Herbert Marcuse said somewhere that, despite the appearance of great dynamism in capitalist society, nothing really happens. This could be Marcuse’s gloss on Shakespeare: sound and fury, etc. Written over about eight weeks, and showing the marks of particular days a bit more than I would like, the following is a long discussion of what, in the end, signifies something very close to nothing. The very simple takeaway might be that the Clintons have done a wonderful job of high-jacking certain Sixties and “progressive” motifs, and liberals, so-called progressives, and many so-called leftists are sucking it up. The result is the consolidation of what I am calling “imperialist feminism,” and the reason why so many who should know better are buying into it is that they are attached to the imperialist system in both body and mind.
Is it not an insult to women and other humans everywhere that all we can really say about Hillary Clinton is that there have been plenty of horrible lawyer-politicians before her, horrible warmongers and scheming machinators who have been men, but Hillary is a woman? Another of Shakespeare’s famous lines comes to mind–with apologies to my numerous friends who work honorably or at least not in an overly-malefactorious way as attorneys. When I attempted to find out if I could use this word, I was led to a distributor for “male tubes,” which I at first assumed had something to do with the urethra, but instead is the name of a kind of pipe (as in ordinary and not anatomical plumbing). Further investigation led me to a punk band called “Urethra Franklin,” which I both wholly approve of and wholly reject. And that’s exactly how I feel about the recent offerings from what passes as politics in the United States.
On the eve of the California primary, clearly with no compunction about how completely anti-democratic this sounds, it was essentially declared that it doesn’t matter how or if people in California vote, because Hillary has already won the whole deal, the nomination. Glenn Greenwald’s headline on this is, “Perfect End to Democratic Primary: Anonymous Superdelegates Declare Winner Through Media”(theintercept.com, June 7, 2016). As Greenwald writes, this, “on a day when nobody voted.” It’s a lawyer’s victory, fitting for someone who grew up in proximity to Chicago politics.
The Republican Party establishment is attempting to come to terms with their presumptive nominee, Donald Trump. Over the course of the spring, and in the midst of various power-plays and machinations (the funniest of which was probably the “selection” of Carly Fiorina by Ted Cruz as his running mate, and the subsequent singing performance by “the other Carly”–so vain, indeed), somehow the GOP honchos must have come to the conclusion that really doing what it would take to stop Trump would leave the Party in even more of a shambles than it will be with Trump as candidate.
The Republican decision-makers had to make a wager one way or another. Does it bear thinking about why they went this way? Perhaps they simply have an actual fear of Trump, much more than the Democrats, whether ordinary or power-player, have a right to. As I’ve said before, the rogue billionaire is giving us some helpful lessons in how the system works and how the ruling class rules.
There was a shift toward having more of the “divisive” stuff among the Democrats, which was delicious. For her diehard supporters, nothing matters other than that Hillary is a woman and a Democrat. Clearly these supporters are worried that, gee, this may not be enough to get her back into the White House, and they have to blame Bernie and the Donald for this state of affairs. Though just recently they are very excited about “Hillary’s greatest speech ever” (as if she has given a veritable slew of great speeches), in which she proclaimed her superiority as a candidate because she’s more ready to lay waste to more countries and to make Russia and China feel even more besieged by U.S. encirclement. (Shades of JFK in the 1960 election, by the way.) The speech has been well analyzed by Gary Leupp (“Hillary’s Foreign Policy Speech: Queen Galadriel Before Her Magic Mirror,” Counterpunch.org, June 6, 2016); here’s a passage that captures the essence of the event: “Hillary Clinton’s fiery performance …, intended to assert her credentials as a former secretary of state (with all the positive “experience” that’s supposed to entail), framed by no fewer than seventeen U.S. flags, was a strident reassertion of U.S. ‘exceptionalism’ without apologies or even reflections on the recent past and her bloody role in it.”
Hearing the speech on the radio, I was impressed immediately by something that Leupp also points out: “It was not in fact a foreign policy speech at all; Donald Trump is quite right to call it ‘a political speech’ directed at him.” Actually, most people, I’m sure, had no trouble picking this up, the real problem being that Hillary supporters think this is fine for “a major foreign policy address.” After all, isn’t Donald Trump truly the main danger when it comes to the imperial schemes of the imperialist spectrum, from liberals to neo-cons, who are lining up behind Hillary?
The only thing Hillary’s “foreign policy experience” means to most of her supporters is something that supposedly makes her far superior to Trump; something about knowledge and the “strength” to make “hard decisions,” or whatever. Nothing about the content of this “experience” enters into the discussion. The reason for this? Hillary supporters and Democrats in general (including, unfortunately, Bernie Sanders) could not care less about what happens to people in the parts of the world that Ms. Clinton has decimated or hopes to decimate. So, there’s no point in also saying to these liberal-imperialist types that at least half the people in those places are girls and women. If you don’t want to support Hillary in these imperial campaigns, well, there’s a special place in hell for you–if you’re a woman!
(By the way, I have been watching with distress and from afar–I was in Xiamen, China, until May 31, and now I am in Salina, Kansas, home of fellow Counterpunchers Stan Cox and Priti Gulati Cox, for the summer–as a controversy, perhaps a crisis, unfolds at my university, DePaul University in Chicago. One idea that keeps being knocked around is that “hate speech is not free speech.” I find it almost bizarre that proponents of this idea are citing ” Europe” as having a great deal to teach us on this point, because Europeans supposedly know how to make a distinction between hate speech and free speech. As Alexander Cockburn argued many times, “hate speech” laws tend to backfire. The present crisis at DePaul has to do with a speaker brought in by the College Republicans–a group Ms. Clinton led at her own college, Wellesley, in her first year–Milo Yiannopolous, someone with whom I was not previously familiar, who appears to be no more than a provocateur of the Ann Coulter-variety. There is much to discuss here, but the reason I bring this situation up in the present context is that, as far as I am concerned, what Madeleine Albright said about a “special place in hell for women who don’t support” Hillary Clinton is certainly hate speech, in the sense of being hateful and threatening, at least, and it is from and about two people who are and have been far more dangerous than Milo Yiannopolous.)
There is one point on which I disagree with Gary Leupp’s analysis. Making a reference to The Lord of the Rings, Leupp says that “Trump and Clinton are both servants of the enchanted ring called Capital.” This is complicated, but I’m really not sure that Donald Trump can entirely be brought to heel as a “servant” of capital. The trouble that the Republicans have with Trump’s high-decibel bloviating is real.
Furthermore, given that every instance of “outrageous,” obnoxious discourse from Trump further solidifies and (perhaps to a point) expands his base, the rogue billionaire, as a capitalist with interests among other capitalists with interests, has a purely capitalist incentive to pursue his course. More analysis is needed, of course, but it appears that Trump represents something like a more “classically-capitalist” contradiction within the “capitalist-imperialist ruling class of the United States,” the latter being a class without equal or precedent.
