The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own. ImportantCool does not endorse any candidate for president of the United States, though it’s safe to say we all deeply detest Trump on a personal level.
It gives me no pleasure to defend Hillary Clinton.
Like many of us, over years, nay, decades, of excessive exposure, I have become allergic to her.
I hate her voice. I hate her smug face. I hate her weasel words and lies. I hate her ever shifting kaleidoscope of public positions. To repurpose a line from the fictional Tracy Jordan of 30 Rock, she’s “like a chameleon, always a lizard”.
I hate her laugh. God I fucking hate her laugh.
I know it’s no joke. This isn’t about her being awkward and phony. She’s done terrible things. Clinton represents everything I’ve spent my teenage and adult years raging against. She is part of the cold blooded neoliberal establishment whose leadership over the past several decades has brought us to this unhappy pass.
But it is just days out, Trump is inside striking distance. Trump is not a normal Republican. Trump never laughs.
Whereas Clinton’s evil is of the banal, managerial variety, he is properly sinister.
The United States two-party system has an oft observed tendency to co-opt extreme positions, channeling them through the dual funnels of the major parties, diluting and moderating them. This worked on the Democratic side, with the radical energies of the Sanders campaign functioning to correct and re-invigorate the party. On the Republican side, however, under the extraordinary pressures of the moment, the mechanism has malfunctioned. Instead it has channeled these extreme, white nationalist energies to within grabbing distance of executive power. The Far Right is on the march.
The “as bad as each other” and “two sides of the same coin” arguments have never been lazier or more out of place. The difference between the two candidates is the biggest it has been in generations.
This could be the beginning of a new, dark chapter. Or it could be, basically, at least for a little while, more of the same.
Many on the Left seem to fear the latter most of all.
Take the Mr. Snuffleupagus of contemporary Marxism, Slavoj Žižek, speaking here on BBC.
Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek says he would opt for Donald Trump as the apparently less dangerous choice in the US election. pic.twitter.com/3kuC1Ytf2j
— Channel 4 News (@Channel4News) November 3, 2016
The first really stupid and annoying thing he does here is agree with Trump’s reading of Bernie Sanders’ endorsement of Hillary Clinton. “Occupy Wall St. endorsing Lehman Brothers”. One would think a Hegelian like Žižek would be able to fathom such seemingly paradoxical contradictions as this, but that’s beside the point.
Žižek, and many like him on the left, either out of malice or genuine ignorance, are ignoring the months of bargaining that went on during which Sanders did what he could to drag Clinton to the left. You wouldn’t know it from the personality-focused horse race coverage which predominates, and upon which Žižek’s analysis is clearly built, but much was achieved at the level of policy.
I know because I made myself watch, the joint appearances, the convention, everything. I compared it at the time to a non-vegetarian forcing themselves to kill their own chicken. If I said I was OK with it, then I had to be prepared to confront it. It wasn’t as bad as I thought.
Among the policy compromises Bernie won was a college plan to make public university tuition free for people from families with annual incomes lower than $125,000. This is a big deal. So is her promise to implement a national minimum wage of $12.50. It’s not 15, but it’s something. Then there’s global warming, which she at least believes in, or says she does. I could go on. But I think that kind of policy specific discussion is, for most of us, beside the point. There’s something else going on here, something meta-political.
The key point is that, in Žižek’s mind, Trump has “disturbed” the “unwritten rules” about “how politics work and how you build consensus” and if he wins then the shock may cause the parties to undergo a period of self reflection: “Both big parties, Republicans and Democrats, would have to return to basics, rethink themselves, and maybe some things can happen there.”
If not, then neoliberalism will return, unshakeable, eternal, unscathed, an indestructible and all encompassing structure, which he cannot see beyond.
His blindness here is painful, but typical of the celebrities which the Left has, instead of leaders.
As far as I can see, the best thing about a Trump victory would be the extent to which these uninspired thinkers, rather than the Democrats or Republicans, would be “disturbed”, perhaps making way for a new generation focused on overturning the system more than winning the elevated position of lauded critic within it.
One way or another, change is coming. Maybe just not change for the better.
Neoliberalism, following decades of dominance, is in collapse, or at very least a deep crisis – a crisis that will more likely be exacerbated than not alleviated with a Clinton win. The status quo, TINA, the Washington Consensus, whatever you want to call it, is mortally wounded and slowly bleeding out. It has been since at least 2008, and more obviously since 2011. Throughout this time the Left commentariat, especially in the Anglo-saxon world, has shamefully fidgeted and naval-gazed, looking for easy take-downs and sick burns, rather than exposing themselves by stepping forward with policy proposals. Instead, the populist Right has seized the opportunity, and is on the verge of displacing the cosmopolitan free traders.
