Here we are. It’s April and the depressing, almost psychotic, quadrennial circus of Presidential elections is disgorging itself like a bad case of intestinal flu all over the American populace. What a show! It’s a true extravaganza. A spectacle that makes Debord look like a Biblical prophet. It is Marcuse’s One Dimensional Man replayed as American Horror Story. It is the Game of Thrones without the dragons and prurient sex and with only metaphorical death.
Yes, here we are with the probable nominees of the two major political parties being two of the most unpopular political figures in the United States. It’s P.T. Barnum’s freak show, but this time not for nickels and dimes but for all the marbles. Donald Trump, the likely Republican nominee, who has no discernible skills except for selling his name as a branding tool, is disliked and distrusted, according to the Gallup polling organization by 61% of the population. Hillary Clinton, the putative nominee of the neoliberal wing of the Democratic Party is similarly disliked and distrusted by 52% of the population.
Mr. Trump is a supposed “business” genius who has bankrupted four different casino corporations. It is almost impossible to bankrupt a casino; a business in which every bet is rigged to be favorable to the house. Mr. Trump is a con-man having run Trump University, an enterprise in which for a mere $36,000 student could attain nothing of educational value and a diploma worth less that the gilded paper on which it was printed. Trump is a huckster, a carnival barker, or to be less polite a self-promoting pimp.
But this sideshow barker has found his Golden Ticket in appealing to the basest, most appalling sentiments in the American electorate. His audience is under-educated, white males, who in the words of Phil Ochs have “saliva dripping from their smiles.” He plays to their basest instincts and the more primal fears of their own hyper-masculine inadequacies. Trump appeals to misogyny and sexual terrorism. Trump is overtly and viciously racist and xenophobic. Trump is the worst kind of Nationalist, the kind who gleefully quotes Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini.
On the other hand, Secretary Clinton hardly engenders trust. First, she changes positions with every poll she reads. She was for NAFTA, then against NAFTA. She was for the TPPT, then against the TPPT. She was for the Defense of Marriage Act and then against it. She was for a bankruptcy bill that would have protected consumers and then against it when the Wall Street money flowed. She voted for the huge Wall Street bailout and suddenly has become its reluctant critic. The list could go on and on.
Second, she is a fierce ally of the big banks, hedge funds, insurance conglomerates, media monopolies, and pharmaceutical giants who are strangling the American economy and assaulting every working person in the country. Not only do these corporate giants and their denizens fund her campaigns but they pay enormous sums of money to hear her speeches, speeches she will not let anyone but the elite hear. No transcripts for you! She opposes reinstituting Glass-Steagall, the only legislation that has ever protected the country against the kind of massive financial malpractices which caused the last two recessions. And she defends the Obama administration’s record of being the worst administration since Reagan in its refusal to prosecute corporate criminals.
Third, she is a vicious and indiscriminate military interventionist. She supported her husband’s indefensible and tragic military interventions in Somalia and Eastern Europe. She encouraged, defended and voted for regime change in Iraq and Afghanistan. She engineered regime change in Libya and Syria, thereby creating massive breeding grounds for terrorism and total devastation for the populations of those countries. She supports massive U.S. military intervention in Africa and Eastern Europe. She bears immense guilt for military coups in Central America which overthrew democratically elected governments and led to the murder of thousands.
I could go on and on about both of these fatally flawed candidates. We could debate whether Trump is a fascist or just terminally psychotic. We could try to assess the depth of Secretary Clinton’s subservience to Wall Street and the neo-con war mongers. But I suspect you get the point. The question is what happens now?
Some will vote for Secretary Clinton as the lesser of two abysmal evils. There is some merit in that argument. We can expect her to protect a woman’s right to make decisions about her own body. We can expect her to protect same-sex marriage. She says she will continue to support the Affordable Care Act. And, at least to some degree, she will protect civil rights legislation.
On the other hand, Secretary Clinton poses no threat to the economic elites who govern this country almost by fiat. She will not move against the monopoly power of the banks, the pharmaceutical companies, the mass media corporations, the energy industry, and the insurance giants. Under a Clinton administration they will get richer and the devastation they spew will continue unabated.
We can also be sure that with Secretary Clinton’s penchant for military force over diplomacy an unbroken record of U.S. support for Latin American dictators and authoritarian, theocratic Middle Eastern monarchs will continue. As a strong defender of globalization we can expect even more U.S. military interventions around the world in defense of profit not morality.
For the 12th time that I have voted in a Presidential election I will be asked to hold my nose and gulp down at least one bottle of Pepto-Bismol as I mark my ballot. Hypocrisy, especially when it is my own, makes me sick. In all honesty, at this point I don’t know if I will projectile vomit a vote for Clinton or hold my aching head and vote for the Chablis and cheese totally incoherent Green Party.
If we make it through this electoral assault on human decency, we do have alternatives. Carl Davidson, a fellow Penn Stater and an influential voice in the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism, suggests that we work within the Democratic Party supporting progressive campaigns and initiating insurgent primary opposition to establishment Democrats while at the same time working to build a socialist party somewhere down-the-line as an alternative to the Democrats.
Others argue that this election constitutes a breaking point and that the progressive left should bolt the Democrats and spend the next four years building a left-opposition party. This is a daunting task considering the role of money in politics and sectarianism on the left. It’s been done before by Eugene Debs and later by Henry Wallace. But it is a heavy lift perhaps best undertaken in local races. Socialist electoral success in Seattle and a strong left alliance which arose in opposition to Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel offer hope. For that matter the social democratic campaign of Bernie Sanders suggests that this may be the time for just such an effort.
Still others decry the corruption and anti-democratic roadblocks to popular participation as disqualifying factors in an electoral response. They argue that political power can be found in the streets. They have a point. But, perhaps the Sanders campaign has demonstrated that political process participation and protest are not incompatible. In fact, they may be complementary.
In any event, here we are. We have work to do and we best get at it. Another Groundhog Day election may be depressing. But this time we actually heard the word “socialism.” It may not be in the context that some on the left are comfortable with but it did get a helluva lot of votes and it raised a helluva lot of money. It would be unwise to overlook the opportunity and fail to learn the lesson.
Gary Potter, Richmond, KY