WE COULD write that both presidential candidates talked about race last Thursday, and we wouldn’t be wrong — but it wouldn’t really be an accurate portrayal, either. Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton delivered a thoughtful and well-documented indictment of her opponent’s embrace of racist themes and his legitimization of previously fringe racist groups. Republican nominee Donald Trump, like a middle-schooler crying “I know what you are, but what am I,” retorted, without evidence or argumentation, that Ms. Clinton is a “bigot.”
The contrast points to a wider challenge of this presidential campaign, for journalists and voters alike. It’s important to hold both candidates to high standards, and in a number of areas we believe Ms. Clinton is falling short. Yet in most of those areas Mr. Trump is so far from even minimal compliance with the expectations people have set for political leaders over the years that it is hard to put them in the same conversation.
Take the potential for conflicts of interest, for example. It is maddening that Chelsea Clinton continues to insist that she would serve on the board of the family foundation even if her mother is elected. Given the potential for conflicts, and the emerging evidence that as secretary of state Hillary Clinton did not fulfill her pledge to avoid even the appearance of conflicts, it should not be seen as that much of a sacrifice simply to sever ties for four years.
But the potential conflicts with a non-profit foundation pale next to the challenge Mr. Trump would face in walling off his business interests from the national interest. The conventional solution — putting assets in a blind trust — would be laughable in his case. Putting his adult children in charge is no firewall. And given his total refusal to release relevant information about his personal or business taxes, how would Americans know when a decision was taken to benefit them, and when to benefit a Trump hotel in Baku or Moscow?
That speaks to a second asymmetry. We think Ms. Clinton should make herself more available to questioning, in news conferences especially. But Mr. Trump’s contempt for transparency is on an entirely different level. Tax returns are the gold standard, because a candidate has had to swear to their accuracy when submitting them. Ms. Clinton has released decades’ worth; Mr. Trump, alone among modern presidential candidates, refuses.
In candor, in consistency, in releasing policy proposals, the picture is similar. Ms. Clinton has, over the years, spoken untruths — about coming under fire at an airport in Bosnia, for example. Mr. Trump regularly lies and, when confronted with contrary evidence, just lies louder. Ms. Clinton has not had enough to say, in our view, about issues such as how she would manage the growing federal debt, but she has published a raft of specific plans. Mr. Trump’s proposals are so outlandish, so half-baked and so changeable — mass deportation, no mass deportation; higher taxes for the rich, lower taxes for the rich — that they are impossible to evaluate.
We think it is important not to grade Ms. Clinton on a Mr. Trump curve; to do so would, ironically, give him one more victory in the debasing of our political culture. But it’s also important not to fall for false equivalencies. As we’ve mentioned before, he represents a danger unlike anything the republic has faced in recent times.