Grab your popcorn, find a comfortable seat, and get ready to watch the former first lady and the prospective 45th president get called a bitch on national television. My expectations for the quality of the first presidential debate on Monday night are not high. It has been a while since we last saw Donald Trump on the debate stage, but let us not forget that he used the primary debates as a forum to advocate for extrajudicial drone strikes against terrorists’ families, and defend the size of his… hands. So, it is a safe assumption to make that this will not resemble the Romney/Obama debates, or any sort of intelligent discourse.
After disposing of two-term governors and rising-star senators like they were bankruptcies, Donald Trump’s vitriolic campaign is on the precipice of claiming perhaps its most formidable victim yet. If Hillary does not escape the temptation of exchanging low blows with the GOP nominee, she will lose the country before she even takes office.
How can you win a gutter war against a man with no shame, nothing to lose, and a fledgling cable news network to promote? (Keep your eyes peeled for a November 9 launch, likely featuring Tomi Lahren, Alex Jones, Ann Coulter and Sean Hannity.) Donald Trump has surged to the head of the Republican Party on a wave of insults and divisive language. Not only is he now trying to get Hillary to come splash around in the sewer with him, he is succeeding.
Strictly based on experience, Hillary Clinton is one of the most qualified people to ever run for President of the United States. While you would hope that 25 years in the national spotlight has provided the experience necessary for her to not shoot herself in the foot, it is very apparent this is not the case.
Often times, it has been Hillary’s dishonesty that has landed her in unenviable positions. On September 10, ironically, it was the truth that got “Crooked Hillary” in trouble. Labeling half of Trump’s supporters as “deplorables” is completely valid and is a statement that I agree with. I am a private citizen, though, and my voice carries no weight in setting a tone for the national mood. Hillary is the voice that we will be turning to for direction in four months time. With 84 percent of the white working class saying that the government does not represent their views in a recent CNN poll, we need that voice to strive for togetherness, not further division.
I understand that Trump’s lack of basic respect makes him hard to tolerate. And yes, insulting racists is ultimately more acceptable than branding minorities as rapists and terrorists. But we have seen this election cycle how a moderately-sized faction of disillusioned voters can derail American politics.
There are several issues that make it nearly impossible to negatively campaign against Donald Trump in an effective way. The only appropriate response to a man whose campaign is based on overwhelmingly false generalities is to paint yourself as a clear alternative, not a less-amusing duplicate of him.
Donald Trump is a man who cannot be parodied. He is a caricature of himself. The worst indictments against his ability to lead the country are statements that he himself has made, yet the same statements have shockingly garnered him the support he enjoys today. Dropping to Trump’s level is ineffective and childish, as proven by Marco Rubio’s desperate attempt to work his way back into the race by insulting Trump. Alternatively, making fun of his supporters has a similarly counterproductive result; no one likes to have their intelligence insulted. When Hillary classifies Trump supporters as racist, misogynist, xenophobes, she fails to practice the type of unifying language and attitude that a president should embody.
Yes, I know the overwhelming majority of Trump voters will never support Hillary’s presidency. But if Hillary is to be President of the United States, she does not get to select her constituents. She must serve the whole country—even those who would rather see anyone but her in the White House.
What Hillary’s divisive language promotes, however, is further tension and the possibility of more prominent alt-right politics down the road. The “persecuted white Christian male” phenomenon is baffling, but is a reality nonetheless. Swaths of Trump voters truly believe that white people are no longer being cared for in this country, Christianity is under attack and that pro-immigration and pro-minority measures come at their expense. It will be an arduous process to convince racists that immigrants are not a problem population. But the first instinct of a president should not be to insult, no matter who the target is.
It is possible for Hillary to reach out to this segment of the population in a way that is constructive, and engage them in a dialogue that may assuage their fears without condoning their fascist leanings. Her most poignant campaign slogan is “Stronger Together,” which draws on the idea that America’s diversity is what makes it exceptional. Her rhetoric about “irredeemable” deplorables suggests that while she embraces socioeconomic diversity, she has no interest in dealing with ideological diversity. The perception — either real or imagined — that Hillary has no interest in addressing the concerns that Trump voters have exacerbates the already prevalent “us versus them” mentality that exists in this election cycle, especially within the Trump camp. This upcoming debate and those that follow will offer Hillary a chance to showcase a policy-driven campaign. I believe she is capable of this, but Trump’s antics are clearly wearing thin on her patience. Even though her track record with international affairs is, in my estimation, egregious, she has an opportunity to demonstrate her understanding of the complex dynamics at hand. A commitment to actually discussing America’s issues will shine as a stark contrast to Trump’s tired assurances that he will make great deals. (For example, in the final Republican primary debate, Trump announced that he would broker a deal by playing both sides in Israel/Palestine negotiations. You can’t play both sides if both sides know that you’re playing both sides!) To distract from his lack of policy chops, Trump will turn the conversation to what he does best: attack. While bringing up Monica Lewinsky would doom any other candidate, Trump has proven time and again that his absurdity is his own best friend. Hillary simply cannot beat him at this game. She can, however, reveal him to be nothing more than a manchild in an expensive suit by not taking the bait on his attacks and letting him angrily flounder on stage.
If Hillary is to engage Trump in a pissing match, therefore, it will be not just counterproductive, but also unbecoming of the office she is about to assume. It is easy to forget in this election season that the president should seek to make America as inclusive as possible. Being a good leader does not mean you tell everyone what to do, but rather that you inspire them to join you. Solely hearing your supporters sing your praises is more enjoyable, but how you handle your detractors says more about your ability to govern. Her forced apology on her comments notwithstanding, if Hillary Clinton continues to subscribe — either overtly or subtly — to the notion that 25 percent of the country is morally bankrupt, those who want to ensure that her tenure is a failure will be given more ammunition. Hillary would be better suited by reaching out to those who hate her than by mirroring their animosity. Hillary’s campaign has strived to present her as an alternative to Trump’s hatefulness. In an increasingly polarized country, a public official disparaging any group of Americans is poor politics. If Hillary resorts to name calling and plays Trump’s petulant games with the whole country watching, the distinction between her and Trump as to who really cares about unifying the country will become even more muddled.