It has been said of war that “The first casualty is the planning,” or several similar variations on that theme; to the unfamiliar, it is an observation of a known tendency for things to go quickly in a different way than the planners had foreseen, and thus, very soon after the battle starts, chaos reigns. Only one side can win. Sometimes neither does. Who plans for a stalemate or for a loss?
Our current Presidential campaign illustrates something similar to that adage. Once the campaigning begins, the truth is the first casualty. Here also, only one side can win, and our political competitions, once contests of broad themes and debates over policy, where the voters listened to opposing views, decided which program was more appealing for the country at large, and cast their votes accordingly. In the current era, it seems candidates feel free to distort their own or their opponents’ records, their accomplishments, and even matters of objective fact.
If voters were more critical of candidates’ positions and records, this turn of events would not be possible. However, they are neither critical nor curious, for the most part, and so campaigns of half-truths and outright lies have become the norm. And when one campaign of less than truthful utterances wins out…well, what advantage will the candidates see in being truthful when the next election rolls around? Winning is the objective of both sides, of course, but we are cheapened as a democracy when winning is the only objective. In another slide downward, each candidate (and his/her followers, of course) appear to justify this tendency to distort or ignore the truth by assuming that Candidate X is so noxious (dangerous, treacherous, reckless–you can supply your own adjective) that our side only did what was necessary to prevent a calamity of national proportions. ” Just think,” this line of reasoning goes, “what might have resulted if my opponent had won! That is a horror of a magnitude too stark to contemplate! So we had to do a little bit of spinning, and anyway, they were doing the same thing.” And so a negative is perpetuated.
The 2016 campaign is rich in examples of the truth-slaughtering I’m talking about here. Anyone who is a reader of this blog will think I am about to excoriate the Trump campaign. OK, that’s true, but I’m also going to do a bit of slicing and dicing on Secretary Clinton’s campaign. Neither is deserving of a clean grade.
Let’s first take a look at Trump’s claims regarding immigration. This is a subject with which I am familiar, because of my career background, which included several thousand applicants interviewed for immigration to the US via standard immigrant (non-refugee) programs outlined in US visa law, many thousands more who were applying for nonimmigrant (tourist, student, temporary worker, etc.) status, and a hitch as the US Refugee Program coordinator in Nairobi in 2002-2003.
One claim I hear endlessly (followed by “I’m Donald Trump, and I approved this message.”) is that Hillary Clinton wants open borders. Let that sink in. That means that anyone in Lower Slobovia who takes a notion to go to the USA and throw out an anchor would be able to do so. Have you ever heard such a pronouncement from Secretary Clinton to that effect? Of course not. Neither have I, since there is no such statement. Often such a claim is an “interpretation” of a much more innocuous statement, magnified and divorced from context and sometimes, from reality, but I cannot even find any statement from Mrs. Clinton that even suggests she wants such a state of affairs. The claim gets repeated over and over, though, and some people take the repetition as evidence that it must be true. As far as I can tell, this accusation is totally fabricated. Anyone who knows where it came from, please tell me.
Secretary Clinton herself, while not as prone to utter fabrication as the Donald seems to be, does shade the truth in whatever way she believes is favorable to her. I am well aware of the adage that “all politicians” engage in this sort of thing, and I would not dispute that, though I hate such formulations that claim “All…” anything. Witness her statement not long after FBI Director Comey found no reason to recommend indictment in the e-mail “scandal.” “No recommendation for indictment” became Mrs. Clinton’s “Director Comey said I had spoken truthfully.” I have written on this topic several times, and you may be as sick of it as I am. Memo to the Secretary: EVERYBODY SEES THIS STUFF ON THE NEWS. SOME OF THEM CAN EVEN REMEMBER FOR A DAY OR MORE, AND THEY ARE NOT MOLLIFIED BY YOUR MASSAGING OF SOMEONE ELSE’S QUOTE. Sincerely, all of us.
And now we are going to be treated to a round of speculation about the Secretary’s activities on behalf of the Clinton Foundation while Secretary of State. There will be whispers about nefarious use of government time and employees to make money for her. Nothing will ever come of this, but Trump has already labeled her time as Secretary of State as “a criminal enterprise.” But also, once again, Mrs. Clinton demonstrates a curious tone deafness about her own activities. She could have severed ties with the Foundation when she announced her candidacy for President. But again, she didn’t. For some guy making $25,000 a year selling and installing tires, or a woman making about the same money as a home health attendant, the odor of the thing becomes the thing.
