Robert Scheer: Neofascist Trump or Corporate Hawk Clinton Are No Choice at All
Truthdig editor in chief Bob Scheer tells Paul Jay that while Trump is a real fascist threat, people should consider voting for a third party rather than support Clinton
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay.
Watching the Republican Convention on Monday night, the question emerges: is Trump and the political allies he is surrounding himself with the face of a rising, developing American neofascism? And if the answer to that is yes, what does that mean people’s attitudes should be towards Clinton and the Democratic Party leadership, who as we’ve said on the Real News Network clearly have enabled the rise of this American neofascism through its own economic policies that have so increased inequality in America.
Now joining us to talk about all of this is Bob Scheer. Bob is the editor in chief of Truthdig. He was in the 1960s the editor of the fabled Ramparts magazine. For 29 years he worked at the Los Angeles Times as a journalist and as a columnist. Interviewed at least five presidents, and been to many, many, both Democratic and Republican, conventions. Thanks for joining us, Bob.
ROBERT SCHEER: Happy to be here.
JAY: So let’s start with question one. Is this just a kind of eccentric right populist, and another variance of the Republican Party? Or is this something that’s gone further into what you can call a new authoritarianism, developing neofascism, or such?
SCHEER: Well, it’s precisely a neofascism, and I think we should explain, particularly to younger people, what we mean by this. Because it’s not just throwing around some frightening word. But we’ve had this phenomenon. We have it right now in Europe. We have it where you’re–basically what you’re, what you had under the rise of Mussolini and Hitler, in Italy and Germany.
And what you’re really talking about is scapegoating real problems, there are real problems, you don’t get fascist movements taking over, rising to power, without people being in pain. Hurting. The economy in shambles, their aspirations are limited, they’re worried about their future. And we have a situation now in the United States that is increasingly resembling a kind of post-Weimar Germany. It’s neofascism, it’s not fascism. But basically, people are perplexed: why is life not getting better? Why is income disparity more glaring? Why did my $38 an hour job in [inaud.] or mining disappear, and now I have to work for $7, $8, $9 an hour. What about the benefits I thought I had? What about my ability to send my kid to college?
So we have lowered expectations in America. We have a great sense of pain. And it’s not, you know, just one region and one group of people. And it’s in that atmosphere that you can basically have one of two narratives to respond. You had the Bernie Sanders narrative that said yeah, we got real problems, here. Income inequality is getting worse. The good jobs are not there. The benefits are not there. And we’re going to propose a progressive alternative. And that’s why Bernie Sanders, you know, almost knocked Hillary Clinton out of the box, because Hillary Clinton represented the establishment that had enabled this kind of pain out there.
On the Republican side, Trump did something amazing. He wiped out the whole Republican establishment. He did it up from Maine to Alabama. And he was able to do it across the country because people are hurting. They’re not fools, they’re not desperate to back a fool. What they are desperate about is having a good life for their kids, for themselves, and they’re worried. And so this demagogue of the right comes along with a neofascist message, and by that I mean precisely blaming the undocumented worker, you know, blaming people who don’t have your religion, or gay people, or minorities, or something of that sort. Blaming them for the problems that people with power have caused.
And that’s the key ingredient of neofascism, is to distract people from the real origin of the problems, and make them think it’s the undocumented Mexican worker, which is absurd. They’re not the people who have destroyed housing in America. They’re not the people who did the collateralized debt obligations and credit default swaps and all the junk that Goldman Sachs and others did that brought the economy down. And to blame some guy who’s crossed the border, or some woman who’s crossed the border and is trying to clean a house or help raise a kid there for your problems, and not playing chase with [inaud.] or Goldman Sachs is absurd.
JAY: Right. At the convention on Monday night, Sheriff David Clarke, who was the sheriff of Milwaukee County, he spoke. Here’s a little of what he had to say.
DAVID CLARKE: What we witnessed in Ferguson and Baltimore and Baton Rouge was a collapse of the social order. So many of the actions of the Occupy movement and Black Lives Matter transcends peaceful protest, and violates the code of conduct we rely on. I call it anarchy.
