First Presidential Debate: Hillary Clinton Asserts Herself as Madame President

By Veronica Walton, Staff Writer

One thing’s for sure: Hillary Rodham Clinton, 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, inspired cheers, gasps and approving snaps from across the political spectrum during her first presidential debate with Donald Trump at Hofstra University on Monday night.  During the 90-minute-long discourse (which, at times, metamorphosed into an exchange of bitter philippics), Secretary Clinton laid out her vision for the future of America-even as she withstood 51 interruptions (yes, PBS NewsHour was counting) from her opponent.  

And Trump: a vacuous and nefarious magnate who has never held an elected office and, as it turns out, is grossly unqualified to do so in the first place, continued to mansplain about how he – and only he – will get “our jobs” back “from Mexico,” and how he would do a “tremendous job” at doing so.  But, unlike previous times Trump has taken the political stage, Monday night’s debate left him a stammering, sniffling ball of fragile masculinity.

Despite these staggering attacks, linton remained poised and self-assured.  Determined and well-read on what she referred to as “the facts,” she spoke of how she would encourage policy that would aid economic growth, benefit the middle and lower classes, combat systemic racism and sexism and maximize national security.  She spoke of how she would “make investments where we can grow the economy” and how she “didn’t buy” into trickle-down economics and Trump’s plans to run the nation like a (white nationalist) business tycoon.  

Many conservative politicians, especially those who support Trump, such as senior Trump adviser Sarah Huckabee Sanders, complained that they did not believe the debate was fair, and that moderator Lester Holt did not ask Clinton about her array of scandals.  Sanders remarked, “What I thought wasn’t fair was that we didn’t get to talk about the Clinton Foundation. We didn’t talk about Benghazi. We didn’t talk about the email scandal. We got to talk about all the attacks that Hillary’s camp has made on Donald Trump and pretty much ignored most of the big attacks that have been hit on Hillary over the last several weeks.”

Why did Holt ignore them?  Lester ignored these scandals because, although there is an element of understandable wariness around Clinton’s alleged misconduct, Trump’s plans to build xenophobic walls, his sexist attitudes towards beauty pageant contestants, his indistinct and slapdash plans for the economy and his refusal to release the records of his tax returns have not been highlighted nearly enough by the mainstream, nonpartisan media.  Clinton is constantly held to higher moral standards than Trump is simply because she is a woman.  During her time as First Lady, Clinton was criticized for not reflecting the idealized image of a national hostess; she advocated for progressive social and health care reform.  She actually had a political agenda, and an unprecedented one at that.  Somehow, these hostile attitudes towards her assertiveness and audaciousness, which were at one time discussed only between neoconservative commentators, have seeped into our common cultural consciousness.  Even Trump claimed he had a better temperament than Clinton during the debate, although he is the one who interrupted her 51 times.  This too (rather unsurprisingly) reflects sexist postures.

While some argue that Clinton’s email it rendered her untrustworthy or that her actions were inappropriate, it’s not what we should be calling a “real issue.”  A president who sees women solely as sexual objects, tells P.O.C. in low-income communities that they have “nothing to lose,” and can do little more than talk about the “small loan” he inherited from his father and his subsequent personal success and mogul-ism, poses a tangible threat to the stability of the United States.  Trump’s misadventures, abuses, exploitations, and invectives have too long gone excused.  In other words, it’s time to hold him accountable.

The debate marked a high point in Clinton’s career as a presidential candidate.  She beat back interminably against Trump’s condemnations and stood proudly in the face of a skeptical nation.  She proved that, despite the fact that her her presidency will weather all manners of internalized sexism, anti-establishment rhetoric and cynical media attacks, she is indeed fit to sit in the Oval Office.

From the print edition published Oct. 5, 2016

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