How the Left Should Approach Life After the Election, With Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton in Charge
Donald Trump is a nauseating atrocity—a national embarrassment. The truth of Trump is stranger and darker than dystopian political fiction. He:
● Says that immigrants from Mexico are rapists and murderers and goes on bizarre rants claiming that “criminal aliens” are wreaking havoc in the United States. ● Suggests (against all evidence) that blacks and Latinos will commit voter fraud. ● Attacked a Mexican-American federal judge for ruling against the scam “Trump University,” attributing the magistrate’s decision to his ethnicity. ● Promises to build a giant nativist wall on the nation’s southern border “and make Mexico pay for it.” ● Has advocated banning adherents of an entire world religion (Islam) from the United States. ● Promises to round up and deport millions of Mexican and Central American immigrants. ● Offered to pay the legal bills of a white man who viciously sucker-punched a black protester at a Trump rally. ● Failed to properly distance himself from the Klu Klux Klan. ● Responds to the racial turbulence sparked by repeated video-captured police killings of black Americans by calling for a “national stop and frisk law”—that is, for a declaration of national racist martial law. ● Leads with this as his solution to the nation’s racial divisions: “We need to restore law and order” and “control our cities.” (Translation: “we need to control our unruly blacks with the iron fist of the police state.”) ● Continues to defend the railroading of the “Central Park Five”—five young black men who were wrongfully convicted (with Trump leading the charge) of raping a white woman in New York City in 1989. (The subsequently exonerated five spent years in prison for a crime they didn’t commit). ● Gives a commanding position in his campaign to the director of Breitbart, an openly white-nationalist, paranoid-style and alt-right (proto-fascistic) website. ● Engaged in the ugly racist imitation of an Asian accent in front of a hot microphone. ● Mocked a disabled reporter in a chillingly juvenile way in front of a hot microphone. ● Calls climate change “weather”; says that global warming is hoax perpetrated by the Chinese to harm U.S. manufacturing, and promises to completely deregulate fossil fuels—to push the carbon emission pedal to the metal. ● Promises to honor the results of the presidential election only if he wins, egging his more extreme backers to engage in violence if the count doesn’t go his way. ● Calls his political opponents “losers” and gives them nasty, juvenile nicknames and brags about his (you can’t make this up) genitals. ● Has a long and ugly record of sexual harassment and violence while suggesting that women are responsible for sexual harassment in the workplace. ● Insulted the looks of a fellow Republican presidential candidate and those of other candidates’ wives. ● Engaged in a rolling sexist vendetta against Fox News’ Megyn Kelly. ● Has a record of calling women “fat,” “bitches,” “nasty” and the like. ● Behaved like a lazy, boorish, and spoiled adolescent during his “presidential” “debates” with Hillary Clinton—events for which he openly failed to prepare. ● Followed his first hideous debate performance by going on a bizarre Twitter tirade at 3 a.m. against a former Miss Universe he once labeled “Miss Piggy.” ● Wondered aloud why the U.S. can’t use nuclear weapons, and says it might be good for Saudi Arabia, South Korea and Japan to be equipped with nuclear weapons. ● Advocates the use of torture and even the killing of terrorists’ families and relatives in the U.S. war on (of) terror. ● Boasted that he’d “shoot” Iranian naval ships if they ever again interdict “our beautiful destroyers with their little boats.” ● Refers to himself as brilliant, citing his vast personal fortune (accumulated over many years of abusive and predatory worker- and consumer-cheating business practices) as “proof.” ● Feuded with the parents of a Muslim U.S. soldier killed in Iraq, claiming that he too has “sacrificed” by employing “thousands and thousands of people.” (A remarkable comment: Being born into wealth and in position to hire people is not a “sacrifice.” If Trump isn’t reaping profits from all those workers under his command, he must not be the brilliant capitalist be claims to be.) ● Said this when a military veteran gave Trump the one-time soldier’s Purple Heart medal, bestowed on troops injured in battle: “I always wanted a Purple Heart. This was a lot easier.” (Donald Trump, Mr. Sacrifice, used college deferments to avoid the draft during the Vietnam War.) ● Refuses to release his tax returns, something no major party presidential candidate has done since the infamous Richard Nixon. ● Interjected as Clinton explained (in the first “debate”) that his non-payment of federal taxes over many years cost the nation money that could have been used for education and welfare: “That makes me smart.” ● Interjected when Clinton noted his long record of cheating workers, contractors, and governments: “That’s called business.”
