To be sure, because of Trump, I think this election is different from all others: the first in living memory between an anti-democrat and a democrat, as I have already maintained in responding to an op ed. piece by my friend and colleague Jeff Isaac. Trump is a barbarian, and if elected, he would be the first post-modern tyrant of a global superpower. It’s of critical importance, both for the fate of the American Republic and for “the fate of the earth,” as Jonathan Schell once put it in his classic text on the threat of nuclear arms. Trump is a manifestation and extension of a global trend, what Sławomir Sierakowski names the “Illiberal International,” a significant world historic threat. My fear: Putin, Erdogan, Orban, Kaczynski. LePen, Duterte, along with Trump, the authoritarians of the world are ascending and perhaps uniting. I think this is a clear and present danger, and I trust that most of the readers of Public Seminar, and most of my friends, in and beyond the academy, recognize this.

But still there is Hillary Clinton. I write this post to state unequivocally that I support her and give my reasons why, with the intention of convincing my friends, colleagues and readers who have doubts. Isaac wrote his piece to convince his fellow Hoosiers on his right that even as conservatives they shouldn’t support Trump. I am trying to convince my friends on the left that it is important to support Clinton, and that the more support she gets from them, the better.

I want to convince those who recognize the Trump problem, but think that Clinton is no better. Those who worry that she is a neo-liberal, after all; she is a manifestation of a general anti-intellectualism, as Daniel Krusen-Chen asserted here. And even that there is much in Trump’s positions that should be respected, making him in some ways superior to Clinton, as Eli Zaretsky sometimes seems to be arguing.

I, further, want to make the case for Hillary beyond the notion that Clinton is the lesser of two evils, as Michael Quirk argues is the case. While I appreciate his conclusions, I think he is too critical of Clinton. I believe it is important to not only vote against him, but for her.

“Him” and “her” begins my argument. A woman president is long overdue. President Hillary Rodham Clinton would embody the achievement and promise of full citizenship for women, as Barack Obama has for African Americans. And though we will not live in a post-sexist society with Clinton as President, as we don’t live in a post-racist society with the election of Obama, the symbolic importance of a woman as the American head of state can not be over emphasized. I think this is clearly revealed by the way many critics, even on the left, have vilified her over the years. She shares characteristics with all politicians, but is described through the lens of sexism. She is ambitious, secretive, shades the truth, changes her positions on issues, is too close to Wall Street and the big corporations, and is too shrill. Except for being too shrill, these are characteristics of just about all American politicians, Republican and Democrat. I conclude that a vote for Clinton is a vote against sexism, for feminism.

Want to vote for a woman, but just not this woman? Consider what she can and likely would do to move us forward.

Start with the Supreme Court: if Clinton were elected, her nominees to the court would turn away from the intellectually ridiculous theory of original intent. The identification of money with speech would be challenged, with a chance of moving against the plutocratic tendencies in American public life. The attempt to control women’s access to full healthcare, including the right to abortion and contraception, would decisively be turned back, as would the attacks by the right on voting rights. Decades of progress or regress are at stake here.

Further, a Clinton Administration would take seriously the major problems of our times. Her website includes clear commitments and programs on climate change , voting rights, racial injustice, the challenges of education, immigration reform, women’s rights, and LGBT rights, and on economic inequality and chronic unemployment. She has identified these and other major problems, and has well thought out plans to address the problems in a progressive direction.

Think this is just hot air? Think that the Republicans would thwart her reformist programs and they will come to nothing, and therefore we need a radical break from business as usual? Yes, she would likely face the same problems that Obama has in Congress. But then again, Obama has figured out ways to push forward despite Republican opposition, and her presidency would insure that his executive actions are long lasting. And she could develop more. Notice, for example, how Obama has managed to protect Planned Parenthood? This is not a trivial matter and suggests how important a potential Clinton victory is. It is a about policy, supporting an independent civil society.

