Now that the first Presidential Debate of the 2016 election is over and we’ve had some time to digest the sniffling, the Lloyd Bridges in Airplane! meme, and the fire tweets and takes, we want to take a moment to reflect on what substance could actually be gleaned from Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump’s Throwdown at Hofstra. We spoke to a few of some of our favorite thinkers to get their opinion on what was or wasn’t addressed last night.
Britt Julious, Writer and Columnist
How were you feeling going into the debates?
I originally was going to avoid them and maybe catch the highlights the next day, but as much as I’ve written about the election and about politics for different outlets, it didn’t feel right to do that, especially since I like to emphasize and tell people to vote in all elections, including mid-term elections. I was hesitant in terms of watching. but I eventually did. The only expectations that I really had was that it was going to be kind of messy. It was less messy than I anticipated it being, so that’s a plus.
Do you think if it had gotten messier people would have perceived the outcome differently?
I think so. I’ve been surprised by what the responses have been to the outcome. I was surprised to see #TrumpWon [become] the number one hashtag. Then I realized it was mostly people saying how stupid of a hashtag it was. Immediately afterwards [I was] watching the news commentary and I was surprised that some of the commentators were saying Hillary was over-prepared, or were saying that Trump at some point got the better of her. I was really confused. There were two different perceptions in terms of what was actually happening in the debates.
With the #TrumpWon thing, that seems like a hallmark of the Trump campaign where if you just say it, even if there’s nothing to validate it or support it, they consider it to be true. You can just say whatever you want, but nothing needs to be substantiated.
It’s so representative of what this election has become, in that people are just saying things even if it doesn’t make sense. They’re gonna say, “Trump won,” even if that didn’t happen at all—that’s just on a basic level of presenting facts, that doesn’t include the sniffling or the mansplaining or the talking over people’s voices. But people will convince themselves of anything as long as it fits within the narrative that they have adopted for themselves and for their candidates.
Was there anything that you hoped would be addressed that wasn’t covered in the debate?
From a really boring standpoint, I was really disappointed that there wasn’t more talk about the issues. I’ve been saying this forever since the primaries. Thinking back to 2008 and 2012, people were trying to use distracting tactics, so they would say something about President Obama’s pastor or things like that, but in the end, that didn’t dominate the conversation. It was so disappointing to see this strong, capable woman try to direct the conversation to talk about the actual issues and to see that the other side was just completely not down. It was really frustrating to realize, okay, this election is not going to be about the issues in any capacity.
Once whoever [is elected] gets in office, hopefully it’s Hillary, we’re going to have to deal with all of those issues that were not actually discussed in any sort of capacity on television or during the debate. To see that was quite terrifying. We’re at a really important turning point in terms of the country and our interactions with the world—how we view and respect the environment, how we view and respect other people—it feels like things are more dire, more drastic, more critical. To see that the election has turned into this one-sided shouting match is really frustrating on a human level. To see it reduced to this when we need to be talking about the lack of water, global warming, climate change, funding for education (which is always my biggest issue), and women’s rights. All of these things are so critical and it’s, “Let me talk about my private club in Palm Beach, Florida.”
Leading up to this debate and everything after it, all I hear people talking about is perception. How did people perceive this candidate? Did they reach their goals in how they wanted to be perceived, or did they fail? There are bigger questions than how we feel about these people.
We’ve always known that, particularly in close elections, it’s going to be up to those people who are in the middle who don’t really consider themselves to be very political and just maybe base their decisions on who they like the best, or who they think is the most appealing. But I don’t think we’ve ever seen it so clearly defined as we have this year, where it’s like, “Okay, I can do as much I want to and volunteer and all of these things, but the election is really going to come down to those people who are in the middle who are kind of just voting with their gut, not necessarily with what matters.”
Michael Skolnik, Activist and Entrepreneur
How were you feeling going into the debates?
I think everybody was nervous but excited. I certainly had great belief in Hillary’s ability to debate Donald, but he’s so erratic that we didn’t know what was going to happen.
Did you consider not watching it?
No. I wanted to go, and I was invited to go, but I’m doing a photoshoot Las Vegas for an immigration project. There was not a chance in life that I wouldn’t watch that debate.
How did you come out of it feeling?
Oh man, I went out to the Bellagio and celebrated. And that’s true! I was deeply, deeply proud of Hillary and inspired by Hillary. And I once again saw the nasty truth of Donald Trump, an angry divisive man.
Often we only hear about people being inspired by Hillary after moments like the convention or last night’s debate. Do you have thoughts on why those feelings don’t seem to be expressed more often?
I don’t think that’s entirely fair because what has happened in this election cycle, Les Moonves, the head of CBS, said [of Trump’s campaign], “It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.” Donald has been so good for ratings that they’ve carried his speeches—when he breathes they carry it—because they’re waiting for him to fuck up. And they know it comes all the time. That’s a moment they want to capture live. So I don’t think we’ve seen Hillary enough. When we see her live for an entire speech at the convention or for an entire debate, we realize she is that good.
