“We Have Seen The Enemy…”

Notes on tonight’s debate.

“As a nation of free men, we will live forever, or die by suicide.” -President Abraham Lincoln

I took some notes on my phone during the debate tonight, intending to write about it afterwards. I forgot that, like everything else this election cycle, this debate and the reaction it provoked in me would be post-verbal, post-rational. Still, this is my attempt.

The families of the candidates emerged from the wings to take their seats looking grim. No one looked like they wanted to be there, including—or especially—Bill Clinton. Maybe it doesn’t matter how old you are, how thick your skin is: Having women who have accused you of rape sitting in the row behind you can’t be fun. As for the Trump family, in retrospect they looked like they knew what Donald was going to do, weren’t proud of it, but knew it had to be done. Maybe. Hard to believe any of what came out of his mouth was prepared, though.

Donald says if he gets elected, he’ll appoint a special prosecutor to look into Hillary Clinton’s emails and put her in prison. “If” he gets elected, I scoff. Still, though. It sets a precedent. We can’t really go back from that. Not just this generation of politicians, either. There was a seven-year-old watching that debate who thought to themselves, So that’s what you do when you get elected president. Imprison the person who ran against you. Got it.

He interrupted her, stalked her around the stage, leaned on a chair looking fatigued, like his feet hurt. He sniffed into the microphone. He complained, complained, complained, talked about himself and Hillary. The American people got left behind in this election a long time ago.

Apparently, according to one focus group moderator, the undecided voters thought he was funny. Thought was he was winning by a 2-to-1 margin.

No laughter on my couch tonight. Only a quickening heartbeat and a prayer for our democracy that we’ve sunk this low. At least Hillary Clinton still tried to be courteous, tried to talk about the issues. But even she spoke in the same platitudes that made millions of people so fed up that they voted for Trump in the primaries and will vote for him in November.

I’ll admit it, part of me looked forward to this debate after the Access Hollywood tape came out. I watched as Republicans jumped ship from a man who represents all the hateful things I was taught to stand up to: bigotry, fear-mongering, ignorance. A great weekend of political schadenfreude to be capped off by the main event on Sunday night, the knockout punch. Maybe he wouldn’t even show up.

But show up he did. And he seemed not to understand what the fuss was all about. If anything, he was angry at us for not understanding his “locker room banter.” He can’t apologize when he didn’t do anything wrong. This is the logic of a sick little boy, not a potential commander-in-chief. And yet there he was, on that stage, for the voters’ consideration.

“We are great because we are good,” Hillary Clinton said. That might be true. But millions of us are not. Maybe most of us are not. You cannot vote for Donald Trump and be good. I’ve tried to understand how you could be good and vote for Donald Trump, and I still want to understand, but I can’t. I’m sorry. I’ve failed. I don’t see how you can look that man in the face, listen to the things he has said, then say you want him to run our imperfect-yet-magnificent country and honestly say that you have love in your heart.

Donald Trump is terrifying because he followed the rules. There was no crookedness. He was who Republican voters chose, and who the Republican Party chose to accept. That some Republicans are just now beginning to break ranks says nothing of their morals, only their political self-preservation skills. If you’ve attained national office, those skills must be at least somewhat sharp. Unfortunately, though, you don’t need to be good to be in power.

What happened tonight is a reflection of us. It is a reflection of who we are right now, at this moment, not necessarily of who we must become, or will become. But make no mistake, what you just saw is us.

And that is what makes it so very terrifying.

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