I think I just watched a presidential debate, but it could also have been a very peculiar televised staging of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” by the WWE.
Martha Raddatz: I am Martha Raddatz. I will sit in stunned silence for a bit, then be unable to contain myself.
Cooper: We are surrounded by Actual Undecided Americans. (to the audience) HOW? (Audience shrugs.) They will ask questions of the candidates, in theory, at least.
Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton walk onto the stage. Instead of shaking hands, they bow formally, then begin walking away from each other, counting backwards from 10.
Cooper: Our first question is from the audience.
Audience Member: Are you a good role model?
Hillary Clinton: Thank you, fellow American human. I am so glad that you, a person, asked me, a person, this question. I have spent the past 40 years reading every book ever printed on relating spontaneously to other people, and I hope it shows. I think it is important that we lift each other up, not tear each other down.
Trump: (loud sniff like a basset hound revving up for a sneeze) We live in a great land. We must be strong. The Iran deal was terrible. The deficit is inconceivable. We need justice. I recently heard from somewhere that you are supposed to call Hispanics Latinos? Or is it the other way around? Don’t tell me — I will use both. We have to make America great again. I’m not a politician, but then again, maybe I am. Here is a number about something. I have not checked, it so it is more of the idea of a number. What even is a number?
Cooper: The question was about being a role model. Which, actually, let’s talk about that tape from Friday —
Trump: Locker room talk, Cooper. Just bros being bros.
Cooper: What you described was sexual assault.
Trump: Exactly, Cooper. What could be more of a bro thing to do than describe sexual assault? Classic. Also, I’m not literally ISIS. That’s the real takeaway here.
Clinton: How can that be the takeaway here?
Trump: We need to secure our borders in this country, Cooper. We need to set clear boundaries. We need to tell people “keep away, NO,” and they need to listen. That’s important.
Clinton: (smiles benignly, but you can tell that inside her something has died) Thanks, Donald. Do you know what irony is?
(Trump, already become bored of standing still, starts roving about the stage.)
Clinton: I think you are clearly unfit to serve. Everything you have said about women has been awful. In fact, everything you have said about most categories of people has been awful. Is Donald Trump behind me right now? Oh my God, he’s right behind me, isn’t he?
Trump: I have a response. What you said — it’s just words. Words are meaningless, Hillary. They are just sounds. Phonemes. Letters. I will conduct the rest of the debate in loud sniffles, dog whistles and nonsense strings of letters. Ek! Ek!
Raddatz: (pouring some bourbon into her mug) Okay. Words are meaningless. Great response. Here’s an audience question, from Facebook. “Trump says the campaign has changed him. When did that happen?”
Trump: That’s a mean question. And, you know, if you’re going to bring up mean things, here’s the mean thing I forgot to bring up at the last debate. You may not know this about Hillary, but she once acted as a public defender and got her client off. Also, she is married to a horrible man by the name of Bill Clinton, an awful man, just terrible, who has been very abusive to women over the years, some of whom are here with me this evening. All I have done is say words which, as we’ve established, have no meaning. They are only mouth-sounds that I let fall. Pffft, they are gone. I do not remember how I started this sentence, let alone what I said 11 years ago. Whereas Bill has done actions. That is why Bill should not be elected president.
Clinton: Bill is not running. I am running. I think words do have meaning. You should apologize for all your words.
Trump: You are friends with Sidney Blumenthal, a real loser. I saw a video that said Michelle Obama hates you. You are the devil, and I am going to prosecute you for all 33,000 of your acid-washed, artificially distressed, bell-bottomed emails. Everything is run by a sinister conspiracy called the triangle initiative. Gluten is a lie. President Obama was not born in the United States.
Clinton: Just a quick reminder to anyone watching this who still cares about facts, my website, HillaryClinton.com, they have fact-checkers, assuming they have not combusted.
Raddatz: Yes, about those emails. Hillary, what about the emails?
