PARIS -- When you filter out all the background noise generated by the first presidential debate between Republican nominee Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, you realize that this contest isn't about right versus left at all. Just throw out the old paradigms of Republican and Democrat because they no longer apply.
In the face of personal or professional criticism, Clinton, a decades-long political fixture and the establishment candidate in this race, plasters on a grin because that's what her K Street advisers figure voters want to see.
No one grins like this in real life other than people posing for Christmastime photos on Santa's knee at the mall or shady people trying to sell you something dodgy. It smacks of inauthenticity and makes people wonder what's behind the mask. That mask slipped periodically during Monday's debate when Clinton appeared more focused on thinking about what she was going to say than on how she came across. In those moments, I actually found myself preferring the creepy grin.
Meanwhile, critics have accused Trump of being unprepared and failing to convey optimism. Could it be that Trump didn't feel like getting up in front of America and acting like a big phony?
Establishment Hillary nagged anti-establishment Trump about releasing his tax returns (even though Trump has been audited regularly by tax authorities) and claimed that Trump has paid no federal income taxes some years. Trump is an entrepreneur who is legitimately entitled to business write-offs. Clinton, meanwhile, has raked in millions of dollars through her family charity, the Clinton Foundation, which has accepted donations or speaking fees from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group (an organization promoting the climate-change agenda), Goldman Sachs, Citibank, Bank of America, Merrill Lynch, Credit Suisse and even Hofstra University, which hosted Monday's debate.
Trump realizes that everyone's taxes are way too high and are wasted largely on government uselessness -- something that establishment figures rarely ever consider. And when anti-establishment Trump said Monday that he plans to reduce the corporate tax rate to 15 percent in order to repatriate American jobs and encourage entrepreneurs, establishment Hillary acted as if the middle class couldn't possibly benefit from it, calling it a "trumped-up trickle-down" plan. She implored voters to rely instead on her and on her establishment cronies to decide what's best for them and their families.
"And so what I believe," Clinton said, "is the more we can do for the middle class, the more we can invest in you, your education, your skills, your future, the better we will be off and the better we'll grow"
If establishment Hillary and her ilk weren't so busy vilifying Russia, they might have learned something from the tax reforms implemented by Russian President Vladimir Putin, which have resulted in a tenfold increase in the nation's gross domestic product since 2000. A centerpiece of that reform is a flat income tax rate that has been lowered to 13 percent for individuals and 20 percent for businesses.
Russia is now doing Reagan capitalism better than America, and establishment Hillary is up there grinning away like the corners of her mouth are competing in an endurance contest.
The establishment exists to perpetuate itself and to secure its individual members' places at the trough. If the establishment had any legitimate interest in taking care of the middle class, it would have happened long before now. Instead, prosperity has been slipping away at an increasingly faster rate.
What exactly has establishment Hillary done during her many years in public life to suggest that she's going to suddenly transform herself into a whirling dervish of brilliant ideas? The establishment relies on your trust in their well-crafted words and would rather not be asked to provide proof of action.
Meanwhile, anti-establishment Trump tried to explain Monday how the concept of deal-making can be applied to foreign affairs in order to save America some serious money and headaches.
"China should go into North Korea," Trump said. "China is totally powerful as it relates to North Korea. And by the way, another one powerful is the worst deal I think I've ever seen negotiated that you started is the Iran deal. Iran is one of their biggest trading partners. Iran has power over North Korea."
Asking China and/or Iran to exert influence on the rogue nation of North Korea hasn't been tried yet, mainly because no one so far outside the establishment box has ever made it as far as Trump has in a presidential race.
America can choose the Trump Turnpike to potential prosperity or the Hillary Highway to oblivion. The rest of the noise generated by the presidential debates is just the soundtrack for the trip.