The second presidential debate. >YouTube/The New York Times

The Second Presidential Debate


Dr. Debbie Almontaser Emerge USA National Board Member
Dr. Debbie Almontaser
Emerge USA National Board Member. She tweets at @DebbiAlmontaser.

The presidential election continued on its trajectory of divisiveness and polarization yesterday, as Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton met again for another head to head. Overall, I couldn’t help but feel disappointment at what this means for America at large, and where this country is headed. The debate lived up to expectation of it being a fraught and personal affair, with Trump going as far as threatening to jail Clinton if he wins. It was an indictment of the bitterness of this contest and how low the standards have dropped in this presidential contest. Americans across the country are understandably feeling a sense of exasperation and anxiety over what the future holds in such a toxic climate. As a Muslim American, yesterday’s debate reinforced to me the critical importance for us to vote for Clinton come Election Day. The debate was without doubt the starkest demonstration yet of two extremely polarized visions of America: one was a vision of acceptance, reality and cooperation, the other was a vision of fear, divisiveness and even outright hate.

Yesterday’s debate started off on an issue that has unfortunately become a permanent feature of this election: the treatment of women by Donald Trump. The debate began with questions on recent revelations of Trump’s lewd boast about acts of sexual assault. That then precipitated a series of accusations by Trump against the Clintons along similar lines. Trump came to the debate battered and bruised by his latest offenses, and he wanted to come out attacking Clinton however he could. But his aggression never switched off, and when the debate turned to address serious issues that concern most Americans, he was simply unable to offer anything. What followed was an entire evening of Trump evading the vast majority of questions, spinning every issue to turn it into an attack on Clinton, and even resorting to bullying tactics.

 Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, did brilliantly to maintain a persona that was the polar opposite to Trump; where Trump was intrusive, rude and evasive, Clinton remained patient, calm and collective.

It was to be the theme throughout the evening. Trump continued his repetition of meaningless anti-Obama and anti-Clinton platitudes to every question, and found a way to turn everything into a personal attack, going as far as roaming closely around Clinton when she walked up to audience members to answer their questions — it was a master-class in attempting to bully his way through the evening, and in the end it failed. He simply did not have anything to offer on health care, jobs, energy and unemployment. Clinton’s answers on the same issues were measured and realistic, she spoke constructively on all of the serious policy issues that were raised throughout the debate.

But beyond all of the catharsis of the debate itself, as Muslim Americans, we must understand that there is far more at stake in this election than the debates themselves portray. Quite simply, a Trump presidency will all but obliterate the decades of progress that we have made as a country in community outreach, equality, women’s rights, inclusion and the celebration of diversity. More importantly, as American Muslims, a Trump presidency threatens our very place in American society for which we have worked extremely hard. Trump threatens the intercultural and interreligious progress America has made over several decades. He has made it his aim to deliberately aggravate minority communities throughout the country, from Mexicans and African Americans, to Muslims and women in general. It is a threat to the social fabric of our country.

Hillary Clinton has made it her mission to counter that threat by reaching out to minorities and religious groups throughout the country and making them a core part of her campaign. She recognizes very well that millions of people feel a real sense of anxiety and fear about the prospect of Trump going to the White House, and her campaign has responded by spreading narratives of inclusion, diversity and acceptance. That is something that we as Muslims cannot ignore. It is critical that we preserve what we have achieved as a society, and endeavor to empower the candidate that offers us the chance to build on that success. In last night’s debate, we saw clearly one candidate offering a continuation of our collective social progress, and in the other, someone who harbors a pronounced disdain for inclusiveness and acceptance.

When a Muslim member of the audience asked both candidates about the rise of Islamophobia in America, and what they would do to tackle the problem, Trump all but ignored the question and resorted instead to highlighting the dangers of Islamic extremism. Clinton, on the other hand, responded to the same question by emphasizing the importance of being inclusive to all Muslim Americans. She extolled the virtues and successes of America’s Muslim community, and hammered home the fact that American Muslims are a fundamental part of American society. As Muslims, we should all make our voices heard on Election Day by voting Clinton. A Clinton presidency doesn’t just offer us continuity in social and community progress, it also offers us a unique opportunity to become a permanent part of the U.S. electoral architecture for decades to come, all we have to do is make our voices heard in a few weeks. For the first time, Muslims have an extraordinary role they can play in a presidential election, and it is a chance that we must not pass on. Above all, as Muslims, we have a religious duty to our children, to our parents, to our community and to wider society — we have a duty to feel a sense of responsibility for the well-being of all members of society equally — and it is one that we should be exercising in force come the 8th of November.

Saba Ahmed is founder and president of the Republican Muslim Coalition. She tweets at @SabaRMC
Saba Ahmed is founder and president of the Republican Muslim Coalition. She tweets at @SabaRMC

Donald Trump made a strong comeback at the second presidential debate. He said he had great respect for family and was truly embarrassed by what he had said 10 years ago about women. He dismissed it as locker-room talk and focused on major challenges facing America. While Clinton appeared polished and presidential, she didn’t have strong policies. Trump accused her of several wrongdoings while she served as secretary of state, even went as far as saying he would appoint a special prosecutor to jail her, and called her the devil. Clinton came back with questions about Trump’s fitness to be commander in chief.

Being a Republican Muslim woman, I have really struggled with my support of Donald Trump given his recent comments against women, Muslims, minorities, etc. Yet, I still want to see a Republican in the White House because I know he would enact strong domestic and foreign policies that help Americans and restore our leadership around the world. Trump has surrounded himself with people like Governor Mike Pence who have strong Republican roots and that gives me hope that they’ll help him turn around.

At the debate, Islamophobia was brought up. Trump called for Muslims to report problems when they see them while Clinton called on Muslims to be part of our homeland security. She reiterated that we are not at war with Islam and Muslims should feel wanted and included. Trump called Captain Humayun Khan an American hero and backed out of his Muslim ban.

Overall, I still do support our Republican nominee for president of the United States.

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