The No Handshake Honeymoon of the 45th Presidency

Monday, October 10, 2016

The Art Theater on Fourth Street in Long Beach graciously hosted a screening of the second debate on Sunday evening, and the theater was about two-thirds full. It was much more enjoyable, but also more sobering to watch the encounter on a big screen. Trump’s inordinate pacing around and his hint of physically stalking Clinton stirred up a palpable sense of discomfort in the audience, and it was reassuring to realize that I was not imagining Trump’s imperiousness.

We knew as we took our seats that it was not going to be a pleasant evening, and the event began with unusual awkwardness. The candidates came out on stage. Hillary nodded as they were about eight feet apart, and Trump then pivoted, and did a little skip step to move more center stage, which only made their refusal to greet each other formally more comic. There was considerable laughter at the theater, confirming my decision about the advantage of watching it with a larger community.

In commentary published after the debate, Chris Cillizza bewailed the lack of a handshake between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump as they commenced their second debate. “Maybe I am old-fashioned. But I thought it was tremendously depressing that Trump and Clinton couldn’t bring themselves to shake hands at the start of the debate.”

Call it an adumbration of the 45th Presidency of the United States: the no-handshake honeymoon. Why make a pretense of it? When Hillary takes office on January 20th, she’ll know what Barack Obama should have realized eight years ago: The GOP will do everything in its power to undermine her policies. Bi-partisanship is a bad joke at this point, and to expect anyone to act otherwise is being unrealistic.

Truly, Mr. Cillizza, why would you shake hands with someone who says that if he is elected, he will appoint a special prosecutor with the goal of sending you to prison? This is not a policy disagreement. This is a reprehensible fantasy of personal vindictiveness. The outrageous part is the larger context: how many bank officials have gone to prison after bankrupting the nation? The economy completely collapsed at the end of the Bush administration, and only the willingness of taxpayers to bear the burdens of redeeming this catastrophe saved the status quo. Bush and Cheney lied and started an unnecessary war, and yet no prosecution ensued. Does Trump want a special prosecutor to investigate Chris Christie for Bridgegate?

Let’s be blunt in reminding ourselves what we heard during the second debate. Trump called Hillary Clinton “the Devil” and said that she has “tremendous hatred in her heart.” The lack of a handshake is not depressing. It’s just common sense to keep your distance from someone who wishes you ill.

Post-script (Monday, mid-day): I am hardly the only one who is noticing that Hillary Clinton is preparing for a different kind of “First 100 days.” “The campaign against Trump seems to have deepened a trait of (Hillary) Clinton’s: a pessimism about the possibility of political persuasion.”

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