Donald Trump displays debatable commitment to democracy

At Wednesday’s presidential debate, Donald Trump refused to promise that he would concede defeat to Hillary Clinton if election-night results show he has lost.
At Wednesday’s presidential debate, Donald Trump refused to promise that he would concede defeat to Hillary Clinton if election-night results show he has lost. Associated Press pool

So that’s a wrap, as they say on reality TV.

We laughed, we cried, we yelled at the television, and some of us tuned out, feeling in need of a shower. On Wednesday night, we didn’t learn much new about Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton in the final debate of this ugly, ugly campaign.

But we do now know that given the chance to unify the country, even a little, Trump might not accept the outcome of a democratic election. We also learned that after months of immigrant bashing, the Republican nominee knows at least one word of Spanish – “hombres.” And we discovered anew that Clinton, when pressed on her Wall Street speeches, is capable of quite a deft pivot.

The two candidates did not shake hands as they stepped onto the stage at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. There was nothing cordial about the debate, moderated by Fox newsman Chris Wallace.

Here was Trump, unprepared and recycling his stump speech – calling Clinton “a liar,” vowing to unilaterally “renegotiate NAFTA,” insisting – to audience laughs – that “nobody has more respect for women than I do, nobody.”

And there was Clinton, detailing nuanced stances on abortion and the Second Amendment, and decrying – accurately – Trump’s flirtation with Vladimir Putin. It’s ironic that Trump is the standard-bearer of the party that faced down the Soviet Union under Ronald Reagan. And she returned to Trump’s lewd, sexist remarks.

“Donald thinks belittling women makes him bigger,” she said.

Trump was calm for the first 29 minutes. But then he got worked up, repeatedly, speaking over Wallace and Clinton, and Clinton successfully baited him several times, citing his use of Chinese steel to build his hotels, including one in Vegas, his failure to release his tax returns, and his use of illegal immigrants to build a building in New York.

The split screen did not serve Trump well, as he grimaced and mugged, and repeatedly interrupted by saying, childishly, “Wrong.” Trump called the Clinton Foundation, which provides AIDS relief to people in Third World countries, a “criminal enterprise.” It’s not. And, as Clinton noted, voters have no idea about Trump’s charitable donations because he will not release his tax returns.

Trump carped about a “rigged” election, and, unbelievably, wouldn’t commit to accepting the results on Nov. 8. “I will tell you at the time,” he said. When Wallace tried to school him on the tradition of losers accepting the will of the voters, Trump recklessly and irresponsibly remained steadfast: “I’ll keep you in suspense.”

“He is denigrating, he is talking down our democracy,” Clinton said, calling his position appalling. It was.

On the big topics there remained huge differences between the candidates. On taxes, immigration, abortion rights, gun control and more, Clinton’s policies would help most Americans.

Trump’s would divide the nation. He insisted that only he could fix the nation’s problems, and he bashed immigrants and Latinos. “We have some bad hombres,” he promised, “and we’re going to get them out.”

Trump went low, calling Clinton a “nasty woman” and her campaign “sleazy.” He went after her on the email scandal, on the Benghazi tragedy, and supposed “pay for play” at the Clinton Foundation. Clinton stood up to the barrage, showing again she has the spine and strength to be president – a threshold that Trump doesn’t come close to meeting.