Back to Trump. Again, I have previously written of his claims that he is going to “build a wall” along the southern border and of the utter impracticality of the claim. Lately, though, the claim has been that he wants to “secure the southern border” and “make us safe.” To pose a simple question, if all it took to “make us safe” were a wall on the southern border, why wouldn’t someone else have thought of it before 2016? This rhetoric is often accompanied by claims that non-Americans are “pouring across the border.” The fact is that the border is fenced in large degree, patrolled, and under constant surveillance by drones, cameras, and microphones in some inhospitable places, and by agents of the Border Patrol in others. Is it 100% effective? Of course not. It’s a border of more than 2500 miles, and there are 21,000 Border Patrol agents, meaning that 8+ agents could be devoted to each mile of territory around the clock, providing only that none of them ever went off-shift, on vacation, or got sick, and the northern border were left alone. Despite the impossibility of “securing” the border 100%, the incidences of illegal crossing peaked in 2007. A problem, in other words, that was worse nine years ago than it is today. Why, then, harp on this issue? Because it can be used to frighten the Trump base constituency and prod them into getting out to vote because Trump will “do something.”
By the way, what about the northern border? It’s much longer and much less heavily patrolled. Just saying…
Syrian refugees. “Secretary Clinton wants to admit thousands of Syrian refugees…” Refugee admissions are steered by the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration. The President sets a target figure and State sets the process in motion, with the ultimate decision to admit or not to admit a particular refugee up to the Department of Homeland Security. And they are vetted. Fingerprinted, investigated, etc., etc. They are not admitted if there is some reason even to suspect they are involved in criminal or terrorist activities.
I am embarrassed by the attitude of some Americans on Syrian refugees, and it’s easy to explain why. The wretched condition of Syria today, where the noxious Assad government is known to target whole towns thought to be insufficiently loyal to Bashar Assad, means that the majority of that country’s population might well qualify for refugee status. For that to happen, a person must be in some other country than his home country and have a well-founded fear of returning to that country because of political violence or oppression or discrimination, etc. As I write this, the estimates of Syria’s population track at about 22 million, but approximately five million have left Syria altogether. When I visited Lebanon (which borders Syria) two years ago, estimates were that Lebanon was host to 1.5 million of them. Lebanon is about as big as the state of Delaware. Yet the US, a prosperous nation of 320 million souls, is said to be unable or unwilling to accept any appreciable refugee flow from Syria. We did accept 1500 in fiscal year 2015, and projections for acceptance in FY 2016 are about 10,000. Give me your tired, your poor…
Aiding and abetting slanderous crap by one campaign or the other are anonymous people who post pictures and text on the internet. As an example, I recently saw a picture of Hilary Clinton speaking to a reporter, and the supposed text of that conversation was spelled out below. According to the text, Mrs. Clinton had said (and it was in quotation marks) something to the effect that in her first year in office, she would be going after the NRA (National Rifle Association) and an assault on the Second Amendment (which protects the right to bear arms in the US) would soon follow. The item was supposedly published in a newspaper in Topeka, Kansas, and on a specific date. The problem was that the story never appeared in that newspaper at all. It was completely fiction. It was traced to a website that traffics in conspiracy theories involving the Clinton family. (“Snopes.com” is a great debunker of garbage online.)
I’m sure there is a story or two about Trump that shades the truth in a way that is unfavorable to him. This is no less contemptible than slanders about Clinton, but I am not as knowledgeable, and can’t bring an example to mind.
Richard Nixon (the Tricky one himself), revealed much about this mindset. In a book by the historian Steven Ambrose (Nixon, the Education of a Politician, 1913-1962) Nixon said, of his particularly vicious campaign to unseat an incumbent Congressman in 1946, “Of course I knew Jerry Voorhis wasn’t a Communist. But I had to win. The important thing is to win.”
So there you have it. Not integrity. Not honesty. Not even basic decency. The important thing is to win, and if the truth gets in the way, it can be ignored. After all, you have to win. Just don’t expect this state of affairs to yield a candidate of serious integrity.