How is that possible? How could a transparently toxic and temperamental man-child and vicious, “fascist-lite” authoritarian like Donald Trump be alive in the race for the U.S. presidency (the most powerful and dangerous job on Earth), certain to win more than 50 million and perhaps more than 60 million votes (think about that) on Nov. 8? The culprits are many and overlapping. Beneath and beyond recent events like the truly bizarre Comey-Huma Abedin-Anthony Weiner episode, they include: ● A neoliberal corporate media and an ever-more corporatized educational system that have spread a black plague of abject moral and intellectual idiocy across the land for more than a generation. ● A Republican Party that has been trying for decades to hide its arch-plutocratic agenda behind the foul and ever more fascist-like fake populism of an ugly hyper-masculinist white nationalism. ● A dismal, debauched and dollar-drenched Democratic Party that has discredited liberalism and helped depress progressive constituencies by abandoning the cause of social justice in service to U.S. transnational capital. ● An arrogant “liberal” and identity-politicized professional class that has (with all too few exceptions) ceased to even remotely serve the working-class majority against the rich. ● A right-wing noise machine (led by Republican talk radio, Fox News and now Breitbart) that pervades the airwaves with racist, sexist and nationalist distortion. ● A wooden and understandably mistrusted Democratic candidate (Clinton) who epitomizes the long-standing corruption and big financial-corporate takeover of the Democratic Party. ● A corporate media that seized on the fake-populist rightist Trump’s every tweet and facial expression, even as it could barely cover Bernie Sanders’ giant rallies for progressive, social-democratic change. ● A a manipulative media-politics culture so tightly scripted and teleprompter-ized that a buffoonish lout like Trump gets “authenticity” points for “plain speaking” off-script. ● Mass hatred of a bipartisan and big business-corrupted political establishment (with the Clintons as leading and long-standing members) that has greased the skids for savage economic inequality and plutocracy—a hatred that ironically contributes to the benefit of the billionaire real estate mogul Trump because he has stood formally outside politics and the political establishment.
Crooked Clintons, Dismal Dems
Among all these and other explanations, two overlapping ones that seem highly germane to this writer are the power-mad Clintons themselves and a Democratic Party that insisted on putting them up for a return engagement to the White House despite their massive campaign liabilities, including the email scandal that Sanders tried to help Hillary bury. It’s not just that Hillary and Bill Clinton have, in fact, been monumentally “crooked”—Trump is sadly right about that—from the beginning of their political careers in Arkansas through the atrocious global “pay-for-play” Clinton Foundation and the related endless, ongoing email scandal.
The bigger, if related, problem is that they have long led the ever-more rightward, neoliberal drift of the Democrats further away from any lasting commitments to social justice, democracy, peace and environmental sustainability. Trump may be appalling and dangerous on numerous levels, but he’s not wrong when he points out (in his usual clumsy manner) that the Clintons and other Wall Street-captive Democrats sold the nation’s “forgotten” blue-collar-working people down the river in the name of “free trade.” The co-presidential Clintons’ advance of the North American Free Trade Agreement—a disaster for the U.S. working class—and Barack Obama’s championing of the arch-authoritarian and global-corporatist Trans-Pacific Partnership speak volumes about neoliberal-era Democrats’ enmeshment in the perverse politics of the nation’s covertly reigning “Deep State Few” over and against “the Many” and the common good.
