Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton: whose behavior is worse – and does heinous behavior matter more if it is strictly individual or if it involves corrupting the institutions that are central to Americans’ trust in government?
If the Democratic candidate had been hit with a video of lewd comments about women, a set-up question during a debate, and then an orchestrated media dump of assorted allegations of groping and kissing, then (given past observations) what would be the liberal talking points?
- He apologized! Why are you talking about this? It’s time to move on to real issues that matter to the American people.
- It's old news – this is a conspiracy to avoid covering real topics.
- The women are bimbos, trailer trash and partisans – and probably making it up.
- If their allegations are true, this is just boorish behavior, not rape.
- If the women had come forward before the debate set-up question, maybe they would have been credible, but this is clearly a timed political hit designed to distract from news damaging to our opponent.
- It’s a private matter – merely a dispute between two individuals – and has nothing to do with his public job.
And if they got desperate:
- We’ve already had a president who did much worse and we all survived it.
Here, though, is what many American women are considering:
What is the nature of disrespect toward women? First, did Trump kiss and grope women as alleged? Although he says not, the allegations fit his lifetime of boorish comments and the entitled, celebrity behavior he has exhibited since he first came onto the national political stage and which was a large measure of why most pundits predicted he would never survive the primaries.
Indeed, the new allegations are surprisingly tame and consistent. We should expect, therefore, an orchestrated acceleration of allegations through October until just before Election Day, when the most egregious will come to light. Grabbing and being vulgar is coarse, indefensible and disrespectful to women.
But many women also know that Clinton’s policies have actually hurt many women and their loved ones, which, along with her lies about expected outcomes, is disrespectful of our capacity for judgment and informed policy choices.
Hiding her emails on an unsecured server in her basement and thereby putting national security at risk is profoundly disrespectful of our safety and well-being.
Likewise for how Clinton puts special interests ahead of the needs of women, and indeed of all Americans; this disrespects our role as equal citizens deserving principled representation.
Her colluding with the media in a campaign of lies and omissions is disrespectful of our expectation of an honest democratic process.
Clinton’s belief that un-elected judges (appointed by her) should impose their policy preferences and value judgments over the wishes of the people through their elected representatives is disrespectful of the voting franchise women fought so hard to attain.
And having a campaign that mocks Catholics, Latinos and southerners displays her deep-seated disrespect for core features of the self-identity of many.
Many women, while utterly condemning Trump’s behavior and attitude, also are evaluating an additional challenging question: Do we care more about a politician’s character when he or she was a private citizen, or the level of respect shown to us through his or her care for our institutions and culture?
Our national media, whether due to their love of the salacious or being in the tank for Clinton, are relentlessly focusing on Trump’s words and behavior. At the same time they largely ignore the harmful and hurtful policies and breathtaking collusion and corruption (as revealed by WikiLeaks and independent journalists like James O'Keefe) surrounding so many things within Clinton's grasp.
There’s little talk now of the Clinton Foundation and the State Department, of the FBI and immunity agreements, of the IRS as explicit thug enforcer of the Affordable Care Act, and of the epic failure of the Veterans Administration.
This reflects a rapidly growing infection in our institutions. As a society, we tend to focus on individual bad behavior, but institutionalized bad behavior is far worse. If an individual behaves badly, we know it and can correct it precisely because it is not normative. But when those attitudes pervade our establishments, our sense of fairness is assaulted. Where do we turn?
A liar can be called out or avoided. A politician, however, when backed by an entire party and a media complicit in her lies (“you can keep your health care and your doctor,” “Benghazi was triggered by a video,” “all the emails were personal”), reflects a culture of dishonesty that abandons disinterest for self interest.
An individual who cheats should be shunned and even punished if the behavior is criminal, but a society whose institutions set aside rules in order to give special treatment to the favored few – and punish political adversaries — undermines much of the glue that holds us together, the idea that we are a nation of laws.
We are left with a choice – one which says much about us as individuals.
Which rationale for a vote reflects better on us: deciding based on who is personally less repugnant or on the radically different worlds they will leave for us and our children? We will find out which mattered most on November 8th.
Heather R. Higgins is the President & CEO at Independent Women's Voice. Carrie Lukas is the vice president for policy and economics at the Independent Women's Voice.