Last night was the first time that Hillary Clinton directly faced Donald Trump, in the first of three scheduled Presidential debates. They went in with very different expectations. She had to show that she was trustworthy, likeable, knowledgeable, Presidential. He had to show that he could speak in full sentences and without cursing or fumbling or being too overtly a bully or racist.
The consensus at the end of the night was that Clinton won the debate, keeping her calm while Trump repeatedly interrupted her, yelled, and blamed her for (in Clinton’s words) “everything that’s ever happened.”
— This Week (@ThisWeekABC) September 27, 2016
Trump claimed his economic plan would be a “beautiful thing to watch,” because he would cut taxes from 35% to 15%. Critics immediately noted that this would lead to loss of trillions of dollars of revenue. According to Trump, however, “That’s going to be a job creator like we haven’t seen since Ronald Reagan.”
— John Harwood (@JohnJHarwood) September 26, 2016
Clinton rebutted that this was “trumped up trickle-down” economics that had been proven to increase economic disparity between classes. She also pointed out that Trump got a loan of $14 million to start his business from his father, which is why he believes that “the more you help wealthy people, the better off we’ll be.” Trump rebutted by noting that his father gave him a “very small loan” (of $14 million), again highlighting how out of touch he is with the majority of voters in this election.
— Hillary Clinton (@VoteHillary2016) September 27, 2016
The candidates repeatedly tangled over trade deals, and whether NAFTA had in fact helped or hurt the US economy, and the reasons for jobs leaving the US. Hillary got one of her best lines of the night when she noted that Trump rooted for the economic collapse in 2007 – 2008. His devastating response, which will no doubt make it into many Clinton ads: “That’s called business, by the way.”
— CBS News (@CBSNews) September 27, 2016
Clinton somberly retorted: “Nine million people lost their jobs. Five million people lost their homes. And $13 trillion in family wealth was wiped out.”
Clinton also managed a zinger in noting, “Well Donald, I know you live in your own reality, but [those] are not the facts.”
— New York State Dems (@nydems) September 27, 2016
Another highlight was when Trump blatantly lied about his views about climate change. Clinton took great pleasure in announcing that “Donald thinks that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese. I think it’s real.” Trump immediately denied, stating, “I did not. I did not. I do not say that.”
Twitter erupted with shots of Trump’s tweet denying climate change:
— someecards (@someecards) September 27, 2016
Trump bizarrely claimed that Clinton has been fighting ISIS her “entire adult life” and then was caught lying when Lester Holt asked him about his views about the Iraq War.
As Trump kept up his attacks on Clinton she noted “I have a feeling that by, the end of this evening, I’m going to be blamed for everything that’s ever happened.” Trump sharply retorted “Why not?”
— This Week (@ThisWeekABC) September 27, 2016
Trump became frazzled when asked about his unwillingness to release his tax returns and Clinton calmly asked what he may be hiding in those returns. She laid out three potential issues: that he pays no taxes, or he is in debt to foreign entities, or perhaps he is not as rich as he says. She also noted that his previous filings have indicated that he pays no federal income tax.
Trump did himself real damage by smirking, effectively admitting to paying no taxes, and responding: “That makes me smart.”
With question raised of whether Trump may have paid 0 taxes, Trump interjects: "That makes me smart."
Not it makes you a cheat.#debate
— Ian Sams (@IanSams) September 27, 2016
Clinton’s demeanor remained controlled and calm as the debate progressed, but it became clear that Trump was starting to get tired. When Holt asked the candidates to discuss race relations, Trump launched into a tone deaf defense of stop-and-frisk, a practice which has been found to be unconstitutional, and one which disproportionately targeted men of color. When Holt noted that this was considered a form of racial profiling, Trump told him he was wrong.
He also noted: “We have a situation where we have our inner cities, African- Americans, Hispanics are living in hell because it’s so dangerous. You walk down the street, you get shot.”
— Glamour (@glamourmag) September 27, 2016
Whatever few African-American and Hispanic votes he had counted on probably fell away at the end of this particular performance.
