In politics trust is the coin of the realm; both presidential candidates suffer from dismal ratings in that category that are unprecedented for seekers of the most important office in the land.
If the election will be determined by which candidate is perceived the least untrustworthy based on character variables profoundly different for each of the presumptive nominees, we are lacking in any historical guidance.
No candidate for president has ever won or even run who set out to alienate practically every voter group including his own party.
No woman has ever been a major party nominee with decades-long performance that is both highly praised by her supporters and so strongly disliked by others.
No nominee of either party has ever sought the highest office without at least a modicum of political or military experience.
No nominee with such extensive training both nationally and globally has ever been as negatively received by a significant segment of the voter population.
The contrasts between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are stark and will be further accentuated in the months ahead. With no precedents to go by, it makes any handicapping of this race nearly impossible and more surprises sure to come.
If we are keeping score the first rounds must go to Trump just for surviving after being counted out repeatedly by practically everyone.
After dispatching Bernie Sanders, Clinton has been on the rebound despite the dark clouds still hovering and went from coronation-ready to questionable status.
With U.S. Attorney General, Loretta Lynch’s dismissal of all criminal charges against Clinton for the widely criticized email indiscretions she gains some breathing room although in exonerating her, FBI Director, James Comey, made a point of characterizing her conduct as “extremely careless.”
But will the public chastisement be sufficient to appease Clinton’s opponents who smell blood in the water? And does it really matter to her core supporters who are apt to choose forgiveness over the alternative?
House Republicans have already called for further hearings into Clinton’s email practices to determine if some in her inner circle headed for key Administration posts should be barred from receiving any classified information!
That by itself could raise some interesting constitutional questions.
House Speaker, Paul Ryan, went a step further asking the Director of National Intelligence to personally deny Clinton access to classified intelligence briefings typically shared with presidential nominees.
That will only stir the cauldron some more and get nowhere.
Comey has gone to some lengths to explain that while Clinton’s poor judgement cannot be condoned, the FBI did not find “intentional and willful mishandling of classified information,” evidence of disloyalty to the U.S. or any efforts to obstruct justice.
Those might all rank as indictable acts but there is not a scintilla of evidence to support such accusations.
In other words Clinton made a perplexing, lamentable, inexcusable “mistake” when she used a private email server to convey official business. By admitting to it immediately, she might have contained the fallout. Instead she was not forthcoming—a serious miscalculation by her and her advisors.
Is the email fracas sufficient in and of itself to imperil Clinton’s prospects of claiming the presidency? Already her standing was shaky because of the well-choreographed history of black marks she has accumulated rightly and wrongly as someone in the unforgiving public spotlight for decades?
Recent occupants of the White House have committed far worse deeds.
George W. Bush launched a costly war against Iraq on the serious misrepresentation that it was harboring WMDs (weapons of mass destruction) which it turned out did not exist. While it led to the hanging of a brutal tyrant, it also paved the way for instability in the region, declining influence throughout the Middle East, and the rise of ISIS.
Bill Clinton was deceitful about his extra-marital affairs which did not imperil national security nor lessen his popularity, but raised doubts about his character and tarnished his legacy which his VP, Al Gore chose not to embrace, attributing to his defeat in the minds of many with a major assist from the U.S. Supreme Court.
Richard Nixon, who can be credited with opening the door to China, founded the EPA, and oversaw adoption of the Clean Air and Water Acts, resigned in disgrace rather than face certain impeachment for high crimes and misdemeanors that roiled the nation.
None of these gentlemen—flawed as they were and each of whom broke faith with the American people— would be adjudged as unqualified to serve as president.
If people have lost confidence in Clinton, what standards should we apply to Donald Trump, the presumptive GOP nominee whose biggest policy decision in recent years was how quickly to sell off his bankrupt gambling holdings.
If Clinton is to be accused of email deceit what should we say about someone who has turned misogyny, xenophobia, hate-mongering and bigotry into an art form for winning the presidency?
PolitiFact, the Florida non-partisan fact-checking group reports that of 158 over-the-top statements Trump has uttered, 78% were outright lies.
On that scale alone Clinton wins the veracity contest hands-down.
However, if we have lowered the bar for presidential readiness to this level we might as well be holding an election for homeroom president.
Hillary Clinton has a serious imagery problem which overshadows her considerable achievements and she may have long ago forfeited any chance of ever becoming a beloved figure for her many detractors.
However, lovability and capability have little to do with one another and I’ll choose the latter any time.
If only the choice was that simple!
To compare her bona fides with an opponent quite comfortable with the idea of imposing demagogic rule if elected and whose competence in the perilous arena of governance has never been tested and is not evident in anything he has ever said or done presents risks no voter should want to take.
To use one of Trump’s favorite words, it would be great if the country did not have to be put through this demeaning tour of one individual’s power-driven escapade so his party and the nation could find their own souls.
Paraphrasing William Faulkner’s optimistic Nobel Prize winning address in 1949, I would venture that in the end common sense will not merely endure, it will prevail.