I resisted writing about the election for a long time, but I couldn’t hold out any longer. Below are three sections, each covering a different candidate: Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, and Hillary Clinton. Though the essays can be taken as separate pieces, they are related both in content and theme. I urge you to read all three, in order.
I’ll start by saying that I see the appeal of Sanders’ sentiments. His criticisms of the ruling class, income inequality, police brutality (after being challenged by Black Lives Matter protestors in Seattle), structural racism, the War on Drugs, and the military-industrial complex are all… commendable — as far as they go, which is in no way far enough.
The point is, though, that I understand why people like him. In fact, his appeal is at the core of the problem. But first, we have to address Bernie’s strategy for dealing with all of these aforementioned social and political issues. While Bernie’s sentiments may be laudable, his strategy is ludicrous.
He wants to use the most powerful, hierarchical, violent, imperial institution on the planet to help those oppressed by said institution. Only in the minds of liberal reformists and state socialists is such a strategy even plausible, let alone desirable. It should be outright laughable to anyone not willfully ignorant of the machinations of power.
To accept it requires a focus on actors at the expense of everything else. Ignore any analysis of systems, institutions, and incentives and emphasize the individual actions of one politician. Mix that with a belief in the false dichotomy between public and private power in the U.S. Then, add a few drops of rhetoric-equals-policy faith — the trust that what a candidate promises will be reflected in actual policy — and you find yourself cheering for yet another politician to take control of the most violent organization on Earth. Easy.
Of course, taking control of the American political structure and enacting heroic liberal reforms isn’t his true purpose. Sanders’ role in this election season is to generate buy-in from progressives who have too much conscience or dignity to support Hillary Clinton. Think of the millions of young Americans who would be jaded and disillusioned by an 18-month election cycle between Trump, GOP goons, and Hillary. The purpose of Sanders’ campaign is to keep young, progressive-minded people participating in an election they would otherwise dismiss as a perfect example of everything wrong with American electoral politics. This is exactly what you see reflected in polling numbers. In fact, it’s exactly what Bernie himself claims as one of his campaign’s primary goals: “Our job is not just to defeat Republicans, our job is to revitalize American democracy, bring people who have given up on the political process back into the system.”
His job is to bring people back into the system.
Sanders sees this as a positive thing, as it’s almost universally accepted in the U.S. that “engagement” is, by default, a virtue. But whether or not you value engagement in the political system, there is no mistaking it as a primary function of Bernie’s campaign.
And remember, Sanders has made it clear he will not run against the Democratic Party. From the Guardian’s profile: “Despite a highly successful career defined outside the Democratic party, Sanders never contemplated… running for president as an independent. Sanders was adamant he did not want to be a ‘spoiler’, sapping votes from whoever the Democratic presidential candidate is….”
Which means when he loses the Democratic primary, he won’t run as an independent; instead, he’ll transfer all of the support he’s garnered to Hillary. His campaign, he will claim, dragged Clinton further left, therefore making it a success and justifying progressive support. That, and your standard issue lesser-evilism, will drive Bernie supporters to throw in with Clinton.
That is Bernie Sanders’ purpose: Generate investment in the political process from otherwise disillusioned young people, then transfer their votes to Hillary Clinton.
It’s not a conspiracy. There is no mustache-twirling villain behind the scenes planning how the Sanders campaign will function as an annex of the Clinton campaign. This is just how politics in America’s two-party system works. Even SNL gets this. This is what pragmatism creates in a political structure designed to protect and sustain itself. It will use your beliefs against you to perpetuate the system.
But I’m feeling the Bern, what do I do?
I’m never going to begrudge anybody a defensive vote. If you want to throw a vote to Sanders in the primary, go ahead. But know what game you’re playing.
Is it to get Bernie elected? Because the chances of that happening are very, very low. And even then, what have you achieved besides placing a politician who says words you like at the top of an empire? Is that Real Progress™?
Is it to drive the Democratic Party further left? Support for Sanders may send a message to other Democrats, but so what? All you’re doing is teaching a political machine how to better pander to you. Maybe you’ll get some conciliatory reforms out of it, maybe not.
I would urge any Bernie supporters to consider what their actual end goals are. Is it to tweak the existing political system or is it to render fundamental change to the social structure of this country?
I prefer the latter. But either way, I submit that any of these signals would be better sent by mass withdrawal from the political process as a whole. Politicians still have to adapt to shifting cultural norms — and voting delineates those boundaries more than it pushes them — so your strategy should focus on pushing the culture in certain directions, rather than participating in the establishment’s soap opera.
