Puppets of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump

I stayed up to watch the first US presidential debate. Here’s the lowdown

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton debated each other for the first time last night. American in London JC Proctor stayed up through the night to watch what happened

Okay, so I’m pretty hyped about the first presidential debate. This year’s election is certainly one of the most extraordinary, just in terms of the personalities involved, and it feels like the whole world is watching what we do, so I thought I’d stay up all night, eat lots of snacks, drink lots of tea and find out what the candidates had to say.

1. Get the pizza in

A pizza
Pizza, of course...

When it comes to food, I’m sticking to a traditional American pre-game meal — pizza — and saving the serious snacking for prime time. Alcohol is probably a bad idea. If I’ve learned anything overseas, it’s to go for caffeine during late night US events (don’t want to be falling asleep during the third quarter of a dull Super Bowl again!). Also, it looks like popular games like ‘drink every time someone tells a lie’ could be a serious public health issue this year.

2. Do homework on most-watched US TV of all time

Okay, perhaps just the one drink...

Americans love records, and this debate might just set one. Nearly 106 million people watched the last ever episode of MASH in 1983, but that was beaten by the 115 million people who watched the 2015 Super Bowl. Advertisers are expecting at least 100 million tonight!

3. Clear out enough space in my comically small London apartment

A very small apartment in London
Just one of the many things London and New York have in common...

4. Stash enough carbs and caffeine to stay up for hours of post debate spin, set up the livestream and let the games begin

A computer screen showing the live stream of US presidential debate
Wifi, don't fail me now

To start the debate Lester Holt, the moderator, basically just says the word ‘jobs’ followed by a massive question mark. So guess I’ll start with…

5. Jobs

Graph showing the US unemployment rate

It’s all about creating jobs apparently (something economists fight about a lot). That’s why both Hillary and Donald say that experts think their plan will create loads of jobs. Hillary seems to think jobs can be created by new investment in things like education, technology and infrastructure. Donald talks mostly about cutting taxes and renegotiating trade deals. But explaining the logic behind those proposals is probably more important that putting numbers on exactly how many jobs they’ll create. Neither really do.

Also, it’s good keep in mind that unemployment in America is about as low as it’s been since the 1970s. Creating jobs is great and all, but right now we have plenty of jobs. The bigger, and trickier issue, is creating good, high-paying jobs.

6. Trade


Donald Trump talks a lot about other countries taking American jobs. But he never seems to give much context to how big the problem is. So, just how many jobs are in danger of going overseas? Well, only about 9% of US employment is in manufacturing. And the number of manufacturing jobs hasn’t actually fallen all that much since the 1990s. So while closed factories are obviously an issue, it takes a little more to show that competition from overseas is economic problem number one.

That’s obviously not to say that  deals are all great. But if your big plan to fix the economy is to reverse bad trade deals, I need a little more convincing that the trade deals are actually that much of a problem. After getting pushed to the left by Bernie Sanders earlier this year, Hillary is also skeptical of new trade deals. But when she talks about what’s wrong with the economy, she focuses on things she believes led to the 2008 crash, like low taxes on the wealthy, not enough investment in the middle class and poor  of Wall Street.

7. Debt

US debt clock
Take a look at www.usdebtclock.org - it's very scary!

About half way through the part on the economy, Trump started using the $20 trillion  (that's the total the government 'owes') to knock Clinton. Clinton got in on the debt action as well, claiming Trump’s tax cuts would add trillions to this figure.

But neither explained if $20 trillion is actually a lot. Or if that much debt is a problem. Or why we have that much debt. That’s probably something they should talk about if they’re going to keep bringing up this as reason we should or shouldn’t do things.

About $5 trillion of the $20 trillion debt is actually owned by the federal government. The Federal Reserve, America’s central bank, owns another $2.5 trillion, and state and local governments own close to another trillion. The fact that the government owes almost half the debt to itself is probably something that should come up when we’re talking about debt. Also, the US can always print money to pay off its debts. That might not be a great idea, but it’s something to keep in mind when politicians say we’re being strangled by high debts.

8. My overall impression

Hillary Clinton shakes hands with Donald Trump
Image: © Julio Cortez / AP/Press Association Images

These debates are always messy but this one was particularly hard to follow. Here’s my thoughts as to why:

  1. It jumped around a lot
  2. They couldn’t agree on what the other was proposing to do
  3. They couldn't agree on basic cause and effect
  4. Jargon salad
  5. They kept appealing to ‘independent experts’
  6. No context for the big numbers


I’ve got a bunch of economics degrees and I couldn’t really follow what was going on. It’s natural that there’s some disagreement on how economics works. So when one economists says a tax cut will kill jobs, another says it will create jobs. The candidates played on this confusion and never really explained the logic behind their respective arguments.

Clinton probably came closest when she talked about how public investments in things like clean energy or debt-free college can create growth. Trump also bragged about not paying income tax at one point, so I’m giving the economic round of this debate to Hillary.

9. Sleep!

A man jumps on a bed

Well that was exciting, interesting, and a bit confusing. It’s almost 6am here and work starts at 10am, so I guess I should call it quits. The vice presidential candidates have their debate next Tuesday. Looks like I won't be getting much sleep this month!

Check out NPR for a full fact check and transcript of the debate

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