Personality politics is growing tired
The 2016 presidential election marks a time in which transparency has never been so prominent as a narrative. Sen. Bernie Sanders first captured the attention of voters with his impassioned speeches about campaign financing and government corruption, from Wall Street to the halls of Congress. With Sanders effectively out of the race, the issue of transparency arises in public discourse less in the context of ‘big money,’ and increasingly in the context of the major candidates’ personal lives. Both presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have faced criticism for their reticence regarding their health and finances. In the firestorm of public commentary, the question left unexamined is why we insist on knowing these details of candidates’ personal lives.
The most cited response to this question is “tradition.” The precedent of presidential nominees revealing his or her tax returns before election dates back to the Nixon era. When Donald Trump continued to refuse to reveal his taxes before November, he was the first major candidate in the modern era to do so. Trump has also refused to release his medical records, with the exception of a letter from his gastroenterologist who wrote, “If elected, Mr. Trump, I can state unequivocally, will be the healthiest individual elected to the presidency.”
Following this ringing endorsement, the 70-year-old nominee has insisted that he will not disclose his complete medical records until his presidential rival, Hillary Clinton, does. Clinton’s quiet refusal to offer complete information about her health reached a climax on Sept. 11 when she nearly collapsed at an event and subsequently told the public that she had been diagnosed with pneumonia two days earlier. This diagnosis has fueled unsubstantiated conspiracy theories about Clinton’s health and further shrouded the 68-year-old candidate, questioned repeatedly about her transparency throughout this campaign, in a foggier cloud of mystery. With regard to Clinton’s finances, the mystery persists. Although Clinton has released her tax returns, the Trump campaign and other detractors continue to press both Hillary and Bill Clinton about their dealings in the Clinton Foundation. Embedded within this insistence on tradition is the assumption that we can finally ascertain the candidates’ characters and capacity to lead. These details of the candidates’ personal lives are treated as the last pieces of a puzzle that will help us finally decide who should be the next president.
The issue with this assumption is that we already know enough about the candidates. Whether or not Trump had released his tax returns would not have changed what we already know to be true about his character and capacity to lead. A ringing endorsement in a letter from his accountant cannot absolve a man who has belittled, body-shamed and mocked anyone who has stood up against his vitriolic campaign. He’s the man who said he would kill terrorists’ families and who has alienated millions of Americans with his racist, xenophobic rhetoric. Why does the public hear more about Hillary Clinton’s emails than Trump’s rape allegations? A clean bill of health will not change the fact that Trump has repeatedly shown little knowledge of foreign policy. Despite what anyone might think of Clinton’s character – —despite whether you believe she represents the lesser of two evils — one cannot discount that, in terms of leadership, she is perhaps the most prepared presidential candidate to ever win a nomination.
Although experience is not necessarily an indicator of success, we would be remiss to not note the political experience Clinton has acquired in her lifetime. She was secretary of state for four years and served as a senator in New York for eight years. Having lived in the White House as first lady, Hillary knows what the day-to-day demands of being the president looks like better than any nominee. In the midst of such vast uncertainty, both domestically and internationally, Clinton represents the safest and most qualified choice for President of the United States.