Columnist unravels first presidential debate of 2016


Upon sitting down in the Honors Hall classroom to watch the first round of presidential debates, I had a few expectations. 

I have paid close attention to the election. 

I witnessed the rise and fall of Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton’s inevitable victory. 

I followed at first with amusement, and then shortly afterward with horror, the ascent of Donald J. Trump to GOP presidential candidacy. 

I familiarized myself with the ethos of these two politically incendiary figures, so it was only natural that much of what happened Sept. 26 was of no surprise to me: Clinton won.

The debate started out civilly enough. NBC’s Lester Holt was slated to be the moderator, and he walked on stage with all the poise one expected from an established, name-brand journalist.

He began by stating, “This night belongs to the candidates.” Indeed it did. Trump and Clinton met center-stage and shook hands. It could be argued that the civility ended shortly afterward.

The presidential debate itself was not the nuanced, policy-ridden affair that it has been in the past. Instead, despite Holt’s carefully-crafted questions regarding domestic and foreign affairs, the discourse quickly degraded into an argument over the candidates’ characters.

The opening argument involved trade, and Trump did exactly what he has done over the past 15 months: cite his experience as a successful businessman. He spoke loudly and confidently, as if he is an expert on the subtleties and conditions of our national trade partnerships. 

He is not. 

Although many might have been drawn in by his booming voice and conversational charm, the content of the speech itself was practically unintelligible, often steering off into left field, or (more often than not) blatantly lying. Live-action fact checkers at Politico and the Washington Post lit up every time he opened his mouth. He painted a bleak picture of economic ruin and insisted that the democratic establishment effectively doomed us all.

Clinton obviously came more prepared, opting to continue the theme of national optimism and asked voters to think of the future. Her delivery, although at times defensive and awkward, was infinitely more polished than the blunder spilled forth from her opponent.

The only thing Trump needed to do to win was prove he possessed a temperament befitting of the next president of the United States. The only thing Clinton had to do was prove he did not. Clinton succeeded and exposed his proneness to lies and bigotry. 

All in all, the debate was notably the first direct confrontation Trump would have with the consequences of his actions. It will be interesting to see whether this failed attempt at establishing himself as a presidential figure will sway voters to the other side, as many Democrats had hoped, or if the resilience of his support base will stand yet another blow to his campaign.

Benjamin Hummel is an English and speech & communications major at SDSU and can be reached at [email protected].