A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Bill Straub: Close polls show voters holding Clinton to a different standard than Trump

WASHINGTON – It’s once again drawing close to that time when, as Pete Townsend famously wrote, “I’ll get on my knees and pray we don’t get fooled again’’

Fat chance.

The presidential election, now less than six weeks away, remains tight. The website FiveThirtyEight, which has proved to be the most successful prognosticator over the past few campaigns, determined in its most recent polling analysis that Democrat Hillary Clinton has only a slight edge, drawing about 46.4 percent of the vote to 44.8 percent for Republican businessman Donald Trump. Her chances of winning on Nov. 9 are placed at 55.8 percent.

There are two overriding questions that have persisted throughout the campaign that likely will draw the attention of historians and analysts long after the final votes are tallied. One is: Why are so many voters predisposed to hate Hillary Clinton, despite a resume that positions her as one of the most qualified candidates in the nation’s history?

The other, sort of a corollary: Why does Donald Trump remain so popular despite clear evidence of bigotry bordering on racism, if not crossing that line, underhanded business dealings and a consistent history of lies?

There is never a single answer to questions like these. Voters respond in different ways to different stimuli. But there may exist a consistent theme in most of the cases. As Sherlock Holmes famously said, “Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.’’

That seems especially prescient in the case of Clinton, a former first lady, a U.S senator for eight years and secretary of state during the first four years of President Obama’s administration who has carried out her various duties with sophistication and intelligence.

So, of course, people can’t stand the sight of her.

A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll found that only 41 percent of Americans have a favorable impression of Hillary Clinton while 56 percent maintain an unfavorable one.

And voters don’t trust her. In what can only be described as breathtaking, those surveyed generally view Clinton as less trustworthy than Trump. A Bloomberg poll recently showed only 27 percent rate her truthfulness as excellent or good, to Trump’s 37 percent, which, frankly, makes no sense whatsoever.

By any fair judgment Clinton has actually done very little to earn such public enmity. She has been under almost constant attack from right wing foes since first appearing in the public square almost 30 years ago, at first refusing to bow to the mores of Arkansas when her husband, former President Bill Clinton, was elected governor there (I’m reminded of the quote by baseball Hall of Fame outfielder Lou Brock, a native, who said, “Arkansas is the Land of Opportunity. And when I got the opportunity I left.’’) through the time she famously said she refused to stay home and bake cookies.

Clinton has been accused of all sorts of nefarious deeds. She has even been accused of murdering Vince Foster, an old friend and deputy White House counsel during the first six months of Bill Clinton’s administration who committed suicide. Investigators took years looking into the Clintons Whitewater land investment and found no wrongdoing. In fact the Clintons claim to have lost money in the deal.

There was the Benghazi incident where U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and three others were killed in 2012 during her time as secretary of state. She was accused of overseeing lax security at the facility where the attack took place and then offering a bogus reason for the assault, citing a video denigrating the Muslim prophet Muhammed as the starting point for the troubles – although that was the assumption at the time.

And then, of course, there are the emails – government business conducted through her private account. She has acknowledged poor judgment and offered assurances that her devotion to privacy will hereinafter be held in check. Her critics have done everything except call for the reconstitution of the Nuremburg Trials to address what is ultimately an inconsequential matter. An FBI probe brought no charges.

Of course what’s lost in all this is that she represented New York most capably during her eight-year tenure in the Senate, kept the peace during her time at Foggy Bottom – she was secretary of state when Osama bin Laden met his just deserts at the hands of the Navy SEALs – and is as knowledgeable on the issues as anyone.

Yet voters insist she constantly lies, even though they remain foggy over precisely what lies she keeps spouting. And by any standard measure, opposing Trump in a face-to-face lying competition, she would be trounced like the Dunellen High School Destroyers facing the Denver Broncos.

Still the reputation follows her and one of the answers, undoubtedly the most significant, is sexism.

Here I have a confession to make. Over the past many months I have tended to downplay the sexism charges. I knew it existed to some extent but I reasoned — if that’s what you want to call bumbling about — that being a black man carries just as much baggage with the electorate as being a white woman and Obama won two national elections. Voters, I imagined, had gotten past white v. black, male v. female.

I was wrong.

Hillary Clinton is obviously being held to a different standard than Donald Trump. She isn’t “likable,’’ whatever that means. She’s running for president, not to serve as your BFF. Trump maintains she doesn’t look like, nor does she have the stamina, to serve as president, although women tend to live longer than men.

