The Newest Form of Entertainment: Presidential Debates

Hurelayn Abdu, Staff Writer

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The 2016 presidential election has been far from boring.

Whether the topic has been one of sheer numbers – such as the large number of Republican candidates in the primary – or of clear controversy like Donald Trump’s various offensive comments or Hillary Clinton’s emails, this election cycle has been one of almost -constant turmoil. From the very beginning of this presidential election, the debates have been very eventful. As the candidates in both parties began dropping out, the debates became less political and more entertaining.

Throughout the primaries the debates brought forth some strange and ugly behavior on the debate stage, especially in the Republican contests, as candidates bashed one another both politically and socially. Well, it turns out that those debate shenanigans had nothing on what we’ve seen in the Clinton/Trump debates.

With a little over a month left until the election, our two main candidates have brought the level of debate discourse to a new low.

On September 26th, Trump and Clinton had their first debate – a one-on-one affair that took ratings through the roof. According to CNN MONEY, the debate brought in more than 84 million viewers. Two weeks later, they held their second debate, which brought in a slightly smaller number of viewers, but resulted in similar tone and effect as each candidate consistently attacked the other.

In both debates, important topics such as trade, taxes, immigration, race and public safety were discussed, but an entertainment element clearly overshadowed the candidates’ positions on each of these issues. At times, the whole event seemed more like a scripted comedy skit than a serious political event.After these two debates, it is quite clear that the focus of the discussion is not on what the future holds for each candidate’s potential presidency, but what each candidate has done in his/her personal lives. Both candidates have hurled insults at each other during the debates, including Clinton saying of Trump: “A man who can be provoked by a tweet should not have his hands anywhere near the nuclear codes.”

Not to be outdone, Trump noted that Clinton “doesn’t have the look; she doesn’t have the stamina” to be president. Additionally, Trump referred several times to Clinton as a politician who consistently lies to the American people and harshly critiqued her work as an elected and appointed official with the comment, “Hillary, you’ve been doing this for 30 years. Why are you just thinking of solutions now?”
Although viewers made few political discoveries, some moments that stood out and conclusions can be drawn. The first is that Donald Trump is shady with his taxes. Trump has consistently refused to release his tax returns and has relied heavily on the excuse that he is under audit and will release them when his accountants and lawyers say it is done. When Clinton noted that he doesn’t pay federal income tax, Trump did not deny it but, in fact, said that it shows how smart he is. To combat some of this tax-talk, Trump brought up Clinton’s “friends” and supporters who he noted, also take advantage of the tax codes.
Trump was also painted as racist and sexist, as Clinton brought up him calling former Miss Universe Alicia Machado Miss Piggy, after she gained thirteen pounds. He also, reportedly, called her Miss Housekeeping because she is Latina, which wasn’t surprising, considering offensive comments he has made about Latinos in the past. It also came to light during the first debate that Trump was sued by the Justice Department for housing discrimination against African- Americans and Hispanics. While this seemed to be pretty harmful evidence of his prejudicial behaviors, Trump continued to express that he is good for minority voters and that he has “developed good relations with the African American communities.”

However, the biggest bombshell from this presidential saga has to be the video The Washington Post released from 2005 in which Trump brags to entertainment host Billy Bush about sexually harassing women. In the much-talked about video, Trump can be heard saying, “I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait.” Trump continued, “And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.” This video certainly did not help Trump’s candidacy as the clearly well-timed release of it led second debate co-moderator Anderson Cooper to ask Trump about the video and Trump’s overall attitude toward women.

Trump was not the only one under the spotlight, though, as many of Clinton’s own scandals came up in each debate. Trump continued to attack Clinton’s email scandal as expected, but what wasn’t expected was Trump’s comments about them in the second debate. His exact words were, “If I win, I am going to instruct my attorney general to get a special prosecutor to look into your situation because there have never been so many lies, so much deception.” He then tried to characterize Clinton as sexist by bringing up how she “bullied” the women who accused her husband, former President Bill Clinton, of sexually assaulting them, and then brought up one of the first cases she worked on as a lawyer where she defended a man who was accused of raping a then- twelve- year- old.

The truth is, although this back-and-forth banter has been entertaining, it has also left very little time to talk about policy and has done nothing to close the chasm that exists between the two candidates. Ultimately, the loser in both of these debates was not Clinton or Trump but the American voter.

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