Deplorability Now

Photo by Ninian Reid | CC BY 2.0

When Hillary Clinton called some (many? most?) Trump supporters “deplorable,” she may have been thinking about their racism, misogyny, nativism, and Islamophobia.  She may also have been giving voice to her own class prejudices, and those of her donors and fans.  Whatever was going on, her remark correctly described a non-negligible portion of the American electorate.

For a while, there was reason to fear that, under a Trump presidency, the ranks of deplorables would swell.  This could still happen; Trump has a knack for unleashing the inner fascist in susceptible populations.  It hasn’t happened yet, however.  Last year’s deplorables are holding their own, but there seem to be no more of them now than there used to be, and their views are no more noxious than before.

However, other kinds of deplorability have emerged and flourished since Election Day.

There is, first of all, the deplorable slowness of voters who thought that Trump’s election would somehow improve their material situations to realize that they have been had.

They did not vote for Trump because they wanted rank incompetents or thoroughgoing reactionaries installed in high offices.  Insofar as they were not just voting against Clinton or the version of neoliberalism that is almost synonymous with the Clinton name, they voted for Trump because they thought foolishly that on matters affecting jobs, trade, infrastructure, and war and peace, he actually would do what he talked about during the campaign.

In fact, Trump has only “delivered” or made a pretense of delivering on campaign promises that don’t adversely affect the interests of capitalist malefactors like himself, and it is undeniable that his paramount concern is his own bottom line.  That takes precedence even over ruling class solidarity, but, so far at least, Trump voters don’t seem to mind.

Because the moneyed interests could care less, he has delivered for Clinton’s deplorables by attacking vulnerable populations –especially Muslims and immigrant Hispanic communities.  This doesn’t make those deplorables better off materially, though it arguably does benefit them psychologically.

Therefore, they don’t yet feel buyer’s remorse.  But why are the people who voted for Trump for less odious reasons still standing by their man?  What is their excuse?

Willful blindness can be difficult to overcome, and people don’t like to admit that they have been conned, but how much more obvious can it be that Trump’s “populism” is inimical to the interests of the people it purports to serve, or that, by voting against Clintonism, what Trump voters got is an exceptionally nasty Clintonite?

Trump has flip-flopped on just about everything that non-deplorables thought made voting for him reasonable.  Here is a summary account of the spending agreement he reached with Congress last week.

Yet again, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Ascribing fixed views to the Donald is a fool’s errand; his mind flits around too much.  But his campaign speeches and tweets did suggest that his thinking, or whatever we call it, was at least somewhat at odds with the premises upon which America’s perpetual war regime is built.

It was all vague, of course, and it reeked of old-fashioned isolationism.  But there was enough there for anti-imperialists to deceive themselves into thinking that, by this measure, maybe, just maybe, a Trump presidency would be less awful than what would be, for all practical purposes, a third Obama term headed by Hillary.

Obama style “humanitarian” imperialism is a lethal brew, and Clinton’s version of it would have been less thoughtful and more bellicose than Obama’s.  As the election loomed, no one, least of all Trump himself, could have said what Trump would put in its place.  But his “America first” blather did suggest a kind of  “realism” that could hardly be worse.

Trump conveyed the impression that he would disempower the foreign policy establishment and knock the “military-industrial complex” down a few notches too; it was all part of “draining the swamp.”  However, so far from being drained away, those supposedly ill-fated swamp denizens are now running the show.

They have also taken it upon themselves to clean up after the Donald’s misstatements and tweets.  Life would have been better for them had Clinton won.  But Trump has ceded them the space to continue to rule, and they are working hard at it; after all, for the empire to survive, somebody has to do it.

Therefore, Trump and the foreign policy and military establishments have achieved a workable modus vivendi.  It is unclear how stable the arrangement is but, for now, they let Trump pretend to be President insofar as they can.

Sometimes, though, he does something stupid that slips beyond their control; precipitously firing the FBI Director is an example.  When this happens, problems arise which can lead to debilitating crises.  The longer Trump remains in office, the more profound those crises will be.


Clinton’s inveterate Russophobia was already becoming consequential as the campaign wore on.  She was hardly the first influential American politician to vilify Vladimir Putin, but, whenever the opportunity arose, she took up the cause, bringing “liberal” pundits along with her.  Their enthusiasm has been prodigious.  Thus nowadays when Rachel Maddow takes her usual twenty minutes to make a twenty second point, the evils of Russia and its President are almost always her target.

Getting the powers that be to go along is child’s play.  Russophobia coheres nicely with the foreign policy establishment’s nostalgia for the strategic clarity of the old Cold War, and it is consistent with the needs of the military-industrial-national security state complex for continuing sources of revenue and power.

