A while back, I wrote a column that seemed to anger almost everyone.
In it, I said it was fitting Bill Clinton and Donald Trump would be linked in history, because their conduct was more similar than partisans of either man would like to acknowledge.
The response was swift and intense.
Clinton’s defenders were outraged. They railed that the Kenneth Starr-led investigation that led to Clinton’s impeachment in the House of Representatives and trial in the U.S. Senate was nothing more than a partisan witch hunt. (Sound familiar?) They talked about all the good Clinton accomplished in office – the expanding economy, etc. – and contended it was brutally unfair to compare him to a boor like Donald Trump.
If anything, the members of Trump’s cheering section were even angrier. They also lamented that the investigations into Trump’s behavior were, you guessed it, witch hunts. They also said it was just plain mean-spirited to compare a “great” man like Trump who is – wait for it – making America great again to a sleazebag like Bill Clinton.
This vehement reaction confirmed what I already suspected.
Much of this country cannot look at anything without first filtering it through partisan lenses.
Absent those filters, Bill Clinton and Donald Trump appear to have a lot in common.
Both have abused their positions and conducted themselves disgracefully with women. When confronted about their misbehavior, both have lied about it repeatedly and only acknowledged, grudgingly, the truth when the force of law compelled them to do so.
Most important, no matter how much damage may have been done to the lives of the women who crossed their paths, both Bill Clinton and Donald Trump never fail to see themselves as the “real” victims.
All this became clear this past week, when Clinton complained that he left the White House $16 million in debt. The fact that he and his wife now are worth about $200 million seems not to have assuaged his sense of grievance.
Nor does the fact that his actions may have done lasting harm to Monica Lewinsky, the young woman whose trust he and others abused, seem to bother him much. He had to be pressed to apologize to her. His eventual expressions of regret were less than convincing.
Trump, if anything, is even worse.
Bedeviled by litigation that adult film star Stormy Daniels initiated regarding an extramarital dalliance she claims Trump had with her, the president had his legal attack dog of the moment, Rudy Giuliani, say no one should even pay attention to what Daniels had to say. “Just look at her,” Giuliani said dismissively.
Giuliani also contended that First Lady Melania Trump has assured him that she believed the president’s denials of an affair with Daniels.
Almost immediately, the first lady’s press office said Melania Trump never had shared her thoughts on anything with Rudy Giuliani, much less the state of her marriage.
The message from both Clinton and Trump was the same.
In these men’s world, the women in question don’t merit consideration as human beings worthy of respect. They’re commodities to be used and then ignored.
The fact that both these men are the fathers of daughters makes their conduct and their attitudes even more disturbing.
There are, to be sure, things about both Bill Clinton and Donald Trump to admire.
Many politicians have talked about streamlining government and making it more efficient. Clinton did that, stacking up budget surpluses while every other president in my lifetime piled up deficits.
Trump is tougher to respect, but, if he ever began to try to fulfill his campaign promises to shore up America’s sagging infrastructure and improve the lot of America’s working class, I could support that.
What’s difficult – no, impossible – to defend is the Clintonian and Trumpian belief that they can treat other human beings with contempt, just because those other human beings are women.
Partisans for both men, I know, will disagree with this.
So be it.
Bill Clinton and Donald Trump have a lot more in common than either man would care to admit.
John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.