Chris Powell: Trump didn't even try to act presidential

Who won the first debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump on Monday night?    For simple demeanor, Clinton did. Both candidates scored some blows against the other personally.

When national policy issues managed to break through the muck,  Clinton was more familiar with them, if not exactly persuasive.    Trump was himself -- incorrigible, blustering, always interrupting, rude,  bullying, disjointed, unresponsive, changing the subject, falling back on generalities, falsely denying past statements he has made, and completely without respect for others.   

Clinton was sometimes smug and even robotic as she struck certain poses obligatory for Democrats but at least she followed the rules and didn't interrupt or bully.   

As for the issues, such as they were: Trump blamed the decline in well-paying jobs on China's devaluing its currency and Mexico's imposing a tax on imports. He didn't recognize the role played by the U.S. dollar's imperial status as the world reserve currency, which allowsAmericans to run huge trade deficits with borrowed money and to purchase from abroad what they really didn't earn, thereby exporting those jobs.   

Clinton said the country needs a tax system that "rewards work and not just financial transactions," forgetting her subservience to Wall Street and that of her husband, the former president. Then she faulted Trump for having got started in business with money from his father, as if she and her husband won't be providing a big inheritance to their daughter.   

Clinton got the better of their exchange over Trump's refusal to disclose his tax returns as all recent presidential nominees have done. Trump made the strange pledge to disclose his returns when Clinton disclosed the semi-official e-mails lost or deleted from her improper email system when she was secretary of state. The pledge was effectively a confession to Clinton's charge that Trump was hiding "something terrible" -- probably that he pays no federal taxes.

Atleast Clinton admitted that she had been wrong to maintain a private e-mail system.   

Trump scored by contrasting the federal government's huge debt against the country's "Third World" infrastructure.  

 Clinton scored by raising Trump's business bankruptcies and his cheating his contractors.

Trump had no good defense against this, arguing only that he had availed himself of the law.   

Clinton acknowledged the racial tensions in criminal justice without offering any specifics for solutions. Trump only struck a pose for "law and order," as if "law and order" excuses police shootings of unarmed black men.   

Clinton knocked Trump's reckless comments about Muslims for insulting importantU.S. allies. Trump responded that as secretary of state Clinton had helped worsen the morass of the Middle East, particularly with Iraq, Iran, and Libya --  incisive criticism that he failed to develop.   

Trump dissembled pathetically about his longstanding and recent pursuit of President Obama's birth certificate to establish that Obama was constitutionally disqualified for the presidency.

Clinton plainly was more familiar with the specifics of national issues by virtue of her decades of experience in politics and government.

Trump disparaged Clinton's experience as signifying her responsibility for the country's decline.  Indeed, the country senses its decline and is angry about it and wants change even if it doesn't know exactly what sort of change it wants.  

 Trump has not yet gone beyond reflecting the anger. His opportunity Monday night was to calm down, move beyond the bluster, sharpen his focus, master some issues, and show himself capable of the sobriety, dignity and expertise needed to be a successful president -- to earn trust. Astoundingly and lazily, he didn't even try.

Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester,  Conn., and a longtime essayist.