"The two most unpopular candidates in any presidential election." "Both as bad as each other". "The lesser of two evils."

These are the kind of phrases that have surfaced, again and again, in conversations about the upcoming US presidential election. It has been repeatedly painted as a race to the bottom between two equally corrupt, self-interested and unpopular candidates, with the general suggestion that Americans will be caught between a rock and a hard place with two completely unappealing options on polling day. Slogans like "Vote Nobody 2016" have become popular memes on Facebook and Twitter, suggesting that both candidates are so equally awful that neither deserves to be elected at all.

But this rhetoric creates a completely false equivalency between the candidates, their behaviour, their past actions and the potential future they represent for America.

While Clinton has been cleared by the FBI, yet again, of any criminal intent related to her use of a private email server during her tenure as Secretary of State, she continues to be dogged by the murky spectre of dishonesty and corruption. This is despite the fact that the majority of people, whilst claiming to be extremely concerned about the 'email issue', actually seem to know little about the relatively mundane details of the case and what really happened.

According to publicly available FBI documents, just 0.17% (or 110 out of 62,320) of the emails that passed through Clinton's private server contained classified information. And the emails she deleted, causing cries of secrecy and corruption, were personal missives sent through the same account. Careless and wrong? Yes. But evidence of corruption and deliberate criminality on a massive scale? Not by any stretch of the imagination.

Yet so great is the public mistrust of Clinton, an ambitious and high-achieving woman who has fought unashamedly for the highest office in her country, that even after the FBI announced she was in the clear once again, her rival immediately repeated these lies, accusing the FBI of impropriety and telling voters: "It's a totally rigged system... Hillary Clinton is guilty, she knows it, the FBI knows it, the people know it and now it's up to the American people to deliver justice at the ballot box on November 8."

The great irony is that if anybody is guilty of misdemeanour, it is Trump himself. With Trump, there is no need for speculation and dog whistles, for shadowy accusations and vague assertions of wrongdoing without any real concrete proof.

Here we have a candidate who has openly and publicly made his misdemeanours clear. A man who has promised, should he be elected, to build a wall along his country's border to keep out the Mexicans he has accused of being criminals and rapists and implied are 'bad hombres'. A man who has repeatedly revealed his ambition to ban billions of innocent people from visiting his country because of their faith, thus openly conflating all Muslims with terrorism. A man who has said women should be judged on their looks, 'treated like sh*t' and punished for making decisions about their own reproductive health. A man caught on tape boasting about grabbing women "by the p*ssy" without bothering to wait for consent.

While Trump accuses Clinton of benefiting from a "rigged system", he himself benefits from the greatest rigged system of all – the systemic and ingrained inequality that has allowed him, as a rich, heterosexual, white man, to reach this point in spite of decades of obscene, offensive, openly prejudiced behaviour.

It is that same "rigged system" that has seen a technical issue over an email server elevated to the same level of objection as Trump's documented history of racism, misogyny, xenophobia and repeated lies. The "rigged system" that allows these two people to be seen as equally 'unlikeable', and equally poorly qualified to lead the country in spite of the enormous gulf in their professional experience and personal attributes.

Had their behaviour and histories been reversed, the public evisceration of Clinton for just a fraction of Trump's gaffes, misdemeanours and blunders would have been so complete that she would have been lucky to have stood a chance at even gaining her party's nomination. Meanwhile, Teflon Trump, whose poll ratings inexplicably continue to recover and climb even in the wake of scandal after scandal, might have shaken off the email issue in a matter of weeks – given the benefit of the doubt by a general public predisposed to trust a white man in political office even as they scrutinise and assume the worst about his female opponent.

This is the "rigged system" that enables Trump supporters who are backing a man who has spewed hatred and division, particularly against vulnerable and minority communities, to see themselves as the real persecuted victims.

So yes, Trump is right. The system is rigged. Just not in the way he would like us to think.