The possibility that Donald Trump’s presidential bid may have suffered a serious setback is, of course, heartening. But what made Monday night’s debate especially delicious was the rare joy in watching a relentless bully be publicly humiliated — in front of 80 million people, no less.
For months, Trump has swaggered around like a snarling junkyard dog menacing the neighbourhood. He seemed unstoppable. But that was until he found himself face to face with the smiling little kid on the block, who came armed with nothing more than a big brain.
The fact that this little kid was a girl — a category of human that, for Trump, has been mostly measured in cup sizes and runway potential — made the encounter all the more legendary.
As iconic battles go, it doesn’t get much better than that matchup. In the annals of women’s progress, Hillary Clinton’s triumph over Trump may well go down as the moment when lingering notions about male superiority were finally, irrefutably, crushed.
In the future, little girls will be able to watch that debate and inwardly smile at the notion that male shortcomings can be attributed to a malfunctioning microphone.
Trump came across as rude, overbearing, rambling and incoherent, while Clinton was focused, disciplined and charming.
Her charm was rooted in her easy admission that she prepared really hard for the encounter. Trump boasts that he doesn’t prepare for anything; he just wings it and wins, and he mocked her for preparing for this debate. Imagine bothering to study up on the issues before facing a global audience hungry for answers to the world’s most pressing problems.
But her dogged preparedness and quick mind won the day.
When Trump refused to explain why he won’t release his tax returns, Clinton suggested he doesn’t want the public to know he isn’t as rich as he claims, or as charitable — or perhaps that he pays no tax.
“That makes me smart,” he interrupted, brimming with bravado.
“If you have paid zero, that means zero for troops, zero for vets, zero for schools or health,” she calmly replied.
Without uttering a single insulting word, she skewered his self-serving tax-dodging.
Indeed, she skewered the entire “me-first” anti-tax ideology of recent decades, stripping off its self-satisfied mask and identifying how it undercuts the very functioning of society. As the rich use their power to reduce or evade their taxes, we lose the means to pay for our collective needs: troops, vets, schools, health care, etc.
When Trump later denounced America’s crumbling roads and bridges, she drove home the point, suggesting the nation’s infrastructure was falling apart “because you have not paid any federal income tax for a lot of years.”
She also didn’t let him slither away from his role in fanning the flames of “birtherism,” noting that he’d built his political career by pandering to racists wanting to cast doubt on Barack Obama’s U.S. citizenship.
She linked this behaviour to a 1973 lawsuit brought by the federal Justice department that accused Trump of discriminating against non-white tenants in his real estate properties — a skeleton most presidential candidates wouldn’t want in their closets.
Yet, unbelievably, Trump didn’t even deny he’d discriminated.
Instead, he simply pointed out that a lot of companies were sued for discrimination and he settled his lawsuit “with no admission of guilt.” He then boasted that he later opened a club in Palm Beach that didn’t discriminate at all — nada — not against African-Americans, Muslims, or anyone!
Clinton easily brushed off Trump’s charge that she lacked stamina, pointing to her whirlwind pace as secretary of state, travelling to 112 countries around the world (and even, I’ll bet, preparing before she arrived), while his own energy and focus was obviously flagging by the end of 90 minutes.
In the final moments, Clinton seemed to be almost tossing him around for sport, a cat with a mouse, as she lured him into days of postdebate comments highlighting his distaste for “overweight” women (a demographic most candidates wouldn’t want to ignore). One sensed that if the debate had gone on another half hour, Trump would have been in tears, or reaching for the nuclear button.
Of course, keeping this dangerous and erratic bully from getting the nuclear codes is essential, and this election is far from over.
But Monday’s faceoff was a crucial battle in that campaign, and it fell to the first woman candidate in U.S. presidential history to take him down.
Let it be noted that she did us proud.
Linda McQuaig is a journalist and author. Her most recent book (with Neil Brooks) is The Trouble with Billionaires: How the Super-Rich Hijacked the World and How We Can Take It Back. This column originally appeared in the Toronto Star.
Image: Bill B/flickr
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