And, of course, there’s the all-time favorite – she’s “shrill.’’

That’s all code for god doesn’t intend for a woman to be president, despite her obvious qualifications. When a man like Trump is characterized as aggressive it’s considered a good quality. When it’s used to describe Clinton, it’s intended as a denigration. And those who don’t want to see her in the White House certainly aren’t shy about calling her a bitch.

Think about it. If Hillary Clinton displayed the qualities of Trump – bigotry, misogyny, bullying, bellicosity, a tendency to prevaricate with a long list of shady business dealings trailing along like ducklings behind their mother, she would be shoved off the public stage. Trump appears to benefit from those characteristics.

Sexism isn’t the be-all and end-all of the campaign. A New York Times/CBS News poll released in mid-September showed, surprisingly, that Clinton is supported by 52 percent of women likely to vote in November – a smaller number than one might expect for the first woman presidential candidate of a major party who is being opposed by a man with a long history of misogyny.

Clinton is not a perfect candidate. She readily admits that she isn’t as talented a campaigner as her husband or any of a number of other politicians. But she’s Abe Lincoln standing next to the likes of Donald Trump.

And where does Trump’s support come from?

During his debate with Clinton he displayed no grasp of policy or anything approaching the truth for that matter. Yet he is within a whisker of becoming president of the United States of America despite a number of peccadillos that should disqualify him from holding any public office.

In a normal political year, even in many abnormal political years, Donald Trump would be a national embarrassment. And rightfully so. This is a man who derides one of the world’s major religions, calls women pigs, refuses to pay people for work rendered, refers to a Latina beauty pageant winner as “Miss Housekeeping,’’ has had, according to the Wall Street Journal, regular contact with people who had ties to organized crime, displayed overt racism by question Obama’s country of birth long after everyone else had abandoned the shtick, started something called Trump University, a joke of an institution facing a bevy of fraud suits and comingles his personal finances with that of a foundation he created.

And that’s just the beginning. During his debate with Clinton he displayed no grasp of policy or anything approaching the truth for that matter.

Yet he is within a whisker of becoming president of the United States of America despite a number of peccadillos that should disqualify him from holding any public office.

It would be funny if tragedy were not knocking at the door.

The story here is white men and, to a more limited extent, white women who fear they are losing their spot atop the hill. The Washington Post/ABC News poll finds that Trump leads Clinton 76 percent to 17 percent among white men without college degrees. A Langer Research Associates poll determined that 38 percent of Trump supporters think minorities have too much influence in American society.

Various polls released over the past few months showed that 65 percent of Trump supporters believe Obama is a Muslim; 59 percent believe Obama wasn’t born in the United States; 40 percent believe blacks are more “lazy” than whites; 31 percent support banning homosexuals from the country; and 16 percent believe whites are a superior race.

These folks are revolting against a culture they believe is pushing them to the outside, forcing them to look in without reckoning they have done that exact same thing to varying degrees to other demographic groups. As Arlie Russell Hochschild said in her book, Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right, Trump supporters claim that other people – those with brown and black skin – are “cutting in line.’’

Race, Hochschild wrote, “is an essential part of this story.’’

So white folks are willing to countenance Trump’s often overt racism and bigotry to keep others from cutting in line, ignoring his obvious grotesquery to maintain the status white folks have held since the founding of the republic. They want a change in direction and they believe Trump will provide it.

But there’s good change and bad change. Switching from Budweiser to Guinness is a good change. Switching from Bud to strychnine is bad. But that seems to be what white voters are anxious to do this election.

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Washington correspondent Bill Straub served 11 years as the Frankfort Bureau chief for The Kentucky Post. He also is the former White House/political correspondent for Scripps Howard News Service. A member of the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, he currently resides in Silver Spring, Maryland, and writes frequently about the federal government and politics. Email him at williamgstraub@gmail.com.

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  1. John Tavernier says:

    What standard would that be? The one where she doesn’t lie constantly?

    The media is so bending over to the left helping her, it is pretty sickening. This article, if it was in my paper, would be lining the birdcage.

  2. Kari Mae says:

    Trump’s lies don’t matter to brainwashed deplorables like white male Mr. Tavernier. That’s how Trump rose through the entire campaign too, media not fact checking him.

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