Although the personal attacks dominated the headlines, the views expressed by Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump on Monday night with regard to domestic and foreign affairs are of greater importance.
That’s because they provide insight into how Clinton, the Democratic nominee for president, and Trump, the Republican nominee, would govern.
The two candidates participated in the first of three debates held on the campus of Long Island’s Hofstra University. The second will be on Oct. 9 in St. Louis and the third on Oct. 19 in Las Vegas.
It was clear by the end of the 90-minute gabfest hosted by NBC Nightly News Anchor Lester Holt that Clinton, former U.S. secretary of state, U.S. senator and first lady, and Trump, New York City billionaire and political novice, do not like each other.
But that’s not what’s important in this high-stakes election. The country is facing major challenges at home and aboard that demand a steady hand on the tiller.
The 80 million-plus viewers who tuned in Monday night had the chance to observe how each candidate operates under pressure and also when verbally attacked.
And while the press Tuesday focused on who won and who lost – Clinton was declared the victor by most media outlets – the arguments put forth by each candidate set the stage for the remaining two debates.
Trump, who won the Republican nomination by playing on the fears, anger and anxiety of millions of Americans, especially blue-collar white males, presented his view of American that can be summed up thus: The country has gone to hell in a hand basket because of the policies of Democratic President Barack Obama and Clinton, who served in the administration.
Only a successful businessman, he argued, knows how to the pull the country out of its economic and social doldrums.
Clinton presented a more optimistic view of America, noting that the great recession of 2008 that lasted several years had devastated the economy, resulting in the loss of millions of good-paying jobs. But, she argued, the policies of the Obama administration – it included the bailout of the auto industry – are now paying dividends.
Indeed, unemployment is in single digits, the stock market is at record highs, the median income is in the mid-$50,000s, and millions of Americans have been lifted out of poverty.
Clinton and Trump agree that good-paying manufacturing jobs need to be created, but they part company on how to do it.
The real estate tycoon is focused on forcing American corporations to bring back the jobs that have been moved overseas. His campaign has taken hold in old industrial regions like the Mahoning Valley with his talk about resurrecting the steel industry.
Clinton, on the other hand, envisions creating jobs in the high-technology global economy via new manufacturing processes, such as 3-D printing. She also recognizes the need for education and training to make the American workers competitive with workers in other industrialized nations.
The Republican and Democratic nominees for president also revealed deep differences in their view of America’s role in the world.
While Clinton stressed the importance of the United States maintaining close relationships with its allies and honoring security and military agreements, Trump offered a different take.
The brash billionaire made it clear that under his administration, America would be calling the shots and that the allies would be expected to fall in line.
Indeed, he repeated his call for members of the NATO alliance to meet their financial obligations or lose U.S. support.
He also said that countries such as Japan and South Korea should bear the burden of their defenses and not expect America to continue providing military assistance indefinitely.
While such extreme positions have endeared him to millions of Americans, the fact remains that this nation cannot survive in isolation.
Voters who remain undecided must think seriously about the positions the candidates are espousing on the important issues of the day.
Monday’s debate laid the foundation for a more in-depth discussion of domestic and foreign policy in the next two clashes.