Hillary Clinton’s Deplorables and Irredeemables

It’s repeat week at Bracing Views as I attempt to process the result of this election. A big reason Hillary lost the electoral vote, I think, is Clinton fatigue. Hillary and Bill again, for another four, possibly eight, years? Didn’t we already see that show in the 1990s? Like Jeb! Bush, Hillary was a stale candidate. More of the same. Clinton fatigue was compounded by a sense of arrogance, as shown in her “basket of deplorables” comment. Want to motivate people to show up at the polls and vote against you? Talk down to them, call them names, tell them they’re beyond hope, even beyond redemption. Contempt is a powerful force, not quickly forgotten by those on the receiving end of it. (I’ve read where contempt between partners is an almost certain of divorce or breakup.)

Combine Clinton fatigue with open contempt and you get two big reasons why Hillary faded down the stretch.

Bracing Views

hillaryW.J. Astore

When Hillary Clinton called out half of Trump’s supporters as “deplorables,” to the point where some are “irredeemable,” I shook my head at her elitism even as I was surprised by her lack of political acumen.  Her comment lumping these “deplorables” into a “basket” came at a fundraiser on September 9th, even as her podium touted the message “stronger together.”  As I wrote in a Facebook post on September 10th, “Painting half your opponent’s supporters as [potentially] irredeemable is just bad strategy.”

But it’s worse than that.  First off, Hillary should have known better.  After all, she went aggressively after Barack Obama when in 2008 he made his comment about bitter rural folk clinging to guns and religion.  (And Obama’s comment is considerably milder than Hillary’s.) By calling out Obama for his comment, Hillary was able to win that year’s primary in Pennsylvania.  Second, for a seasoned pol…

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Understanding Donald Trump’s Appeal

Back in May, I wrote this article about Trump’s appeal and why he could win, especially against Hillary. After all his missteps, even after the tape in which he brags about grabbing women wherever and whenever, even after losing all three debates, Trump still won. I think in this article I hit on some of the reasons why.

Bracing Views

Trump runs over GOP

W.J. Astore

I lived and taught in a rural and conservative area in Pennsylvania for nine years, an area that’s “flyover country” for Beltway elites.  Back in 2008, I remember how the locals went gaga over Sarah Palin’s visit to the area, and how crestfallen so many people were when Barack Obama was elected president.  I remember how people sported Bush/Cheney stickers on their cars and trucks (even the faculty at the largely vocational college at which I taught), long after these men had left office.  Sadly, I also recall a lot of Confederate flag license plates, especially on trucks, but there were also people who flew them at home from their flagpoles.  This was not about “heritage,” since Pennsylvania was Union country in the Civil War.  No – it was about being a White “redneck” and taking the country back from, well, the “other” – Blacks, Muslims, immigrants, anyone…

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Trump Wins! A Few Thoughts on Why

sap
“I won’t play the sap for you.”

W.J. Astore

In my last post, I predicted Trump would lose.  I thought his declinist message and his blatant vulgarity would ultimately cost him too many votes.  As Trump would say, “wrong.”

What are we to take from Trump’s stunning upset?  Here are a few quick thoughts:

  1.  The Democrats ran the wrong candidate.  Remember when Bernie Sanders was saying he had the best chance to defeat Trump?  That the polls favored him and not Hillary? Turns out Bernie was right. People were looking for a candidate who represented change. Real change.  Bernie had that. So too did Trump.  But Hillary was the establishment personified. Not only that, but she had extensive baggage that led to high negatives. Too many people just didn’t like her. Or they simply wanted a fresh face and a new approach — even if that face was Trump.
  2. The October surprise.  Does Trump win without the last minute intervention of the FBI in the email follies? We’ll never know, but Hillary had the momentum prior to the letter issued by the FBI. That letter may have slowed her momentum just enough to allow Trump to win.
  3. All politics is local — or, at least, personal.  The Democrats addressed global issues like climate change.  The Republicans basically denied it’s happening.  The Democrats talked about embracing immigrants and tolerating Muslims.  The Republicans did neither.  What the Republicans did was to emphasize personal pain. The pain of those who’ve seen their jobs disappear and their way of life suffer.  The Republicans also played to nostalgia.  Yes, America is in decline, they said, but we can make the country great again (by making it less inclusive, by keeping out the “bad” people, by being tough).  That message proved appealing to so many Americans who see in Trump the possibility of returning to “the good old days” (whatever that may mean).
  4. I won’t play the sap for you.”  That’s a Humphrey Bogart line from “The Maltese Falcon.”  Many Americans believe they are being played for saps by foreign powers. Trump recognized this.  He called for tougher trade deals.  He called for NATO and other U.S. allies to pay their way.  He promised a new approach to foreign policy, one where enemies would be smashed even as Americans would avoid dumb wars like Iraq.  Basically, Trump promised that America would no longer play the sap for the rest of the world.  And the American people liked what they heard.

