I have taken the liberty of abridging the debate in case you were one of the six or so Americans who did not watch.
LESTER HOLT: Welcome to the debate! I have somewhere else to be for the next half hour, so do not look for me to say anything or fact-check anyone. I will not. First, who will be better for business? Secretary?
HILLARY CLINTON: Look at me. Now look at Donald Trump. Now at me. Now at Donald Trump. Donald Trump is actually on the presidential debate stage right now. With me, a former senator and secretary of state. Donald Trump. Also, I have actual plans.
DONALD TRUMP: Hi. I am Donald Trump. Yes, I am here. If you believe in the two-party system, then I am 50 percent of your options for president right now. You may have been wondering: Did my advisors just say that I had not prepared at all for these debates in order to lower audience expectations, or did I NOT PREPARE AT ALL for these debates? Now, you will have your answer. My answer to that last question is that I am pretty sure I saw on TV that Mexico was taking our jobs. Or something.
CLINTON: Can I respond? I heard there would not be any fact-checking this debate, so I brought my own. I just want to explain what your plan would actually do. It is like trickle-down economics, but even worse. I came up with a fun nickname for it because my campaign wanted to make sure I created moments of “levity” instead of just “lecturing.” This is the straitjacket of speaking while female. “Trumped-up trickle-down,” we call it. Is that fun? By my standards, that seems fun. Donald, your business started when your dad loaned you $14 million.
TRUMP: In my defense, $14 million is, like, practically nothing. If I found it crumpled up in the pocket of a coat I had not worn in a while I would make a face and throw it away. Also, NAFTA is bad, Secretary Clinton — does that make you happy? Usually when I address women as “secretary” they get upset and yell.
CLINTON: My plan would create jobs. Your plan would destroy them. I think global warming is real. You think global warming is a hoax created by the Chinese.
TRUMP: Well, I don’t think that NOW. Listen, we disagree on a lot. One thing we disagree about is whether you have a plan. I, for instance, think that you do not have a plan.
CLINTON: I have a plan. It is called “Stronger Together” and published in book form. You can buy it at an airport near you. Or wherever books are sold, so, I guess, an airport near you.
TRUMP: You are going to embiggen taxes whereas I am going to lower them. You are going to make more regulations and I will do the opposite of that. I will create millions of jobs and all you will create are bad ideas.
HOLT: Hey, guys, did I miss anything?
CLINTON: (frenzied, into the camera) Please, viewers at home, I know that fact-checking is not permitted, but at least GO TO MY WEBSITE. I promise —
TRUMP: I also have a website. You should go to mine. If you go to her website you will see her plan to fight ISIS. Right there on the Internet where anyone can SEE. I know what General MacArthur would have thought of that. He would not have liked it ONE BIT. General MacArthur is a person from history whose name I have suddenly remembered.
CLINTON: (whispers) Fact-check rating — Mostly True.
TRUMP: You have to keep everything secret, like tax returns, but NOT like emails. Otherwise your enemies will know your next move. “No wonder you’ve been fighting ISIS your entire adult life.”
CLINTON: I don’t understand. How long do you think ISIS has been in existence? Do you think it is 50 years? Or do you think I am in my 20s? Or — what? PLEASE SOMEONE FACT-CHECK THIS. Lester?
HOLT: (sticking head through door) Hey, guys! Just wanted to check in and see how you were doing in here. You two having fun? It’s important to have fun. Donald, though, can you explain your tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans?
TRUMP: You know what we don’t have? Leadership. And I blame Secretary Clinton.
CLINTON: Sure. Great. Everything is my fault now.
CLINTON: (makes carefully neutral facial expression that must have taken 10 weeks to practice)
TRUMP: If there is one thing I have learned from campaigning in America, it is that people think you sit at the controls of a vast and horrible machine making everything that is wrong in America go wrong.
CLINTON: I can assure you that I do not do that.
TRUMP: Also in addition to your sinister Machiavellian control of everything on earth, you are not good at leadership. I believe these things simultaneously and see no contradiction in them.
CLINTON: Wasn’t I supposed to be talking? About focusing on the middle class?
TRUMP: “TYPICAL POLITICIAN. ALL TALK, NO ACTION.”
CLINTON: Is this in response to something specific?
TRUMP: “NEVER GONNA HAPPEN.”
CLINTON: Did someone hit a switch on your back somewhere into drunk uncle mode?
TRUMP: “We are in a big, fat, ugly bubble.” The Fed is bad. “The Fed — is doing political.” Soon Obama will go to the golf course, and then, you know, it will not be good, because they will do something to the rates. And you won’t like it one bit! Please someone else talk now.
CLINTON: Where did you read this? Was it on a drunk person’s Facebook wall? Are you still friends with this person? Because I wouldn’t be.
HOLT: Donald Trump, what about releasing your tax returns?
TRUMP: Thank goodness this is a subject I actually know something about! I don’t want to. Clinton should release those EMAILS, that’s what I say! I’m being audited anyway, so…
HOLT: There’s nothing that says you have to wait for the audit to be over before you release your tax return. But about those emails, Hillary?
CLINTON: That was definitely a mistake, but I would prefer to watch Donald Trump flail uncomfortably about his tax returns.
