Ladies and gentlemen, whatever civility once existed in our politics is tonight officially dead. Never in the history of televised debates have we witnessed such a show. And that’s what the Donald wanted. A show. He got it, but will he be seen as the hero or the villain? If you are a fan of Hillary Clinton, I suspect you are thrilled with her poised and confident performance. Perhaps her crowning line was “I prepared for this debate and I'm prepared to be President”. If you are a fan of Donald Trump, his quarrelsome, no-holds-barred approach, often facts be damned, will likely in turn have thrilled you. The question is what does everybody else watching think and how many impressionable voters remain? Taking a snapshot of the debate stage this evening, two candidates behind podiums, each representing one of the major political parties, it would seem to be the latest chapter in our quadrennial dance with democracy. But experiencing the event, in sound and motion, it was of course anything but. From the very beginning, the body language tonight was striking. HIllary Clinton, the first woman ever to be on this stage was calm and substantive. Donald Trump interrupted often and slouched and sneered as he turned to address her. This is what Trump’s fans like about him, playing the alpha male at all costs. Clinton seemed completely unflustered, which is what her fans love about her. How this all plays to the majority of viewers and voters at home will be in the eyes of the beholder. But I was surprised by how much this man who has made so much of the means of television spent not looking into the camera, but preoccupied with his adversary. Trump came across as amped, a pacing tiger ready to pounce on every answer. His Interruptions suggests little regard to the rules. He’s itching for a fight...Wants to swing wildly. At one point early in the debate Clinton, after multiple factually questionable assertions by Trump said, "I have a feeling by the end of this debate I'll be blamed for everything that ever happened," Clinton said. Trump replied, “Why not?” That about summed it up. Clinton clearly wanted to get under Trump’s skin. She attacked him for getting a hefty amount of money from his dad, challenging the narrative that he was a self-made man. And then attacking his business practices. The headline she was aiming for is Donald the Deadbeat. And then on the issue of Trump’s unreleased tax returns, when Clinton says that was because he may not have paid any taxes, Trump responded, “that makes me smart.” Expect to hear more about this. Clinton was clearly the policy expert, nimbly jumping from topic to topic, policy to policy. But she was also much more able to paint a big picture than I have seen in times past. I thought she was particularly effective on the issue of race and especially the birther lie against President Obama. She had the facts on her side, but also it was an effective appeal to fire up her base. In the end, more than all of the specifics, I was struck by how unprecedented was the overall tenor - matching that of the campaign. We once held certain truths to be "self-evident" - that "all men are created equal" and "they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." These were the lofty ideals that served as a rallying cry for the founders of these United States to choose liberty over tyranny. The man who wrote these words, Thomas Jefferson, and his compatriots were imperfect and in some cases deeply flawed men. Yet their idealism fixed a North Star in our democratic firmament that has guided our ship of state ever since, with some very noted moral detours. Now I fear that the tide of progress is rapidly receding with the fierce undertow of a looming tsunami. Our Founders believed in reason and the power of intellect. Donald Trump made clear tonight by his wilful ignorance of important issues that he does not. Our founders feared the accumulation of power, they loathed vanity, and tried to build in protections against the demagogues who would appeal to mankind's basest instincts. Donald Trump relishes in all of these impulses. For him they are instinctual and a prescription for success. To call Trump a con man, as many have, is a disservice to the art of the con. By its definition a con requires deceit. But Trump has not tried to hide his lies or the sheer unrealistic audacity of his cartoonish policy positions. He has asked the American people to bet on him. The fact checkers will certainly weigh in. The pundits will have their say. But the voters have all the information they need. The judgement is in their - or more accurately our - hands.
No trying-to-be objective and fair journalist, no citizen who cares about the country and its future can ignore what Donald Trump said today. When he suggested that "The Second Amendment People" can stop Hillary Clinton he crossed a line with dangerous potential. By any objective analysis, this is a new low and unprecedented in the history of American presidential politics. This is no longer about policy, civility, decency or even temperament. This is a direct threat of violence against a political rival. It is not just against the norms of American politics, it raises a serious question of whether it is against the law. If any other citizen had said this about a Presidential candidate, would the Secret Service be investigating? Candidate Trump will undoubtably issue an explanation; some of his surrogates are already engaged in trying to gloss it over, but once the words are out there they cannot be taken back. That is what inciting violence means. To anyone who still pretends this is a normal election of Republican against Democrat, history is watching. And I suspect its verdict will be harsh. Many have tried to do a side-shuffle and issue statements saying they strongly disagree with his rhetoric but still support the candidate. That is becoming woefully insufficient. The rhetoric is the candidate. This cannot be treated as just another outrageous moment in the campaign. We will see whether major newscasts explain how grave and unprecedented this is and whether the headlines in tomorrow's newspapers do it justice. We will soon know whether anyone who has publicly supported Trump explains how they can continue to do. We are a democratic republic governed by the rule of law. We are an honest, fair and decent people. In trying to come to terms with today's discouraging development the best I can do is to summon our greatest political poet Abraham Lincoln for perspective: "We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature." Lincoln used these stirring words to end his First Inaugural Address. It was the eve of the Civil War and sadly his call for sanity, cohesion and peace was met with horrific violence that almost left our precious Union asunder. We cannot let that happen again.