That’s my quick take.  Lots of Americans truly wanted a change in course — a sort of reactionary revolution.  That desire led them to downplay Trump’s sexism, ignorance, incivility, and vulgarity.  (Of course, there were some who embraced Trump precisely for these qualities.)  In essence, they simply had no patience for Hillary’s “politics as usual” message.

Finally, let’s not forget that Trump said the election is “rigged.”  He was a sore loser even before the results were in.  What kind of winner will he be?  Much will depend on the answer to that question.

Why Donald Trump Will Lose

schopenhauer
Arthur Schopenhauer

W.J. Astore

Donald Trump claims that if he loses the election it’s because the whole process is rigged.  But a rigged game is not why Trump will lose.  He’s going to lose because he’s offered no compelling vision about why he should be president.  (I don’t think “making America great again” is such a vision.)

What’s most remarkable to me about Trump’s campaign is how negative it’s been.  America is in decline!  Our inner cities are wastelands! Immigrants are thugs and rapists!  Muslims are out to get us!  Our leaders are stupid and crooked!  Indeed, until recently, Trump argued our top leader wasn’t even born in America.

A relentlessly negative campaign says a lot more about Trump than it does about America.  Sure, this country has problems.  But there are many silver linings in the dark clouds (economy on the mend; job growth up; health care extended to more people; rights for the LGBTQ community more accepted; the U.S. auto industry is back; more action on climate change is forthcoming, as long as Trump doesn’t win).

I was reading Arthur Schopenhauer’s “Counsels and Maxims” and came across a passage that reminded me of Trump.  Here it is:

No man can see over his own height … You cannot see in another man any more than you have in yourself; and your own intelligence strictly determines the extent to which he comes within its grasp …. Hence intercourse with others involves a process of leveling down.  The qualities which are present in one man, and absent in another, cannot come into play when they meet; and the self-sacrifice which this entails upon one of the parties, calls forth no recognition from the other.

Consider how sordid, how stupid, in a word, how vulgar most men are, and you will see that it is impossible to talk to them without becoming vulgar yourself for the time being.  Vulgarity is in this respect like electricity; it is easily distributed…

That’s Trump in a nutshell: vulgar.  Vulgar language.  Vulgar action. Vulgar appeals.  The question is: Will that vulgarity triumph on election day?  Is it enough?  My guess is that it isn’t.  That it won’t be.

His opponent, Hillary Clinton, has her own set of issues, but compared to Trump she has run a more hopeful campaign, or, at the very least, a much less vulgar one.  “Stronger together” is a tepid slogan, but it does stress togetherness, a certain strength in numbers, a degree of tolerance.  And Hillary has simply done a better job than Trump at reaching out to wider constituencies with a message that is positive rather than declinist.

Sure, a lot of people will vote for Trump, and for many reasons.  They don’t like or trust Hillary.  They’re loyal to the Republican Party.  They see something in Trump that resonates with them.  They feel they’ve gotten the shaft and think that a wild card like Trump can help them more than a face card like Hillary.

But ultimately I believe Trump will be done in by his own vulgarity.  He will lose because he couldn’t see past the limitations of his own height — his own flawed character.

