Women told me they had flashbacks to hideous episodes in their past after the second presidential debate on 9 October, or couldn’t sleep, or had nightmares. The words in that debate mattered, as did their delivery. Donald Trump interrupted Hillary Clinton 18 times (compared to 51 interruptions in the first debate). His reply to the moderator Anderson Cooper’s question about his videotaped boasts of grabbing women by the pussy, which had been released a few days earlier, was: ‘But it’s locker room talk, and it’s one of those things. I will knock the hell out of Isis … And we should get on to much more important things and much bigger things.’ Then he promised to ‘make America safe again’ – but not from him. That week, women and Isis were informally paired as things Trump promised to assault.
But words were secondary to actions. Trump roamed, loomed, glowered, snarled and appeared to copulate with his podium, grasping it with both hands and swaying his hips, seeming briefly lost in reverie. The menace was so dramatic, so Hitchcockian, that the Hollywood composer Danny Elfman wrote a soundtrack for a video edit playing up all the most ominous moments. ‘Watching Trump lurching behind Hillary during the debate felt a bit like a zombie movie,’ Elfman said. ‘Like at any moment he was going to attack her, rip off her head, and eat her brains.’ Friends told me they thought he might assault her; I thought it possible myself as I watched him roam and rage. He was, as we sometimes say, in her space, and her ability to remain calm and on message seemed heroic. Like many men throughout the election, he appeared to be outraged that she was in it. The election, that is. And her space.