse. Police are killed senselessly.

Clinton says Trump paints a negative image of black communities. “There’s a lot that we should be proud of.” Stop-and-frisk “was found to be unconstitutional. … I believe in community policing. … We’ve had 25 years of very good cooperation” but there’s still work to do. Clinton says she’s “glad we’re ending private prisons” at the federal level and offers a host of policing reforms.

What about “implicit bias” in policing? It exists, she says. Police want to address it and the federal government would help that effort under her.

Trump agrees with Clinton that people on terrorist watch lists, who aren’t allowed to fly, should not be able to buy and possess guns. He reminds the audience that Clinton called black children “super predators” in the 1990s, though she later apologized for it. Clinton repeats that stop-and-frisk didn’t work. “We need to do a better job of working with the communities.” Trump says, “The African-American community has been let down by our politicians” and that he’s “met some of the greatest people I’ve ever met in these communities.” He says Clinton stayed home while he visited such communities. She says, “Trump just accused me of preparing for this debate,” and that she also prepared to be president of the United States.

What about Obama’s birth certificate? Trump says he’s satisfied with the process that proved his citizenship. Holt reminds Trump that he was questioning Obama’s citizenship as recently as this year. Why did Trump stop talking about it? “I want to get on to defeating [Islamic State],” he says.

Clinton says Trump based his “political activity” on the premise of the “racist” claim that Obama was not a U.S. citizen. Trump began his political career decades ago, when he was sued by the Justice Department for refusing to rent to African-Americans, she says. Trump says Clinton “disrespected” Obama during the 2008 debates.

6:45 p.m. PDT: Clinton says lowering taxes on the wealthy does not create jobs, “build the middle class” or improve the economy. She favors “broad-based inclusive growth.” Trump replies, “Typical politician. Sounds good, doesn’t work.” He says the economy is the worst since the Great Depression, and that the Federal Reserve’s interest rate policy is wrong.

Where are Trump’s tax returns? He’s undergoing a routine audit, he says, and he’ll release them when that’s finished. He says, “Political hacks” are “negotiating our trade deals.” Holt says that according to the IRS, Trump is free to release his taxes during his audit. Trump says he will release his tax returns, against his lawyer’s wishes, as soon as Clinton releases the “33,000 emails” she deleted.

Clinton says Trump is playing “bait-and-switch.” Why won’t he release his returns? Maybe he’s not as rich or charitable as he says he is, or “maybe he doesn’t want the American people to know he’s paid nothing in federal taxes.” She cites one Trump return — which was made public in an earlier year — that showed he paid nothing in federal taxes that year. Trump replies, “That makes me smart.” Clinton says Trump is in debt to Wall Street, and if he releases his returns, the public will see to whom he is in debt, implying that as president he would be in thrall to Wall Street.

Trump says, “We’re a debtor nation” that desperately needs to repair its infrastructure. Clinton shoots back, “Maybe that’s because you haven’t paid your income taxes.” Clinton says Trump routinely fails to pay people he hires. Clinton says not all skills that serve a businessperson will serve a leader of state. Trump repeats that his business practices are sound.

6:27 p.m. PDT: Why is Clinton a better choice than Trump to create jobs? Clinton says it’s important to provide jobs and “make the economy fairer” for generations coming up. Paid family leave, earned sick days, free college. How? By having the wealthy “pay their fair share” and closing corporate loopholes.

Trump’s answer: “Our jobs are fleeing the country.” China’s “devaluing the currency” and “many other countries are doing the same thing.” He and Clinton agree on the need to bring jobs back but disagree on other details, but “we have to” stop other countries from “stealing our jobs.” He says he’ll reduce the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 15 percent, which he says will bring new companies to the United States. Trade deals need to be renegotiated.

Clinton agrees that trade is “important,” but “we need to have a tax system that rewards worth and not just financial transactions.” What Trump proposes would be “trickle-down economics all over again. … Trumped-up trickle down,” she says. She doesn’t “buy” Trump’s view that if you “help wealthy people everything will be fine.” Investment in education, jobs and the future is needed.

How will Trump “bring back the industries that have left for cheaper labor overseas?” Trump cites his business credentials—turning his father’s million-dollar loan into a “multimillion-dollar company.” Tax laws between Mexico and the U.S. are wrong. “NAFTA is defective.” Clinton should have been opposing trade deals U.S. leaders pursued “for years,” but didn’t. To keep companies in the U.S., he explains, the country can impose laws that make it difficult to benefit from U.S. markets.

Clinton tells the audience that Trump profited off the 2008 housing crisis and recession. Trump replies: “It’s called business.” Clinton says experts have confirmed that her economic plan will create 10 million jobs. Trump denies that he said climate change is a hoax created by the Chinese, which Clinton stated while proposing clean energy as a sector that could create jobs. Trump says Clinton and her ilk have been in power for 30 years—why is she just proposing these ideas now?

Trump says NAFTA is a train wreck. Clinton calls that his “opinion.” Trump gets prosecutorial, saying Clinton was for the Trans-Pacific Partnership before she was against it. She denies it and says he lives in his “own reality.” Trump says Clinton’s proposed regulations will drive business away. Holt does not intervene during the interruptions. Trump says his tax break is the biggest since Ronald Reagan.

6:05 p.m. PDT: First falsehood of the evening: Holt described the Commission on Presidential Debates, the corporation that organizes the debates, as nonpartisan. In fact, it is partisan for Republicans and Democrats and against third parties, which are not included in the debate if they fail to poll high enough.

5:56 p.m. PDT: The Hill reports that Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein—who was not allowed to participate in Monday’s debate—and staff were escorted off the debate grounds by police after she gave interviews on a bus operated by media. Stein is not credentialed for the debate.

* * *

Presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will meet for the first 2016 presidential debate at 6 p.m. PDT on Monday. Follow along here with Truthdig.

Charting the evolution of the presidential debates in a recent must-read column in The New Yorker, Harvard historian Jill Lepore reprinted what broadcast journalist Dan Rather told audiences in 1988 at the start of the first debate between candidates George H.W. Bush and Michael Dukakis.

“This will not be a debate in the sense the word is often used in the English language, because all of this is so tightly controlled by the candidates themselves and their managers,” Rather said. “These things have developed over the years into what some people believe can more accurately be described as a joint campaign appearance or an orchestrated news conference.”

Lepore also quoted journalist Walter Cronkite from 1998. “The debates are part of the unconscionable fraud that our political campaigns have become,” Cronkite wrote. “Here is a means to present to the American people a rational exposition of the major issues that face the nation, and the alternate approaches to their solution. Yet the candidates participate only with the guarantee of a format that defies meaningful discourse. They should be charged with sabotaging the electoral process.”

The host of Monday’s encounter, NBC News anchor Lester Holt, “has an obligation — indeed a patriotic duty — to demand answers to the most fundamental American question,” wrote Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League, and Morris Pearl, chair of Patriotic Millionaires, earlier this month. “Do you believe in the essential equality of each American and if so, what specifically are you going to do to ensure that each citizen has equal political power?”

—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly

Alexander Reed Kelly
Associate Editor
In December 2010, Alex was arrested for civil disobedience outside the White House alongside Truthdig columnist Chris Hedges, Pentagon whistle-blower Daniel Ellsberg, healthcare activist Margaret Flowers and…
Alexander Reed Kelly

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