Bullies are often thin-skinned, quick to overreact when challenged, and undone when people are no longer afraid to speak truth to their face. Great presidents are almost always the opposite in all those categories. Reflecting on Donald Trump's complete overreaction to a statement made at the end of a performance of Broadway's Hamilton: An American Musical, I couldn't help but think - doesn't this man have more important things to worry about? Hasn't the theater long been a stage for political art? And isn't this a man who broke so many norms as a candidate, insulted so many people - individually and as groups - that he now has the nerve to demand an apology when he never gave one himself? I know there are many who say that this incident shouldn't be blown out of proportion. Yes, when compared to cabinet posts or paying out $25 million in a fraud case against "Trump University," a Tweet maybe might not seem that important. But being president is to have every word you utter scrutinized. And these words are intimidating and unfitting of the office of the presidency. But more importantly, they show a real weakness of vanity and small-mindedness that our enemies abroad will likely look to exploit. I can also imagine that Trump's political foes at home are noticing - once again - how easily he can be rattled. I imagine this is not the last we will see of these kinds of incidents.
The headlines of the moment are in the growing roll call of prominent Republicans who are rescinding their support for Donald Trump. But I am left wondering how his candidacy and those who supported, enabled it, and abetted him until now, will be viewed through the long lens of history. It should be noted that many conservative editorial boards and critics have already come out against Trump long before this latest bombshell in very stark terms. Apparently everyone has a line, and yet do you feel things would be different if all of these politicians thought Trump could still win in November? And what should we make of all the other groups who have been insulted and marginalized by Trump and yet his supporters stood by him? He attacked Mexicans as rapists and murderers - but that was not enough. He called for barring Muslims from entering the country - but that was not enough. He incited violence in his rallies - but that was not enough. He publicly mocked the disabled - but that was not enough. He retweeted anti-Semitic memes - but that was not enough. He demeaned a Gold Star Family - but that was not enough. He insulted the press and railed against their Constitutional freedoms - but that was not enough. He said that those who suffer from PTSD were weak - but that was not enough. He had a long history of misogynist and sexist comments - but that was not enough. He repeatedly lied on issues big and small - but that was not enough. He refused to release his tax records or health records - but that was not enough. He joked about violence against his political rival - but that was not enough. I could go on, and I ask you to do so in the comments section. Perhaps we can tag it with #butthatwasnotenough. I know some equate Donald Trump with Nazisim - that goes too far for me. But in recent hours I have been hearing echoes of the chilling poem by the German anti-Nazi theologian Martin Niemöller about the culpability of his country's elite in the rise of Nazism. "First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me." America's better nature has always been to speak out for the marginalized and dispossessed. It is an ideal for which we have all too often fallen far short. What about now?
Now is a time when none of us can afford to remain seated or silent. We must all stand up to be counted. HIstory will demand to know which side were you on. This is not a question of politics or party or even policy. This is a question about the very fundamentals of our beautiful experiment in a pluralistic democracy ruled by law. When I see neo-Nazis raise their hands in terrifying solute, in public, in our nation's capital, I shudder in horror. When I see that action mildly rebuked by a boilerplate statement from the President-elect whom these bigots have praised, the anger in me grows. And when I see some in a pliant press turn that mild statement into what they call a denunciation I cannot hold back any longer. Our Declaration of Independence bequeaths us our cherished foundational principle: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." These truths may be self-evident but they are not self-replicating. Each generation has to renew these vows. This nation was founded as an opposite pole to the capriciousness of an authoritarian monarch. We set up institutions like a free press and an independent court system to protect our fragile rights. We have survived through bloody spasms of a Civil War and a Civil Rights Movement to extend more of these rights to more of our citizens. But the direction of our ship of state has not always been one of progress. We interned Japanese Americans, Red Baited during the McCarthy era, and more. I feel the rip tide of regression once again swelling under my feet. But I intend to remain standing. In normal times of a transition in our presidency between an incoming and outgoing administration of differing political parties, there is a certain amount of fretting on one side and gloating on the other. And the press usually takes a stance that the new administration at least deserves to have a chance to get started - a honeymoon period. But these are not normal times. This is not about tax policy, health care, or education - even though all those and more are so important. This is about racism, bigotry, intimidation and the specter of corruption. But as I stand I do not despair, because I believe the vast majority of Americans stand with me. To all those in Congress of both political parties, to all those in the press, to religious and civic leaders around the country. your voices must be heard. I hope that the President-elect can learn to rise above this and see the dangers that are brewing. If he does and speaks forcibly, and with action, we should be ready to welcome his voice. But of course I am deeply worried that his selections of advisors and cabinet posts suggests otherwise. To all of you I say, stay vigilant. The great Martin Luther King, Jr. knew that even as a minority, there was strength in numbers in fighting tyranny. Holding hands and marching forward, raising your voice above the din of complacency, can move mountains. And in this case, I believe there is a vast majority who wants to see this nation continue in tolerance and freedom. But it will require speaking. Engage in your civic government. Flood newsrooms or TV networks with your calls if you feel they are slipping into the normalization of extremism. Donate your time and money to causes that will fight to protect our liberties. We are a great nation. We have survived deep challenges in our past. We can and will do so again. But we cannot be afraid to speak and act to ensure the future we want for our children and grandchildren.