Counterpunch, July 8, 2016
Could the white-nationalist, misogynist, and arch-narcissist reality-show buffoon Donald Trump really become President of the United States? I doubt it but anything is possible. The celebrated pundit of political prognostication Nate Silver has been underestimating Trump throughout the current election cycle.
A Perfect Match
Perhaps the likelihood of a Donald “Make America Great Again” Trump presidency receded a bit three days ago when FBI Director James Comey made his blockbuster announcement that he would not recommend an indictment of Mrs. Clinton for her illegal and inappropriate use of a private email server to conduct government business when she was Barack Obama’s warmongering Secretary of State. An indictment would have sunk Hillary’s candidacy, energizing Bernie Sanders before the Democratic National Convention and possibly sparking establishment Democrats to cobble together an emergency Joe Biden-John Kerry ticket.
Still, Comey’s statement bluntly contradicted her Nixon-like deceptions on the matter and left no doubt that she engaged in scandalously criminal behavior. (Nothing new for the Clintons: scandals follow them around like stink on shit). It gives Trump and the Republicans plenty to throw at “Crooked Hillary” through the general election.
At the same time, the non-indictment is an impeccable match for Trump’s charge that “the system is rigged” for the Democrats and the Clintons. How perfect is it for Trump’s accusation that Bill Clinton had a grotesquely tasteless airplane meeting last week with Comey’s boss, Obama’s Attorney General Loretta Lynch? (Who seriously believes that Mr. Clinton and Ms. Lynch exchanged no thoughts on the potential election year political implications of an indictment?) That was made to order for Trump’s blustering about corruption, cover-ups, and dirty deals. So was Obama’s appearance at a campaign event with Hillary (in a contested state with lots of Black voters) just hours after Comey announced that Hillary would escape prosecution.
Lesser Evil Voting as a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy
Who will be to blame if Trump prevails next November 8th? Not the minority of Sandernistas and more radical lefties who won’t be able to mark ballots for the right-wing fanatic, war hawk and arch-global corporatist Hillary Clinton in contested states. If we must point fingers on the left, I think a more worthy culprit in a Donald Trump victory would be leading leftists who counsel us every four years to hold our noses and vote for the hopelessly corporate, corrupt, and imperial Democrats as the Lesser Evil (LE) It’s kind of hard to expect the Dismal Dollar Dems (DDD) to be less disastrously corporate, neoliberal and imperial when top DDDs know that top progressive luminaries will have their electoral back (in the name of LE voting [LEV]) once every 4 years.
The ever more nauseating rightward drift of the DDDs that is aided and abetted by LEV in the absence of serious movement building on the left is part of the context that lets Republicans absurdly suck up populist, working class anger. As the Green Party’s presidential candidate Jill Stein (who rightly calls for Hillary’s felony indictment) told me last February, “Lesser Evil strategy requires you to be silent, to turn your voice over to a corporate-sponsored politics, to a corporate-sponsored party. The politics of fear delivers everything we are afraid of by entrusting the fox to guard the chick coup. Silence is not an effective political strategy. And besides the Lesser Evil invariably paves the way for the Greater Evil.” Stein cited the right-wing Congressional election victories of 2010, which reflected mass popular anger and disgust with the corporate-neoliberal Obama’s failure to pursue a remotely progressive agenda when he enjoyed Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress and an angry citizenry ready to punish the plutocracy. Obama responded by acting to protect the bankers and “throw [ordinary middle and working class] people over the cliff.” By 2014, Stein noted, just a third of electorate came out to vote since “Lesser Evilism gives nothing to vote for. Eighty percent of young people stayed home. Labor stayed home. A lot of women stayed away…People don’t come to vote on what they fear,” Stein observes. “They vote on what they’re for.”
Raised Middle Fingers and Low-Hanging Fruit
The bigger culprits are the corporate and imperial Democrats themselves, of course. Trump may be atrocious, flippant, idiotic, and disgusting on numerous levels. Still, he’s not wrong when he points out that the Democrats have sold the nation’s working class down the river in the name of “free trade.” The Clintons’ noxious embrace of the North American Free Trade Agreement – a disaster for the U.S. working class – and Obama’s revolting championing of the arch global-corporatist, arch-authoritarian and darkly secretive Trans Pacific Partnership speak volumes about neoliberal-era Democrats’ deep enmeshment in the perverse politics of the financial Few over and against the Many and the common good.
Trump’s not wrong when he says that Hillary’s foreign policy positions and actions have sown chaos and disaster in the Middle East, specifically in Iraq, Libya, and Syria. And Trump’s not wrong when he says that Hillary and her husband have a long and terrible record of corruption reaching back to Whitewater, up through Benghazi and the email scandal, the atrocious globalist Clinton Foundation, and the Big Creep’s unseemly airport encounter with Loretta Lynch last week. The preposterous Trump’s cynical take on the shady, scheming, and elitist Clintons, Obamas, and other top Democrats is all too sadly rooted in reality.
It’s an epitome of the long neoliberal New Gilded Age. The ugly nativist tycoon and enemy of the working class Trump is absurdly permitted to pose as a friend of the working man. He gets to do this not simply through sheer cunning and devious, populism- and racism-/nativism-manipulating campaigning but also thanks to the vicious state-capitalist and imperial corruption of the nation’s not-so leftmost major political party, which has abandoned the working class over many decades of rightward drift championed by (guess who?) the Clintons. As privileged and pretentious upper and professional class (neo)liberal Dem elites give white Joe Six Pack the usual Goldman Sachs-financed middle finger and fake-progressively promote the bourgeois identity politics of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and gender (Obama’s campaign appearance with Hillary in Charlotte was a case study), much of the struggling and angry working and middle class is left like low-hanging fruit to be snatched up by a fake-populist billionaire demagogue like Trump.