Clinton: Those emails? You mean the email forwards from your grandma that appear to be forming the basis of everything Donald has said so far? I apologize, both for that joke and for the email server. What can I say? I realize that I am at a disadvantage because I am addressing this like a normal person in politics, admitting it happened but not really taking responsibility for it, instead of doing what Donald Trump would do: say it was a complete and utter lie and somehow blaming it on the Russians at the same time.
Trump: Anderson, why don’t we ever ask about Hillary Clinton’s emails?
Clinton: (blinks) (blinks) (blinks) (blinks) Did we not literally just ask about my emails? Was I imagining that? Did I not just give a complete answer? Is this my debate nightmare where I think I’ve answered and actually I’ve just sat there with my mouth open? Or is this my debate nightmare where Donald Trump and I are stuck in a time loop answering questions about my emails over and over again? I have several debate nightmares because my prep has been quite thorough.
Raddatz: I could have sworn we just asked about it but enough time around Donald Trump has caused me to doubt the evidence of my eyes and ears and also videotapes and audio recordings. (drinks more bourbon)
Audience Member: How do we make the Affordable Care Act affordable?
Clinton: You can take that, Donald.
Trump: No. Age before beauty.
Clinton: Neither part of that is accurate. The problem with the Affordable Care Act is twofold: that it exists in the real world. Donald Trump doesn’t like that it exists, and Bernie Sanders didn’t like that was in the real world. The combination of these two factors accounts for most of its problems, and I will try to fix it. Was this answer detail-oriented and uninspiring enough for you?
Trump: It won’t work, and I am not going to fix it. I would replace it with something magically better.
Cooper: How, though?
Trump: Simple, Anderson. I will erase the lines between us, although we will keep the borders, and creepy sex things are still fine.
Clinton: Is this what all his rallies are like? This is terrifying.
Trump: I would also put you in jail!
Audience Member: Hello. I am a Muslim. How will you help me deal with the increasing problem of Islamophobia?
Trump: No American should have to live in fear. Well, no real American. Listen, we can’t be politically correct about this. The problem is not the Islamophobes, it’s the Islamophobophobes. I am not afraid to say it: I’m Islamophobic. I think Muslims must watch each other, constantly, like hawks. In conclusion, I am not afraid to say the words “radical Islamic terror,” and no one should be. Except you, and your family. Leave. These words are not for you.
Clinton: I am not afraid to say the words “radical jihadist terrorism.” (Donald Trump has become bored and climbed up the stage.) But I wish we lived in a country where you and your family felt safe, for strategic reasons if nothing else.
Raddatz: What about your religious test, Donald? What about those things you said about the Khans?
Trump: Listen, if I were president, Captain Khan would still be alive. I have the power to stop people from dying. Close your eyes and picture a Trump presidency. Everyone you love is still alive there, even your old dogs. Picture everything you hate. The Iraq war? Poof. Gone.
Raddatz: Wait, are you not calling for the ban, or —
Trump: I just want extreme vetting to stop the Trojan Horse of all time. Listen, like I said, words have no meaning. Bear. Potato. Eulalia.
Clinton: First, America is founded on the principle of religious freedom. Second, you were not against the Iraq War. It’s a matter of public record.
Trump: (Trump has become bored again and is chewing on the podium.) Not true.
Clinton: Yes, it is.
Trump: No, it’s not. Can I respond?
Trump: There are too many illegals, murderers and drug dealers pouring into this country. Hillary Clinton’s judgment is terrible. I know it is terrible because I have the best judgment and, more importantly, I read minds.
Raddatz: Wasn’t this supposed to be about the Iraq war?
Trump: Are any words “about” anything?
Raddatz: Secretary, once you said it was all right for a politician to be two-faced. Facebook was concerned about that. Do you think that’s true?
Clinton: (as Trump starts creeping up from behind) Well, I think I was talking about Abraham Lincoln when I said that, surely. I will use the rest of this time to talk about how the Russians are supporting Donald Trump. I am sure Vladimir Putin is watching this right now, rubbing his hands with glee.
