Absurd presidential debate underlines deep-rooted problems facing US

By Zhu Lei, Qi Zijian
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail Xinhua, September 30, 2016
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Republican Donald Trump speaks during the first presidential debate with Democrat Hillary Clinton at Hofstra University in Hempstead of New York, the United States, Sept. 26, 2016. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton on Monday held their first presidential debate in Hempstead. (Xinhua/Qin Lang)

The relentlessly derogatory accusations, sometimes defying common sense, that dominated the first, high-stakes face-off between U.S. presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton reveal the thorny problems facing the United States.

By all traditional standards, presidential debates serve as platforms for candidates to robustly discuss policy issues without descending to insults, or personal attacks.

However, the 90-minute showdown between Trump and Clinton on Monday night at Hofstra University in New York featured high-frequency exchange of barbs in unusually personal terms, with Clinton blasting Trump for dodging taxes and being sexist and racist, and Trump insulting Clinton for lacking judgment and stamina for the presidency.

The back-and-forth name-calling -- Trump said "She doesn't have the (presidential) look" on the one hand, and Clinton stressed that "this is a man who has called women pigs, slobs and dogs" on the other -- is jaw-dropping, setting a new low bar for future presidential debates.

What has equally roiled the television audience of up to 100 million is the unreasonable, absurd arguments from Trump, a political outsider who surprisingly won the Republic presidential nomination after a bruising competition.

A case in point is Trump's allegations that Americans should have taken oil out from Iraq and that U.S. allies -- including Japan -- must dole out more cash if they wish to continue being protected by the U.S. military.

While Trump gave a non-professional performance in the debate, Clinton, a career politician who has been active in public life for 30 years, offered no effective solutions either. In the first of three scheduled debates, they did nothing but denying each other.

The highly-anticipated and widely-watched presidential debate only confirmed that the U.S. election politics has evolved in an absurd way.

First, in the Republican primaries, Trump has tapped into voters' anger at the political stalemate in Washington and the slowing economic recovery, playing on fear of foreign influences and sentiment of those left behind due to globalization to win over white middle-class Americans.

However, structural problems facing the country, such as political polarization, the shrinking of the middle class, rampant gun violence and racial discrimination, can not be resolved through the discharge of anger.

Secondly, intense partisan division and animosity run deep. Both Trump, who won the Republican nomination but remains on the political sidelines, and Clinton who upholds political correctness, played the debate into a personal show. Placing partisanship higher than public opinion, they failed to connect to the people, giving little emphasis to the policy positions voters really want.

Such an absurd debate also led to confusing results of media surveys and online public opinion. A CNN/ORC snap poll found 62 percent of respondents felt Clinton won and 27 percent believed Trump was the winner in the first debate. However, various online public surveys including the one conducted by Time magazine awarded the matchup to Trump.

With one after another sign defying conventional wisdom, the 2016 presidential race is seen by many as the most divisive in U.S. modern history. It is a reflection of the anxiety and predicament facing the American society now wandering at a crossroads.

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