Donald Trump's erratic and defective temperament was squarely in the spotlight Sunday as he stalked the stage at the second presidential debate in St. Louis, using his height and girth in a creepshow attempt to intimidate his rival.
Seeking to recover from the hot-mic tape in which he bragged of groping the genitalia of unconsenting women he found attractive, Trump delivered a bullying performance, using language we have not heard in the age of televised presidential debates.
Sounding at times like the Breitbart.com comments section come to life, Trump called Secretary Clinton "the devil" – adding later that she has "tremendous hate in her heart." The Republican nominee vowed, as president, to appoint a special prosecutor to go after Clinton on her missing e-mails. But Trump didn't wait to pass judgment on his rival, insisting that Clinton should "be in jail."
Dozens of Republicans have withdrawn their Trump endorsements over his on-tape confessional of sexual predation. Despite testimonials from women who say they were kissed and groped by Trump in a manner consistent of what he bragged about to Billy Bush, then of Access Hollywood, Trump flatly denied Sunday evening that he had performed the actions he so vividly described back in 2005.
Instead, he insisted that he was all talk, redoubling his description of his remarks as "locker room" banter. Trump then contrasted his supposedly harmless remarks with the sexual misbehavior of Bill Clinton, seeking to tar Hillary as a defender of predators. While arguing that his 2005 comments deserve to be left in the past, Trump dredged up up a 40-year-old case in which Hillary served as public defender of a man accused of raping a child.
Citing this case – and seeking to underscore his characterization of Clinton as a she-devil – Trump lied, saying there's video evidence of Clinton "laughing at the little girl who was raped." (Snopes debunks this myth, popular in Alt-Right fever swamps, writing, "Hillary Clinton did not volunteer to be the defendant's lawyer, she did not laugh about the case's outcome.")
Despite proclaiming that he's "a gentleman," Trump's behavior during on the debate stage was stalkerish. In an odd and troubling display of dominance, the Republican nominee trailed and lurked behind Secretary Clinton as she walked across stage to address questioners. At one point he did something weird – something NSFW? – to the back of his chair.
Trump's vitriol was not directed only at Clinton. The Republican nominee also hit immigrants and minority religious groups with hateful language. When a Muslim woman asked, with concern, about how people of her religion have been treated in this campaign, Trump said that under his presidency, American Muslims would "have to report" to authorities on "radical Islamic terror" – to which he implied they were privy.
Hyping the dangers of Muslim refugees from Syria, he returned to tropes that he has used against Mexicans, calling them "murderers and some very bad people."
But Trump was perhaps scariest when he railed against current American foreign policy – and even the foreign policy ideas put forward by his running mate during the vice presidential debate. Disagreeing with Mike Pence on taking an aggressive stance toward policy on Syria, Trump declared, "He and I haven't spoken. And I disagree."
Linger on the serious unseriousness of this: Trump said he has not spoken to his running mate on the subject of foreign policy.
Speaking of the current administration, Trump repeatedly inveighed against "the stupidity of our foreign policy" – asking "How stupid is our country?" – and calling the Iran nuclear agreement the "dumbest deal in the history of dealmaking."
The overall effect was not so much "commander-in-chief" as "drunk uncle shouting junk he heard on Rush Limbaugh."
The event at Washington University furthered the most successful aspect of Trump's 2016 campaign: the coarsening of America's politics. The first town hall questioner of the night asked how it is that even presidential debates have become dicey viewing for elementary and high school students assigned to watch for civics class.
The Republican nominee made no effort to answer this question.
He is no gentleman.