JAY: So breaks down–Black Lives Matter breaks down social order. Anarchy. This is the kind of language we heard in the early days of both Mussolini and Hitler, and also shows you don’t have to be white to have fascist rhetoric.
In terms of–you know, if Trump were successful and actually got elected, you could see people like Sheriff Clarke having some senior position nationally. Imagine a Rudy Giuliani as head of the FBI.
SCHEER: Well, you know, basically these people don’t believe in democracy, and they don’t believe in our Constitution, because the right of the people to assemble freely and to, you know, for redress of grievances and to exercise free speech is basic to the whole American experience. And when the founders put that language into our Bill of Rights, there were plenty in the colonies who said no, we can’t afford this. This is a kind of democracy that maybe could work in France, but it can’t work here. There was a lively debate about all this. People like Hamilton were not as enthusiastic as, you know, say, Jefferson was.
But the fact of the matter is what Occupy did, what Black Lives Matter do, is they’re using the First Amendment for a redress of grievances. And the real question is who’s created the grievances. You wouldn’t have to have a Black Lives Matter movement if, in fact, the policing authority, the people who control the police, control the cities, you know, respected black lives and respected all lives. And they didn’t. And so we had these terrible situations where people were killed, harassed in every other way.
And that same thing is true of Occupy. You know, people in Occupy–I participated in Los Angeles. I spoke at Occupy there. So did Robert Reich, who had been Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration. And the people there were doing what our Constitution says they have every right, and indeed, an obligation to do. They’re assembling peacefully for redress of grievances. And those movements were smashed by the police, by the city governments, in I think a very clear violation of the Constitution.
So the idea that somehow democracy, free speech, assembly of people, asserting your rights, is somehow troubling to the established order, no. I think that’s what saves a reasonable established order. It’s only when the established order is failing to respond to the real needs of people that you get madness and chaos, and that’s what I think you’re hearing at the Republican Convention. They are the advocates of chaos and confusion and repression.
JAY: Right. And if you listen to Chief Clarke, I mean, Sheriff Clarke, Black Lives Matter, he said this in an interview, is essentially responsible for the assassination of the police in Dallas. That’s just one step away with charging them with conspiracy.
SCHEER: Well, that would be like saying that Marines are responsible, right? The fellow was a Marine, he was trained in the Marines. But the Marines are not responsible. You know, people do, again, violent actions for lots of reasons, but what does that have to do with Black Lives Matter, which has been an effort in using our Constitutional rights to assemble for a redress of grievances? How do you equate the two? It’s nonsense.
JAY: Right. So you have this kind of [absolute] lying rhetoric about domestically. And then listen here to Rudy Giuliani talking in terms of U.S. foreign policy. In one paragraph, as big a lie as we’ve heard since post-9/11, or during. Here’s Rudy Giuliani Monday night.
RUDY GIULIANI: To defeat Islamic extremist terrorists, we must put them on defense. If they are at war against us, which they have declared, we must commit ourselves to unconditional victory against them. This includes undoing one of the worst deals America ever made: Obama’s nuclear agreement with Iran, that will eventually–that will eventually let them become a nuclear power, and is putting billions of dollars back into a country that’s the world’s largest supporter of terrorism. We are actually giving them the money to fund the terrorists who are killing us and our allies. We are giving them the money. Are we crazy?
JAY: Other than the fact that it’s an enormous lie that Iran is funding terrorists that are attacking America–when clearly if you want to single out any one country for that it would be Saudi Arabia, a supposed American ally–but aside from that, the call for unlimited–I’m not getting the exact term. Unconditional war for victory against ISIS, if you put that into the context of what’s been said, what does that mean? Massive bombing, massive military intervention into Syria and Iraq. If you listen to what Trump actually said during the war in Libya, even though he pretends he was opposed to it, in fact, he–there’s an interview with him that’s on YouTube where he called for all the American troops around the Middle East to march into Libya.
So extreme militarism abroad, calls for domestic repression at home. This is a very dangerous situation developing here.
