Listen to first presidential debate with an open heart — and skeptical mind

Miami Herald Editorial Board


The beginning of the end is upon us. Monday night, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump take the stage for their first presidential debate.

A record-breaking television audience of more than 100 million is expected to tune in. Many voters made up their minds long ago. But there are still those who are holding their noses — and their breath — before picking one. Monday’s debate is for them.

The match-up will be historic: No woman has ever made it this far up the White House steps.

For everyone’s sake, the debate must be more than 90 minutes of mud-slinging, name calling and incendiary statements. Ms. Clinton will come prepared — she’s a wonk. But which Mr. Trump will show up? The freewheeling one or a more restrained, rehearsed one?

Once and for all, we want to hear how each candidate will make the lives of all Americans better. How are they going to improve our economy, stop the disappearance of the middle class, protect us from terrorism, ease the racial strife that has spilled into the streets, make young people feel America is headed in the right direction for them, fix unemployment and wage inequality? Ms. Clinton is farther along on this score, having presented all sorts of policy speeches and statements — though most were drowned out in the campaign’s voluble hostilities.

Both candidates have trust issues. Can Ms. Clinton be trusted to be forthright and transparent? Can Mr. Trump be trusted to not lead this country over a cliff? The latest polls show a 55 percent unfavorable rating for her and 58 percent for him; only 34 percent of voters said they considered either candidate honest and trustworthy.

But we must chose one. No one should sit out a race for president of the United States — and this year, protest votes for feckless third-party candidates will have unfathomable implications.

Want to make a statement? Listen up and weigh the impact that this race will have on our country for years to come. Watch with a mission of holding candidates’ feet to the fire.

We get it that Mr. Trump’s supporters have had it with the establishment, with the status quo. This year, he’s the change agent. But change alone is not a reason to vote for him. He outlined an America of gloom and darkness that simply doesn’t exist. Are there challenges? Yes. Are many people hurting? Of course. But his remedies have been over the top and his rhetoric divisive, even as he makes a (tone-deaf) pitch to reach beyond his base of aggrieved white voters. He’ll need to get into the gritty details of how he will really make America great — and why his demonization of whole races, religions and ethnic groups is the way to do it, to say nothing of practically consorting with Russian despot Vladimir Putin.

Demeanor will count, and Mr. Trump needs to clearly denounce those of his supporters who truly are hate mongers; truly, yes, deplorable. He unleashed them, debate moderators should make sure that he owns it.

In some ways, Ms. Clinton has the harder road to hoe. Her credentials should not be in question, and she has withstood unprecedented scrutiny. But it’s remarkable that the former first lady, U.S. senator and secretary of State is so disliked. She is not viewed as an “outsider” like Mr. Trump — and that hurts her, as it did when she faced renegade Bernie Sanders in the primaries.

She must admit to her mistakes — the email mess-up, the “basket of deplorables” comment — and sincerely convey that she’s America’s best hope. She has to persuade those looking askance — especially millennials — that “You don’t need to love me, but if you love America and what it stands for, I’m your only choice.”

It’s time for all of us to start listening with open hearts — but skeptical minds — to what each candidate is promising. Election Day is almost here.