Sept. 11 is etched in American history as a day of tragedy and somber remembrance. On 9/11 this year, however, the conversation strayed from the stories of loss and heroism from that day. During a commemoration event at ground zero Sunday, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton fell ill and left the event suddenly. Her campaign initially cited dehydration and overheating as the cause, before a video emerged showing Clinton stumbling and needing help to walk. Later that same day, Clinton’s doctor revealed that, on Sept. 9, he had diagnosed her with pneumonia, prescribed her with antibiotics and ordered her to rest.
The subsequent reaction by the media was nothing short of vitriolic. Critics cited the lack of transparency regarding Clinton’s diagnosis not only as another example of the candidate’s dishonesty but as evidence that she was hiding even more — giving birth to unsubstantiated conspiracy theories. Clinton’s supporters countered by stating that, even if she had been forthright, Clinton still would have been chastised for missing the event. Both sides, however, ignore that the personal attacks by each candidate move national discourse away from the important political differences between the candidates or even legitimate inquiries into each candidate’s honesty.
Many in the Clinton camp believe queries concerning the candidate’s health are sexist. However, when it comes electing a candidate to the most powerful office in the world, it is not unprecedented nor unwarranted for voters to be concerned with the health of a potential commander in chief. Voters raised questions about Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) health during his presidential bid in 2008. He was, at the time, 72 years old, three years older than Clinton is now. While the media has at times held a sexist double standard against Clinton throughout the campaign, it is not sexist for voters to want this information.
Yet her illness has sparked many to jump to conspiracy theories. There are Republican nominee Donald Trump’s supporters — dubbed “Pepe the Frog” conspiracy theorists by the Clinton campaign — who believe Clinton has a body double to hide her declining health. Additionally, Bennet Omalu, the forensic pathologist who discovered chronic traumatic encephalopathy, asserted on Twitter that he believes Clinton was poisoned and even implied this could have been the doing of Trump or Russian President Vladimir Putin. These theories are fueled by speculation that comes from a lack of information. They serve no purpose other than to misinform voters and make a disgrace out of America’s political process.
It is imperative, now more than ever, for both candidates to be candid, honest and transparent. Clinton’s misinformation following her diagnosis feeds into a narrative of untrustworthiness that has plagued her campaign, while Trump is known to outright distort and lie over the factual record, making claims that are in the realm of conspiracy theories.
Clinton stands to benefit from pulling back the curtain, both on her health and other issues with which voters are concerned. In July, a CNN poll found that 68 percent of registered voters thought the phrase “honest and trustworthy” did not apply to Clinton, while 55 percent said it did not apply to Trump. If Clinton wishes to assuage one of voters’ greatest concerns — that she is hiding her true self from the public — the best way to do this would be to be more transparent. Not only would honesty build up an ever-important trust, it could also prevent her from being mired in media narratives accusing her of scandal. It is in Clinton’s, and any candidate’s, best interests to be forthright with the American populace.
With 53 days until the election, now is the time for voters and citizens alike to take control of this election cycle, to demand more than flickers of transparency from the two figures who continue to vie for the nation’s most powerful office. Voters ought to hold candidates responsible for being open and honest with them.