In saying that he respects Putin as a leader, that he would negotiate face to face with Kim Jong-un, that he would stop having the U.S. pay for the defense of countries such as South Korea, etc., Trump is in contradiction with the imperialist class. The contradiction is not that of outright anti-imperialism, of course; indeed, it is simply a contradiction having to do with the contradictory interests that make up and drive capitalism.
And this is what drives Hillary Clinton to put herself forward as the best representative for imperialism, because the basic structure of the system is indeed imperialism. On this point, Hillary supporters, as Gary Leupp says, are “like the monkeys adorning the Nikko Shrine; they see no evil, hear no evil”–though, to interrupt this sequence, they do in fact speak evil, in praising Ms. Clinton for her “foreign policy experience.”
The real opposition is of course internationalism, and it hardly needs to be said that Donald Trump is no internationalist. Perhaps he does represent something of libertarian isolationism, and let it be said that this is not the worst thing right now. No, in fact, Clinton has prided herself on representing, with “experience,” “wisdom,” and “responsibility,” the worst thing.
Hillary’s advocacy for the worst has been well-documented, especially by Diana Johnstone; most recently Johnstone has exposed one of the scarier aspects of Clinton’s power, that she has been able to overrule top generals and others in the Pentagon, when it comes to her pet projects, for example the complete laying waste to Libya (“Hillary Comes Out as the War Party Candidate,” Counterpunch.org, June 3. 2016). Please, Hillary supporters, watch Secretary Clinton’s “We Came, We Saw, He Died” statement on Youtube, and take special note of the way that she cackles gleefully when it comes to Col. Gadafi being sodomized with a knife and otherwise tortured to death in the desert. Then tell me, please, am I wrong to ask if this kind of thing is somehow made better by Hillary’s being a woman? Or am I not entitled to ask this question, because I’m not a woman?
What role does being excited at the prospect of a woman president play in this discussion? Is it just that we will have a chance to learn that a woman with executive authority can be as horrible and evil as any man? Okay, this formulation shows my bias, but please, Hillary supporters, explain to some of us, including the many women who are not Hillary supporters, how we are supposed to understand the relationship between such a grotesque attitude and the value of having a woman president.
And, you know what?–there have been women presidents and prime ministers before, if not of the United States. This may not tell the whole story of what it might be like to have a woman president of the U.S., but it certainly tells us enough about the “woman question” when it comes to who presides over capitalist, imperialist, or even semi-feudal (e.g., India) societies.
One thing it tells us is that “real women,” “everyday, ordinary women,” women who are not craven servants of a capitalist ruling class, are international, women and girls are everywhere, and the truly immense revolution that will be required to create a society of gender equality, dignity, respect, and material sustainability is not something that Hillary Clinton has anything other than an adversarial relationship toward. Sure, Hillary is pegging her hopes on what might be called “imperialist feminism” (which I hope is simply an oxymoron), but I feel sure that most women are smarter than to fall for this anti-woman project.
In purely electoral terms, at least in terms of the two-party system, it is not hard to imagine the predictable response: “What are you saying? –that we should vote for Trump?” It ought to go without saying that my point here is not to support Donald Trump, but almost certainly this point will be lost on Hillary supporters. And again, Trump is obviously no internationalist or anti-imperialist. However, I will go so far as to say that, if the system is indeed imperialism (capitalism as a global mode of production, with the United States as the most powerful and hegemonic of capitalist countries), then, within the narrow horizons of U.S. electoral politics, we could talk about who is more likely to throw a wrench into the workings of imperialism. As Hillary herself says, proudly, the answer to this question is clearly Trump.
It is funny that, when Hillary warns us about the dangers of having the Donald’s finger on the button, it just sounds like she’s really itching to have a go at being the one to start World War Three. I mean, wouldn’t it just be wonderful if history could record that humanity was obliterated by a woman? –oh, wait.
As most readers know, Hillary has not only cackled at violence done to non-Americans. If Hillary really had some major achievements to tout in her time as First Lady, senator, or Secretary of State, I might not bring this up–and, yes, we can allow that the failure of her health plan was not her fault, except perhaps in its typical liberal realism, one that remains in the typical “political” deal-making mode that is careful to not get the masses involved. But, see, in that mode, why should we choose Hillary over the guy who wrote The Art of the Deal? In any case, let’s talk for a minute about one of Hillary’s own triumphs of negotiation, getting a guy off who raped a 12-year old girl.
Now, nobody should approach this story with the sort of glee that right-wingers evince, the kind of disgusting, smug good cheer that Trump displayed after the Orlando mass murder, “Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism.” (He added a little more, but the overall effect is the same.) The case that Clinton defended, in which she got the defendant off on time served (two months), has some troubling aspects, and yet I think it would be unfair to make too much of it. It’s not especially problematic that Clinton defended the accused rapist with every legal means at her disposal, that’s what she was supposed to do, as an attorney. The victim in this case has said that Hillary Clinton “ruined her life” by defending the accused, but in fact it was the prosecutor who messed up. Certainly it’s too bad that people far more deserving of a pro-bono defense do not have access to a lawyer of Ms. Clinton’s talents and, in this case, thoroughness. I don’t find it disturbing that Ms. Clinton did a good job of defending a man who she felt pretty sure was guilty (what she says about the role of the polygraph in this case is worth noting), the prosecution has to make its own case. As for what is said about Ms. Clinton laughing when recalling various aspects of the case, that doesn’t seem especially troubling, either, when it seems clear that she was not laughing at the victim.
I don’t want to be unfair to HRC; even more, though, I don’t want my larger point to be lost in some possibility that my characterization of her role in this case is not accurate, or that I have fallen prey to some falsehood concocted by a right-wing website. Still, there are real problems that are reflected in both Clinton’s approach to the legal and social setting of this case in Arkansas, as people she seemed to consider largely stupid, Southern hicks, and in her characterization of the victim in this case as someone from a certain background that made her liable to seek out and fantasize about “relationships” with older men. Clinton doesn’t use the term,”white trash,” but it doesn’t seem a great stretch to see this characterization as lying behind what Hillary did say in a July 28, 1975 court affidavit. Clinton used character assassination against a victim she had never met and knew nothing about, apparently on the basis of having consulted “an expert in child psychology” about “children in early adolescence” and “adolescents in disorganized families” (these are Clinton’s words, quoted in Alana Goodman, “The Hillary Tapes,” Washington Free Beacon, June 15, 2014).
What is left out of this is of course that it doesn’t matter one bit what the twelve-year old victim fantasized or didn’t fantasize about, or what kind of family she came from, if the victim was raped by a 41-year old man–and it is clear from everything in the record that Hillary thought her client was guilty.
