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Trump's ability to convince millions that Hillary's email non-scandal is indeed scandalous shows that the country might be broken. (PHOTO: Lorie Shaull/WikiCommons)

Latest Clinton email story proves how broken America is

In these last days before Election 2016, I have some compulsive rituals, like keeping a tab with fivethirtyeight.com's election forecast eternally open and constantly reminding myself of Pauline Kael's line about how she couldn't understand how Nixon won since she didn't know anyone who voted for him. Just because no one I know is voting for Donald Trump doesn't mean he can't win.

Like the Kael anecdote, that's not strictly true. Of course I know some Trump voters – by which I mean, my family. I had occasion to visit them last week in deep, deep red suburban Cincinnati. In my daily life in deep, deep blue Bay View, I don't see many Trump-Pence signs, but there's a giant – or, rather, YUUUGE – one in my grandfather's yard in Ohio.

It was fascinating to hear my Republican family members grapple with this election. One said she didn't want to vote for Trump because of his history assaulting women, but "Bill Clinton did the same thing" – as if that makes Hillary Clinton, the actual nominee, equally guilty as Trump.

This false equivocation, that Clinton and Trump are somehow equally bad in a number of ways, baffles me. Not just when it comes to the dozen-plus women who have accused Trump of sexual harassment or assault, but on issue after issue, including their respective foundations, where it should be no contest that the Trump Foundation is in a completely different universe of scandal than the Clinton Foundation.

I'm baffled not, I hope, in the Pauline Kael sense – I try to keep an open mind, reading and listening to conservative news and commentary – but in the "How did America get so broken?" sense. We are at the end of an election between a literal reality TV entertainer and career public servant, between a man whose every speech is peppered with provable falsehoods and ad hominem attacks and a woman whose every speech is peppered with policy ideas and a vision for the future, between a candidate whose supporters chant "Lock her up!" and "Jew-S-A!" and a candidate whose supporters, you know, don't.

And then there's the latest revelation in the so-called "scandal" surrounding Hillary Clinton's use of a personal email account to conduct some State Department business. My mother, whose passing prompted my trip home to Ohio in the first place, spent the last year terrified at the thought of this election. The boorish Trump offended her Christian sensibilities, but as she told me often, she was sure Clinton was guilty of actual crimes with her email. She didn't know what to do and was upset that many of her Fox News programs seemed to condone Trump's behavior and ignorance of policy. How could they be so right about Hillary, she wondered, and so wrong about Trump?

Last Friday, James Comey, the director of the FBI, sent a brief and vaguely-worded note to members of Congress that he may need to amend his testimony from earlier this year that the FBI had reviewed all of Clinton's work-related emails. The immediate headlines, trumpeting a "re-opening" of a "criminal case" against Clinton, turned out to be extreme hyperbole.

Corey's note was spurred, apparently, by a search of former Congressman and current sleazeball Anthony Weiner's personal computer for child pornography. Weiner's estranged wife, Huma Abedin, is a top Clinton aide (and was so at State, as well), and it seems she used that laptop for work email. As I write, no one really has any idea what might be in Abedin's emails on that laptop, but it seems unlikely that they are new to the investigation, since the FBI has already reviewed many tens of thousands of emails to and from State Department employees over the same period.

At the very least, these are emphatically not emails Clinton deliberately withheld from the FBI or anyone else. They probably do not contain classified information, since almost none of the emails reviewed so far contained any unclassified material at the time they were sent.

Most of this was known very shortly after Comey's letter became public on Friday; the headlines didn't stop, though, and the most-asked question of the weekend is what damage this would do to Clinton's campaign. Indeed, I've been watching anxiously as fivethirtyeight's Clinton-win percentage falls precipitously.

But why? Since the beginning, the whole Clinton email "scandal" has been evidence of Republicans' quixotic zeal for destroying the Clinton family much more so than any true national-security or government-ethics scandal. Let's review.

After a decade of Republican use of private email specifically to avoid discovery and Freedom of Information Act access – the George W. Bush White House did it, as did Bush's first Secretary of State Colin Powell and Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker, to name a few – Hillary Clinton wanted to use a personal email account for routine business so she didn't need to carry two phones. She never considered withholding State emails from the public and, indeed, gave 55,000 pages of State-related emails without being FOIAed or subpoenaed. But she wanted the ability to keep her personal email private.

