‘Lies and Lows’ of the presidential debate

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton listens as Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump answers a question during the presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., Monday, Sept. 26, 2016. (Joe Raedle/AP)

Monday night’s presidential debate, the first between Clinton and Trump, broke viewer records. It is now the most watched debate in the history of the United States. It is a shame that it took two extremely disliked and untrusted candidates to jumpstart an interest in politics in America, but one thing is certain: the time they spent watching the debate did not effectively teach viewers about the candidates’ policies or history.

It is hard to consider debates of educational or even useful when politicians are able to cite old statistics, take facts out of context and even blatantly lie. Monday’s debate displayed these problems perfectly. The candidates constantly spouted accusations that the other was lying, which often resembled bickering siblings.

In case there was any doubt, they both lied, a lot.  Clinton lied during discussion of trade agreements, after Trump targeted her for supporting the Trans-Pacific Partnership during her time as Secretary of State. She claimed that she “hoped” it would be a good deal, when in reality, Trump’s direct quote was accurate; he claimed she called it the “gold standard of trade deals.” During a trip to Australia to discuss the relationship between Australia and the U.S., her direct words were: “This TPP sets the gold standard in trade agreements to open free, transparent, fair trade.” That is clearly more than an expression of hope.

Trump similarly cited false and unfounded statements. Just one example was his claim to only have been bankrupt four times; Clinton referenced the correct number of six.

In other forms of lying, they both take statements, events and statistics out of context in order to criticize their opponent and emphasize their arguments. Clinton used statistics about job creation, stating that her plans would add 10 million new jobs and Trump’s plan would lose 3.5 million. Due to her vague citation of “independent experts,” this is not the easiest statistic check or trust. However, it might be referring to Moody’s Analytics, which concluded that if all of her plans were to be implemented, the economy would add 10.4 million jobs in Clinton’s presidency. This is 3.2 million more than predicted under current law. It also predicts a loss of 3.4 million jobs over Trump’s presidency.

Yet, neither of these statistics includes predicted roadblocks in congress, and the statistic about lost jobs under Trump does not include his most recently revised tax plan. Trump also took statistics out of context when he cited that “almost 4,000 have been killed” in Chicago since President Obama took office. While it is true that from 2009 to 2015 there were 3,176 homicides, Trump failed to mention that is a drop from the previous seven year period, from 2002 to 2008, when the number was 3,606.

Due to the fact that there is no onscreen fact checker or lie detector test, it is impossible to watch the debate and trust the information that the candidates are stating. The candidates themselves advertise the use of online fact checkers on their own websites. Yet, without each viewer researching every topic, event or statistic referenced in the debate, the debate turned into a case of “he said, she said,” leaving the audience distrustful of both sides.

The 90-minute debate focused on three topics: achieving prosperity, America’s direction and securing America. These are important themes, but neither moderator Lester Holt’s questions, nor the candidates’ answers, facilitated a complete or coherent discussion about the matters. While each candidate mentioned topics that are significant to their own campaigns, the debate failed to thoroughly discuss pertinent topics within the issues brought up, including immigration, drug epidemics, and education.

Holt focused many questions putting Trump on the defensive. He asked Trump to discuss his tax returns in connection to the discussion of the candidates’ tax plans, but he did not ask Clinton to discuss her use of a private server during the segment on securing America. The use of a single moderator made for a bias in the questions, giving one candidate an obvious advantage.

The first presidential debate proved to be both deceptive and ineffective. It did not provide citizens with much more than heightened distrust for both candidates, and without a positive change of direction, expect similar things for the next two presidential debates.

Alyssa Luis is a weekly columnist for The Daily Campus opinion section. She can be reached via email at alyssa.luis@uconn.edu