And, alright, that doesn’t matter, either, in terms of the adversarial system of “justice” and the role that lawyers play in it. The Slate article that defends Hillary’s work in this case, however, doesn’t just credit her with providing a “zealous defense” of her client, but, further, refers to her as a “feminist lawyer” (Abbe Smith, “‘How Can You Defend Those People?’ Hillary Clinton and other feminist lawyers are right to defend alleged rapists,” Slate, April 23, 2015). What does “feminist” have to do with any of this? In the adversarial system, all who are accused are entitled to adequate legal representation–though of course most who are accused, and who are put behind bars in Hill and Bill’s wonderful world of mass incarceration, receive nothing of the sort. There’s no doubt that HRC gave her client more-than-adequate representation, the instrumental-reasoning powers of Clinton are not in doubt. (Then again, neither are those of crazy-as-a-fox Donald Trump.) Again, though, how does the modifier “feminist” become a part of this?
It’s both fascinating and disturbing how low a bar Hillary’s supporters are willing to set for what counts as “feminist.” In the case under discussion, it seems that all that was required for Hillary to be a “feminist lawyer” is that she is a woman. That’s where we are with imperialist feminism, but that’s also why there’s nothing to be learned by having a “woman president” in the case of Hillary Clinton. A good friend of mine was just telling me that his wife and his wife’s sister are strong supporters of Hillary, and what they say is that they “just think a woman can do it better.” Again, this sets the bar low, when there isn’t even a moment’s consideration, not even a consideration of a consideration, as to what, exactly, the “it” is. Consideration of the “it” isn’t even a ghost of a question here.
Hillary Clinton has plenty of experience with this sort of vacuousness. Remember what the Democrats said at their convention in 1992, after twelve years of the Reagan-Bush administration? “It’s our turn!”
These three paragraphs in the Washington Free Beacon story are especially interesting:
The Taylor case was a minor episode in the lengthy career of Clinton, who writes in Living History, before moving on to other topics, that the trial inspired her co-founding of the first rape crisis hotline in Fayetteville.
Clinton and her supporters highlight her decades of advocacy on behalf of women and children, from her legal work at the Children’s Defense Fund to her women’s rights initiatives at the Bill, Hillary, and Chelsea Clinton Foundation.
And yet there are parallels between the tactics Clinton employed to defend Taylor and the tactics she, her husband, and their allies have used to defend themselves against accusations of wrongdoing over the course of their three decades in public life.
Alana Goodman does not elaborate on this last part, except to say that, in discussing this episode, HRC does not mention either the hotline, or “the plight of the 12-year old girl who had been attacked.” (This is from interviews conducted by Arkansas journalist Roy Reed, with both Clintons, in 1985, for an Esquire magazine profile that was never completed; these are the “Hillary Tapes” of Goodman’s title.) And, okay, sure, clearly this episode in the life of an attorney who had aspirations for political power was not the thing she was always interested in talking about.
However, as with the Clinton Foundation, and as Goodman indicates, there often seems to be something smarmy going on whenever the Clintons engage in “good works.” This is no surprise to anyone who follows the Clintons’s story, and any Clinton supporters who are somehow convinced otherwise (or who think it’s all coming from the vast right-wing conspiracy–which does exist, of course, but it’s the right-wing of the vast imperialist machinery, of which the Clintons are a part) are the kind of liberals (and “progressives,” ugh) who are always ready to drink the kool-aid.
No doubt the hardcore Clintonians will say that’s just the way things work in that world–all too true. The political system in the United States coughs up a lot of mediocre and sub-par men as administrative servants to the ruling class, so I suppose it isn’t a strike against Hillary Clinton that she is just another lawyer-cum-politician, who has some dodgy deals in her background. And, as I said, she’s not mediocre at all in the application of instrumental reason (of which legal reasoning in an adversarial system is a sub-species). How could any kind of “feminist,” however, not see through the dealings the Clinton Foundation and the State Department under the leadership of Hillary Clinton had with Saudi Arabia, one of the most anti-girl/woman regimes in the world?
There is a meme going around, in the wake of HRC’s “achievement” of securing–or “pre-securing,” one might say, through means that are obviously bogus and corrupt, to say nothing of completely undemocratic–to the effect that, “Surely the girls who were sent back to Central America would be very excited about this great feminist achievement, if only they were alive to celebrate it.” Hillary’s language in justifying the State Department policy of deporting these girls was that it was necessary to “send a clear message” to the parents of these children–as if the parents are the real delinquents in these countries.
But this is where imperialist feminism comes in handy. See, we are talking about girls and women whose lives are being destroyed, who never had the chance to live any kind of life, but, fortunately, these are girls and women who are not Americans, not Westerners even, or, if they are American citizens, they are not the sort of middle-class, career-minded feminists who feel “empowered” by Hillary’s candidacy. This latter bit might even be not so bad–that there is a section of the population that does feel empowered by Hillary’s candidacy–if it weren’t for the fact that the other side of the coin, the great harm done to millions of people in the name of the system that Hillary serves and represents, is indeed the other side, and even the larger side, and the side without which even what little “good” is done is not possible.
For those Hillary supporters who might find themselves caring at least enough to do a little investigation, a good place to start is the article by Rania Khalek, “Hillary Clinton and the Feminism of Exclusion” (Jan. 1, 2015, Fair.org). The following paragraphs drive home the two main points I have been advancing here. Speaking to the “it” question and the way that the mainstream media just gobbles up and repeats Hillary’s supposedly strong and lifelong commitment to women, Khalek writes:
None of these [media] outlets bothered to compare Clinton’s statements with her actual record, choosing instead to act as stenographers and at times cheerleaders for Clinton’s feminist branding campaign. This suggests a definition of feminism so shallow as to be virtually empty, attaching automatically to any woman who wields power of any kind, toward any end.
And, speaking to who is not included in the compact of feminist imperialism, Khalek notes both the “foreign” and “domestic” scope of HRC’s exclusionist “feminism”:
In her memoir, she brags about working tirelessly “to round up votes” in 1996 for her husband’s welfare reform bill (New York Times, 4/11/08), legislation that saw the number of households with children living in deep poverty skyrocket (National Poverty Center, 2/12). It was especially disastrous for single mothers (New York Times, 4/8/12).
No wonder Wall Street is prepared to shower this pro-austerity feminist hawk with an endless stream of cash to get her elected in 2016 (Politico, 11/11/14). Clinton’s version of feminism is one of exclusion, serving state power and capital under the banner of gender equality. It is the kind of feminism that Wall Street, US empire and corporate media outlets can get behind precisely because of who it shuts out.
