By Andrew Levine. This article was first published on Counterpunch.
The Clinton campaign’s coffers are stuffed with money, and the Clintons have nearly every Democratic Party Senator and Governor, along with the Democratic National Committee, in their pocket.
Corporate media outlets, including MSNBC, CNN and National Public Radio, are doing Hillary yeoman service too. The Washington Post has been especially servile, but they all derogate the Sanders campaign whenever they cannot ignore it entirely.
Nevertheless, Team Hillary is struggling. They are charged, after all, with selling an unappealing and deeply flawed candidate. This election season, evidence confirming W.C. Fields’ observation that there is one born every minute has been accumulating at a record pace. Even so, there just aren’t enough suckers around to make Hillary’s road to the White House easy.
Her campaign strategists discovered this, most recently, in Kansas, Nebraska, Vermont, Maine and Michigan. Yes, their candidate is racking up large majorities in “red” states that Democrats are sure to lose in November; and yes, with all those “super delegates” on board, Hillary is “winning.” Still, there is no denying: that wretched woman is a hard sell.
And so, from the moment that they realized that people were “feeling the Bern,” Team Hillary started promoting a truly mind-boggling notion: that while peoples’ hearts may be with Bernie, their heads are, or ought to be, with Hillary — because she is on their side and she knows how to get things done.
Never mind that even their cleverest pitchmen would have a hard time coming up with examples of anything worthwhile that Hillary Clinton has ever gotten done. Never mind too that her tenure at the State Department was calamitous and that the consequences of her clueless bungling – in Libya and Syria especially – are still unfolding.
If corporate media would take a little time out from reporting on Donald Trump and the Republican race for second and third place to say a word or two about, for example, the humanitarian and geopolitical consequences of the refugee crisis currently afflicting tens of thousands of people and tearing the European Union apart, the obvious truth about Hillary’s abilities might not be quite so out of line with the conventional wisdom. But this isn’t going to happen: not with media like his ours.
Team Hillary can therefore get away with telling a gullible public to vote with their heads, not their hearts; meaning that they should vote for Hillary — because she is a “pragmatist,” while Bernie’s head is in the clouds.
In fact, she is a disaster waiting to happen, while his “democratic socialism” is a tame version of what has been the norm in other developed countries for more than half a century. But no matter: Hillary can somehow get us there, wherever “there” is, while Bernie has nothing to offer but ideas.
Lately, Hillary’s sales team has added a new wrinkle to their malarkey. Only Hillary, they say, can keep a President Trump at bay.
This raises the level of nonsense substantially. The fact that, on many issues, Trump’s views are, if anything, less retrograde than Hillary’s is the least of the reasons why.
For nearly all of 2015, the conventional wisdom — outside cuckoo land, where he was already winning over hearts and minds — was that Donald Trump is a joke, not worth taking seriously.
His words were vile, of course; and everything about him was over the top. But he was a fine showman who enlivened otherwise mind numbing Republican debates by informing a mass audience that the American political class is incurably corrupt. That didn’t excuse his racism, nativism and Islamophobia, but it did redound to his credit.
No doubt, Muslims and Hispanics thought differently, even before people started taking Trump seriously. African Americans, Asians and Native Americans were probably also more wary of him early on than most white folks were.
In truth, though, his rivals’ views were no less noxious than his; only less blatant. Trump was unique, however, in one respect: his ability to awaken the inner fascist in large swathes of the Republican base.
This was evident from Day One, but nearly everyone thought that the problem would pass, along with the Trump candidacy itself; that, before long, normalcy would be restored. The Republican “establishment” would recover its grip on the party it used to own, or Trump would stumble irreparably, or someone less unacceptable would capture the fancy of Republican voters – something would turn the Trump phenomenon into a minor footnote.
Meanwhile, there was no denying that Trump was good at calling political and media elites out. He even went after Fox News, and lived to tell about it. This was no mean feat.
