By Andrew Levine. This article was first published on Counterpunch.
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The “Super Tuesday 3” elections went well for the Clinton juggernaut and for Donald Trump. The gods must be angry.
Or maybe the explanation is just that corporate media’s malign neglect of the Bernie Sanders campaign is paying off for Hillary. FAIR and other organizations that monitor the press have established beyond a reasonable doubt that The Washington Post and The New York Times might as well be Team Hillary’s Ministry of Propaganda. And, as anyone who can bear to watch MSNBC and CNN can attest, “liberal” cable news outlets are no better. National Public Radio may be the worst of all. Remember that at pledge time!
As for Trump, the cable networks have been working overtime for him too – all publicity, in his case, being good publicity. Let the pundits blame changing demographics and “authoritarian” personality structures all they like, the Trump phenomenon is on their bosses and them.
In Sanders’ case, it is because, as garden-variety capitalists, they don’t like his message. In Trump’s, it is because of what his reality TV campaign style does for their bottom lines. Either way, they are bastards, and they should rot in that special place in hell that Madeleine Albright wants to reserve for women who don’t support Hillary. Proud of her role in superintending the sanctions regime that led to the death of some half million Iraqis, Albright deserves a special place in hell too.
To be sure, it’s not over ‘till it’s over; and anything can happen. But now that Super Tuesday 3 has come and gone, it is looking like we are in for a long hot summer and fall, and for many gruesome years ahead.
The hope that the Clintons would soon go the way of the Bushes has always been a long shot; but then it was for the Bushes as well. Perhaps we should just be grateful that the gods saw fit to bless us with one out of two, and not complain too much about how a clean sweep is even less likely now than it seemed a week or two ago.
What is to be done, then, as the Democratic Party convention this summer approaches; and then, if Hillary is the nominee, between the convention and the general election? And, if it comes to that, what should we we be doing now to prepare for the time when a restored Clinton White House starts making even President Obama look good?
To answer these questions, it can be helpful to ponder another question that most right thinking people would say answers itself: is Hillary Clinton worse than Donald Trump?
Without a moment’s hesitation, everyone everywhere who is not morally or intellectually impaired would, of course, answer with a resounding No. If asked to explain, the response would probably be that the questioner can’t be serious. As Trump’s campaign descends ever deeper into the Dark Side, even former contrarians are coming around to this view.
It can therefore seem that there is nothing to discuss. But there is – even now.
For one thing, it still makes sense to distinguish the candidates from their supporters. Trump’s supporters, many of them anyway, are more worrisome than he is; most Clinton supporters are more estimable than she. This bears, of course, on how the candidates themselves should be assessed, but it is hardly the only factor.
Trump’s support, everyone agrees, comes mainly from angry white people. To the extent that it really is driving the Trump phenomenon, this racial component is deplorable.
There is no doubt, however, that angry white – and black and brown – men and women have plenty to be angry about. Neoliberalism has not been kind to the ninety-nine percent.
Nevertheless, there is no escaping the fact that a good many of Trump’s angriest supporters do hate Muslims and Hispanics and African Americans too, except of course Ben Carson. They are not fond of uppity females either, or disabled people, homosexuals, and anyone less retrograde than themselves.
Panicked liberals call them twenty-first century “fascists.” Even using that term loosely, the description is, at best, premature. But there are alarming similarities between them and the rank-and-file of the bona fide fascist movements of the past.
At a minimum, Trump deserves blame for turning over the rock that had been keeping more than a few Americans’ fascist or proto-fascist demons down. If he doesn’t soon put a damper over what he started, or if it turns out that he no longer can, he will be culpable for a lot more.
But since incitement has been working for him up to this point, he has so far not changed course. Perhaps he has come to identify with the people he has been using to advance his self-promoting ambitions; perhaps, like many of them, he has now slipped out of control.
Nevertheless, the difference between the mountebank and his marks remains pertinent. So far, at least, Trump’s supporters, many of them anyway, seem more dangerous than the man himself – to an extent that makes it reasonable even now to investigate ways that Clinton might actually be worse.
It is telling, of course, that he supporters are not like his; they despise the demons Trump has stirred up. Most of them would like nothing more than a world in which “the better angels of our nature” call the shots.
The problem with them is that their view of Clinton and Clintonism is flawed. They believe that Hillary is on the side of those angels, and that, thanks to her “pragmatism,” she can cause their will to be done.
People of sound judgment are now saying that a President Trump would be like a Berlusconi, or perhaps even a Mussolini, with nukes. True enough.
But hardly anyone realizes that a Hillary with nukes would be nearly as bad.
Ever since the Soviet Union imploded, American Presidents have found it expedient to bolster our perpetual war regime, and the military industrial complex it sustains, by threatening and sometime fighting against opponents too weak to fight back. Bill Clinton was no exception. His wife, however, seems intent on picking a fight with Russia or at least in going right up to the brink. In view of her shoot-first-ask-questions-later nature, this is scary indeed.
Lesser evilists who are rightfully wary of a world in which the Donald could launch a nuclear war should take note.