My larger argument is that, only if we understand this “kind of feminism” for what it is, and call it such, can we get it out of the way of the immense revolution that is desperately needed. Imperialist feminism, even in the narrowest sense, is against the needs and aspirations of the immense majority of girls and women in this world, and therefore it is also set against humanity itself. There is no practicality of the “small, but significant step,” or of “at least going in the right direction,” to be defended here.
Hillary also has a reputation as someone who cares about and has done a good deal to help children. It is hard not to comment on the fact that Chelsea Clinton grew up to marry even more into Wall Street than her mother has, and she has been a part of the dealings of the Clinton Foundation. But I’d better leave this alone. (Just leave it that Chelsea is clearly very intelligent too, but she’s no Amy Carter!) There’s nothing wrong, of course, and perhaps everything right, with the idea that “It takes a village,” something HRC supposedly picked up in Africa. But what are Hillary’s Wall Street patrons doing for villages, in Africa or anywhere? We need not diminish what Clinton accomplished in the earlier part of her career, and neither do we need to question her earlier motivations. Even if there was always something careerist about Hillary–and probably most people who become politicians, and perhaps especially those who prepare for this path via law school–there was probably some real idealism, too. True, her idealism was of that specifically liberal, limited type, with no thought of addressing systemic questions. It seems like both Bill and Hillary were always getting ready for the post-Sixties; Bill’s letter, from around 1969, where he says that he went ahead and registered for the draft because he wanted to remain “viable within the political system,” boggles the mind with its level of cynicism and political opportunism in a young person. Part of this preparation, though perhaps there was something instinctive about it, was to employ Sixties rhetoric, with any radical content removed. But, okay, whatever, this is an old story.
Significantly, it’s not a story that has anything to do with Donald Trump. The Donald has expressed liberal positions at times, though he seems to have backed away from anything of that sort these days. Even these positions, though, were never “value-driven,” they are simply the product of a purely calculative mind. It isn’t even clear that one could call Trump’s crazy proposals and pronouncements “opportunism,” because it seems entirely safe to say that political idealism, of any sort whatsoever, is not now and never has been part of his lifeworld.
Hillary Clinton said, sometime during Bill’s reign, that there are many so-called conservatives who know the price of everything and the value of nothing. That’s the Donald to a “t.” It’s what many more “mainstream” Republicans have wanted for a long time–too bad for them that they don’t like it now that it has arrived. But, see, Hillary’s approach to the corporation and finance-capital dominated world is to be the mouthpiece for imperialist capital who can produce a facade of human concern and values talk. Hillary is like Bill in this regard, but perhaps even better because she can add the whole “feminist” aspect. However, both Clintons are no longer convincing at all in terms of “human concern”; it’s transparently clear that they in fact don’t “feel our pain.” I’m sure this is a point of frustration for Hillary’s supporters. Eleanor Roosevelt she’s not.
And here is where the Donald gains real traction with his “saying what he thinks” persona. With Trump, what you see is–sort-of–what you get; at least one could say at this point that there are no real surprises, there’s nothing too obnoxious or reactionary for him to say. Watching Trump bloviate is like watching an episode of Family Guy or South Park; it’s the new comedy form where characters–and Trump is a “true character”–say obnoxious and offensive things for no other reason than that they are obnoxious and offensive. And that’s supposed to be funny. The problem is that it is funny. It shouldn’t be, but it is. (This is a philosophical problem too–why are jokes–or whatever–funny? –my own answer, for what it’s worth, is that it is because reality is essentially funny) Of course having a powerful billionaire “say what he thinks,” when what he says (regardless of what he really thinks) is racist, misogynist, etc., is far beyond “unacceptable.” (I have to be careful here, but it might be helpful to remember what Marx said about the “weapons of criticism and … .”) Again, the Republican Party has done everything to pave the way for this sort of rhetoric, and I look forward to seeing how they will manage to lie in the bed they’ve made.
Hillary is a big liar (just in the first two weeks of July, with the email issue, we have another example of this). Again, nothing unusual here, being a big liar doesn’t disqualify one from being POTUS; considering presidents and presidential candidates, I’m sure Hillary is in very good company.
With the Donald, we are in a different category altogether. Sure, much of what he says is not true, but the ordinary standards of veracity are not Trump’s concern, any more than are typical standards (whatever they are) of good and evil. With Trump, we’re more in the Nietzschean territory of “truth and lie in an extra-moral sense.” We hear all the time about the “reality-show actor” aspect of Trump, but really I think with Trump his persona has more to do with his being a real-estate guy, a salesman, and a deal maker. And what many ordinary people understand that most liberals and so-called progressives seem especially thick-skulled about is that, within these definitions, Trump really is vastly more authentic than Clinton. It can be added all the same that, on factual matters, Trump probably doesn’t tell any more falsehoods than does Clinton, and some things he says are obviously much too painfully true for the ruling class and the head honchos of the Republican Party.
It’s all-too-easy to simply lump all the Republican fat cats together as fascistic scumbags. Of course, many of them do fit this description. If the absolute limit of what is possible in the world is to choose among competing evils, with the hope of finding the electable politician who is least objectionable, then it would be hard to make the argument that any Republican candidate could be chosen over any Democratic candidate. Then again, as Alexander Cockburn argued back in 1992 (and as I sometimes repeated, to the consternation of my nice, liberal and “progressive” students), the choice between Bill Clinton and Bob Dole was not so cut-and-dried. The senator from agribusiness was not really any less “decent,” as politicians go, than the governor from Tyson Chicken and Wal-Mart. This, of course, did not stop the Democrats from invoking the idea that the Republican was some kind of monster, that a Dole administration would be some sort of disaster, etc. This seems especially laughable after the United States and the rest of the world essentially survived eight years of George W. Bush. There are a couple of lessons here that somehow most of us have still not learned.
First, it’s certainly true that, since 9/11, the Republican Party has gone into overdrive with its syncretic synthesis of extreme right-wing elements, involving neo-conservatives, right-wing Christians, and people calling themselves “libertarian” (who may have a good idea or two regarding the state, but who often seem clueless when it comes to how the global economic order works in the contemporary world). There are figures within this milieu who certainly have a fascist approach, and fascism itself is an inconsistent “synthesis,” with the contradiction of particularist (often racial) “collectivity” at the heart of its cobbled-together ideology. Not everything that is right-wing and awful is fascism, however, and certainly not “classical fascism.” The question bears further discussion, and I will come back to it in the next installment of these annals of parliamentary cretinism. However, just as there is no “loss of idealism” with Trump, neither is there anything that can really be called an “ideology,” hence the vacuity of “Make America Great Again.”