Globalization, having been used as cover for hyper-capitalism, is taking the blame for the latter’s failure. Anger at suffering caused by elites is deflected onto foreigners, both “over there”, and “here among us”. It’s classic stuff. It’s a formula the Right have reverted to because it works, and because we on the Left failed almost completely to step into the political openings created by the glaring implosion of the current establishment.
For decades, we on the Left have worked to bring the beast of neoliberalism down, doggedly stalking it across the plains. But a bigger animal is about to come along and steal our kill. They are ready. We are not, not really. They also oppose the trade deals that destroyed the first world’s manufacturing base. On top of that they have Trump, they have Brexit, they have “The Wall”. All we have is our opposition. Without a cohesive vision to bind them into a meaningful message, our endless cries of protest ring hollow, screechy.
After eght years the best we’ve done is a couple of throwbacks to a previous generation of progressive activism: Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn. This paucity of supply of left wing leadership has been compensated for in recent years by a huge surge in demand, which has propelled these principled but unspectacular men to prominence. Corbyn has taken control of the British Labour Party. Sanders almost did the same to the Democrats. The forces that propelled them will not disappear, but rather grow stronger over the coming years, as younger, digitally empowered, progressive voters join the electorate and older, more conservative voters pass out of it. Out of this buzzing cornucopia of progressivism, new leaders, organizations, and visions shall emerge. Hopefully, this surge of young progressives can make up for the failures of their immediate predecessors.
But for that to be possible we need to keep the wheels on for just a little longer. Clinton is the devil we know, the devil already on it’s way out. Trump is a fresh terror. We have no idea what to expect really. Some scenarios are not so terrible, even benign. Say he wins the presidency but the Republicans lose control of congress. After four pathetic years of bluster without much consequence, he loses to a fired up Elizabeth Warren, or someone like her.
But there are also much darker timelines going forward from a Trump victory. Many involve the widespread use of extra-legal violence, perhaps in quiet coordination with law enforcement, who are among Trump’s biggest fans, to crush opposition and intimidate critics. Here we would see the real beginnings of American fascism. The danger such a force would pose to the world is hard to overstate. It’s a threat Žižek and others foolishly dismiss.
Not to say that a Clinton win promises a world of wonders and progress. All kinds of terrible things could happen. Many of them probably will. Probably the worst case scenario, however, is a failure to come good on her apparent leftward shift, a reversion to an insiders-only politics, a backflip on the TPP and endless stalling and watering down of the college plan. More of the same, leading, in four or eight years time, to the rise of Trump 2.0. Probably not the man himself (though given his complete disregard for the conventions of American democracy, I wouldn’t rule it out) but someone channeling the same raw aggression and chauvinism into a sledgehammer of conservatism.
Because of the demographic shifts I mentioned before, this seems unlikely.
But if the worse thing about Clinton is we might end up with Trump anyway, then it doesn’t make sense to vote for Trump. She might be compromised by her connections to the billionaire class. He is a member of it. He embodies its solipsistic, venal, drooling greed.
The extent to which a Trump win would empower the most dangerous elements of US society must not be underestimated. In the UK, after Brexit, the rate of racially motivated crimes increased by 500%. A similar effect or worse can probably be expected following a Trump win. Given the already elevated racial tensions in the US, there’s no telling how dangerously that could spiral out of control.
Remember, in swing states, one less vote for Clinton is, in terms of the result, identical to one more vote for Trump. Even outside swing states, it would be better if Trump lost badly, if the racists were humiliated and scared back under their rocks, if the Democrats took commanding control of the senate, leaving Clinton with one less excuse for not delivering on her campaign promises of green jobs and free college.
With Hillary, we will spend our time on the Left much as we have under Obama, decrying the phoniness of her program, the timidity of the steps she takes in areas where we even support the basic thrust of her policies, the duplicity of her relationship with the banks, and so on. We might also begin to sketch out innovative progressive visions to replace the shuddering wreck of neoliberalism.
If Trump wins, then the opportunity will have passed, and, rather than fighting for a better world, we will be fighting to prevent a degeneration into open despotism, to get back to a position like the one we’re in right now.
We might not win.