Despite a week passing, Donald Trump’s performance at the presidential debate remains seared into my mind. That he consistently failed to meet the absurdly low expectations facing him was astounding. In contrast, Hillary Clinton did what she needed to, working like an assembly line robot to slot pre-rolled phrases together. They were so catchy (“trumped up, trickle down”) that even her stilted, android-esque delivery, with its slightly-too-long pauses and forced smile-grimace couldn’t sink her chances.
However, most eyes were on Trump (they certainly stayed glued in his direction thanks to his odd, shifting facial expressions and constant sniffing). The seasoned politician and her predictably polished patter was much less exciting than the buffoon who might objectify his own daughter or try to declare himself king. I admit, I was excited beyond any normal degree to see Trump in a one-on-one debate. Thankfully for Clinton, the buffoon did most of the talking (an assertion that would surely elicit another of his foghorn “wrong!” declamations. “I’m the best at being quiet, believe me.”).
Political types forget that most of America does not follow the election as rabidly as we do. Usually the opening debate is the first chance for a candidate to make a direct extended appeal to those just tuning in, though the acrimony and idiocy of the 2016 campaign may have caused many Americans to take an interest in the election earlier than they did in other years. However given the still high number of undecided voters, last week’s debate was likely Trump’s first opportunity to make a direct pitch to voters in a setting distinct from televised rallies and cable news controversies.
The debate was Donald Trump’s opportunity to demonstrate his temperament (one of the best) and restraint (evident in his desire to keep his anti-ISIS plan safe from the prying eyes of jihadists and American voters). It was his chance to directly contradict Clinton’s argument that he is unfit to be president. In this, as in many of his endeavors, Trump failed.
Trump’s debate style (if one can term it a ‘style’) comprised interrupting, shouting and the use of the word ‘wrong.’ He interrupted Clinton 51 times (Clinton interrupted Trump 17 times). What’s more, these interruptions were never in order to make a substantive point or present a factual argument disputing Clinton’s claims. Rather, they were invariably a snide comment (the best, “but you have no plan”) or “wrong.” Most of his interruptions were accompanied by The Donald’s signature raised index finger hand movement (one which is eerily similar to that used by ISIS fighters).
The substance of what he said was even stranger than how he conducted himself. When came Donald’s turn to speak, he sounded positively deranged. He declared that Clinton had been “fighting ISIS [her] entire adult life.” Like an ugly, orange salmon he managed to return to his political spawning pool, raving against Rosie O’Donnell, after swallowing Clinton’s Alicia Machado bait hook, line and sinker.
So what? The man speaks his mind — that’s why so many Americans support him. The problem with that justification of Trump’s debate performance is that it passes over the important implication of how unable he is to follow a plan. It was in his interest to appear a plausible, reasonable candidate in this first debate. And he tried, for the first 15 minutes or so, when it looked like we might actually enjoy a semi-sensible debate. However, his impulses soon bested him, as he slid back into ego inflation and name-calling.
Such difficulty restraining himself and following a prescribed strategy, even when it was in his own interest, has exposed the fact that Trump is incapable of controlling his urges even when doing so is clearly highly beneficial to him. Previously his wild assertions could have been construed as a strategy to position him outside normal politics. However now, in the face of near universal consensus that Trump’s only path to the presidency was to present himself as more stable and sensible in the debate, it becomes clear that this was never a strategy — it is integral to Trump’s personality and cannot be overlooked.
I am convinced that something is wrong with Donald Trump’s mind. The average person can recognise the rising of an urge to react, to hurt and can control that urge. After months of mounting evidence, the debate has proved that Trump lacks this faculty. His performance also undercuts his claims to follow the advice of knowledgeable people — his lack of practice was obvious, despite aides trying to convince him to prepare. His inability to stay on topic and follow strategies presented by experts looks less and less like a consciously pursued plan and more like an underlying pathological defect.
On the rare occasion that Trump can control himself he seems overcome with a childlike need to inform anyone who will listen of how he bested his own raging mind. After the debate Trump touted his will power saying, “I was going to say something extremely rough to Hillary, to her family, and I said to myself, I can’t do it. It’s inappropriate. It’s not nice.” Instead he left it up to the viewers at home, those with the bumper stickers reading “Trump That Bitch,” to imagine the depths of his depravity for themselves.
Alex Davies is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Have I Got News For You? appears alternate Tuesdays this semester.