Before turning on them, Fox News had been Trump’s greatest asset. But even they could not have made a serious contender out of such a buffoon all by themselves. The media now helping Hillary also helped make Trump.
None of the moguls calling the shots, certainly not Rupert Murdoch or Roger Ailes at Fox, wanted their propaganda machines to publicize their own shortcomings and corruptions. But Trump was too much of a godsend for ratings and therefore for advertising revenues for the bastards to resist. All of them therefore fell abjectly in line, becoming Trump’s unpaid publicity agents.
Not to worry, however: the Donald would soon be yesterday’s lunch. That hasn’t happened, however. Trump’s approval ratings remain respectable, he keeps winning elections, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to imagine ways that the GOP “establishment” could deny him the nomination.
I, for one, am not panicking; not yet. I remain confident that there is something in Trump’s past, most likely in his tax returns, which will turn many, if not most, of his fans off. And I continue to believe that no more than, say, a third of the electorate is stupid or spiteful enough to allow that vulgarian to get his tiny hands on nuclear weapons. [Thank you, little Marco Rubio, for pointing out how tiny Trump’s hands and fingers are – even if in fact, as the Donald insists, they are not.]
I also think that most Americans would recoil from the very idea of electing a Commander-in-Chief who publically declares his readiness to commit war crimes, like torture and killing family members of “terrorists,” and who could care even less than George W. Bush or Barack Obama about due process and privacy rights.
Scott Adams, creator of the Dilbert cartoon, could have been on to something when he said that: “you can never underestimate the stupidity of the general public.” I must therefore acknowledge that my belief that it is foolish to become rattled over the Trump menace could be wrong; it could be based on an overestimation of the intelligence and decency of the American people.
But I would nevertheless caution against acceding, uncritically, to calls for forming something like a United Front to stop Trump — as if this were the 1930s and Trump is a later-day Hitler.
Caution is advised because those calls, so far, seem to be working to Hillary Clinton’s advantage – the demands of reason notwithstanding.
Clinton and the Clintonites, bellicose defenders of neoliberal capitalism and liberal imperialism, are now doing their best to move the fretful into the Hillary camp.
Is it because they really believe that Trump could win? Or is it just that they have they come to the realization that the glass-ceiling rationale that they thought would work for them is useless for getting the juices of anyone still ineligible for Medicare flowing?
Maybe it is a little of both. The one sure thing is that it has dawned on them that fear is, and always has been, a more powerful motivator than sisterhood.
It is likely now that Trump will become the nominee of whatever remains of the Republican Party after his candidacy has torn it apart. And, if he does not, he could always run an independent campaign.
But I remain convinced that he will not be elected President – no way. His only hope of setting foot inside the White House in the next four years is that Hillary wins, and that the Clintons then invite him, his bride, and their entourage over – as well they should, in gratitude for the service Trump has rendered them.
In much the way that militant Islamists make it easier for Islamophobes to get their way, Trump is making it easier for the Clintons to get theirs – because they and their handlers have succeeded in getting Democrats to think that stopping Trump is Priority Number One and that Hillary is the one to make it happen.
Is Trump as much of a menace as Hillary’s people would like everyone to think? I don’t think so, but the issue is at least debatable. On the other hand, the idea that Hillary can, and Bernie cannot, stop him hardly warrants discussion. The very idea is preposterous.
It is also disabling. It makes it harder than it would otherwise be for any permanent good to come out of the Sanders campaign.
Get people scared enough about Trumpian “fascism” and about how only a “centrist” with Hillary’s savoir-faire can defeat it, and there go the already slim chances for a self-sustaining and genuinely progressive political movement emerging. This is what the Clintonites are counting on.
The damage done to the Republican Party thanks to Trump’s machinations — along with the humiliating defeat suffered by the Bush family thanks to George W’s disastrous presidency and brother Jeb’s manifest shortcomings — are the best things that have happened in American politics in living memory.
An organized political force arising out of the Sanders campaign – dedicated to undoing Clintonite neoliberalism and perhaps, in due course, Clintonite imperialism as well – would be a development of comparable historical importance.