Clinton also came out strong when asked, inevitably, about her email fiasco. She managed to keep the conversation moving by stating that she made a mistake and she takes responsibility for it.
One of Clinton’s weakest moments came after this, when she began talking about Muslims. After stating that Trump was alienating Muslims everywhere with his talk of banning Muslims, she noted, “Donald has consistently insulted Muslims abroad, Muslims at home, when we need to be cooperating with Muslim nations and with the American Muslim community. They’re on the front lines. They can provide information to us that we might not get anywhere else. They need to have close working cooperation with law enforcement in these communities, not be alienated and pushed away as some of Donald’s rhetoric, unfortunately, has led to.”
Clinton on Muslims in US: "The American Muslim community, they're on the front lines…close working relations with law enforcement" #debate
— Niraj Warikoo (@nwarikoo) September 27, 2016
we (American Muslims) can provide information about terror? are you not putting us in the same boat as Muslim terrorists, HIllary? #debate
— sabz ◡̈⃝ (@sabaidk) September 27, 2016
This was an unfortunate line, implying again (as the Clintons have done in the past), that Muslim Americans have an obligation to do something extra or additional to be of service to the country. “They’re on the front lines” led many on Twitter and social media to ask – what are we American Muslims on the front line of?
Clinton ended the night on a strong note when Holt asked Trump about his comment that she did not look Presidential. She got in a great line about her preparation for the speech:
— BBC News (World) (@BBCWorld) September 27, 2016
The audience, who were instructed to remain silent, burst into applause.
She also took him to task for his treatment of women. After noting that he had called women slobs, pigs, and dogs, she noted his particular treatment of a previous Miss Universe.
The reviews that poured in generally found that Clinton had won the debate. Many also noted how frequently Trump interrupted Clinton, leading to memes showcasing how common a phenomena that is for man to interrupt or speak over women in business settings. It further underscored his problematic temperament, and his willingness to cross the line to get what he wants.
— Mariam Ahmed (@mariamamd) September 27, 2016
The polls conducted right after the debate indicated that Clinton had won handily.
Clinton had 3rd-largest debate win ever in CNN's poll. Historically, that's predictive of gains in horse race polls. https://t.co/1rD5mqxHHl
— Nate Silver (@NateSilver538) September 27, 2016
One of the most profound reviews of the debate came from Dan Rather, whose post went viral:
After Debate, Dan Rather Goes Viral With Post – https://t.co/1rDmyUmm8Y
— PitchPress (@PitchPress) September 27, 2016
With just weeks left until the election, it is worth considering Rather’s words:
In the end, more than all of the specifics, I was struck by how unprecedented was the overall tenor – matching that of the campaign. We once held certain truths to be “self-evident” – that “all men are created equal” and “they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” These were the lofty ideals that served as a rallying cry for the founders of these United States to choose liberty over tyranny. The man who wrote these words, Thomas Jefferson, and his compatriots were imperfect and in some cases deeply flawed men. Yet their idealism fixed a North Star in our democratic firmament that has guided our ship of state ever since, with some very noted moral detours. Now I fear that the tide of progress is rapidly receding with the fierce undertow of a looming tsunami.
Our Founders believed in reason and the power of intellect. Donald Trump made clear tonight by his willful ignorance of important issues that he does not. Our founders feared the accumulation of power, they loathed vanity, and tried to build in protections against the demagogues who would appeal to mankind’s basest instincts. Donald Trump relishes in all of these impulses. For him they are instinctual and a prescription for success.
To call Trump a con man, as many have, is a disservice to the art of the con. By its definition a con requires deceit. But Trump has not tried to hide his lies or the sheer unrealistic audacity of his cartoonish policy positions. He has asked the American people to bet on him. The fact checkers will certainly weigh in. The pundits will have their say. But the voters have all the information they need. The judgement is in their – or more accurately our – hands.
Uzma Mariam Ahmed is a regulatory lawyer, a writer, and the chair of altMuslimah’s Advisory Committee.