Is this too moderate, not radical enough? It is moderate, to be sure, but it opens a window to the much more progressive. This is really where my own commitment, interest and expertise in the politics of small things comes in, my radical side. The possibility for exploring and enacting progressive alternatives to the existing order of things requires a supportive political environment, a public and a state that would pay attention. A President Clinton, and the public during her administration, would pay attention to the rumblings of the left, as has been the case of President Obama. A President Trump and his public would not, as the Bushes, Reagan, and company, didn’t. She promises to deliver on important issues, while her opponent doesn’t, which would provide an opportunity to push her on these very issues when she will inevitably not completely deliver. With Trump, the door would be closed tightly. He would simply dismiss and repress calls for justice. The public could be mobilized with progressive purpose with Clinton. With Trump, there would likely be an intensifying cynicism, an empowered radical right, and a marginalized disempowered left.

The great progressive advances of the past century occurred in the United States when great social movements pushed a moderately progressive political leadership: labor, civil rights, anti-war and feminist, among others. In recent years, this history has been repeating itself, with Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter, and the fight for a fifteen dollar an hour minimum wage, the anti-debt, LGBT, and the new environmental movements. They are much more likely to have an impact when the political leadership feels accountable to them.

And this is why it is most important that those connected with them support her. I know many of my friends think that she is particularly beholden to Wall Street, the big corporations and the interests of the one percent. I know that they think she is an agent of the dreaded, but ill defined, neo-liberalism. I think, to the contrary, that she is no more beholden to the one percent than progressive Democratic Presidents and political activists of the recent past, when progressive changes happened. And I also think we should pay attention to her complete biography, which includes deep and genuine engagement in progressive struggles, and to her intelligence.

Nonetheless, whether you judge her to be a genuine progressive or not, an important progressive goal should be to make her beholden to us. Progressive forces of our day need to force their agenda on her and should conditionally support and vote for her, and then when she is elected push her. We should make her beholden to us, especially as this campaign is tightening. While the right fears this, it should be our goal.

My next piece on the election: President Clinton + the politics of small things = progress, in which I will analyze the present possibilities of change for the better informed by my analysis of the great transformation of the late twentieth century.

15 thoughts on “I’m With Her. Not just Against Him: Hillary Clinton for President

  1. “She is ambitious, secretive, shades the truth, changes her positions on
    issues, is too close to Wall Street and the big corporations . . . (T)hese are characteristics of just about all American politicians, Republican and Democrat.”

    So basically the logic here is that all politicians are corrupt to some extent, so let’s not let Hillary’s corruption disqualify her.

    How can we possibly undue the political corruption in Washington through a corrupt politician?

    My interest is in getting corruption out of our political system so that politicians are no longer bought off to create exemptions from the Clean Water Act or whatever it may be. The behavior in Washington is disgusting and must come to an end.

    We as citizens need to take action to bring political corruption to light and promote the reforms that will bring integrity to our political system. Voting for Hillary Clinton is certainly not in line with this.

    Let’s not give Hillary a free pass because we’re terrified of Trump or because we like some of what she’s promising us. Let’s use this opportunity to fight like hell against the status quo of political corruption. We have the opportunity to build a real movement for integrity in politics. It would be a great shame to neglect this opportunity and once again acquiesce to the lesser of two evils.

    1. What is the opportunity you speak of if we don’t elect her? — as Goldfarb so eloquently pointed out “The great progressive advances of the past century occurred in the United States when great social movements pushed a moderately progressive political leadership: labor, civil rights, anti-war and feminist, among others.” This is historical fact — these advances don’t happen under right wing leadership or under dictatorships or demagogues. We are in a two party system — there is no opportunity at this point beyond electing Hilary, and moving from there. She certainly hasn’t been given a pass as you suggest — on the contrary she has been raked over the coals more than any other politician in recent history. You talk in generalizations — take action, promote reforms, etc., but you don’t say how not voting for Hillary is any kind of effective action at all.

