Donald Trump has proven to be such a polarizing, belligerent, and, quite frankly, offensive candidate that his constant stream of new controversies has managed to outshine Hillary Clinton’s most troubling scandals. Where the Hillary Clinton Wikileaks Revelations, which paint a picture of a political insider catering to Wall Street special interests, should have blunted the chances of the Democratic nominee, the focus of the 2016 US Presidential Election was immediately pulled to Trump’s apparent history of sexual misconduct. What is most unfortunate about the scandals surrounding both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is that the American People did not learn of them until it was too late to make a difference in the election.
Transparency, and ultimately accountability, is essential for proper governance, but selective transparency is a means to manipulate public perception and undermine democracy. The Wikileaks data dump on Hillary Clinton is not problematic, because it exposes upsetting and seemingly hypocritical statements by Clinton. That is a beneficial aspect of the revelations. The document release is problematic, because the one-sided disclosures by Wikileaks are distorting public perception against Hillary Clinton and, in a broader context over time, the United States. Although revelations about Donald Trump help “balance” the effect on public perception in one sense, the strategic timing of the release weeks before the November election distorts public perception.
The problem is that selective transparency is being used to further the political agendas of partisans and special interests. The strategic disclosure of the 2005 Access Hollywood tape featuring Trump’s apparent confession to sexual misconduct, which somehow remained hidden in an archives until recently, may help boost the ratings of NBC, and counteract the impact of Hillary’s own scandals, yet this strategic use of transparency prevents voters from properly evaluating candidates. More importantly, it allows disreputable candidates into the general election instead of filtering them out. It also makes it easier for disreputable candidates to garner support based on their comparably more scandalous rivals. In turn, the focus on the faults of disreputable candidates distracts voters from the issues. Ultimately, this means elections fail to address the issues that need solutions.
It can be argued Republicans wanted Trump for his brutish character while Democratic Party leaders wanted Clinton due to the Clinton legacy. It is certainly true that Republicans and Democrats prize different character traits; however, there are limits to what behavior party members are willing to tolerate. As an upcoming political figure, Donald Trump’s lack of political legacy allowed him to amass support before his scandalous nature started to undermine his support in the general election. In fact, the slow release of controversy statements Trump provided actually helped him deflect criticism. Throughout her career, Hillary Clinton was also able to amass supporters by hiding her misconduct. Had there been full transparency along the way, both Trump and Clinton would have struggled more to amass enough support to compete in the Presidential election.
Public figures need to learn that their statements, decisions, and actions will face public scrutiny. More importantly, they must learn to issue statements, make decisions, and engage in actions knowing they will eventually face public scrutiny. In the information age, technology and the availability of information ensure public scrutiny is always a possibility, but public figures do not necessary feel the risk of potential scrutiny is enough to reflect on their misconduct. When someone’s misconduct is buried by too much information or comparably less shocking than a rival’s misconduct, transparency cannot deliver accountability. Unfortunately, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton demonstrate the truth of this.
Aside from the actual sexual misconduct and sexist remarks, the most troubling thing about the Donald Trump sexual misconduct scandal is that the release of the NBC video was so close to the November elections. While the strategic release of this revelation helped advance the political agenda of pro-Hillary supporters, it hurts the legitimacy and effectiveness of the democratic process. An effective democratic process should filter out disreputable candidates and select candidates that adequately reflect the views of the American People. Through the strategic use of selective transparency, special interests and political factions are hindering the democratic process by promoting their preferred candidates.
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