The bar was set extremely low for Donald Trump ahead of the first presidential debate. I thought the TV media would fawn endlessly over how Trump did not drool on his podium and declare him to be “presidential,” thus perpetuating the horse race that is good for their ratings but bad for the future existence of humankind.
Of course, as low as that bar was, Trump somehow did not hurdle it. Needless to say, this is not the postmortem on the debate I had anticipated writing — and I couldn’t be happier.
Over and over again, Hillary Clinton pummeled Trump. She did so on the issue of his tax returns, which, unlike every other presidential candidate since 1976, still elude the public. She got Trump to essentially admit he pays no taxes, and that he gleefully made money off of other’s misfortunes in the Great Recession. She destroyed him on the birther issue, on Russia, on foreign policy and on having stamina.
She got under his skin. Whatever calm, collected, cool Trump that his handlers had cooked up ahead of this rumble, the exoskeleton was soon shed to reveal the petulant creature with which we had familiarized ourselves during the primary debates.
“So we had to get very, very tough on cyber and cyber warfare,” Trump said at the debate. “It is a huge problem. I have a son — he’s 10 years old. He has computers. He is so good with these computers. It’s unbelievable. The security aspect of cyber is very, very tough. And maybe, it’s hardly doable.”
He actually said this … at a presidential debate.
The first round of post-debate polls have not yet fully materialized, but the general consensus (even among white supremacists) is that Clinton was the decisive victor. Prognosticators more knowledgeable than me, and usually more veracious, contend that she will likely receive a bump not entirely dissimilar to the aftermath of a convention.
Still, Clinton’s winning skirmish is not a prompt for complacency. Trump’s die-hard supporters will only be more drawn to him after this sophomoric appearance on the stage. Debates are a mainstay of the old political system, which prioritized facts, issues and ideology. Trump does not belong to that system. Trump has no ideology beside the proto-fascism that surrounds his cult of personality.
That, in a nut, is why so many still humor voting for him even after all the heinous things he has said and done. It’s not a coincidence that virtually every single person supporting him is white. They like authoritarianism. It’s popular! Something about a strongman who declares his sheer force of personality to be a panacea for society’s complex ills is appealing, and it is comforting to blame said ills on a scapegoat.
There is nothing in our DNA any different than the Germans or the Italians. A large swath of Americans want to isolate, persecute and hurt people who are different than them. Those guys in Birmingham, the ones with the firehoses and the German Shepherds, did not disappear after 1964. They had children and grandchildren. This is the base desire driving Trump’s supporters, the so-called “basket of deplorables.”
I had thought this column would warn about how that unholy coalition will likely drive a madman to the White House. Clinton’s capable debate performance makes that less likely. But now is not the time for complacency. It is the time for vigilance.
Horwitz is a first-year law student from Houston. Follow him on Twitter @NmHorwitz.