“Hillary Clinton belongs in the White House. Donald Trump belongs on my show.”- Jerry Springer
With a 5- hour time difference between Nigeria and the USA, watching the first presidential debate between Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, and Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump live automatically meant staying up till 3 am Tuesday morning, but it was a sacrifice I was willing to make even though I was quite tired and had been dozing off much earlier. I wanted to get a firsthand feel of how things would unfold, and not rely on other people’s account of events.
Was it worth it? Arguable. Arguable, because on one hand, I didn’t exactly get the robust kind of debate that should without question be expected of the caliber of candidates vying for the top job in a country like America. On the other hand, the debate helped affirm what some of us have observed since the beginning of the presidential race; only one candidate is prepared to be president, and Tuesday’s debate was a gross mismatch.
And so it was, bright lights, a mix of audiences which included family, friends and supporters of the 2 presidential hopefuls and indeed the neutrals, the moderator and of course, one stage. The 2 candidates looked the part. And the debate began with the question regarding the candidates plan for America’s prosperity, with a focus on job creation. I must say that of the 3 categories of questions, this appeared to be the only part where there was really any semblance of a good debate, as the candidates differed on tax allocation and trade deals, and were able to discuss their plans for job creation to some extent. At this point, I had begun to be quite impressed with a seemingly subdued and composed Donald Trump, but apparently, I was too quick to assume that would be the case throughout the debate.
Soon enough, the claws came out, verbal jibes were thrown, snide remarks, plenty of interruptions, and classic Trump revealed itself in all its glory. I was chatting with a colleague who had also stayed up to watch the debate. They expressed fears that Hillary would find it difficult to cope with her counterparts bullying, but I thought otherwise and opined as much. I was certain that Clinton’s camp would have done enough work on the 68-year old to prepare her for what to expect from her rival. Even for the neutrals who only understand so much about present day politics in the USA, it must have been evident that Trump’s approach would almost always involve an attempt to bully and even goad his opposite number into “submission,” or at least rile her up enough to commit gaffes.
With Hillary, this strategy did not work. Every quip was met with a clear, lucid, well-thought-out response. When Trump tried to drag her in the mud, she was resolute and stood tall. Every insult was taken with a pinch of salt, and a look that would make even the most casual of viewers feel sorry for a man who appeared to be trapped in a little child’s body throwing tantrums and being petulant. And even, when the Republican presidential nominee threw up his “ace”- the dreaded email controversy that won’t just go away, Clinton was ready. She didn’t try to defend her actions, a move that would have gone awry then and there, and possibly buried her presidential aspirations once and for all. She simply took full responsibility for her indiscretion and apologized for it. I thought that was the most brilliant thing she did all night. Now, neither Trump, nor his camp would have guessed she would toe that path…the path of honour. And that singular admittance of “guilt” on Secretary Clinton’s part threw him off balance. His joker turned out to be useless.
The Clinton-Trump debate was a tragicomedy, really. There were accusations and counter-accusations, verbal jabs and underhanded comments. There were several eye-opening and unbelievable moments during the debate. One of which was Trump’s interesting insinuation that he had a better temperament compared to Hillary. It was hilarious! Again, in an apparent display of hair-raising braggadocio, Trump referred to his tax evasion as smart! A presidential candidate of a first world nation… in a presidential debate which was beamed live to billions of people across the world, positing that evading tax represents the quality of smartness. I’m not sure anything else can be more shocking.
When Clinton brought up the fact that her counterpart had stated at some point that he didn’t believe the climate change phenomenon, dismissing it as a hoax; in another barefaced lie Mr Trump claimed he never said that. Tweets negating his current claim have since surfaced to prove that he was being economical with the truth. The “Barrack Obama place of birth” controversy which was stirred up by the Republican candidate, and ended up being a false accusation couldn’t have also done much for his image. Let alone his sudden “concern” for African Americans.
Now, while Hillary Clinton has had decades of experience in government having served as both senator and now secretary of state; not forgetting that she lived in the White House as wife of the president for 8 years, it’s obvious that she isn’t the most trusted American. Controversies have trailed her at different times, and some of the policies she supported in the past have proved to be questionable on the long run. That a section of Americans have a hard time accepting Clinton as genuine is not in doubt, and were it not for the fact that this presidential race is sadly lacking a worthy adversary, her dream of being the first female president of America would probably remain an unattainable fantasy.
In a far more ideal situation, Hillary Clinton might not be the best choice for America. But, when your opponent is a far less viable option, then it’s safe to say your only competition is yourself. Except Trump does far better in articulating his policies, and not just attempting to shout down his co-debater in the two remaining debates, Americans just might have their president-in-waiting already.
Away from politics in the United States, it’s imperative that Nigerians insist on a presidential debate where all candidates are present come 2019. Anyone who’s incapable of communicating their plans for the people of a country should have no business vying for the position of president.
A robust debate is essential to enable the electorate get a good idea of what to expect from a government.