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The Clinton Myth and the Strange Case of Donald Trump

Republicans are known for forming opinions “unencumbered by the thought process,” as Tom and Ray, the Car Guys, used to say. They have problems with facts too.

Democrats are supposed to be better at such things, but many, maybe most, of them have a similar problem. How else to account for the widespread belief that while Hillary Clinton may be unappealing, inauthentic, untrustworthy, uninspiring, and more “moderate” than the average Democratic voter, at least she knows how to get things done?

Like what? Examples please! She bungled health care reform so thoroughly in the early nineties that, for the next two decades, appalling numbers of Americans remained uninsured or underinsured.

Obamacare fixed some of that, but it also further entrenched the power of private insurance companies, for-profit health care providers, and, worst of all, Big Pharma.   A lot of the blame for these “revolting developments” goes back to Hillary’s machinations a generation ago.

Her tenure at the State Department was more disastrous still. No doubt, Obama had his reasons for making her his Secretary of State, but what was he thinking!

All she knew of world affairs was what she picked up as an official wife and as a lackluster Senator. Unlike, say, Sarah Palin, she could name of a lot of world leaders, and she could probably have picked many of them out of a lineup. She could also call upon the services of what remained of her husband’s far from stellar foreign policy team. But that was about it.

The transition from Condoleezza Rice to Hillary was, all things considered, a step down. American foreign policy remained about the same, but at least Rice had no time for “humanitarian interveners” of the Samantha Power type.

Hillary got her feet wet encouraging the bloody 2009 coup in Honduras, and, from her first days at Foggy Bottom, she was busy sowing seeds of mischief in far away places.  Thankfully, though, when it came to exercising her “responsibility to protect,” she took her time getting up to speed. When she finally did, the Queen of Chaos messed up royally.

The disaster in Libya isn’t entirely on her, but it would be fair to say that the harm she did outweighs the harm done by other high officials in the American government, including the President, whom she more or less bullied into letting the war proceed.

She botched every other American intervention into the unfolding Arab Spring as well. The results are evident now in Egypt and Yemen and throughout the Gulf. All that pales in comparison, however, with the changes she helped set in motion in Syria and Iraq.

The refugee crisis in Europe, a direct consequence of Western intervention into the Syrian Civil War, isn’t entirely her fault either, nor are the terror attacks currently afflicting European countries that have joined the United States as co-belligerents in the Bush-Obama wars.

However, her clueless blundering contributed mightily to both of those on-going disasters. The buck never did stop with her, but it would be fair to say that, for all that, and for the resulting strain on the European Union itself, her responsibility is nearly as great as Barack Obama’s.

Her passion for provoking Russia makes her more dangerous still. People who worry about Donald Trump’s little fingers on the buttons that could unleash a nuclear holocaust have reason to worry about her fingers too. Hillary relishes sending others out to fight the empire’s wars; and where Obama is at least hesitant, she is gung ho. On the Russia Question, Trump seems by far the more rational of the two.

Then there is China. Trump just says he wants to negotiate better trade deals; OK, if he gets a chance, which he won’t, let him knock himself out. Hillary, on the other hand, was one of the authors of the “pivot” towards Asia. In other words, she wants to provoke the Chinese too. At a time when wars with nuclear powers can end life on earth “as we know it,” as they say in Clintonese, this is no small consideration.

It is far from clear how Sanders would deal with Russia and China or the Middle East or anywhere else. But he seems to be a levelheaded and thoughtful person whose testosterone levels are under control. This puts him way ahead of Hillary.

As has been pointed out countless times by supporters and critics alike, his foreign policy views fall within the normal range for “progressive” Democrats. But, unlike Hillary, he is a J-Street, not an AIPAC, type of guy; and neoconservative and liberal imperialist ideologies leave him cold. The contrast is not, by any means, all that it should be, but it is not insignificant.

And yet, according to more than a few well-meaning liberals, Sanders is selling dreams that he cannot realize, while Hillary is a “pragmatist” who knows her way around, and who can make at least some of those dreams come true. “You can’t fool all of the people all of the time,” but you sure can befuddle a lot of liberals.

How did the myth of Hillary’s competence come about and why does it remain resilient in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary?   Future historians will have a lot to ponder. All that we can say for sure now is that the explanation is emphatically not that she actually is competent.

***

There is an even greater mystery surrounding Donald Trump: the idea that he is qualitatively worse than the other Republican candidates.

The situation at this point remains fluid, but there are plenty of establishment Republicans who are hinting that, because Trump is so much more awful than anyone else, that, rather than support him, they would, like the rats they are, flee the sinking ship that their party has become.

Were they rational agents, they would have latched onto Hillary a long time ago. The corporate moguls and Wall Street malefactors whose interests they serve have no better friend. However, rational agency is even rarer than moral decency in Republican circles.

The establishment candidate now is Ted Cruz because there is no one else left — except John Kasich, who is likely to fold after he loses the Wisconsin primary.

This is odd, to say the least, because there is no plausible metric according to which anybody, even Trump, is more odious than Cruz.

I say this not just because, according to every reliable news source, everybody who deals with Cruz hates his guts. This is the man who wants to “carpet bomb” regions in the Middle East and Africa that the Islamic State controls or where there is a strong IS presence; and who wants to put Muslim neighborhoods in the United States under a level of police control reminiscent of martial law.

The stupidity of these proposals and of others he has advanced rivals Trump’s promise to build a “really fantastic wall” along the Mexican border (paid for by the Mexicans); and the sheer vileness of Cruz’s ideas exceeds even Trump’s calls for reviving waterboarding and resorting to still more onerous forms of torture.

Why, then, is Cruz acceptable while Trump is, at least for now, beyond the pale?

