US elections: Civility and politics in America are lost

With the presidential candidates unable to even shake hands, civility and substantive debate in US elections have all but disappeared.

This was a nasty debate.

It was angry and spiky and charged with emotion from the very first moment (and we’ll return to that).

Eighty four million people watched the first Presidential debate of 2016. A record audience. And surely it was surpassed, at least for the first 30 minutes.

The draw, as it has so often been in this election cycle, was Donald Trump. 

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His campaign is in desperate trouble.

The leak of a recording from 11 years ago has the Republican candidate boasting about how he tried to seduce a married woman, and how he sexually assaulted others and that as a star he could get away with it.

He apologised for the words, but many left his campaign angry that he could speak with such disdain, such vulgarity about women.

The audience wanted to see how he would respond to the controversy, and he was prepared.

The first question was about character. But it was the follow-up from the moderator that really touched on the issue.

The businessman denied that he suggested he sexually assaulted women, insisting it was no more than “locker room banter” before pivoting to other issues.When they tried to drag him back, he simply steamrolled over the questions and went to his talking points. Donald Trump was drawing a line under the issue that has created such a mess for his campaign.

It was clear the two candidates have little respect for one another.

Donald Trump called Hillary Clinton, the Democratic candidate, “a liar”, “the devil” and promised that if elected he would order a special prosecutor to look into her handling of classified emails on her private server while Secretary of State.

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Clinton responded by saying it was good that someone with Trump’s temperament was not in charge of the laws in America. His reply of “You’d be in jail” brought laughter and gasps from the audience. He even said, more than once, she had “hate in her heart”.

Hillary Clinton made the point several times that things Trump said simply weren’t true. And she urged people to visit her website to see a real-time fact check.

Donald Trump says he spent Saturday preparing for this debate. And it showed. He was more focused, and was able to make solid points on Clinton’s emails, the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi when she was secretary of state, and her private speeches to big financial firms after she left office.

Trump undoubtedly left St Louis thinking the vulgar video had done little damage.

He attacked the moderators, too – who did a very good job – constantly complaining that they were ganging up on him and were unfair in the allocation of time.

That would have delighted his base, and perhaps pulled a few back who were thinking of deserting him.

That’s Trump’s trouble though – it’s not enough to win the election.

Hillary Clinton went into the debate with growing momentum, thanks to Trump’s tape troubles. And she did nothing to disrupt that. She had difficult moments, but made no significant errors upon first watch.

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She even refused to respond to the bait when Donald Trump attacked her husband as a sexual predator, even as former President Bill Clinton sat just metres away from him. Instead, she concentrated on issues, showing a grasp of policy and an understanding of their global significance.

There was no outright winner, but there was, perhaps, a loser.

From the moment the two candidates walked on stage – it was clear there was tension.

There was no handshake, the traditional welcoming gesture at these events. The air of civility, the notion that this is a battle of ideas between two people who want the best for their country is lost.

It has become more combative, more charged and yes, nasty. If the two standard bearers can’t get abide each other, if the other side is to be demonized and attacked, if the language is personal and vindictive rather than about policy, it sets an example to be followed elsewhere. What we saw last night reflects what we’ve heard in political discourse over the past several years.

And if the two people who want to lead the country, who should be the best their parties can offer, can’t even shake hands with an opponent, then civility, politics and America lose.

Source: Al Jazeera