Trump’s not wrong when he says that Hillary Clinton called the TPP the “gold standard of free trade agreements” when she was Obama’s secretary of state—or when he surmises that she will shift back to being pro-TPP if she is reinstalled in the White House. As WikiLeaks makes clear, Trump’s not wrong when he says that the Democratic National Committee and the Clintons rigged the primary race against the progressive Democrat Sanders.
Trump’s not wrong to say (in his own maladroit and disingenuous fashion) that the American dream has died for millions of “forgotten” (the word bears repeating) U.S. workers while the Democrats have advanced Wall Street’s job- and wage-crushing agenda behind the cover of self-righteous political correctness. In one of the many classic ironies of the neoliberal New Gilded Age, Trump, the ugly nativist tycoon and enemy of labor and workers, is permitted to absurdly pose as a “populist” tribune of the outraged American 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 upper- and professional-class neoiberal Democratic elites give Joe Six Pack/the Plumber the Goldman Sachs-financed middle finger and fake-progressively promote the bourgeois identity politics of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and gender—much of the struggling and furious working class is left like low-hanging fruit to be snatched up by a billionaire demagogue like Trump.Candidate Obama spoke in condescending terms about a small-town, white working class that bitterly clung to guns, religion and xenophobia. Hillary upped the insult ante by calling half of Trump’s supporters “deplorables”—meant to signify vicious racists, homophobes and sexists. As the left activist Tom Wetzel told me last summer, “It seems lately that identity politics has come to function as a mask for professional/managerial class disparagement of the working class.”
Meanwhile, for what it’s worth, the deplorable Donald is not wrong when he says that Hillary’s foreign policy record has helped sow chaos and disaster in the Middle East and North Africa. Or when he warns that her warmongering posture toward Russia is dangerous.
The Self-Fulfilling Politics of Fear
A good number of “progressive Democrats” and “pragmatic,” lesser-evil voting (LEV) leftists are poised to blame left-wing Jill Stein and left election boycotters/sitter-outers if Trump pulls off a Brexit-like November shocker. Their anti- “ultra-radical” knives are sharpened and out. They should sheathe their blades and take an honest look in the big historical mirror. A much bigger offender behind a Trump victory will be portside leaders who tell lefties every four years to hold their noses and vote for the (to be frank) hopelessly corporate, corrupt and imperial Democrats as the lesser evil (LE). It’s kind of hard to expect the dismal-dollar Dems to be less disastrously corporate, neoliberal and imperial when top Democrats know that top progressive luminaries will always have their electoral back (in the name of lesser-evil voting). This happens no matter how consistently the Democratic Party’s honchos are shown to hold their party’s progressive wing in sheer elitist contempt (WikiLeaks has showed us quite a lot about that contempt in the current election cycle).
It’s unpleasant to behold. No matter how badly the big corporate, financial and imperial bikers in charge of the Democratic Party abuse their party’s grumbling left wing, the captive progressives can’t resist the desire to ride on the back of the Democratic Harley, arms around their masters with their noses lifted away from the smell.
It’s all part of a viciously circular, self-fulfilling prophecy wherein—as Jill Stein told me last April—“the politics of fear delivers everything we are afraid of … the Lesser Evil paves the way for the Greater Evil.” LEV contributes to the deadly vacuum of genuinely progressive voices for the legitimate “populist rage” and resentment felt by the nation’s working-class majority. The vacuum is filled by the right wing in dangerous ways. It’s an old story.
Ready for Hillary—The Radicals’ Version
Hillary should still win. National demographics and the electoral map favor her. And leftists should not await a Hillary Clinton administration with undiluted trepidation. The presence of a Democrat in the top U.S. job can be usefully instructive for young workers and citizens. It helps demonstrate the richly bipartisan nature of the American plutocracy and empire. The people need to see and experience how the misery and oppression imposed by capitalism and its evil siblings imperialism, racism, sexism, eco-cide, and police-statism live on when Democrats hold the White House.
At the same time, the presence of a Republican in the White House tends to fuel the illusion among progressives and others that the main problem in the country is that the wrong party holds executive power. It feeds the electoral and candidate obsessions that do so much to divert us from building and expanding the kinds of rank-and-file social movements required to bring about progressive transformation.
