(Not the most important thing, but when you’re down, the second worst thing to do is fudge, embellish, concoct, etc. in an effort to get back up.)
“This is not OK, I thought,” Clinton writes. “It was the second presidential debate, and Donald Trump was looming behind me. Two days before, the world heard him brag about groping women. Now we were on a small stage and no matter where I walked, he followed me closely, staring at me, making faces. It was incredibly uncomfortable. He was literally breathing down my neck. My skin crawled.”
Clinton continues: “It was one of those moments where you wish you could hit pause and ask everyone watching: `Well, what would you do?’ Do you stay calm, keep smiling and carry on as if he weren’t repeatedly invading your space? Or do you turn, look him in the eye, and say loudly and clearly: `Back up, you creep, get away from me! I know you love to intimidate women, but you can’t intimidate me, so back up.'”
Ah, but she’s tough and
, “biting my tongue, digging my fingernails into a clenched fist, smiling all the while determined to present a composed face to the world”.
And not once could viewers see a hint of Hillary clenching and digging. Or even one of those autonomous body reflex responses to feeling threatened.
When I read that report, it piqued my curiosity. I recall that in her Senate debate with Lazio, as have others.
“We’ll shake on this right now,” Clinton offered as Lazio invaded her personal space. Her body language was familiar to anyone who’s ever tried to escape from an overzealous conversationalist at a party.
Lazio made himself look like a lunatic. As she’s shown time and time again, Hillary is most likeable when she’s under attack.
I also seem to recall that in one of the early debates in ’08, Obama got too far into her face. To her benefit and his detriment. Being a quick study, he didn’t repeat that mistake. (Sanders and O’Malley seemed to know better than to go there.)
How could something as graphic and important enough to be included in Clinton’s latest memoir not have garnered attention in real time. Anything that scores a point in a debate as this should have from the still pictures and video gets wide play.
It did draw attention from CNN. Trump looms behind Clinton at the debate.
It was perfect timing to add weight to the then trending “pussygate.” If other news operations were on top of it as CNN was, it wouldn’t have answered the question as to why it quckly dropped by the wayside.
Instead of researching and speculating on that question, I did one of those unpopular things and went back to the source material, the video of her second debate with Trump. It’s a mind-numbing task to watch a debate without sound, but it’s the best way to study the visual with the least amount of distraction. Even then the amount of data available can be overwhelming and much of it calls for an interpretation which often ends up what people fight over. (For that reason, I’ll skip over that part of my observations because I don’t enjoy spats over mostly inconsequential minutia and I’ve learned that here no matter how neutrally I phrase anything about Clinton or Trump, it’s not received as neutral.)
Somehow — too much data, a lapse in attention, or ??? — I found myself nearing the end of the debate video without having seen the moments I was looking for. However, that may have been a plus because halfway through it I recognized that the perspective was often distorted. Not intentionally. It was a function of the stage set, camera angles, and shifts from full screen, close-ups, and split screen presentations. Many became more evident after I constructed a mental map of the debate stage.
It’s round with a large inner circle and a two foot border around it. The podiums and chairs for the two candidates are near what viewers would describe as near the back of the circle. The arrangement beginning from stage right is Trump’s podium, Trump’s chair, a center empty space of six to eight feet, Clinton’s podium and then Clinton’s chair, nearest to stage left. There are several feet from the stage right edge of Trump’s podium and the stage left edge of Clinton’s chair to the boundary of the inner circle.
Directly in front of the candidates and near the inner circle boundary is the moderators’ table. Directly behind the candidates is a blank space (approximately 45 degrees — give or take a few degrees (geometry isn’t my forte)). Then there’s an small audience section (45 degreees?) on both sides and those are followed with a second section of similar size. The first sections are mostly not within the candidates’ line of sight when they turned their heads in that direction; they had to turn their bodies to the left or right to get them in full view.
Draw an imaginary line down the center that’s equidistant from the stage left edge of Trump’s chair and stage right edge of Clinton’s podium and a second line from right to left along the front edge of the furniture plus a foot. Trump on the right and Clinton on the left (a coin flip or a set designer’s little joke?). That gave each candidate less than a quadrant of personal space. (Neither candidate was seen to violate this defined area of personal space.)
