5 Things That Made No Sense — and One That Did — at Last Night’s Presidential Debate

by Ryan Schleeter

September 27, 2016

In which we learned that Donald Trump might not have paid his taxes and Hillary Clinton has a vision for a clean energy economy.

Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump

Left: Clinton at a campaign stop in Ohio. Photo by Paula R. Lively. Right: Trump giving a speech in Arizona. Photo by Gage Skidmore.

From Hillary Clinton’s viral “shimmy” to Donald Trump’s expansive vocabulary, we all just processed a lot. Let’s break it down.

The Bonkers

1. That time that Trump essentially admitted to not paying federal income taxes.

What started as a routine question from moderator Lester Holt about why Trump has not released his tax returns — as all presidential nominees have for decades — turned into one of the more bizarre moments of the night when Trump may have admitted to not paying federal income taxes.

Then it got even weirder when he claimed “that makes me smart.”

Bypassing everything wrong with not paying federal income taxes, let’s talk about what we’d find on those tax returns should Trump release them: a lot of connections to the fossil fuel industry.

The financial disclosure form that Trump has released (which, #factcheck, is not the same as a tax return as does not provide the same level of transparency) reveals investments in the range of $500,000 to $1 million in companies like Chevron, Shell, and Dakota Access Pipeline builder Energy Transfer Partners.

2. That time Trump denied claiming that “global warming is a hoax invented by the Chinese.”

This one was a bit of a roller coaster.

Secretary Clinton brought up this statement made by Trump back in 2012 in response to a question about green jobs and renewable energy. First, Trump denied having made the statement (which he did), then reports circulated on Twitter that his campaign deleted the tweet (which it didn’t). Now, we’re back in a familiar position — Trump denied saying something he most definitely said in front of an audience of millions, and he still doesn’t “believe” in climate science.

But go ahead Trump campaign, by all means delete that tweet — we’ve got the screenshots.

3. This astonishingly bad definition of “good business.”

If millions of people losing their homes while predatory investors profit is “good business,” I’m not sure I want to know what bad business looks like.

4. That time Trump claimed stop-and-frisk “worked really well in New York” — and pretty much everything else he said about race.

In response to a question about the divide over issues of racial justice in the United States, Trump — who bears responsibility for growing that divide and fueling the white nationalist movement — hailed New York City’s stop-and-frisk policy.

Not only was stop-and-frisk was ruled unconstitutional (which Trump incorrectly denied) for its targeting and discrimination of Black and Latino men, it was ineffective. Police data from Chicago — where Trump has proposed implementing stop-and-frisk to combat so-called “black-on-black crime” (reminder: that’s not a thing) — actually show that an increase in police stops did nothing to prevent gun violence or solve murders.

5. That time Trump chided Clinton and President Obama for taking climate change seriously.

While discussing national security, Trump claimed to agree with Clinton that “nuclear weapons are the greatest threat facing the world.” Before we had a chance to remember that this is the same candidate who reportedly asked “why can’t we use them [nuclear weapons],” he threw in this zinger for good measure: “not global warming like you and your president thinks [sic].”

The Department of Defense would disagree.

In 2014, the Pentagon called climate change a “threat multiplier.” In 2015, an Iraq veteran and adviser to the U.S. Army had elevated that to “mother of all risks.” And by the beginning of 2016, top officials in the military were given specific orders to factor climate change into their planning.

The Logical

1. Most things Hillary Clinton said.

In the absence of questions on crucial issues like climate change or fossil fuels, we didn’t hear much from Clinton on some of the most important issues of this election. But what we did hear was pretty good.

Clinton made the case for creating jobs in the renewable energy sector, an increase in the national minimum wage and equal pay for women, and for addressing systemic racism in the criminal justice system.

One of Clinton’s best lines of the night came during the racial justice portion of the debate, when she stated, “implicit [racial] bias is a problem for everyone, not just the police.” Five minutes later, Trump confirmed this statement when he said he thought he did a “good job” in starting and fueling the racist birther movement that questioned the birthplace and citizenship of our country’s first Black president.

Looking Ahead

Future debates should give Clinton the opportunity to tell us more about how she’ll address climate change and begin that systemic change she rightly called for. And it will give Trump a chance to tell us … the truth?

Moderators, your challenge awaits.

Ryan Schleeter

By Ryan Schleeter

Ryan Schleeter is a content editor with the communications team at Greenpeace International. His writing has appeared in National Geographic, Grist, GreenBiz, EcoWatch, and more. Find him on Twitter @ryschlee.

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