When Clinton was appointed Secretary of State, she already had two decades of experience with right-wing media putting everything she ever did under a microscope, and though she calls her email decision here a mistake and she has apologized repeatedly, the way she has been treated over the issue sure seems like vindication of her desire to keep her private communication out of public view.

Further, there remains no evidence that her personal email server was ever hacked, even though while she was Secretary of State, the State Department's emails were in fact hacked. Regardless, none of the emails Clinton sent through that server contained classified material at the time they were sent; some have been retroactively classified, mostly by people in the government who think Americans don't already know we have a drone-strike program.

A small handful of emails Clinton received should have been classified at the time, but none of those were correctly marked. For classified information, Clinton used the designated State email system, secure phone lines or face-to-face meetings.

Clinton did not order her personal email server to be wiped after receiving a Congressional subpoena. She ordered it to be wiped before then, but after her attorneys had reviewed the emails to separate personal from work emails, handing the work emails over for archiving. And almost all of the work email Clinton sent was to state.gov email accounts, so of course it would have been archived anyway.

To sum up: If she was trying to hide some aspects of her work at State by using personal email, she did a really terrible job of it, what with sending email to those government accounts and turning the emails over to be archived. If, on the other hand, she was trying to be careful and accurately document her time at State, she did that pretty well.

Still, this "scandal" has driven Clinton's negatives through the roof. The smallest aspects of it have been magnified and imbued with a ridiculous level of significance. Trump, for example, has famously claimed that Clinton's exoneration after a thorough review by the FBI, concluded this summer, was evidence that the election is rigged. His tells crowds she is a criminal who should be in jail, and that's when the crowd chants, "Lock her up!"

After Weiner's laptop rekindled interest in the scandal, Trump spent the weekend beating the drums more furiously for Clinton's imprisonment, along the way casually telling bald lies and insisting they prove malicious intent. Among them, that all 650,000 emails on the laptop are relevant to the Clinton investigation. Only some were from Abedin, and the majority of those are probably not to or from Clinton; the ones seen so far, according to the LA Times, are not even to or from Clinton.

Trump also claimed Hillary Clinton "bribed" Attorney General Loretta Lynch with a public promise of reappointment, which never happened. Trump is probably referring to a New York Times story about Clinton's goal of a cabinet that is at least half women. The story quoted an anonymous source suggesting Lynch might be reappointed, which is about the furthest thing from a public promise you can get in Washington-insider speak.

He called Clinton's server "illegal" – it wasn't – and said Clinton "gets a subpoena and she deletes and bleaches," which is false. Trump is apparently still very confused by the freeware program BleachBit, saying "Did anyone ever hear of bleaching? ... It's such an expensive process." Nope – it's free.

Aside from the BleachBit software, Trump has often hammered on, well, hammers. The FBI report exonerating Clinton noted that Clinton's devices were destroyed after use, sometimes with a hammer. It's actually government policy to destroy devices, as it turns out, but Trump is happy to use it as evidence of conspiracy.

But conspiracy to do what? Trump and his allies have managed to convince America that Clinton is hiding something in those emails, but they can't say what. So instead it becomes kind of a Rorschach Test: Whatever you think Clinton is already guilty of, the smoking gun is in those emails, from evidence she conspired to cover up something in Benghazi to evidence the Clinton Foundation engaged in pay-for-play.

Trump is telling everyone now that Clinton's choice to use a personal email account is "bigger than Watergate." Of course it isn't; Watergate involved an actual crime and dozens of indictments and convictions.

But that Americans are willing to believe Trump, to believe both sides here are equally bad or that Clinton is somehow significantly more corrupt or dishonest than Trump – whose business model seems to be built entirely on cheating other people out of their money – that is what makes me feel this whole thing is broken. There is no equivalency here, no agonizing choice to make between two damnably evil people. This shouldn't be an even remotely difficult choice.

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to see if fivethirtyeight.com has updated its forecast.


Talkbacks

Darnell | Nov. 2, 2016 at 2:02 p.m. (report)

I sure wish that the Boomers baggage was a thing of the past. Instead, we are drawn back into the unending well of right wing misinformation, hate, fear, racism, division, misogyny, sexism, fascism, and greed. On the left, you have Bill Clinton's transgressions. That's about all the right has against HRC when you boil it down. - When the right tries attacking, whatever the topic, there is a strong probability that THEY are doing FAR WORSE: http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/cover_story/2016/10/was_a_server_registered_to_the_trump_organization_communicating_with_russia.html

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