Few things make me more suspicious than when a politician says, “trust me” or “that’s the honest truth.” In the 2016 presidential campaign, fact not only seems stranger than fiction; it often feels like a stranger.
While Donald Trump has elevated misinformation, distortion and outright lies into an art form, Hillary Clinton is also a seasoned pro when it comes to fabrication, misstatement and denial to fit her narrative. Between the two of them, they could short circuit a polygraph machine.
As a pragmatist, I like to go by the numbers. One of my favorite websites is PolitiFact, which employs a Truth-O-Meter that analyzes and organizes politicians’ public statements into six categories: True, Mostly True, Half True, Mostly False, False and Pants On Fire. For Trump, 70 percent of his “factual” statements fall under the latter three and for Clinton, 25 percent (with another 22 percent rated as half-truths). When it comes to accuracy, honesty and integrity, American voters are being fed a lean diet, especially when dinner is on The Donald.
Speaking of Trump’s aversion to reality, his campaign reached a new low for hypocrisy, when his national spokesperson, Katrina Pierson, defended the GOP presidential candidate against criticism about his recent turnaround on immigration policy. “He hasn’t changed his position on immigration,” she insisted. “He’s changed the words that he is saying.” Even the joke writers for late night talk shows had to be stunned by that zinger. And his “diplomatic” mission to Mexico and follow-up speech in Arizona continued to demonstrate he’s an Olympic caliber double-talker who simply changes stances based on the audience. Trump’s handlers start to swoon every time he strays from a teleprompter.
But let’s turn our attention to Hillary, who along with her husband, Bill, seems to feel that anything less than “indictable” constitutes acceptable behavior. Combining their nuanced approach to veracity and predisposition towards stonewalling, the operative sentence could be, “I did not have sex with that server.” With the Clinton Foundation firestorm now taking center stage in the national conversation, (temporarily moving her e-mail crisis to the back burner), one has to wonder if she understands that habitually avoiding or spinning the facts will prevent her from being elected, no less an effective president. In a June interview Clinton said, “Truth is the glue that holds our democracy together.” I agree wholeheartedly, but it should be Super Glue, not Elmer’s Paste.
Once again, a Clinton calamity has been totally self-inflicted; it’s just a continuation of this attitude that the rules that apply to most people don’t apply to them. One thing that has always irritated me about the Clintons is getting an apology out of them is like pulling teeth. A little over a week ago, Hillary finally told CNN’s Anderson Cooper, “I have been asked many, many questions in the past year about emails and what I have learned is that when I try to explain what happened, it can sound like I am trying to excuse what I did. And there are no excuses. I want people to know that the decision to have a single email account was mine. I take responsibly for it. I apologize for it. I would certainly do differently if I could.” Hallelujah!
If both the private email server and Clinton Foundation controversies don’t involve criminal acts, Hillary will survive them both. But there’s no one that it looks worse on and it just reinforces the lack of trustworthiness that people feel about her. A Pew Research survey shows that in comparing presidential candidates, when it comes to the phrase “honest and truthful,” 40 percent say it better describes Clinton, 37 percent say it applies more to Trump and 20 percent say that it better describes neither candidate, proving that a serial fibber is only slightly more respected than a pathological liar. Running against a morally corrupt individual like Trump lets Clinton off the hook — if she were up against against a more honorable and ethical opponent, her campaign would be in big trouble. The depressing thing is that the only Republican that Hillary could beat is Trump and the only Democrat that Trump could beat is Hillary.
That leaves us with two fundamental questions. How did politics stray so far from “honesty is the best policy” and how do we steer it back towards greater transparency? In just over 60 days, this election will be over and we will have a new president-elect. As a practical Republican, I’m voting for Clinton because the thought of Trump presidency terrifies me. But she must change her stripes when it comes to being more candid and authentic if she wants to get things done. This includes holding press conferences (she’s yet to have one in 2016), rather than just give speeches and grant one-on-one interviews. Unscripted Q&As with the Washington press corps should be obligatory, not optional.
A new president, Congress and Senate offer the opportunity to learn from our mistakes and move forward with greater insight and intelligence. But let’s remember the words of Thomas Jefferson, who said, “Truth is the first chapter in the book of wisdom.” The American people must demand that the next version of that book become a bestseller. And the only way to do that is to make sure it’s listed under non-fiction.