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Hillary’s Gun Gambit

Hillary Clinton’s supporters are right about one thing: she has lots of “experience” – as a First Lady, a Senator, and a Secretary of State. This is why there is an abundance of evidence supporting the claim that if there is a way to fuck something up, she will find it.

But because, from Day One, she has been deemed the inevitable nominee and President, mum is the word in liberal circles, or rather it would be, were so many black, white and brown liberals, and so many business-friendly union officials, not so plainly in denial.

In their view, and in the view of “liberal” corporate media, Bernie Sanders and the masses of people his campaign has mobilized are merely nuisances, not worth taking seriously. They livened up the primary season for a while, but now they are pointlessly standing in the way of the Queen’s coronation.

Ignore them, they all think, and they will go away.

In their hearts, though, they know that this won’t happen. They are plainly worried about the Democratic Party convention this summer. They fear that, thanks to all the people feeling the Bern, they will be unable to turn it into yet another terminally boring infomercial, like other recent political conventions have been.

Team Hillary’s hope, however, is that, before long, this too will pass; that after Sanders supporters blow off steam in Philadelphia, their insurgency will fold, causing all that pesky equality jibber jabber to recede back into the margins.

Bernie draws huge crowds and gets almost as many votes as Hillary does, despite the black and brown political machines that serve the Clintons by working against their constituents’ interests, and despite those feckless union bosses.

At this point too, there is no love lost between Sanders and his supporters and Hillary and hers. But the prevailing idea, for now, is that none of this matters because most Sanders supporters will up voting for Hillary in November anyway – on lesser evil grounds.

Clinton therefore has a lot invested in Donald Trump; she is counting on him to assure her success.

This is why, though the primary season is still very much on, Team Hillary is targeting Trump more than Sanders. With corporate media ignoring Bernie as best they can, and deriding him for staying in the race when they cannot, this is not an unreasonable strategy.

In fact, it is almost fool proof. But if anybody can fuck it up, Hillary is the one.

Media moguls turned Trump the buffoon into Trump the contender – not so much for Hillary’s sake, though they and their underlings are Clinton-besotted, but because his antics did wonders for their ratings and therefore for their bottom lines.

He is still doing that for them; but, now that there are no more Republican dunces for Trump to make mincemeat of, he should already have peaked. Perhaps, he already has.

This may not become clear, however, until after the slugfest at the GOP convention this summer. Nevertheless, Trump’s decline and fall is as inevitable as Hillary’s nomination has always been.

Every day, damning news of his business dealings make it into the news. The truth is out there, buried in the archives of New York tabloids and scandal sheets. Before long, everybody will know of his shady, mob inflected, past.

Apart from that, roughly a third of the electorate has always viewed the Donald as a menace who incites racist, nativist and Islamophobic animosities.

Many have even come to think of him as a fascist or a proto-fascist.

What Trump really thinks, nobody knows; probably not even Trump himself. But it is safe to say, even so, that the Donald is more like Berlusconi than Mussolini.

Fascists are ideologically driven and they have mass movements behind them; Trump has no ideology and no real followers — just a lot of (justifiably) angry people aching to give the political class the finger. Supporting Trump is a way to do that.

Republican stalwarts and the Republican Party’s “donor class” could care less about the racism, nativism and Islamophobia Trump’s candidacy has encouraged.   What bothers them is that the Donald has no time for them or their “conservative” nostrums. Even more, they care that he is taking their party away from them. Therefore , they too are dead set against him.

Even if some of them eventually do come on board, for the sake of down-ticket Republicans or to try to salvage what they can of the party that has served them so well for so long, their enthusiasm level will be nil. Many, maybe most, of them will not support Trump in any case.

And because, in Presidential elections, demography and geography are destiny, the Democratic Party would now be slouching towards November with a clear Electoral College advantage even had the Republican establishment managed to replace Trump with somebody less absurd.

Could Hillary lose, even so? It is hard to see how. But fucking up is what she does; and she does seem to be giving it her all yet again.

Her weapon of choice, this week at least, is guns.

***

It goes without saying: America’s gun laws are ludicrous; the gun lobby, led by the National Rifle Association (NRA), is a menace; the Second Amendment “absolutism” it champions is silly; the Second Amendment fetishism that is rampant throughout the United States is sillier still; and, thanks to the murder and mayhem that America’s gun culture encourages, more and more Americans are finally seeing the light.

It is against this backdrop that Team Hillary decided to make an issue of gun control.

Making an issue of gun control may not quite qualify as another Hillary flip flop, but it comes close. Democrats have not had much to say about guns since the 1988 election when Michael Dukakis got burned for raising the issue; the Clintons were no exception. Hillary’s latest turn suggests that there now is polling data indicating that the time is ripe for bringing gun control up again.

She raised the issue first during the Democratic Party candidates’ debates, as she tried, in vain, to outflank Sanders from the left. At the time, Team Hillary must have figured that she needed a sop to throw to “progressives.” Predictably, she got no traction at all from this one.

