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The Trump Candidacy is the Death of Political Discourse

With candidates resorting to personal attacks, the current political climate is unbefitting the office of the presidency

“You know, with prior Republican nominees for president, I disagreed with them. But I never questioned their fitness to serve,” Hillary Clinton said early on during last night’s second presidential debate. “Donald Trump is different.”

By “different,” Clinton implied Trump is simply unfit for the office of the presidency, an idea first put forth by President Obama in a press conference this August and that now forms the crux of Clinton’s campaign. After two debates, it’s evident that Clinton’s strategy for defeating Trump is not to engage him on policy issues, but frame him as a candidate whose words, demeanor and worldview are beneath the sanctity of the presidency itself.

And who can blame her? On Friday, a video surfaced of Trump bragging in 2005 about hitting on married women, kissing women without their consent and how being a star entitles him to “grab [women] by their pussy.”

Clinton used the video to repeatedly attack Trump’s character, detailing a pattern of misogynist behavior.

The man in that video is “exactly who [Trump] is,” Clinton said. He’s a man ranks women on a one to 10 scale, slut- and fat-shames women, viciously attacks them on Twitter. But it goes beyond mistreatment of women. Trump incites violence at his political rallies and inspires bullying in our classrooms (“the Trump effect,” she called it). He’s disrespected Muslim Americans, African-Americans, Latinos, immigrants and war heroes, Clinton said, exhibiting a kind of intolerance and contempt for his fellow Americans that’s antithetical to our nation’s most fundamental ideals.

All untrue, Trump countered: “I have great respect for women. No one has more respect for women than I do.”

While Clinton’s attacks on Trump’s character are justifiable given the circumstances, the effect has been an overall demeaning of the election process.

Just prior to the debate, for example, Trump tried to distract (or perhaps justify) his misogynist remarks by holding a press conference with four women who have accused Bill Clinton of unwanted sexual advances and of being subsequently threatened by Hillary.

“Mine were minor words,” Trump said during the debate. “[Bill Clinton’s] were actions.” And Hillary should be “ashamed” of how she intimidated her husband’s victims.

Clinton is the one with “tremendous hate in heart,” Trump said, referring to Clinton’s infamous remark about Trump supporters being deplorable and irredeemable.

Yet, toward the end of the debate, Clinton said she resents all the personal criticisms and would prefer an election that revolves around the candidates’ respective policy stances. But there is little indication last night that that change will actually occur. For now, both candidates see it as advantageous to attack each other’s reputations instead.

CBS journalist Bob Schieffer was equal parts embarrassed and outraged after the debate. The conversation was one might expect from a war-torn, third-world republican, he said, and unbefitting the most powerful office in the world, he said. “America can do better than what we’ve seen here tonight.”

Trump might not be worthy of the presidency, but neither is our current political discourse.