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At the first debate of this presidential campaign, we watch two candidates who are equally distrusted by solid majorities of the electorate. The reasons for that are evident in the case of Donald Trump, a career con man who has littered the campaign with lies, groundless accusations, and gratuitous insults, who has left a long train of bankruptcies, unpaid contractors, and debt-ridden, jobless Trump University students. That he is nonetheless supported by over forty percent of the electorate is attributable to their gullibility—and their profound loathing for Hillary Clinton.

Trump Tells Lies

Lies and Bull—John Peeler

The reasons for Clinton’s unpopularity—loathing is more like it—among a large part of the electorate are less grounded in evidence. It has been widely noted that Republicans have systematically campaigned against her for a quarter century, grasping at anything they can make into a scandal, repeating false stories until they come to be believed (remember Goebbels?). The essence of the story is the accusation that she is “crooked,” that she maneuvers behind the scenes for her own benefit, that she is not honest. And, partly in response to the unrelenting attacks, Hillary is notoriously cautious about what she reveals about herself, what she says in public. This close-to-the-chest style, of course, just feeds the Republican narrative. And after the famous “basket of deplorables” gaffe, the Republicans can say that she slipped up and showed her real feelings for once. This is not the first time that Hillary has said or done something that fed the narrative.

Trump is a serial, serious liar, while Clinton shaves the truth a good bit, but mostly avoids saying stuff that’s wholly false. Trump’s disregard for truth is truly pathological, while Clinton is about like most of us when it comes to telling the truth.

But compared to Trump, is she really so dishonest? The Washington Post recently tabulated the allocation of “Pinocchios” to Trump and Clinton based on the truthfulness of their public statements. Where a statement is completely false, the speaker gets four Pinocchios; if the statement is entirely true, no Pinocchios. Of 74 Trump statements tabulated by the Fact Checker, Trump got four Pinocchios for 47 (63.5 percent). That is, nearly two-thirds of the time, what Trump says is flatly untrue.

Clinton, in contrast, had only 6 of her 44 tabulated statements rated as 4 Pinocchios (13.6 percent). Not that she’s a paragon of truth-telling: only 7 of her 44 statements rated no Pinocchios. On the other hand, only 3 of Trump’s 74 statements merited no Pinocchios.

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Trump is a serial, serious liar, while Clinton shaves the truth a good bit, but mostly avoids saying stuff that’s wholly false. Trump’s disregard for truth is truly pathological, while Clinton is about like most of us when it comes to telling the truth.

Philosopher Harry Frankfurt wrote a brief book a few years ago, On Bullshit, in which he argues that the bullshitter (unlike the liar) simply has no concern for the truthfulness of what he says. Trump is demonstrably a liar; more than that, he’s a virtuoso bullshitter.

But this is all about public issues; what about their private lives? Well, Clinton has released her tax returns; Trump has refused. Neither candidate has fully released their medical records, but Clinton has revealed (reluctantly) a good deal more about her health. We know perhaps more than we want to know about Clinton’s (only) marriage; we know very little about Trump’s (multiple) marriages. Remarkably, given the Republican campaign against her, Hillary Clinton has never been accused of adultery (although she seems to be blamed for Bill’s infidelities). Trump, as we know brags about his affairs.

Trump is getting a large chunk of the white evangelical vote, notwithstanding his public and unrepentant immorality. This is odd. Evangelicals typically see themselves as sinners, but if they want redemption, they’re supposed to repent. “Repent” is not part of Trump’s vocabulary.

Hillary is not going to win over the hard core Trump voters, who have wholly bought into her demonization. But she needs to reach independent voters and Republicans who don’t trust Trump. Unless she can overcome their distrust, they will never hear her detailed, thoughtful policy proposals, nor believe in her presidential temperament.

john peeler

John Peeler