The Most Disturbing Moment in Presidential Debate History

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Given what  happened in the days leading up to Sunday night’s second Presidential Debate in St. Louis, there was widespread apprehension that it could be the nastiest and most acrimonious encounter ever between presidential candidates. After all, the political world had been in a swirl since the disclosure on Friday of a tape in which Donald Trump bragged about groping women.  And that came on the heels of his disastrous performance in the first debate and his unraveling in the days afterward.

The grope heard round the world did come up early in the debate.  Trump dismissed it as “locker room banter”, suggested that all men engage in similar talk and then asserted that it was insignificant compared to the things that Bill Clinton has done.  Trump claimed it was just talk and that he had not actually done the things he boasted of in the tape, an assertion that has already been challenged and that will surely be further rebutted in the coming days.

His supporters will believe him and everyone else will view him as a predator who shouldn’t get anywhere near their daughters.   As much as this issue was highly anticipated in the run-up to the debate, it was actually not the most disturbing aspect of the night.

Trump was widely panned for his boorish behavior in the first debate, but didn’t learn the lesson.  Sunday night, he continually interrupted and talked over Hillary Clinton, even to the point that the moderators admonished him to let her speak.  And, in what can only be described as creepy, he lurked behind her as she walked around the stage responding to individual questioners.  Trump’s scowls, sniffling and head shaking as Clinton talked are, in the bigger picture, not very important, but his handlers surely must have told him how off-putting his actions are.

All of this, however, was standard Trump.  So was his steady stream of lies and misrepresentations.  Despite incontrovertible evidence, he continues to deny that he initially favored the Iraq war.  His characterizations of his tax plan and of Clinton’s bear no resemblance to reality.  Trump’s shaky understanding of the Middle East and his simplistic assertions about how to fix it would be laughable if he were not the presidential nominee of a major political party.  The list goes on but not even these problems compares with one statement he made during Sunday’s debate.

Casting aside one of the most important and enduring features of American democracy, Trump baldly stated that if he were president he would make sure Clinton was put in jail.  As contentious and nasty as presidential campaigns have sometimes gotten, never in our history has that threat been made to a political opponent.  We are not a petty dictatorship.  We are not a country that is just now trying to figure out how to establish democratic procedures.  We have a constitution and protections of individual rights and guarantees of due process of law.

Yet, Trump, in his careless and tyrannical manner, would sweep all of that aside.  You might  dismiss the statement as something said in the heat of the debate without adequate reflection, but, in fact, he has made similar suggestions in other comments.

Trump has talked at his rallies of wanting to lock Clinton up.  It always get a roar from his followers, some of whom are wearing “Hillary for Prison” t-shirts.

Equally disturbing, Trump keeps suggesting that the election may be rigged and that if he loses, it could only come as a result of fraud.  That language itself is dangerous and a stunning break with a history of peaceful transitions of power.  We revere George Washington because he voluntarily relinquished his office when there was no tradition to do that,  a decision Lin Manuel Miranda celebrates in his musical, Hamilton.

Trump shows no awareness of the constitution and its limits and checks on power.  He attacked Clinton on Sunday for not having changed the tax code when she was a senator.  That ridiculous comment shows no understanding of the complexities of the legislative process and the need to persuade a majority of members of both houses to get laws enacted.

Trump’s instincts are those of a dictator.  He talks about what he will do, not what the country will do.  Everything is personal.  And in all of those comments, he continues to reveal himself as a real threat to democracy and to our constitutional system.

Whatever you think of the tape from last week, his stated intention to jail a political opponent is a much more serious indicator of his not being qualified to be this nation’s next president.  Threatening to have Clinton jailed if he is elected president is much more disgusting  than anything he said on the tape.