SCHEER: Yeah, but first of all, let me separate Trump from Giuliani. I think Giuliani can make Trump seem somewhat reasonable. He’s just, you know, a really dangerous, irrational person. And if you listen to what he said–this is the same week that we had the release of the 28 pages that have been withheld from us. They’re still heavily redacted. That the joint congressional committee, Republican and Democrat, had looked at 9/11. and you know, of course there were not–15 of the 19 hijackers were not from Iran, they were not Shiites, they were from Saudi Arabia. And they had proper papers, and the missing 28 pages finally–as I say, heavily redacted, still–but let you know officials in the Saudi government were helping those hijackers. They were giving him money, they were helping their movement, get flight training and everything.
So if you’re going to be a demagogue about any group of Muslims, you better start with the Wahhabi Muslim faith of Saudi Arabia. And Iran has nothing to do with it. You know, we still haven’t had a Shiite–you know, it’s like blaming Mexicans for our problems. We haven’t anybody come across from Mexico and take planes and smash them into the World Trade Center or anywhere else, and we haven’t had anybody from Iran do it. It’s utter nonsense.
And the man uttering that statement has to know it’s utter nonsense. He’s not a fool. He’s college-educated, smart fellow, right. And–.
JAY: I quoted in a piece I did recently, I read a quote which says: “I use emotion for the many, and I use reason for the few.” A quote from Adolf Hitler. And we’re seeing that on display at the Republican Convention.
So in terms of the, you know, the rising neofascism, I think we agree on that. I think it’s rather obvious. So what does that mean in terms of Hillary Clinton, the Democratic Party, and the kind of choices people have to make now?
SCHEER: Well, first of all, you know, any time you look at these movements that are quite scary, you have to say, did Trump create it by himself, or Giuliani? No. Obviously social conditions have occurred in which jingoism is now acceptable and fashionable, and that’s because we have a war machine that’s been unleashed to get a new Cold War, this time against something called Muslims. Of course we know that most Muslims in this world, the largest Muslim population country is Indonesia. We don’t think of it as a center of terrorism. We’ve been quite cozy with lots of Muslim governments.
And in fact, a lot of the irrationality on the Muslim side came because our own CIA and our own security apparatus thought this was a wonderful thing to get going in Afghanistan, when we were still in the Cold War and we wanted to give, in the words of our National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski in the Carter administration, we wanted to give the Soviets their Vietnam. So we recruited Muslim fanatics from around the world to go to Afghanistan. Ronald Reagan called them freedom fighters. We celebrated their activities. That’s where Al-Qaeda came from, and it was financed in large measure by Saudi Arabia, which is to this day a strong ally. A major purchaser of military equipment from the United States.
You know, so the hawks, whether they’re Democrats or Republicans, have been stoking a certain kind of Muslim fanaticism ever since the Afghan war. We didn’t hear much about any kind of Islamic fanaticism before that. And as they say, most Muslims in the world have nothing to do with this.
JAY: Right, Bob, so let’s focus on this issue of the Democratic Party Convention’s coming up. You’ve got this neofascism on display in the Republicans. Right now it’s very hard to know what poll to believe, but apparently it’s relatively a close election. A lot of people are talking about the issue of–that the enabler of this kind of rising fascism has been the economic policies of the Obama administration, and the Clinton administration, and of course, Bush as well, that created such increased expansion of inequality in society. And that Clinton, in spite of some of the campaign rhetoric, there’s no reason to believe she wouldn’t continue more or less the same economic policies that helped facilitate all this. So where does that leave everybody?
SCHEER: Well, first of all, it’s really tragic that Bernie Sanders is, in effect, being silenced now. He’s rallying around the cause of the lesser evil, and he’s, you know, all of the really intelligent, sensible, needed statements he made during the campaign have somehow been put on the shelf, now. But they remain sensible statements. We are in the midst of a profound economic crisis. The good jobs aren’t coming back. Living wages aren’t being paid through wide sectors of the economy.
The AP now has a long series going on that’s very good trying to explain the Trump phenomenon. You know, who are the people? Well, they were in Appalachia. They used to be coal miners making $38 an hour. Now they’re making $7 or $8 an hour, and they can’t keep food on the table. So there’s a lot of pain out there, and both Sanders and Trump were addressing it. Sanders in an honest way, with integrity, talking about how to get good trade agreements, how to support the rights of workers, how to have a living wage.
