Saturday, August 6, 2016

If Only We Knew A Little More, We Would Know Enough

Interesting off-the-mark opinion piece in NYT today about the need to obtain Trump tax returns in order to learn about his character using the example of Richard Nixon.
Source: Charles Tasnadi AP via NYT
The piece claims that we do not now know enough about Trump to judge his character. If we knew more we could predict the kind of President he would be, and the release of his tax returns would somehow tell us what we need to know, but that is completely ridiculous. For example,  what if those tax returns are totally legitimate? Does that make him a fine upstanding candidate? No, but it would give the press material to sift through for more stories and possible lines of attack, similar to the endless digging into Hillary Clinton's past. If the Trump returns reveal nothing, the press might then ask for the tax returns of Eric, Ivanka, and Donald Jr. who are entwined in the family business. Or Melania if she and her husband do not file jointly. What this reflects is a press that tortures logic to cover politics objectively, struggling with abstract concepts of character, experience, and personality and constantly looking for more information that is concrete.
The reporting might go like this:
-Look what we found in the returns - he is a tax cheat or, not so rich, maybe.
-Not so.
-Yes it is.
-No, it isn't.
And so on.
The press needs to properly center the discussion of the issues, but not on the political middle, which is a point between two sides arguing.  Instead, for an intelligent discussion and truly objective reporting, the presss needs to report the most reasonable interpretation of each issue based on the evidence. When the evidence is sufficient, stop looking for more data if it is superfluous and start interpreting the existing information. Trump appears to be suffering from a narcissistic personality disorder. He is unlike almost anyone else in business and public life. Do we want to elect a president like that? That is the question. To the press - just say no to all claims that we need tax returns, emails, and transcripts because they are all distractions.

There is a problem with the competitive search for disqualifiers vs. trying to better understand what the candidate is all about. Yes, let's try to learn more about the candidates if there is more to learn, but Trump?, Clinton? Both have been in the public sphere for decades. The picture of each of them feels sort of complete. This obsession with obtaining more documentation is a first cousin of the waiting for a gaffe obsession with previous campaigns. Candidate X is the favorite to win, unless he makes a big gaffe just before the election? Huh? Is that what the choice of president is all about? Superficial appearances? Make a gaffe and you are disqualified? Unfortunately, the gaffe obsession is a symptom  of the degradation of our political reporting as is the obsession with obtaining more documents. If there is ever a case of knowing enough about both major party candidates it is this year.

One problem with the search for disqualifiers based on some vague notion of character is that it never ends, until something allegedly disqualifying is found, OR, it falls short. So, when Bill Clinton was president and about to be impeached -- finally after years of trying out different accusations, here was an accusation that could stick -- the Republicans in the lame duck Congress needed to clean up their act to avoid any appearance of a double standard on "personal" behavior. So Newt Gingrich got out of the way early as Speaker of the House, resigning that post because divorcing his wife during her battle with cancer in the hospital (was that an actual scene? does it matter?) looked bad. Unfortunately, his designated successor Bob Livingston withdrew from consideration due to his sexual affairs that would have disqualified him and even resigned from the House to set the example for the president who was expected to resign. Of course, Clinton did not resign even though the Republicans elected a Speaker of the House who was considered beyond reproach with nothing in his past that could possibly disqualify him. This man.

Only recently did we learn that Dennis Hastert was a bad choice for a Speaker whose character was beyond reproach.

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