Since I cannot imagine anyone less qualified than I am to give political advice, I will not presume to suggest for whom you should vote tomorrow (or cast any judgment on you for whom you may already have voted). But, in spite of the fact that for the first time in my adult life I will not be voting in a Presidential election, I will presume to offer some humble thoughts about our most recent exercise in quadrennial hilarity.
On the eve of the coronation of Ms. Clinton we can probably all now admit that we knew this was the way it would turn out. With every major “mainstream” media outlet behind her, almost every Wall St. dollar in her pocket, and a good portion of even the Republican punditocracy kowtowing for possible cabinet appointments, it was difficult to imagine a different outcome. Early on, Sanders was a surprise, a hiccup who was dealt with quickly and efficiently at the highest levels of the Democratic party. And then came Trump. A god-send. She could not have imagined in her most pie-in-the-sky wishlists that Fuckface von Clownstick would emerge from the 17-candidate dung heap of the Republican party primary process.
She survived the Wikileaks/FBI/email issues because they did not offer any new information. If a “scandal” simply reinforces what we already believe (politicians are crooked, on the take, talking out of both sides of their mouths) then we tend to dismiss it. The Clintons may be more whorish than most politicians but probably not by that much. And, after all, we shouldn’t forget the single most important factor in her victory: she is not Donald Trump. She will take office as the most disliked and least trusted President in our history and she will have gotten there in large part by having had the good fortune of running against a buffoon.
So, what will the Clinton (II) administration look like?
There is one party left in America: the War Party. And Hillary Clinton is its current head. The War Party believes in American exceptionalism. In spite of our crumbling infrastructure, our declining life expectancy, our skyrocketing incarceration rate, our microscopic K-12 test scores, and an income inequality that is greater than at any time in our history (save for the months immediately before the Great Depression), the War Party soldiers on, convinced of our destiny to police the world. But America’s exceptionalism these days lies chiefly in one arena: our ability to wage war. There are Democrats in this party, Republicans, liberals, conservatives, neocons. They all have one thing in common: they believe, with modest variations of shading and emphasis, in the status quo, in the essential right-ness of our national apple cart. That the cart is filled with rotting fruit and about to hurtle off the edge of a cliff is no concern of theirs. They understand that there is no vision of America and freedom and democracy which cannot be imposed by a Sidewinder or enforced by a squadron of remotely-piloted drones. Over the past few decades, under Presidents of both parties, the War Party has murdered hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians; under Hillary Clinton, you can expect that number to increase, as America’s Forever War marches on, grounding the bones of black and brown children to dust.
And at home, Hillary will be in a position to complete the destruction of the American Left begun by her husband. In the 1980’s, Bill was instrumental in remaking the Democratic Party out of the smoldering embers of the Mondale and Dukakis defeats. As President, he dismantled the social welfare safety net and laid the foundation for the national prison state. These are Hillary’s instincts, too. Her administration will embolden corporations over people, will extend the domestic surveillance of our citizens, and will fail to reverse the rising tide of income inequality, since to do so would be to threaten the hegemony of her biggest donors. For shits and giggles, she may very well tinker around the edges of Social Security and Medicare, too. In general, as is the case with every American President, if you are already well-off, you will fare well under Hillary Clinton; if you’re not, you’ll slip a little further down the rungs of an increasingly slippery ladder.
While I thrilled this past winter and spring to Bernie’s improbable ride, I must also admit that I savored the Trump phenomenon. The Trump-as-Hitler hyperbole was great entertainment; the Trump-as-Manchurian-Candidate narrative even more of a hoot. As he blazed his way through the gaggle of stunned Rubios, Bushes, and Cruzes, laying bare the naked truth of the party he’d hijacked (that he was not an anomaly but rather the logical and horrific conclusion to decades worth of hate-filled rhetoric), Trump’s snake oil salesman act was pitch-perfect and the political theater he provided was brilliant.
But moving into the general election campaign, I began to change the way I looked at him, because it became less about him and more about his “movement.” Who were these people? Was 40-45% of the country really ready to cast their lot with this obviously pathetic reality show cast-off? I began to feel empathy for people so desperate, so devoid of any faith in our systems, that they would howl such a gigantic inchoate “fuck you” at the nation that had abandoned them, that was laughing at them every night in all the hippest media, that saw them as opiate-addicted trailer-park losers who necessarily needed to be kicked to the curb in our race into the new global economy?