Ask yourself: Do you want to oppose authoritarian systems or do you want to “engage” with them?
Let’s not mince words: Trump is a fascist. His claims to power and control unprecedented by the executive, his ultranationalism, his fear mongering, his trash-talking militarism, his promises to restore the dominant culture’s way of life, it’s all straight from the fascist playbook.
Whereas the left has long attacked bourgeois institutions like family, church and property, fascism has made its peace with all three. It (very wisely) seeks political strategies that call on the organic matter of the social structure and inspire masses of people to rally around the nation as a personified ideal in history, under the leadership of a great and highly accomplished man.
That strategy of fascism actually helps explain Trump’s appeal. Plus, he’s outside the political establishment, wealthy enough to not be bought, and unafraid to speak his mind without the political correctness or image crafting of your typical politician. There’s a whole host of people disillusioned by the current system who, like Bernie supporters, find comfort in Trump’s fake anti-establishmentarianism.
Like every politician, Trump is playing a game. Make outrageously fascist statements to stir the media into a frenzy, then scale back when pressed. Be bold and shocking. Keep everyone focused on you. “There’s no such thing as bad publicity” is practically his campaign slogan.
But here’s the most important point about Trump’s fascism: it isn’t his. It’s built on culture and sentiments that are at the very core of the United States.
Donald Trump is America.
The white supremacy, the nationalism, the militarism, the classism, the celebration of global hegemony, it’s all there. He is tapping into the not-so-deeply-hidden cultural forces that drive the American state. And to add the extra seasoning of what makes America America, he’s a self-styled alpha-male billionaire-playboy reality TV star who also courts the Christian right. Come on.
…It’s important not to treat Trump as some radical aberration. He’s essentially the American id, simply channeling pervasive sentiments unadorned with the typical diplomatic and PR niceties designed to prettify the prevailing mentality.
Even the National Review describes Trump as America’s id.
You can tell yourself that the U.S. is all about liberty, or democracy, or The Constitution, or equal opportunity, or the rule of law. And while some of those values may be found in American culture, they are values to which the American state — in all its oligarchical glory — merely pays lip service.
Trump, like any good fascist, embodies the true nation state.
But if that’s true, if Trump is simply representing core parts of American culture, why the outrage? Why is Trump so hated? Teju Cole pointed out the selective outrage in a Facebook post:
Trump is a dangerous clown, and we must continue to strongly oppose him and his hateful crowds. But it is important to understand that his idea of “banning all Muslims,” scandalous as it is (intentionally scandalous, because he is of course doing it for media attention), is far less scandalous than the past dozen years of American disregard for non-American Muslim lives. And that wasn’t Trump. Trump didn’t murder thousands of innocent people with drones in Pakistan and Yemen. Trump didn’t kill hundreds of thousands of innocent people with bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan. Trump didn’t torture people at Bagram, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, or the numerous black sites across the planet. Trump’s weapons aren’t incinerating Yemen now, and didn’t blow up Gaza last year. No American president in the past fourteen years has openly championed Islamophobia, but none has refrained from doing to Muslims overseas what would be unthinkable to do here to Americans of any religion.
If you’re wondering just how many bombs the United States dropped on Muslim-majority countries in 2015 alone, the answer is 23,144. Trump was responsible for exactly zero of them. That doesn’t mean Trump is a good guy or that he wouldn’t do the same thing. But it is interesting to note how the outrage over the treatment of Muslims skews almost entirely toward a man who simply says mean words and away from the people responsible for mass death.
I’m going to quote an essay about the Michael Bay Transformers movies (because it’s 2016 and that’s how we do):
All of the racism in Star Trek: The Next Generation is disturbing not because it’s as over-the-top as the racism in The Birth of a Nation (1915), it’s disturbing because it isn’t and it nevertheless preserves essentially all the messages that we find objectionable in the former. I mean how could you not worry when the same message that you excoriate in one instance is presented as utopian progressivism in another? Objecting to one but not the other suggests that you’re not in fact objecting to the content (e.g. the racism) but rather only the aesthetics. Put in slightly different terms, you find yourself objecting to The Birth of a Nation more than Star Trek because the former is less effective racist propaganda than the latter. Which, stated that way, looks almost ridiculous, but there it is.
