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Hillary Out and the Donald In: Good, Bad, or Impossible to Say?

Add this to the reasons why I hate Hillary: I was all set to go with yet another screed on how anti-Trump hysteria was, and always had been, a distraction, and how the most urgent task now is to build a movement that would prevent Commander-in-Chief Hillary from provoking overt confrontations and proxy wars with nuclear powers – only to find that the Empress of Ineptitude couldn’t even defeat a billionaire buffoon, a con artist extraordinaire, who seemed uninterested in governing but only in not losing to a girl, especially one as feckless as he knew Hillary to be.

She had the backing of the entire capitalist class, including the most nefarious high flyers among them, and of all “respectable” corporate media outlets.  And, once Bernie Sanders crossed over to the Dark Side, she had no serious opposition within the Democratic Party.  She also enjoyed at least the passive support of the Republican establishment.  And yet she lost!

I thought that would be impossible; and I am not the only one.  Right up to the bitter end, it even seemed that the Trump campaign itself was getting ready to disappear down the memory hole.  Indeed, it was not until the second or third hour after the first polls closed that it started to dawn on anyone that the impossible was actually happening.

Contrary to the conventional wisdom (at least before the polls closed Tuesday night), Hillary can’t do much of without fucking it up.  But losing to Donald Trump!  That was extraordinary even for her.

I was sure that Trump would lose, and that anti-Trump hysteria was a Clinton campaign concoction intended to boost turn out and to scare potential Jill Stein and Gary Johnson voters into the Democratic fold.  I may have been right about the Clinton camp’s intentions, but boy was I wrong in thinking that Trump couldn’t win.

Perhaps the kindest email I received the morning after came from a friend who asked: “…you want fries with that crow?”  Indeed.  It wasn’t just me, though; it was nearly everybody.

Whatever his own views may be, there is no doubt that Trump’s campaign brought out the “inner fascist” — and misogynist and racist and nativist and Islamophobe – in more than just a few of his supporters.

This is a cause for concern – even if, as I and many others have also been saying all along, the grievances that underlie the Trump phenomenon are real and urgent.   We are in for turbulent and troubled times ahead.

But let’s look on the bright side.

For as long as I had been discounting the Donald’s chances, I have been praising him for driving a stake through the heart of the GOP.  That execrable political party has been riven by cultural contradictions at least since the late seventies, but the center still somehow managed to hold.  As recently as 2012, the Party’s grandees were able to secure the Presidential nomination for their man, Mitt Romney, notwithstanding the opposition of the many “useful idiots” they had recruited into the GOP base.

Had Trump not entered the race this time, they might have held onto power still  – even in the absence of a candidate who isn’t a complete and total dunce.

The views of Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush and the others are, by any plausible metric, a lot worse than the Donald’s, as best as anybody can tell what the Donald’s views are.  But this hardly matters to establishment political figures, and their media flacks.  What matters to them is that Trump did, and the others did not, challenge some of the settled assumptions upon which the status quo rests, and that he would sometimes let loose with remarks about the corruptions of government that are normally considered taboo.

Being a skilled huckster and showman, Trump easily decimated his competition.  The “establishment” therefore hated him.  It didn’t hurt Trump’s standing with his base that the feeling was mutual.

Inasmuch as America’s duopoly party system is one of several structural obstacles in democracy’s way, I therefore maintained, early on, that Trump’s effect on the campaign was more salutary than not, despite his vileness and the vileness of some, but by no means all, of his supporters.

Somewhat facetiously, I depicted the Donald as a “world historical figure” in more or less the philosopher G.W.F. Hegel’s (1770-1831) sense, a man who, acting on his own passions and interests and without any regard for loftier goals, became, thanks to the Cunning of Reason, an agent of Historical progress – in this case, advancing democracy in America by delivering a profound, perhaps fatal, blow to the more reactionary of our two major political parties.

This now seems less sure than it did before November 8.   The fate of the GOP now depends on what the Donald, as President-elect, decides to do.

If he turns to the clowns he defeated in the primaries and caucuses, bringing them and their co-thinkers into his administration, he could actually save the old GOP – keeping its body intact, while changing only its head.

Or he could take it upon himself to turn the Trump phenomenon into a Trump revolution – for which step number one would be to build a new party, so to speak, on the ashes of the old.

It is not clear how that would work under the “exceptional” conditions that prevail in the Land of the Free.  There is no apt European model – not even the Front National of Marine Le Pen, a big Trump fan – because, for historical and demographic reasons, there really is no American nation in the way that there is still a French nation in France.

America is a mélange of nations, none of which is capable any longer of ruling over the others, the way that Anglo-Protestants, and then white Protestants generally, once did.

Trump’s slogan, “Make America Great Again,” trades on false nostalgia; as such, it is basically silly, much like the man himself.  But insofar as its invocations of “America” mean anything at all, it is not a nation that Trump is referring to, but a country.

