Nineteen days from now, on September 26, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton will take the stage at Hofstra University for the first debate of the 2016 presidential election. It will be one of the most highly anticipated political face-offs in recent US history.
Who will be the winner?
It’s especially difficult to say. Because if you think that Trump and Clinton have been held to the same standards throughout this election season, then I’m not at all sure where you’ve been.
The last few weeks offer a good case in point.
As we enter the home stretch in the 2016 presidential election with 61 days to go, Donald Trump is gaining in the polls.
In the latest CNN/ORC poll, Trump has a slight lead over Clinton, at 45% to 43%, with Clinton losing the nine point lead she held in the previous CNN/ORC poll released August 1.
What has Trump done to warrant this boost in public opinion? Well, he’s been reading more from a teleprompter. Yes, the same Donald J. Trump who once ridiculed his fellow Republican primary candidates for their scripted lack of authenticity has been making more of an effort to stay on message in his campaign speeches.
He also traveled to Mexico to meet with President Enrique Peña Nieto, a meeting viewed initially as an olive branch of sorts to the people he once classified as drug-dealers and rapists.
The trip was in line with the weeks-in-the-making suggestion that Trump was “softening” his stance on immigration.
But then, during his long-awaited speech on immigration, delivered later that night in Phoenix, he vowed once again to build a border wall between the US and Mexico (and have Mexico pay for it, even though “they don’t know it yet”) and to implement mass deportations of undocumented immigrants. A bona fide Twitter fight between Tump and Peña Nieto ensued.
Mexico will pay for the wall!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 1, 2016
Repito lo que le dije personalmente, Sr. Trump: México jamás pagaría por un muro. https://t.co/IJNVe0XepY— Enrique Peña Nieto (@EPN) September 1, 2016
Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton’s campaign has been trying to put out the flames fanned by an AP report on the Clinton Foundation, which showed that as Secretary of State in the Obama administration, she met with people who had donated to the Clinton Foundation. The AP’s leading example? Nobel Peace Prize Winner Muhammad Yunus, who was at the time in trouble with the ruling party of his country. The report’s initial figures also turned out to be incorrect.
So let’s tally this up:
Trump attempts to employ a basic skill used by politicians and public speakers around the world; goes on what essentially becomes a trolling mission to Mexico; vows to, if elected, begin deportations of undocumented immigrants.
Clinton faces questions about meeting, as Secretary of State, with people who had previously donated to the Clinton Foundation, without any actually damning instances emerging.
And Trump moves ahead in the polls.
The 2016 election is turning into a killer bee swarm of double standards and ill-considered priorities.
Could you imagine what would happen if Hillary Clinton got into a scuffle with a foreign leader on Twitter?
Could you imagine, for that matter, if half the things that are true about Trump could be said about Clinton?
The two most blatant areas in which these double standards apply are for Hillary Clinton as a female candidate and as an experienced politician.
Clinton is the first woman to secure a major party nomination for president. As such, she faces pressure to be all things to all people in a way that most male politicians – least of all her current opponent – are not tasked with.
She has to be forceful and passionate, but she can’t push the needle towards yelling or seeming shrill, lest she remind someone of being scolded by their mother.
She can’t put a toe out of line when it comes to policy, but she can’t be seen as preachy or pedantic.
She can’t react too intensely to Trump’s jives, but she also can’t come across as an emotionless robot.
She’s constantly taking flak for her husband’s past infidelities from an opponent who has openly admitted to his previous affairs of his own and who has five children from three different model wives, one of whom accused him of rape.
Her pantsuits are subject to mockery, but when her campaign brings in the queen of fashion, Vogue editor Anna Wintour, to consult on her wardrobe, it’s seen as a desperate bid; trying too hard.
Meanwhile, her opponent’s only distinguishing sartorial features are his red and white baseball caps, the choice of which is, according to his butler, dictated by his mood (white when he’s in a good mood; red when he’s cranky).
Aesthetics and appearance are perhaps the only areas where Trump has faced similarly gross scrutiny – for his hair and the size of his hands, in particular. But these are also topics he himself has returned to for years, encouraging reporters to touch his coiffure or raising the subject of hand size and other anatomical points while on stage during a Republican primary debate.
And then there’s the question of experience. Trump is beloved by his supporters for being the opposite of Hillary in this regard. He’s an outsider; he doesn’t have to bow to the establishment or play by the rules.
Meanwhile, as President Obama put it at the Democratic National Convention, “There has never been a man or a woman — not me, not Bill, nobody — more qualified than Hillary Clinton to serve as President of the United States of America.”
Yet, somehow, her years in the White House as First Lady (a role she challenged and changed the nature of), her two terms as New York State Senator, and her service as Secretary of State are less desirable than Trump’s golf courses, failed casinos and shady university.
Why do we want a politician who doesn’t act like one and has no experience in the field to take on the biggest political role of all? That’s like asking a preternaturally confident med student in their first week to perform your open heart surgery.
Why do we place so much emphasis on Clinton’s or Trump’s speaking styles and gestures over the substance of what they say? What are the qualities we actually care about in a leader?
As Paul Krugman wrote in the New York Times last weekend:
“The best ways to judge a candidate’s character are to look at what he or she has actually done, and what policies he or she is proposing. Mr. Trump’s record of bilking students, stiffing contractors and more is a good indicator of how he’d act as president; Mrs. Clinton’s speaking style and body language aren’t. George W. Bush’s policy lies gave me a much better handle on who he was than all the up-close-and-personal reporting of 2000, and the contrast between Mr. Trump’s policy incoherence and Mrs. Clinton’s carefulness speaks volumes today.
“In other words, focus on the facts. America and the world can’t afford another election tipped by innuendo.”