The Danger Of False Equivalence
There are not “two evils.” There is one. And his name is Donald Trump.By Karen Topham, September 17, 2016
How is it possible, this close to an election between one of the most qualified people ever to seek America’s highest office and an orangutan with a bad haircut and a worse attitude, that polls not only show the race is close but actually give the orangutan a chance to win?
How is it possible, after eight years of among the worst, most ineffective Congresses in the history of the United States, featuring a Senate that prides itself on not doing its job, with an approval rating in the single digits, that polls continue to indicate that voters are willing to keep these clowns in office?
How is it possible, given the unequivocal fact that Donald Trump has, from the very second he declared his candidacy, done everything he could to undermine every standard of decency previously adhered to by Presidential candidates, even to the point of tearing down the veil that had masked the racism and misogyny of his party for decades and placing it front and center, that he has not already been relegated to the garbage heap of history?
How is it possible, as we actually watch the “deplorable” behavior of his supporters again and again for ourselves, that anyone anywhere has any doubt that the adjective fits perfectly?
There are some who would provide a two-word answer to these questions—Hillary Clinton—and others would nod and understand: of course, only in a contest against someone as horrible as Hillary could these Twilight Zone occurrences be happening. Only a candidate this outrageously bad could keep Trump in a race that should have been over before it began. Only a nominee with more baggage than a Dahmer/Manson ticket could have this kind of impact.
But the real two-word answer is far different: false equivalence.
False equivalence is what happens when you are led to believe that two things should be given equal weight in your considerations as you come to any given decision, while those two things are not in any way actually equivalent. For example, let us consider the matter of climate change. John Oliver, on his HBO program Last Week With John Oliver, debunked the usual cable TV false equivalence in this issue dramatically last year. While today’s media tends to have one “expert” present each “side” of an argument, Oliver pointed out that, in the case of climate change, where 99/100 scientists agree that it is real and caused by humans, this one vs. one presentation creates a clear misconception for the viewer: a false equivalence. So he did the truly “fair and balanced” thing: he had 99 scientists argue against 1 in favor of man-made climate change.
This year’s political race is only close because of false equivalence. When people say, as the vast majority of Americans do, that we are choosing “the lesser of two evils,” they have succumbed to a meta-message about Hillary Clinton that has been carefully nurtured for two and a half decades by those with something to gain in order to create the notion that she is untrustworthy, when the truth is diametrically opposite to that.
Did I mention before that Hillary Clinton is one of the most qualified people ever to seek the Presidency? That is not my opinion. No less a personage than President Barack Obama said it at the DNC:
But Obama didn’t just pull that notion out of his ears either. In March, 2015, Dan Payne of WBUR penned an article in which he argued: She may be the most qualified candidate for the presidency in a generation.
Despite ceaseless attacks on her that continue to this day, in 2014 she was named — for the 13th straight year and 19th time overall — by the American people as the most admired woman in the world, according to the Gallup organization.
Forbes magazine ranked her as one of most powerful people in the world nine times. She has been named eight times to Time magazine’s most influential 100 people on the planet.
He quoted former Speaker Nancy Pelosi, among several others: “She would be the most qualified person to enter the White House in modern history. She’d be the best qualified person we’ve seen — with all due respect to President Clinton when he went in, President Obama and President Bush and everybody else.”
Now we can argue all we want about whether being well-qualified will make you a good President. What we can’t do is argue that her opponent is qualified in any way, shape, or form.
But back to the Hillary Issue, the matter of false equivalence:
Why DO so many people—a large majority of Americans—seem to feel that this is an election between two bad choices? The lesser of two evils?
It’s easy to see the evil in Trump. Only his “basket of deplorables” can’t see it, and honestly that should disqualify him right there. But why do so many people feel Hillary is just as bad? And they do: not just uneducated people, not just Republicans, but perfectly educated Democrats as well. So many of them repeat ad nauseum their concerns about all of the investigations (she must have done something) or the Foundation (Pay to Play!!!) to Benghazi (let it rest, for God’s sake! Eight GOP-led hearings and zilch!!!) to emails (again, nada: oh, she needed to be more careful...is that the sum total of all they have after 25 years of digging for dirt????). Seriously: they repeat these things again and again as if (A) they have actually read about them (which in most cases they have not, and (B) they mean anything at all (which they simply don’t).
WHAT??? You say. They don’t mean anything?
Well, no. First of all, they are all lies propagated by the GOP as parts of a concerted 25-year-long effort (a very successful one, I must acknowledge: nice work, guys!) to smear and discredit Hillary Clinton because a successful independent woman threatens them. It began when Bill was running for President—before that, even. And it has not let up. I’m not going into all of the details here; it’s been done far better elsewhere. But the fact is that those who really know her agree that she is one of the most real and honest people they’ve met.
Besides the fact that they are untrue on their face, let’s just play a little game, shall we? What if they were true? Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that Hillary Clinton made an error in judgement that led to the deaths in Benghazi, and further that the 2% of her Secretary of State meetings that were related to her Foundation (which FYI included heads of state and a Nobel Prize laureate) were somehow linked to those donations, and even further that she actually did know there were some not-really-classified-but-sort-of-classified emails on her server. Well, let’s see: people do make mistakes, even egregious ones. That’s bad, it’s true. But I seem to recall President Reagan allowing hundreds of Marines to die in Beirut. President Bush (W) oversaw 39 embassy attacks with 87 deaths while he was in office (not to mention a tiny thing we refer to as 9/11, which he was warned about). I suspect these things were all errors in judgement. And, oh yeah, the Foundation: since no moneys were actually paid to the Clintons from the Foundation, the “worst” that could happen would be donations to help fight world AIDS. Yes, I can see why that would be terrible. And then there is the email: well, in that case she definitely would have lied to us, right? And that would have to be disqualifying, right?
