Opinion

JOAN VENNOCHI

Donald Trump’s dark vision is anything but presidential

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump during the second presidential debate Sunday night.

Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump during the second presidential debate Sunday night.

According to Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton has “tremendous hate in her heart.” Trump was surprised to see Bernie Sanders “sign on with the devil.” And he threatened to appoint a special prosecutor to put her “in jail.’’

That’s Salem witch hunt talk. Not surprising from a misogynist like Trump. But it’s language unbecoming for a president, which is what Trump aims to be.

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Trump was better prepared for his second presidential debate showdown with Clinton, and scored some technical points against her. But he offered nothing aspirational or inspirational. His performance was dark and brooding, and interrupted yet again by odd, nervous sniffing. He changed no minds that are already anti-Trump, and it’s hard to see how he helped himself with undecided voters, especially women.

The Republican presidential nominee set the scene as darkly as possible by inviting three women who have accused Bill Clinton of sexual misconduct or rape to the debate. And he shamelessly used their presence to counter the controversy that swirled around the “Access Hollywood’’ tape which showed him boasting about his ability to grope women at will because of his celebrity status.

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Bill Clinton’s behavior was worse than his, proclaimed Trump: “Mine were words and his were action,” he said, adding that “Hillary Clinton attacked those same women and attacked them viciously.”

If Trump thought that having Bill Clinton’s accusers in the audience would keep Clinton from questioning his fitness for office because of his own behavior, he was wrong. The “Access Hollywood’’ tape, she said, “represents exactly who he is” and he is “not fit to be president.”

Clinton was more subdued in this second debate. She didn’t do a great job of answering the inevitable email question. She let Trump get away with blaming her for a federal income tax code that allows wealthy real estate developers like him to dodge taxes and brag about it. “I love depreciation,” he declared. His gibberish on what he would do about Syria went unchallenged. But Clinton actually answered the audience questions posed to her and spoke directly to the questioner.

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As for Trump, he was unfiltered, as usual, and unafraid to beat up on a female opponent. Somewhere Rick Lazio is wondering why asking Clinton to sign a campaign finance pledge during their long-ago debate for US Senate could be cast as an unforgiveable assault.

Trump was even more venomous toward Clinton than he was toward little Marco Rubio or “low energy” Jeb Bush. Those primary season insults were childish and petty. But to say Clinton has “hate in her heart” is a step beyond. If only someone asked Trump what he meant by it.

Other follow-up questions that weren’t asked: If Trump does win the White House, will he really appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Clinton’s already-investigated use of a private email server? If that’s his priority, how he’s going to have time to destroy ISIS, repeal Obamacare and oversee “extreme vetting” of Muslim immigrants?

The only slightly uplifting moment in this debate came at the end, when an audience member asked if the candidates could think of anything positive to say about each other.

Clinton said she respected Trump’s children. “They are incredibly able and devoted and I think that says a lot about Donald.”

Responded Trump: “I will say this about Hillary. She doesn’t quit. She doesn’t give up. She’s a fighter.”

Clinton showed that fight Sunday night, going after Trump on his crude comments about women, even as he did his best to humiliate her by parading her husband’s accusers before her.

Clinton’s not perfect. But she’s not the devil and she doesn’t have hate in her heart, although she may be developing some for Trump.

Joan Vennochi can be reached at vennochi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.
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