Second, even if Trump is in his way just as awful as some other figures who have represented the Republican Party in the last twenty or fifty years, in the post-9/11 world or the post-Eisenhower world, Trump is not awful in the same way that G.W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and Mitt Romney are, and there is something here that needs to be understood–I will return to this something in a moment. For me, to be sure, it is difficult to not have a visceral hatred for those three; neither should we let up on the fact that it just takes a lot of gall to put such horrible and or idiotic people (the Republican “clown car,” as Matt Taibbi likes to put it) out there as people who should be anywhere near the levers of power. Certainly it says something about the Republican Party that they can’t seem to find anyone better, and that is a big part of why the Party was there for the taking by someone with the resources of Donald Trump.
I’m not saying these things to excuse Trump’s awfulness or the awful things he proposes, but instead to say that we don’t really understand very well the kind of awfulness we’re talking about here. For one thing, it doesn’t seem right to characterize this awfulness as fascism, and, for another, when one quantifies the “awfuls” of Trump alongside those of Clinton, it is not at all apparent who is the lesser evil–except perhaps on the basis of a completely American-centric view. But this view itself is one of the most awful things, and it represents completely the death of idealism–this death is represented very well by Hillary Clinton. In other words, I’m reversing the judgment on fascism (or Nazism) made by John Goodman’s character in The Big Lebowski: I would credit Trump with only having an instrumental calculus, he is interested in the price, and what he has is not an ideology.
This could be said of Romney, too, but again there is a difference, and here is the difference: Trump is super-rich, probably (I recall someone in the Village Voice, perhaps it was James Ridgeway or Andrew Kopkind, writing years ago, during the rise of the FIRE economy in New York, that it is never clear exactly what kind of money Trump has, if any), but he is not actually a part of the global financial elite, or part of their political servant apparatus. This cannot be said about the Clintons (including Chelsea). I really don’t want to get into a discussion of global compacts of the Illuminati-type, but we do know, and there is no mystery about this, that there are meetings of the global financial elite, in which they try as best they can to shape things according to their mutual interests, even while they cannot transcend the contradictions of capitalism. (My difference with the idea of a “secret world government” is not that there are not schemes and conspiracies of the most rich and powerful people in the world, aimed at maintaining their wealth and power, but that somehow they could form some unified association that would allow them to no longer have to compete against each other. The reality is that the units of finance capital, and other forms of capital under finance capital, suck the life out of the rest of the world for as long as they can, and then, after whatever period of this form of anti-life destructiveness, they turn on each other, but in ways that are terribly destructive for everyone–and yet, in that moment of crisis, other possibilities may break through.) For example, the annual meeting at Bilderberg is one such gathering of global fat-cats, but Trump isn’t a part of that scene. Trump makes deals, he is mainly involved in buying and putting up buildings, but he isn’t really involved in what finance capital does the world over, which structures and restructures whole national economies.
And so, being outside of that circuit, but having a lot of money and the skills to appear as a “thought leader” (even without thought!) in the age of “reality television” and a “say anything” “political sphere,” Trump is a threat to these global machinators. He may or may not be a real threat to some other ordinary people who happen to be Mexican, Muslim, women, etc., but that isn’t what has the ruling class worried–other than perhaps in the sense that Trump’s racist, misogynist, etc., proposals/positions are a bit too crude for the “good taste” of an aristocracy that isn’t going to be taking tea with the vast majority of white men, either.
It seems likely, and this is deeply unfortunate, that such considerations will mean little or nothing to Hillary supporters. Even less likely to be very effective with many segments of the liberal Democrat milieu is the following “theoretical” or “conceptual” point, that: The deeper problem is that there is an entrenched definition of “politics” in our society that is itself evil, that itself is set against a different understanding of politics, as oriented toward truth and not only toward the manipulations of power.
This is where “the loss of idealism” and the embrace of cynicism is tragic and dangerous, where these things take humanity ever-deeper into a hole that it will be ever-more-difficult for people to climb out of. Just two short lines from the Rolling Stone/Jann S. Wenner (March 23, 2016) endorsement of Hillary Clinton say everything that needs to be vigorously opposed: “I have been to the revolution before. It ain’t happening.”
Wenner is referring to the Sixties in order to dismiss Bernie Sanders’ “political revolution.” The latter is not the revolution that is really needed, of course, though just now the question appears to be moot in any case. Either way, this argument for political “realism”–that is, cynical realism–is a poison far worse than Trump’s lack of anything idealist to begin with. The addition of “feminism” to this noxious soup is indeed a very powerful move for this kind of cynicism. As with Bill Clinton’s appeal to feminists, the result for any real movement for the liberation of women will be negative.
That such claims will fall on deaf ears among Hillary supporters and hardcore Democrats is practically certain. So, as for who I am trying to talk with here, with these arguments, I suppose it has to be people who I am begging to not fall for the usual crap–people who are not completely committed to the repetition compulsions of the Democratic Party. Always it is said that there is a special reason to, in the end, support the Democrat. This time the reason is supposedly even more special, and I will concede that, to all appearances, there are some special elements involved in this election. But, of course, we are dealing with the various wings of American postmodern capitalism that employ great skill in manipulating appearances.
One essential element of the postmodern form of capitalism is indeed that the media and other ideological apparatuses of “manufactured consent,” to borrow that term, are fully integrated into the system, not mere “puppets of the bourgeoisie.” For the most part the work of these apparatuses is to perpetuate the contemporary, immense, culture of distraction. Even to the extent that it occurs to anyone in the midst of this culture to think/act/live as something like a “citizen,” the apparatuses are there to divert things either back to mindless distraction or, on occasion, to puff up some spectacle as politically “important” and to demand that people “participate” in the spectacle. In this light, the fact that about half of those eligible to be a part of this spectacle are not moved enough to pull a lever is even more significant, and those who can only think to call this “apathy” or “irresponsibility” are barking up the wrong tree, simply adding more credence, or volume at any rate, to the ongoing scene of virtual bread and cyber-circuses. The manufactured “consent” in electoral politics is barely more than mere acquiescence, but somehow the liberal feminists and hardcore Democrats (fans of liberal imperialism, that is) are just filled with pride and fervor.
Speaking of the spectacle, some like to say that Trump’s association with reality TV somehow disqualifies him from being president–just as, decades ago, the same thing was said about Ronald Reagan’s having been a “B movie actor.” At least , though, the form of fiction called “reality TV,” presents itself for what it is, unlike the fiction of the Clinton Foundation’s existing to “help people” while making deals with one of the most anti-woman regimes on earth.
Just as I read these words to my brilliant life-partner and fellow philosopher, Kathleen League, she responds that liberals seem to have a very special form of short-sightedness, and even selfishness. Certainly there has to be something special about them, that they can get all agitated every four years.
