Clinton and Trump: the false equivalency narrative

By W. Andy Knight

Andy Knight
Andy Knight

Caribbean Canadians are watching the US presidential election campaign in the same way a bystander might gravitate to a gruesome car crash. Many of us have relatives in America and as a result we have a lot at stake in the outcome of this election. In any event, as Canadians we are stuck living next to the US. And as someone once put it: Canada’s position next to the US is like a mouse living next to an elephant. If the elephant rolls over this could put the mouse’s life in serious danger.

As a political scientist and keen observer of elections, I’ve never seen anything like this “race to the bottom” by a presidential candidate. Exactly one month before the elections, a despicable “hot mic”  video, starring a lewd and vulgar presidential candidate, Donald Trump, discussing with now former Access Hollywood Host, Billy Bush, what can only be interpreted as sexual assault. This brief video (about three-minute) which was recorded on a bus some eleven years ago has blown up the Trump campaign, and the salacious scandals that have emerged since October 8 has brought a new low to American politics.

Trump has apologized (sort of) for the comments he made eleven years ago. But it is clear that what he was bragging about to Billy Bush on that bus was more than just “locker room” talk, as he now claims. And, for anyone who has followed Trump over the years can attest, it is not a far stretch to believe his own words when he spoke of groping women and kissing them without their consent. Trump, a serial misogynist, has always evinced a sense of entitlement because of his celebrity status. We have heard him make these claims in his own words, not only in that salacious video but also on Howard Stern’s shows and other media platforms. And now, there is a growing list of women who’ve accused Trump of sexual misconduct.


Wikileaks has hacked into the emails of the Democratic Party campaign staff and exposed some of the inner workings of of the Clinton campaign. The impression that the Republican Party is giving is that Hillary Clinton is also a flawed candidate. The argument they are making is that she is duplicitous, that she is power hungry and that she is secretive. For those of us who try to be balanced and fair, there is a tendency to listen to both sides of the argument before making any judgment on either candidate.

But I am careful not to buy into the false equivalency narrative — that somehow there is a comparison to be made between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. The notion that these two candidates are so bad that Americans have to hold their noses and choose “the least worse candidate” just doesn’t fly with me. On any objective measure, Clinton is a far superior candidate to Trump who is demonstrating, apart from his moral and ethical failings, that he is totally unfit for the position of president.

While I understand that Trump’s supporters are loyal and willing to overlook his ineptness, there is a growing sense that despite Hillary’s flaws, she has a better temperament; she actually reads and grasps the science behind climate change; she has political, legislative and executive experience; she has extensive foreign policy experience; she has a track record of fighting for women and girls not only in the US but around the globe; she is measured and diplomatic; and she actually thinks and speaks in a coherent fashion. She has a well vetted socio-economic policy platform that actually makes sense to most legitimate economists and other academics.


To see the difference between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, all you have to do is to read any transcript of Trump’s debate speeches to realize the extent to which he is inchoate, superficial, sexist, bigoted and tone deaf. Just because this braggadocious candidate says he has “the best temperament” or that he has “the best words” — doesn’t make it so. We all know that Trump is prone to self-aggrandizement, self-promotion, and “truthful hyperbole”. I have read “The Art of the Deal”. But he has also shown himself to be petulant, thin-skinned, intellectually not curious, dishonest and demagogic in a very scary way. Now that he is losing in the polls, he is blaming the media, international banks and financiers, his own Party, and minority groups.

The latest polls indicate that the gap between Trump and Clinton is widening. It is even wider among women, ever since the avalanche of women has come forward to accuse him of sexual improprieties. Even his ex-wife, Ivana Trump has in the past accused him of sexual assault, although she retracted the statement.

And, I would never underestimate the impact of Hillary’s very effective surrogates – Barack and Michelle Obama, Joe Biden, Bill Clinton, Chelsea Clinton, Elizabeth Warren, and Bernie Sanders. Just watch them in the closing days of the campaign, and compare their performances to those of the beleaguered Trump’s surrogates: Rudy Giuliani, Sessions, Donald jr., Maryanne Kelly, Jeffrey Lord, Katrina Pierson, Al Baldasaro, Rick Perry, “Bridgegate” Chris Christie, Renee Elmer, Michael Cohen and others.

Every time I listen to Trump’s surrogates, I feel like tearing my hair out. But instead, I simply invoke  Obama:  “come on, man”!!! Is this the best we can expect of someone who aspires to be the leader of the free world? Our American neighbours should not delude themselves into thinking that somehow Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are “equivalent”. They are not.

( W. Andy Knight is Professor of International Relations at the University of Alberta.)