People are beginning to sense that things are broken, that “opportunity” is not what it once was, that “the system” is “rigged,” in that the world is rocketing past entire industries of workers, and that our government is not helping. Some folks can articulate it; others just feel the weight of a terrible truth on their shoulders. People on both sides of the American political spectrum, those who followed Bernie Sanders, and those who support Donald Trump, have more in common than might be imagined. It is the genius of our system that these two groups of people were kept apart, were kept from recognizing their common interests, were kept from combining their forces and doing pitched battle with the “establishment.” Which is why the prospect of the next Donald Trump is so fascinating: imagine a Trump who was just a little less racist, sexist, a bit less of a xenophobe, leading a tribe of people who were convinced that the game was rigged against them, that they were never in fact going to get theirs, that the American dream of working hard and getting ahead was over … and imagine that tribe combining with a truly progressive left led by the next Bernie Sanders, a left led by young people who had grown up in an internet age, who saw no value whatsoever in old orders, alliances, or even of political parties themselves. This combination would represent a true populist movement in America, one committed to a rational stance on defense and foreign affairs, one willing to invest in the country’s future, one recognizing the importance of attacking income inequality and strengthening a safety net capable of providing basic levels of care and subsistence.
(A brief parenthetical note: think for a moment about the next Trump. Imagine 4 or 8 or 12 years from now. Automation, driverless cars, and robotics in general are well on their way to eliminating an entire swath of the American labor force. Sure, there will be new jobs … but who will fill them, who will be technically adept enough to adapt to that new landscape? Think back to the economic pressure that this year led to the Sanders and Trump campaigns and ratchet up that pressure by orders of magnitude … how do you think the American electorate is going to respond then? Will we still stomach whichever “establishment” candidate is crammed down our throats … or will we resist?)
There was one lasting effect of the Wikileaks revelations. They may not have sunk Hillary but they are a death-knell for the “mainstream media.” The extent of the corruption of our “journalists” by politicians was breathtaking. The internet was killing off the old-guard, anyway, but its execution date was sped up considerably by the realization of just how deeply in bed once-revered publications and networks are with the campaigns they cover. The scales have been lifted from our eyes and the American people will no longer give the benefit of the doubt to any news source, no matter how formerly “respected” they might be. 2016 was the year in which more clearly than ever before “journalism” became “public relations.”
We now live in informational enclaves of our own creation. The tendency to secrete ourselves behind walls that began with talk radio and Fox News has now spread everywhere with a virulent irresistibility. Our feeds are curated for us, based on our preferences, our friends are confirmed/maintained by virtue of our ability to agree with them, and our anxiety at the prospect of the “other” drives us scurrying to sources of information which echo back the version of reality we most want to believe in, that we are most comfortable with.
Once again this year, we have seen the uncanny way that we all succumb to fear-mongering and are thereafter led to voting against our own interests. (A corollary to this phenomenon is the tendency for poor Americans of different colors to tear each other apart rather than to unite in the realization that their government does not represent their interests.) We are enthralled by the “horse race” and more than willing to buy into the quadrennial proposition that this is the most important election of our lifetimes and that victory by the other side would mean the end of civilization as we know it. This would have been my 11th vote cast for a presidential candidate. On all previous 10 occasions, and cynic that I am, I had been made to believe that the election I was participating in was a matter of life and death. This obsession with fear and outcomes blinds us to the fact that our candidates are simply replaceable pawns of the oligarchy. Our attention ought to be on: my god, how did we get here? Instead, we are driven to focus on: my god, we can’t let him win.
I have both despaired at and been cheered by this election. On the one hand, as someone who believes that our politics needs a complete re-build, it saddens me that in this age of the outsider, the insurgent, we are putting the most establishment candidate imaginable into the White House. Will things never change? On the other hand, though, the candidacies of Sanders and Trump are thrilling expressions of ordinary people swimming upstream against every force aligned against them by the political elite. These people have expressed a fundamentally dissenting view of our democracy. In our safe havens of groupthink in Santa Monica or Berkeley or Ann Arbor or Austin or Brooklyn, we may be disgusted by Trump … but we sell ourselves short if we do not try to understand why our fellow citizens decided that he was their answer. And perhaps in the process even feel a bit of empathy for their plight.
Maybe the seeds of something lie in these groups who dissented … maybe the much-maligned (especially by the Clintonistas) “millennials” will refuse to recognize the primacy of corrupt political parties and will begin to build something new, a politics based more on immediacy, connectivity, and transparency.