Friday

May 26th, 2017

Insight

Clinton V. Trump: Politics without principle

Nat Hentoff

By Nat Hentoff

Published May 10, 2016

( Nat collaborated with his son, Nick Hentoff, on this week's column.)

What does it say about our political process, and the judgment of the American electorate, that the likely nominees of the two major political parties are both facing legal actions involving serious allegations of malfeasance?

Donald Trump, the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party, is facing three separate class action lawsuits alleging fraud in the operation of Trump University. The lawsuits involve claims that the "university" defrauded as many as 5,000 people out of $35,000 in tuition fees for a series of real estate seminars.

A hearing in one of the cases will begin on the first day of the Republican National Convention, an event traditionally used to showcase the rectitude and leadership qualities of the party's nominee. A full-blown trial in two of the cases is expected to occur at some time before the presidential election in November.

Hillary Clinton, the likely nominee of the Democratic Party, has campaigned under the cloud of a pending FBI criminal investigation into violations of the Espionage Act. She is accused of mishandling classified information during her tenure as secretary of state. The investigation followed allegations that she used a private home-based email server for official business with the purpose of circumventing U.S. transparency laws. Recent news reports have alleged that the FBI probe has now expanded into a public corruption investigation of foreign government donations to the nonprofit Clinton Foundation.

These legal difficulties are not isolated incidents. Nor do they reflect aberrations in the candidates' characters. Both Clinton and Trump have long, well-documented, scandal-ridden histories. Collectively, they have more baggage than Samsonite.

It's not as if the voters didn't have a choice of other, scandal-free candidates who ran campaigns based on core ideological principles. Bernie Sanders continues to win elections as the Democratic Party's delegate rules keep the nomination just out of reach. Yet the voters appear to have chosen Trump and Clinton, one of whom will be the next president of the United States.

Both candidates, and the voters who elected them, represent an apex in an American political pragmatism that has had Europeans scratching their heads for nearly 200 years. In his 1840 work "Democracy in America," Alexis de Tocqueville observed that Americans "tend to results without being bound to means, and to aim at the substance through the form."

Almost 25 years later, in his 1863 essay "Life Without Principle," Thoreau wrote that Americans "do not worship truth, but the reflection of truth."

In the case of both Clinton and Trump, the voters were oblivious to or overlooked the character of each messenger because they either liked the message or believed the candidate had a better chance of winning the general election. The truth of the many allegations of ethical and legal lapses leveled against the candidates didn't seem to matter.


Trump has pandered to the conservative base of the Republican Party, while Clinton has pandered to the progressive base of the Democratic Party. Yet Hillary Clinton is no more a principled progressive than Donald Trump is a principled conservative.

The majority of principled progressives and conservatives rejected Trump and Clinton during the primary elections. So what do they do now that these two are the only "viable" options? The answer is that any option that requires you to compromise your principles is not a "viable" option.

Voters should not be expected to engage in a gymnastic cost-benefit analysis to determine which candidate is the lesser of two evils. Voting for a candidate is an endorsement of that candidate, and the voter bears some small measure of responsibility for the conduct of the candidates they elect into office.

Citizens should not feel their integrity has been compromised after exiting the voting booth. Which is why principled voters, who don't find a viable option in either of the two major party candidates, might consider a third option when they enter the voting booth in November.

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Nat Hentoff is a nationally renowned authority on the First Amendment and the Bill of Rights and author of several books, including his current work, "The War on the Bill of Rights and the Gathering Resistance".

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