Who won the debate? Who cares, we all lost

American democracy can’t handle Trump.
American democracy can’t handle Trump.
Image: Reuters/Rick Wilking
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Donald Trump has made a mockery of American democracy. That fact was just made plain for an hour and a half on prime-time television, and no one—not the debate moderators, not his opponent, Hillary Clinton—could stop him.

Let’s recap what happened in this town hall debate, the second of three. The Republican candidate:

  • Answered a question about his tape describing sexually assaulting women with a response about ISIL.
  • Vowed to criminally prosecute his opponent if elected president.
  • Refused to condemn Russia for hacking and meddling with the US election.
  • Sought to discredit Clinton by charging that her husband was “abusive to women”
  • Held a press conference with those same women immediately before the debate, and invited them to sit in the front row of the town hall audience.
  • Claimed that the Democratic party rigged the primary election so that Clinton beat Bernie Sanders.
  • Continued to lie brazenly about the “birther” movement, his stance on the Iraq War, his position on Muslim immigration, whether he ever advised that anyone “check the sex tape,” that US economic growth is slower than any time since 1929, the facts surrounding the San Bernardino shootings, and, well, plenty of other things.
  • Complained the debate itself was rigged against him.

Hardly any of this will be new to anyone who’s ever seen a Trump rally. Up until this debate, though, Trump has confined many of his nastier lines to the airport hangars and stadiums.

The town hall was meant to be an opportunity for undecided voters to ask thoughtful, probing questions of the candidates—ones deserving of honest answers. The moderators, ABC’s Martha Raddatz and Anderson Cooper of CNN, tried to keep both candidates on point with their responses. While Clinton tried at first to challenge Trump, she had mostly thrown in the towel about 20 minutes in, sticking to her own record and vision for the country. She and the moderators were no match for Trump’s deluge of lies and bad manners.

The debate format simply isn’t designed for the level of deceit and ugliness Trump brings to the US presidential race. And neither, we’re seeing, is American democracy. The system presumes that though candidates differ in their views, they ultimately respect the electoral process and the voters they aim to represent. Trump left no such impression at the debate, defiling yet another institution that is meant to help Americans maintain civil discourse despite their differences.