100 minutes, 2 debates, 1 ugly truth about America

Scott Gilmore on a night that may have changed few minds in America, but left the rest of the world shaking its head

Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump shakes hands with Democratic U.S. presidential nominee Hillary Clinton at the conclusion of their first presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, U.S., September 26, 2016. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump shakes hands with Democratic U.S. presidential nominee Hillary Clinton at the conclusion of their first presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, U.S., September 26, 2016. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

Going into this debate, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton were facing two different sets of expectations. The pundits predicted that in order for Clinton to be declared the “winner” she would need to sound presidential, look healthy and fit, and convincingly face hard questions about emails, Benghazi, and a dozen other issues.

Trump, by contrast, needed to merely look “adequately competent” as Newt Gingrich put it in the hours before the debate. And he was right.

Appropriately, the debate was aired in a split-screen format. Trump on the left, Clinton on the right, on stage they were only a few feet apart, but in reality they were participating in two entirely different events.

MORE: Maclean’s liveblogs the first Clinton-Trump showdown

Trump’s debate was a lively affair. There was hand waving, interjections, guffaws, one-liners and conversational tangents. This was more like an animated discussion over dinner and too many drinks. Instead of counter-arguments there were punch lines, dodges, and jabs.

The debate Clinton attended was more traditional and quieter. There were facts, rehearsed lines, reasoned retorts, and patient responses.

Trump won his debate. Yes, it was clear he hadn’t prepared. In lieu of facts and figures he threw out phrases like “tremendous” and “big league.” He repeatedly mangled his sentences and rambled. He became agitated and irritated. But, nonetheless, he was “adequately competent.” And he was engaging. At the end of the night you could imagine pushing yourself away from the table, agreeing to disagree with Trump, and thinking your dinner companion may be an ass, but at least he’s entertaining.

And Clinton won her debate. Sure, she was unable to put a nail in the email scandal, and Clinton was unable to match her opponent’s better punchlines. But she was presidential and dignified. She ignored interruptions, remained unflappable and carefully crafted focused responses. She was extremely well prepared, had a firm grasp of the facts, and talked in full paragraphs. Sitting in a boardroom on Wall Street or standing on a stage at Davos, you can see her commanding the room.

Among most Republicans, and all of Trump’s supporters, it was clear he energetically beat Clinton. When he contradicted Lester Holt, the moderator, they laughed. When he talked over her, they cheered.

FOR THE RECORD: Read the transcript of the first presidential debate

Among Democrats, and probably a majority of the punditry, Clinton was the clear winner who talked circles around an agitated and tongue-tied Trump. When Holt contradicted Trump, they clapped, and when Clinton fact-checked her opponent they shouted with delight.

The polls show that Trump and Clinton are neck and neck, separated by only a few points. It is unlikely that the debate tonight moved anyone from his camp to hers or vice versa. It merely reinforced views on both sides: Trump is a ridiculous clown; Clinton is a corrupt liar.

Abroad, though, the view is less balanced. Few people outside the Kremlin watched the debate tonight and thought Trump would make a better president. Each exchange reinforced the view that Clinton may not be someone you want to befriend, but she is clearly the more capable candidate, by a long margin. And foreign observers were once again shaking their head in dismay at the spectacle that is Trump.

Which leaves many of us with an uncomfortable problem. Americans like to describe themselves as that “shining city upon the hill,” and it’s easy to mock that hubris. But we do admire America, and many of us (like me) love the country. Millions have gone to extraordinary lengths, literally walking across deserts and swimming across rivers, to live there. They are a people who have given the world so many of mankind’s greatest moments: from Neil Armstrong standing on the moon, to Martin Luther King standing on the Mall.

And, they are also the people who are now supporting Donald Trump, by the millions. They support him not despite that he is a bigot, but because he is a bigot. They are not holding their noses and ignoring his insecure bravado, they are revelling in it. Tonight, in the debate, they watched him lie and bully and bluster and they loved it.

Regardless of the outcome on Nov. 8, from Beijing to Toronto, Trump has forced the world to look at the United States, and look at Americans, with complete disappointment.


100 minutes, 2 debates, 1 ugly truth about America

  1. I’ve never understood why anyone admires America.

    The only thing they do well is marketing.

    • All you have to do is watch the video of the little black girl asking city council in Charlotte to help stop the killings of fathers and mothers to know that country is coming undone. Yes America is good at marketing itself.

      • Do you understand the word ‘marketing’…..as separate from ‘news’?

      • When Trump says he wants to stop the influx of illegal immigrants and do more rigorous screening before applicants become American citizens to minimize the chance of importing terrorists he is declared to be a racist. What on earth is racist about these notions?
        I recently visited Texas and the majority of undereducated blacks have been displaced from doing work they carried out for years-landscaping, home repairs, etc. by illegal immigrants from Mexico who will do that work for lower pay. This has pushed those folks to gangs and crime as their source of income. That is a very sad state of affairs and ways heavily on the minds of my friends in Texas.

