A question of character in the US presidential election

With policies serving as mere adornments – US democracy is emasculated

Republican US presidential nominee Donald Trump listens as Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton answers a question from the audience during their presidential town hall debate at Washington University in St Louis, Missouri. Photograph: Rick Wilking/Reuters.

Republican US presidential nominee Donald Trump listens as Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton answers a question from the audience during their presidential town hall debate at Washington University in St Louis, Missouri. Photograph: Rick Wilking/Reuters.

 

‘Yes, this is who Donald Trump is. The question for us, the question our country must answer is that this is not who we are.” Hillary Clinton didn’t dwell on indignation or the disgust felt by most at Donald Trump’s sexual boasting. It was a given; unnecessary. Even Trump’s wife Melania had expressed her disgust.

Instead Clinton focussed most effectively during the latest presidential debate on the “real Donald Trump”; his half-hearted apologia and attempts to minimise the significance of his comments, his suggestions it was “locker room” banter, “just words”, and out of character.

Not so, she said. He has form as a bigot, chauvinist and brazen repeat offender against women, Hispanics, Muslims ... “He never apologises to anybody for anything,”she said recalling his abuse of the Muslim Khan family, his suggestion a Hispanic judge was biased because of his background, his ridiculing of a disabled reporter, and false claims that President Obama was not born in America. She might have mentioned claims that Mexican illegals are all rapists and Muslims dangerous...

It was a theme running through the disappointing debate. The scene had been set so dramatically by the leaked Trump recording that anything short of an implosion would disappoint.

And he didn’t implode, treating viewers to more of his best-form-of-defence-is-attack bluster, wild claims, at times hilarious non-sequiturs and rambling streams of consciousness. Always unspecific on policy. He is still in the contest. Irrepressible. Unshameable. And, to the consternation of increasing numbers of leading Republicans who now also fear the loss of both houses of Congress.

Trump did break new ground – he was the first presidential candidate ever to threaten to jail his opponent if elected. He admitted for the first time he had used €1 billion losses to avoid paying tax – although bizarrely blaming Clinton for the lax tax regime that allowed him and “her rich friends” to do so. He as good as backed Russia and Syria over Aleppo, and suggested Russian hacking of Democratic emails was imaginary.

In a significant U-turn he morphed his demand for a ban on Muslims entering the US into a claim that what he is talking about is “extreme vetting”. And did he ever sexually assault women, as he had bragged? “No”. Few will be reassured.

Clinton had rough moments, notably on her deletion of emails, but his attempt to raise her husband’s philandering record – three accusers sat in the audience – rang hollow.

When she strayed into policy, like Obamacare, it was to offer nuanced critiques and clear policies. Like them or not. Against almost any other candidate there would have been the opportunity for serious debate on challenges facing the country. But this is no longer a contest about issues but reduced to character and fitness to serve, with policies, mere adornments. US democracy is emasculated.

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