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.
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?
I felt a shudder down my spine yesterday watching Donald Trump's fusilade against the press. This is not a moment to be trifled with. It wasn't his first tirade and it won't be his last. I was reminded of my college journalism professor, the late Hugh Cunningham, who would exhort his young charges in a thundering voice to "never let them scare you." It was his most important lesson. One of Edward R. Murrow's favorite words was "steady." That also bears repeating today. This is a dirty, nasty election. And it is only going to get worse. The reporters in the trenches need no lecture from me. They are walking through daily minefields, bracing themselves against winds of discontent whose effects no one can predict. I know what it is like to sit in those seats and feel the scorn and even wrath of politicians of all political persuasions. Attacking the press for unfair coverage has long been a bipartisan pursuit. Sometimes it works. I am happy to say that more often it doesn't. But Trump's brand of vituperation is particularly personal and vicious. It carries with it the drumbeats of threatening violence. It cannot be left unanswered. This is not about politics or policy. It's about protecting our most cherished principles. The relationship between the press and the powerful they cover is by its very definition confrontational. That is how the Founding Fathers envisioned it, with noble clauses of protection enshrined in our Constitution. Good journalism--the kind that matters--requires reporters who won't back up, back down, back away or turn around when faced with efforts to intimidate them. It also requires owners and other bosses with guts, who stand by and for their reporters when the heat is on. I still believe the pen is mightier than the sword. And in these conflicted and troubled times, we should reward the bravery of the men and women not afraid to ask the hard questions of everyone in power. Our nation's future depends on it.
We are attacked by foreign terrorists and spend trillions to defend ourselves. But we are terrorized daily by gun violence, and do nothing?
As Donald Trump paced menacingly last night on stage, as he threatened Hillary Clinton with imprisonment even though her actions have already been subjected to the arm of justice, as he batted away concerns over the leaked audio of him boasting of sexual assault as mere "locker room talk", the cumulative image for millions of votes, I suspect, is that this is a man who, at a fundamental level, does not understand what it means to be an American. And thus, by logical extension, he has no business being president. Teddy Roosevelt famously stated: "No man is above the law and no man is below it, nor do we ask any man’s permission when we ask him to obey it." That is our national creed. I can hear the Trump partisans howling that Clinton has subverted the law on multiple occasions. It is their right to do so, but it must be pointed out that she has never been found guilty of anything. You can then resort to conspiracy theories as to why that may be the case. But those too have never been proven by fact. Trump by contrast boasts of how the law should not apply to him. As crude as the nouns were in that leaked audio tape, what was most offensive was the relish with which he outlined a host of actions - the verbs - for which the rule of law says he does not have the right to act without consent. Yet his voice reeked of the privilege of a man who believed his celebrity removed any such constraints. When he told HIllary Clinton in the debate she would "be in jail" if he were president, those are the threats of a despot, tyrant, or monarch - not a president governed by our Constitution. It was John Adams who penned the phrase, "a government of laws, and not of men." This is how our Founding Fathers saw our national destiny. This is the spirit that our citizens, over the ages, have demanded of our political leaders follow. I suspect it is something most Americans still believe.