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 et.al, 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.