Is the 2020 Election fundamentally different from past presidential elections? Did the candidates in 2000, 2004, 2008, and 2012 avoid and/or evade at the same level of intensity as this year? Yes, but always at a politically acceptable level.

This year is different.

One candidate has elevated the art form of evading to a new pinnacle while keeping avoidance close by, just in case avoiding doesn’t work. Both sides routinely avoid answering questions they don’t want to answer. But one side evades at a near-hallucinatory level.

Avoid and evade are verbs similar in meaning. In common discourse, they are almost interchangeable. But at the level of political truth, they collocate with important differences. All politicians duck and weave with abandon. They say what they say not in answer to a question, but to avoid or evade an answer.

Ordinary human folk may not notice the subtly in evading rather than avoiding, but politicians are masters of the dark art of rank evading rather than merely avoiding. The difference is not between truth and falsity. The difference is arrogantly evading rather than politely avoiding. Therein lies the ethical construct. The evader has no respect for public need. The avoider is hesitant but still feels the need to change the subject. 

In a close race where losing means more than “just” losing, evading becomes the marching order of the day. Mere avoidance is not good enough. In this year’s presidential election, losing by the incumbent carries the likelihood of civil suits, criminal prosecution, public disclosure of embarrassing data, and rats spilling out from the leaking hold. The incumbent must evade because a truthful answer adds tonnage to his sinking ship. Conversely, losing by the challenger carries the likelihood of returning to senior status. There’s no hole in his boat, so he can afford to avoid, rather than evade.  

Evasion demands trickery and subterfuge as well as intention. Evading rebukes obligation, duty and responsibility. All politicians are skillful at evading questions, problems or issues. But most are not at risk of the heavy hand of the law coming down by an independent justice department. The incumbent evades because he knows tax avoidance is legal but tax evasion is not.

The Washington Post reported, “The constant spotlight fixed on Donald Trump for the last year would have overwhelmed any other candidate, particularly one so evasive. But not him: Trump now campaigns as pro-life — but he was ‘very pro-choice’ well into his 50s; he boasts that he’ll defeat the Islamic State ‘very, very quickly,’ but won’t specify how; he claims he’s worth billions, but won’t release his tax returns. He became the GOP’s presidential nominee without revealing anything approaching a clear picture of his mind or his history.”[1]

Fox News retorted, “Democratic nominee Joe Biden declined to say if he would ‘pack’ the Supreme Court during Tuesday’s debate and critics are irked that his refusal to answer isn’t a bigger story for the mainstream media. ‘Whatever position I take on that, that will become the issue,’ Biden said. ‘The American people should speak. You should go out and vote.’”[2]

Perhaps we should all breathe a sigh of relief. The incumbent will continue to evade rather than merely avoid. The challenger will continue to avoid when necessary. The difference may not matter. What does matter is whether the nation will survive evasion of elementary truth about the pandemic, our economy, democracy, and the attack on the rule of law.

“We Can Always Hope,” many human folk say. A more realistic tone comes from an ancient Lao proverb—“Hope says yes when nobody asked.” 

Gary L Stuart

I am an author and a part-time lawyer with a focus on ethics and professional discipline. I teach creative writing and ethics to law students at Arizona State University. Read my bio.

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[1] Retrieved October 16, 2020.

[2]  Retrieved October 16, 2020.