A Dark Debate Caps a Grim Campaign

Donald Trump seemed to have his feet on the ground during the early minutes of the last debate, but he soon soared back into his narcissistic universe where everything revolves around Donald, writes Michael Winship from Paris.

By Michael Winship

If I believed there ever was any chance of escaping the U.S. election by running away to France for a week of business meetings and a little off time, all hope was dashed the moment we stepped into a cab at Charles de Gaulle Airport and the driver immediately started grilling us about Donald Trump.

This is how it has been the whole time here, with almost everyone expressing their fears of what a Trump White House would mean for the entire world. They’re shocked and disbelieving of the whole situation, their very real concerns the number one topic of conversation, followed in second place by the firm belief of many that we Americans soon will come to realize what a fine president Barack Obama has been and, running a distant third, the fallout from Britain’s Brexit vote and its impact on the future of the European Union.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

Our election has so seized the imagination here that posters around the city advertise “La Nuit Americaine,” an evening of watching the voting results on Nov. 8 at the Carreau du Temple, the vast public space in the Third Arrondissement. And so it seemed imperative somehow that I had to be awake at 3 a.m. Paris time to watch the final presidential debate, sneaking in a nap and setting the alarm. I hadn’t done anything like that since mom let me watch the moon landing, another otherworldly and momentous, perilous event.

At first it seemed that perhaps Donald Trump thought it was 3 a.m., too, although it was only early evening in Las Vegas. By his standards, he was restrained to the point of somnolence, making a few points that even indicated some thought process going on. But from the beginning of his answer to the very first question about the Supreme Court — that “Justice Ginsburg made some very, very inappropriate statements toward me” — it was clear that good old, vituperative, self-involved Trump was lurking just below the surface.

Under Trump’s Skin

As has been the pattern with all three encounters, in the first half-hour, talk was fairly measured, and then Hillary Clinton could be seen getting under Trump’s ocherous skin. Discussions of immigration, gun and abortion rights and Syria had their moments, especially when each candidate managed to move away from the same old familiar talking points and boilerplate, which was not very often.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

But soon, of course, Trump had to refer to some undocumented immigrants — alleged drug dealers — as “bad hombres,” as if he was Judge Roy Bean, Law West of the Pecos, ready to string up them non-American hombres without the benefit of a jury.

And so the evening progressed, if that’s the word for it, with the most stunning and headline-grabbing moment when Donald Trump refused to say if he would accept the final results on Nov. 8 and, in timeworn American fashion, calmly accept a win or loss.

“I will look at it at the time,” he said. “I’m not looking at anything now, I will look at it at the time.” Pressed by Chris Wallace of Fox News, the debate moderator, Trump reiterated, “I will tell you at the time. I will keep you in suspense, okay?”

Not okay. This election isn’t the season finale of The Amazing Race. Not only did what he said directly run contrary to prior comments by vice presidential candidate Mike Pence and even Trump himself, with those words Wednesday night, he trampled on principles of democracy and human decency that help the republic keep its difficult balancing act together.

To constantly charge, as he has, that the election will be rigged – with no real evidence to back up his allegations – is a danger to our democracy and the words of a thug rather than a potential president.

As The New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik wrote back in May, “[U]nder any label Trump is a declared enemy of the liberal constitutional order of the United States — the order that has made it, in fact, the great and plural country that it already is. He announces his enmity to America by word and action every day… It is self-evident in the threats he makes daily to destroy his political enemies, made only worse by the frivolity and transience of the tone of those threats.”

In post-debate spin, Trump team members tried to liken their man’s stance to Al Gore in 2000, when the Democratic presidential candidate questioned the Florida vote. But there is little if any valid comparison. Gore challenged the count after it was announced, went through the legal process all the way up to the Supreme Court and when the court found for Bush — even though strong evidence remained of fraud and inaccuracies — Gore gracefully conceded the race. A divisive, weeks-long crisis ended with a call to unify as a nation and to let George W. Bush lead.

Grace is not a word that springs to mind when contemplating Donald Trump, as was proven yet again toward the end of the debate when he referred to Hillary Clinton as “such a nasty woman.” All of his misogyny, all of his indifference to women’s rights, and the dismissiveness that treats women as playthings or doormats was on full display in those four words. Sad.

In a little less than three weeks, after all these torturous months of campaigning, we finally should know who our next president will be, provided Trump accepts the outcome either way and doesn’t go off on yet another adolescent hissy fit.

As for Hillary Clinton, she performed competently in Wednesday night’s debate simply by remaining unruffled by Trump’s inchoate attacks, stating her positions, artfully dodging landmines on emails and Syria, baiting Trump and hauling him in like the orange roughy he is.

Here in Paris, they tell the famous story of the Abbé Emmanuel-Joseph Sieyès, a pamphleteer of the French Revolution, who even during the worst and bloodiest parts of the Terror still dreamed of a representative democracy. Asked what he accomplished during the revolution, he replied, simply, “J’ai vécu” – “I survived.”

