While both sides were coping with the renewed focus on Hillary Clinton’s emails, two other weekend stories showed why so many Americans have a negative opinion of their two main choices for president.
One was a story in The Journal News of New York’s Westchester suburbs reporting that local building department records revealed Bill and Hillary Clinton were renovating a house next to their Chappaqua home without obtaining several required local permits.
The other was David Fahrenthold’s account in The Washington Post about Donald Trump’s pattern of giving misleading accounts of his charitable contributions, including instances of taking credit for donations he had not personally given and others in which he “claimed other people’s giving as his own.”
There is a common thread in these two very different stories – and in other prominent aspects of their lives and careers. It’s a sense of entitlement, that normal rules don’t apply to them, either because of their prominence or their wealth. It’s evident in examples ranging from Clinton’s use of a private email server and her ties to the Clinton Foundation to Trump’s business dealings, sexual harassment of women and political approach.
For Clinton, this attitude provides one explanation of why she pushed ahead with the server that has become her single greatest political albatross despite clear indications and warnings this was unusual and even improper, and why she stretched the guidelines she agreed to follow to ensure strict boundaries between her job as secretary of state and the family’s charitable foundation.
For Trump, it arises politically in the way he made insulting, often racially divisive comments a centerpiece of his presidential campaign, rather than pursuing the normal general-election practice of reaching out beyond his base, and in his refusal to commit himself to the traditional practice of pledging to accept the results, win or lose.
A sense of entitlement also pervades Trump’s personal and business life. It’s evident both in such instances of personal misconduct as sexually harassing women because, as he said on the Access Hollywood tape, “when you’re a star, they let you do it,” and in his pattern of repeatedly suing contractors to avoid paying his bills and refusing to release his tax returns like previous nominees from both parties.
There is a difference in the degree of their improprieties. The evidence so far is that Clinton neither made any deliberate effort to break laws nor provided any tangible quid pro quos to foundation donors. On the other hand, Trump used questionable means of avoiding taxes and exceeded the norms of appropriate behavior toward at least a dozen women and in attacking a Mexican American federal judge, questioning the motives of the Muslim American Gold Star parents of a war hero and mocking a partially disabled reporter.
Still, this long, unpleasant campaign has produced sufficient distaste for both that the victor will enter the White House without a president-elect’s normal level of respect. In its place will be extensive personal and political baggage that can only exacerbate the job’s normal challenges.
Unfortunately, the problems stemming from Clinton’s email server may persist – whichever candidate wins.
Trump has vowed that, if he wins, he will instruct his attorney general to name a special prosecutor to reinvestigate Clinton’s activities that the FBI has been probing for many months, including its own investigation. That could undercut Trump’s efforts to launch his presidency by focusing on an array of sweeping proposals to transform national policy.
If she wins, House Republicans vow to continue their own investigations, meaning that her nascent administration will be distracted from its priorities by having to spend valuable time and effort defending activities that occurred before she took office.
Given all this, it’s hardly surprising that many Americans are unenthusiastic about voting. But failure to do so would be unfortunate for two main reasons.
One is that, despite the many negative aspects of both, Clinton is far more knowledgeable about public policy and far better prepared to perform the presidency. There is a reason virtually every American newspaper, whether conservative or liberal, has rejected Trump and endorsed Clinton – and why so many prominent Republicans have refused to support their party’s nominee.
Second, the two have significant policy differences. Not only would they make very different appointments to the Supreme Court and elsewhere, but they have diametrically opposite views of the best ways to achieve prosperity at home and greater stability in the world.
The result will have a profound impact on governmental policies, even under the inevitable cloud each helped to create and with the gridlock the winner will inherit.
Carl P. Leubsdorf is a columnist for The Dallas Morning News. Readers may email him at email@example.com.