Dubai: As Capital Club Dubai drew to a close on Monday evening its first American election debate, twice as many people seated in a packed crowd showed hands of support in favour of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton over Republican candidate Donald Trump.
The results came after a raucous but gentlemanly showdown between a panel of American expats in the UAE — seasoned businessmen, academics and lawyers who firmly squared off on stage from red and blue political camps flanking debate moderator and journalist Frank Kane.
Battle lines for the evening were drawn evenly from the panel comprising members of the Republicans Overseas (UAE branch) and members of the Democrats Abroad (UAE branch).
Talking points repeatedly returned to which candidate will be seen as up to the job when hundreds of millions of Americans take to polling booths on November 8 election day.
Panellists repeatedly cited Clinton as too secretive regarding her use of classified emails and raised unsubstantiated “pay-for-play” political ties to the charitable Clinton Foundation while Trump was castigated as an unstable, racist and misogynist who wants to build a wall along Mexico and apparently revels in not remitting — or revealing — his personal income taxes.
Orlando Vidal, chairman of the Democrats Abroad (UAE branch), told the audience that as a son of parents who were former illegal immigrants in the United States, he objected to sweeping unjust narratives by Trump that portray immigrants as rapists and murderers. The DNC member and former US federal prosecutor said Clinton, in marked contrast to her opponent, “is the most capable and experienced candidate we have ever had for president” citing her time as First Lady as well as two-term New York senator and post as Secretary of State as invaluable.
Vidal charged that Trump has done “nothing” for the US and noted that “he was born with a huge gold spoon in his mouth from his father”.
Vidal said he was baffled as to how Americans living in a tolerant and open Muslim country such as the UAE could consider voting for Trump.
From the Trump side of the fence, panellist William O’Brien, president of the American College of Dubai and retired US Air Force officer, volleyed that Trump was simply calling for proper screening and said anyone who believes border security is “anti-Muslim is idiotic”.
“Donald Trump says its not a good idea to bring in hundreds of thousands of unvetted refugees,” O’Brien said, adding that Trump wants to also bring corporate taxes down to 15 per cent while Clinton wants to keep them at around 35 per cent.
He referred to Clinton as a “left-wing grandma ... like Nurse Ratchet”.
In the Trump camp, panellist and corporate consultant Joshua Atkinson, Republican Overseas director for Dubai, shored up O’Brien’s praise for Trump, asserting that lost US income from tax breaks would be offset by stemming endemic governmental “fraud, waste and abuse that is happening all over”.
Panellist Tony B. Graham, media spokesperson for Democrats Abroad, injected some humour into the highly emotive debate.
“I’m wondering if my friends from the GOP (Grand Old Party) have done stand-up comedy in the past because some of the things they are saying is a joke,” quipped Graham, who called Trump a demagogue. “Of all of the people in your party, you picked this guy [Trump]. You’ve lost the credibility to govern.”
An American expat since 1993 who has worked as a retail banker in eight countries, Graham pointed out that Trump has repeatedly declared bankruptcy and declared net operating losses of $916 million in connection to his failed casino ventures.
But Dr Steven Anderson, chairman of the UAE branch of Republicans Overseas, said Trump is looking out for US expatriates who are — despite living abroad for decades — forced to submit to dual taxation.
An adviser to President Richard Nixon in 1972 and an American expat who has lived across Europe for 31 years, Anderson said he trusts Trump because he is not a politician and wants to change tax laws from the outside.
Trump is reviewing dual-taxation requirements, he said.
“I don’t trust anyone who has spent one year in government, or Congress,” Anderson said, noting that the US is the only country in the world, save Eritrea, which forces its citizens living abroad to pay taxes on income earned outside of the country.
A Clinton panellist and former coalition forces adviser in Iraq, Dr Norman Ricklefs defended Clinton against accusations the FBI has since rejected that she illegally put classified US data in jeopardy noting that “she did nothing illegal, she did the same thing as every Secretary of State before her”.
The classification category of the correspondence she was using was not heavily classified.
Ricklefs, a foreign policy expert who also spent time in Libya, said that “material found on Clinton’s server was barely classified ... it may have been inappropriate, not illegal.”