The First Presidential Debate on Sept. 26 was the first chance for candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump to bring their best to the table and show the American people what their strengths would be as president. Unfortunately, before the debate even began there was clamoring from the media about the expectations of what Monday night would bring and Clinton got to bear the weight of these expectations because of her gender, political experience and America’s blind devotion to bipartisanship. Hillary Clinton is the first woman to enter a debate as a candidate for president and rather than celebrating this fact, it was instead turned into another reason for the media to try and shape her into something that she is not.
It doesn’t matter which news station you turned on before the debate; all had unnecessarily high expectations for Clinton and her upcoming performance against Trump. All these media outlets were intent on giving Clinton advice on her behavior that she never once asked for. Their “dos and don’ts” list required her to “show levity,” “provide substance with entertainment,” “show some lightheartedness,” come across as “personable” and “authentic,” and placed special emphasis on her smiling and ability to show warmth. At the same time, if these reporters were anything to go by, the sky would fall should she “cough” — in reference to her cover-up of campaigning with pneumonia —, “laugh with her distinctive Hillary laugh,” “shout,” “condescend” and “show contempt.”
If she had let go of any of her composure and responded to Trump in an “aggressive” manner, she would have been done for. Luckily, Clinton has had a career for many years that has involved keeping her cool around men who like to believe that she isn’t qualified enough. Alternatively, articles with headlines like the Huffington Post’s “Debate Bar So Low For Donald Trump That If He Doesn’t Vomit, He’s Exceeded Expectations” go to show how little criticism Trump has had to face. He just had to show up and not throw a fit on stage and he’d be fine or at least that was how the pundits saw it pre-debate.
If the genders of these two candidates were reversed, this election season would be completely different. If Clinton was a man, then her competency would be largely undisputed and she would be lauded as experienced and well-composed and wouldn’t have the media placing her every move under a microscope. If Trump was a woman, there’s no way he’d ever have made it this far; the press would have shut him down after the first debate and he would have been the first to drop out of the race. Women can’t get away with anything because of the close scrutiny of the news media, especially in a political atmosphere, so to say Clinton was at a disadvantage from the offset would be an understatement. In the true words of Samantha Bee, a late night comedy host who never spares tough critiques, “Hillary may not have reached out to female voters by name, but I think the experience of listening to a man who just discovered a topic on the internet three weeks ago belligerently correct a woman who has been studying said topic her entire adult life, felt very ‘Monday’ to most women.”
It has to do with political experience as well. People are expecting so little from Trump because he lacks so much in the sphere of political experience. However, Clinton has served our country on a national level for about 15 years, not to mention her charitable work while serving as first lady of Arkansas and her policy initiatives for health care and women’s rights during her two terms as first lady of the United States. Her background in politics is significantly superior to Trump’s. He has no experience in politics and has failed abysmally in many aspects of business, which is supposed to be his main selling point.
It isn’t even really about the candidates anymore to voters; they’ve thrown their lot in with the “team” of their choice and there’s such an emphasis on party bias that the candidates are almost irrelevant. It doesn’t matter that Trump is as racist, sexist and xenophobic as he is; if you’re a conservative Republican, he’s who is currently leading your party. Bipartisanship has become stronger than any other factors when it comes to elections and in this current campaign season, it’s scary to consider how people are so tied to their parties that many are content to blindly follow an ignorant man in his pursuit of the White House.
Now that the first debate is over, Clinton did come out on top. She seemed to enjoy herself through many parts of the debate, especially when talking about policy, and while addressing Trump’s digs at her temperament, a true moment of irony coming from a man who launches frequent smear campaigns on Twitter against those who judge him. Her joyful laugh at his insinuation that she was unfit to lead because of her attitude was one of my absolute favorite parts of the night. Say what you want about Clinton, but Trump does not intimidate or scare her in any way; she sees him as he is and what he is is a blustering fool who can’t help but lie more than he tells the truth. He amuses and at most annoys her and watching her treat him with a detached professionalism that at some points crossed the border into accusatory was something great to note throughout the debate. She proved that despite the ridiculously sexist corrections to her demeanor and character that the media has tried to unload on her this week and the entire time she’s campaigned, she can take control of the narrative and more than adequately show who the more informed candidate is.