But if I’m wrong, prepare yourself for four years of vulgar appeals, of sordidness and stupidity, to quote Schopenhauer.  For as the philosopher said, vulgarity is easily distributed.

What Would My Parents Think of this Election?

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My parents in the 1970s

W.J. Astore

In 1976, I remember my mom voted for Jimmy Carter for president.  It surprised me because I was a fan of Gerald Ford, the Republican candidate.  Both Carter and Ford were decent men, and their debates were informative and issues-oriented.  Back then, the big scandal was Jimmy Carter’s admission, in an interview for Playboy magazine, that he had lusted in his heart. What innocent times!  Two generations later, we have a Republican candidate, Donald Trump, who by his own words has done far more than lust in his heart.

My mom would have been appalled by Trump (as are many people today).  My dad, I think, would have found Trump objectionable and shallow.  One of my dad’s favorite sayings was “the empty barrel makes the most noise.”  He didn’t respect other men who bragged and bellowed about themselves.  And he didn’t like anyone who was a sore loser, those who, when they lost, resorted to “sour grapes.”  Even before Trump has lost (if he does), he’s already resorted to sour grapes, claiming the election is “rigged” against him.

I know my parents would be against Trump.  Would they be for Hillary?  I don’t know.  I think my mom would have voted for Hillary, respecting her struggles as a woman for equality and fair treatment in a man’s game (and politics in America is still very much a man’s game, despite important strides made by women).  My dad?  When in doubt, he voted for the Democratic Party.  As a firefighter, he was a union man who knew first-hand the hard experience of factory workers and the penury of a hand-to-mouth existence during the Great Depression.

Resuscitating my parents to vote in 2016: yes, it’s fantasy, one that I share with Tom Engelhardt, who wrote this telling article at TomDispatch.com on next week’s election and what his parents would have thought of the whole spectacle.  To me, two aspects of election 2016 are especially telling when compared to 1976:

  1.  On foreign policy and national defense, Hillary Clinton is running to the right, not only of Jimmy Carter, but of Gerald Ford, a moderate Republican.
  2. Donald Trump not only lacks the fundamental decency of Carter and Ford: he lacks any experience in public service.  His entire life has been dedicated to making money. This may qualify him to run a business, but it doesn’t qualify him to run a country and to represent a people.

A few more words on Trump and what his rise represents.  Trump is the candidate of casino capitalism.  He’s the logical terminus of a system that wants to run everything for profit, winner-take-all.  Such public systems and concerns as education, health care, the prison system, even the military, are increasingly run as businesses, often privatized, the operative words being “efficiency” and “productivity” and “growth.”

With so many sectors of American society being privatized and run as for-profit businesses, with corporations being enshrined as superpower citizens with especially deep pockets to influence public elections, with the media also almost completely privatized and also run for-profit, is it any wonder a candidate like Trump has emerged as the business leader to “make America great again”?  Americans used to call men like Trump “robber-barons.”  Now, some Americans treat Trump as a savior.

In America, we seem to measure societal progress strictly in terms of economic growth as measured by GDP and the stock market.  Such measures are indicative not of true progress but of our shallow desires, our preference for glitzy materialism.  Again, isn’t Trump the very embodiment of insatiable appetite, bottomless greed, and casino capitalism?

I know my parents — decent members of the working classes — wouldn’t have voted for him.  Hillary, I think, would have been their (reluctant) choice.  And I think they’d hope for better candidates in 2020, or, at the very least, a political process that takes vitally important issues like climate change seriously.

Seriousness of purpose is what we need in America, along with courage, honesty, and strength of mind. Let’s strive for those in the aftermath of this depressing election season.

Hillary versus Trump: How the Hell Did that Happen?

trump-clinton

Peter Van Buren

Editor’s Intro: At his “We Meant Well” blog, Peter Van Buren, whose first career was with the U.S. State Department, has an insightful (if somewhat depressing) post on how we ended up with Hillary versus Trump on next Tuesday.  His conclusion: Each candidate in her or his own way represents major cultural and political forces in America, even as neither truly represents the American people’s interests.  Here it is, in its (grim) entirety:

You hear the expression “lesser of two evils” when people talk about how they will vote in November.

