The town hall debate format is definitely the most open in appearance and designed to permit viewing of the candidates with their collective communication skills and poise in doing what they need to do: shape opinion. The format promotes standing more than sitting and encourages interaction with the audience (the people). Both Trump and Clinton are experienced at being in the public presence and they have their own non-verbal communication style that can work as aid or detriment to their pursuit of the POTUS title. The same objective applies throughout the debates: answer questions and elaborate on issues or previously given answers as proposed by the moderators. The questions are selected for substance and roundness and in the Town Hall format delivered by selected citizens or select representatives of the American public via media vote.
The October 9, 2016 debate offered a great non-verbal start. No handshake. That visibly signaled that there’s no respect on either side for the other (an epic impasse).
The first question of the evening in regard to education immediately dictated the decorum that was expected – children are watching and modeling their actions over the people who are competing for the highest position in the land. Was it answered? Yes, and Clinton answered well with fluid body English and competence. It was answered so well that Trump agreed but then turned rebuttal time to launch distrust of Clinton and an alleged history of decision finalizing failures. Non-verbal observations include: the Trump sniffle emerged again after pauses and Clinton seemed to hold a stern listening stance that seethed a bit of disgust. Perhaps the reminder of the previous debate’s MPAA rating kept Trump uncomfortably contained within answer and rebuttal minutes that repeatedly shifted to Clinton fails. There was a little admonishing of the moderators, emphasizing the unfairness of the referees. Likewise Clinton was forced to speed-talk to deflect interested persons to the plan proposals on the platform website.
The media and public were treated to apology, explanation, tone inflections, and composed speaking gestures. (I am focusing on the conveyance methods as much as the messages for a reason.) Everyone was certain that there would be some discussion of the eleven year-old media clip that surfaced as “locker room” talk by Trump. It was equally predictable that the Clinton email issues and disclosed speeches would surface. No one was surprised or disappointed by the surfacing of these issues for another public airing.
Highlights: Immigration issues and their enforcement, religious freedoms, U.S. involvement abroad, rebuild from National healthcare scratch or redefine parts of the Affordable Care Act as a work in progress, the candidate’s SCOTUS preferences for candidacy.
Lowlights: Clinton differentiated statements about public and private opinion with reference to Abraham Lincoln’s tactics. Trump reveals disagreement with running mate on Syria plans without mentioning support loss of other GOP members.
Stabs: 9 calls of “liar” –vs- 6 calls of “unqualified.”
Just as the first question set the tone, the last offered a reveal of its own. “What might you respect or see as testimonial to your opponent’s deserving of respect?” (sic) Clinton did not identify Trump but identified Trump’s family as evidence of success. Trump identified Clinton’s personal tenacity as worthy of respect.
Finally, there was a handshake.
The unspoken communication was consistent with both on split camera, the wrinkle of the nose, the sniffs, the discreet nodding negative, the sweeping hand motions and coaxing finger motions, and the rigid motion of arms and open hands (palms up and down) to force acceptance of ideas. We have all seen motions that reinforce words like “join me” or “my way is right.” The delivery of communication is also subject to gender; it’s significant in how assertive the words or posture is interpreted and not always interchangeably. This is why I chose to format this article without pronouns or first names, because so many things are seen in the male-female dynamic and tint our interpretation of what is actually being said. If you had the chance to know one of these people in a face-to-face, who would give you the most respect if you differed in opinion and go on to try to see the root of the differences and convince you of their effort?
Both now face a final debate and the final leg of the race. Will the country be shaped by Clintonian principles or be rebuilt to operate under Trumptatorship?