If there was the tiniest doubt left in your mind that Donald Trump holds no regard for the principles and ideals of a representative democracy—or that he views this country as anything more than a podium for his grandstanding ego, base dictatorial instincts and gutter mentality—Sunday night’s debate should have shot that shred of doubt straight to hell.
It was not enough for Trump that he continue to slime our airwaves and the Internet with his offensive rants and tweets or that he responded to the 2005 videotape of his sexist, brutish behavior with a non-apology apology that segued into yet another attack on the Clintons. Which in turn segued into that bizarre, tabloid-style press conference just before Sunday’s debate with four women accusing not only Bill Clinton, but Hillary Clinton as well, of abusive conduct.
Which in turn segued into the debate itself. (The Washington Post reported that the Trump campaign wanted to seat the four accusers in the candidates’ family box so that Bill and Chelsea Clinton would have to confront them but the Commission on Presidential Debates intervened and refused. The women were seated elsewhere in the auditorium.)
This is what Trump and his gang have turned this election into: a cheap, tawdry burlesque; a circus sideshow of freaks and conspiracy nuts that titillates the lowest of the lowest common denominator and has made us the laughingstock of what’s left of the free, thinking world.
This is not to excuse any of Bill Clinton’s past extramarital peccadilloes, or the Clintons’ preservation of the status quo, their bear hug embrace of money and influence. Nor does it let off the hook the members of the press and their corporate higher-ups who egged on this Trump sleaze machine.
But the Republican Party? You brought this on yourselves, boys and girls. For years now you have placed party, power and privilege above patriotism and country, feeding hatred and bigotry to advance your own agenda. Even before that tape came out last Friday, you knew who Trump was and is. You have always known. You just didn’t care as long as it seemed he would lead you to victory.
And so, there he was on the debate stage Sunday night, fresh from his crude and nasty press event with the women accusers, lurking and hulking across the stage like some Presbyterian golem, slinging mud, flagrant falsehoods and invective like so much gorilla dust. Those crass comments he made on the “Access Hollywood” bus? Just locker room talk, he insisted, and not the behavior of a man who regards women as trophies and playthings.
After Sunday’s debate, pundits gave him points for being slightly less ludicrous then he seemed in the first one, and he managed with some effect to work in all the standard anti-Clinton attack lines on Syria, Obamacare and emails.
But mostly, Sunday will go down as the night he accused Hillary Clinton of having “hate in her heart” and being “the devil,” announcing that if elected, he would throw her in jail, like the tinhorn wannabe despot he is. He hurled a kitchen sink containing every dirty pot and pan he could conjure, hoping something, anything, would knock her out. Nothing did. But nothing in that hour-and-a-half knocked him out either.
This is worse than a simple embarrassment. Hurricane Donald has devastated America, tearing us from our foundations and moorings, creating havoc and letting loose the wolves of prejudice, hate, fear and greed.
When this whole sorry mess is—hopefully—settled on Election Night, we all are going to need to conduct some serious inventory, taking a long hard look at ourselves and why this has happened, initiating a national dialogue and putting in place every step necessary to rebuild and save the nation from its near-death experience.
Michael Winship is the Emmy Award-winning senior writer of Moyers & Company and BillMoyers.com, and a former senior writing fellow at the policy and advocacy group Demos. Follow him on Twitter at @MichaelWinship.