Crossing the Debate Divide

Courtesy of Tribune News Service
Democrat Hillary Clinton, right, and Republican Donald Trump during their first presidential debate on Monday, Sept. 26, 2016 in Hempstead, N.Y.

Jacob Jardel
Voices Editor
@JJardel_Writing

Presidential hopefuls Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton participated in their first debate of the campaign season. Both candidates took the stage at in Hempstead, New York, to test their wits and policies while making their cases to become the next leader of the country.

In the end, there was one true winner of these debates and the election season as a whole: fact checkers.

Throughout the nearly two-hour debate, Clinton and Trump made a variety of assertions to moderator Lester Holt. From tax-related banter to conversaions about topics vital to the United States’ well-being, there was a lot to digest among the interruptions and verbal sparring.

Thanks to various organizations who verified or refuted these facts during the debate, many viewers could ingest the material in bite-sized, easily-swallowed morsels.

However, these efforts did not fall on the shoulders of one or two organizations. PBS did live fact checks during the airing of the debate. So did National Public Radio, the Washington Post, Bloomberg Politics and PolitiFact – among other websites and publications.

Based on what the two candidates said in the debate, statistically, Clinton was the most truthful candidate. Of the comments analyzed on PolitiFact, all but four of her statements were either true or mostly true, with only one assertion proving to be false or mostly false. The other two claims either rang half true or, in the case of the origin of Trump’s start in business, uncertain because of the mogul’s unreleased tax returns.

In contrast, the majority of Trump’s claims proved false or mostly false. Specifically, Trump provided all but one of the untrue comments stated during the debate. Juxtaposed against five true or mostly true statements, Trump appeared to speak less substance and less truth throughout the debate.

All the while, Trump still dominated much of the conversation in terms of both speaking time and words spoken, filling it with repetitive rhetoric, impertinent jabs and sophomoric projection of vitriol. Meanwhile, Hillary appeared composed and responded without berating Trump.

These figures all add up to an increase in Clinton’s favorability ratings and a decrease in Trump’s.

Yet the landscape of political bipartisanism remains so divisive that there was no clear winner of the debate if the equally satirical and serious Trump Won hashtag is any indicator.

John Oliver of HBO’s “Last Week Tonight” described this division best in a segment on a show that aired before the debate.

“[Americans] will be watching two whose campaigns have been defined less by questions about their policies than their ethics,” he said.

For the rest of the segment, Oliver analyzed the various ethical dilemmas inherent in each candidate.

Polls show that Clinton’s trustworthiness ratings fall below that of Trump, with individuals blaming her for a variety of atrocities. However, two concerns stand out above others: the email controversy and a scandal surrounding her charity, the Clinton Foundation.

Put simply, one case involved Hillary conducting classified and vital governmental business while using a private email server – which she admitted was a mistake. In the other, the foundation received undisclosed donations from the chair of one of the United States’ largest uranium mines after the State Department sold that mine to Russia, this donation being one of many non-publicized pledges from foreign countries.

These cases are far more complex than listed above, but one point remains the same.

“The worst thing you can say is [that] they both look bad,” Oliver said, “but the harder you look, the less you actually find. There’s not nothing there. What is there is irritating rather than grossly nefarious.”

In juxtaposition, Trump’s rap sheet of irritating (and potentially nefarious) dealings reads even longer than Clinton’s at times, especially if one takes into account that PolitiFact found 53 percent of his statements to be outright false. But the biggest caveats to his run at Presidency involve his business deaings, whether in reference to his misunderstanding of what a blind trust is (leaving investments with independent trustees) or in reference to the shady and illegal dealings involving his eponymous university and foundation – among other scandalous dealings.

Frankly, Trump’s transgressions add a thick film of mistrust to his campaign.

In short, as Oliver said, “This campaign is dominated by scandals.” It’s easy to get caught up in it. But before we cast our votes, we need to look past the controversy before we fill out the ballot. We need to look into the facts.

Thankfully for us, a lot of people already have.

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