Are they really not that different?
I continue to hear people voice the opinion that there isn’t much difference between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. And OK, let’s accept for a minute that it’s difficult to discern a difference between her agenda and his. I don’t agree, but for the sake of argument, I’ll take it. There is still a very important difference that became clear to me while I was comparing Trump’s nomination acceptance speech to Hillary’s. Hillary Clinton is asking the country to elect her to serve. Donald Trump is asking the country to elect him to rule.
There is a vital difference between asking to serve and asking to rule. Serving the public means working to do things that will benefit the country as a whole, not just the public servant and their friends. It may not always mean making the entire public happy – in more cases than not, someone will probably always be unhappy with a good public servant. That’s because their job is to build a consensus, compromise, do what’s best for as many of the people as possible. There will always be someone who is unhappy with compromise, is unhappy that they didn’t get all of what they want, or is unhappy that someone they oppose did get something they want. But by and large, most people, whether they realize it or not, compromise daily. It is how things get done. And for someone who seeks to serve, getting things done for people is the entire point.
Ruling the public is a different matter. Rulers may compromise, but they don’t necessarily have to do so. The job of the ruler is to be the ultimate authority. The final word. A ruler is far more likely to give their ardent supporters all or as much as possible of what they want, while denying their political opponents as much as possible. Because a ruler assumes that he is always right. And when people elect a ruler, they confirm that notion. For a ruler, the point of the game is not what they accomplish. The point is winning. The point is having the power to do things. Benevolent rulers may do good things, and cruel leaders may do cruel things. Smart rulers may do smart things, and dumb rulers may do dumb things. But no matter what type of ruler you have, their accomplishments are really an afterthought. The point is the power to rule.
Nomination Acceptance Speeches
The words of the candidates themselves confirm this difference in perspective.
Trump promises that “safety will be restored” the day he takes the oath of office. As if, just by virtue of assuming office, he’s done what needs doing to bring safety to the nation. He says he is our voice, as if there will be no need for voices that sound different from his, much less say different things. He will speak for all of us. He says that he alone can fix things. And not only in his acceptance speech – he’s tweeted the same sentiment a number of times. Because he’s seeking to rule. And there’s only room for one ruler at a time. If he rules, he rules alone.
Hillary Clinton opened her speech – the speech that she was making to accept her party’s nomination for the highest office in the land, where she might be expected to speak of herself – by thanking other people. Her daughter. Her husband. Her current President and Vice President. The First Lady. Her VP pick. Her primary opponent. Her primary opponent’s supporters – some of whom were at that moment protesting her nomination. This is not the opening of a speech by a person who intends to rule. This is the opening of a speech by a person who intends to serve, and plainly realizes that in order to serve, you need friends, allies, and common causes. After thanking the supporters of her opponent, she tells them that she hears them, and she intends to help them bring their vision to fruition. She could have said that the party chose her, and therefore she’d be sticking to her original plan, which was, after all, chosen by voters. But she didn’t. She chose to acknowledge the people who had been opposing her for a year and a half, and speak to their vision. Because she’s not a ruler. She knows that in order to serve, she has to serve the other guy’s supporters too. Even if they don’t particularly like her.
This theme continued throughout her speech. She incorporated the history of our revolution, in which people came together to get themselves out from under the control of a ruler and create a nation where they would be governed by public servants instead. She referenced the country’s motto, e pluribus unum – out of many, we are one. We do not unite under one ruler, we simply unite. She emphasized over and over that no one does it alone, and no one can do it alone. Because public servants cannot do it alone. They must compromise, they must find common cause. They do not rule.
Defining and Addressing the Issues
Maybe you don’t think the candidates’ choice of words in speeches tells us anything. Let’s talk about what they’re planning to do once in office. We can do that now, because Donald Trump, who changes positions at lightning speed, has recently add an issues page to his website. Here it is. He has videos of himself talking about eleven issues, but that’s not the first thing that you see. The first thing that you see is a video titled “FORMER STUDENTS SPEAK OUT IN SUPPORT OF TRUMP UNIVERSITY”. Below that are the eleven “issues” videos, followed by a twelfth one called “TRUMP UNIVERSITY TRUTH”. Before even touching the issues videos, I feel compelled to point out that Trump U is not a campaign issue. That these videos are included on this page is entirely self-serving. Because Trump is angling to be a ruler, and ultimately, rulers serve only themselves.
His name is in lights.
Of the eleven remaining issues videos (and I’m being generous in counting all of them as issues – is “political correctness” really a campaign issue? How about “life-changing experiences”?) few of them are more than a minute long. The longest of the bunch is called “Trade War”. It is one minute and thirty two seconds long, and it comes with the caption, “Our country is getting ripped off. We need the smartest people negotiating for us!” Need I point out that it is impossible to cover a complex subject like trade in under two minutes? And that is the issue he took the most time to outline (and arguably, the one he should be most familiar with, given his business background.) The Second Amendment gets 29 seconds. The 51 second video on Israel gets the simplistic caption, “I am very pro Israel.” It’s abundantly clear that he hasn’t even given the bare minimum of time and thought to determining which issues US citizens face and how to address those issues. The problem isn’t even that he’s wrong, the problem is that he’s not even thinking about it. And why would he? He’s trying to be a ruler. His object is winning. That is the end goal. Actually doing something for the American people is an afterthought.
She fought for women’s rights.
