Random Thoughts on the First Clinton/Trump Debate


She’s With Us shirt. Photo by Callen Harty.

Bernie Sanders was my first choice for President this year, so I  voted for him in the primary, but he lost. It was incredibly disheartening but the reality is that he is no longer running for President. We are well past that. I don’t believe in voting for the lesser of two evils, or four evils, or however many are actually still running for the office. I believe in voting for the best candidate of those still in the race. While many of my friends on the left have switched their allegiance to Jill Stein and I can appreciate their reasons for doing so I have never been a fan of hers. I saw her speak several years ago and came away unimpressed. She uttered all the correct left-wing platitudes but offered no substance. She expressed all the right ends, but no route to reach those ends. And Gary Johnson, while he seems like a nice guy to have for a friend or fun uncle, is not someone I want in the oval office.

While Hillary Clinton was not my first choice and there are things about her that I do not like, particularly her hawkishness and her close ties to Wall Street, I believe she is a more qualified and better candidate than the others mentioned, as well as the myriad third party candidates out there. I turned on the debate last night to see if she would make me believe a bit more that she should be the one I vote for and while she didn’t convince me on every issue she did enough to make me more comfortable with her as a candidate. I understand that she is not as far left as I would like and she still came across as too much of a hawk, especially with the way she talked about taking out enemies instead of bringing them to justice. But I’m also not naïve enough to believe that any President, be it Jill Stein, Bernie Sanders, or others can lead us through four years without a single casualty of war. Our nation has been at war through the terms of every single President since the beginning of our country. We need to change the culture and that cannot be done by any one person in office. I also understand that there is no one–unless I ran and won–who would support every one of my political positions. No candidate can score 100% for every individual in this country. So I vote for the one who will come closest to what I want and believe.

Donald Trump, for someone like me, is not even a consideration. I honestly was not that interested in what he had to say in the debate. I was seriously listening to hear more from Clinton. But as I was listening to her I was repeatedly shocked by his rude, boorish, and bullying behavior and by the things that he said. Surprisingly there were a few morsels that he uttered that I had to agree with, but for the most part I kept thinking about how low my country has sunk, that–whether you like her or not–a candidate with the experience and professionalism of Clinton had to stand opposite a crass and buffoonish businessman who simply wants to make more money and gain more power and she had to do her best to treat him as an equal.

Clinton said a couple things that made me uneasy–the aforementioned reference to taking out our enemies being the primary one–but overall she came across as polished and ready for the office.

On the other hand Trump, when his rambling could be clearly understood, mentioned one thing after the other that not only made me hesitate but made me all the more convinced that this man should never be allowed near the White House. Of course he is espousing more of Reagan’s failed tax cuts and economic theories (“trumped-up trickle-down” as Clinton named it) and more deregulation (in an era where more people are becoming ill or injured from the deregulation that has already happened). It’s not those standard Republican platform ideas that were unnerving to me. It was the words and ideas that had been vetted by no one but Trump. Here are some of the things that caught my attention the most:

