Wednesday night’s third and final presidential debate took place against an unprecedented backdrop of controversy over the Republican nominee’s history of alleged sexual assault and harassment of women, his more recent unsubstantiated allegation of widespread voter fraud and his suggestion the election is being rigged in favor of his opponent.
The debate, moderated by Chris Wallace of Fox News, started with a substantive question about the Supreme Court, with Hillary Clinton suggesting as president she would choose justices who protect marriage equality and the rights of the poor.
Trump attacked Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg for criticizing his candidacy and presented the election as a referendum on the protection of the Second Amendment. He promised to appoint “pro-life,” Second Amendment justices, equating the wishes of the Founding Fathers with the ideological positions of right-wing conservatives.
Throughout the night Trump often presented himself as a caricature of the right, vowing to appoint Supreme Court judges who would reverse Roe v. Wade and accusing Clinton of supporting ripping babies “out of the womb in the ninth month on the final day” in rhetoric designed to arouse red-meat conservatives everywhere.
Trump: ‘We have some bad hombres’
Trump also doubled down on his absurd promise to build a wall to stem the tide of illegal immigration, noting that “we have some bad hombres” who need to be deported from America.
Clinton countered this rhetoric with a robust support for a woman’s right to choose and for a pathway to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants residing in the country. “We are both a nation of immigrants and a nation of law, and we can act accordingly,” Clinton said, promising to introduce comprehensive immigration reform as president. She also reminded the audience of Trump’s blatant racism in characterizing Mexican-Americans as rapists and drug dealers.
In a zesty discussion over immigration, the only time race was mentioned in this last debate, Clinton accused Trump of using undocumented workers to build Trump Tower and then threatening those he underpaid with deportation when they complained.
Perhaps the bitterest exchange of the evening came when Clinton accused Trump of being a potential puppet of Russian leader Vladimir Putin. “You’re the puppet!” Trump shot back in an exchange never before witnessed in modern presidential debate history. As the night wore on Trump grew angrier, at one point calling Clinton a “liar” on national television.
Clinton shined during moments that allowed her to articulate a detailed economic vision for America. Her laundry list of economic programs such as free community college, a living wage for low-income workers, and higher taxes for wealthy individuals and corporations read like a progressive agenda echoing Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society.
At one point, Trump asked Clinton “Why the hell” she did not negotiate great trade deals when she had the opportunity. The exchange illustrated the bizarre and truly embarrassing spectacle the American people have been subjected to during this historically mean presidential election season.
Asked about his reported history of sexual harassment, Trump pivoted and accused the Clinton campaign of orchestrating the allegations as well as inciting violence at his rallies.
Beyond policy differences, this final debate showcased Trump’s extraordinary unfitness to be president. The lies, racial intolerance, sexism, bullying and schoolboy antics were on display for all to see. Perhaps Trump’s most troubling aspect is how blithely unaware he seems of his own shortcomings. That such a person could be entrusted with the safety and security of the world is exceedingly dangerous.
Clinton’s best moment came when she pointed this “pattern of divisiveness” as not being the true identity of America or its citizens.
Trump declined to say he would accept the results of the election should he lose, accusing the entire process of being rigged, since “she should have never been allowed to run” due to Clinton’s presumed guilt for crimes against the American people.
The war talk coming from Trump amplifies the coalition of racial extremists, conspiracy theorists and disgruntled white Americans who form the core of his supporters and who have been directed to serve as unofficial poll watchers in a naked effort to intimidate and suppress voter turnout on November 8.
With less than three weeks until the presidential election, the final debate made it plain that no matter what the outcome the wounds inflicted on our democracy during this campaign season will take a long time to heal.