‘Controversial’ is the word which seems to best summarise almost the entirety of the American presidential election so far. Few people could have predicted that Donald Trump, would be running against former secretary of state Hillary Clinton in 2016. From Trump’s shocking claims to the scandals surrounding both candidates, controversy seems an inescapable factor in this election. Therefore, there was no doubt that their first head-to-head debate would capture the attention of the nation and the world.
Led by Lester Holt, the first in a series of three presidential debates aimed to provide the American people with the opinions and plans of their potential presidents on issues such as jobs, terrorism and race. Capitalising on her political experience, Clinton answered eloquently and knowledgeably to the questions asked of her, and even bravely took responsibility when attacked by her opponent for her controversial email scandal. However, Trump seemed much less prepared, and according to the Washington Post, 78 per cent of his claims have been scored as ‘mostly false’ or worse.
Why has American politics turned into a personal battle?
As one of the most powerful countries in the world, the most advanced nuclear weaponry and the potential fate of the global economy could be placed in the hands of either of these candidates. Thus, it would seem crucial that American citizens should have the ability to question their nominees, with open knowledge being a crucial part of democracy. Yet, many felt that the debate saw key policy discussion being overshadowed by personal attacks between the candidates, leading the world to reconsider how serious and democratic American politics really is.
Arguably, the inability of both candidates to discuss their plans without letting personal problems get in the way confirms each of their claims that the other has an unsuitable temperament for being President. Instead of discussing his politics, Trump instead decided to question Clinton’s health, claiming she didn’t have the stamina to be president. He even attempted to use her husband’s presidency against her, and claimed in a follow-up interview that the only reason he refrained from discussing Bill Clinton’s affairs was the presence of their daughter in the audience.
At the same time, Clinton did not refrain from hurling insults at her opponent either. However, this seemed almost necessary given the nature of his past claims. She focused on his controversial attitude towards women, claiming he used the term ‘pigs, slobs and dogs’ to describe females, and highlighted his recent abuse of the weight of Alicia Machado. Though personal insults generally should be left out of the political world, Clinton made a crucial point in her discussion. A man who clearly does not treat women well, or as equals, should not be the president of such an influential country.
Despite Clinton’s insults being more eloquently presented, and appearing to be more relevant to the discussion, it still leads to the question that seems to be on everyone’s minds: why has American politics turned into a personal battle?
To start with, the personal level that this election campaign has reached as the candidates, especially Trump, capitalise on verbally attacking their opponent is certainly not new to American politics. Previous presidential debates have all contained a certain level of personal insults. However, often they have seen the downfall of candidates. The campaign between Ronald Reagan and Walter Mondale in 1984 witnessed one of the most extensive victories in American history as Reagan took 525/538 electoral votes. He was able to capitalise on his opponent’s criticism of his age, when he stated: “I want you to know also I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit for political purposes my opponent’s youth and inexperience.” Potentially, this indicates that if Trump really wants to stay in the game, he should cut down on his personal attacks. But instead, he has threatened that he will hit Hillary harder next time.
With over 84 million people watching live, beating the viewer record, this debate has attracted the attention of American people to an extent that no election debate ever has. Potentially, this is because of the extensive divide that Donald Trump has created across the country. His policies such as building a Mexican wall have shocked millions but also attracted the attention of those who are scared and afraid and see that the only solution is an extreme one. And arguably, when politics decides to attack certain groups personally, the politics between the leaders becomes a personal battle, to prove they are the strongest leader. Indeed, the New York Times suggests that this almost causes the debate to “lose all meaning” as one candidate is serious whilst the other has turned into a national bully. So how, we may ask, does this actually affect the decisions of the American people?
It would appear we are now left to watch the unfolding of what is becoming a global phenomenon.
A CNN poll taken immediately after the debate suggested that 62 per cent of voters thought that Hillary had won, with only 27 per cent siding with Trump. But on the contradictory side, an informal poll done by CNBC suggested that Trump had 61 per cent of the support. Many Americans appear undecided, and it seems that the final result could have the power to either make or break the nation.
It would appear we are now left to watch the unfolding of what is becoming a global phenomenon. The decision of the American people will ultimately impact the entire world.