  • Trump’s first words were about how we are losing manufacturing jobs to Mexico and China. And that is true, because they can get much cheaper labor in those countries and save money. It’s all about the bottom line for manufacturers and employers like Trump. It’s not about the well-being of their employees, but of the shareholders and the owners. Surprisingly Clinton did not attack him for the number of his companies’ products that are made outside of the United States. According to an August 26 Washington Post article products with the Trump label are made in at least a dozen different countries, including China and Mexico, the two  countries he most rails against for undermining American businesses. The Post article also pointed out that Trump wrote a piece in 2005, “Outsourcing Creates Jobs in the Long Run”, in which he argued the economic necessity for businesses to move their business elsewhere.
  • One of the most horrifying moments of the night for me was when Clinton quoted Trump talking about the housing crisis a decade ago when he said, “Gee, I hope it does collapse, because then I can go in and buy some and make some money.” His response to Clinton quoting that was not, “In retrospect I’m sorry so many people lost their homes and dreams” or some similar compassionate reply. What he said to millions upon millions of Americans who lost their jobs, houses, and money was, “That’s called business, by the way.” So to Trump business is taking advantage of the misfortunes of others to increase one’s own fortune, even when you are supposedly already one of the richest, most successful people in the world. A man with so little concern for the hardships of others is not a man who should be holding office of any kind.
  • There was also a very odd exchange about ISIS, in which Trump claimed Clinton was telling ISIS what she was going to do to defeat them and that she was “telling the enemy everything you want to do” while scolding her that World War II General Douglas MacArthur wouldn’t like it. He then goaded her about fighting ISIS her entire adult life, despite later stating that she and Obama caused ISIS to start when we left Iraq.
  • Another of the more maddening moments of the debate came when Clinton claimed that the few tax returns ever released by Trump, when he had to release them in order to get casino licensing, showed that he paid no federal income taxes. None. The businessman claims income in the hundreds of millions of dollars and does not pay a cent in taxes. Rather than saying something about that which might make it a little less irritating to taxpayers like me he responded with, “That makes me smart.” So the man who harped all night long about the country being in debt (while historically priding himself on his debt as a businessman) is not paying his fair share, or any portion of it, and takes pride in how smart he is for not contributing what he should. For those of us who pony up about a quarter of our income every year to keep this country running–and are okay with doing that if it helps maintain our highways, parks, way of life, and more–hearing his smarmy response was beyond galling. It makes me more inclined to want to vote for Hillary Clinton so that she can raise taxes and take away loopholes for corporate freeloaders like Trump and his ilk.
  • Much of what Trump talked about was how he as a businessman should run the country because he knows how to handle money and how to handle budgets. But I have always been of the belief that government is not business and should not be run like a business. Government should be the caretaker of its people. I don’t mind paying taxes so that my townsmen can eat or have healthcare. I would gladly pay more to have everyone covered under a national health plan. It would probably save the common citizen money in the long run. The last thing I want is a corporate CEO who treats citizens as expendable human “resources”, who cares only about making more money and not about the people on the front lines without whom no money would be made at all, who doesn’t pay debts just because he can get away with it, who redlines everything including our most valuable assets and services just for the bottom line. I don’t want the man who admits that he avoided paying debts with this line, “I take advantage of the laws of the nation because I’m running a company.” Give me a career politician, lawyer, the shoe repairman next door, or anyone but someone whose god is money.
  • The man who used the racist birther movement as a springboard for his political ambitions and is now denying it also reduced the issue of racism in this country to an issue of “law and order” and strongly argued for the return of the unconstitutional “stop and frisk” practice, which was ruled unconstitutional because it involved profiling black and brown citizens. He mentioned the “inner city” and in the same breath said he had just left Detroit and Philadelphia to prove how much he understands African-American issues. In fairness he was reaching out to African-Americans in those cities recently because he has been polling so poorly among blacks in this election he has to try to do something. By the way, in the middle of denying that he kept questioning President Obama’s citizenship, he said this–you can watch it online or read it in the transcripts–“He should have produced it a long time before.” This is the crux of why the birther movement is a racist issue. No other President, all of them white prior to Obama, has had their birthright and citizenship questioned like this. The President should not have had to produce a birth certificate at all. Yet Trump was full of pride about getting him to do so, calling it a great service to the country. If a racist distraction is a great service, then yes. Unfortunately, it is not. For me, the oddest quote in this segment was this: “When you talk about healing, I think that I’ve developed very, very good relationships over the last little while with the African-American community.” The italics are mine. I’ll leave it at that. His final defense against charges of racism was a Trump classic–he talked about how he built a club in probably the richest city anywhere and that club doesn’t discriminate against African-Americans or Muslims. Of course it would be illegal to do so, but I’m betting most of my friends, black or white or other, Christian, Muslim, or other would not be able to afford to go to a Trump club in one of the wealthiest places in the country, and I’m betting there are not a huge number of black or Muslim patrons on any given day, although you might see illegal immigrants clearing the tables and washing the dishes.
  • Clinton brought up some of the nasty things Trump has said about women and he could not defend himself. When she mentioned him calling a beauty contestant “Miss Piggy” and “Miss Housekeeping” (because she was Latina) he did not deny it. He simply kept asking, “Where did you find this? Where did you find this?” He then defended himself by noting he had said some “tough things” about Rosie O’Donnell, but she deserved it because nobody feels sorry for her. Today he did admit in a roundabout way that Clinton’s assertion was true. He defended his comments about the beauty queen by continuing to fat shame her by stating that after she won the pageant “she gained a massive amount of weight  and it was a real problem.”

Those are the highlights (or lowlights as it were) of Trump’s part of the debate. In addition to all of the horrible things Donald Trump had to say he lied throughout the night about many things, or just made things up on the spot, such as being endorsed by ICE, which as a government agency can’t endorse anyone. He also acted like a petulant spoiled child. He came across as a narcissistic and greedy self-promoter (but one who is only really good at convincing himself about how great he is). He expressed views that made it clear that no matter what he says about the American people and wanting to protect us from terrorists and from losing jobs, he would let us all starve if it improved his lot in life. Yes, he came up from the poverty of a paltry million dollar loan from his father to get his life started, but he spent that to make more money and ended up rich in monetary terms but with an incredible poverty of soul.

About Callen Harty

Originally from Shullsburg, Wisconsin Callen Harty is the author of four books and numerous published essays, poems, and articles. His most recent book is The Stronger Pull, a memoir about coming out in a small town in Wisconsin. His first book was My Queer Life, a compilation of over 30 years worth of writing on living life as a queer man. It includes essays, poems, speeches, monologues, and more. Empty Playground: A Survivor's Story, is a memoir about surviving childhood sex abuse. His play, Invisible Boy, is a narrative with poetic elements and is also an autobiographical look as surviving child sex abuse. All are available on Amazon.com (and three of them on Kindle) or can be ordered through local bookstores, He has written almost two dozen plays and 50 monologues that have been produced. Most of them have been produced at Broom Street Theater in Madison, Wisconsin where he started as an actor, writer, and director in 1983. He served as the Artistic Director of the theater from 2005-2010. Monologues he wrote for the Wisconsin Veterans’ Museum won him awards from the Wisconsin Historical Society and the American Association of State and Local History. He has also had essays, poems, and articles published in newspapers and magazines around the country and has taken the top prize in several photo contests. His writing has appeared in Out!, James White Review, Scott Stamp Monthly, Wisconsin State Journal, and elsewhere. He has had several essays published online for Forward Seeking, Life After Hate, and The Progressive. Callen has also been a community activist for many years. He was the co-founder of Young People Caring, UW-Madison’s 10% Society, and Proud Theater. He served as the first President of Young People Caring and as the Artistic Director for Proud Theater for its first five years. He is still an adult mentor for the group. In 2003 he won OutReach’s Man of the Year award for his queer community activism. OutReach is Madison, Wisconsin’s lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community center. He also won a Community Shares of Wisconsin Backyard Hero award for his sex abuse survivor activism work. He has been invited to speak before many community groups, at a roundtable on queer community theater in New York City, and has emceed several events. In 2016, Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault named him their annual Courage Award winner for his activism, writing, and speaking on sexual assault.
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