This was another area where candidate Trump’s instincts seemed less dangerous than Clinton’s.   He saw, or seemed to see, no reason why the United States had to infringe upon Russia’s legitimate security interests or why it should initiate or promote provocations that would increase the likelihood of a cataclysmic descent into nuclear war.

Now people within the Trump administration, though perhaps not the Donald himself, seem to be flip-flopping on this as well.  If this troubles Trump supporters, they are keeping their dismay to themselves.  This is deplorable too.

However, Hillary’s supporters are worse.  Ever since the Electoral College handed Trump the keys to the White House, Democrats have been falling over themselves ratcheting up anti-Russia hysteria.

A large part of the reason why is that they are sore losers   Hillary did say that she takes “full responsibility” for Trump’s victory.  But then she continues to blame everyone but herself –  among others, James Comey (Democrats were against him before they were for him), Julian Assange and Wikileaks, and, of course, Vladimir Putin.

Long ago, the Clintons gave opportunism a bad name; Hillary is now doing the same for disingenuousness.

Largely thanks to her, the old “Commie plot” trope is back, despite the fact that Communists in the Kremlin are as rare as snow days in July.  But since Cold War myths remain entrenched in the American civil religion, this hardly matters.  Casting skepticism aside, the press and large swathes of the public are lapping it up.

They could be onto something, of course; but where is the evidence?  All that the public has so far are assertions, not evidence-based arguments; and only a fool or a Democrat, insofar as there is a difference, would rest content with that.

J. Edgar Hoover famously called the Communists “masters of deceit.” That description applies, with equal or greater force, to the American “intelligence community” – the CIA most of all. And yet it is on the word of the CIA and the others that it has become gospel truth in the United States today that those damn Ruskies interfered with the 2016 election.  It is their fault, everybody “knows,” that Hillary Clinton’s otherwise certain victory never materialized, and that Trump was set loose upon the world.

Clinton and her team might at least have bothered to get their stories straight.  She, for example, all but identifies Wikileaks with the Russian security services; others are more circumspect.  In the fullness of time, the truth will emerge; it always does – eventually, though often too late.

For the sake of argument, though, let’s suppose that Hillary and the others are right: that Wikileaks obtained John Podesta’s emails from Russian hackers or “cut outs” or bona fide spies operating on the orders of the villainous President Putin.

Would it have been better if someone from the Clinton campaign had provided the documents?   Or if they had somehow fallen into the hands of journalists in another  Constitutionally protected way?   Apparently, the answer is Yes, but it is far from clear why.

Neither, for that matter, is it clear what the harm was in supplying the public of a self-described democracy with information that bore on a collective decision that they were about to make.

Informing the public would seem to be a good thing.  But even if it is not, or if Russian involvement somehow turns it bad, shouldn’t it matter that, so far as anybody can tell, the consequences were nil?

The leaked emails provided documentary evidence of what everybody who cared already knew – that the Democratic National Committee had rigged the nomination process in order to increase the likelihood that Clinton, not Bernie Sanders, would be the nominee.

Although no one bothers to make the connection explicit, the suggestion apparently is that this somehow caused Sanders supporters and others to stay home – or perhaps even to vote for Trump – costing Hillary the election.

A lot of people who would gladly have voted for some other than Clinton in order to defeat Trump did indeed stay home.  But to attribute their position to those leaked emails strains credulity.  Voters who refused to vote for Hillary, even if only to stop Trump, stayed home because Hillary was a lesser evil they could not stomach; not because the machinations of John Podesta or Debbie Wasserman Schultz kept them away.

Nevertheless, in just a few months time, the Clinton story line has become the conventional wisdom.   Even Republicans – from John McCain to Condoleezza Rice to unreconstructed Tea Partiers — are on board.

The hypocrisy is mind-boggling.  Since World War II, there has not been an election anywhere in the world that might go in ways that would challenge American dominance that the United States has not tried, one way or another, to influence.

And unlike the Russians who are alleged only to have leaked relevant information, defenders of the American empire have often crossed over to the dark side.  For a  concise and comprehensive account of their machinations, and of the geopolitical context in which they occurred, see John Dower’s The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II (Haymarket Books, 2017).

Moreover, the United States has interfered repeatedly and blatantly in the political affairs of the former Soviet republics and the Russian federation since even before the Soviet Union imploded.  The American role in the so-called “color revolutions” has been documented countless times; the Obama administration’s shenanigans in Ukraine, which included support for fascist movements in that country, is only the most recent example.

And for Hillary Clinton especially to make an issue of Russian meddling is positively grotesque; for some two decades now, from the time that her husband did all he could to assure that the biddable drunkard Boris Yeltsin would continue to rule and enfeeble Russia, interfering in Russian affairs has been a Clinton family tradition.