      1. I commented yesterday but do not see my comments. Probably my mistake, flipping between FB and PS.

        First, my comments on Jeff’s piece. I largely agree so there is not much I can add. I would underscore Jeff’s point about how misogyny and racism work– take all of the characteristics of a politican and put them on the woman or the person of color and then blame that person for the things we don’t like or cannot manage (complexity) about politicians. So, ironically, what does Hillary really want? Who is she really? Same was said of Jesse Jackson. Clinton’s actual record is good, if flawed. I would say that of course a politician is somewhat corrupted but that the word corruption is meaningless if we use it in isolation.

        Her victory for women may be more than symbolic in that she has actually always fought for women, so there is no reason to think she would stop doing that if elected. Additionally, she is ambitious and aggressive and does not apologize for it, so she will be a role model and I suspect she will actually put a lot of women in her cabinet and the will change the managerial style. And, Jeff has listed the rest of the very real and important things that she will address– the Supreme Court is pretty powerful.

        Second, the most horrific violence and repression has come from the notion of purity (over the past 100 years at least). On the right and on the left. If you think you can overthrow the system by torching it, there is simply no historical precedent. There is no such thing as good or bad only degrees of either and both. No purity in politics or in life. It is going to take a neoliberal hawk at the helm and a lot of work on the ground to begin to chip away at the last 40 years of neoliberal American imperialism. It is not surprising that the person who addresses the issue of mass incarceration is part of the making of the problem.

        Third, we have strong social movements on the ground– BLM, fast food forward, OWS, student debt, etc. and the possibility of electing someone who will work with these movements to bring about change. Clinton.

        Trump will, by his own admission, bring in the tanks and bulldoze– kill– those who protest. If Trump did not admit this, history would back it up anyway.

        The protest vote does not exist– because if you don’t vote, or only vote in protest by choosing a third party, your party does not know what your vote meant. You are not heard because you have not really spoken. And it is not an act of civil disobedience unless the vote is a legal requirement so that not voting lands you in trouble with the law.

        Just consider the above. We have no guarantees with Clinton but we know what we get with Trump. We get more chaos– enough chaos that people will take order in any form over the chaos. It may already be too late. We don’t know. We still have to try to bring about change over the long term with as much steadfastness and an eye to complexity as we can.

        1. Additionally— and this for Jeff— part of Jeff is saying or doing (and I don’t know if it is deliberate, so he is doing it well or not at all) is saying that radicals might want to consider being more moderate, at least for the moment. Radicals are part of the problem as well, as much as Clinton is, perhaps.

        2. I completely agree with you, especially about purity, and what you write is very smart. I hope you understand that my comment was addressed to Christian and not to Jeff — I quoted Jeff as rebuttal to Christian. I am in complete accord with what both you and Jeff wrote. Perhaps you meant to address this to Christian.

    2. Chris, you were my student. I appreciated you then and appreciate you now as you question my positions. But I wish you would confront complexity. In the passage you quote, I was not saying that politicians are all corrupt, but pointing out that Clinton is vilified for what politics necessarily involves: ambition (what’s wrong with
      that?), discretion, calculation, flexibility and learning, and a
      relationship with the powers, not only for corrupt ends, but also to control
      the powers. Corruption is a temptation, but not everyone is corrupt. And I think the evidence is strong that Clinton, in fact, is not. Please re read Arendt’s “Truth and Politics,” and Weber’s “Politics as a Vocation,” and realize your desire for purity in political life makes political accomplishment very difficult if not impossible, and more darkly, can lead to totalitarian horrors when it becomes an absolute commitment