        • Oh I see……now your treatment of blacks is the fault of the Mexicans?

          Don’t think so guy

          I’m sure Texans weep heavily over the plight of the blacks

          • Emily-another of your dumb attacks. Did you understand why the blacks are being displaced or did you even read what was said. I’ve been going to Texas on business for the last 40 years and what I said is factual.
            And what the hell do you mean by “your” treatment of blacks? Are you on some planet separate from the rest of us?

        • Do us a favour?

          Next time you visit Texas…..stay there.

          • When you can’t defend your comments-which is always-you just display your pettiness. Well done again.

  2. Obama and Clinton have brought the cold war back, and the threat of nuclear armageddon. Obama rains drones down indiscriminately on brown people in nearly ten countries. Obama has armed civilian departments of the federal government to the teeth, and continued the militarization of local police forces with federal aid.

    Obama and Clinton’s failed foreign policy has created a half-continent of failed states in Northern Africa, and spread Bush’s Iraq mess to Syria, and created the greatest refugee crisis since the WWII.

    Obama’s economy is a Ponzi Potemkin economy.

    Trump would have to try real hard to be a worse failure than Obama and Clinton.

  3. What is both frightening and disappointing to many outside the US, including me, is the revelation that far more Americans than we ever imagined are, simply, stupid. Until this election campaign, I would have guessed that maybe 5 – 10% of Americans are stupid (much like Canada). But the sad reality is that the actual percentage is closer to 50%, if the poll numbers are correct.

    I don’t use the term “stupid” as an insult. I use it in a more clinical sense – not intelligent; having or showing a lack of ability to learn and understand things; not sensible or logical; slow of mind; given to unintelligent decisions or acts.

    One of the most unintelligent (stupid) things that Trump supporters say about their candidate is that “he says what’s on his mind”. Clearly, they are unable to understand that Trump doesn’t have a “mind”. It doesn’t exist. Therefore, it’s impossible for him to have anything on it.

    So, should we be afraid of America (whatever “America” means)? No. We should be afraid of the fact that half the population supports an obviously stupid man, which makes those same supporters stupid. Ipso fatso, as Archie Bunker would say.

    • I’m not so sure if it is a matter of people supporting Trump, rather than them being driven to Trump. People read posts like the elitist crap that you just spouted and say: “Screw you, I’m voting Trump.” If you leftists would stop jumping at every opportunity to play the moral and intellectual peacock, Trump would have never made it past the primaries, but you just can’t help yourselves. As a conservative, I have looked at this logically and come to the conclusion that for the sake of conservatism, it would be best for Hillary to win. And yet, when I read condescending posts like yours, there’s a part of me that hopes Trump wins.

      • It is interesting that you assume Tangler is on the left and not the right. Trump, as the GOP has indicated is NOT their desired candidate. Therefore the condescension is directed at those who would vote for Trump. So instead of making assumptions, actually just read what he wrote. If you yourself, as a conservative, are choosing to vote for HRC then you honestly have no argument.

    • It is beyond alarming, but how else could this buffoon get so far down this road?

  4. I too love America. The books I read. Mostly written by Americans. Movies and TV I watch. Mostly American produced. Sports, with the exception of NHL, American. The list goes on.

    Completely agreed that both candidates did what they had to do. Hillary looked more ‘presidential’ to this admittedly Democratic leaning columnist.

    Trump did passably well also. The larger question is the people who are still somehow undecided. Hillary did nothing to deal with the trust issues in this debate. Trump, while not as ‘presidential’ as Hillary, was more restrained than during the nomination debates.

    Agreed that Lester was really bad as a moderator. No control over the audience. I have been watching these things since ’88. I have never seen the audience outbursts that were allowed to pass this time. From both sides. Lester was likely scared by the ‘Internet outrage’ that besieged Matt Lauer. Hopefully future moderators show a little more objectivity and control.

    Clinton did the best she could. Trump has some very obvious room for improvement. For now, advantage Hillary. Trump has much more upside.

    • Lay out the Trump “upside” …

      • I agree with Shoop that Donald has more upside with respect to his performance in the final two debates. It’s hard to imagine Hillary performing better, and it’s not hard to imagine Donald doing so, though he could of course do worse. Some ways he could improve:

        * Spend more time hitting Clinton on her private email server and the deleted emails
        * Hit her on accepting large donations to her foundation seemingly in exchange for face time or consideration while she was Sec of State
        * Minimize his interruptions of her
        * Control his facial expressions better
        * Stop sniffing loudly while he speaks (allergies?)
        * Spend more time talking about the need to restrict immigration from countries that are terrorism hotbeds in order to secure the homeland

        If he does even half of these, I have no doubt he will fare significantly better, and this is coming from a Hillary voter who is seriously afraid of a Trump presidency.

