This take is five days late, but after watching Hillary Clinton at the second presidential debate last Sunday — I am in awe of her.
It’s not necessarily because of the answers she gave or the positions she stated, but rather the self-discipline she showed that allowed her to stand on stage with Donald Trump and not completely lose her mind.
Think about what happened on Sunday. Trump called Clinton a liar. He said she had hate in her heart. He told her that if he were president he’d throw her in jail. He talked about the philandering of her husband Bill Clinton and even brought to the debate hall women who’ve accused him of sexual assault. He lied incessantly, about both his own plans and those of Clinton. He sought to intimidate her by looming over her and standing directly behind her as she answered questions.
The stage business was at pace with Trump’s unprecedented political and personal attacks, never before seen in a presidential debate. While watching this debasement of the political process, it took all my strength not to hurl my television out the window.
And yet, somehow, Hillary Clinton maintained her composure. She didn’t get angry; she didn’t get petulant; she didn’t give Trump a richly deserved slap in the face. Amazingly, she answered all the questions posed to her with a combination of wonkiness, empathy, and grace. She largely ignored Trump’s constant lies and somehow stuck to her game plan of not engaging with his bullying. Lost in the coverage of Trump’s crudeness, ignorance, and classless behavior, was Clinton’s debate performance — one of the most extraordinary in modern political history.
It’s all the more reason to scrap next week’s third and final presidential debate. No person should have to be subjected to what Clinton dealt with on Sunday and, more important, no great democratic nation should be subjected to it either.
If Trump’s behavior over the past few days is any indication, he will spend the full 90 minutes of next Wednesday’s debate wading ever more deeply into the fetid political sewer that he now calls home. He will bring up every conspiracy theory — and every false charge — ever floated about the Clintons. I would not be surprised if he were to accuse Hillary, along with her husband, of killing Vince Foster or running drugs from Central America. And when it comes to a serious discussion of the issues, he will offer none — because, as he’s shown in two debates and, in fact, throughout this entire campaign, he has no understanding of the issues confronting the United States today.
Giving Trump a 90-minute platform to spout his increasingly unhinged narrative about this race in front of tens of millions of Americans will further coarsen our already tainted political discourse. Holding the third debate is a pointless exercise that will only serve to legitimize the increasingly fascist demagogue running as the Republican nominee for president.
I offer this proposal with a rather large grain of salt. I don’t expect Clinton to stay home; and the debate commission isn’t going to cancel it. Obviously, I recognize the value of open debate between two presidential candidates. But to be clear, that’s not what we are going to get.
The only salvation I can find in having to watch another presidential debate is the knowledge that no matter how bad things get . . . Hillary Clinton has got this.
Michael A. Cohen’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @speechboy71.