And with Trump the reason we’re using this word neofascist, because we saw it in Italy, we saw it in Germany, we see it now in Europe. The rise of a movement that, instead of addressing the problems of getting working conditions to be better, getting benefits to be better, getting good trade agreements, what they’re talking about is blame what? Blame the Muslims, blame the Mexicans, blame gay people. You know, blame black lives protesters. It’s old-fashioned scapegoating, and it’s very dangerous precisely, it works precisely because people are hurting. They’re not idiots, they’re hurting. Why are they backing a guy like Trump, you know, who could be quite dangerous to everybody’s life, with this guy having his finger on the nuclear button and so forth?
JAY: If you can imagine, for example, Rudy Giuliani as head of the FBI, which I don’t think is unimaginable in a Trump administration, if you can imagine Sheriff Clarke, who we just heard, with some senior justice post, or certainly people that think like him, in terms of the ability to organize an independent people’s movement, isn’t there more room for that in an administration that resembles more or less the last eight years in spite of economic policies that so benefit the one percent, then a more, we’re saying neofascist, administration of Trump?
SCHEER: I think–no, I’m not of that view. I’m taking a very serious look at a Jill Stein of the Green Party, and I’m looking at, you know, a candidate in the Libertarian Party to form a government of New Mexico. I think they’re making serious criticisms of the business-as-usual approach.
And what I’m worried about–you know, right now, the New York Times today, they estimate that Hillary Clinton has a 75 percent chance of winning. And I don’t know how they calculate that–.
JAY: That’s based on an analysis of historical trends within swing states, or something.
SCHEER: Yeah. And that’s fine. And I think the opposite–it’s really not necessary for people like us to offer the great critique of Trump. The mass media is doing a pretty good job of it. And they’re all riled up now, and you can hardly pick up the New York Times or go on any of the television shows and not have a devastating criticism of everything about Trump. And including unfair things, like this criticism of his wide speech, you know, borrowed text, and so forth.
JAY: Why is that unfair? It was straight plagiarism.
SCHEER: It was basically a reasonable, good speech. And she didn’t write the speech, we know that. But how many people write their own speeches? And I don’t know how that language got in there. But that’s not the point. She actually gave one of the few good speeches of the evening. But the reporting is very strong against Trump, you know, now suddenly people have woken up, and they think he’s a great menace.
And I don’t think that’s the real issue. And we do have checks and balances, by the way. And if Trump should somehow manage to win, there would be a great deal of resistance from the Congress, from the courts, and from the media. I think the real danger, as has been pointed out, is a president having his finger on that suitcase, on that nuclear weapon, yes. That’s quite frightening. I would ask the question: why have we allowed that to be? Why does any American president have his finger on hair trigger alert on being able to destroy much of life on the planet?
JAY: But hold on, hold on. The checks and balances did not work with Bush-Cheney. If you listen to Kiriakou and other people who are actually listening to the morning meetings, every morning a meeting chaired by Dick Cheney, which was unheard of of all the heads of military and intelligence agency, according to Kiriakou, virtually every single head of every one of these agencies in the Pentagon were against the invasion of Iraq, but we got the invasion of Iraq. So you know, the checks and balances, when you have that kind of a scenario, don’t work.
SCHEER: I’m not trying to–.
JAY: And then of course, the Democrats were on the whole, with some exceptions, spineless and went along with it.
SCHEER: Yeah. I mean, the Democrats supported this. They supported overthrowing Gaddafi in Libya. They supported messing up Syria to the point where you can’t recognize it anymore and the great refugee population.
JAY: But go back to the Green Party and Jill Stein. Would you–.
SCHEER: I want to challenge your thinking on checks and balances. The fact of the matter is that we had a bipartisan consensus about–if you want to take it back to the economy, what Clinton did in ending the sensible rules of the road that prevented us from having another Depression, reversing Glass-Steagall, legitimizing all of these junk bonds and collateralized debt obligations and everything, that was done bipartisan. That wasn’t Ronald Reagan, that was Bill Clinton. And he did it with a lot of Republican support and a lot of Democratic support. When they did the Commodity Futures Modernization Act there were only four people in the House that voted against it. One of them was a libertarian, Rand Paul.
