The Powell Revelations: Where do the two parties go from here?


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Powell speaking in 2014
Photo Credit: 
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster (hosted by ABC News)

Revelations of Colin Powell’s inner thoughts are making the media circles with yet another round of hacked e-mails being made public. While Powell, the former Secretary of State under President George W. Bush, is normally measured and restrained in his remarks on politics – insights from his e-mails paint him as anything but. NPR (link below), along with many other news sources, have cited the e-mails as expounding on Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump as an “international pariah” and a “national disgrace” at the forefront of a “racist” movement. Powell didn’t mince words when discussing Democratic Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton either, though – citing her “hubris” as wreaking havoc on nearly any effort she makes. Most immediately this offers unique insight into one of the preeminent minds of what might be called Mindful Republicanism – a passion for defense but a desire for restraint in domestic affairs. Regrettably, that insight paints a cynical outlook on the Presidential prospects of the two major parties for 2016.

What seems particularly striking about Powell’s commentary isn’t the depth or accuracy with which his commentary strikes at these two candidates, but the divide between the points he makes against them. True, his views on the short-comings of Trump and Clinton both seem to find their source at character flaws that can be observed either from a political basis or just a moral basis, but Powell’s critiques of Clinton seem far more focused on areas of growth. Conversely, Powell’s critiques of Trump seem far more tethered to Trump’s core nature. Indeed, Powell’s thoughts on Trump mark him as, arguably, unsuitable for any political leadership (or, potentially, even humanity given the stark negativity and immorality Trump is credited with). Clinton, on the other hand, seems more of a frustration founded on (based on Powell’s commentary) both her pride and lack of transparency. While these are character flaws that should be concerning in any potential President, they are areas that can be improved upon with resilience and effort. The argument, essentially, becomes that Clinton has sizable room for improvement while Trump may be incapable of such improvement regardless of time or effort.

This line of thinking leads to interesting possibilities, though. First – it obviously marks Powell as one of the many members of GOP leadership that recognize the chaos a Trump Presidency could herald. This, one hopes, will continue to splinter the bedrock of support most major party candidates can almost guarantee themselves finding. Second – it begs the question of whether Clinton can change. This isn’t a question of her ability to evolve her political stance or views as necessary (she’s clearly demonstrated the ability to do so when necessity dictates), but rather if she’s able to set aside matters of pride or lack of knowledge and consult experts. As much as many Democrats (Hillary supporters in particular) want her e-mail scandal to die and be buried, her lack of understanding of basic digital security and even internal flags for classified material remains worrisome in the extreme. The greater question isn’t why these mistakes happened to begin with, but why she (even now) seems to fall short of grasping the scope of this problem regardless of the lack of charges.

The easy counter here is that Hillary Clinton is being held to a harder, more demanding standard than Donald Trump. While this can be read as true in some regards, there is a clear and undeniable point to be made against it. First, Donald Trump went through three separate waves of being flagged as the incompetent, outsider candidate (initial media coverage, the Republican primaries, and now the election itself). While Trump has provided plenty of evidence to merit those accusations of incompetence it is also worth remembering that it created a far lower bar for him to live up to from the onset. By effectively setting standards at a universal low – Trump had almost no qualifications or standards to meet. Clinton, claiming the breadth of her experience in politics, government, and law, can’t be realistically afforded the same easy pass on gaffes or mistakes. She sells herself as the candidate of experience with the steady hand, so dismissing her critics for holding her to that standard is, in effect, dismissing her own experience as illegitimate. The question then becomes do we judge the novice and the practiced hand with the same level of expectation – and the answer is a definitive no. The real concern, though, comes when one recognizes that regardless of experience & knowledge (or lack thereof) – the winner of this election will take the reins of our great nation.

If the question in the wake of Powell’s e-mail commentary comes down to one of whether Clinton or Trump is more suited – I’d argue that the harsher tone and bleaker outlook of Trump give Clinton the marginal higher ground. If, instead, the question is whether either Trump or Clinton can grow above and beyond their flaws – I have more doubts than hopes. The real question, though, should be what direction our nation will next take with either of these two options at the helm. That question, regrettably, could be seen as having few (or no) good answers. As unlikely in the extreme as it would be for any third party candidate to claim the Presidency, this line of thought favors including third party candidates like Johnson & Stein in the debates. If nothing else, it would expand the options and information made available to the populace before they enter the voting booths in November. We can only lead the Free World as long as our President is up to the task. One hopes that the eventual victor will be.


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