Poll after poll shows a growing number of voters saying they will vote negatively – they’re against Hillary, so they’ll hold their nose and vote Trump, and vice-a-versa.

It is also likely a large number of discontented voters will simply stay home on Election Day. Both candidates are among the most unpopular and least trusted in American history. One of them will end up in the White House.

How did we get here? How is it the only two mainstream candidates left standing Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump?

Hillary Clinton: All Appetite

Hillary Clinton is the archetypal 21st century candidate’s candidate, a fully formed tool of the oligarchy. Whether she wins or loses in November, she is the model for the next era of American politics.

Clinton sees The People as some mass to be pandered to and manipulated. She is simply a machine to gain power for its own sake (and money.) The One Percent tagged her early as exactly who they want to see in charge, someone who could be bought off, and she was nice enough to create her own vehicle to allow them to conveniently do that — write a check to the Clinton Foundation. As a bonus, it was also tax-deductible.

If Hillary did not exist, it would have been necessary for the wealthy who control most of America to create her.

The Once and Future Hillary

That wasn’t necessary, as Hillary Clinton had spent her entire life preparing for this.

By all accounts an intelligent, committed, feminist coming out of law school, she quickly fell into the TV classic 1950s role of dependent spouse, as “first lady” of Arkansas when Bill was governor, and of course, in the White House. Sure, she was given health care to mess around with during Bill’s first term, but when the issue crashed and burned, her role was reassigned to make safe speeches calling for more rights for women and girls. Safe in that she was allowed to pound the pulpit for those ideals in enemy territory like China, but not in countries like Saudi Arabia.

She was the good wife. And good wives look the other way when hubby strays a bit, even to the point of having sex in the Oval Office. And that’s because Hillary knew the Democratic Party would owe her for not blowing things completely apart in a messy divorce certain to reveal even more bad news.

First up was a Senate seat, a springboard for her presidential run.

In November 1998 four-term incumbent Democratic New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan announced his retirement, opening a seat in a Solid Blue state. In early 1999 the Clinton’s bought a house in Chappaqua, New York (with “donated” money), all so that by September she was eligible to run as a “New Yorker.” While in the Senate Hillary was served up prime committee slots, and voted the safe votes (the Iraq War vote was safe at the time, of course, as everyone wanted to go to war. Nobody foresaw that one bouncing back the way it did.)

By the time the George W. Bush era finally gave up, everyone on earth knew the next president was going to be a Democrat.

So 2008 was going to be Hillary’s big moment, the first woman president, the one to clean up the Bush wars, who knows, maybe even score a Nobel Prize. But Hillary misread the degree of change Americans wanted, and in return for putting her plans on hold for another cycle or two, she settled in for four years as Secretary of State as a consolation prize. And have you heard? She sat in the Situation Room the night bin Laden was killed!

Taking No Chances

As the 2016 election approached, the Clinton’s took no chances.

The favors Hillary accrued as Secretary of State via the Clinton Foundation were transformed into money and support. As she pretended not to run, Clinton packed her campaign war chest with big-money speeches. A happy “listening tour” (remember the Scooby Van?) was created to show everyone how human Hillary was. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz lined up the Democratic Party machinery. Designated chump Martin O’Malley was set up as the loyal opposition so Hillary could create the appearance she was running against someone in the primary.

Then, oops, Bernie.

When Bernie Sanders came out of nowhere (as had Obama in 2008), Clinton again misread or did not care about how much change many Americans sought. As many long-suspected, and as we all now know after the hacks of the Democratic National Committee servers, the Party machinery was brought to bear against Sanders. The mainstream media was lined up to belittle, marginalize and ignore him. The millennial vote Sanders inspired was largely written off by Clinton. Bernie was reduced to a sad, little old man helping nominate someone at the Democratic Convention he clearly loathed.