But...what about the dozens of lies Mitt Romney told leading up to the election in 2012? And what about Trump, who can’t even open his mouth without lying?
And, yeah, what about Trump?
While people are so worried about fake scandals and ridiculous health issues regarding Hillary (so a 68-year-old woman who works every single day in the hot sun with no breaks contracted pneumonia and, while trying to work through it, felt faint: duh!), they are taking their eyes off the ball regarding Trump.
At the very same time as all of this, the Washington Post was exposing the Trump Foundation as the ultimate in Pay-to-Play...for real. While the Clinton Foundation is a real charity with an A rating (higher than well-known charities like Susan G Komen For the Cure or even American Red Cross), Trump’s version is an in-house money-laundering scheme that allows multiple shady financial dealings. This is a perfect example of the media creating a wall of false equivalence in the 2016 election, as in: oh, see, both of them have issues with their foundations. Baloney! Clinton’s “issues” lie in the minds of those inclined to believe the long-standing meta-message about her created by the GOP and intentionally perpetuated by the press in search of a good story: that she is a double dealer. Yes, the media is complicit in this. It has its own specific set of rules to use in handling Hillary stories and has had them for years. (Example: Assume that she is acting in bad faith until proven otherwise. I am not kidding. Nor am I making this up. Read the article above.) While most of America sees the media (because Fox tells them to do so) as too liberal and biased towards Hillary, reality—clearly shown in a recent Harvard University study of election-year news coverage—shows the opposite. And here, on foxnews.com of all places, is a well-argued story articulating the press bias against her, imagining what might have been the uproar had she done what we know Trump has done.
In other words: we keep hearing exaggerated (or completely fabricated) evils about Hillary while Trump’s real evil gets a free pass.
This is a man who has risen to his position in life through manipulation of the system, lying, cheating, making deals with anyone and everyone who will do so (even Muammar el-Qaddafi), declaring bankruptcy whenever things don’t go his way so he can start anew (which leaves those he borrowed money from in the lurch), failing to pay his bills to small businesses who then needed to sue to recover from him, discriminating in renting and hiring throughout his career against black people, and a slew of other less than savory avenues that are not mere innuendo or lies driven by someone’s agendas but actual, verifiable FACTS.
This is a man whose personal life has been dominated by his three well publicized marriages. (Please consider what a field day the GOP would have had if Hillary Clinton had had three children with three different husbands.)
This is a man who, in one single town hall last spring, told 71 verifiable lies, according to a running total by Huffington Post. Don’t feel like trusting Huffington Post (even though they listed the lies)? Fine. Trump was the near-runaway lying champion on the politifact.com candidate fact checking metric in the primaries. (He’d have blown out everyone if Ted Cruz and Ben Carson had not been running as well.) A wonderful pre-convention article on politifact compared him to Clinton and showed that he lied 60% of the time, while she did so 13% of the time, and (throughout the entire campaign) she only told one lie they rated “pants on fire” as opposed to his 30. This is equivalence?
This is a man who has engaged one of the most zealous, extreme political people in America to run his campaign, Steve Bannon, the head of Breitbart.com, who has recast that already deeply right wing site into an alt.right-friendly web space. Bannon was once charged with domestic battery, though the campaign says it is unclear whether Trump knew about that before he was hired. That is, however, the least troubling thing about him: Bannon is, if anything, even more of a loose cannon than Trump himself. His vitriol for the left is well-documented and knows no bounds. His is a philosophy of expedience: he does not care what or whom he supports in order to destroy the left; he only wants it destroyed. The Atlantic’s exposé on Bannon explores him in more detail, and it concludes: “Trump is not his idea of a good president of the United States. Trump is his guillotine.” All Bannon wants from Trump is to cut the head off of America, and he knows that is what he will get.
This is a man who has, from the moment he opened his campaign, made it a safe space for what Hillary Clinton correctly called the nation’s “basket of deplorables.” Not that long ago (that is, pre-Trump), these people, with their ugly hatred, their xenophobic attitudes, their open racism, etc., were the dark underbelly of America. We knew (if we were honest) that they were there, but they remained unseen, unheard, where vermin ought to be. They rose up only to populate the anonymous spaces of comment sections on the internet and faceless ultra-right wing websites. And we were glad to keep them that way. But Trump has allowed them into the light. He has made it acceptable for them to display their venomous feelings and ideas and their ignorance to the world, and it is going to be impossible to push them back into the shadows. Because of him, even if he loses, even if he is slaughtered, we are stuck with them forever.
What the heck is going on? Does anyone remember that the leadership of the free world is at stake here? Or have we actually entered the Twilight Zone?
This is the inevitable result of the conditioning we have been getting in moral equivalence since Fox began its “fair and balanced” campaign three decades ago. Instead of real journalism, today’s media has fed us a steady diet of “he said, she said” for years, no matter what the issue, as if truth no longer actually matters or even exists, as far as they are concerned. No wonder we have newscasters who, like Brian Williams, can’t seem to quite figure out what the truth is. We have entire networks, like Fox, where truth and opinion are so intertwined that separating them is impossible. But truth does exist. Reality does exist. It is not a malleable thing. It is not flexible. It is not subjective. And in this election, at this moment in time, it tells us one thing with great clarity:
There is no moral equivalence here.
There are not “two evils.” There is one. And his name is Donald Trump. We vote for him at our own peril. And Hillary Clinton, an excellent, well-meaning, hard-working, dedicated, experienced politician who has been the victim of decades of concerted distortions, lies, and exaggerations based on misogyny, politics, ambition, and just plain old meanness? She may not be the second coming of Lincoln or anything, but she’ll be a good President. What else do we need?