Why This Year’s Presidential Election Is So Depressing

furiosa_2015
I’d vote for Imperator Furiosa before Hillary and Trump

W.J. Astore

This year’s presidential election is depressing.  I suppose Trump and Hillary supporters are fired up.  They want to see “their” candidate win.  But for me, I wish a pox on both their houses, even as I hope the eventual winner is not as bad as he or she appears to be.

With respect to foreign policy, neither candidate comes close to representing my views.  Instead of American exceptionalism, instead of global reach and global power, I believe the U.S. needs to learn the merits of minding its own business.  I want a country that is not imperial, not militaristic, and not intent on waging forever wars against inchoate forces (terror) and with a changing roster of enemies (Al Qaeda/ISIS/radical Islam, North Korea, Iran, and now possibly Russia and China, and who knows who or what else next).  I want active wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to end.  I want U.S. troops to be brought home.

We don’t need a new Cold War, America.  Nor should we be elevating terrorism, a containable threat, to an existential threat.  The true existential threat is incessant greed-wars, which will bankrupt our country even as they administer the death blow to our democracy.

The main candidates, Trump and Clinton, are committed to feeding the national security state.  Both promise more wars, especially war-hawk Clinton.  With Trump, honestly, I have no idea what to expect from him.  Trump has all the makings of a Nero.  He’ll fiddle (or Tweet) while the world burns.  And Hillary?  She’s a self-styled Imperator Furiosa (from the latest Mad Max movie) but without her heart.

So much of U.S. foreign policy nowadays is about selling weaponry.  We sell billions and billions to the Israelis and Saudis (among others), and the peoples of Palestine and Yemen suffer and die as a result.  Are U.S. hands clean merely because we made the weapons (and in some cases subsidized their purchase)?  What kind of “democracy” dominates the world’s arms trade?  In more enlightened days, the U.S. excoriated European countries and their “merchants of death” (this was in the 1920s and 1930s).  Now we are the merchants of death, boasting of all the money we’re making.  We have met the enemy, and he is us.

Trump and Hillary: one a Nero, one an Imperator.  Both American exceptionalists, both believers in the military, both willing to wield big sticks while never speaking softly.  Yes, I find that depressing.

On domestic policy, Hillary hews closer to what I believe, at least in theory.  But in practice who knows with Hillary?  She speaks with forked tongue on so many important issues.  I think liberals/progressives can count on her to be pro-choice, to be pro-LGBTQ, to be (or appear to be) sensitive to racism, to be inclusive (compared to Republicans), to be pro-immigration (again, compared to Republicans).  For many liberals/progressives/democrats, Hillary’s predictability on these issues is enough, especially compared to the hard right positions embraced by Trump/Pence.  And indeed more than a few of my Democratic friends are voting for Hillary based on these positions, together with their faith (fingers crossed) that her Supreme Court nominees will be somewhere to the left of Antonin Scalia.

Is that enough?  Not for me.  Again, it’s Hillary’s opportunism, the way she slips in and out of positions as if they’re so many interchangeable pantsuits, that I find so depressing.  Whether it’s the TPP or fracking or the $15 minimum wage or health care reform or bank reform or what have you, she changes her tune, much like a piper responding to requests.  Yes, he who pays the piper calls the tune, and I can’t pay the piper what Goldman Sachs can.  So I’ll never hear my tune played; only theirs.  And I know how that song ends: with even greater inequality followed by another financial meltdown, and this time maybe the middle class will die.

I can’t vote for more of the same (Hillary) only with more fury.  I can’t vote for random acts of caprice and belligerence guided by ignorance (Trump).  Honestly, you know what I want to do?  Write in “Bernie Sanders.”  He’s not perfect (who is?), but he has character and integrity, and that’s what this country really needs.  I know: Bernie told me to vote for Hillary.  But dammit, Bernie, I can’t do it.

Did I say I was depressed?  After I write in Bernie’s name on November 8th, I’ll walk away from the voting booth with a smile.  And to me that’s not a “wasted” vote.

The Clintons: So Many Masks

hillary henry
Scheming, secretive, Machiavellian: birds of a feather

W.J. Astore

As Donald Trump continues to implode, it’s worthwhile considering how he even has a chance at the presidency.  It’s quite simple, actually: Americans don’t trust the Clintons, and rightly so. Why? Because the Clintons, in their quest for office, try to be all things to all people. Even as they talk about the poorest Americans and economic fairness, for example, they’re promising to make special deals for the richest and special trade deals (open trade borders for all!). Even as they criticize Wall Street they praise bankers and the financial elite behind closed doors (cashing-in big-time for these speeches). Even as they talk about the environment and global warning, they praise fracking and the fossil fuel industry.

What do the Clintons really believe?  Like many politicians, they ultimately believe in themselves, in their own quest for power, a quest in which virtually all tactics are justified. In which you can don any mask depending on that day’s audience and performance.

But if you’re all things to all people, you’re basically nothing to no one.  Put differently, if you’ve worn so many different masks for so many audiences, which face is the real you?