I try to stay away from these things on Facebook, but, after the announcements from the FBI and the attorney general that Hillary would not be charged in the email debacle, I posted that it seemed I might get the Trump-Sanders election I hoped for after all. I foolishly thought that the performative contradictions represented by the blatant corruption and hypocrisy of Hillary might manifest themselves somewhat explosively in the Democratic Party. Of course such a thing has long been impossible in the Republican Party, where the idea of hypocrisy has no purchase. (Republicans in congress would argue to impeach Bill Clinton for getting a blowjob while themselves getting blowjobs. In this light, let us add Ken Starr to the list of truly horrible people; but let us also then recognize another virtue of the Donald, that it seems unlikely that the feigning of sexual prudery–which is a weird part of a good bit of identity politics, too–would be a part of his administration.) And, it is another essential feature of postmodern capitalism that it is “post-legitimation” and is therefore not susceptible to a crisis of legitimation. Apparently, after a lifetime of studying philosophy and politics, I am often foolishly (though I hope in some sense charmingly!) naive about these things; of course, no implosion of the Hillary camp is yet forthcoming. Still, even despite the fact that Bernie has now endorsed Hillary, I hope that he will keep on with the chessplayer’s gambit of continuing to play, because 1) it is not impossible that some problematic issue of Hillary’s will gain traction; and 2) relatedly, it is not even improbable that Trump still has a few tricks up his sleeve.
On the point about the selfishness, narrowness, and cynicism of the Clinton/hardcore Democrat camp, my Facebook venture was instructive, because, predictably, a Hill-bot attacked me (and a couple of my women friends as well). One argument was particularly instructive. This woman said that she didn’t want Trump because he says he will deport Muslims, and the doctor for her special-needs child is a Pakistani man. As my friend and fellow Sartrean philosopher, Kimberly Engels, commented, this was a good example of the narrowness of the Hill-bots and the operative conception of “politics” for the Democrats, that they cannot speak to universalism and common humanity, but only to particular interests. (Leave aside that this is not exactly what Trump said he would do; what he did say is bad enough and completely wrong.) Everything else this Hill-bot said was in a similar vein. When I brought up the point about the Clinton Foundation-Saudi Arabia-State Department connection, our Hill-bot simply responded that, “if that’s all you’ve got on Hillary, then you haven’t got much.” Um, okay–how about addressing how much or how little I do have here? What is really behind such a response is the idea that there is this “choice” to be made, and that it is between Hillary and Donald, and anyone who does not support Hillary is against her.
One would think that, if there really is a special place in hell for some people, it would be for people who make this kind of deal, and then say that Trump is attacking a “foundation that is trying to help people.” Significantly, this was the same sort of whining response that Jeb Bush gave to the Donald’s charge that George W. Bush lied about the WMD–that “really quite pathetic” (as Trump likes to say) “I’m tired of people attacking my family.” Somehow, at least with her followers, this “response” is working for now. Probably nothing can disrupt their Democratic Party repetition compulsion, but thankfully there are millions of people who are not under that spell.
When it comes to “helping work” and the loss of even reformist idealism, perhaps nothing stands out so much as that the woman who Hillary Clinton claimed as her main inspiration and mentor in this regard, Marian Wright Edelman, found herself having to break with Hillary, so egregious were her (and her husband’s) failings in their previous stint in the White House.
And yet the period of shaming is just now coming into higher gear, only to be further intensified between now and election day. It is very important that people who believe in and work toward a radically new and better world steel themselves a bit–but not too much. The main message is that this system of “electoral politics” is bogus, but, for sure, it could also be bogus to get overly-involved in a “don’t vote” movement.
Khury Petersen-Smith wrote a good piece on the “shaming people into voting for Hillary”-movement at the Socialist Worker website (“I won’t be shamed into voting for Clinton,” June 30, 2016, SocialistWorker.org). Rather than cover again the points that Petersen-Smith treats plenty well, I only want to deal with a particular question, that of Hillary Clinton’s “tone.” Here it is said that, if one doesn’t like what one hears, and if one is a male, then the only possible reason for this is sexism.
I will readily admit that I can barely stand to hear Hillary talk; I really am not looking forward to hearing her voice over the airwaves when the powers-that-be install her as president. I feel that I am not alone in finding HRC’s tone generally superior and patronizing. And, sure, so what?–and, sure, one could claim that my reaction to this is not entirely separate from the way that men often respond to powerful women, and I don’t think that’s a question simply to be ignored. Indeed, the question has to be dealt with, in part because it is the sort of thing that advocates of identity politics inflate into a major issue. This, in turn, allows reactionaries to say reactionary things in the name of “not being politically correct,” and, either way, much more important questions are ignored.
Anyone in academia knows the phenomenon of being talked down to by a haughty administrator. And, for that matter, anyone in academia who is from the South (as I am) has had the experience of being treated like a hick and a moron by someone (administrator or faculty colleague, or sometimes even arrogant graduate students) else in academia.
And let’s add here that women who are “powerful” because of their intellectual or artistic or athletic achievements are one thing, and women who are powerful because they have spent their whole lives seeking power from a position of privilege are another–and I don’t see putting them in a different category from men who have gone through life this way. I would prefer that all power-seekers of this sort leave the planet immediately.
All of this “attitude” crap just pours gasoline on the fires of Trump supporters, by the way. The fact that Hillary-supporters are immune to understanding that the attitude will backfire owes everything to the imperialist-feminist/identity politics consensus that Hillary represents. Not everything said by a woman contributes to women’s liberation–this should go without saying, but clearly it has to be said.
Obviously, both Trump and Clinton are characters, they have carefully-constructed personas, the difference being that the latter is carefully constructed to be a politician, while the former is more of a salesman/deal-maker, and much more convincing as such. There is no shortage of “attitude” with Trump, perhaps the kind of attitude that only a billionaire could project into the “political” arena, and seemingly more “authentic” and less-contrived for that.
If there really is something beyond the appearances this time, it is something systemic, and not something that will be determined in the electoral arena. The irony is that, in terms of this arena, the only element that apparently cannot be strictly scripted is Donald Trump. The system wants and needs Hillary, and she has done everything, including with her “feminism,” to make herself the “best qualified” to serve this system–this horrible, hateful, globally-reaching system.
I’m sorry to beat a dead horse (or any horse), but let’s look at the liberal repetition compulsion just a little bit more.
Here’s the question that I have for Hillary supporters: At this stage of things, of politics and history, what can anyone expect to find out that we don’t know already, just by the mere fact of having a woman preside over this empire? Isn’t this just a kind of a joke at this point–“I want to see what it will be like to have a woman president”? It was understandable that, after George W. Bush, and after hundreds of years of slavocracy and racial oppression and every form of racism from the most outwardly brutal to the most subtle and hidden, that many Americans would be enthusiastic for having a president who was not only an African-American, but also clearly not an idiot, and also seemingly not some kind of fascist puppet who was manipulated by neo-fascist neo-cons of the sort who shoots one of his own friends in the face with a shotgun and then lies about it.