Part of the explanation must surely be that the Republican establishment, like its Democratic counterpart, doesn’t like it when “mainstream” politicians call them to account, as Trump does by calling attention to the corruption of the system they uphold.

Trump is not OK, while Cruz is, for much the same reason that, on the “other” side, Sanders is ignored and, when that is impossible, derogated, and when that is impossible – because he is winning too many primaries and drawing too many large and enthusiastic crowds – dismissed by the regime’s talking heads on the grounds that, come what may, the odds against him are insurmountable.

But Trump is a wheeler-dealer businessman, after all; and if it came down to it, he and his fellow capitalists could probably find a way to make peace. Sanders would be harder for “the billionaire class” to take on board, not because the positions he takes are so radical, but because he genuinely does side with their victims, and genuinely does hold the money interests in contempt.

Class-consciousness could, and very likely would, make Trump a trustworthy steward of the interests of billionaires and millionaires. But he is a loose cannon and an arrogant son of a bitch who just might tell them all to go to hell. This is precisely what Trump’s supporters think he would do, and they may be right.

The titans of finance and industry must also be worried by the fact that Trump’s vague and ever-changing policy prescriptions generally stand to the left of Hillary’s – and arguably even to the left of Sanders’ on key foreign policy and military issues involving interventions abroad. Trump even badmouths NATO, something neither Sanders nor any other respectable member of the American political class would ever do.

Cruz, on the other hand, champions every libertarian, neoconservative, and theocratic nostrum that the far right holds dear. The money people like that.

But this is not the whole story; it is probably not even the major part of the story, at least up to now.

What Republican “moderates” would like people to believe is that Trump is unacceptable to them because of what he says about and proposes to do to everyone who is not white and male.

This is hypocrisy on stilts. Republicans have been denigrating everyone not white and male for as long as Richard Nixon’s and Pat Buchanan’s ‘Southern strategy” has been their battle plan.

The difference is that Trump says clearly and distinctly what the others say only in code.

The pillars of the party don’t like that for one very ironic reason; because they find it politically incorrect.

Republicans rail against political correctness; go back to transcripts of the early candidate debates and count the ways! But all of them pull their punches; all except Trump. From Day One, he has been living the dream.

Moderate and not-so-moderate Republican honchos abhor what they call “political correctness” because it keeps them from giving their racism, nativism, misogyny, homophobia and Islamophobia voice. But because they care, even more, about their own self-esteem, all of them, except Trump, want to maintain at least a semblance of decorum.

They therefore deem it important to respect norms of speech and conduct that prevent persons of their station from seeming too much like children at recess or locker room braggarts or barroom brawlers. Even Cruz is on board with that.

Examples that cross the line are nowadays on everybody’s mind: candidates for President mustn’t talk about penis size, or about the looks of their rivals’ wives. Calling Mexican immigrants “rapists” is OK, but calling high profile women “ugly” is not.

Remarks like that are un-Presidential.   Trump doesn’t care. He says whatever he feels like saying; and because he gets away with it, and becomes more popular because of it, he has no reason to change.

He therefore has no reason to be politically correct in the respects that his rivals think important. The political correctness they oppose involves norms that proscribe off-color jokes and racial slurs; the kind they support upholds the dignity of the offices they hold or aspire to.

They may be inveterate low-lifes, but Trump’s opponents in the Republican Party nevertheless try, usually in vain, to emulate the decorousness and superficial niceties of leaders born into self-confident ruling classes.

Trump has no time for that. As a certifiable egomaniac, he has self-confidence to spare; and he doesn’t need to feign graciousness to prove it. The code he lives by is plain: if you’ve got it, flaunt it.

And so he transgresses norms that the others honor. This may make Trump the man more than usually deplorable, even by Republican standards, but the idea that his politics is qualitatively worse than the politics of the others is nonsense. The one whose politics is worse is Cruz, the establishment’s man of the hour.

Nevertheless, much good could come from the Trump myth as this election season unfolds. It is driving the Old Guard crazy and tearing their party apart.

On the other hand, no good can come from the myth that Hillary Clinton is more capable and electable than Bernie Sanders; or that she is a “pragmatic progressive.”

All that myth does is sustain the illusions of those who are working for more of what we have had to endure for the past eight years — but with a clueless, bellicose and inept Commander-in-Chief in Barack Obama’s place.

If Hillary moves back into the White House, those of us who have always known that Obama is Wall Street’s man, and that his promises of “hope” and change” were a hoax, are going to miss that man.

So will liberals who still hold on to remnants of Obamaphiliac illusions. Many of those liberals are now harboring Hillary illusions, though at enthusiasm levels approaching absolute zero.

If they get their way, they will find themselves experiencing levels of buyer’s remorse not seen in liberal circles since the days of LBJ.

It is not too late, however, to stop the clear and present danger of a full-fledged Clintonite Restoration from coming to pass. If Sanders’ momentum continues to swell, the devil can still be denied his due.

This is the urgent business of the present moment.

Trump grabs all the headlines because he has become a cash cow for corporate media. But he is not nearly the problem for the country and the world that Hillary is.

Trump has already earned an honored place in American history for his role in wrecking the GOP. But his history making days are over. Clinton’s could just be beginning, and the chances that she will ever accomplish anything as worthwhile as Trump already has are nil.

Barring a devastating outbreak of mass insanity, Trump can never be elected President of the United States. There are limits to how reckless voters can be, even in a country that twice elected George W. Bush.

Hillary is electable, however; and, if she is elected, there will be hell to pay.

Walt Kelly’s Pogo famously said: “we have met the enemy and he is us.” The time for well-intentioned Hillary supporters and other pro-Hillary lesser evilists to take that lesson to heart was yesterday, or the day before.

More articles by:

ANDREW LEVINE is 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).

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