On Qualifications for Office

I’ve applied for my share of jobs. You put yourself out there, put your best foot forward, highlight your experience and strengths, and hope that the people scrutinizing you will recognize them. It’s not easy. Sometimes you can put out a hundred resumes without even hearing back from anyone, never knowing who has actually seen it and decided you didn’t make the cut. It’s even harder when you know that everyone in your region will decide whether or not you get the job; I can’t imagine what it’s like to know that everyone in your nation, and people around the world, are scrutinizing you without having ever met you.

But here’s the thing about electoral politics: the people voting have forgotten what it is that voting is supposed to accomplish. Voting is the way that we all get to be on the hiring committee that selects our leaders, but there is almost no discussion of actual qualifications for office anymore, perhaps especially in the current American election. Let’s look at a few things that have been highlighted about the candidates, and then examine the outcomes.

  1. Moral character. Don’t get me wrong, I think moral character is one of the primary ways in which human beings are (and ought to be) judged; but it amazes me that we zero in on the things that we do. For example, Donald Trump has long been known to be pervy, and if this has negatively affected his business dealings considerably, we haven’t heard about it. Meanwhile, he attempts to undermine Hillary Clinton’s moral character by referring to the affair her husband had two decades ago – an affair that had absolutely no repercussions, so far as I’ve ever heard, on Bill Clinton’s performance as President. It seems that both candidates (or their teams, or supporters) want to have it both ways: the infidelities of my opponent (or their spouse) are morally repugnant, but the ones I’m associated with have no impact on my ability to be President.
  2. Transparency. This is also an important aspect for a leader, but again, not in the way in which it is presented in the campaign. Trump attacks Hillary for not releasing tens of thousands of private emails, most of which have nothing to do even with her former job as Secretary of State – and if they did, they should probably not be released anyway. Meanwhile, Trump refuses to release any information about whether or not he pays taxes, while at the same time implying that he does not and that this makes him “smart”, comments that undermine the very system that he seeks to lead. One candidate is called “lying Hillary” for maintaining personal privacy and, potentially, state secrets; the other lies more than he tells the truth, according to fact checkers, and does so with gusto. It is difficult to see any attempt at objectivity in the way Trump supporters refer to Hillary Clinton’s “lies”.
  3. Physical fitness. I get that the job of President is very taxing, with long nights and high stress, but did anyone notice that both candidates are senior citizens? Hillary Clinton was subjected to demands to see her health records, records that are protected for numerous obvious reasons, the primary being that they are the most intimate records that exist about a person. Meanwhile, Trump is in a prime demographic for virtually any disease that can affect a man. But does any of that really matter? People who bring this up point out that the nation will be rudderless if their leader is incapacitated or dies – but what about the vice president? Didn’t they invent that position for exactly this reason? What about congress and the senate? Would it really matter at all to the everyday running of the country if the President died mid-term?
  4. Mental fitness. Obviously this is important, but what’s shocking is its low profile. There is a cottage industry in psychological profiling of Donald Trump these days, but has anyone ever thought to do a proper background check, including a mental health check, on candidates for the nomination for president? This is arguably more important than any other factor, and you’d think that party representatives would be able to assure the public that their candidates are not sociopaths. The closest they’ve come to talking about this is “demeanour”, and in that respect there is absolutely no comparison: Hillary is a picture of poise, while Trump is notoriously thin-skinned, brash, rude, inconsistent, and reactionary.
  5. Party record. It is very common in political campaigns to spend all of your time talking about everything the other party has done wrong over the past few decades. Trump’s campaign is taking a new tack: talking about everything BOTH parties have done wrong over the past few decades. They are literally throwing their own party under the bus in order to appeal to the anti-establishment crowd. It might actually be the best thing they’ve done, as it speaks well for reducing partisan bickering. To her credit, I haven’t heard Hillary spend a lot of time complaining about the Bush years, but those are long in the past anyway; her rhetoric is building on her recent and very relevant political experience. But in any case, unless you can detect a credible pattern or plan that might be carried forward from a previous administration, the record of past politicians is hardly relevant.

    Now let’s move on to some points that could actually affect their ability to govern:

  6. Experience. This is the most important part of any resume, and while I’m not a scholar of American political history, I’m pretty sure that no candidate in history has the qualifications of Hillary Clinton. She’s been involved in government for over 4 decades, serving as a Senator and Secretary of State, not to mention First Lady. She knows the job inside and out. It should take some very powerful objections in other areas to overcome the sheer breadth and depth of her experience. And yet, Donald Trump can dismiss it with a wave of his hand and say “she has experience, but it’s bad experience.” What does that even mean? In the twisted logic of the anti-establishment right, the only person who can fix government is the guy who has never worked in government in his life. Can you imagine walking into an interview for a job for which you have zero direct experience and questionable indirect experience, and then insist that this is precisely what makes you the best person to do that job?
  7. Platform. It’s really amazing how little anyone is talking about the platforms of the two candidates. As we’ve seen, it’s entirely possible for secretive people with moral failings and frail health to govern a nation – just look at JFK. But how they intend to govern is a real, concrete point of relevant differences between the candidates. It is clear from the debates that Hillary has a full platform from which she has memorized talking points that have actual numbers indicating research and implementation plans. It is also clear from the debates that Donald Trump has general ideas about things that ultimately contradict each other: for example, he insists that he will bring outsourced manufacturing jobs back to America, but he’s not saying how in any way that makes sense. I don’t expect the average voter to be able to judge specific aspects of each candidate’s platform against each other, that would take expertise most of us don’t have; but I do expect voters to pay attention to what actual experts say, and most of them seem to be scratching their heads at Trump’s platform. The points on which he is very clear include his willingness to use nuclear weapons (“I don’t know why we have ’em if we won’t use ’em”) and torture, and targeting the families of terrorists. Oh, and tax breaks for the rich.
  8. Representation. Nobody talks about it this way, but I’m using the word “representation” to refer to the way that the candidates are able to represent the people. On one hand, Hillary Clinton doesn’t connect well with middle- and lower-class people because she is a “political elite”. This is true – it’s hard for most people to see themselves in her. But that’s a matter of appeal, and has more to do with the way she talks than with her actual ability to understand people. On the other hand, Donald Trump actively attacks entire portions of the population: he sexually harasses women; he proposes draconian regulation of the activities of Muslims; he refers to Mexican immigrants in general as “rapists” and drug dealers; he accepts the endorsements of the KKK and other white supremacists; and he even incites violence against journalists. Hillary once made a comment that Trump supporters are a “basket of deplorables” – ouch – but she backtracked and apologized later. Meanwhile, Trump has not apologized for any of his statements.

So for all of the people who claim that they have no good choices, that they’re merely choosing the lesser of two evils: perhaps. There are reasons to dislike Hillary Clinton, I’m sure. But when it comes to her actual experience, platform, and ability to maintain the confidence of the people of America, she is absolutely unrivalled in this contest, and I would argue that everything else is a distraction. If your reasons for disliking her are not based on her platform, experience, or abilities, I urge you to reconsider. Because voting is not about who you like, it’s about who is best for the job. How you personally feel about a candidate for a job might matter if you know you’ll be working with them every day, but that’s not the case in an election. Imagine yourself on a hiring committee when you walk into that voting booth, because that’s really what you’re doing when you vote.

Happy voting day, Americans. I wish you wisdom and peace as you make your choice.

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