      1. If I might just add to this the importance of Jeff’s pointing out that she is utterly vilified (yes, a Repubican friend called her a ‘snake’ the other day, without a sliver of compunction) for behavior that is par for the political course — and that rather than being perceived, as Jeff points out, as discretion or flexibility or growth-mindset, is denigrated and bashed and twisted into pejorative language a la misogyny. I wonder, as a psychologist interested in models of how human behavior is variable and context contingent, adapting in step with both one’s interpersonal objectives as well as one’s own desire to maintain a consistent self-concept, if you know anyone whose behavior is constant across all contexts? In fact, such rigid behavior is often conceptualized as personality disordered in a clinical sense. So to expect that Clinton, in a position where her job is meant to extract from others behavior that accords with her objectives for the country, not alter her behavior in relation to changing contexts and expectancies, would be to ask her, on a certain level, not to be human, but more important for this conversation, it would be to ask her to be less effective at her job in the interest of a circumscribed definition of integrity as inflexible adherence to a single mode of self-presentation. Humans do not actually function that way, much less politicians with well defined objectives that require movement between radically distinct social groups. Besides, as Emerson says, foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds. We might apply this to politics with caution, but at least we’d be ill-advised to expect robotic consistency from a person from whom we demand great, systemic change with regard to recalcitrant, pervasive issues.

        1. I think you and everyone who wholeheartedly support Clinton are in a deep state of denial about who she represents and how US foreign and domestic policy is produced.

          Do you denounce anyone with doubts about Clinton as having a “personality disorder” or having a “little mind”? Is that you’re surreptitious way telling others that they’re crazy or insane for stating plainly the corruption they see? I consider that a political gaslighting tactic.

          Nobody is asking for a morally pure robot. We’re asking for substance, trust, democratic accountability and transparency. Clinton fails on these accounts.

          Notice the piece provides links to her campaign policy as “proof” she’s committed to these issues and completely ignores foreign policy or recent investigations and leaks. This type of article has been written over and over again and convinces nobody. It’s existence is superfluous. All it does is reassure Clinton supporters that they are justified and provides a safe space free of criticism or new information.

          In can cede that we will fare better under Clinton but why can’t we do so while recognizing this election as a deeper systemic failure? Or are we trying to fool the already ignorant into voting for her?

          This is worse than “two bad choices, but one is actually kind of good if you think about it and everything to the contrary is a mysoginistic smear or right wing conspiracy”

          1. Thank you for your comment. I do not believe that I stand for what you suggest that I do. I was merely suggesting that given the options available to us we might consider what it takes to actually make change in a piecemeal fashion within the constraints of a difficult system with many many competing contingencies. And that we don’t tear a woman to shreds for sport under the guise of demanding higher standards of our democracy.

          2. Thank you for your response. I disagree with the narrative that we’re just tearing her down for sport and that people concerned about the state our political system are disingenuous, crazy, or misinformed. I’m concerned about overlooking lack of democratic accountability, corruption, and reneging on principles under the guise of an alleged pragmatism. Also, I don’t think I and others are unfairly criticizing Clinton… I’ve never been one to “support” candidates.

            Ultimately I think we fundamentally agree on values and strategy, which matters most at the present moment — so in this way I think we can find solidarity together and work as allies.

    3. Hi, I commented below. I too was Jeff’s student and Jeff also suggested to me (from a different angle and in a different political moment) to manage the complexity.

  2. I greatly appreciate this post; I am not sure yet whether I side more with Goldfarb or Quirk on this particular question, though my decision regarding voting is secured. In any case, however, I think both of their positions point to the necessity of working with complexities, even though they are sometimes dissatisfying from the point of view of our dreams and principles. Action in the real world, especially in one this big and this complicated, must navigate these discomforts and not eschew them for a comforting utopianism that is, in truth, so cynical as to be apolitical. If we want a different world, we need to do the slow and difficult groundwork of moving our culture, not imagining that the person sitting in the Oval Office is the magical source from which all politics descends.

    1. Well said. Idealizing or demonizing with a definitive wave of the hand seems more accessible in a lot of the most prominent conversations. Jeff offers an important analysis of the nuance that is so freely dismissed/relinquished/ignored in idle talk.

  3. I agree that having a woman president is an important step forward, even in very minimal aesthetic terms: and I am using here ‘aesthetic’ in the wide etymological sense of the ambit of what we perceive. That’s well beyond the lesser evil argument, to begin with.

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