Truth or consequences

This article appears in the Election 2016 feature series. View the full series.

The first thing a cloistered nun I met in Ireland asked me about was Donald Trump. Was I surprised? Maybe. But I don't think most Americans realize how far the slime has spread.

As the Republican party goes into free fall and the two Democrat candidates shout at each other, there is every indication that the world thinks the United States has gone completely bonkers.

I think I agree.

The level of the discussion is painfully low. Have you noticed the candidates calling each other -- and the media -- a pack of liars? Have you noticed that in most instances they are correct?

Short of handing out Pinocchio noses, what can anyone do? The first report is always wrong. The second report is usually wrong as well. But as media renditions of who said what proliferate across cyberspace, there is no taking back and no correcting. Media reports may lean one way or the other, but the candidates are actually lying a lot of the time.

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There are folks around who check the details. A website called PolitiFact rates the candidates' truthfulness. Needless to say, PolitiFact finds about two-thirds of what Donald Trump says to be mostly false, or worse. Just as in the current delegate count, Ted Cruz comes in a close second, with 62 percent of his statements rated "Mostly False," "False," or "Pants on Fire." Marco Rubio does not fare much better in the honesty race, finishing at 58 percent below the "Half True" threshold. The mild-mannered governor of Ohio, John Kasich, wins the current truth derby, with only 18 percent of his comments rated questionable.

On the other side of the aisle, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton managed to be more than half-correct most of the time, with 46 percent of her statements below the line. Bernie Sanders trounced her for truthfulness, with only 23 percent of his statements judged all or mostly incorrect.

I think the real election choice should be between Kasich and Sanders.

Will that happen?                       

In an era where a Democratic candidate (Sanders) suggests the need for more mental health funding is evidenced by the antics of the Republican candidates -- I won't comment on Trump's locker room contentions -- I find international news organizations are struggling to cover the race with straight faces. The whole thing is an embarrassment.

On the Democratic side, at least Clinton and Sanders seem to be having policy debates. On the Republican sideshow, anything goes.

The most recent Republican debate was an exercise in futility for anyone trying to distinguish policy issues. Some of Trump's supporters -- former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie come to mind -- make insults a competitive sport.

Trump, whose hair grows grayer and shorter as the campaign progresses, has sent Republican regulars into a tailspin with barroom comments about women and migrants and illegal military actions. The party chiefs called in reinforcements: Mitt Romney and John McCain joined the "Dump Trump" movement not long ago, and Catholic writers Robert P. George and George Weigel asked National Review readers to do the same.

Listening to Hillary Clinton, who dearly needs to learn to use a microphone, is almost as grating as following -- and in some cases translating -- Bernie Sander's New York accent.

The others are, well, the others.

On the one hand, name-calling and shouting are not new to partisan politics. I am sure that videos of the United States' Constitutional Convention throughout the hot Philadelphia summer of 1787 would show equally steamy rhetoric rising from the floor. It still happens. Every so often we see raucous booing in the British Parliament and even punches thrown in various government assemblies around the world – Peru's, South Korea's, and Taiwan's legislatures have refereed some interesting matches in recent years.

As the rhetoric heats up and voters think seriously about who might actually be their party's candidate, truth continues to wane and with predictable consequences. But at least no one in the current U.S. race has punched anyone.

Yet.

[Phyllis Zagano is senior research associate-in-residence at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., and currently a visiting Fulbright Specialist at the Waterford Institute of Technology, Ireland, where she will speak March 14, 2016. She will also speak May 6, 2016, at the University of St. Michael's College, Toronto and Sept. 24, 2016, at The Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C. Her books include Sacred Silence: Daily Meditations for Lent and In the Image of Christ: Essays on Being Catholic and Female.]

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