I wondered for a moment if Hillary Clinton had made an error in stagecraft in declining to approach Donald Trump and shake his hand at the beginning of last night’s Presidential debate. After all, as a friend noted to me, as President, her job will include having to shake hands with much worse foreign leaders to grease diplomacy.
But I’ll back Clinton’s willingness to reject Trump’s hand just as I will back Dennis Daugaard’s willingness to reject Trump’s nomination. I’m only surprised that she allowed Trump to shake her hand (and grab her elbow—one more male-domination move) after the new disqualifying remarks Trump made in stubborn defiance of Clinton’s straightforward, fact-based, Presidential performance.
- Trump said to Clinton that, if elected, he will order his Attorney General “to get a special prosecutor to look into your situation.” In a later interruption, he told her that if he were in charge, “you’d be in jail.” Former Attorney General Eric Holder likened that dangerous promise to Richard Nixon’s post-Watergate actions and said, “In the USA we do not threaten to jail political opponents.”
- Asked by a Muslim woman to address what he will do to help American Muslims “deal with the consequences of being labeled as a threat to the country,” Trump talked past her to the camera (as he did on all audience questions) and blamed Muslims for not reporting suspicious activity to help fight “radical Islamic terrorism.” Trump said many people (and the implication was, many Muslims) “saw the bombs all over the apartment” of the San Bernadino shooters, a claim for which there is no evidence. Trump this responded to a question about Islamophobia by stoking Islamophobia with another false accusation.
- Asked about intervening in Syria and Aleppo, Trump rambled incoherently toward what sounded like a refusal to intervene militarily (despite his complaint that the U.S. has “weak foreign policy”) and to let Assad, Russia, and Iran have a free hand in Syria because they are “killing ISIS” (which is false). Moderator Martha Raddatz reminded Trump that Mike Pence, in the Vice-Presidential debate five days earlier, said the U.S. should “immediately establish safe zones,” meet “the provocations by Russia… with American strength,” and “use military force to strike military targets of the Assad regime” to relieve the besieged city of Aleppo. Of his running mate’s Syria statement, Trump said, “He and I haven’t spoken, and I disagree.” Wait: five days go by, and Trump walks into his next Presidential debate without having discussed with Pence what the press immediately recognized as a major policy disagreement? Instead, Trump goes on live national TV and cuts the legs out from under his running mate? Never mind getting Trump to withdraw; Mike Pence shouldn’t have to stick around for that kind of abuse.
Trump asked in his Syria ramble, “How stupid is our country?” Not stupid enough, we can hope, to elect a tinpot dictator who threatens to jail his opponent, blames Muslims for the stereotypes he perpetuates, and ignores his running mate’s advice in favor his love for fellow tyrants. We don’t shake the hand of a beast who says such stupid things. We definitely don’t let that hand lie on the Chief Justice’s Bible on January 20, or on the nuclear codes moments afterward.