My husband and I are decidedly non-partisan Americans. We talk with our kids about the pros and cons of our two-party system, but we’re careful not to badmouth either party. I explain how I agree with Democrats sometimes and Republicans sometimes, and how we can see both sides on a lot of issues. We are as Independent as they come.
But this presidential election has become less about the political parties themselves and more about the two individuals leading them. It’s also occurring at a time when the “information superhighway” is gridlocked with media bias, sensationalist headlines, entertainment outlets masquerading as news, and flat-out propaganda. I find myself wading through heaps of word garbage to find facts, while people wave that same trash in the air and call it the truth. It’s maddening.
My children are witnessing all of this, of course. They ask why we only have two choices, and I explain how alternate parties have not developed the legislative base to make a third party presidential bid viable in our system.
They ask how Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump became our candidates, and why people support each one. I explain that some people vote along party lines, no matter what. I explain that information sources influence what people perceive to be true and that people tend to only believe sources that confirm their biases, regardless of facts. I point out the benefit of having no partisan loyalties in investigating the truth.
I explain how I try to find the most reliable, neutral, verifiable sources of information to research the candidates. To avoid spin, I automatically toss out clearly biased, sensationalist media outlets such as MSNBC, Huffington Post, Fox News, and Breitbart, and take slightly less biased outlets with healthy skepticism. I explain how as much as possible, I go directly to original sources, find the original video, and put partial quotes within context before reacting to them. I explain how I always crosscheck any claims with Politifact and Factcheck.org, because while removing all bias is almost impossible, these non-partisan sites are at least attempting to be neutral and fact-based.
In going through this process, I find that I am able to explain Hillary to my kids. I tell them she spent eight years in the White House as First Lady, eight years as a U.S. Senator, and four years as Secretary of State. She is a career politician, which doesn’t thrill me, but there’s no doubt she has the governmental experience to back up a presidential bid.
The kids ask why some people hate her so much. I explain how partisanship plays a big role, as well as patriarchal views of women in politics. I explain how I’ve researched the claims that she’s a liar, a criminal, crooked and corrupt, and found that in the face of verifiable fact, most of it is contrived, exaggerated, unfounded hogwash.
I explain what happened in Benghazi, and how seven lengthy and expensive investigations, mostly led by Hillary’s opponents, haven’t produced any proof of wrongdoing on her part. I explain how people claim she lied to the victim’s families about why the attack took place, even though there is no solid evidence to back up that claim. I explain how Hillary’s oft-cited quote, “What difference does it make?” is incomplete and taken out of context to make it look like she didn’t care about the attack. I explain how people claim she hasn’t taken any responsibility for the security conditions at the embassy despite her literally saying the words, “I take responsibility for what happened in Benghazi.”
My kids ask why there were seven investigations, and why they’ve gone on so long if they haven’t found any new evidence. I tell them that’s a good question.
I explain Hillary’s email server issue, and how those investigations have raised legitimate questions about her judgment. I also explain that there’s no evidence of an intentional security breach and that e-mail, in general, is almost impossible to keep secure. Since there’s no direct evidence that her private server was hacked but the State Department’s server most definitely was hacked, I tell them I’m not terribly concerned.
I explain that people accuse Hillary of taking money in exchange for political favors and using the Clinton Foundation as a means to do so. I explain how powerful people hobnob with one another in various ways and these kinds of accusations are totally to be expected in an election year.
I explain that conjecture is not proof, that a single, unnamed source reporting to a clearly biased outlet is not reliable information, and that repeatedly calling someone a corrupt criminal doesn’t make it true without irrefutable, verifiable evidence.
I tell them that Clinton Foundation gets an “A” rating from the philanthropy watchdog group Charity Watch. And despite claims that only 10-15% percent of the foundation’s money goes toward helping people, independent charity analyses have found that figure to be 80 to 89% — which is higher than the 75% industry standard.
I explain that Hillary is a typical politician, which means she sometimes stretches the truth, sometimes omits information, and sometimes words things in a way so as to avoid trapping herself into a position. Anyone who has been in politics for decades will contradict themselves on occasion. Any career politician is going to be subject to character attacks and smear campaigns.
I explain how you can’t rely on the axiom, “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire,” when it comes to politics. In our justice system, you are innocent until proven guilty. Hillary Clinton has had an insane number of accusations thrown at her, but nothing has stuck, except in the minds of people who already hate her. She is the subject of countless conspiracy theories, none of which hold water under serious scrutiny.
I ask my kids, what does that tell you? I leave the question open, but to me it’s clear that either Hillary Clinton is the smartest, most resourceful, most diabolical and unstoppable supervillain of all time, or she’s been subject to one of the longest and most intense smear campaigns in history.
I explain to my kids that even though I don’t believe Hillary is the evil overlord people make her out to be, I’m still not a huge fan of politicians. I think most are not 100% what they present themselves to be, and I have no doubt that there are some shady things that happen in Washington all the time. I understand the desire to move away from politics-as-usual. I really do.
But I cannot for the life of me explain choosing Donald Trump as the alternative.
I’ve seen enough of the business world to trust businessmen about as much as I trust politicians. Besides which, the government is not and cannot be run like a business. Can a racecar driver become a pilot without any experience flying a plane, simply because he knows how to make a vehicle move really fast? Hell no. Business and government require different skills and a different knowledge base. Trump has no experience at any level of government. None.
He claims that he’ll make up for that by hiring all the best people. Like the intern that tweeted the totally fabricated, racist statistics about black crime that originated from a white supremacist? (Unless that tweet came from Trump himself, which automatically disqualifies him for the presidency, in my book.) Like the first campaign manager he fired? Or the second campaign manager he just replaced due to questionable political ties to Russia? So far, I’m not terribly impressed with his ability to hire the best people.
I can’t explain how a man who was sued by the Department of Justice for discriminating against blacks, who issued a call for an all-out ban on Muslims entering the U.S., who claims that a federal judge can’t do his job because he is of Mexican heritage, who mocks a disabled reporter, and who repeatedly degrades women he doesn’t like, can possibly claim to represent the most diverse country in the world.
I can’t explain Trump’s petulant behavior at his speech after the DNC when he said, “They were really saying bad things about me. I was going to hit one guy in particular. A very little guy. I was gonna hit this guy so hard, his head would spin. He wouldn’t know what the hell happened.”
My daughter’s response was, “What the heck?! Why do people like him?” I had no answer.
I can’t explain to my kids how a pompous reality TV star who speaks like a fourth grader has gotten so close to becoming the leader of the free world. I can’t explain how a man who habitually tweets out schoolyard insults like “loser” and “dummy” could possibly handle the social and diplomatic responsibilities of the presidency. I can explain how demagoguery, fear-mongering, and xenophobic propaganda work, but I can’t explain to my kids why so many Americans are embracing it with open arms.
I can explain why people call Hillary a liar (even though she’s been shown to be the most honest candidate this election). But I can’t explain why those same people ignore the fact that Donald Trump lies more often and more severely than every other candidate this election cycle combined. I can explain why Trump complains about media spin, but I can’t explain why everyone isn’t appalled by the words that come straight out of his mouth, repeatedly, in context.
I can explain Hillary with research and facts and a basic understanding of government and politics. But Donald Trump? Sorry, kids. I’ve got nothing.