This would be the case if the organizing efforts were to take shape under the auspices of the Green Party or if they would stand on their own. And it would be the case if Sanders somehow manages, against all odds, to win the Democratic nomination and therefore the Presidency; or if, as is more likely, he eventually throws in the towel, declaring his support for Clinton and Clintonism.
The Occupy movements of five years ago ultimately came to naught. It would be a terrible waste were the same fate to befall the Sanders campaign. But this is likely what will happen if all the constructive energy it has generated dissipates after being siphoned off into unnecessary and misguided efforts to stop the Donald in his tracks.
The Clintons’ lifelong project has been to make American politics as safe as can be for Big Business and High Finance. To that end, they purged the Democratic Party of its remaining ties to milquetoast mid-century liberalism, leaving only namby-pamby goody-goodyism in its stead.
How could anybody with the sense she or he was born with not find that repellent?
Clintonite-style anti-Trump hysteria plays into the hands of those who promote the kind of thinking behind the Clintonite turn – the idea that angry white working class men and women are lost causes whose material interests might as well be ignored.
Everybody knows the story: thanks to changing demographics, white workers feel socially dislocated; they want “their” country back. They are more than a little racist too – attitudinally and because they fail to challenge, or even acknowledge, the reality of white skin privilege.
The problem with that story is not just how grossly exaggerated it is; it is that it ignores the institutional and political context undergirding the anger that both the Trump and Sanders campaigns have tapped into.
The true villains are not white workers, but the suits that took their jobs away – deindustrializing the country, sending manufacturing abroad, and diminishing the labor movement almost to the point of irrelevance.
This has been a bipartisan effort in which, as even the far too gentle Bernie Sanders points out, the Clintons have long played a leading role.
The Obama administration played a role too – not just indirectly, by encouraging a voter backlash that led to the election of Republican governors and legislatures in states that had been known for their honorable traditions of trade union militancy, but also by doing nothing to fight back against the Republican assault on public sector unions.
Had Scott Walker not peaked too soon, he, not Marco Rubio or John Kasich, would probably now be the GOP establishment’s last best hope for keeping Trump at bay. Upon assuming office in 2011, Walker took on Wisconsin’s powerful public sector unions and won. He then beat back efforts to recall him in 2012, and to defeat him in the 2014 midterm election.
Obama and the Democratic National Committee could have sent Walker packing in 2012. All Obama would have had to do is make a few campaign appearances in African American areas around Milwaukee and Racine, where he was still popular; and Debbie Wasserman Schultz only needed to free up some money. Neither of them could be bothered.
Walker eventually did himself in; so, in retrospect, Obama’s and Wasserman Schultz’s malign neglect did no harm at the national level. But the harm that Walker did, and is still doing, to Wisconsin is unabated. For this, the Democratic Party has much to answer for.
The national party did nothing for Wisconsin’s workers because, however much they rely on unions around election time, they have no interest in making them stronger or even insuring that they survive. Why would they? They are on the other side.
And so, of course, white workers feel alienated from the political scene. How could they not when the entire political class seeks to disempower them?
Newsflash, though: it isn’t just white workers that Democrats and Republicans have made worse off; it is the entire working class – black, brown and white. The Clintons have been leading the way for a quarter century.
If the facts register differently in the minds of black and brown workers – if large numbers of them still think that Hillary and Bill are on their side — not all the blame lies with their sold-out leaders or with media that misinform and dumb down persons of color along with everyone else.
There is also the fact that workers of color are more used to being disserved by politicians than their white counterparts, and therefore less surprised when that is what happens to them. Still, it is disgraceful that, for far too many of them, it is enough that a Clinton “feels their pain” or makes a show of being on their side. White workers, being used to better, expect more.
Were Hillary to go up against the Donald, mano a mano, it would be a sight to behold: two of the most inauthentic, opportunistic politicians ever to disgrace the political scene, going at each other, no holds barred.
