The Realest Debate Moment Wasn't Between Donald Trump & Hillary Clinton

HEMPSTEAD, NY - SEPTEMBER 26: Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump (R) speaks as Moderator Lester Holt looks on during the Presidential Debate at Hofstra University on September 26, 2016 in Hempstead, New York. The first of four debates for the 2016 Election, three Presidential and one Vice Presidential, is moderated by NBC's Lester Holt. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Source: Joe Raedle/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Monday night's presidential debate between Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton had more barbs than a spool of razor wire, but for me, the realest moment in the 95-minute confab was not between the two major party rivals. Watching from the edge of my seat, the moment when Trump showed his truest colors during an exchange with moderator Lester Holt.

Holt, who anchors NBC Nightly News and was selected by the bipartisan Commission on Presidential Debates, had been the target of pre-debate legitimacy sabotage by Trump, who said the system was rigged partially because Holt was a Democrat.

Holt is a registered Republican.

The pointed exchange came during a segment on racial tensions in America and the need for healing, which led to a discussion of Trump's long-held (and long disproven), recently abandoned campaign to prove that President Barack Obama was not born in the United States.

Trump had just turned a challenge from Holt on Trump's continued "birtherism" claims even after Obama produced his birth certificate in 2011 into an weak attack on Clinton, essentially dodging the question. Holt followed up, saying "But we're talking about racial healing in this segment. What do you say to Americans, people of color who—" before he was verbally trampled by Trump (Trumpled?).

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"I say nothing," Trump replied, tersely. "I say nothing, because I was able to get him to produce it. He should have produced it a long time before. I say nothing."

What most transcripts of the debate have missed was the rest of Holt's question; though it's difficult to hear over Trump's interruption, after listening to it a few times it sounds like he's saying "What do you say to Americans, especially people of color who were affected by it?"

The power of that moment had nothing to do with Trump's words; instead, we were confronted with the image of an African American individual asking a white man and potential President of the United States to speak to members of the African American community (a group Trump is desperately trying to reach out to, supposedly) who were affected by Trump's actions, and being uncivilly blown off.

The reason the moment is so important is because it lays bare one of Trump's worst qualities, and one of his most dangerous liabilities should he win in November: he is fundamentally unable to empathize. The fact that he had neither the patience nor the emotional intellect to listen to and understand Holt's question shows just how poorly he understands race relations in this country, why challenging the citizenship of America's first black president is racist,and how poorly he understands this country in general.

It may not have been the juiciest soundbite, nor, perhaps the most revolting thing Trump said all night. But the image of a white man shouting down a black man on national television who was simply asking for a moment of understanding should set off alarm bells in the mind of every American.

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