The Media Must Demand Policy Specifics from Trump and Clinton

© Josh Sager – June 2016

The primary voting is over and, unless something dramatic changes (e.g. Trump being indicted over his “university” scam or Hillary being indicted due to her mishandling of classified/SAP information), the 2016 presidential race will be run between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

While many people in both parties are not happy with the primary outcomes (myself included), the results are largely set and it is time for Americans to make a choice between these two candidates. In order to make this choice an informed one, it is absolutely vital that Americans understand the actual policy proposals of each candidate.


Unfortunately, for the most part, the media has failed in its duty to adequately cover the policy platforms of Trump and Clinton—rather than give the American people a clear view of each candidates’ policy positions, the media has focused on non-policy campaigning, gaffes, personality conflicts, and support polling.

Both Trump and Hillary have largely run their campaigns on platitudes and general policy suggestions, devoid of concrete specifics. Trump uses buzz-phrases like “we will win” and “make America great again” to attract low-information voters, while invoking future political deals and a desire not to show his hand (e.g. he won’t explain his anti-ISIS strategy because that would warn them) in order to explain why he has refused to talk policy specifics.  Similarly, Hillary has largely built much of her campaign on nice-sounding platitudes (e.g. “breaking barriers”), promises to continue the work of the Obama Administration, and her opposition to the racism of Trump.


A 4-layer platitude bar, served by Hillary


About as specific as Trump gets on policy issues

If you want examples of this lack of policy substance, you can simply look up a video of any victory or stump speech that Hillary or Trump have given in the last several months—here are links to Trump’s press conference the night of the CA primary and Hillary’s CA victory speech. While watching these speaking engagements with an eye towards policy, rather than rhetoric, you will notice that both candidates say basically nothing about how they will achieve their goals—they are simply using poll-tested buzzwords to fill time while letting supporters fill in the policy blanks with their assumption (the rhetorical equivalent to a Rorschach blot).

Even when they propose concrete policies, both Hillary and Trump have refused to elaborate on some very important specifics. For example, Trump declares that he will build a border wall with Mexico, yet has completely ignored the high material costs associated with such a project, never mind the impossibility of actually constructing a functional wall of that type across certain terrains and in a way that prevents/detects tunneling or climbing. Similarly, Clinton has been praised for her education plan, despite her refusal to specify the cutoff points for eligibility, mechanisms by which she will force states to increase college funding (a requirement for participation), or policies that will increase the availability of work-study jobs (she assumes that students receiving aid will have work-study jobs despite the shortage of such jobs today, even where funding is available).

Informing the American public about policy issues is a difficult and time-consuming. The typical American has little public policy knowledge and will likely have a hard time understanding a nuanced discussion on policy—this is the primary reason why the media has eschewed this type of discussion for more simplistic political debates (e.g. Trump saying something offensive or Hillary flip-flopping).

While the media has largely failed in its duty to inform the American public, there are some groups that are making an effort. A reader of mine who works of the US Tax Center sent me an infographic from her organization’s site—it gives a very basic comparison of the concrete impacts of the stated tax policies of both Trump and Clinton.

Presidential Tax Plan Graphic

Comparisons like this, where experts break down the effects of policy proposals in easy to understand and concise manners are extremely important. Without this type of summation, the American voter will default to identity and emotional politics, devoid of policy specifics.

Ironically, one of the “media” figures who has done a remarkable job breaking down these complex issues in a truly digestible manner is John Oliver. It is sad that we just hold the rest of the media to the standard of a comedian, but that is where we are today.

Before voting for any political candidate, seek out rational and objective analyses of the policies that they promote. Don’t be fooled with empty rhetoric and platitudes; don’t vote based upon identities or prejudices (e.g. race, gender, region, party ID, etc.); and don’t just blindly pull the lever for the candidate who says what you want to hear. Get informed and vote for the policies that will best serve your interests and those of the nation as a whole.

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