Trump: Big hands, that man has. Beautiful. (pause) Why do people always try to link me to the Russians? I know nothing about Russia. In fact, Russia is just one of MILLIONS of things I know nothing about. Hillary Clinton is lying about “the late, great Abraham Lincoln.” He never lied. That was why they called him Old Hickory. Unlike Hillary, who always lies. In conclusion, I pay lots of taxes.
Raddatz: Thank you, I think.
Trump: Hillary, why didn’t you ever accomplish anything and also why did you create ISIS?
Raddatz: I’ll just go ahead and ask about the humanitarian crisis in Aleppo, which, by the way, Americans, is one word. It’s a place in Syria. Do not Google “what is a leppo.” Do not embarrass us like that. We are already the laughingstock of the world enough without this.
Trump: You drew a line in the sand —
Hillary: I didn’t. I was gone.
Trump: They trusted you so much, they probably wanted to know what you thought, so it was probably basically your idea.
Raddatz: Mr. Trump, what would you do about the crisis? Mike Pence said —
Trump: Who’s Mike Pence? Never spoke to him. No. I know exactly what we need to do. We need to be smart and do sneak attacks. Do the attack, but don’t tell anyone.
Raddatz: Um. Do you know anything about this?
Trump: Nope! But I am confident. George Patton and General MacArthur agree. I spoke to them. With my mind.
Clinton: Can I actually try to answer this question? We need to signal to Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, and Sunnis in the area … (Donald Trump becomes bored. Starts to make faces at the audience)
Trump: How come you never cut her off? You cut me off all the time when I try to say anything. She even used the P-word.
Raddatz: The P-word she used was “Peshmerga.”
Audience Member: How will you unite all the people?
Trump: Well, she won’t. I’ll do great.
Clinton: One of my very first jobs was registering Latino citizens to vote —
Trump: (clears throat) Latino-Hispanics.
Clinton: Also, I’m not a bully.
Cooper: What about when you called people “deplorables” and “irredeemables”?
Clinton: I said I was sorry. I misspoke. When I said “people” I meant “Donald Trump.”
Trump: Let me tell you why our nation is divided. It is because Hillary Clinton has hate in her heart. I know hearts. I read hearts. Hers is bad. Believe me. I read hearts and minds. That’s why I don’t need words. I’m beyond words. She has no discipline.
Raddatz: (silently offers her bourbon to Clinton)
Clinton: No, thanks.
Cooper: What about that time you tweeted at 3:00 a.m. telling people to check out a sex tape?
Trump: Never happened.
Raddatz: It happened. I saved the tweet because I knew he would do this.
Trump: I’m always awake to take the phone call at 3 a.m., Anderson. That’s when I get all my best ideas for tweets. I’m not un-proud of that.
Audience Member: What kind of Supreme Court justices would you pick?
Clinton: A variety of justices, people with real-world experience. Not just corporations disguised under a big robe with a ruffle.
Trump: A literal clone of Justice Scalia.
A man in a red sweater stands up.
Ken Bone: Hello. My name is Ken Bone. I am a meme now, and I will be a meme forever. My question is about energy, but, as usual, feel free to speak about whatever moves you.
Trump: The future is in clean coal, which is definitely a real thing and not an oxymoron. Hillary Clinton hates miners. It is a personal vendetta with her. She’ll go into a mine and slap the coal out of their hands. I’ve seen it. It’s the truth, people.
Clinton: (mouths) HillaryClinton.com.
Raddatz: One last question, unless, as I am starting to suspect, this is truly Hell and we are trapped in it forever.
Audience Member: Say one nice thing about each other.
Clinton: Easy! I really like your kids! Especially that Ivanka! Really only Ivanka, actually, the more I think about your sons. (whispers) Is he behind me again?
Raddatz: He is.
Trump: (long pause) Feisty. I guess that was a compliment, the kids thing, although, you know, not really about me, about a whole different group of people, so not so sure, folks. We’ll see how the judges rule.
Raddatz: Did you compliment her?
Trump: I did. “Feisty” was my compliment.
Cooper: Good night.