A self-proclaimed “democratic socialist,” Sanders is actually a later-day New Deal – Great Society liberal.   Were the political spectrum still more or less where it was before the neoliberal turn of the late seventies, his politics would seem progressive and decent, but hardly extreme.   Even so, the idea that Hillary could outflank Bernie from the left is preposterous on its face.

Will her ostensibly heartfelt plea for gun control work better against Trump? Perhaps; but she and her handlers should be wary.

Lesser evil voters tend to focus too much on the most salient aspects of the choices before them, without taking other relevant consequences, especially ones that are only likely to materialize in the future, into account.

A similar kind of myopia afflicts political opportunists like the Clintons who rely on data that only address voters’ views of the merits and shortcomings of the policy choices before them, without taking all pertinent considerations into account.

And so it is that, by turning gun control into a wedge issue, Hillary is courting disaster.

Where gun control is involved, atmospherics trump policy. This is why it hardly matters if there is ample support, say, for prohibiting private citizens from owning assault weapons or for requiring gun sellers at gun shows to run background checks on buyers. What matters is the perception that Hillary and liberals like her are out to get peoples’ guns; and, worse, that they hold those who care in contempt.

Even in benighted regions, most Americans probably do hold socially liberal – or, at least, live and let live — views. But the social liberalism that the Clintons and other “new Democrats” have been promoting as a replacement for the liberalism which Sanders wants to revive plays into Trump’s hands.

Sanders-style liberalism is socially liberal too. But, for him, as for the great liberals of the New Deal and Great Society eras, social liberalism is not the only thing, or even the main thing. In the Clinton worldview, it is, and ought to be, all that liberalism is.

Otherwise, Clinton’s politics is neoliberal, liberal imperialist, and bellicose. People who voted for Trump in the Republican primaries – and people who might vote for him in the general election — are all over the map on these matters.

But they are on a different page entirely from voters who actually like Hillary when it comes to saccharine displays of self-righteous goody-goodyism. It is hard not to agree with them on that. I, for one, would rather die a horrible twitching death than vote for the Donald, but listening to Hillary makes me want to run amok.

When Trump rails against “political correctness,” he is tapping into that sensibility. He may not know much about economic policy or world affairs, but he does know how to push peoples’ buttons.

When Hillary promotes gun control in touchy-feely ways, as she did recently when speaking to mothers whose children were victims of gun violence, she is therefore playing into his hands.

Throughout her public life, Hillary has played the Mother Card; now, thanks to daughter Chelsea’s fertility, she has taken to playing the Grandmother Card as well. “Feeling the pain,” Clinton-style, of mothers and grandmothers who have lost children to gun violence comes easily for her.

No doubt, she is sincere; but, even in this, she cannot help being, or seeming to be, inauthentic. As the air is to birds and the sea to fish, so is inauthenticity to the Clintons.

Even the vilest Trump voter would probably be OK with authentic expressions of motherly and grandmotherly concern. Who could be against motherhood or grandmotherhood? But when Hillary is the one conveying the message, actual and potential Trump voters, and many others too, naturally go ballistic.

Trump knows it. Therefore count on him to take advantage of the fact that, while rates of childhood poverty rise, and while black and brown children’s lives are at risk from many sources, not just guns, and while Hillary and Bill emote about how awful it all is, the Clintons have been busy feathering their own nests.

A case in point: thanks to the Clinton Foundation and the fees that the Clintons receive for speeches to too-big-to-jail high flyers in too-big-to fail financial firms, and to other card carrying members of “the billionaire class,” Hillary and Bill set their brood up in a well-fortified $10.5 million New York condominium.

No doubt, Trump’s children live even higher off the hog, but at least the Donald came by his wealth the old-fashioned way – he inherited it, and then he built it up through skullduggery and by never giving a sucker an even break. Trumps flaunt their riches; it is their way of telling the world to kiss their ass. Pissed off people like their attitude; they eat it up.

Clintons, on the other hand, wear opportunistic self-righteousness on their sleeves. Nobody eats that up.

It doesn’t help Hillary’s case either that the Clintons have been cashing in big time on the political influence they have built up over the years.  The Clintons are slick; they are also shameless.

This perception is not confined to Second Amendment fetishists. Many of us who have no interest in guns, who believe that the level of gun violence in America is appalling, and who consider America’s gun culture ridiculous, find Hillary’s gun control proposals galling too.

It is not their content that grates; if anything, they are too ‘moderate’ for us. Nevertheless, they get our goat. The problem is that the way that the messenger is conveying the message epitomizes all that has gone wrong with liberalism since she and her husband and other “new Democrats” set out to terminate liberalism as we knew it.

One would think that, after Trump’s success and Bernie’s outstanding showing, that Hillary and her handlers would at least try to be less conspicuously lachrymose, condescending and goody-goodyish.

And yet, there she goes again, waving the proverbial red flag in the face of raging bulls.

It would take an unlikely combination of unforeseeable circumstances, even so, for Trump to defeat a Democrat, any Democrat, this year. But if there is a way to make it happen, count on Hillary to find it.

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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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