And what did we learn? That essentially it doesn’t matter. It’s sad, it’s part of postmodern capitalism even, that the ruling class of the United States has actually gone to extraordinary lengths to teach us a thing or two, but most of us don’t learn squat–in a way for the very reason that keeps winding back upon itself, that what passes and is promoted as “politics” in this society is not real politics, it has nothing to do with creating a true polis.
So, what exactly would be the value of having Hillary Clinton, “as a woman,” as president? “To show that it can be done”? –that’s a completely rigged game, and anyone can see that. We should have seen this easily enough in the wake of Dan Quayle and George W. Bush and Sarah Palin and the slate of Republican candidates in 2012: There are many intelligent and caring people in the United States, even some who call themselves “conservatives”–but these are the people in line to become president? Of course it means something that the riders in the Republican clown car are what the system comes up with. These people are either direct products of the ruling class, e.g., George W. Bush and Dan Quayle, or they have worked their way through the system and made themselves “fit to serve.”
This, by the way, is the background against which the claim that the Donald is not “qualified” to be president should be measured. What is worth further thought here is that Trump is certainly qualified–in other words, like Clinton, he knows how to game the system. The difference, and this is very telling, is that Trump is not and has not made himself “fit to serve.” As the rogue billionaire, he doesn’t have to–at least this is how things appear. Have the great lengths Hillary has gone to made her more fit to serve? Sure, but to what end?
If one absolutely must vote and participate in this charade of politics, and if one wants to vote for a woman in this context, why not vote for Jill Stein? The Democrats have a ready-made answer to this question, that Jill Stein is not electable, and that a vote for anyone other than Hillary is a vote for the Donald. So, it’s not just “a woman,” but only one particular woman, and let’s not get hung up on any questions about the substance of her political career.
Certainly it is the case that third parties, in a completely rigged two-party system, mainly play the role of making it appear that there is a little room for dissenting views–except that they have to accept the rule of not opposing the system right down to its roots. The important thing from the standpoint of the system is that some people can let off a little steam and say, “okay, we tried,” and then go home.
On the other hand, the typical Democratic criticism (or name-calling, at any rate) of third parties as “spoilers” is just another indication that the Democrats don’t think their candidate should actually have to earn or deserve votes–because the chieftains of this Party, as with the Republicans, know they have a rigged system. Especially in the present situation, this is why the Hillary supporters are so angry, making up crazy, silly stuff about “Bernie bros,” “Bernie bullies,” and other spoilers–the fix was supposed to be in, everything was supposed to be smooth sailing to the installment/coronation.
Far from being a “bully,” Bernie worked his way very carefully around Hillary’s many shortcomings, bad initiatives, and corruptions. For this reason, argued Andrew Levine in Counterpunch for June 18, Bernie’s “political revolution was bound to falter.” In acquiescing to the Clinton campaign, either for the sake of personal political gain and/or, quite realistically, because it can be very dangerous to cross the Clintons, Sanders has done his followers a large disservice, and there is little redemption for him in the fact that he is now doing what he said he was going to do (namely support Hillary). I could imagine that Hillary is ambivalent about having Sanders campaign for her now, since this could get in the way of what all “New Democrats” seem to crave: right-wing opponents who allow them to proceed with neo-liberal market fundamentalism without interruption.
(For a quick rundown of the Corrupt practices of the Clintons, see Eric Draitser, “Hillary Clinton’s Email Absolution: Two Parties, One Criminal Regine; Counterpunch.org, July 14, 2016. There are some hilarious articles out there claiming to have done a thorough job of investigating all of the charges that have been raised against Clinton, and saying that the records are lacking for showing that she ever intentionally did anything wrong. Please. From Whitewater to the State Department email issue, the Clintons are masters at making records disappear–and some people, too.)
It is with this in mind, I think, that Levine argues that “the Trump menace is a red herring that diverts attention away from the plain fact that the struggle against Clintonism is the paramount struggle of our time.” I’m not sure I would quite put things that way, but certainly there is something to the idea that, all over the world, neo-liberalism holds sway, and often with the most success where it can press forward the marketization of everything under the veneer of psychobabble-inflected “progressivism”–and, now, “feminism.”
Undoubtedly, Hillary will also appeal to her constituency among African-Americans by mouthing a few “Black Lives Matter”-sympathetic statements. It helps that somehow too many people are willing to ignore not only the Clintons’ central role in mass incarceration, but also the fact that a privatized prison system depends on putting people of all colors, though disproportionately people who are brown and black, to work in conditions that are very hard to distinguish from slavery. Indeed, these conditions for imprisoned men may be worse than slavery, with rape being a regular and even systematic part of the picture.
Andrew Levine prefaces his line about the red herring with, “Trump is as awful as they say he is, maybe worse.” This may be true, though it’s not Donald Trump who supported mass incarceration from the White House or the destruction of Libya or the coup in Honduras from the State Department. Trump’s words are dangerous, for sure, and there are reasons to worry about what Trump has stirred up–just read some of the reports in which journalists are tweeting what they overhear at Trump rallies.
However, the real point is that, what Hillary defends, and what she doesn’t say about her so-called “accomplishments,” and what Bernie Sanders hasn’t said about these things, as words and silences, are at least as dangerous–and these words and silences cannot be excused simply on the basis that Trump is awful, horrible, or even a “fascist.” (I hasten to add, of course, that this is not Levine’s aim, either–which is clear on the basis of the “red herring” line and much else that he says.) There is yet more to be said on this question of fascism (in particular, in future I hope to take up Adam Gopnik’s article, “Being Honest About Trump,” from the July 14, 2016 New Yorker online edition); again, it is as if, with this particular f-word as the trump card (pun unavoidable!), nothing about Hillary Clinton’s actual political career or program need be discussed. And they called Reagan the “teflon president”! But, gee, why should Hillary Clinton ever have to answer for anything? She’s a woman, and she isn’t Donald Trump, that’s all you need to know, and you’re a jerk, a spoiler, a bully, possibly a “bro,” and a chump for Trump, for asking any questions.
Many watchers of U.S. “politics,” usually of the “political junkie”-type, like to point out that “Hitler was elected.” Sure, but guess what? –G.W. Bush wasn’t elected, unless you count the five votes he got from the Supreme Court. The point being that the ruling class can generally get what it wants, and, significantly, it doesn’t want Trump. Fascism in present-day America is a complicated question. The stunt pulled by Elizabeth Warren and House Democrats, the “sit-in for gun control” (with full amenities, including buffet, of course) predictably sent liberals into paroxysms of delight, but the result was just more rhetoric in favor of the national security state. In particular, as Sarah Lazar (Alternet.org, June 23, 2016) argues, the “no fly, no buy” proposal put forward by these Democrats would extend what is already a discriminatory “dragnet watchlist,” that especially targets Muslims. This is an excellent example of how, while Trump says he will “ban Muslims,” the Democrats are already well-along in anti-Muslim discrimination. And here is postmodern capitalism again: it’s okay to enact fascistic policies, just don’t talk like a fascist.