That quote captures the most interesting part of the outrage around Donald Trump. While Trump’s beliefs garner near-universal shock, particularly from liberals, those same beliefs exist unexamined in every American leader. “Objecting to one but not the other suggests that you’re not in fact objecting to the content (e.g. the racism) but rather only the aesthetics.” The problem with Trump is that he refuses to present his horrible beliefs to the American population in a palatable way.
It speaks volumes about American politics. Unsurprising volumes, but volumes still. It’s the presentation that matters. Do evil. Do all kinds of evil, just present as good and caring. Wage war, just present as peaceful. Drop twenty thousand bombs on Islamic countries, but give speeches urging respect for Muslims.
Don’t you understand, Donald? Americans want power with better PR.
I think Trump might actually be a good thing…
Stop. He’s a horrible fascist. Maybe you like him shaking up the GOP. Or that he makes liberals freak out. Maybe you think he’d actually protect you from whatever you see threatening your way of life.
He won’t. Like every politician, he’s an asshole and he’s using you.
If Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump represent different flavors of disillusionment with the system, Hillary represents the system itself.
She is ruling class through and through. If you use the endorsements of governors, senators, and representatives as a measurement of establishment support — as FiveThirtyEight does — you’ll find that Hillary is the “most establishment-approved candidate on record.” On record, not just in this election.
Here’s FiveThirtyEight’s chart of Democratic endorsements as of January 20, 2016:
But it’s not just support from the establishment that makes Hillary the candidate of the ruling class.
Last year, The New York Times reported that the Clinton Foundation received $2.35 million in donations from the chairman of Uranium One between 2009 and 2013. Uranium One is a mining company that was being purchased by a Russian state corporation during the same period, 2009 to 2013.
The Times wrote:
Since uranium is considered a strategic asset, with implications for national security, the deal had to be approved by a committee composed of representatives from a number of United States government agencies. Among the agencies that eventually signed off was the State Department, then headed by Mr. Clinton’s wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton.
As the Russians gradually assumed control of Uranium One in three separate transactions from 2009 to 2013, Canadian records show, a flow of cash made its way to the Clinton Foundation. Uranium One’s chairman used his family foundation to make four donations totaling $2.35 million. Those contributions were not publicly disclosed by the Clintons, despite an agreement Mrs. Clinton had struck with the Obama White House to publicly identify all donors. Other people with ties to the company made donations as well.
The full piece is worth reading as it highlights many suspicious activities between the Clintons and those standing to benefit from the Russian uranium deal, including a $500,000 honorarium for a speech in Moscow and a $31.3 million donation from Frank Giustra, the Canadian mining financier who brokered an earlier uranium deal for his company, UrAsia, before it became Uranium One. Yes, a thirty-one million dollar donation. And there’s even more.
The International Business Times also conducted an investigation revealing that “governments and corporations involved in the arms deals approved by Clinton’s State Department have delivered between $54 million and $141 million to the Clinton Foundation as well as hundreds of thousands of dollars in payments to the Clinton family.”
Under Clinton’s leadership, the State Department approved $165 billion worth of commercial arms sales to 20 nations whose governments have given money to the Clinton Foundation, according to an IBTimes analysis of State Department and foundation data. That figure — derived from the three full fiscal years of Clinton’s term as Secretary of State (from October 2010 to September 2012) — represented nearly double the value of American arms sales made to the those countries and approved by the State Department during the same period of President George W. Bush’s second term.
The Clinton-led State Department also authorized $151 billion of separate Pentagon-brokered deals for 16 of the countries that donated to the Clinton Foundation, resulting in a 143 percent increase in completed sales to those nations over the same time frame during the Bush administration.
Those countries include Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Algeria, and Qatar. All known for their authoritarian political structures rife with human rights abuses. And it wasn’t just donations from the regimes buying arms. The defense contractors selling them also contributed. That list includes Boeing, General Electric, Hawker Beechcraft (owned by Goldman Sachs), and Lockheed Martin.
Many would look at these relationships and see blatant corruption and obvious exploitation of political power. But I don’t.
A liberal might conclude that these situations are created by loopholes and bad policy. That they signal which areas of the system are in need of reform, which areas are flaws in an otherwise good system designed with our benefit in mind. They are abuses of the system.
But that’s wrong: these abuses are the system. This is what the political and economic structure of the United States is supposed to do. It’s what power is for. A radical critique does not see these deals “as aberrant outcomes of a basically rational system, but as rational outcomes of a system whose central goal is the accumulation of wealth and power for a privileged class.”