The remainder of the stage was treated by one candidate as open to whoever chose to make use of it. The other candidate never crossed that center line from back to front, where the moderators were seated. When not responding to a question, Clinton was mostly stationary and mostly seated and Trump remained standing and frequently moved around in his personal space or a few steps forward from the edge of the furniture.
So, how did Trump invade Clinton’s personal space and physically intimidate her with his size? (Clinton’s allegation.)
Here’s what happened. At 24:55 minutes in, a man sitting in the first stage right section posed a question. Trump stood directly in front of that section as the question was asked. He responded in less than ten seconds, turned towards the moderators, motioned to Clinton that she could have the floor, and took several steps towards the moderator’s section. Clinton talked while walking stage right and ended up on the same spot that Trump had used moments earlier. Trump walked back to his podium positioned himself in front of it and faced the stage right audience section that was listening to Clinton. He stood there with few body movements as Clinton answered the question.
Stop the video at 27.21 for the fullest stage front camera view of where the two candidates are positioned. Trump is behind Clinton and is several (at least five) feet away from her.
Clinton completes her answer and returns to her chair. Trump takes up the question and moves near the spot that he and Clinton had both used moments earlier.
Stop the video at 28:37. What you see in this image is Trump in the center and Clinton behind and to the right of Trump. From this camera angle they appear to be in close proximity to each other. But they weren’t. Clinton was in her stage left chair and Trump was no further stage right than his stage right podium. Clinton was positioned to look at the stage right audience section, just as Trump had done while she was addressing that section. Stop the video at 29:46 to see a more accurate view of the distance between them at this point. Not close.
At 30:00 Clinton begins to walk back to stage right and Trump moves back closer to his podium. Trump ends up slightly further (a couple of feet) stage left in relation to his podium and chair then he’d been while Clinton first spoke to the stage right audience. He paces a couple of steps left and then right but maintains his new spot (or mark).
At 31:04 he moves his upper body and face towards the moderators. At 31:13 he gestures to the moderators with his right hand. At 31:26, the right hand gesture is enlarged with the extension of his index finger. Clinton stops speaking and begins to walk stage left and Trump begins speaking towards the moderators. Both candidates end up positioned directly in front of their own chairs, facing the moderators, but Trump appears to be further forward than Clinton. Cooper takes the mic at 31:41.
Recap on this segment:
- Clinton walks behind Trump to get to stage right.
- Clinton walks in front of Trump to return to stage left.
- Clinton walks in front of Trump to return to stage right.
- Clinton walks in front of Trump to return to stage left.
After appearing to cede the question to Clinton, Trump had to move to avoid obstructing Clinton’s view of or path towards the stage right audience section. Turning towards the back empty space and moving to a position on or behind his chair would have been preferable. Why did he move towards the moderators?
Stumped I turned the sound on for a clue. In the moments before the question was asked, Trump had been sparring with the moderators. Trump was attentive to the question from stage right and began to address it when Cooper interrupted him and said that Clinton would go first on this one. Both Clinton and Trump were gracious towards each other as to who would take the question first. If Trump sought to intimidate anyone at this point, it was Cooper and not Clinton, but if he did, the absence of any aggressive body posture, quick steps, or gestures is non-confirming. The video doesn’t include an image of Trump’s face at that point when he turned to return to his defined space. Therefore, no indication that he was surprised to see that Clinton crossed the center line to address this question from stage right.
For all the stage right audience questions, Clinton placed herself stage right in front of the stage right sections.
Later when the stage left audience sections asked questions, Trump responded from a stage right position. As if the imaginary center line between the right and left halves of the stage was a boundary he wasn’t permitted to cross. (Wouldn’t get all Freudian about this.) I don’t know what to make of this, but he did not take advantage of the opportunity to get very close to Clinton’s defined personal space.
One last note. Trump’s hand gestures toward the moderators as Clinton was speaking. He did this frequently throughout the debate. So, in one area he did do debate prep. And it was effective.
Related Note: An NYU professor staged a gender reversal reenactment of several segments of the actual Clinton/Trump second debate (Without the circular stage set that distorted visual perceptions.) The results were surprising.