It is telling that, for all his talk of building a wall on the Mexican border, and deporting even more “illegal aliens” than Barack Obama has done, that Trump actually did better in Hispanic communities than Romney did four years ago.

There surely are “deplorables” in the Trump base who do not much care for brown and black people; but there are also brown and black people who, as much as those older, rural, uneducated white folks we hear so much about, who respond to his appeal – not out of self-loathing or false consciousness, but because they are fucked over workers too.

It hardly matters that Trump is a false prophet; the grievances he exploits are entirely real.

There is a lesson in this: that the Democratic Party’s obsession with identity politics doesn’t play as well as it used to.

This is one reason why the demographic changes that were supposed to assure Clinton’s election never quite materialized.

Had down ticket Republicans done worse – in other words, had Clinton not dragged down so many Democrats with her – the GOP’s demise might be on the horizon already.  But because Hillary is so widely despised, and because she flubbed so badly, the GOP is now temporarily strengthened, in much the way that many people, myself included, used to think that the Democratic Party would be after Hillary won.

The end of the GOP may therefore not happen right away, but it will happen sooner or later.  When it does, the wound that the Donald inflicted upon the Republican Party this electoral season will be part of the reason why.

Meanwhile, Democrats have only themselves and Hillary to blame for their troubles; they can hardly blame Jill Stein, though, as the results were coming in Tuesday night, the condescending hacks at MSNBC did give it a try.

That actually caused me to turn to Wolf Blitzer and others of his ilk on CNN (the Clinton News Network) for election returns.  I thought I could stomach Rachel Maddow, but I was wrong.   Watching her take twenty minutes to make some inane twenty-second point was too much to bear.

Poor Jill Stein; poor Green Party.  Even after Clinton and her DNC operatives gracelessly  cheated Bernie Sanders out of the nomination, alienating millions of Sanders supporters, she couldn’t come close to gaining the 5% of the popular vote she needed for the Greens to get federal funding for future elections.  She didn’t even beat Ralph Nader’s 2.7% in 2000.

Stein’s politics are excellent and she ran an outstanding campaign.   But the silence of the media and the hostility of Democratic Party apparatchiks proved too much to overcome.  It is hard to see what anybody could have done that would have made the outcome better for the Greens.

With one exception, that is: had Sanders bolted from the party that screwed him and his supporters over, and run as a Green, as Stein generously proposed, the Greens would now be in a very different situation.  Instead, they are where they have been for years: on a road to nowhere.

At this point, I am not sure whether I welcome Clinton’s defeat or not.  It all depends on what Trump’s victory portends; and this, no one now knows.  Probably, Trump himself doesn’t know.

But it does look like, for now, the world dodged a bullet because, whether good liberals realized it or not, a vote for Hillary was a vote for war – in Syria, in the first instance, and then, almost inevitably, with Russia too.  The consequences could be catastrophic, and they would likely unfold before a militant anti-Hillary resistance movement could take shape.

That consideration, thankfully now moot, was a reason to think that the lesser evil might actually be Trump.

When it seemed that Trump had no chance, that hardly mattered.   If Hillary couldn’t lose, the important thing was to hold her war mongering at bay.

I was particularly concerned by the way her campaign kept ratcheting up stories about Russian hackers under the control of Vladimir Putin, the demon du jour, interfering in the election process.  What was the point of making unsubstantiated accusations like that if not to prepare the groundwork for war?

What an odd claim, in any case.  If Putin or anyone else really wanted to gain political influence over the American government, why wouldn’t he just do what other world leaders with similar intentions do: write out a check to the Clinton Foundation?

And talk about the pot calling the kettle black!  The United States has been interfering in Latin American elections from time immemorial, and in the elections of European and Asian countries, allies and foes alike, since even before the end of the Second World War.

***

The jury is still out on Trump’s effects on the GOP, but not on Bernie Sanders’ effects on the Democratic Party.  Had he distanced himself from Clinton and Clintonism, the neoliberal, liberal imperialist neocon project that the Clintons and their co-thinkers helped foist upon the world — had he run, as he could have, at the head of the Green Party ticket — he could have struck an even more profound, and salutary, blow for democracy than our world historical President-elect ever could.

Instead, he left it for Trump to dispatch Hillary, and, in so doing, to cause Clintonism to come to grief. We don’t yet know how far-reaching the consequences will be.

But at least we won’t have Hillary and Bill to kick around anymore.  Better still, the Clinton Foundation will now wither away for want of a sufficient reason.  Who, after all, would pay to play with people who are no longer players?   If Trump the Vengeful now decides to prosecute the Clinton Foundation as well, the process would be speeded along.

Like Blairism, its spiritual cousin, Clintonism may be hard to eradicate completely.   But whatever diminishes its hold over the body politic is all to the good.