But notwithstanding the picture of her that Hillary and her handlers promote, everything that she does, she does poorly. Practice helps; Hillary is now a better campaigner than was in 2008. Even so, she is not even good at that.
Trump, on the other hand, is a genius salesman, especially adept at selling himself to reality show audiences. He could eat her for lunch.
And although his fascist–pig credentials are beyond reproach, on almost every “issue,” from trade policy to military interventions to coddling Wall Street criminals, he could easily outflank her on the left.
Trump is already doing this, merely by giving voice to what some white working class victims of Clintonism think, and what more and more persons of color are beginning to realize as well. And he doesn’t even have the nomination yet. Once he does, he will no longer have to worry about keeping retrograde “red” states and the kinds of people who like Ted Cruz on board.
He will then be free to do what Mitt Romney was never able to pull off: etch-a-sketch his way out of inconvenient “conservative” (actually classical liberal) remarks he made in order to gain the support of troglodytes in his party’s base.
Even so, I remain convinced that, were she to become the Democratic nominee, Clinton would have to do a singularly bad job of campaigning, bad even by her standards, for Trump to be more than a theoretical menace.
But, again, the worrywarts could be right. This is yet another reason why those who would follow their heads should vote against Hillary.
Trump inveighs against “political correctness”; in many voters’ minds, Hillary is the living embodiment of it.
Bernie is no less decorous than she, but nobody thinks of him as a sanctimonious social liberal or a phony. He could wallop Trump just be being himself. Every poll that has been done of late bears this speculation out.
He is authentic, while she is not; and, unlike her, he is genuinely progressive, at least on economic affairs. The contrast with Hillary is stark: she is a phony right out of central casting.
Commentators covering the election returns from Michigan seemed surprised to see that Sanders and Trump were both doing well in white working class areas. They should have expected that. They both appeal, in their own ways, to persons made worse off by the neoliberal turn that the Clintons did so much to engineer.
The difference is that Sanders is a (small-d) democrat, while Trump is an authoritarian, a white nationalist (with white supremacist backers), and an Islamophobe. The two draw strength from the same discontents, but only Sanders offers solutions. What Trump offers is divisiveness and strife.
There is no mystery as to why most Trump voters are white. Those same pundits, ever mindful of Hillary’s interests, like to point out that most Sanders voters are white too. But, after Michigan, even they had to concede that this is changing, especially in the North.
They might also have pointed out that it is in so-called swing states, like Michigan, where the change is proceeding fastest. These are, of course, the states where, to coin a phrase, black votes matter.
In the South especially, Clinton has been getting the lion’s share of the African American vote because news of the Sanders campaign rarely makes it into media that African Americans are likely to encounter, and because the Clintons have been making nice to prominent African Americans for as long as anyone can remember. The beneficiaries of their attention have forged political machines that the Clintons have lately been calling on – to good effect. Unlike with Trump, there are no deeper or more systemic reasons than that.
Also, the Clintons’ hold on African American voters, in the North especially, is likely to diminish, the better Sanders does in general. As the word gets out, the scales are falling from black and Hispanic voters’ eyes.
So, yes, everyone who thinks that Trump is a twenty-first century fascist waiting to pounce, along with those of us who are only somewhat concerned by how readily he appeals to the baser instincts of so many of our fellow citizens, should, by all means, vote with their heads. Team Hillary gets that part right.
But notwithstanding the confusion they have gone to such pains to sow, they are wrong about what this implies.
Notwithstanding their admonitions, in this case there is no conflict between the head and the heart; both are on the same page. It is as clear as can be that Hillary is on a different page altogether.
ANDREW LEVINE is a Senior Scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies, the author most recently of THE AMERICAN IDEOLOGY (Routledge) and POLITICAL KEY WORDS (Blackwell) as well as of many other books and articles in political philosophy. His most recent book is In Bad Faith: What’s Wrong With the Opium of the People. He was a Professor (philosophy) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Research Professor (philosophy) at the University of Maryland-College Park. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).