WASHINGTON – My heart went out to Donald Trump Monday night when it appeared that he was under the weather.
What could be worse than to be sick, sniffling through his first presidential debate just days after he was challenging Hillary Clinton’s health and, during the debate, taunting her lack of stamina. Trump’s own stamina was not, shall we say, in abundance Monday. Weary-eyed and gulping water, he looked as though he might fall asleep were it not for the lectern’s support.
Could his malady perhaps explain his utter incoherence? Might whatever was drying out his mouth, but not his nose, explain his childish, running commentary as Clinton was answering a question?
As karma would have it, Clinton seemed perky by comparison. Pitch-perfect throughout the debate, she was never at a loss for a coherent answer or a rebound. She even managed to conquer her habitual impulse to nod her head affirmatively when someone else is talking.
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Otherwise, she smiled through her contempt for Trump’s inane responses or nonresponses. In the course of the evening, she seemed to get him to admit to not paying any federal taxes, which Trump appeared to confirm by saying, “That makes me smart.” Moderator Lester Holt’s question about Trump’s birther crusade elicited not only a defense of his efforts but a declaration of pride that he, Trump, had forced Obama to present his birth certificate.
“I think I did a good job,” he said.
This is false, as any serious news consumer knows. But these two examples illustrate two key components of Trump’s character – braggadocio and preening pride. Translation: insecurity and weakness. He was proud of two things – paying no taxes and racist pandering – for which most people of conscience would feel shame.
Sure, if you’re someone whose career is built on gaming the system, you might gloat about being the best gamer. But is this whom you want for president?
As for racist pandering, that’s what birtherism was. It was never really about Obama’s birthplace, no matter who thought of it first. Democrats aren’t any more virtuous than Republicans when it comes to foul play; Republicans are just better at it.
In Sniffles’ hands, the birther issue was an instrument to mine the subliminal racist attitudes that Trump knew were out there. His strategy was to constantly remind voters of Obama’s Kenyan heritage, thus building a rapport with a certain segment of the population that ultimately would catapult him onto the debate stage. He subsequently reinforced his monument to infamy by marginalizing other darker-skinned groups, including Mexicans and Muslims of Middle Eastern extraction.
Thusly was Trump’s presidential campaign launched. His made-for-TV descent on the escalator of New York’s Trump Tower was merely a dramatization of the direction he would lead his acolytes and, if elected, the nation.
During his part of the “debate,” Trump did manage to make a couple of points, notably that Clinton is a career politician while he’s a builder and job creator. Noted. Otherwise, he was often if not mostly a Donny-brook of babbling nonsense. At one juncture, criticizing Clinton for posting her anti-Islamic State plan on her website (as opposed to not actually having a plan), he said with rough conviction: “No wonder you’ve been fighting ISIS your entire adult life.”
Asked by Holt what he would do to prevent cyberattacks, Trump replied: “As far as the cyber … we should be better than anybody else, and perhaps we’re not. I don’t think anybody knows it was Russia that broke into the DNC [Democratic National Committee]. She’s saying Russia, Russia, Russia. … Maybe it was. … But it could also be China, it could also be lots of other people. It also could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds.”
What came next was, well, this: “You don’t know who broke in to DNC, but what did we learn with DNC? We learned that Bernie Sanders was taken advantage of by your people. By [former DNC Chair] Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Look what happened to her.”
As a matter of fairness, I would include similarly confused responses by Clinton, but there were none. When the worst criticism is that you’re “overprepared,” as some have accused Clinton, you’re in pretty good shape, debate-wise. Meanwhile, the global marketplace may tell the larger story. As the evening concluded, thanks to Clinton’s obvious dominance, as well as her assertion that a Clinton presidency would honor U.S. commitments abroad, the Asian market recovered, the peso rallied, and Dow futures added 100 points. That’s nothing to sneeze at – or sniffle about.
Kathleen Parker’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.