If the first presidential debate could be likened to a physical fight, Hillary Clinton just impaled Donald Trump's face on a stake and carved the letter "C" onto his orange forehead. It was that one-sided in the second half. Polls might suggest a paltry 60 per cent of people believe Clinton won, but that's because an extraordinary number of people will say Donald Trump won so long as he was still breathing at the end of the debate.
Clinton came out the winner, and it was surprising because of the way the debate had started. Trump completely dominated and talked over her, interrupting her no less than 25 times (51 times by the end of the evening).
In the opening 10 minutes, when Trump began yelling at Clinton and interrupting her constantly while pointing his finger at her, she looked for a split second like she might lose her composure.
But for a man who prides himself on stamina, it was Trump who bled out as Clinton came roaring back in the second half. Clinton came prepared for everything, and bombarded him with specifics (she mentioned Raqqa in Syria and Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi of Daesh) while he could only repeat that America's economy was a disaster. The same Trump who kept interrupting her in the beginning fell dead silent as she spoke about his documented racism against African Americans.
In the final minutes of the debate, Clinton assured that she had the experience to negotiate peace deals and ceasefires, while Trump was reduced to talking trash about Rosie O'Donnell.
I thought Trump started out pretty well, but gradually got worse throughout the debate. By the end, he was sputtering about Rosie. 1/— Jon Ralston (@RalstonReports) September 27, 2016
Lester: “Mr Trump, you have 10 seconds.”— Griffin's Cool 2018 Tweets (@griffinmcelroy) September 27, 2016
Trump: “Great. So, anyways, nobody likes Rosie O’Donnell -"
But more than just winning the debate, Clinton gave women around the world a live demonstration on how to dismantle sexist, aggressive bullies without stooping to their level.
Earlier, before the debate, activist and media commentator Van Jones gave a passionate argument on Facebook that Clinton faced unbelievable sexism from the onset — that even if she came prepared, the media would slam her for being too "stiff." If she made one minor gaffe, she would be mocked relentlessly and called unpresidential, while Trump would be given a free pass and perceived as the winner as long as he could "complete his sentence."
"It's like the valedictorian is running against some lunatic frat boy who has never gone to class," Jones lamented, asking what kind of message it sends to girls and young women when they have to work three times as hard to be considered equal in politics, only watch a man overtake her on the basis of his "personality" rather than policy.
If women and girls were watching last night, however, they'd have seen Clinton put on a master class about how to counter and defeat sexism.
When Trump mocked Clinton for staying home instead of touring cities like Chicago, implying that she was too feeble and low-energy to go to these cities, she smiled knowingly, fully prepared for that accusation. Rather than act defensive or hostile, she let the words sink in for a moment.
" I think Donald just criticized me for preparing for this debate," she told the audience. "And yes, I did."
"And you know what else I prepared for? I prepared to be president," she said emphatically, to cheers from the crowd.
Every time Trump said or did something sexist, she didn't fire back angrily, but let the audience know she saw what was happening, and drew attention to it. As Trump tried to paint her as a lightweight who needed to step aside for fresh leadership, she put a frame around the scene and let the audience know this was how women get treated in politics.
When moderator Lester Holt asked Trump about his comment that she didn't have the "look" of a president, Trump did his familiar trick (gaslighting?) by pretending what he actually meant was her "stamina," not the fact that she looks unlike other presidents because of her gender. He pulled a similar tactic this summer, when claiming that by mentioning "Second amendment people," he wasn't talking about guns, but about the "unity of the Second amendment people."
Clinton didn't let Trump get away with it. Women can be perceived as 'bossy' if they come on too strong, and 'weak' if they're polite, so she struck back assertively that he can talk to her about stamina after he's traveled to 112 different countries negotiating peace and testified for 11 hours before a congressional committee.
She also didn't let Trump get away with his ruse, either. She used the word "look" to launch arguably the most devastating attack of the evening, bringing up Trump's well-documented record of sexist comments—which she's grown painfully familiar with over her political career.
"He tried to switch from look to stamina. He's called women dogs, slobs, and pigs," Clinton said.
As New York magazine pointed out in a scathing analysis, Clinton made the issue real for audiences by focusing on one of the women he ridiculed, who also happens to be Hispanic.
The final exchange of the debate was the most devastating. Clinton lacerated Trump for his dehumanization of women — the kind of sexualization that offends social conservatives and social liberals alike. She brought up his abuse of one of his beauty-pageant contestants — noting, as an aside, his fondness for hanging around them — and that he called one contestant “Miss Piggy” and, because she is Latina, “Miss Housekeeper.” When Trump fell for the trap by demanding her name, Clinton supplied it: Alicia Machado, driving home the justifiable impression that Clinton sees her as a human being, unlike her opponent, who sees her as a piece of meat.
One of the most interesting exchanges that summed up the gender power imbalance came when Hillary Clinton joked after one of Trump's attacks:
"I have a feeling that I'm going to be blamed for everything."
"Why not?" Trump interjected immediately.
Why wouldn't she be responsible for everything that has gone wrong in America? He appeared to blurt it out as an unthinking, automatic attack, but for many women, it reminds them of the sweeping and illogical expectations that have been placed on their shoulders since they can remember. Why couldn't women invisibly clean others' messes, smile supportively as male counterparts take the credit for their work and shoulder all the blame for when things go wrong? Why not, indeed?
This is from the same Trump who said he'd expect his own daughter to to quit her job and step off if she got harassed at her workplace, rather than press her harassers to stop.
Clinton showed on Monday that women aren't always 'damned if they do and damned if they don't' in politics. On some nights, they can also come out on top, gender discrimination be damned.