JAY: But I’m not–I’m not suggesting otherwise. Without doubt, the policies from Clinton on, and Obama, it enabled the rise of this neofascism. Frankly, if you want to have a geopolitical parallel, to a large extent the policies of the United States post-World War I and even in sections of American capital helped the rise of Hitler. But that didn’t make Hitler less a danger because these forces helped enable it. I’m not in any way arguing that this neoliberalism or hyper-capitalism of Obama, Clinton, and so on didn’t, and doesn’t continue, to till the soil for the rise of this neofascism.
SCHEER: Can I just make a feeble attempt at the case for objectivity? While I’m perfectly willing to say that Trump, and certainly Giuliani, have engaged in neofascist rhetoric, that doesn’t mean everything Trump has said is wrong, and it doesn’t mean that on every issue he is worse than the Democrats. I mean, I think his idea of negotiating with Putin and not demonizing Russia, which was really basic to the whole Syria policy, I think is a good corrective. He has said, made criticism about overextension of American power. He has actually offered some cautions.
But I think the real issue is: are we going to have a debate and a policy shift in the right direction? And what has to be suggested, for those who want to make a case for Hillary, is that four more years of this kind of establishment rule will leave us in a stronger, better position. And I’m afraid that’s not the case. I think that, that yes, I expect that Trump will be defeated. He’s kind of an absurdist figure, in a way. You know, pieces of him seem to fall apart quite readily.
But the objective conditions in the country are quite alarming. And if you go through four or eight more years where increased income inequality, where the average person worries about having a decent job, where you have a–let’s talk about the healthcare system. Jill Stein, Green Party candidate, is a medical doctor. Has offered some very serious criticisms of Obamacare, not the irrational ones. I just read a report today, in California, the Los Angeles Times reported that healthcare costs under Covered California, under the Obama plan, are going up 13 percent this year. You know, Obamacare does not have cost control. We’re at the mercy of the insurance companies. We’re at the mercy of the pharmaceuticals.
So there’s reason to be critical of Obamacare. Unfortunately, Bernie Sanders, who was making some of those criticisms and actually opening the door to some kind of serious universal coverage and single-payer, lost. Do we really think that the Democrats, with Hillary Clinton coming in, are going to improve on that plan?
JAY: You don’t think I’m arguing that, do you?
SCHEER: No, I don’t. I’m just saying, the lesser evil argument only takes you so far.
JAY: Well, I think the whole framing of this issue of lesser evil, or evil, is not the right way to frame this. The issue is–first of all, evil is this moral category. This isn’t about some morality. This is about from the strategic and tactical interest of building an independent people’s movement, independent of both of these parties. Can you–is–can you have the same room to move, the same room to operate? Could we have a Real News Network? You know, could we have these kinds of open discussions?
If this kind of neofascism becomes more full-fledged, and you look at the kind of personalities around Trump–like, for example, look at Pence. When Pence was interviewed by 60 Minutes–and I wish we had the clip, but it’s not ready. When Pence starts talking about U.S. foreign policy, he says the root of everything, from even the coup in Turkey to ISIS, and even the destabilization of the EU, everything, comes down to a lack of American power. That there has to be an assertion of American power again in the world.
The crushing of ISIS comes out of Trump’s mouth. Massive–the potential for a massive intervention in Syria and Iraq, the groundwork is being laid again. And this thing of Giuliani connecting this to Iran, I don’t think this is just some crazy Giuliani, here. He’s a savvy politician. He’s not stupid.
And you know, the kind of foreign policy nuances that Trump gave, which were, had some reasonableness to them–for example, critiquing Clinton on Libya and being for regime change–except we know that Trump was for sending U.S. troops into Libya at the time. I mean, Trump doesn’t believe in anything, I think. There’s clear enough evidence of that. It’s more important who his allies are.
SCHEER: Let me just say this. First of all, Trump did not create these problems, okay? Trump is a symptom. And as far as Pence is–if I understand his foreign policy, it’s really not very different than Hillary Clinton’s. It is Israel-centric. He has been very clear about that.
