Clash of the Titans

by Heather Robinson

The title of this post may be too much a compliment to both of them – as they are more demagogues than demigods – but the Presidential candidates set to debate this evening are alike in two respects: their resilience, and their ruthlessness.

I don’t doubt Hillary works hard and hangs tough – anyone who recalls the bruising 2008 campaign – and who saw her resilience in the wake of her New Hampshire defeat – knows the woman is a gladiator. She has persisted in her single-minded quest to attain the Presidency through scandals, humiliations, and defeat after defeat. Her indestructibility is noteworthy.

And Donald Trump, a builder of skyscrapers, resorts, and reality TV empires, is a man who at age 70 has attempted the nearly impossible: to attain leadership of the greatest nation in the world despite having no political background to speak of and, for most of the race thus far, no party backing. Love him or hate him, anyone who complains about the subordination of the U.S. political system to special interests and parties must concede he has defied expectations in breaking through the status quo and rising, as a private citizen, to become the Republican nominee. It is unprecedented in modern times, and it is impressive.

As Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton has undeniably been guilty of abusing her power, from her use of private e-mail servers to handle classified information and lying about it to the FBI, to joining the Obama Administration in fallaciously blaming the Benghazi attacks on a random filmmaker – which is, to anyone truly concerned about free speech or civil liberties, one of the worst abuses of power she has committed. It was reminiscent of the actions of some of the worst dictators the world has known from Lenin to Mao and if anything, in the opinion of this analyst, is under-emphasized and practically glossed over at this point. But it shouldn’t be.

We’ll see if Donald Trump raises the point tonight, though since he seems to care little for the role of the press and individual rights himself, I doubt he will. More likely he will repeat the point that Hillary lied to the families of the Americans killed in Benghazi about the cause of the attacks – something which, probably because Hillary did this directly and alone (rather than as part of a chorus), is the more frequently cited offense. But callous, self-serving, and unethical as that was, it was not as threatening to the structure of this democracy as the lie that blamed a terror attack on a random citizen. The difference is, while both are part of a cover up, the latter is actually abusing government power and fingering a random individual for government failure. If it goes unchallenged, it means any individual can be blamed and harassed by this government for anything. It was astounding to me that civil liberties advocates largely gave Clinton and Obama a pass for this. Trump should raise it.

Not that Trump’s much better. He, too, has routinely verbally attacked journalists, including Fox News’s Megyn Kelly, for asking him a tough question, thereby schooling him on the role of the press in a free country – a lesson he took with the grace of a tin pot dictator. Disturbingly, he took his time dismissing an aide who allegedly grabbed a female journalist’s arm hard enough to leave bruises in his effort to control information/access. Both Trump and Clinton have demonstrated serious lapses – hers, because she has done so in public office, and because she has conducted shady dealings under a veil of illegitimate and inappropriate secrecy, more serious than his.

To clarify, these lapses are not about a lack of politeness, or a failure, as Trump puts it, to be “nice,” but about lack of basic respect for the unique role of the press as envisioned by the Founders as a watchdog of government and, in Hillary’s case, lack of respect for the value of transparency in government and accountability on the part of public servants to the American people (that they are serving us and not the other way around). In this regard, I am very concerned about the prospect of either one of them as President.

The press and the American people are by and large aware of these candidates’ personalities and weaknesses, at least as far as Clinton is concerned. When one or the other is elected, it will be of utmost importance – more than ever, given the characters of these two ruthless people –for the American people to support the press in digging, in tough questioning, and in demanding accountability and transparency from whoever is Commander in chief. There’s no call for gratuitous disrespect for whomever is elected, but they are elected to serve us and not to enrich, aggrandize, or personally empower themselves, and we will have to be vigilant to ensure they remember that.

These two titans – again, I use the term tongue-in-cheek – have a few things is common. While few of their hard-core supporters on either side – who tend to be reluctant to acknowledge their glaring shortcomings – would acknowledge it, they are both egotists and pretty ruthless people.

In previous eras of U.S. history, we have preferred our leaders’ toughness tempered by other qualities equally important to leadership – high ethical standards, humility, civility, deep respect for democracy and for the values on which this country was founded including, as discussed above, freedom of the press and individual liberties.

Regardless of which of these candidates wins, we will have a President lacking in the virtues of a Lincoln, a Truman, an FDR, or a Reagan. How sad for American democracy that we have two candidates so lacking in respect for our higher ideals.

That said, if there is a silver lining here, I believe it is this: the unique circumstances of this election year have conspired to produce a choice between two individuals who are both tough as nails, and who are probably more ruthless than any other serious contenders for leadership of this country have been in our history.

If I were a terrorist or a brutal dictator, I would not want to provoke either of these people.

Is it possible that for the unique and formidable challenges of our time, the process and the people have chosen the right two contenders?

If we as informed citizens can join Congress and the Supreme Court to keep whichever of them is elected from abusing his/her power and turning that ruthlessness on us, perhaps.

Let the debate begin.

This entry was written by and posted on September 26, 2016 at 7:30 pm and filed under Blog.