Clinton forced to treat narcissistic bully like an equal

The worst tactic was the threatening bullying. He interrupted Hillary incessantly, he talked over her, he literally physically stalked her as she moved, and used every opportunity to attack her.

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton look on at the start of their debate. (photo credit: REUTERS)
Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton look on at the start of their debate.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The worst part of this debate is that it took place at all. It was appalling to watch Hillary Clinton, a sincere public servant, have to share the stage with the likes of Donald Trump.
It worked to validate Donald Trump as a legitimate candidate, while it forced Hillary Clinton to treat a narcissistic bully like an equal. Even though Clinton came out ahead on all important measures, the fact that she had to put up with his relentless abuse meant that we couldn’t really hear more about her actual ideas, plans and vision. A debate acts like an equalizer. Both sides have the same opportunities, the same questions, the same time to talk. The stage is balanced, the screen is split, and the moderators speak in calm, fair tones.
Under normal election circumstances, this is a tool for civil discourse. But this is not a normal election. This is an election with a toxic tyrant against a normal person. And that changes everything. Let’s take a look at some of the dynamics of the debate and how they elevated abuse and put civil discourse on the defensive. First, there were the diversion tactics. When Trump was asked about the damning tape in which he admitted to engaging in sexual assault, he first dismissed it as “locker room banter”. Then he tried to change the subject the first time by talking about his economic plan. The moderators tried to bring him back to the topic, so he then denied that he did what he said he did. Finally, he focused all his attention on Bill Clinton. He paraded these women – who might have actually been sexually assaulted by Bill – as if he is their friend. As much as I would like, at some point, to find out the truth about Bill, it has no bearing on Hillary’s candidacy, nor on Trump’s.
Even without the tape, Trump had an appalling record on women both personally and publicly. He has only shown us his misogyny and sexism, he spent 17 years rating women’s bodies with Howard Stern, has no problem calling women disgusting or pigs, and is completely clueless about what it means to respect women. Trump was using those women as a diversion tactic, and for some voters, it probably worked. But there is no moral equivalency between Trump the serial cheating, objectifying misogynist and Hillary, the wife of a philanderer who tried to hold her family together. There is no comparison, and the attempt to use Bill’s history with women to bring down Hillary is repugnant on so many levels.
Moreover, I don’t know how women who are supposedly victims of sexual assault – especially AFTER the tape was released – could rush to support Trump. It is weird and unsettling. Most victims of sexual assault have been so triggered by the tape that there has been an outpouring of stories of sexual abuse on twitter. (It is very telling that Trump could not get Monica Lewinsky on his side. Good for her.) We don’t know what the story is with Bill and these women, and I do hope the truth comes out one day. But that has nothing to do with Hillary and shows that Trump is willing to stoop very low using whatever tactics work for him, in this case diversion.
The second toxic tactic that Trump employed with particular fervor was blame-shifting. Every single answer he offered, no matter what the topic, was to blame Hillary. When asked about his taxes, he blamed Hillary for taking donations from Warren Buffet and George Soros. When he was asked about why he was sharing sex tapes of Miss Universe, he responded by talking about Hillary and Benghazi. When asked about his plans for Syria, he blamed Hillary because of Obama (because after all, she’s a woman, so she can’t possibly be her own person. She is either wife of Bill or surrogate for Obama.) Then there was the lying.
She tried to fact-check him about how she was not part of the team creating policy about Syria. (“I was gone by then” she said, and then apologized for interrupting, even though it was her one interruption in the two debates, compared to dozens by him.) He repeated lies that he has been fact-checked on repeatedly, like his claim that America is the most taxed country on earth. (The New York Times has debunked this on several occasions.) He doesn’t care. He says what is most convenient, what he thinks his supporters want to hear. And he flip-flops – he said he pays “hundreds of millions” in taxes, and then admits that he used tax breaks to pay nothing. Which one is it? The public deserves to know. Donald Trump lies like people breathe. He lies to manipulate, to puff himself up, and to make his supporters cheer. It works. And in the meantime, like all other toxic tactics, it disarms and destabilizes the other person in the conversation.
The worst tactic was the threatening bullying. He interrupted Hillary incessantly, he talked over her, he literally physically stalked her as she moved, and used every opportunity to attack her. The worst was when he threatened to put Hillary in jail – and people in the audience cheered! He said this despite the obvious disregard for rule of law and innocent until proven guilty. And his entire posse ignored the fact that she has been cleared of any criminal activity – despite tens of millions of taxpayer dollars spent on trying to prosecute her (in fact when Trump said, “I’ll appoint a special prosecutor”, she laughed, probably because she has been investigated by special prosecutors for her entire career, including by a full-time staff of 12, costing $10 million, who did nothing for two years other than read her emails, and who came up with nothing.
Finally, he tried to frame things as if he was the real victim. Whenever the moderators tried to rein him in – mostly unsuccessfully – he would respond by crying that he was being treated unfairly. “Why don’t you say that to her?” Because she wasn’t the one relentlessly interrupting and refusing to listen to the moderators. Did the audience see through this and realize that he was projecting and turning himself into an artificial victim? Or did they really think he was treated unfairly? I wish I knew. But when it comes to how Americans respond to Donald Trump, I am at a loss to understand.
Donald Trump should not be considered a genuine candidate. He is nothing more than a show-man, a narcissistic, toxic, small-minded, ego-driven, misogynistic blow-hard who happens to be very gifted at using tools of entertainment to gain a following. He represents the worst parts of American culture, the abusive, hate-filled, fear-mongering, bullying, shallow, need-to-be-entertained, willing-to-believe-anything little American mind.
Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, represents the best parts of American culture. She embodies values of inclusion, listening, caring, hard-working, sincere change. You could see it in her body language at the debate. She looked people in the eye, stood near them, asked them questions, called them by name, and answered their questions. You may not agree with everything she says, and she may have made some mistakes in her thirty years of public service. But she is an outstanding candidate with a genuine passion and drive for doing right by people.
But when good people have to deal with bullies, they do not always shine. Having to share the stage with the likes of Trump was demeaning for her. But I think she handled it with grace, intelligence, humor and dignity. I hope Americans ultimately are awake enough to be able to see the truth.