There is the problem of Democrats in the White House functioning to stifle social movements and especially peace activism (the anti-war movement has yet to recover from the Obama experience). But there’s more good news here about the likely (though hardly certain) coming Hillary presidency. Not all Democratic presidents are equally good at shutting down progressive activism. Hillary Clinton will have considerably less capacity to deceive and bamboozle progressive and young workers and citizens than Barack Obama enjoyed in 2007-08. “Obama,” Ms. Stein added last spring, “was fairly new on the scene. Hillary,” by contrast, “has been a warmonger who never found a war she didn’t love forever.” Hillary’s corporatist track record is also long and transparently bad. All that and Clinton’s lack of charisma and trustworthiness could be useful for left activism and politics in coming years.
The first and most urgent place to restore such activism and politics is in the area where Barack Obama has been most deadening: foreign policy. When it comes to prospects for World War III, it is—maddeningly enough—by no means crystal clear that the saber-rattling, regime-changing, NATO-expanding, and Russia-baiting arch-globalist Hillary Clinton is the “lesser evil” compared to the preposterous Trump. When she becomes president and insists on imposing a so-called “no-fly zone” over Russia-allied Syria, we may find out. (How ironic to see the Clinton campaign recently pulling out the notorious 1964 Lyndon Johnson campaign ad showing a little girl counting the petals on a daisy while a military commander counts down the launching of thermonuclear World War III. Hillary was a proud teenage supporter of Barry Goldwater, at whom the Johnson ad was aimed. And, strange as it may sound, she poses a greater risk of nuclear war with Russia and/or China than does Trump.)
If Trump Wins
What if Trump wins? I’ve never been a backlash theorist who wants the right wing in power on the theory that it will provoke revolution. That said, the abject, mind-blowing absurdity of a Donald Trump presidency could be counted on to help delegitimize social and political hierarchies and U.S. imperial power and influence at home and abroad. There would be opportunities that we on the left would want to exploit and channel in the best ways we could in all that—and in the discrediting of a dismal dollar-drenched Democratic Party that proved itself too corrupt, unimaginative, corporatized, dull and conservative to prevent an idiotic monster like Donald Trump from becoming president.
One irony is that, if Trump wins, his vicious, right-wing agenda will get more opposition from the “hard” lefties who couldn’t make themselves vote for Hillary to block Trump than from the progressives and liberals who backed her in the name of LEV. That’s because radical lefties are less attached to U.S. electoral politics and the endless quadrennial electoral extravaganzas, whose terrible essence were captured nicely by Noam Chomsky last June. Under the reigning U.S. definition, Chomsky noted, “Citizenship means every four years you put a mark somewhere and you go home and let other guys run the world. It’s a very destructive ideology … a way of making people passive, submissive objects. … We ought to teach kids that elections take place, but that’s not [all of] politics.”
There’s also the more urgent and serious politics of popular social movements and direct action beneath and beyond the election cycle. Some lefties are too far left to vote for a “right-wing fanatic” (Arun Gupta) and “lying neoliberal warmonger” (Adolph Reed, Jr.) like Hillary Clinton. Those descriptions come from two left intellectuals telling lefties to vote for her to stop the “fascist” Trump. They understand the importance of building movements and doing the necessary post-election work to a far greater degree than do liberals and many “progressives.”
In my numerous trips to cover and participate in the focused Standing Rock-inspired movement against the eco-cidal Dakota Access pipeline—approved by right-wing Republican governors across the Upper Midwest—in the contested electoral-politics state of Iowa this fall, I have not seen a single Hillary bumper sticker on an activist’s car. I have, however, seen many Stein stickers on the pipeline fighters’ vehicles—on cars belonging to those engaged in the day-to-day, bottom-up politics of the streets, job sites, fields and camps beneath and beyond the major-party carnival that cloaks the deep state of real power.
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