Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
When I was five years old, the most honest and trustworthy person I ever knew was arrested for lying.
Ironically, he was the only member of his government brave enough to tell the truth about its failures and abuses, which he satirized in his book, Gulliver In The Land Of Lies.
At a secret trial, my father, General Ion Eremia, was reprimanded for spreading lies about his country’s leaders. “If their portraits were recognizable, I must be telling the truth, so why accuse me of lying?” he said in court. The tribunal responded by sentencing the former Romanian vice-secretary of defense and Nicolae Ceausescu’s rival to 25 years in prison. Growing up in communist Romania as his child, I too, was falsely accused of lying by a teacher intent on proving her party loyalty; she did it in front of our entire classroom and I will never forget my impotent rage.
Not only my personal history but also my ethnicity and profession lead me to be skeptical when someone I admire is accused of duplicity. Jews, a people dedicated to bringing the light of truth and justice to the world, have been slandered throughout history as the world’s greatest deceivers. And the writers I teach in my literature classes at Touro College Los Angeles prove again and again that honest, forthright individuals are often labeled as liars and schemers by people who are far less principled than they are.
Deep thinkers – especially when they stand up to injustice and fight for their beliefs – are scary. If you can’t destroy them, you can destroy their credibility. In Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, a young, innocent child is defamed by her abusive aunt. “This little girl has not quite the character and disposition I could wish ... I should be glad if the superintendent and teachers were requested to ... guard against her worst fault, a tendency to deceit,” Mrs. Reed slanders her orphaned niece to the head of the boarding school where she will be forced to wear a placard imprinted with the word, “Liar!” It is Jane’s intellect and intensity – reflected in her love of books and watchful eyes – that triggers her step-parent’s resentment.
Mrs. Reed might have tolerated a more average intelligence or a more superficial temperament, “a more sociable and childlike disposition, a more attractive and sprightly manner, something lighter....” Jane’s truthful and determined nature manifests itself in its full force when she finally confronts her aunt: “I am not deceitful; if I were, I should say I loved you; but I declare I do not love you; I dislike you the worst of anybody in the world ... and if anyone asks me how you treated me, I will say the very thought of you makes me sick and that you treated me with miserable cruelty.”
Nothing fuels the passion for justice more than the experience of injustice. I was not surprised to learn from the CNN documentary Unfinished Business: The Essential Hillary Clinton that Hillary grew up very close to a mother who was, like Jane Eyre, a victim of vicious child abuse; her mother’s stories triggered Clinton’s fierce dedication from her youth to improving the lives of children, young women and families. I also was not surprised to learn that during her early days as first lady, Clinton’s intense focus on her own work and her serious, driven personality did not endear her to Washington society mavens and media power brokers who might have been drawn to a lighter disposition.
Despite the relentless accusations against secretary Clinton that culminated in the hideous chanting at the Republican convention, “Lock Her Up!” – a chant now continuously used at Trump rallies – no charge of misconduct has ever been proven against her. Although from the times of Aristotle and ancient Greek elections, the “argumentum ad hominem” – the attack against the person instead of his or her arguments – has been considered the basest form of argument in rhetoric, when it comes to Hillary Clinton, it is the primary one used against her throughout the 2016 election. Why should anyone wonder that many millennials – who have not known her for long – ignore her experience, her record, her accomplishments, her opinions and the opinions of her colleagues – two secretaries of defense, for example, and a president who was once her adversary – and sink in the thick piles of mud continuously slung at her credibility? “I found her smart, idealistic but pragmatic, tough-minded, indefatigable, funny, a very valuable colleague and a superb representative of the United States all over the world,” Robert Gates, a Republican, wrote about Clinton in his memoir.
“She was a luminous representative of the United States in every capital, “ Leon Panetta reported in his. “Hillary Clinton is somebody I’ve seen who is dedicated to this country. She’s smart, she’s experienced, and she’s tough. What the hell else do you want in a president?” And even the president himself, a man not known for his humility, described secretary Clinton as “the most qualified presidential candidate ever.”
Still, many pundits prefer to dig in the dirt of the same accusations, again and again, ad nauseam. As David Graham writes of both Clintons in The Atlantic Monthly, “No other American politicians – even ones as corrupt as Richard Nixon, or as hated by partisans as George W. Bush have fostered the creation of a permanent multi million dollar cottage industry devoted to attacking them.”
It is not surprising that throughout the second presidential debate Donald Trump continuously called Clinton a liar and threatened to throw her in jail as soon as he is elected. Nor is it surprising that when asked by a town hall participant to name “one positive thing” he “respected” about her, Trump answered that Clinton “doesn’t quit ... doesn’t give up. I respect that ... she’s a fighter.”
Ultimately, nothing fuels the passion to destroy and defame a person more than fierce resilience.The author is English Department Chair at Touro College, Los Angeles and author of the memoir, ‘Subterranean Towers: A Father-Daughter Story’