And when she was campaigning against Bernie, Bernie was electric, he was from his heart, and he was in front of ten thousand people. His speeches were very different from the way that she delivers a speech. But she’s been steady, she’s been consistent, she has been presidential, she has been thoughtful, she has been impressive. I’ve been inspired by Hillary for a long time for many, many reasons. When 81 million people watch her on television at the debate last night, you realize how good she is, and she’s always been that good. This is not new.
In terms of the debate itself, were there any issues that you wished were addressed or that you hope will be addressed in the upcoming debates?
I was appreciative of the conversation on race and the conversation on criminal justice reform. I think Hillary offers a courageous plan, a step in the same path of the current president. What he’s trying to do with closing private prisons, that’s a big deal. Ending mandatory minimum sentencing is a big deal. And Donald’s response was, “Law and order. We’re going to fix race relations with stop-and-frisk,” which is absurd. [Stop-and-frisk] created more tension between black communities and police in New York. I lived it and I saw it and I fought against it.
Immigration didn’t come up, surprisingly, considering Donald’s campaign. It’s been centered around building a wall, which he didn’t even mention last night. Climate change and the environment, I don’t think that was talked about enough last night. I hope that comes up in further discussion. And within that, energy independence—how do we create more reusable energy and take our reliance off of fossil fuels and off of oil. These are issues that young people care about, our generation cares about. Theses are things where I don’t think Donald has an idea what to do. Last night he says he’s never said climate change is a hoax, but he’s tweeted it 11 times. And his campaign manager today said, “Oh, that was him as a private citizen.”
How do you think their performances at the debate will be reflected in the polls?
Public polls you’ve got to take with a grain of salt, but I think you’ll see the polls swing pretty strongly in her favor in the next couple of days. The question from the media to him last night and this morning was, “Are you going to do the next two debates?” That’s how bad it is. To even think that a presidential nominee would not debate the other nominee in three debates, that’s where we are. I find that indicative of what people think of what happened. They asked Giuliani if [Trump] would do the next two debates and he said he’s not sure. Are you kidding me? You’re not going to debate her? That would certainly send a message that he’s scared of her and she knocked him out in the first round.
William Ketchum III, Writer and Editor
How did you feel going into the debates?
I was excited and terrified. I felt like how I imagine people who watched those gladiator fights felt, like, “This is really brutal, and we shouldn’t enjoy watching this.”
Was the outcome we got was the outcome you anticipated?
Yeah. Going in, I thought Hillary Clinton was going to bring us as much information as she could, that she’s going to basically respond to questions the way a candidate should, while Donald Trump would be responding with shouts and insults and would be uninformed. And that’s pretty much what he did, and pretty much what she did.
It’s interesting that he wasn’t as awful as he could have been. I feel like that was a measure of success for him, that he wasn’t as repugnant as you could’ve imagined him to be.
He didn’t call her names and he didn’t call her ugly, so that’s like an accomplishment.
What about the substance of what was said?
I didn’t hear anything new, or anything I didn’t expect. But on one end, I was surprised to see Donald Trump defending trickle down economics and stop-and-frisk in 2016. That really blew my mind. I shouldn’t have been necessarily surprised by it, because I’ve heard him say it before, but it was still jarring to see someone defending these things in a presidential debate.
Because you think those are considered failed policies?
Yeah. Usually when I hear the GOP talking about tax cuts, I hear them making the case that their tax cuts don’t just impact the rich, that they are also cutting taxes for the middle class. But Trump was like, “No, I’m cutting taxes for the wealthy, and they’re going to give to the middle class.” When it comes to stop-and-frisk, both sides have really acknowledged that stop-and-frisk didn’t work and that the prison system disproportionately impacts black people. Hearing Trump defend those things was just unreal to me.
I was also surprised by his response to the birther question. The fact that he would still say that was glad that he did it and he felt that it was something that needed to be addressed and that he did a public service, but then at the same time backing away from the idea that he did it past 2011 when he obviously kept doing it, it just blows my mind that he lies so effortlessly. His comments made it abundantly clear to me, even though I already knew this, that he doesn’t want the black vote at all. He’s saying these things to make the white nationalist base feel more confident in him, to make them feel like someone is saying publicly what they’re saying privately.
Was there an issue that wasn’t addressed in this debate that you’d like to see discussed in the upcoming ones?
Not that I can think of. To me, the most important issues is systemic racism and police brutality. It was addressed, whether I like the response or not. Trump obviously isn’t going to say anything productive in that space. I wish he would have just said nothing, because he doesn’t care. Hillary’s response was fine. I wish she would have dug in a little bit more, but it was about what I expected. With Hillary, the only issue now is if you actually believe what she’s saying. What she’s saying only seems like a simulacrum of what matters. I don’t know if there’s anything she can say that will make people trust her more, it’s just a matter of if you believe that she’ll do what she says.