The coming election will be a gut check for those who don’t think Indians should vote in colonial elections. The usual case is that Indian interests can only be read between the lines. Since the shooting part of the Indian Wars ended, national candidates don’t have much to say about us.
This election is different in that Donald Trump is a professed Indian fighter. In our time, Indian fighting means reducing Indian nations to the legal status of voluntary associations and repealing any laws that help Indians as unfair to non-Indians. Modern Indian fighters would reinterpret the Indian Citizenship Act to mean the end of our separate political existence.
Hillary Clinton verbalizes support for Indian sovereignty and Bill Clinton did not try to hurt us when he had the chance. That’s about as clear as choices get for Indians, but the polls say the race is tied. That makes the debates critical and this first one was expected to draw more viewers than Monday Night Football.
Both sides had been working the refs, and that work results in the first debate being advantage Donald J. Trump. Hillary Clinton had worked the refs by making them confront the problem that Trump lies so fluently. Is it professional to confront the lies or is it professional malpractice not to?
It is easier to admit a duty to bring out the truth than it is to imagine how to move a discussion along if Trump lies as much as he did in the Republican primary debates and the moderators try to chase down every one.
While Clinton failed to achieve a public opinion consensus on how the moderators should handle Trump with his pants on fire, Trump did an excellent job of manipulating expectations.
This will be Clinton’s 39th debate, but only Trump’s 12th. She is a graduate of Yale Law School; he of the Wharton School of Business. Trump’s reality TV experience got lost in the scrum.
Trump has sold the idea that the playing field is tilted against him, starting with his claim that moderator Lester Holt is a Democrat. (Holt is a registered Republican.)
To prevail, Clinton had to appear presidential. Knowledgeable is not good enough because everyone knows she has forgotten more public policy than Trump ever knew.
To prevail, Trump had to appear sane.
That may seem to be a significant tilt in the scoring, but she spent more time Monday night appearing presidential than he spent appearing sane. Clinton’s problem is the large number of people expected to tune in for this debate who would be attending to the election for the first time. The consensus number was 100 million.
She carries the baggage of fake scandals from Whitewater to Benghazi. The sheer amount of smoke leaves people thinking there was fire—which there was, but nothing in the same league with Trump’s business dealings or his distant relationship with the truth. The most astounding indictment of voter attention is that the public perceives Trump to be more honest than Clinton.
The debate started with a question about the welfare of the “half of Americans living paycheck to paycheck.” I could not help flashing back to much of my life doing exactly that.
Clinton replied with the usual Democratic Party wish list: infrastructure repair, advanced technology jobs, a raised minimum wage, equal pay for women, paid family leave.
Without prompting, she admitted that taxes would have to go up to pay for that wish list.
Trump took the question directly to trade, claiming the problem that jobs are “fleeing the country” or, he went on, “being stolen.”
He offered the standard Republican bromide that if taxes on rich people are cut they will go on a hiring spree.
Clinton had an obviously prepared label: “Trumped-up trickle down.”
Trump recycled his claim that he turned “a small loan” from his father into a thriving business worth “billions.” Depending on your point of view, he started with a $1 million loan or a $14 million inheritance. Either way, most voters would agree he was born on third base. They may be divided over whether he later hit a triple.
Clinton pointed out correctly that the economic meltdown in 2008 came out of a low taxes/low regulation regime. Those are the exact taxation and regulatory policies Trump advocates.
She added that the consensus of academics evaluating their economic plans is that Trump’s would disappear 3.5 million jobs and hers would create 10 million.
Trump inserted three remarks worthy of writing down, but of marginal relevance.
“You’ve been fighting ISIS all of your adult life.”
He attacked Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen as “political.”
In response to the controversy about his failure to reveal his tax returns, he revealed that last year he made $694 million. He made no claims about how much tax he paid or how much he gave to charity.
He reminded the voters that he “built an unbelievable company” and “it’s about time we had somebody who knows about money.” He then proceeded to prove he did not understand the difference between micro- and macro-economics.
By any rational measure, Clinton cleaned his clock.
The next inquiry was about race, and Clinton once more offered the predictable proposals for mutual respect and police training and gun control. She persists in referring to the Harvard research on “implicit bias” without explaining it. A nerd error.
Trump offered the Richard Nixon prescription, “law and order,” that most histories of the 1968 election consider to be a racist dog whistle deployed in the service of the “southern strategy.” Pressed for specifics, he added his endorsement for “stop and frisk” and hiring more police.
The fact checkers nailed Trump after the debate for claiming stop and frisk had not been ruled unconstitutional (it had) and that murders had gone up after the policy ended (they had not).
He whacked Clinton for her use of the term “super predators” in the context of Bill Clinton’s criminal justice reforms. She took the hit, which she pretty much had to.
This section ended with Lester Holt trying to get Trump to say why he changed his mind about President Obama having been born in the U.S. Trump never did answer and Holt had to give it up.
In this section, I suspect the candidates split the electorate the same way it splits in the polling. Non-whites will say Clinton won going away. White people who think systemic racism is a myth will call it for Trump.
The tail end of the debate was supposed to be about national security but it quickly became incoherent. Trump had made his charge from the campaign trail that Clinton lacks the “stamina” to be POTUS. He then ran out of energy.
There was a great deal of argument over whether Trump had supported the Iraq War. He has claimed to have opposed it even though his public statements showed otherwise.
Tonight, he walked us through his proof. The fact checkers need to call Sean Hannity, because Trump claimed that he argued with Hannity many times against the war when Hannity was for it.
There you have it. To settle the issue, don’t attend to what Trump told Howard Stern on the air. Call Sean Hannity.
Trump claimed that it’s becoming “tougher and tougher” to defeat ISIS—a claim manifestly at odds with the facts on the ground.
But when he tried to explain himself about his disdain for NATO and his odd statements about nuclear weapons he just got weirder and weirder. He appeared to run out of steam. In a word, he lacked the stamina to stay on his game for 90 minutes.
Much of his bottom line appeared to agree with Clinton’s positions but I hesitate to report his bottom line when it seemed so foggy.
Clinton’s win on the national security issues was not based on a clear policy clash but rather on the fact that he was all over the place while she stayed on message.
Her most presidential moment of the whole debate was after Trump gave his confused spiel about whether the U.S. would really meet its mutual defense obligations to NATO, Japan and South Korea. She looked right into the camera and spoke to our allies—you can bet they were watching—and said they should understand, no matter what is said in a political campaign, that the U.S. would keep its word. Probably so, since these were not Indian treaties.
Clinton won the first debate. She had best remember that in the last election cycle, Mitt Romney won the first debate.