As the left activist and writer Tom Wetzel recently commented to me online, “It seems lately that identity politics has come to function a lot as a mask for professional/managerial class disparagement of the working class.” In Iowa City in 2007 and 2008 it was very pronounced to me from numerous conversations that upper-middle class professionals’ and students’ eager readiness to vote for a Black presidential candidate – a certain unthreatening and bourgeois kind of Black candidate like Obama – was strongly connected to their disdain of the white working and lower classes. It was part of their professional/managerial/coordinator-class identity. Some of that same ugly energy is now afoot in this election cycle in relation to gender and Hillary. Is it any surprise that much of the contempt is dangerously returned?
Resentment’s Ugly Vacuum
Meanwhile, much of what passes for a progressive left in the U.S. operates from a meek calculus that perplexingly privileges fear of the rightmost party over real existential challenges (as in “do X or we will withhold voting support for you and thereby cost you the election”) to the other major party in the winner-take-all U.S. elections and party system. This contributes to the deadly vacuum of genuinely progressive voices for the legitimate “populist rage” and alienation of the nation’s working class majority. Resentment abhors a left democratic vacuum. In steps a Le Pen, a Trump, and, at the historical worst, a Hitler, to take ugly advantage of the sad silence/silencing of the left.
The Cowardly Lion
True, millions of Democratic primary voters and Caucus-goers backed a progressive Democrat named Bernie Sanders. Running against the 1% – the financial and corporate elite – that most Americans quite reasonably and naturally hate, Sanders scores/d far better than Hillary does with the populace on trustworthiness and likeability. He also significantly out-performed Hillary in match-up polls against Trump, who was beating Hillary on trustworthiness (45 to 37 percent) even before Comey slammed her three days ago. (How slimy do you have to be to be viewed as less trustworthy than Donald Trump?) Sanders would do far better than Hillary with the white working class and rural America in a general election.
But besides being an F-35-trumpeting Empire Man (something that negated much of his progressive domestic social agenda), the brass-lunged Bernie was and remains a true Cowardly Lion. He promised from the start to back the eventual Democratic nominee without conditions, foreswearing in advance any willingness to pose the aforementioned existential challenge to the Democratic Party establishment. He openly enlisted as a “sheepdog,” describing his “socialism” as an effort to boost turnout for the Democrats.
If he’d been remotely serious about becoming the Democratic nominee, the “revolutionary” Sanders would not have given Hillary advance cover on her egregious email scandal, announcing in an early debate that “the American people are sick and tired of hearing [from Republicans] about your [Hillary Clinton’s] emails.” He would have gone after the email crimes and Hillary’s criminal conduct on Benghazi as well.
When Sanders ended up doing far better than the Clintons, the DNC, and Bernie himself expected in the primaries (why his big rallies and vote totals were surprising to anyone is a mystery in a time when a handful of Wal-Mart heirs have as much wealth as the bottom 42 percent of the nation), the Nixonian Clintons and the DDD establishment made sure that the nomination process was, well, rigged to keep the pretend “party of the people” safe for plutocracy.
A System That Needs to Die
The ultimate culprit is the American political set-up. The current reigning U.S. political system is an openly oligarchic institutional plutocracy, something that is widely acknowledged even outside left circles. Why do we focus so little on the politics of changing the rules of U.S. electoral politics compared to how much we focus on the fleeting voting decision? As Greg Wilpert rightly argues, the standard once-every-4-years intra-left debate on whether and how to participate in the U.S. presidential election “tends to appear to assume that the US is actually a democratic country…[and] that our participation in the electoral system could actually make a real difference…It sometimes seems to me,” Wilpert adds, “that every four years progressives spend an inordinate amount of time, energy, and money on the presidential race, which usually leads nowhere, instead of focusing more on making sure that the political system becomes something that might one day deserve the designation ‘democracy.’”
The specific electoral and party system changes required to make U.S. elections worthy of passionate citizen engagement are well known. “We need,” Wilpert writes, “to address issues such as: the influence of money on political campaigns, the lack of any proportionality in representation (first past the post system), gerrymandering, inequality in representation (that small states have about 40 times the weight in the Senate as a large state, and three times in a presidential election), lack of access to mass media in campaigns, etc.” Yes: imagine the introduction of an elections and party system aligned with the notion of popular sovereignty (the U.S. Founders’ ultimate nightmare, by the way). A Democracy Amendment to the U.S. Constitution anyone?
Trump may end up being more viable in November than I originally thought. This will garner lefties living in contested states more lectures on our solemn duty to block “fascism” by voting for a right-wing fanatic (Hillary Clinton) – for a warmongering enemy of workers and the environment, a friend of Wall Street and “free trade” (the corporate Clinton wing of the Democratic Party defeated efforts to insert opposition to the TPP into the party’s platform), and a genuine threat to launch World War III. When I reject that counsel and Trump wins, if he does, I am not going to take the blame for the ascendancy of the Donald. Sorry. The dismal dollar Dems and their left enablers will have a lot more to answer for on that score.
In the meantime, let’s build a great popular grassroots democracy, justice, and eco-socialist movement beneath and beyond the nation’s rotten quadrennial election carnivals – a movement that includes demands and proposals for a party and elections system that would actually merit passionate citizen engagement. A system that offers us the “choice” between two highly unpopular and toxic ruling class slime-buckets like Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton does not deserve to continue.