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Commentary: How A Phony Negative Equivalence Unfairly Helps Trump

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump waits offstage to be introduced during the Commander in Chief Forum hosted by NBC on Wednesday. (Evan Vucci/AP)
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump waits offstage to be introduced during the Commander in Chief Forum hosted by NBC on Wednesday. (Evan Vucci/AP)
This article is more than 4 years old.

As we head into the fall campaign, the media will surely continue to tell us what we’ve known for months now: that both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are more disliked than liked by voters.

The poll-driven "analysis" helps Trump. As he says things that are regarded as racist, xenophobic, misogynistic and, occasionally, just plain nuts, Clinton’s sin is that she’s not trustworthy, especially about her emails.

This poll-driven “analysis” tells us nothing about their issue differences or qualifications and creates a phony equivalence. It makes all sins seem equal and places former U.S. Senator, Secretary of State and First Lady Hillary Clinton’s 30 years of public service on a par with Trump's 14 bizarre months as a candidate.

Trump’s flaws and failures are numerous and serious.

He has been the subject of numerous lawsuits, the most famous of which was brought by victims of his scam Trump University. He’s attacked the federal judge hearing that case, because of his Mexican heritage. He belittled Gold Star parents whose son was killed in Iraq. He disrespected Sen. John McCain, because he got captured in war. He used a wild claim by a supermarket tabloid to say Sen. Ted Cruz’s father was involved in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

He hypocritically claims he will bring jobs back to the U.S., while his namesake apparel is made in China and Bangladesh. His campaign manager, Paul Manafort, was forced to resign when The New York Times discovered he was secretly paid millions to advise the pro-Vladimir Putin boss in Ukraine. He called on the Russians to hack into Clinton's emails. He declared without one shred of proof that President Obama and Clinton were founders of ISIS — an utterly ridiculous claim that the news media has stopped covering. He preposterously asserted that he knows more about ISIS than U.S. generals.

Any one or two of those statements or revelations would sink a normal candidate. But Trump survives and thrives, because incessantly reported polls show voters don't like either candidate. On TV talk shows, Trump’s spinners don't even try to explain or rationalize Trump’s bizarre assertions; they simply counterattack. When his spokeswoman — and now campaign manager — Kellyanne Conway was asked to explain Trump’s assertion that Clinton is “a bigot,” she dodged, saying her campaign was talking issues. Asked about his tax returns, Conway attacked Clinton’s emails.

When TV news hosts grow tired of trying to pry any answer from Trump flacks, they turn inevitably to Clinton’s spokespeople and toss out some “equivalent” question about her not holding news conferences.

Meanwhile, Trump has refused to make public his tax returns, so we don’t know how much or little he paid in taxes or whether he’s made contributions to charitable organizations; the only investigation of his giving found his gifts have come from his foundation, not his personal funds. His personal giving?  Who knows. It’s in the tax returns, which we’ll never see whether he wins or loses.

The Washington Post examined dozens of charities that Trump could have given to and learned that his giving amounted to less than $10,000 over seven years – not the millions he boasted.

Meanwhile, the Charitable Navigator, which tracks and rates philanthropic organizations, gave the $2 billion Clinton Foundation the highest grade, four stars — for transparency, effectiveness and the share of funds (96.9 percent) spent on programs that help people rather than administrative expenses.

Clinton Foundation funds have done demonstrable good in reducing the spread of HIV/AIDS, raising the life expectancy of women in developing countries from 69 to 73 years, and preventing the senseless slaughter of elephants — a “sport” Trump’s sons enjoy.

Dan Payne Twitter Democratic Political Analyst
Dan Payne is a Democratic political analyst for WBUR.

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