Published March 31, 2016
Hillary Clinton is a lock to be the nominee of the Democratic Party. And if the Republican Party nominates Donald Trump, Clinton looks very, very likely to be the next president of the United States.
Even to many conservatives, Hillary look good compared to Trump. His open flirtation with white supremacy is only the most egregious example of his campaign’s raison-d’être: channeling our worst impulses for his own political gain. Whether it’s blacks, Mexicans, Muslims, political elites, business elites, or the media, the message is the same. Trump identifies a scapegoat, as well as the solution: electing Trump so he can crush them. This, along with his campaign’s luxuriant disregard for substance, is, quite simply, the essence of fascism.
But aside from that heinous dynamic, the objection to Trump was always one that transcended politics and policy, and had to do with Trump himself. He is clearly a megalomaniac. He has total disregard, if not outright disdain, for the truth. He will do anything to get ahead, holding contempt for the law and virtuous social norms.
Donald Trump is not fit to be president of the United States.
But here’s the thing: Hillary Clinton isn’t fit to be president either.
I’m sure this makes some chin-stroking, self-proclaimed serious people clutch their pearls and spill their coffee. But Hillary Clinton differs from Donald Trump only in degree, and not in kind.
Let’s start with Trump’s lack of substance and disregard for the truth. Clinton is clearly familiar with the minutiae of policy in a way that Trump most decidedly is not. But it’s also hard to think of an issue that she has not been on both sides of in the course of her long political career. Is abortion a “sad, and even tragic choice” that should be “rare” or should nothing stand in the way of a woman’s “right to choose“? Do we need to lock up repeat offenders for life, or do #BlackLivesMatter? Are we for the war in Iraq or are we against it? Break up big banks: yes or no? Is same-sex marriage bador good? Is religious freedom “the most precious of all of America’s liberties” or unacceptable discrimination?
Clinton has not been nearly as guileless as Trump in her flip-floppery. But it’s still quite a record. If Donald Trump’s entire life has been about helping Donald Trump with no regard to principle, Hillary Clinton’s entire life has been about helping Hillary Clinton first, and principle maybe later.
This should give everyone pause. But what should truly seal the case against Clinton is her repeated and relentless flouting of laws and virtuous norms for personal and political advantage.
Take the noxious nexus of political and personal influence-peddling and corruption-in-all-but-name that is Clinton Inc., otherwise known as the Clinton Foundation. The massive-payday speeches. The donations from foreign governments, corporations, and entities while she was secretary of state. Was there any explicit quid pro quo? Actually, quite possibly, as in the case where UBS got crucial help from Clinton and then gave $1.5 million to her family’s foundation. But how low have we sunk as a society when we need an actual paper trail of explicit quid pro quo to turn from this atrocious mélange and say, “You want us to give you more political power? Are you kidding me?”
And then there’s the whole email server fiasco. This is a case where the sound and fury of allegations have obscured the basic facts, which are quite clear: Clinton set up a personal email server, in defiance or at least circumvention of rules, with the probable motive of evading federal records and transparency requirements, and did it with subpar security. (For the first few months, her emails weren’t even encrypted. At all.) Never mind which emails included what level of classified information, and whether there is or isn’t a problem of overclassification in the U.S. government (there is). Never mind whether the Chinese or the Russians or whomever hacked the server or didn’t (we don’t know of any evidence, but we do know they were able to hack much more tightly protected systems without leaving any trail). The point is that Hillary Clinton didn’t seem to care. If she had to bend, if not break, transparency laws, and take the risk of potentially exposing national security secrets, in order to protect herself from scrutiny, well, so be it.
This sort of behavior ought to be fundamentally incompatible with earning more political power in a democracy. It’s an attitude of power at any cost, the only question being, “Can I get away with it?”
And finally, let’s talk about Benghazi.
Yes, conservatives have frequently been crazy on the topic of Benghazi. Yes, conspiracy theories have been thrown around. But we know that when Clinton stated on the night of the attacks and again the day after that they were due to a YouTube video, and twice more the day after that, she knew that that was not the case. On the night of the attack, right after releasing the first statement to the contrary, she emailed her daughter, “Two of our officers were killed in Benghazi by an Al Queda[sic]-like group.” Not “it seems.” Not “we think.” She knew.
Is intensely disliking Republicans enough of a reason to pretend that never happened? Or to wave it away as being in the same league as the everyday, excusable truth-twisting and ethical corner-cutting that all politicians engage in?
Hillary Clinton is simply not someone that you can trust. Really disliking Republicans shouldn’t stop progressives from owning this fact about Hillary Clinton. Yes, Trump is “worse.” But it doesn’t change the facts about Clinton.
When Barack Obama and John McCain each became their parties’ presumptive nominees, The Economist had a famous cover: “America at its best.” Each of them, in their way, and their progress to that day, represented the best of the American ideal. If Trump and Hillary win their respective nominations, we’ll truly have seen America at its worst.
Pascal-Emmanual Gobry is a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.