Trump’s volatile nature and unpredictability does give more cause for concern than Clinton’s bellicose temperament and neocon convictions. But the difference is not clear-cut, and on other matters, it is an even closer call.
Trump is egomaniacal, vulgar and buffoonish. He is a man without principles who will say or do whatever he deems expedient. He is good at it too because he can sniff out what his target audience wants and make them think that he is giving it to them, even when he is not. More than his bluster or his penchant for bullying, this explains his success at unleashing his supporters’ demons.
But there is no compelling evidence, not so far anyway, that his own demons are calling the shots. With the Donald, it is all about winning. What he wants is only to get his way – neither more nor less.
Even so, he does have political opinions; and not all of them are bad. More often than not, they are based on sound intuitions and common sense.
And because he is neither a neoliberal nor a neocon, his views are often to the left of Hillary’s. This is a matter of instinct, however; not conviction. Trump has views, but there is nothing like a coherent ideology or underlying vision behind them.
Clinton, on the other hand, is a Clintonite; a devotee of liberal interventionism and of neoliberal economic nostrums. The difference does not necessarily redound in Clinton’s favor.
The Green Bay Packer’s legendary coach, Vince Lombardi, famously said that “winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” Trump could say the same. In football, though, it is hard to make fast and loose with the rules; in business and electoral politics, it is a lot easier – as Trump has demonstrated time and again. Lombardi had no choice but to try to win fair and square; Trump is freer to take liberties.
As an individual, Hillary is not a whole lot more principled than the Donald. But she has a higher minded and more principled constituency to please. They hold her in line, while Trump’s supporters could care less what their man says or does, so long as his example, or rather his bluster, enables their rage.
Unlike Trump, Clinton has few ardent fans. But she has to please the few she has, enough to keep them on board, and she has to try to convince the rest, the ones that strongly prefer Bernie, that she is at least generally on their side. This is why she tries so hard to stand for niceness for all; for all Americans and other worthies, that is.
She sees no percentage in being similarly nice, say, to the Russians or the Chinese. By her reckoning, Libyans, Syrians, Iraqis and other Middle Eastern and African peoples are similarly undeserving of solicitude.
And because her donors insist, Palestinians make out worst of all. Sheldon Adelson, Paul Singer and others of their ilk are, by now, inveterate Republicans; Hillary has no chance with them. But there are plenty of ethnocratic Zionists with serious money in the Democratic camp too. Hillary’s pal Haim Saban, for example, has pockets plenty deep; and he is far from alone.
It is therefore no surprise that Hillary readily accepted the invitation that AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the leading pro-Israel lobbying group in the United States, offered her to address its annual policy meeting in Washington next week.
Is winning the only thing for her too? Perhaps not; it might not even be everything, though maybe it would be if she were better at it. But, in this as in so much else, Hillary’s skill set is deficient. She is a better campaigner now than in 2008, having gone through it all once before. Still, in that regard, even a novice like Trump has her beat by a mile.
Part of the problem is that despite her vaunted “smarts,” the woman is loopy — not quite to the extent that, say, Joe Biden is, but loopy nevertheless. Why else would she think it appropriate to announce at a Democratic Party candidates’ debate that Henry Kissinger admired her tenure at the State Department? And what could she have been thinking when she praised fellow First Lady Nancy Reagan for her work on HIV/AIDS?
And when she saw fit to redbait Bernie, why would she do it in the knuckleheaded way that she did — attacking him for an interview he gave in the eighties in which he pointed out some of the obvious achievements of the Cuban Revolution?
And at a time when her support for the nefarious 2009 coup in Honduras is finally entering into mainstream awareness, causing people to think again about the long history of America’s predations in Central America, why on earth would she attack Sanders for supporting the Sandinistas in Nicaragua three decades ago?
Trump can get away with saying anything, but Clinton doesn’t have “attitude” enough for that. She doesn’t even have much imagination. How could it not have occurred to her to avoid such obvious howlers as that Sanders stood guard on the Mexican border with Minutemen vigilantes, or that he voted as he did on the Wall Street bailout because he wanted to quash the auto industry?
Hillary has now joined Sanders in calling Trump a pathological liar. She deserves credit for that; good for her. Her point would be more convincing, however, if she were not such a clumsy liar herself.
Is it possible, then, that she actually is worse than Trump? The answer, all things considered, is plainly No – because Trump’s vileness has crossed the line too many times, and to too great effect.
But the question is still worth pondering because Clinton actually is worse, a lot worse, on more than a few issues. It is important that voters in the remaining Democratic primaries realize this. And if, alas, she does become President, it is especially important that the forces fighting back against her realize it too –from even before Day One.
The “vast rightwing conspiracy” that she used to inveigh about is sure to oppose her for all the wrong reasons, just as they opposed her better half a quarter century ago. The most lasting damage they did then was to stifle criticism from the Left.
This time, if it comes to that, the Left opposition to Clintonism must be poised and ready to dominate the conversation.
Job Number One will be to do everything possible to keep the next President Clinton from straying too far off the progressive (for her) course that she has had to follow thanks to the challenge of the Sanders campaign.
And Job Number Two, starting yesterday, is to expose, for all to see, which side she is on; and therefore which side the Democratic Party is on.
