On the face of it the debate should have been a shoe in. Clinton pointed out that cutting taxes and getting rid of regulations on banking are what wrecked the economy in 2008 and that Obama's actions had steadily rebuilt jobs and laid the foundations for 8 years of recovery. She reminded us of the rather important fact that Trump is a multimillionaire asking for yet more tax cuts for multimillionaires at a time when all of the pain from the bankers' crash has been taken by the middle classes and the poor whilst the rich have continued to get relatively richer. Then she had the good sense to insist that the way forward for the American economy was to invest in future technology - green technology - so that the country remained technologically competitive.
But none of that felt like it was cutting through the real way that people in America are feeling at the moment. There is a fund of anger out there across the whole of the advanced Western world and it is not going away on the basis of careful fact checking of careless and exaggerated claims of extremist politicians. The poor and the middle classes in the West have lost their security and seen their nations move away from a position of providing reliable lifestyles in a world that was under the control of the US and its allies. Instead we all now live in a highly competitive unmanaged world where many countries have the ability to establish efficient manufacturing industries and have an increasingly educated and sophisticated workforce and infrastructure.
When people in the formerly dominant countries feel worried and insecure about their future it is all too easy for politicians to use those fears to gain power and influence. Facing that down requires a clear understanding of the causes of the loss of economic, political and military security in the West and a sharp break from the policies that caused that decline. Trump found it all too easy to attack Clinton for her failure to achieve this. He then proceeded to put forward policies that would actually make life a lot harder and more insecure for the very people who his words were designed to attract. He dangerously mixed fair and accurate criticism with sweeping generalisations about impractically backward looking policies.
When he attacked previous administrations for getting the US involved in a bad war in Iraq without a strategy for the peace and thus empowering ISIS and putting its own citizens more at risk I could hear the mental cheering of much of America. Put simply he was right. It isn't a great idea to waste trillions of dollars, send soldiers off to die for their country and get in return nothing but the complete destabilisation of the Middle East and millions of innocent people's lives destroyed. The fact that Trump is putting forward policies of blundering into even more countries with even less thought is easy for voters to ignore when they have seen the failure of the previous policies every night on their TV for the past ten years. Pointing out the obvious stupidity of Trump's bombastic policies may help Clinton win. Pointing out that Clinton backed this dreadful war will have won a lot more votes for Trump. If you want to be a safe pair of hands you have to have supported sensible safe decisions. Clinton's track record on backing bad wars is every bit as bad as Tony Blair's or Theresa May's.
Even on the economy Trump could play a very powerful card. Claiming again and again that American had let its manufacturing jobs go to China and Mexico hit home psychologically. Pretending that he could bring those jobs back at a stroke by cutting taxes for the very rich was a huge lie but the hope amongst ordinary people that there is a simple easy solution to their economic insecurity can very easily outweigh any cynicism they might hold over politicians' promises. If Trump wins it will be because of the raw visceral belief amongst many ordinary working people that we simply cannot go on like this. Who can blame anyone for getting enthusiastic about false promises when the centre ground doesn't seem to be noticing how bad things have got?
Trump is right that running a huge balance of payments deficit for over 20 years is a real problem for the US - and even more so for the UK. Trump is also right that running up a huge national debt to bail out a banking crisis and having next to nothing substantial to show for it is a horrible problem. He sounds great to a lot of people when he points out these realities. He also sounds plausible when he attacks Clinton for having contributed to the creation of those problems.
Unfortunately the only solutions he is putting forward is narrow nationalism. Close the borders. Build walls. Cut off your country and all will be well. Nothing could be further from the truth. You cannot wish away economic change. The existence of a world economy with efficient producers in many countries is a reality that is here to stay. Trying to close off borders to shut out imports in the middle of a recession has been tried before. In the 1930s. It gave us the Great Depression and the Second World War. Not exactly promising policies to repeat. You can't wall off a modern economy. You can invest in making sure it is equipped to face the future.
But you can understand the temptation to go down that route when Clinton, and so many of the rest of the centre ground politicians, seems so badly unaware of how much has changed and what is really needed to handle the economic requirements of a new era. Any country that wishes to compete successfully with China needs to learn the central lesson of its success. They tried extreme state socialism and got a disaster. The West tried extreme free market capitalism and got a huge crash. When the Chinese decided to combine the power of free markets with the power of state planning they got 30 years of economic success. They are now busily using the power of planning to sort out some of the horrible environmental legacies they gave themselves from going for growth at all costs.
What is needed now is for Western countries to construct their own long term economic investment plans and for all nations to work together to create economic control mechanisms that are powerful enough to manage and guide a world economy. Bland politicians from the centre ground who want us to carry on doing what we've done for the last 30 years are not going to be capable of achieving this. It is going to take a different generation who are not scared to use government to help the economy locally, nationally and internationally.
Clinton has begun to use some of the language of such policies but seems too wedded to the power of finance lobby groups to deliver real step change. Watching the debate I was left with the distinct feeling that she wanted to carry on as normal with a few cosmetic changes. That is a dangerous style to adopt when so many ordinary people have lost faith in their governments. She showed little sign that she had developed an understanding of the scale of the change that is needed.
By comparison there was no sign at all that Trump's loud mouthed blatherings would achieve anything beyond shoring up his own ego and setting off a series of dangerous trade wars and even more dangerous military conflicts. Let us all hope we can survive the difficult decade ahead of us and move forward into a world of more equal countries without the previously dominant ones losing the plot and appointing loud mouthed boasters! We will not be helped if our progressive politicians continue to think that all they need to do is occupy the centre ground and utter some bland sound bites.