Compare that to Hillary Clinton’s issues page. Unlike Trump’s, this issues page has been in place since she announced her candidacy (I know, I’ve spend a lot of time there.) This isn’t something she threw together at the last moment. And, unlike Trump, her issues page doesn’t include anything attempting to explain away a scandal that follows her around. There is no “the truth about Hillary’s emails” on the issues page. Probably because she understands that the page is for discussing issues that affect us, not dispelling notions that people have about her.
She identifies more than 30 issues facing the American people. I count 37 today. A few weeks ago it was 31. You can probably expect to continue seeing the list grow. In addition to the issues that you would expect any Democratic presidential candidate to tackle in 2016, like taxes, national security, terrorism, healthcare, and gun violence, she also has some that you might not expect to see. For example, she identifies autism, addiction and substance abuse treatment, and disability rights as important issues that she’d like to address if given the chance. Under the heading, “Technology and Innovation”, she promotes ideas like making sure that “100 percent of households in America will have access to high-speed, affordable broadband by 2020” and “Connecting public spaces like airports, mass transit systems, recreation centers, and career centers to high-speed internet so they can offer free wifi to the public”.
Click on any one of the issues, and you won’t get a minute-long video. You’ll get an explanation why the issue matters, list of things that Hillary intends to do as president, with details and time frames (for example, it’s not “affordable internet for Americans,” it’s high-speed, affordable broadband in all households by 2020 and free wifi in specific public spaces.) Most also contain links to fact sheets containing even more specific information, and links to relevant articles about the issue. This is clearly not a thrown-together list of buzz words and phrases. This is the work of someone who has spent a lot of time thinking about the issues that Americans are facing and what the best ways to address them might be. Most of them are of no particular personal benefit to her – her tax plan, for example, would raise her own tax rate, and her campaign finance reform plan would significantly reduce her own ability to fundraise. You are certainly free to disagree with her goals and methods, but it cannot convincingly be argued that this is the work of someone interested in ruling, or in serving only themselves. This is clearly the work of someone whose intent is to serve the people who elect her – whether or not they actually voted for her.
I’d like to compare their records, but this is difficult to do. Hillary Clinton has been a lawyer, a public figure, and a politician. Donald Trump has been a real estate developer and a reality television star. It’s unfair to expect them to have records that can be easily compared. You can’t, for example, line up their votes on various issues to see how they differ. There is no way to compare bills that they’ve sponsored.
He was a fat cat.
But it can be pointed out that Hillary Clinton chose to work for the Children’s Defense Fund, when by all accounts she could have named her salary at any high-priced law firm in the country. She chose to work to improve early education in Arkansas, when she could have much more easily stuck to ceremonial political wife duties. She chose to work for universal healthcare as First Lady, rather than picking an easier, less controversial project that would have involved less hard work and heartache. She could have given up when that healthcare initiative failed, rather than working instead to at least secure a healthcare plan for children. She could have caved to the pressure not to speak the words “women’s rights are human rights” in Beijing as first lady – her rights were not under any particular assault, and she didn’t have to use her privilege as First Lady to speak out for less privileged women and girls, especially when her own husband’s administration would have preferred she didn’t. But she chose to do it anyway.
She was a diplomat.
She could have spent her time after Bill’s presidency writing books and giving speeches instead of running to serve as a senator. She could have declined to run for a second term as a senator after the difficult experience of being a senator from New York in the wake of 9/11. She could have declined the position of Secretary of State and made more money giving speeches and writing books. Or she could have just retired. She didn’t have to become the most well-traveled SoS ever, certainly. She didn’t have to push through a change in rules so that transgender people could have an easier time getting passports – most people don’t even know she did that, it certainly did nothing to benefit her. She did it anyway. And when it became obvious that the opposing political party was going to come after her with everything they ever had if she ran for president again, she didn’t have to create a compelling and detailed plan to address issues facing the American people and step into a race characterized by ugly attacks from the political left and right, but she did it anyway. This is not the resume of a ruler. This is the resume of a person who says, over and over again, “I’m here. Let me serve.” She may be imperfect. You may not agree with her. But she is asking to serve you anyway.
Donald Trump was born into money, inherited money, and took over the business his father built. He has spent his time as an adult enriching himself. He specifically avoided military service. Let me say clearly: there is nothing particularly wrong with this. I am not accusing him of a lack of generosity, either. While the press is having some difficulty tracking down evidence of his charitable giving, I don’t really doubt that there is some out there somewhere. But giving or doing for others is not in any way, shape, or form what he’s spent most of his adult life doing. It’s not his focus – if it happens, it’s a side issue. And in fact, he’s shown no qualms about leaving creditors and contractors holding the bag if paying his legitimate debts and costs is inconvenient for him. He can do that because he sees himself as above the concerns of those people. He knows how to get away with not paying, so he wins. He talks about the presidency as equivalent to the Chairman of the Board. Find me a Chairman of the Board who sees their position as one of service. That’s not their job. Donald Trump is not asking to serve you. He’s asking to rule you.
Seems like a clear choice.
Over and over, through their words, their stances on issues, the importance they place on those issues, and their past actions, both of these candidates have demonstrated their different leadership styles. Hillary Clinton is a public servant. Donald Trump is an aspiring ruler. And if you see no other difference between them, this difference alone should be enough to make the decision. As President Obama said during his convention speech this year, “we don’t look to be ruled”. This is what he was talking about.