After Act III, with its back-and-forth trends and increasing levels of tension, Act IV opens with a dramatic Scene 1: the Hofstra debate, which ends with Trump babbling about Rosie O'Donnell and Alicia Machado over a raucous, discordant soundtrack.
Good News for All Humanity
It is not my habit to invoke a higher power, but Thank Goodness! for Hillary Clinton and her performance, and for her opponent's, in the first Presidential debate. Of course, that is shortchanging the credit she deserves for her determined, well-prepared assault on The Wherever Man's psyche, and the result was not a matter of luck: a psychiatrist would probably insist that, given the Drumpfenkopf's makeup and the correct stimuli, his disjointed, incoherent rants were to be expected.
Still, there was a sigh of relief that could be heard 'round the world after the September 26 encounter. By the time it was over, it was clear that Donald Trump's campaign for Presidency had passed its high-water mark, having reached Clinton's level in the polling, or even slightly higher. She had demonstrated a full recovery from her medical setback with pneumonia and a bad run of publicity; Trump, meanwhile, had his bubble of invincibility thoroughly punctured in their initial showdown.
In my opinion, the critical attack was Clinton's well-prepared listing of the many possible reasons, all of them devastating to his manufactured image, of why he would not release his tax returns. Although there is no legal requirement that he do so, neither does his excuse of an ongoing audit have any merit. He might still publicly release a tax return--for example, his 2015 return, which must be filed in the next couple of weeks, and which could not possibly yet be subjected to audit--but the questions about his missing past returns are not going to go away. He had his chance to make the argument, "I know all the tricks and loopholes, and I will sweep them away," but his tax-cut-for-the-rich proposal does no such thing. It is too late for him to redeem his populist credentials.
I would think it likely that, in at least one of the two remaining debates (assuming he dares to take the stage for both), he will be able to retain his composure through its duration. (His calm, attentive pseudo-Presidential demeanor lasted about 20 minutes for this first one.) He may even find a series of more effective attacks, or more impressively, more effective defense, but he will not be able to wipe that big "L" off his forehead, the virtual image of which has now burned into our memories.
It doesn't hurt that the third-party candidacy of Gary Johnson seems to be flaming out. Perhaps it was inevitable, but he has exhibited a series of blunders which show that he is not a serious aspirant to become Leader of the Free World, and his running mate William Weld has accepted reality and announced his focus from now until Election Day will be on opposing and exposing Trump. So, as the third-party support drifts, it seems unlikely that Trump will gain more than half of the drifters.
Finally, the percentage of undecided seems to be dropping quickly, so there is less of an unknown unallocated factor. There remains the possibility that a significant percentage of the American electorate is hiding its intention to end up supporting him, something not to be ignored, but I don't think indifference or complacency will cause Clinton's defeat. The final straw should be a series of popular heavyweights--Obama, Biden, Gore, Sanders, Warren, Jesse Jackson, and others--who will hit the campaign trail after the debates are over, in order to help enforce the essential truth: a Trump presidency is unacceptable. I would say "unthinkable", but in the days before that fateful debate, we have indeed had to think of what it might mean, even to the point of considering what we, individually, might have to do.
To put it briefly, it does not strain the imagination to think that the damage done by a single term of a Trump presidency could exceed that which Dubya produced in eight years.
The Consequences of a Trump Victory
Certain, or Near-Certain:
--There would be a serious, immediate persistent drop in US equity markets, and in the value of the dollar relative to other currencies. The first, due to the uncertainty; the second, due to the likelihood that the deficit would once again balloon.
--The Senate would remain under Republican control; the Supreme Court vacancy would eventually be filled by a Trump nominee.
--The recovery of America's prestige in the world that President Obama has broadly achieved, especially with our closest allies, would be immediately reversed. With few exceptions, the whole world finds it hard to believe we could elect a person like him, and most nations' leaders and people would take direct offense at the lack of "a decent respect to the opinions of mankind". *
--Acceleration of income inequality; rampant corruption and favoritism.
--Trade barriers would rise all around the world in response to Trump's unilateral actions to impose new tariffs and other restrictions, leading to a deep global recession.
--A rash of new barriers to human migration and to normal travel, ranging throughout Europe, to East Asia, Australia, and Latin America.
--A serious reversal of efforts to reduce greenhouse gas release in the US, which would lead to collapse of the global agreement.
--Widespread protests and demonstrations, in the US and elsewhere, by minority groups and any political sympathizers, which are likely to be repressed violently..
--Russia tests the resolve of its newly empowered "friend" with provocations of hostile neighbors, which will either embarrass the US or entangle it in unwanted new conflict.
--Mexico might decide to retaliate against American injuries by opening up the floodgates and pushing forward refugees from Central America, other Western Hemisphere nations, even from the Middle East, and from among its own prison and criminal populations, fulfilling the negative characteristics that Trump fancifully described. (In this scenario, Trump's Wall might not yet be completed, yet even if it were, it could not effectively prevent the incursion of a determined, massive effort to compromise the borders.)
--New fascist-oriented dictatorships.
--Major conflicts in multiple regions--world war around the "clash of civilizations"?
--Nuclear brinkmanship; a new round of nuclear proliferation (South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Iran abrogates its treaty, Egypt, Turkey...)
--Collapse of the Western parliamentary democratic consensus.
I have previously referred to Donald Trump as a modern-day Alcibiades, the ancient Athenian demagogue of dubious loyalty during the Peloponnesian War. I am rethinking this, though; in general, analogies to the Roman Empire are more appropriate for this American era, and, though Trump is erratic, I would be surprised if he turned up in the Kremlin directing strategy against us. In this regard, the historical persona to which Trump most resembles is Caligula, the degenerate emperor who mocked and degraded everything and everyone, and, in so doing, became a figure of ridicule for history.
The fourth act of this play, which is still waiting for its title--it will either be the historical drama "Hillary Clinton" (I'm thinking it's not "H.C., Part I") or the farcical "Donald Drumpf and the Downfall of the American Empire, Part I"--sets itself up for us to anticipate fairly clearly. The VP debate was a brief interlude in front of the closed curtain after Scene 1; Scenes 2 and 3 would presumably be the two upcoming Presidential debates, leading to the frantic Scene 4 in the weeks before the Election, and the unpredictable, climactic Scene 5 (and the denoument, the day after, Scene 6, which would normally be expected to end the show).
*a phrase quoted from the introduction to the Declaration of Independence.