Rarely does the American communal psyche come together as it did last night for the first Clinton/Trump debate. It seemed everyone everywhere needed to watch it, believing it mattered to their lives, that something would be settled by the match. I felt it too, rushing home to watch the spectacle on my cheap tv. Combat unites us, and this bout had all the elements: liberal against conservative; outsider against insider; government against business; spontaneous against measured; man against woman, rich against rich- I mean poor! It had everything, and it delivered, like Ali's fights of old. I enjoyed it.
In this sense the government won the debate, because 100 million people thought it mattered. Art Buchwald, the brilliant Washington Post political humorist, wrote during Watergate that President Nixon had done a service for our government because the scandal had everyone thinking about Washington and its doings, as if they mattered. Last night was another example, the first in a while on that scale. Even on the West Coast, so far away from the little city that claims to rule us, we came together to acknowledge that rule.
As far as the candidates, Clinton probably won because of Trump's several gaffes, for instance his seeming indifference to "little guys" he stiffed, like the man who built him a clubhouse and was not paid ("He did a bad job," Trump foolishly smirked, playing to the wrong audience, i.e. himself), gave Clinton the perfect cover for her years-long cozy relationships with Wall Street people whose only moral improvement over Trump is that they're not running against her for president.
Beyond that, we all lost the debate because the war being dropped on our heads was effectively ignored by both candidates. Arguments about how to fight ISIS are beside the point; the real question is, "Why is there an ISIS to fight?" Trump made moves in the right direction by claiming, correctly, that Obama and Clinton (he omitted W. Bush) created ISIS at the end of the Iraq War, but he incorrectly gave our failure to leave troops behind as the cause. He left out the important part about U.S. pressure to install Nouri al Maliki, a Shiite politician with a genocidal hatred of Sunnis, as Iraqi prime minister. Maliki's massacres of Sunnis created ISIS. Why did we back Maliki, an act which introduced the Sunnis to us and identified us as their enemy? Why didn't Trump ask that question of Clinton?
We all lost the debate. Clinton is the nicest available face to put on the forces controlling us, the forces leading us into the coming war. Trump, with his mean face, was the best thing that could have happened to Clinton's campaign, though it may not be enough.