Add to that the flood of disdainful remarks talking points-prepped Democratic pundits spewed forth, announcing as one support for Libertarian Gary Johnson or Green Party candidate Jill Stein is near-treason. A voter’s well-reasoned, act-of-conscious decision to support one of the two is held as nothing less than support for the Dark Lord.

The Democrat machinery and the people who control it made Clinton the inevitable candidate. There was no one else who ever had a chance. America was told to suck it up and vote for her, whether they liked it or not.

Trump Stumbles into His Role

The Republican Party fully misunderstood its constituency, thinking one of a spray of robo-candidates would be good enough to simply run as Not Obama, Not Hillary.

Each candidate on offer fell into the mold of ultra-mainstream, such as the why-am-I-here Jeb Bush, or the nut case category with Ben Carson. Ted Cruz couldn’t make up his mind, and vacillated between the two options. The plan was likely to meld the two wings into a ticket and scoop up as many conservative votes as possible.

Whatever Trump may have really been thinking when he started his campaign, he stumbled on to something hiding in plain sight. Large numbers of Americans, mostly white and formerly middle class, were angry. They were really angry. They had been left behind as the country changed, left like an audience at a magic show who saw the trick done, but couldn’t for the life of them figure out how it had happened. These people knew they were getting poorer, they could not find decent jobs, and they wanted someone to blame.

Enter Trump.

He told them it was not their fault. It was because of Obama, it was the Chinese, it was the Muslims, the Blacks, the Democrats, NAFTA, immigrants, refugees, whoever they feared and hated, whatever they wanted to hear. He told them their racism and hate was valid, and gave them a place to express it as no one in the mainstream had ever before done in a modern campaign.

Trump became a predator sniffing the wind. When he sensed people fed up with Hillary’s scamming for donations, he said he was self-funded. When he sensed people wanted change, he said he was an outsider. When voters tired of Hillary’s lawyerly answers and outright lies, Trump came out as plain spoken, even rude and crude — what candidate before had ever spoken of his penis size on the national stage?

Weakness overseas? Bomb the f*ck out of them. Worried about China? Renegotiate. Tired of terrorists? Torture them, maybe kill their families. Problems with the economy? I can fix it, says Trump, and he didn’t need to explain how because while no one really believes it, they want to believe.

Whole races and religions were condemned. People were bored with long think pieces and empty political language. Trump dished things out in 140-character Tweets. Voters made up their minds with the same tool they use to follow Beyonce.

Trump Ascendant

As a sign of Trump’s populism, and his popularity, he has garnered more small-dollar donations for the GOP than any other Republican candidate in history, and all that only since he seriously started asking for contributions in June. “He’s the Republican Obama,” Politico quotes one operative about Trump monetizing his Republican supporters.

Like nearly every person in the media, and the Democratic and Republican parties, I suspect when he first started out Trump never expected the ball to bounce as it did. Running was an ego thing, an elaborate prank, performance art, something maybe good for business. No such thing as bad PR.

But as others wrote him off, including the oligarchy, Trump learned.

Every time someone said “well, that’s the end of Trump” after some outrageous statement, Trump learned he needed only to top himself in the next sound bite. People wanted him to be racist, they wanted him to be larger than life, and they didn’t care if he lied or exaggerated. Most of the media, still reporting his latest statement (birther, debates are rigged) as a bad thing, still don’t get it.

Face It: They Are Us

America will have Trump or Clinton in the White House for the next four years because they are us.

Clinton is the ultimate end product of a political process consumed by big money. She is the candidate of the One Percent. She believes in nothing but the acquisition of power and will trade anything to get it. The oligarchy are happy to help her with that.

Trump is the ultimate Frankenstein product of decades of lightly-shaded Republican hate mongering. He is the natural end point of 15 post-9/11 years of keeping us afraid. He is the mediagenic demagogue a country gets when it abandons its people to economic Darwinism, crushes its middle class, and gives up caring what happens to its minorities.

Both candidates are markers of a doomed democracy, a system which somewhere in the past reached its apex and has only now declined enough that everyone, not just the boiling frogs, can see where we are. They’re us, people. We watched this happen, and we’ll be stuck trying to live with the results.