This following is an edited transcript of an interview with The Real News Network.
SHARMINI PERIES: Now that the Democratic and the Republican Party conventions are over, the U.S. presidential campaign is entering its last phase before the actual vote in November. Normally this should the point at which each party is very internally united and focusing on presenting its own program and attacking the opponent. However this time around, it seems each party continues to be more divided than ever. More and more Republicans are defecting from Donald Trump. And on the Democratic side, the debate is still raging about who supporters of Bernie Sanders should vote for in November. With us to present his analysis of the post-conventions and the U.S. elections, is Michael Hudson. Michael is a distinguished research professor of economics at the University of Missouri Kansas City. His latest book is “Killing the Host: How Financial Parasites and Debt Bondage Destroy the Global Economy.”
So Michael, in a recent article that you penned on your website, you argued that Hillary Clinton’s campaign is using a very clever strategy in that it is trying to associate criticism of Clinton with support for Trump and therefore support for Russia, which in the end is anti-American. Now, this type of association game, which is supposed to make it difficult for Sanders supporters to criticize Clinton, what implication does this have on the overall politics in this country?
MICHAEL HUDSON: Well, it certainly changed things in earlier elections. The Republican convention was, as is normal, all about their candidate Trump. But surprisingly, so was the Democratic convention. That was all about Trump, too – as the devil. The platform Hillary’s running on is “I’m not Trump. I’m the lesser evil.”
She elaborates that by saying that Trump is Putin’s ploy. When the Democratic National Committee (someone within it, or without) leaked the information to Wikileaks, the Democrats and Hillary asked, “Who benefits from this”? Ah-ha. Because Trump opposes the neocon line toward Russia, and because he criticizes NATO, Russia benefits. Therefore Putin must have stolen the leaks and put them out, to make America weaker, not stronger, by helping the Trump campaign by showing the DNC’s dirty tricks toward Bernie’s followers.
Then Assange did an internet interview and implied that it was not a cyberwar attack but a leak – indicating that it came from an insider in the DNC. If this is true, then the Democrats are simply trying to blame it all on Trump – diverting attention from what the leaks’ actual content!
This is old-fashioned red baiting. I saw it 60 years ago when I was a teenager. I went to a high school where teachers used to turn in reports on what we said in class to the FBI every month. The State Department was emptied out of “realists” and staffed with Alan Dulles-type Cold Warriors. One couldn’t talk about certain subjects. That is what red-baiting does. So the effect at the Democratic Convention was about Hillary trying to avoid talking about her own policies and herself. Except for what her husband said about “I met a girl” (not meaning Jennifer Flowers or Monica Lewinski.)
The red baiting succeeded, and the convention wasn’t about Hillary – at least, not her economic policies. It was more about Obama. She tied herself to Obama, and next to Trump = Putin, the convention’s second underlying theme was that Hillary was going to be Obama’s third term. That’s what Obama himself said when he came and addressed the convention.
The problem with this strategy is it’s exactly the problem the Republicans faced in 2008, when voters turned against George Bush’s administration. Voters wanted change. And they do today. Hillary did not say “I’m going to have hope and change from the last years of Obama.” She said, in effect, “I’m not going to change anything. I’m going to continue Obama’s policies that have made you all so prosperous.” She talked about how employment is rising and everyone is better off.
Well, the problem is that many people aren’t better off than the last eight years. Ten million families have lost their homes, and most peoples’ budgets are being squeezed. Obama saved the banks not the economy. So Trump’s line and the Republican line in this election could well be: “Are you really better off than you were eight years ago? Or, are you actually worse off? Where are all your gains? You’re further in debt. You’re having more difficulty meeting your paychecks, you’re running up your student loans. You’re really not better off and we’re going to be the party of hope and change.”
Hillary can’t really counter that with the policies she has. Trump and the Republicans can say that even though she disavowed the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the trade agreement with Europe, all the Democratic representatives that voted for the TPP have won re-nomination, and it’s still on the burner.
Most of all, Hillary is still the war candidate. Trump already has said, “Look at what she did to Libya.”
By displacing Libya, she turned its arms cache over to terrorist groups that have become ISIS, Al-Nusra, and the other terrorist in the Near East. So she’s the Queen of Chaos. Finally, she’s the candidate of Wall Street, given the fact even the Koch Brothers have said they’re not going to back Trump, they’re going to back Hillary because she’s on their side. George Soros and most other big moguls and billionaires are now siding with the Democratic Party, not Trump.
What did Hilary actually say at the convention besides “I’m not Trump, Trump is worse.” She’s trying to make the whole election over her rival, not over herself.
PERIES: Okay, so everything you say about Hillary Clinton may be true, and it’s more in your favor that it is true. She is a candidate of Wall Street and she is as you say, now being supported even by the neocons. They’re holding fundraisers for her. And the Koch brothers and so on. So when we opened this interview we were talking about what the Bernie Sanders supporters should now do, because Trump is starting to appeal like he’s the candidate of ordinary people. So what are they to do?
HUDSON: Well, if the election is between the most unpopular woman candidate in America and the most unpopular male candidate, the winner is going to be whoever can make the election fought over the other person. Trump will win if he can make the election all about Hillary, and Hillary will win if she can make the election all about Trump. It looks like she’s able to do this, because Trump is even more narcissistic than she is.
