So Much for Competence: Trump/Clinton as Popularity Contest

By Michael Shaw

Norman Rockwell’s 1944 painting “Which One? (Undecided; Man in Voting Booth),” which was a cover for The Saturday Evening Post during the presidential race between Franklin D. Roosevelt and Thomas E. Dewey. Credit: Joshua Barone/Curtis Licensing, Indianapolis, IN, via Sotheby’s.

Looking back on Election ’16, how will history judge a contest that only had one qualified candidate? Even more so, how will we judge how much Clinton’s competence became so equated with her popularity? It’s one thing for both candidates to have high negatives. It’s still another for media to make it the storyline and a baked-in handicap, especially when the competent candidate led consistently in the polls. Net it out, and here we are in the closing days of this election with many media organizations (and key visuals) summing up the contest as “no good choice.”

Take this Norman Rockwell painting up for auction that was featured the other day in the NY Times as a campaign analogy. The year was 1944 and Roosevelt was running for a fourth term. Perhaps “the coin toss” reflected that FDR was ill? The ambivalence certainly isn’t reflected in the finally tally, as Roosevelt was the clear preference, winning the electoral college 432–99 and the popular vote 53.4% to 45.9%.

“None of the above” seems to have won out, too, in the last NY Times Magazine cover storybefore the election.

From left: Trump, the Clintons and Melania at the wedding, about which Hillary has said, “[Trump] was basically a Democrat before a Republican, and he was somebody that we all knew in New York.” Trump explained that he paid her to come: “She had no choice because I gave.” Photo: Maring Photography/Getty Images/Contour by Getty Images. NY Mag

Choosing Clinton antagonist, Maureen Dowd, to write the story, the article trashes the Clintons and the Trumps. Not as politicians, but as New York City power players. According to the story, Trump is a lesser billionaire, the Clinton’s are carpetbaggers. “Bill is kind of Trump with a dictionary.” The Ivana-Chelsea friendship proves equivalence. Both couples are all about brand promotion. They both used each other. And, back to the visuals, the go-to picture is the shot the Hollywood Reporter published in April 2015 — the one from Trump’s wedding that the Clintons attended in January, 2005.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Here are two more tweets that look past the Grand Canyon-sized difference in qualifications to present the candidates as fetid peas-in-a-pod.

I don’t know. Was it a gender thing? Was it for drama? Was it the media feeling the need (or the fear) to balance things out through false equivalence? Whatever got us here, asking “Which One?” is radically misleading when only one of the candidates is competent.


Originally published at Reading The Pictures, the only site dedicated to the daily review of news and documentary photography. Sign up for the Reading The Pictures Week in Re-View email. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.