To that end, I will mention briefly two of the many issues on which, compared to Trump, Clinton comes off worse.
Clinton now says that she opposes the TPP, the Trans Pacific Partnership, having praised it as “the gold standard” in trade agreements not long ago. The official reason for the flip-flop: she read the fine print. The real reason: Sanders could kill her on this, and so will Trump, if comes down to a Trump v. Clinton race in November. What would she do if she became President? The answer is obvious: “renegotiate” this or that fine point and flip-flop again.
She could hardly do otherwise: trade deals like NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, and the TPP are the lynchpins holding the neoliberal world order together. Without them, well-paying jobs and the unions that make them possible could not be so easily made to disappear, and the handful of miscreants at the top of the income and wealth hierarchy would not be able to enrich themselves quite so egregiously at everyone else’s expense.
When pressed, Hillary argues lamely that NAFTA has been, on the whole, a good thing. Even a capable debater would find it hard to sell that notion.
And so, when timeworn neoliberal arguments no longer work, she insists that she not be judged by the policies that her husband advanced.
Fair enough, as a rule. Trump wants to punish the families of terrorists – in other words, Muslims. And collective punishment is the stock-in-trade of the Israeli Defense Forces, “the most moral army in the world.” But there is this thing called civilization that is supposed to prevent holding people accountable for what their family members do.
There is also settled international law. And so, even if there were a world justice system that was truly impartial and in which all were equal in the eyes of the law, Michelle Obama would never be held accountable for her husband’s “targeted” killing sprees with Navy Seals and other Special Ops assassins (when drones just aren’t enough); and Laura Bush would not be blamed for the world shattering death and destruction her husband unleashed upon the world.
There are exceptions to the rule, however, when family members are directly or indirectly culpable.
When Democratic Party muckety-mucks took it upon themselves to parachute Hillary into New York State to become its Senator, her “experience” as First Lady played a major role in their rationale. What else did they have to work with? Certainly not her special connections with the state; she had none.
Consistency in politics is a lot to expect, but surely she should not be permitted to get away with owning the achievements, such as they were, of her husband’s administration when it suits her purpose, and disowning them them when they do not.
And so, when it comes to dealing with the harm that neoliberal trade policies have done to American workers and Americans generally, and to workers and others in countries where labor is cheaper, Trump can run circles around her – not because he opposes neoliberal globalization, but because his enterprises only benefit from Clintonite trade policies, while Hillary’s machinations helped bring them about.
Trump is a card carrying capitalist: an enemy of unions and of regulations and wage policies that inconvenience himself and his class brothers and sisters. Hillary opposes all that too, albeit less blatantly. Worse, though, she is, and always has been, dedicated to fashioning a world in which the Trumps of the earth can flourish unimpeded.
Clinton will address AIPAC. Trump has accepted their invitation too. But if he is even a tenth as rich as he claims to be, he will have no need to grovel before them, the way that the Clintons always have. He probably wouldn’t grovel even if he needed the money, because, as a certifiable narcissist, groveling is not in his nature.
Sanders has been invited too. Many of his supporters are petitioning him not to accept. He shouldn’t need much convincing. If, to quote Hillary’s First Lady soul mate, he “just says no,” he could look good on the cheap to progressive Jewish voters, without alienating the moderate middle. Muslims vote too, as we saw in Michigan. Saying No wouldn’t hurt his standing with them either.
Opposition to the Netanyahu government is now the norm in all but the most retrograde Jewish circles, and opposition to Israel’s domination of Palestine is on the rise as well. Liberal Zionism may be an incoherent position, but there are lots of liberal Zionists out there, and they would readily cover Bernie’s back, joining the increasing numbers of progressives whose views are more evolved.
It would be better still, of course, were Sanders to address AIPAC and use the occasion, speaking as a Jew, to advocate for justice for Palestinians; and, speaking as a candidate, to announce that, if elected, the United States will stop enabling Israel’s efforts to ethnically cleanse Palestine.
But since that isn’t going to happen, Bernie should just not go. Let the light shine on Hillary instead; on how, on this, as on so much else, even the Donald has her beat.
She is worse because she will keep the spigot open – supplying Israel with money, arms, and diplomatic support, while Trump’s aim will be just what it always is – to magnify and glorify himself. To that end, expect him to say that, if elected, he will cut a “really fantastic” deal.
If per impossibile, he were ever to get a chance, who knows what that deal would be? Certainly, not Trump; he probably hasn’t given the matter a moment’s thought. The only sure thing is that he wouldn’t let himself be, or appear to be, bullied. That already puts him ahead of Barack Obama and every other American President since Dwight Eisenhower.
So, yes, of course: Trump is worse – a lot worse than Clinton; but not worse in every respect.
Focusing on the ways Clinton actually is worse – there are many more ways than two – can be good preparation for understanding and dealing with the varieties of buyers’ remorse that anti-Trump voters are bound to feel, if and when a seemingly inevitable full-fledged Clinton Restoration gets underway.
But, of course, we are not there yet. While we still can, we should therefore act on the premise that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure – firm in the belief that we are only up against angry and malicious gods, not Fate itself.
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).