        While I’m at it, Hillary’s team should back off on the makeup just a bit, it looked really caked on.
        She should also have a better response ready when he attacks her for “achieving nothing in her 30 years in government”. Other than that, she really nailed it. Hope she keeps it up.

  5. Powerless, unable to vote for the next POTUS, yet looking and smelling every bit like a genuine citizen, disenfranchised Americans nurture the illusion of polite superiority, their anxiety relieved only by regular tourette-like gasps, they repeat to all who will hear, “I’m so glad I’m Canadian.”

    • Don’t worry Justin Trudeau and his gang of the best and brightest offspring of the Canadian establishment elite are well on their way to destroying Canada. After destroying Ontario’s industrial economy and looting the province, they are taking it national.

      • Is there anything….or anyone….in life that you LIKE?


        • I would view myself as socially liberal and fiscally conservative. That’s what I like. Ontario under Wynne and Canada under Trudeau are trying to spend their jurisdictions to happiness-their view of being socially liberal but with NO concern for spending the tax money they collect wisely.
          Obama and Clinton are the same. Obama wants Hillary to be elected so that his
          “legacy is not destroyed”! The only legacy he has left is a $17 trillion dollar debt that is unlikely capable of repair. It’s time the U.S got a leader who knows how to manage money and prioritize needs. Trump is far from perfect but he’ll do a much superior job in that regard than Clinton will.
          Hopefully, Trudeau with only have one term before he damages Canada as much as Obama has damaged America.

          • You are not remotely ‘socially liberal and fiscally conservative

            You’re just crazy

      • Interesting. Has Justin managed to destroy the Ontario economy in less than a year in office? How long will it take Trump to destroy the US economy?

  6. Many of us are appalled at what is happening and afraid. We don’t understand what our fellow citizens are supporting. Many of us think Trump is an up and coming Hitler. He has spent years reading Mein Kampf even if he denies it. Most everything he says is a lie yet his supporters don’t seem to care. My personal theory is that Hillary Clinton has become the favored scapegoat for every woman hating person in the US. What else would explain the visceral hatred for her and many posts about her looks, especially when she is opposed by an overweight, red faced ignorant clown? Much of the problem started or at least surfaced when the underground racism in the country surfaced while Barak Obama has been president. The Republican Party has refused to work with him and Donald Trump led the movement to try to convince the public that Obama was not a true American. The truth is that the US has had an ugly history and the highest points have been the progressive march toward equality and human rights. Obviously there are many in the country that believe something much uglier and dangerous.

    • This Maclean’s article may help explain the complete antipathy the right has against Obama and subsequently HRC:


      If, as I hope, Hillary does get elected, as the last sentence in the article states: “We would see another president being accused of being illegitimate, and undermined from day one, which is exactly what these donors did to Obama.”

      Sad, but very true.

    • Oh Sandra, so glad to hear your views. We thought the US had gone crazy.

  7. Please provide evidence of bigotry.

  8. I think we watched different debates. I heard quite a bit of cheering for Hillary and the media following Trump around after, querying his comments signifying he did not pay taxes (unlike the ‘little’ people). And then him trying to say he did not say that, but said that he didn’t like how the government squandered taxes. And the videos CNN pulled showing how much he lied. Followed by the survey of undecided, registered voters in Florida resulting in it being a Hillary over Trump win by a margin of 18 out of 20. And then a formal poll showing a larger audience across America showing Hillary won by 62%. And a poll in Ohio (?) showing Hillary 16 out of 21, I think. All US polls. This was a well required self inflicted public shaming for Trump. But then again, its unlikely Trump supporters watch debates.

  9. Emily,
    As the gentleman commented the other night, it’s time I just look for your name, don’t read your foolish attacks and move to the next comment by someone who thinks before speaking.

    • Agreed. If you can’t keep up, move on.

  10. The writer’s description of Mr. Trump as an entertaining bar companion is kind, if anything; he’s rather like a mouthy, big-for-his-age 14-year-old who enjoys his following of littler kids. One wonders why he does not see this himself, and know that, given the prize he covets, it would be worthwhile taking on a more restrained posture and gain the extra support he appears to need. Still, I question whether so many Americans are drawn to him because he’s bigoted, as the writer suggests; Macleans’ interviews with his supporters, published two weeks ago, show more valid and complex motivations and yes, mostly decent people.

  11. Two “mature ” lunatics are shaking hands.
    Where are the young people in US politics?

  12. Wouldn’t it be better for people from Toronto to Beijing to find empathy for a people struggling to retain their dignity and decency in the face of a toxicity from within than to tarnish an entire nation and its people. Shouldn’t it be significant to the people from Toronto to Beijing that Barack Obama, the president of this “disappointing” country, is enjoying his highest approval ratings in years. I wonder how a thinking progressive Canadian differs from an American Democrat or a never Trump Republican when it comes to considering the horror of a Trump presidency!