At the start of the first Presidential Debate, when Lester Holt asked what her vision for the country would be under her administration, Clinton cut straight to what concerns Americans most: whether they can continue to rely on the American Dream. She articulated how her administration would foster America's promise of economic opportunity for all, with policies to help lower income inequality, help families deal with costs, investing in small businesses and new jobs in innovative fields, including renewable energy and infrastructure, raising the minimum wage, and ensuring equal pay for women.
Throughout the debate she did precisely what she needed to do -- point to her foreign and domestic record, the successes of the Obama Administration, detail her various policy proposals on jobs, narrowing the inequality chasm, healing racial divides, police training, combating ISIL by engaging with Kurdish and Arab allies, admitting her missteps with her private emails, and remaining calm and measured in highlighting the stark differences between her and her opponent.
Presciently, she also said this: "Judge us [candidates] [for] who can shoulder the immense, awesome responsibilities of the presidency, who can put into action plans that will make your life better." The debate that followed offered the starkest contrast yet between one of the most qualified people to run for president in a generation, who offered specific policies to help Americans, and a real estate mogul with no experience or expertise whatsoever in governance, and who in all likelihood started running for president as a publicity stunt.
Trump, taking a brazenly different approach from Clinton, repeatedly blamed the U.S.'s economic woes on globalization and countries like China and Mexico taking "thousands of jobs." His "solutions" offered throughout the event included "better trade deals" and tax cuts that would encourage "job creators" to make more hires. But that was the overall extent of his policy proposals for the economy.
Throughout the debate, he was either rambling, complaining about the socioeconomic state of the country, lying on why he couldn't release his tax returns, denying facts brought to him by Clinton or Holt, interrupting Clinton 51 times (she just interrupted him 17 times), or blaming political elites, including his onstage opponent, for the country's woes. Despite Holt and Clinton frequently calling him out for his denial of the bare facts, he would press on, just as he always has through this bizarre campaign. Clinton put it best in one sentence: "Well Donald I know you live in your own reality." Too bad (or perhaps best?) the American people don't.
As part of her response, Clinton pointed out that misguided economic policies under the Bush administration helped lead to the financial crisis in 2008, and that Trump "wanted" the housing crash to benefit his own business. Instead of responding to her offensive or saying he was sorry for the economic hardship facing Americans at the time, he smugly stated, "It was business."
Sometimes he would just refuse to answer Holt's questions. Here's one example towards the beginning. Holt (who exercised extraordinary patience throughout) asked Trump, on job outsourcing, "How specifically are you going to tell American manufacturers 'you have to come back.'?" Trump refused to answer this basic question on perhaps the fundamental issue of his campaign. Instead, he went on a ramble against Clinton and other politicians for bad trade deals, and attacked them for the bad state of the economy. When Holt asked him again, he could only muster "They're leaving," and he would "stop them from leaving." In many ways, this exchange encapsulates his campaign--flash and no substance. Ironically, he may exemplify the archetype of the politician he constantly criticizes best: one who constantly makes empty promises and is unable to deliver concrete results.
Perhaps Clinton should have, as some critics have noted, offered more of a broad and direct vision for how she wanted to lead the country. But based on last night's debate alone, there should be little to no doubt that she has far more of a "vision" of how to handle the Presidency than Trump does, who has barely thought out his first ten days in office, much less his first year. She addressed American concerns directly by offering calm, measured, direct, presidential answers, all while fending off a political opponent who, as some have noted, has more traits in common with African dictators than with genuinely well meaning Republican politicians like Mitt Romney or John McCain.
This isn't about a Democrat versus a Republican. This is about a man who has capitalized on people's fears, anxieties, suspicions, and above all frustration with government to catapult himself to be a major party nominee. This is about a seasoned stateswoman who knows the ins and outs of the system and lays out specific solutions to people's problems. Clinton's advantage in this regard has also been her vice to many voters who view her as offering the "same old" solutions that don't' benefit them and the country quickly enough. But the country has made progress under the Obama administration -- slow as it may be -- with increases in median household incomes, insurance coverage, and jobs. This election is about choosing between someone prepared to build on that progress, and someone who is a conduit for American frustrations, but who has no solutions.
Americans who are still undecided must ask themselves, do they want to be scared or inspired to vote for someone to be president? Clinton may have her flaws (the emails and the foundation being overblown in my view), but she showcases the experience, dedication, and astronomic aptitude to handle what may be the hardest job in the world. In a polar opposite approach, Trump highlighted his many, many flaws: irascibility, thin skin, willful ignorance, and a frightening denial of reality. There will be no "new Trump" if he takes office--between these two candidates, a dedicated public servant and a mercurial real estate mogul, what you see is what you get with your vote.
At one point, when Trump criticized Clinton for spending a few days at home while he was in Detroit and Philadelphia meeting African-American communities shortly before the debate, Clinton responded "I think Donald just criticized me for preparing for this debate, and yes I did. And you know what else I prepared for? I prepared to be president, and I think that's a good thing." She received a warm applause, and Trump had no rebuttal.