JAY: They want to undo the Iran agreement. There’s a difference there.
SCHEER: Well, I don’t even know if Hillary would have supported the Iran agreement as strongly as Kerry has. But I think, you know, remember Israel was very much, Netanyahu very much against that agreement.
JAY: But Bob, I just–just respond to the argument I’m giving, because I’m not trying in any way to suggest that there’s anything benign about Hillary Clinton and what her presidency would be. She has a long history of being connected to AIPAC, completely, you know, much closer to Netanyahu, certainly, than Obama. I agree with you on Iran. She wanted to declare the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as terrorists in 2008, or 2007.
SCHEER: And by the way–and by the way, it was the Democrats who put John Kiriakou in prison for telling us the truth about torture. It wasn’t the Republicans. And it’s, you know, it’s Hillary Clinton who calls Edward Snowden a traitor for telling us that the government does to us and spies on all our emails, and yet she had her own email system because she didn’t trust the State Department that she was in charge of to read her email. But they can read all our mail.
So there’s a lot of contradictions. Let me answer your question in a very pointed way, because I think there’s a serious basis. And that is you’re saying that progressive forces will do better if Trump is soundly defeated. And there’s a good argument to be made about that. But there’s also a counterargument. If Hillary Clinton is swept into office without acknowledging–this is the real problem–without acknowledging what the issues are.
If Hillary Clinton–by the way, if Hillary Clinton had come out and said, you know, Bernie Sanders is absolutely right. And the establishment has failed the people. And we are jointly responsible, including my husband’s administration for the radical deregulation of Wall Street, and for the housing meltdown, this was a bipartisan mess. And Democratic presidents, you know, bear responsibility also. If there was a different Hillary Clinton running, yeah, I would say that’s a substantial difference. She’s not saying anything of that–Bernie is now off the stage, and she’s, you know, making some marginal–.
JAY: Bob, we’re running out of time. And I’m sure we [can continue this].
SCHEER: [Inaud.] a one-minute pointed answer to what you’re saying. If Jill Stein can register, you know, eight, nine, ten percent of the vote and frighten these people, and threaten–.
JAY: That’s what I wanted to say at the very end. I just want to say, what I’m arguing–.
SCHEER: [More room.] That will make more room.
JAY: And what I’m arguing, if I could advise Jill Stein, I would argue what I, what I would like to see her do is call for in swing states, if it’s really close, yes. Make sure Trump doesn’t win. Across the country I think there should be a campaign to get the polling numbers for the Green Party up to 15 percent so she participates in the debates.
But I think it would be, it would behoove her and she would actually gain more support if she would say, yes, if it ever comes down to it, you know, don’t create illusions about who Hillary Clinton is, what corporate Democrats are. And I think to some extent Sanders has, maybe tactically he had to, I don’t know. But I don’t think one needs to create illusions about Clinton in order to say defeat Trump.
SCHEER: I think that’s a denial of the vitality of democracy. If the Democrats cannot win on their own with their chosen candidate, and all of the funding, and all of the support they have, then you’ve got a bad candidate and you can’t blame it on Jill Stein, I’m sorry.
JAY: Not a bad candidate. [Crosstalk] We could bear the consequences of it.
SCHEER: Well, no, let’s be clear about that. You cannot blame people who take a principled position and find an audience to support them. And if Jill Stein can do that, that’s a victory for democracy, and I’m all with her on that.
This is not true. We should not settle for people who have created this tremendous mess in the world, Hillary Clinton among them, who have really betrayed the interests of ordinary people, jailed a lot of people. You want to talk about Black Lives Matter, there are a hell of a lot of black people in jail that shouldn’t be in there because of the Clinton prison stuff. The Clintons destroyed [inaud.] families with dependent children, the basic welfare program, hurting a lot of people’s country, black, white, brown. Obama was the deporter in chief. We had a chance for serious immigration reform. You wouldn’t even have Trump having this as an issue if we’d put together a really good bipartisan immigration reform. It didn’t happen.
JAY: Okay. Let’s call this part one, and we’ll continue this.
JAY: All right. Thanks very much, Bob.
And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.
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