By the way, the response of my aforementioned Hill-bot on this last question was “the Middle-East was always a sewer”–solid, critical analysis, and no need to look at Hillary, or the U.S., for any explanation. And, see, “ordinary” liberal imperialists are free to talk like any other right-wingers out there, just not usually the leaders. Then again, Hillary’s “We came, we saw, he died,” sounds as noxiously cruel as anything George W. Bush or Donald Trump has said, but with the special, added touch of Imperial Roman tonality.
Is it not interesting that, with either Bernie Sanders or Jill Stein, no one is saying, “I want to see what it would be like to have the first Jewish president”? No one is being gratuitously called “anti-Semitic” because they don’t support either Sanders or Stein. Instead, criticize Hillary’s typical lock-step support of the State of Israel, or even her willingness to make a complete shambles of Muslim countries or to risk war with Iran, then you’ll hear about anti-Semitism, on top of the charge of sexism–don’t worry, this double-whammy is undoubtedly on its way.
At least with Trump there is a chance that he might say, “How much does this relationship with Israel cost every year, exactly?” He might ask why a trillion-dollar war needs to be fought, just because the State of Israel says to do it. He might ask why Israel needs to be subsidized when they have nuclear weapons, their own arms industry, and weapons manufacturer who are millionaires. Trump won’t ask these questions out of any high moral or political principles, but at least there is the possibility that he won’t use the rhetoric of those principles to not ask the questions, either.
It would be fun to quote Levine’s paragraphs about how Hillary Clinton, “will make every other President and Commander-in-Chief in American history, even George W. Bush, look good in comparison; and there will be no way to put a happy face on that.” But what’s more important for my purposes is Levine’s assessment of Bernie Sanders, even given the probability that Bernie will fold himself entirely into the Hillary campaign–for my purposes here, one point in particular stands out: [Sanders] “demonstrated — inadvertently, but undeniably — that another Democratic Party is not possible; that the idea that Democrats could become good for anything more than keeping Republicans at bay is a pipedream at best.”
One can imagine all who are committed to the Democratic Party saying to this last, “But that’s good enough, especially this time.” Yes, it’s plenty good enough for those who can think no further than remaining compliant, narcoleptic supporters of U.S. imperialism.
Why is it the “good liberals” are so committed to “trying things” over and over again endlessly when it is fantastically, abundantly clear that nothing fundamental changes through the electoral system? I think the answer to this is easy enough to discern: the good liberals like being affluent members of an imperialist society, and feeling smug about how “good” they are. They support the system that is more or less working for them, except that, even when that system is no longer working for them, they are dramatically short on any kind of vision for a different kind of society. What is especially ugly in this picture is that, with Hillary Clinton, their cards are on the table, they want to vote for more imperialism.
The following should go without saying, but it probably does have to be said, though again it will not mean anything to Hillary supporters. There are many millions of people in the United States who would be very happy to live in a good society, and part of our definition of a good society is that there would be women at every level of leadership, and of course in every other walk of life. There is and would be no shortage of great, brilliant women to lead such a society, and it would not be a surprise if there were in fact many more women capable in this way than men. But none of this has anything to do with having a woman as the titular head of the American empire, the very bad society that we have today.
And, by the way, as for “God having a special place in hell,” it should be pointed out that the record of this same “God” on taking care of women is, to put it lightly, less than great.
There are some who are calling the present political season, mainly because of Trump but also to some extent because of Sanders, a “crisis of democracy.” The word “democracy” has been rendered more or less useless (or worse) by the workings of the American system, but it’s laughable to think that “democracy” is in “crisis” because for a change electoral politics is expressing something of what some people want, or at least their frustrations are becoming more apparent. If only this “crisis of democracy” could open up a larger crisis of the oligarchy; at least there is a start here, with the disarray in which one of the main ruling-class institutions finds itself.
This is not to say that good people should cheer or vote for Trump, with the hope of “precipitating a crisis.” That terrible strategy from the 1960s and ’70s should be studied, but not revisited.
One way we know there is a real crack in the existing order is that liberals, too, are moaning about the troubles facing the Republican “political class”; Jonathan Rouch, writing in The Atlantic (July/August 2016), warns of chaos and a system that seems to have gone “insane.”
So, the insanity that the United States has visited on the rest of the world for many decades is manifesting itself in the belly of the beast. Perhaps after only 240 years of the U.S. polity (I’m not going to say “republic,” another word almost completely desecrated, though perhaps Plato and Badiou can do something for it), we already have an inbred aristocracy, with Harvard and Yale “legacy” students at its core. That’s fast living in the modern and postmodern worlds–what can be called in the latter case “fast capitalism” (after the excellent book by sociologist Ben Agger). It’s hard to imagine that many in the wider world will feel so much sympathy for the U.S. on this point, though of course we all should steel ourselves and prepare politically for what can happen if this particular ship of state lists heavily to one side or the other.
Please, let’s bear in mind that, when the malefactorious machinators are having problems doing their nefarious business, yes, things can get dangerous, but, on the whole, this is a good thing. Lack of ease and freedom in ruling class maneuvering can be transformed into freedom for the people, if there are three elements that are gathering in intensity, even if through twists and turns: a revolutionary movement, revolutionary leadership, and real ideas–or, to put it in the terms of Alain Badiou, an Idea.
At present, all three are lacking.
Perhaps you would expect a philosopher to say this, but it is no less true for that: the key element in our moment is a new idea. There will be movements, there are already some good movements. There are some leaders, not without skill, but they are working with ideas whose time has come and gone (or, in many cases, only pseudo-ideas). There are many people who have great potential to become good leaders, but they are also in need of an idea–and, for too many, this means getting beyond the anti-theoretical slant of many who would take up leadership. The various movements will not coalesce into “the Movement,” and the leadership we need will not appear until an Idea breaks the current impasse.
To be clear, I am not saying that the world awaits “the philosopher” who will invent this idea. We need an idea in politics, in the construction of a true political sphere; philosophers may have a special role in pointing to that idea, or declaring the idea, but philosophers and intellectuals will have to get onboard with the idea like everyone else. As Alain Badiou puts it, “politics is, because people think.” We need to grapple not only with the “because” in this formulation (“because” is a word with slippery logic), but also “is,” “people,” and “think.” Let’s put our heads down, when we can, and together from time to time, too.
If there are any Hillary supporters still reading this, don’t worry too much, your candidate has things pretty well rigged. And if she can’t win an election against Donald Trump, that’s her own bloody fault, and don’t go blaming those of us who don’t want to play your thoughtless game.