Hillary Clinton survived the last of these dumbed-down debates and from here in Paris, Donald Trump increasingly looks — pardonnez-moi — like French toast.

Michael Winship is the Emmy Award-winning senior writer of Moyers & Company and BillMoyers.com, and a former senior writing fellow at the policy and advocacy group Demos. Follow him on Twitter at @MichaelWinship. [This article originally appeared http://billmoyers.com/story/watching-dark-debate-paris/]

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20 comments for “A Dark Debate Caps a Grim Campaign

  1. Abe
    October 20, 2016 at 3:39 pm

    The Tragical Comedy or Comical Tragedy of this election year’s Punch and Judy show is all about “regime change”.

    The Punch and Judy drama unfolds as a succession of encounters, incidents which the audience can easily join or leave at any time. Much of the show is impromptu. The audience of passersby is encouraged to participate, calling out to the characters on the stage to warn them of danger or clue them in to what is going on behind their backs.

    Everyone knows that Punch mishandles the baby, that Punch and Judy quarrel and fight, that a policeman comes for Punch and gets a taste of his stick, that Punch has a gleeful run-in with a variety of other figures and takes his stick to them all, that eventually he faces his final foe (which might be a hangman, the devil, a crocodile, or a ghost).

    The various episodes of Punch and Judy are performed in the spirit of outrageous comedy – often provoking shocked laughter – and are dominated by the clowning of Mr. Punch.

    A proper Punch and Judy show requires these elements of violence and innuendo or the audience will feel let down.

    True to form, the Punch Donald has constantly squeaked out the famous catchphrase: “That’s the way to do it!”

    The nonplussed Judy Hillary remains confident in her “special relationship” with the “punchman” inside the booth. She is “pleased as Punch” that she’ll soon wield the stick.

  2. Bill Bodden
    October 20, 2016 at 6:04 pm

    To constantly charge, as he has, that the election will be rigged – with no real evidence to back up his allegations – is a danger to our democracy and the words of a thug rather than a potential president.

    The Democratic Party primary was rigged for Hillary to win, so was George W. Bush’s ascendancy to the Evil Office. Consequently, the possibility, if not the probability, of this election being rigged is plausible.

  3. Bill Bodden
    October 20, 2016 at 6:12 pm

    Gore gracefully conceded the race. A divisive, weeks-long crisis ended with a call to unify as a nation and to let George W. Bush lead.

    Gore gracefully (as a good member of the Establishment) conceded the race. A divisive, weeks-long crisis ended with a call to unify as a nation and to let George W. Bush lead the US, Europe, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the Middle East into the worst catastrophe since the First and Second World Wars. As for Gore’s “call to unify as a nation” we are probably more divided now than at any time since the Civil War..

  4. Kiza
    October 20, 2016 at 7:26 pm

    Winship and Bodden, two Clinton partisans desperately pushing their totally corrupt candidate into Presidency.

    Yes, perhaps the immigrant/refugee taxi drivers in France are worried about the fate of the World if Trump wins. They are so keen to belong to their new country that they identify with MSM sewage on Trump.

    Trump should be as graceful as Clinton is corrupt – without limit.

  5. Jack Epikoureios
    October 20, 2016 at 7:30 pm

    M. Winship’s article is one of the lamest, shallowest, vapid-est I recall seeing in Consortium News, ever; it had this unmistakable (& thoroughly nauseating) NPR taste, or worse (CNN, MSNBC etc); definitely well below the usual Consortium News caliber …
    (Kiza’s preceding remarks explain it.)

    EXAMPLE: last sentence / paragraph:
    “Hillary Clinton survived the last of these dumbed-down debates and from here in Paris, Donald Trump increasingly looks — pardonnez-moi — like French toast.”
    The issue is not whether HC survived the debate, the issue is whether the world will survive an HRC administration — the key, the sole (?!) issue here is the survival of mankind; the issue here is:
    Who is less likely to start a global war, a sovereign-ist or a … globalist ?! The answer is obvious to CN’ers …
    Jill Stein and other progressives agree.
    PS: I’m not surprised about the political decline of the French … Europe is vassal territory, especially under “socialist” midgets and similar Eurocrats …

  6. Evangelista
    October 20, 2016 at 7:42 pm

    “If I believed there ever was any chance of escaping the U.S. election by running away to France for a week of business meetings and a little off time, all hope was dashed the moment we stepped into a cab at Charles de Gaulle Airport and the driver immediately started grilling us about Donald Trump.”

    Michael!

    You went to the wrong place!

    In Mosul you would have heard not one word about the U.S. election!

