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Hillary Lisa Simpson debates Nelson Muntz Trump

| Friday, September 30, 2016

Matt Groening, creator of the iconic animated cartoon television series, “The Simpsons,” could not have conceived more dramatic character juxtapositions than that on display during the 2016 presidential election. Monday’s initial presidential debate at Hofstra University between Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and GOP standard-bearer Donald Trump offered voters their first unfiltered glimpse of the major party choices side-by-side. At stage left, bookworm Lisa Simpson whose keen intellectual cunning clashed with stage right’s schoolyard bully Nelson Muntz, known for his antagonistic brut-force bluster. Just like in the cartoon universe, our choices cannot be more starkly opposite in our real life election cycle.

The PBS Frontline series produced an in-depth 2-hour comparative biography of Clinton and Trump simply entitled, “The Choice 2016.” Remarkably, both share many similar milestone events that betray their demeanor or policy stances. Both were children of a domineering alpha parent — Clinton’s mother and Trump’s father exerted overbearing control of their respective families. As students, both were inspired through experiences that lit their career pathways. While in high school on a church field trip, Clinton listened to Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. speak and then witnessed firsthand the 1968 street riots outside the Democratic Convention in Chicago. Trump’s affinity for the rigid structure at NY Military Academy located along the Hudson near West Point tamed his wild childhood before he joined his father who viewed business in two camps: killers and losers.

How then did our seemingly untrustworthy teacher’s pet Hillary Lisa Simpson — who probably ate paste in class — reach the political precipice for the Oval Office against the unethical schoolyard slight-of-hand bully Nelson Muntz Trump who probably will pout if punched? As young adults, Clinton and Trump learned how a determined will could see a matter through to a successful end. Both learned from iconic mentors on Capital Hill — Clinton while on staff of the secretive as well as sequestered Watergate Committee and Trump through Roy Cohn, infamous committee counsel to anti-Communist witch-hunting Senator Joseph McCarthy. Ironically, these congressional roots of secret workings on the committee for Clinton and Cohn’s sleazy business practices for Trump helped brand them both into today’s public perceptions.

Cohn taught Trump how to use lawsuits to intimidate others, and showed Trump how to use hyperbole, bluster, lies and innuendo while never admitting a mistake. Should Trump lose, Cohn advised him to proclaim victory anyway and move on. After years developing such self-aggrandizing techniques, Trump had the audacity to number Trump Tower’s top 58th floor as floor 68, and skipped 10 numbered floors so he could charge higher rental rates for seemingly being located 10 flights higher. Is it any wonder that Trump will say he was smart for not paying federal taxes in one breath, and then deny the statement an hour later?

For her part, Hillary personally fought against employment barriers that hindered women for nearly two decades. She became the symbol of resentment from men who could not tolerate wives becoming more successful than a husband. Hillary was the face of a threat to the traditional man’s place in society. During her fights to break the glass ceiling, she sacrificed personally to gain incremental progress.

When Bill Clinton first became governor of Arkansas, the Archie Bunkers of society ridiculed Hillary for her style of dress, large glasses, hairstyle and for keeping her maiden name, Rodham, then discouraged her from assisting with policy matters in the governor’s mansion. She blamed her career aspirations for Bill’s reelection loss. Hillary acquiesced, sacrificed her desire for equality and conformed to help Bill win in his comeback attempt.

As first lady, she led a working group — sequestered behind closed doors like her Watergate days — to draft healthcare legislation. Senator John McCain criticized the Health Security Act’s 1,342 page length in a comparison to the 38-paged Social Security Act introduced fifty years prior. On her “HS Express” bus tour through the Midwest, people held “Heil Hillary” and anti-socialism signs. Some even stormed her bus.

With barely 6 long, long weeks of campaigning left, voters can glimpse how each would approach the presidency. Throughout Monday’s 98-minute debate, Hillary exuded wide-eyed relaxed facial expressions, a broadly open — sometimes-smug — smile, carrying her head erect and speaking in an even-keeled tone. Trump, on the other hand, shouted out 39 interruptions claiming 24 untruths, cocked his head, slumped towards the microphone, furled his brow, squinted his eyes and clenched his mouth forming rigid duck lips. He sounded arrogant and agitated throughout his ad hominem babble. She contrasted his hot style with her cool, clam and unflappable performance even while he grimaced, scoffed and sniffled.

Trump needed to merely pass a plausibility test with the voters while espousing his populist message of being a change agent. He failed, except for a fleeting opening moment. Hillary executed her strategy of incremental goals—some need not be achieved until the second or third debate. She rattled Trump to prove his bad temperament, and she swayed women towards herself by litigating Trump’s 1996 fat shaming of Latina beauty queen, Miss Universe Alicia Machado, whom Trump belittled by calling her Miss Piggy, Miss Housekeeping and Miss Eating Machine.

In Groening’s creative entertainment world, the Trump character development twists would be Emmy-winning. Fortunately for voters, two more debates offer more “ha-ha” moments in real time.

Gary J. Caruso, Notre Dame ’73 American Studies major, serves in the Department of Homeland Security and was a legislative and public affairs director at the U.S. House of Representatives and in President Clinton’s administration. His column appears every other Friday. Contact him on Twitter: @GaryJCaruso or email: GaryJCaruso@alumni.nd.edu.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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