Clinton’s Performance Keeps Much of White America on Trump’s Side

Despite the cozy 'town hall meeting' debate, Hillary Clinton's inability to speak to people who feel they’re losing control of the country was evident.

Hillary Clinton, 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, and Donald Trump, 2016 Republican presidential nominee, stand on stage during the second U.S. presidential debate at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, U.S., on Sunday, Oct. 9, 2016.
Andrew Harrer, Bloomberg

The second presidential debate lasted only 90 minutes but at times seemed to embody the entire race. The corruption of U.S. political culture that made Donald Trump’s candidacy possible, the personal insults, the attention to sex scandals, the open hatred between the candidates – all this was present every minute of the televised event that was sometimes hard to watch.

Even though the preceding week was the stormiest and most disturbing in the race, both candidates gave performances that reminded us how they got there. Trump was sharp and aggressive; some of his attacks were direct hits exposing Hillary Clinton’s weakness. He provided his usual stock of lies and outlandish statements, above all a threat to imprison Clinton after he’s elected.

Trump also added a sprinkling of relevant arguments based, if only in part, on facts. Expectations of him now are so low that any connection to reality on his part wins praise from pundits supporting his cause.

As for Clinton, she provided a solid performance and nothing more, yet again giving people finding it hard to be enthusiastic about her reason to fidget in their seats. Beyond her overly long answers and inability to strike hard and conclusively at Trump, she once again found herself grappling with the main obstacle confronting her party in the 2016 election cycle.

The former secretary of state’s and the Democrats' vision for the United States is one of a pluralist country that provides a home to immigrants and acts for minorities discriminated against. Unfortunately, this vision is exactly what’s making many white Americans fling themselves into Trump’s embrace.

There may not be any solution to this, but Clinton’s inability to speak effectively to frightened people who feel they’re losing control of the country was evident in the debate. This issue is a key factor in the way the Democrats are trailing Trump in states with a white majority like Ohio and Iowa, even after the recent scandals. It’s pretty clear that all the way to the ballot box the Democrats will continue to rely on a coalition of blacks, Hispanics and the liberal elite.

Many people expected that given the timing, the debate would mark the end of Trump’s candidacy. But as has repeatedly happened since he joined the race, they have been proved wrong. The Republican candidate survived the event, and despite indications that a large part of the public is getting fed up with him, many are still supporting his candidacy. Trump’s power rests on the deepest desires of voters seeking a man who will turn back the clock to the days when America was an undisputed empire controlled by white Christians.

Throughout the campaign with its many ups and downs, Trump has enjoyed the steady support of about 40 percent of the voters. According to a Wall Street Journal poll conducted after the release of the “bus tape,” Trump’s support dropped to 38 percent, but it’s still too early to say that a critical mass of supporters is about to disintegrate. Of course, there’s no knowing what lies ahead in the coming month; maybe new incriminating material will emerge from the archive.

Thus, despite the dramatic events of the past few days, Trump is still in the race and American politics are expected to be dragged even further into the gutter. This fact could be seen most clearly in the “town hall meeting ” format of Sunday’s debate; that is, it was held before an audience of undecided voters.

The town hall meeting is a splendid American tradition that began nearly 400 years ago after the first English settlers arrived in Massachusetts and established towns run by elected local governments. The use of this format now, when it’s a matter of televised political theater – not an authentic expression of community autonomy – reflects the deep connection Americans feel to the roots of their democracy.

But in the debate Sunday, even this unmediated encounter with voters couldn’t conceal what was clear to everyone – the U.S. political system is at one of its lowest points ever. The distance between the traditional town hall meeting and 21st-century American democracy couldn’t be greater.