TRUMP: Listen, I’m a very wealthy man. I know a lot of wonderful banks. I know a lot about money. I have been to airports, both good and bad. Newark is a bad airport. America can agree. We have wasted all this money on your bad ideas, but instead we should have made Newark Liberty International Airport a better, more welcoming place to be.
CLINTON: Okay, let’s talk about your business. You don’t seem to pay people. I have talked to all the people who work for your businesses: the people who make mohair and who cover railings with brass and who paint the walls of buildings to look like the pleasure palaces of dictators with poor taste and people who make garish rugs and lay faux marble, and they all said that you did not pay them.
TRUMP: Of course I did not pay them. Listen, you know the thing where you want to go out in a fancy outfit but then you do not want to own the outfit forever, and so after you wear it you go to the people and say to them, “This was bad, it did not fit!” and then you don’t have to pay, but you have already worn it so — you win.
CLINTON: That’s fraud.
TRUMP: It’s savings. America should try it.
TRUMP: Say America orders a big boat. When the boat comes it can say, “This is no good,” and then: free boat.
HOLT: And now, please, take two minutes to discuss America’s complex legacy of racial problems. Secretary Clinton, you first.
CLINTON: Here is a complex and thoughtful response about the need for criminal justice reform that I have clearly been working on for some time, because it is not at ALL what I would have said in the ’90s.
TRUMP: Listen. Two words: law and order. I guess that’s three words. Stop and frisk. Wait, no, also three words.
HOLT: Three unconstitutional words.
TRUMP: No, no, I am pretty sure that is wrong. It went before a judge who was a very Anti-Police Judge.
HOLT: You mean a judge who found it was unconstitutional because it was a form of racial profiling?
TRUMP: No, listen, we need Law and Order. Benson and Stabler. To make us a Stabler nation.
CLINTON: Stabler was on SVU. I bet you can’t even name the police officers on regular Law and Order.
TRUMP: Eric and Melania.
TRUMP: Two wonderful officers, great friends of mine.
CLINTON: You have Briscoe and Green, or you have Green and Fontana, or you have —
TRUMP: Please don’t interrupt. Listen, if there is one thing I have learned on my tour trying to convince people that I am not wildly and ridiculously tone-deaf about race, it is that people who are not white probably live in nightmarish hellholes than which nothing can be worse.
CLINTON: That’s just not true at all.
TRUMP: (audible grunt of dismay)
HOLT: Is implicit bias a problem for police?
CLINTON: It’s a problem for everyone.
TRUMP: WRONG! Look, I’ve been around, okay? I’ve visited these places, in the last week.
CLINTON: (unexpectedly) Did you just criticize me for preparing for this debate? Because what I was really preparing for was to be president of the United States, and that takes hard, hard work! Hard work I’m ready to put in!
(summons an eagle) (it perches on her shoulder) (fireworks shoot off) (a glass ceiling shatters)
Perhaps I over-prepared this answer and it was not exactly related to what you just said, but I have literally been rehearsing it since I was four.
HOLT: Donald, let’s talk about the horrible racist birther movement that you founded and nurtured for five years.
TRUMP: Never heard of it. It’s the work of a woman, name of Patty. I just put it to rest so America could have closure.
CLINTON: (mouths) Website.
HOLT: But, like, we can agree that it was racist, right?
TRUMP: No. You know what they say about ducks. If something walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it could just be me, Donald Trump, at a debate.
HOLT: Secretary, do you have anything to add?
CLINTON: No, but thank you for that footage for my ads next month.
TRUMP: Wait, I have a story of a time I was not personally racist! “I opened a club, and really got great credit for it. No discrimination against African Americans, against Muslims, against anybody. And it’s a tremendously successful club.”
CLINTON: You literally just said that.
HOLT: Okay, how do we protect America in the cyber realm?
TRUMP: My son Barron is an accomplished hacker. Or he does something on the computer. He will save us.
CLINTON: I thought you were in favor of the Russians hacking us. Didn’t you literally ask Putin —
TRUMP: OMG! Putin? What, where, did he say something? He thinks I’m brilliant, you know.
HOLT: Talk about ISIS.
TRUMP: I was against Iraq.
CLINTON: You literally were not.
TRUMP: I literally was. In the sense in which “literally” is now used.
TRUMP: Call Sean Hannity.
CLINTON: I would not wish that fate on my worst enemy.
HOLT: Mr. Trump, do you have a better temperament?
TRUMP: I have the best temperament. Obviously.
CLINTON: Obviously. Yes. Obviously. You have interrupted me 70 times to say nonsense remarks that indicate you have not the faintest idea what you are talking about. Seventy times. I have spent my life doing this. You decided, like, last year that you were mildly interested in it and that you would probably be great at it. I wish I had that confidence. I wish any little girl did.
If I had coughed even once on this stage I would have lost this debate instantly. And so you know what? I did not cough. Not even once. You sniffed and you lectured and you made faces and you sighed. And I stood there. Impassive. Like a screensaver. I focus-grouped my number of blinks.
But maybe it worked. Maybe, just this once, America saw a man yammer on for an hour and a half about a subject he knew nothing about to a woman who had spent her lifetime in that field, and America said, “Oh,” quietly, to itself. Maybe. But knowing America, maybe also not.
HOLT: Will you accept the outcome of this election?
CLINTON: (smiling, waving) Yes, definitely.