All the Democrats have to do is goad him, as they did with the Afghan parents of the American soldier who died. Trump should have bounced the ball back into Hillary’s court and said, “Wait a minute. The soldier died in a war that you voted for Hillary. A war that you want to continue to escalate.” Instead, he talked about himself.
And at least Hillary is coached enough so that when he attacks her, she bounces the ball back and makes him the issue. She doesn’t try to defend herself. So people are beginning to think, wait a minute, here’s a personality of Mr. Trump who doesn’t even know the first thing about political strategy. You don’t let the other person win by making you the issue. You make them the issue. In an economy where people are angry, you want to steer their anger toward the other candidate.
So in this election, unlike earlier elections, it’s not about whose positive program is better. Neither has a positive program. Neither has really any policy that they’re announcing. It’s about whose policy is worse. Who’s the lesser evil? It’s almost an inside out election.
PERIES: Let’s turn to Sanders’s strategy here. Now, Sanders is, of course, asking people to support Hillary. And if you buy into the idea that she is the lesser of two evils candidate, then we also have to look at Bernie’s other strategy – which is to vote as many people as we possibly can at various other levels of the elections that are going on at congressional levels, Senate level, at municipal levels. Is that the way to go, so that we can avoid some of these choices we are offered?
HUDSON: Well, this is what I don’t understand about Sanders’s strategy. He says we need a revolution. He’s absolutely right. But then, everything he said in terms of the election is about Trump. I can guarantee you that the revolution isn’t really about Trump. The way Sanders has described things, you have to take over the Democratic Party and pry away the leadership, away from Wall Street, away from the corporations.
Democrats pretend to be a party of the working class, a party of the people. But it’s teetering with Hillary as its candidate. If ever there was a time to split it, this was the year. But Bernie missed his chance. He knuckled under and said okay, the election’s going to be about Trump. Forget the revolution that I’ve talked about. Forget reforming the Democratic Party, I’m sorry. Forget that I said Hillary is not fit to be President. I’m sorry, she is fit to be President. We’ve got to back her.
That means backing Wall Street, the neocons and the TPP. Shame on him! He told his followers to think of pie in the sky in the decades it will take to take over the Democratic Party from below, from school boards, etc.
Labor unions said this half a century ago. It didn’t work. Bernie gave up on everything to back the TPP candidate, the neocon candidate.
What on earth is revolution if it doesn’t include either remove the rot in the Democratic Party, the Wall Street control, or start another party? It had to be one or the other. Here was his chance. I think he missed it.
PERIES: I think there’s a lot of people out there that agree with that analysis, Michael. He did miss his chance. Some people were suggesting that he should walk and form his own party. Particularly how the party treated him. But there is another choice out there. In fact, we at the Real News are out there covering the Green Party election as we are speaking here, Michael. Is that an option?
HUDSON: It would have been the only option for him. He had decided that you can’t really mount a third party, because it’s so hard. The Democrats and the Republicans together have made it almost impossible for a third party to get registered in every state. To run in every state. To get just all of the mechanics you need because of all the lawsuits against them. The Green Party is the only party that had already solved that. Apart from the Libertarian Party.
So here you have the only possible third party he could have run on this time, and he avoided it. I’m sure he must have thought about it. He was offered the presidency on it. He could have used that and brought his revolution into that party and then expanded it as a real alternative to both the Democrats and the Republicans. Because the Republican Party is already split, by the fact that the Tea Party’s pretty much destroyed it. The oligarchs have joined the Republicans and the Democrats are now seen to be the same party, called the Democratic Party. Here was his chance to make an alternative.
I don’t think there will be a chance like this again soon. I believe Hillary’s the greater evil, not Trump, because Trump is incompetent and doesn’t have the staff around him, or the political support that Hilary has. I think Bernie missed his chance to take this party and develop it very quickly, just like George Wallace could have done back in the 1960s when he had a chance. I think Chris Hedges and other people have made this point with you. I have no idea what Bernie’s idea of a revolution is, if he’s going to try to do it within the Democratic Party that’s just stamped on him again and again, you’re simply not going to have a revolution within the Democratic party.
PERIES: Well, I think you’re making a very strong point in terms of Hillary Clinton’s hawkish foreign policy and her being the candidate of the Wall Street hawks. I also do think that Donald Trump’s unknown factors in terms of how he will fall on some of the very important critical issues out there still remain a problem, because we actually don’t know how he will act. So advocating that he might be the lesser of two evils might be problematic too, no? Michael?
HUDSON: I think there’s a difference in unknown factors. I think in Trump’s case, he doesn’t know what policy he’ll do. I think he hasn’t thought it through yet. So we don’t know. Whatever policy he has, I don’t think he could get it through Congress. And the president can’t do all that much without congressional approval.
PERIES: So you think he’ll be ineffective? You think he’ll be ineffective and won’t be able to–
HUDSON: And that’s what America needs. America needs an ineffective president. That’s much better than an effective president that’s going to go to war with Russia, that’s going to push for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, that’s going to protect Wall Street, and that’s going to oppose neoliberal austerity. I would much rather have an ineffective president than someone who’s going to do these bad things that I fear is going to come from Hillary and the Democratic Party. It’s a counter-revolution, not a revolution.