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U.S. Presidential Debate Provides Entertainment, Little Clarity For American Muslim Family

Faisal Abdi (center) stands in his kitchen along with his sons Kayse, Guleid, and Samakb after watching the third, and final, presidential debate between Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton at his home in Woodbridge, Virginia, on October 19.
Faisal Abdi (center) stands in his kitchen along with his sons Kayse, Guleid, and Samakb after watching the third, and final, presidential debate between Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton at his home in Woodbridge, Virginia, on October 19.

WOODBRIDGE, Virginia -- Once again, Faisal Abdi gathered his family of six, plus a few friends, in his spacious home in a suburban Virginia subdivision, and tried to make sense of the "circus," in his words, that the U.S. presidential election has become.

Watching the final debate between Republican candidate Donald Trump and his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, on October 19 provided entertainment, but little clarity. Abdi, a native of Mogadishu, Somalia, said he found it hard to determine where the main candidates stand.

"I get calls from around different places around the world, Johannesburg, Nairobi. People asking: 'Is this for real? Is America going to elect this guy?'" he said referring to Trump. "It tells you where we are as a nation. People are fed up with false promises from politicians."

The debate in the Abdi household, accompanying the one shown on millions of U.S. television screens, was a small window into the debates that have gripped many American voters' homes -- off-stage, off-camera, around kitchen tables, behind closed doors -- as the country faces one of the most wrenching elections in generations.

ALSO READ: Final Clinton-Trump Debate: U.S. Presidential Rivals In Their Own Words

Breaking New Ground

With just over two weeks remaining until the November 8 vote, most respected polls show Clinton ahead of Trump, some within a margin of error, and others with the former secretary of state holding a solid lead. But the rawness of the campaign, and the intense devotion of voters to their respective sides, has laid bare deep divisions among the U.S. electorate.

The two previous debates between Trump and Clinton, not to mention the Republican primary debates throughout the spring, have not only broken records for viewership. They've also broken new ground for incivility and subject matter.

As the friends he invited over said their evening Muslim prayers in the main living room where a large-screen TV was set up, Abdi, 52, said he didn't believe some of Trump's more incendiary campaign comments that have offended, among others, African-Americans, Muslims, Mexicans, and women.

Abdi said he had voted in recent elections for Bill Clinton (a Democrat), George W. Bush (a Republican), Barack Obama (a Democrat), and John McCain (a Republican). He said he was conflicted about this year's choices.

"I don't like either of them, but Donald Trump is a joke," said Abdi, who works as a network engineer for the U.S. government agency that oversees airport security. "Hillary, when I listen to her, I feel like I'm talking to a lawyer. I feel like she's hiding something."

His wife, Rahma, 52, said she would never vote for a Republican, ever. "Trump, the way he speaks. I hope America sees who he really is," she said. "I'll be so happy to have a woman for president. I hear Trump speak, at his rallies and all, and I'm scared for my children."

'They're Both Crazy'

During the debate, the audience of eight gathered in Abdi's living room over a spread of chicken wings, chicken tenders, tea, and bottled water, hooted and chuckled as the candidates spoke on TV. When Clinton started discussing a disputed Pacific Rim trade agreement, Abdi muttered, "It's all just talking points."

When Clinton managed to zing Trump for bashing Chinese trade, yet using cheap Chinese steel in his real estate developments, Abdi's middle son, Kayse, laughed, "I knew that was coming."

Kayse, 22, called himself a social conservative, but not a Republican, and definitely not for Trump. "I didn't hate Donald Trump before he ran for president, but I do now," he said.

After Trump refused to explicitly say he would respect the results of the election, Hagi Hussein, a 56-year-old taxi driver in nearby Alexandria, lamented the dominance of the Democratic and Republican parties in U.S. politics. "We need a third party," he said.

Hussein said this year's vote had come down to deciding on the "lesser of two evils."

"America is a great country. Then you have two people talking like that," he said. "This country could have better candidates. Anybody who wants to run this country, you have to be kind, you have be generous, you have to realize we're standing on the backs of immigrants who built this country."

Ahmed Osman, 55, who also drives a taxi cab in Alexandria, asserted that Trump "didn't have a lot of common sense."

"He's focusing on Hillary Clinton. That's all his policy is: 'Hillary Clinton is bad. Hillary Clinton is horrible.' I don't know what he stands for," he said.

"This guy's entire life is about grabbing a women by the genitals," he said, referring to a now infamous audio recording in which Trump is heard using lewd and explicit language as he boasts about groping women. "Now he's trying to grab the country by the genitals."

As the televised debate wound down, Hussein, the taxi driver, summed up a sentiment heard frequently around the United States these days. "I can't wait until this whole thing is finished," he said. "Both of them are crazy."

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    Mike Eckel

    Mike Eckel is a senior correspondent reporting on political and economic developments in Russia, Ukraine, and around the former Soviet Union, as well as news involving cybercrime and espionage. He's reported on the ground on Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the wars in Chechnya and Georgia, and the 2004 Beslan hostage crisis, as well as the annexation of Crimea in 2014.

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