It gets even more ridiculous than that.  At the very moment that our political class, with its media in tow, is working itself up into a tizzy over the unmitigated gall of Putin’s real or imagined efforts to affect the outcome of the election in the United States, they praise Barack Obama for publically endorsing Emanuel Macron in the second round of the French presidential election.   For reasons that reflect poorly on the current political scene in France, Obama is a popular figure in France.

And, of course, when Macron claimed that Russian hackers victimized his campaign too, our pundits assumed automatically that this must be the case.   That, after all, is what Russians do.

Meanwhile, Congress is “investigating.”  It is possible that they will find that what the CIA is telling everybody is actually true.  The source can hardly be trusted, but, as they say, even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

Until last Tuesday, it seemed that Trump would let the deep state have its way without putting up much of a fight.   Then he unceremoniously fired James Comey, a move of either consummate stupidity or sheer desperation.

Remarkably, there are people who say that, by firing Comey, Trump was being admirably decisive; the old con is evidently still not entirely expunged.  The emerging consensus, however, is that this latest incident is further evidence that our erratic Commander-in-Chief is going berserk.

Supposing, though, that there is some method to Trump’s madness, it would be fair to surmise that he is desperate to cover something up, and that it isn’t the red herring, Russian hacking, that bothers our media so much.

Most likely, it would be sleazy and longstanding business connections between the Donald and politically connected Russian oligarchs or criminal elements.  Indications abound that there is much to cover up.

As echoes of Watergate mount, will pusillanimous Democrats rise to the occasion and call, finally, for Trump’s impeachment?   This is not likely for a party headed by the likes of Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, but it would be possible if an enraged public forces them to act.

This would mean moving from an anti-Trump “resistance” that even Hillary Clinton says she has joined to a resistance that makes Trump’s America ungovernable.  American radicals managed that half a century ago and can do it again.

There is no less need now for that degree of militancy.  Demonstrations, parades and petitions, laudable as they may be, are not enough – especially in the absence of a genuinely oppositional political party.

Even now, with the Clintons out of the picture at least for a while, the Democratic Party is useless.   For ridding the world of the Trumpian menace, the Republicans, execrable as they are, are a better bet.

Impeachment would be a way for them to get their party back;  and, with Mike Pence, they would have the reactionary of their dreams in the White House at last.

Trump is not, and never has been, a “conservative.”  He is not much of anything other than a self-aggrandizing bully with nefarious instincts, a defiant attitude, and a nose for knowing who to con and how to con them.

He did run as a Republican, though; and impeaching a Republican President would not be easy for a Republican establishment.  The stain of the experience could endure for a long time.  Even so, they are more likely to take the lead than the Democrats are.  They may be obtuse and obstinate, but at least they are not spineless.

To be sure, there is a sense in which, for anyone with politics less retrograde than, say, Betsy DeVoss, Pence would be an even greater disaster than Trump.  But he does seem to have his head screwed on right, while Trump is temperamentally unfit to stand within a mile of the keys to the nuclear codes.  Were Pence, awful as he may be, to replace the Donald, his rise to power would be a relief.

So, by all means, Congress – investigate, investigate, and investigate even more.

It bears mention, though, that in an only slightly less hypocritical world, a Congress that cared about the sanctity of our electoral processes would also investigate itself.

When it comes to meddling in elections, even if the government led by Vladimir Putin is in fact as guilty as our politicians and media insinuate, the government led by Benjamin Netanyahu is many times worse.   He and others in his cabinet don’t need to use hackers or “cut outs” to get their way.   They operate in plain view – directly and through one of the most effective of all the lobbies in Washington.

They target public opinion, of course, but the principal object of their attention is Congress itself.  Is there anyone in the House or Senate – or, for that matter, anyone in the political class at the national level — who is not an active collaborator?

Investigate Russian hacking?  By all means!   Post-election Russophobia reeks of deplorability, but even with Democrats and Republicans running the show, something not deplorable might come of it.

For example, it could turn up something about Trump’s financial machinations that would actually succeed in damaging his standing with the part of the public that doesn’t mind that he is making America a laughing stock again.  So far, none of his other “high crimes and misdemeanors” have had that effect.

Even if that isn’t enough to cause Democrats and Republicans to come together to impeach the Trumpian menace, the thought that it might could damage the Trump brand enough to cause the Donald to cut and run – as he has done many times before in his vaunted business career.

Meanwhile, if only to keep from drowning in a sea of their own hypocrisy, Congressional investigators might think about finding the courage to look into far plainer, contemporaneous examples of election meddling — like Obama’s interference in the election that put the Clinton-wannabe Macron in the Élysée Palace, and the ways in which the Israeli government plainly does do what the Russian government is alleged to have done.

In a word, if Congressional investigators really want to keep our own elections and those of our allies free from the meddling of foreign state and quasi-state actors, the very first thing they ought to do is take a long hard look at themselves.

How pathetic that they are too deplorable for that!

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).