Hillary is the system. The Clintons are the epitome of the true political process in the U.S., using power and influence peddling to enrich themselves while the empire deals out mass death and destruction, all while serving the interests of wealthy corporations. Hillary doesn’t represent you. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Democrat. Or if you’re a woman. Or if you’re a long-time supporter. Hillary’s constituency is Goldman Sachs, General Electric, Boeing, and Lockheed Martin.
She doesn’t care about you. You are not her friend. Regimes like the House of Saud and dictators like Hosni Mubarak are her friends — Mubarak is a “friend of her family” in her own words.
Hillary is a privileged, rich, white, warmongering member of a political dynasty. There is nothing subversive about her. There is nothing subversive about supporting her. If it wasn’t for her gender identity, there would be nothing distinguishing her from the patriarchs that have ruled every violent, hierarchical system since the beginning of humanity.
But I support Hillary…
Do you know that in 2007 Hillary told an audience in Dover, N.H. that if voting for someone who opposed the Iraq War was the “most important thing” to them, they should find another candidate. Since then, for obvious PR purposes, she has reversed that position, but how telling of a statement is that? If you think supporting the Iraq War was a mistake, go vote for someone else. I think you should all take 2007 Hillary’s advice.
I still haven’t come to terms with the idea that anyone could legitimately support Hillary. Certainly, no radical could. No anti-authoritarian could. No one with any desire to oppose the ruling class or challenge the existing social order could. No progressive could. No one wishing to change the status quo could. No one skeptical of vast concentrations of wealth and power could. No one who considers themselves anti-war could. Could any liberal-minded person truly support Hillary? Like I said, it is difficult for me to accept. But I know young progressives who do support her and not just as a lesser of two evils.
Is it because she’s a woman? I’ll let Roqayah Chamseddine address that point:
‘She has the interest of all women in mind’, they’ll say. ‘She has her issues, but would you rather a Republican president take away our bodily autonomy?’. Again, they fall back on duplicitous fear-mongering and vagueness in order to mitigate the damage which so often accompanies such uninspiring analysis. They aren’t looking for women to dismantle an oppressive system but to join it, to become a part of the establishment class. This isn’t liberatory political consciousness, but the politics of superficial preservation for those at the top.
But if you do support her, one thing I will say is: you won’t be alone for long. The whitewash is coming, especially when she makes it to the general election. Her tenure as a career politician, loved by the establishment, will become a positive. She’ll be presented as a politically savvy insider, who knows how to “get things done.” She’s “qualified.” Her watered-down conservative leftism will be spun as moderate pragmatism, allowing her to cross the aisle and work with the opposition.
There will be a backlash against the sexism any female candidate must navigate. If you present as feminine and conciliatory, you’re too weak to lead. If you’re too masculine or ambitious, you’re a callous bitch. And while it’s obvious that the right’s dislike of Hillary is (at least) partially motivated by sexism, the Democrats will use that to insulate her from genuine criticism.
With the whitewash will come discipline. Mainstream liberals will discipline anyone to the left of them. They will discipline you for “ideological purity”, for lacking solidarity, for infighting. They will discipline you for de facto support of the enemy. For undermining progress. For not being “realistic.”
My only hope for current Hillary supporters is that they resist that discipline, are skeptical of anyone using identity politics to garner their support, and reject pragmatism as a noble pursuit.
I cannot stress enough the idea that this election, like every election, is meant to use you. It’s meant to keep you invested in a system which oppresses you, it’s meant to keep you playing a game with your enemies.
The ruling class loves that we even have these debates. They love that the American population twists itself into insane knots over the lesser-evilism of Republicans and Democrats, or over Sanders vs Trump, or Hillary vs Sanders. Because every minute we do is a minute spent not hanging them for imprisoning millions of people, or mass murdering nearly a million Iraqis under false pretenses, or bailing out their financial sector supporters to the tune of billions, or spying on our emails and phone calls, or torturing people without trials or due process in CIA dungeons around the globe, or drone striking weddings and 16-year-old kids having dinner at restaurants and children playing by the side of the road, or militarizing a domestic security force to repress citizens, or propping up dictatorships that cause the suffering of millions of the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world, or profiting off the $400 billion arms industry of which the US government is the largest participant, enriching themselves off the same conflicts they pretend to oppose. They win because we think scribbling some shit on a piece of paper and then going about our days — as if the world isn’t an absolute horror — will somehow make a difference.
Fuck the election.