  7. exiled off mainstreet
    October 20, 2016 at 10:04 pm

    Winship has been in the bag for the harpy throughout, so his stuff should be taken with a massive 50lb water-softener bag of salt as a proven shill. It is interesting he even gives Trump the first half hour of the debate. The fact is, the threat of nuclear war trumps anything. A vote for the harpy is a spin of the barrel with our future. No wonder they call it “Russian Roulette.” As Jill Stein, the best actual candidate, but to decent to win against the power structure, has indicated in another posting here, Clinton is obviously seriously dangerous, and any claims that Trump is the threat are psychological projection by the harpy’s corrupt cabal. I suspect that the polls have her overperforming because many democrats, looking at her warmongering record and the proof that her lackeys gamed the primaries and the nomination will make many of them sit out the election or give Stein a much larger vote than predicted. Looking at Trump’s policies, most of them are actually less reactionary than the harpy’s, so the real rightwing candidate is the nominal Democrat in this instance. Meanwhile, the fact she is a war criminal based on her spearheading the Libya overthrow should qualify her for the crossbar motel rather than the whitehouse. Trump should bring up the massacre of black Africans by the Libyan jihadis at Sirte in the aftermath of Hillary’s “triumph” in Libya, since she is responsible and get totally politically incorrect, stating ‘no nuclear war for ragheads.”

    • Brad Benson
      October 21, 2016 at 9:21 am

      We should bring back public hangings for all of these WAR CRIMINALS. We hanged Julius Streicher and Alfred Rosenberg for much less than what these pernicious propagandists posing as journalists have done.

  8. backwardsevolution
    October 21, 2016 at 1:17 am

    Michael Winship – “…he trampled on principles of democracy and human decency that help the republic keep its difficult balancing act together.

    To constantly charge, as he has, that the election will be rigged – with no real evidence to back up his allegations – is a danger to our democracy and the words of a thug rather than a potential president.”

    Hello? How about the undermining of Bernie Sanders (as revealed by the leaked emails)? How about the new Project Veritas videos showing how Hillary’s campaign and the DNC were paying for people to disrupt Trump rallies? How about the totally unbalanced reporting in the media re Trump (they have been and are still skewering him)? Do I need to go further?

    You sound like a completely out-of-touch, pampered reporter who wants the status quo to continue and, consequently, sees nothing!

  9. John R Bell
    October 21, 2016 at 2:37 am

    Winship like other Clinton supporters clearly believes that only American lives matter. That’s why he has no qualms about supporting the war candidate, the champion of violent regime change and the candidate with a record of undermining and overthrowing democracies because, of course, the victims of these policies and practices are not Americans. In reality, Clinton is more hostile to the environment and all living species than the Donald. Nuclear winter which she is likely to bring about with her reckless approach to baiting, threatening and lying about Russia is a very nasty form of climate change. Trump, the climate change denier, would be hard pressed to harm the environment anywhere near as much in the most unlikely event that he were elected.

    • backwardsevolution
      October 21, 2016 at 9:41 pm

      John R Bell – good comments!

  10. Brad Benson
    October 21, 2016 at 9:00 am

    All about Trump. Did this clown miss Hillary’s statement that, after we clear out Mosul, we will go into Syria and on to Raqqah? How about the no-fly zone in which we tell the Russians and Syrians that they cannot fly over Syrian Territory? Is Winship so afraid of a narcissistic Trump that he is ready to welcome World War III in order to effect Regime Change in Syria on behalf of Israel?

    This guy is not very bright. Anyone who actually watched the debate with any amount of attention to what was being said, instead of looking for things with which to bash the orange whoopee cushion, would know that Hillary Clinton is a WAR CRIMINAL who plans to give us more of the same from her first day in office.

    Is this what Winship and the French prefer? I doubt it in regard to the pragmatic French.

  11. zman
    October 21, 2016 at 11:42 am

    As soon as I read the part about ‘rigged voting’ and ‘no proof’, I knew what kind of article this was. Anyone who hasn’t figured out that our voting is rigged is living in an alternate universe. When exit polls data seriously diverges from the ‘official count’, we declare the vote to be questionable. At least, this is the rule when we supervise elections in other countries…but it does not apply to the sheeple capital of the world, the US. But the author demands ‘proof’. Ask Bernie supporters, ask Donald supporters…hell, ask anyone that hasn’t been asleep. I’m no fan of either of the two leading liars, but please, these ‘reporters’ need to at least try to appear neutral or at least sane. His reference to the 2000 election and Gores’ ‘grace’ is absolutely hysterical. What the Supreme Court did was illegal…It was a coup, you jerk, fomented by neocon traitors and Gore just played his part. Now they’re backing Killery, which shows they care not what party flag you fly, as long as you push their agenda. It is as many here have said before…it’s all kabuki theater…the play is all about the gullibility of Americans..the story of selling ice makers in the Artic.

    • backwardsevolution
      October 21, 2016 at 9:43 pm

      Brad Benson and zman – great comments too!

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