DEBATE ROUND 1: Hillary, Trump Trade Jabs and Ironies

In an early episode of the sitcom King of Queens, tempestuous Arthur Spooner (Jerry Stiller) stalks into his daughter and son-in-law’s bedroom and awakens them to announce he’d discovered the adjective “ironic” didn’t mean “made entirely of iron”. Well, if that definition were to hold, the candidates, moderator and audience present at this week’s first presidential debate would have had to cover up frantically — because, for over ninety minutes, the “irony” was flying thick and fast. Hewing to the actual definition of the word? Hillary Clinton’s and Donald Trump’s rhetorical exchanges were rife with “ironic” moments: that is statements that were “incongruous, contradictory, discordant”.

Just a sampling from what was, overall, a thoroughly demoralizing affair on both sides:

— Pretty quickly Hillary set out questioning the Manhattan billionaire’s integrity. Yes, go back and read that one slowly: She of legendarily Clintonian dissembling, duplicity, subterfuge — lying! — took a shot at Trump for being dishonest and disreputable.

Duck!! Big hunk of irony incoming!

— The former First Lady gravely intoned America needs a Chief Exec who’ll assure our allies “America’s word [will be] good”. No, this was not a clip from a Saturday Night Live skit: the woman whose public statements can virtually never be taken at face value actually uttered that phrase.

Yup, an Oval Office contender who’ll summon the machinery of the U.S. Government to levels of rectitude unknown since the days of George Washington; an aspiring leader of the free world who’ll undeniably earn the planet’s monumental confidence — that’s Hillary to a “T”; or an “H”; or … whatever.

— Howz ’bout her fumingly upbraiding Trump for his scabby treatment of women? Note, this from Mrs. Bill Clinton, soullessly enabling spouse of the erstwhile Hound-Doug in Chief. His entire political career, recall, is littered with the husks of his sexual cast-offs; women used, affronted, assaulted, abandoned by Hillary’s big, libidinous lug of a man; many of them whose shabby experience was significantly worsened by Hillary and Crew’s reptilian attempts to silence them or sully their reputations.

I’m not sure which is more glaring irony-wise — her leading the charge against Trump on this matter during Monday night’s back-and-forth or her website’s text — eventually partially expunged — directed at “every survivor of sexual assault”: “Don’t let anyone silence your voice. You have the right to be heard. You have the right to be believed, and we’re with you.”

— Madame Secretary portentously leveled her eyes at the camera talking up the importance of American cyber-security. Seriously. She of home-brewed-computer-server, thirty-thousand-self-deleted-emails infamy? She for whom “I don’t recall/remember” became the mantric response to scores of FBI questions regarding her mishandling of classified information?

That one was a hanging, ironic softball Trump should have belted out of the park. He didn’t.

And speaking of the fellow glowering across the stage from the Democrat nominee: Yes-siree, lots of the big “I” showing up on Trump’s part, as well:

— The Republican nominee who’s refined (or defiled) name-calling to a pustalating art form sanctimoniously chided his opponent for reportedly once applying the ominous byword “super-predator” to “young black youth”.

First off, anytime Hillary — or anyone else — wants to vociferously brand violent, gang-banging thugs “super- predators”; whatever their skin pigmentation? In an exceedingly rare instance, let me say, “Yay, Hillary!” — or “Yay!” to whoever is evincing the guts to speak with such indispensable and refreshing frankness.

Second, suddenly Donald “Lyin’ Ted”-“Little Marco”-“Bimbo”-“Loser”-“Wacko”-“Sick Puppy”-“Pathological” Trump has a problem with less-than-dainty verbiage?

Who knew?

Watch out! Screaming Irony Alert!!

It’s echoes of Laura Ingraham, one of the mogul’s early talk-radio devotees, who pitched during the GOP convention’s Trump coronation, “We have to restore respect, across all levels of society.” (Worthy sentiments, indeed, Ms. Ingraham. You might want to slide that memo over to your candidate.)

Irony on stilts.

— “I … have a much better temperament than [Hillary] has”, expounded Mr. Trump to well-over eighty-million broadcast viewers.

He might, he might not. But, candidly, hearing the brash businessman/TV reality star knocking anyone, ever, for his/her temperament is, well — odd? Think: Donald Trump red-faced with rage when Jeb Bush forcefully challenged him during a GOP primary exchange or suggestively snorting about his penis size. Think: his convulsively lampooning Ben Carson’s Christian testimony or profanely berating a sound tech before a TV audience of millions. Think: his spastically mimicking a reporter, Ted Cruz, an Army general or crassly insulting the physical appearance of Carly Fiorina, Heidi Cruz, Rand Paul.

All that aside, observe the chronic interrupting and Mussolini-scowl throughout a significant part of the recent Hillary square-off.

Some indicators of a less-than-rock-solid disposition? Perhaps. At minimum, it fits the irony-profile.

Further to that, Bill Bennet, another radio-talk Trump booster and author who knows a thing or two about character and temperament (The Book of Virtues, The Moral Compass), remarked on the “hubris” Hillary exhibited during Monday night’s appearance.

As with radio host Ingraham, Bennet would do well to keep in mind his guy when floating such charges: Donald Trump, after all, interminably puffs about things like his “very good brain”, “very high IQ”, his using “the best words”, his “strongest asset by far … [his] temperament”.

Then there’s the time he emphasized to 60 Minutes‘ Lesley Stahl, “I am actually humble. I think I’m much more humble than you would understand.” Hmm, boasting about one’s humility.

Not exactly a study in self-effacement. Definitely a study in irony.

Postscript: an individual’s irony-dabbling doesn’t automatically negate the validity of statements they might make. Truth is truth, even when heralded by a hypocrite, even when promoted by a person whose personal behavior doesn’t honor it. Jesus Himself acknowledged this no-nonsense wisdom when he urged the crowds to heed the instruction spoken by two-faced religious leaders (Matthew 23:1-3): Do as they say, not as they do, so goes the apothegm.

All truth is God’s truth, it seems – even when it’s steeping in a soup of politicians’ self-induced irony.

Images: modified from: Clicker-free-vector-images;; tiburi;; CC0; Public Domain

Share if you agree the irony was pretty thick on both sides of this presidential debate.

About the author: Steve Pauwels

Steve Pauwels is pastor of Church of the King, Londonderry, NH and an editor of He's also husband to the lovely Maureen and proud father of three fine sons: Mike, Sam and Jake.

View all articles by Steve Pauwels

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