When you run for President, you sacrifice many things–including most previously conceived notions of privacy.  Secrecy is not a virtue when you are expected to lead the free world.  Our current presidential candidates, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, refuse to acknowledge this.  The election currently underway is one of many things–and it is undeniably an election of obfuscation.  The traditional transparency and candor expected in a presidential race are being gradually replaced by secrecy and surreptitiousness.

This privacy leads to an unforeseen but perhaps deserved consequence: an unprecedented ubiquity of conspiracy theories and untruths.  Our era of institutional distrust and populist politics is a result of our politicians’ opposition to forthrightness. Thus, we ought to blame Trump and Clinton for the conspiracy theories that surround them.  If these leading candidates would appreciate transparency rather than obscurity, there would be no room for conspiratorial suspicion.

Therefore, it is an imperative that Trump and Clinton release documents that have previously raised questions; for Trump, that would be his tax returns, and for Hillary, it would include her medical records and transcripts of speeches given to Wall Street.  By keeping these things disclosed, Trump and Clinton have set a precedent for one another, vindicating each other’s secrecy and elusiveness.  The American people deserve better.  Voters have a right to scrutinize both the health and the finances of candidates for the most powerful position in the free world.  Voters value transparency, and when candidates refuse to embrace it, they give legitimacy to conspiracists and those who make a hobby out of peddling fiction.

Take Clinton’s health, for example.  Of course, Mrs. Clinton is not going to pass away due to her walking pneumonia.  It should require no effort to dispel of any fiction regarding her replacement as the Democratic nominee.  Instead, look at her campaign’s narrative.  First, it was Clinton’s unfortunate “overheating” that made her stumble into a van.  Hours later, she was “feeling great” again (Make Clinton Feel Great Again™).  That night, however, her doctor revealed that Mrs. Clinton was diagnosed with pneumonia three days prior, and Clinton promptly canceled her upcoming events.  This evolving, dishonest narrative is absurdly unnecessary–why would any otherwise healthy person need to hide pneumonia?

Of course, conspirators will be conspirators.  And when Mrs. Clinton’s staff claims individuals can “overheat” in 79 degree weather, they make the conspirators’ job much easier.  Clinton has made herself a perfect target for conspiracies: lying about her private email server, refusing to hold a press conference for 278 days, and most recently lying about her health.

Transparency works both ways, however, and the same standard should be applied to Donald Trump.  There are few parallels to the untruths peddled by Trump’s most avid fans, but look to Clinton’s attack on Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns:

Again, Trump probably paid taxes.  Without proof, though, what can be used to disprove Clinton’s claim?  Trump’s lackluster excuse–that he is under audit–not only flies in the face of historical precedent, it also gives critics an opportunity to imagine what he “could be” hiding.  Transparency is a necessity to combat falsehoods.

The American people are right to critique candidates’ elusiveness.  Despite this, there are better methods to be used than propagating unverified, radical claims.  Rationalizing conspiracy theories is not the surest way to pursue truth–their ridiculousness can often backfire, deeming all calls for transparency illegitimate.  Instead of peddling conspiracy theories, Americans should urge transparency.  In this way, the relationship between voters and their candidates can be symbiotic: by urging transparency rather than justifying conspiracies, candidates are incentivized to be honest and we receive more truth as a result.

Let’s be smart in how we approach the problem of privacy in our politics. The right to know our presidential candidates is one that tests the character, strength, and humanity of our best politicians.  Let’s not throw that right away by peddling absurd conspiracy theories.

Connor Rothschild

Hi! My name is Connor Rothschild. I’m an 18-year-old currently studying Economics and Social Policy Analysis at Rice University in Houston, Texas. I’m passionate about impacting people through policy change, usually via the human-centered design process. You can catch me drinking 6 cups of coffee in a given day, reading The Economist between those cups, and playing with my dog Lucy.

Thanks for visiting!

Connor Rothschild


Jordan B · September 13, 2016 at 12:53 am

This is beautifully written and I couldn’t agree more, however it does prompt the question, is this atmosphere of elusiveness and general lack of transparency becoming the norm in politics? I would love to know your thoughts on this. From the public eye, it seems like the political sphere of America is becoming more and more difficult to scrutinize because the idea of political transparency is fading. We can all agree both liberals and conservatives alike that transparency in our government is always welcomed and in fact should be encouraged but we don’t see that in the current election. Do you think this is just because this election is abnormal in its very essence? (Against any other republican candidate the swing states and independent voters would have flocked to the republican party and against any other democratic candidate Trump would have failed miserably its a miracle and a curse that the two most hated candidates throughout history are pitted against each other) Or do you think this is going to become a reoccurring theme in presidential elections from now on?

    Connor Rothschild · September 13, 2016 at 1:19 am

    That’s a great question, man. You nail the biggest question of 2016 on its head: whether this election is an exception to the norm of politics or if it is, in fact, the new norm. This election is anything but normal in a plethora of ways, and that leads me to hope (with optimism) that this will not be a defining era in American politics. There is also a chance that this lack of transparency being attached to such hated candidates will incentivize other politicians to respect and glorify it. Lastly, I hope that social media, internet freedom, and watchdog groups will play a positive role in enforcing transparency. Thanks for the feedback!

Diane · September 13, 2016 at 1:40 pm

Where was this transparency idea before? Obama’ college records were sealed, his birth was keep a secret and we still do not know for sure who he is. So, who do we vote for? Trump just because he hadn’t shown us his taxes he paid or Clinton, who lies, is ill, there is some concern about Clinton background. Me, I will vote “my conscience” . Trump! I will certainly not sit home and not vote. I think the Media is what makes this such a hateful election.
Excellent to read your thoughts Connor!

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