Will “Trumpism” be any better?  There is no way to answer or even address that question at this point because no one knows what Trump is likely to do.

However, if his words are any guide, it is fair to speculate that he will do less harm than Hillary would – at least with respect to matters bearing on war and peace.

A business perspective, much less a real estate developer’s, is hardly ideal.  But it is better than anything the foreign policy elites upon whom Hillary depends have going.

And, as a real estate speculator and builder of over the top luxury pleasure domes, the Donald has few, if any, vested interests in the military industrial complex.   This too is a reason for hope.

Of course, there is no guarantee that Trump will do anything to put the breaks on our out of control perpetual war regime.   But, if he wants to live up to the persona he has lately concocted for himself, he just might.

Similarly, there is no guarantee that he really would end or renegotiate the trade deals that have done so much harm to so many people around the world.   But if he reneges on that, the Donald will find himself in deep trouble with the people who voted for him.  He has to be at least somewhat concerned about that.

Hillary claimed, lately, to be against the TPP, the Trans-Pacific Partnership.   Does anybody seriously believe that she would have kept that up once she was in office?   And what about all the other deals that she and her husband did so much to encourage?   On trade, Trump comes out way ahead.

On domestic affairs, the situation is murkier – because it is especially unclear what the Donald actually believes.  Did he really think that Obama wasn’t born in the USA?   Or was that just an unsubtle gimmick, useful for winning over “deplorable” hearts and minds?  The fact that he took it all back in the waning days of the campaign, when seeming sane became expedient, suggests that it really was just for show all along.

Similar questions could be asked about a range of issues on which Trump’s positions have been genuinely alarming.

Is he really a climate-change denier?  Or does he just play one on TV because it plays well with his marks?  His express views are dangerous, but will he bother to stand by them when he no longer needs to?  We will find out soon enough.

And what about abortion?  As an inveterate philanderer, he was surely for it before he found it politically expedient to seem to be against it.   It would probably be fair to say that he doesn’t care much one way or the other.

Trump and his fans seem to think that he can just march into Washington and start issuing orders.  In fact, whether he realizes it yet or not, Washington will overwhelm the Donald.  With all the forces now arrayed against him gearing up for a fight, he will soon find himself in way over his head and will therefore have no choice but to pick his battles.  If he is half as smart as he says he is, he won’t want to get bogged down over abortion, especially since he doesn’t really care.

However, at least for a while, he will have to stand by the people who elected him.   Many, maybe most, of them are more attracted by the middle finger he keeps sticking in the face of the ruling class than by any of his policy proposals.  Therefore, when the time comes, most of them probably won’t much mind if he flip flops on abortion or anything else.

One thing he will have to do early on is nominate a rightwing, anti-abortion fanatic to take up Antonin Scalia’s seat on the Supreme Court.   Team Hillary seldom mentioned this, however – perhaps because Obama’s Merrick Garland nomination is still pending. Whatever the reason, they preferred to dwell more on what an asshole Trump is with women than on the Supreme Court.  No doubt, it’s better for the ratings.

If they really cared about women, and not just about scoring points with suburban Republican ladies, they would have underscored the fact that this is probably the only issue on which it is clear that Hillary unequivocally is the lesser evil.

Or maybe not.   Trump will have to appoint a rightwing anti-abortion Justice to take Scalia’s place, but after that, when his campaign promises will have been swamped by the tumult he will cause, anything could happen.

For the time being, the issue is replacing Scalia; not ending Roe v. Wade.  For that, Trump’s second nomination will be the crucial one.   By then, though, who knows what the always mercurial Donald will be up to?   For a man without principles, only instincts, there is no telling.

***

That Trump’s victory was a disaster is beyond doubt.  But the devil we know is no prize either, and, in the circumstances we are now facing in Syria, her Russophobia and her fondness for military “solutions” to problems she did so much to create poses perhaps an even clearer and more present danger than Trump’s temperamental unfitness for the office he will assume.

Which is worse?  I, for one, cannot help thinking that, all things considered, Trump is, because he is such a loose cannon, and is so prone to acting out.  But maybe this conviction just reflects fear of the unknown.   With Hillary, it is fairly clear what to expect; with the Donald it is still an almost total mystery.

In any case, plausible arguments can be made both ways.

One reason, though, why I am not too distraught about how the election turned out is that anti-Trump resistance is taking shape already.  A President Hillary would probably be able to get her way unimpeded at first because, as they did with Obama, “progressives” would cut her endless slack.

Of course, in time, it would become clear, even to them, just how wrong-headed that attitude is in this case.  By then, though, it might already be too late.

It is therefore impossible to say unequivocally which electoral outcome is worse, the horror we are stuck with now or the horror most liberals would have preferred.  The only sure thing is that both are as bad as any that our decrepit electoral institutions have ever produced.

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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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