Trump’s followers embrace him in part because they think they know where he stands. He’s willing to say unpopular things.  As loutish and crass and ignorant as Trump is, he’s not always holding a finger up to test the political winds.  He’s not always currying favor with (and favors from) established elites.  He may be bad, but he’s genuinely bad.

The Clintons?  The word “genuine” just doesn’t apply.  Words like “scheming” and “secretive” and “Machiavellian,” however, do.

Small wonder that Hillary Clinton is such great friends with Henry Kissinger!

Trump and Clinton: Poor Choices for America

Jeremy Scahill

Editor’s Note: Jeremy Scahill, author of “Dirty Wars,” minces no words in his reaction to Trump/Clinton and their second “debate.”  Scahill’s article appeared originally at The Intercept.

Trump may go away, but the people he has empowered will not

ST LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 09:  Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump responds to a question during the town hall debate at Washington University on October 9, 2016 in St Louis, Missouri. This is the second of three presidential debates scheduled prior to the November 8th election.  (Photo by Rick Wilking-Pool/Getty Images)

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump during the town hall debate at Washington University on Oct. 9, 2016, in St. Louis, Missouri.

Photo: Rick Wilking/Getty Images

These presidential debates — certainly this one — serve as the most stark commentary on how bankrupt the U.S. electoral system is.

This is the choice the system produces for “viable” candidates.

The cartoonish villainy of Donald Trump is a major factor in distracting attention from the hawkish, neoliberal policies of Hillary Clinton. Hillary’s best selling point for a lot of people — Democrats and, increasingly, Republicans — is: I’m not batshit crazy like Trump.

There is rarely a focus on Clinton’s embrace of regime change, her role in creating the conditions, as secretary of state, for the horror show currently unfolding in Yemen, or her paramilitarization of the State Department. Clinton has never been asked about her role in the secret drone “kill chain” the Obama administration has now codified as a parallel justice system, where there are no trials, indictments, or convictions, but a whole lot of death sentences. Just as Clinton avoided real questions about Libya thanks to the clownfuck Republicans’ carnival over Benghazi, she emerges as the only choice for many sane people. That she is buddy-buddy with Wall Street, speaks one way to them and another way in public, becomes a footnote. She is the empire candidate and that is why the John Negropontes and Max Boots and George H.W. Bushes of the world have embraced her.

Here is the thing, though: Both Clinton’s and Trump’s candidacies have fucked us — albeit in different ways. Hillary represents more of the same bipartisan warmongering. And, under Obama, that has been met with a lot of silence and complicity from liberals. Depressing.

Whether Trump wins, loses, or loses big, he has empowered fascists, racists, and bigots. He did not create them, but he has legitimized them by becoming the nominee and openly expressing their heinous, hateful beliefs. This, to me, is one of the most frightening developments on a domestic level in the U.S. this election cycle. Trump may go away, but the people he has empowered will not.

On Nuclear Weapons, Trump is Nightmarishly Scary

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An Ohio-class nuclear submarine

W.J. Astore

Much of the post-debate analysis I’ve read from last night’s presidential debate has focused on Donald Trump’s crudeness, his threat to prosecute and jail his political opponent, the way in which he stalked her on the stage, looming in the background and crowding her, and finally his non-apology apology about “locker room banter.”  Yes: Trump is most definitely lewd, crude, and socially unacceptable, but that’s hardly the worst of his qualities.

His worst quality?  His sweeping ignorance to the point of recklessness when it comes to matters of national defense, and specifically America’s nuclear arsenal.

This is what Trump had to say last night about the U.S. nuclear deterrent:

But our nuclear program has fallen way behind, and they’ve gone wild with their nuclear program. Not good. Our government shouldn’t have allowed that to happen. Russia is new in terms of nuclear. We are old. We’re tired. We’re exhausted in terms of nuclear. A very bad thing.

This is utter nonsense.  First off, nuclear weapons are not people.  They don’t get “tired” or “exhausted” or “old.”  Second, the U.S. nuclear program has not “fallen way behind” the programs of other nations, certainly not Russia’s.  Third, even if portions of Russia’s nuclear program are “new” (whatever that means), that’s not necessarily a bad thing for the United States.  “New” in this case may mean safer and more reliable systems that are less prone to catastrophic error.

Here’s an undeniable fact: The U.S. nuclear arsenal is by far the world’s most powerful and advanced.  The key aspect to nuclear capability is survivability, and nothing is more survivable than America’s force of Trident nuclear submarines.  Virtually impossible to detect, America’s Trident force is essentially capable of destroying the world.  One submarine carries enough missiles and warheads to devastate every major city in Russia (or any other country, for that matter).  What more is needed as a deterrent?

Specifically, an Ohio-class Trident submarine can carry up to 24 nuclear missiles, each with up to eight nuclear warheads, each warhead equivalent to roughly six Hiroshima bombs.  That represents a potential for hitting 192 targets, each with six times the impact of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945 (which killed up to 200,000 people). That’s 1152 Hiroshimas from one submarine — a rough calculus, I know, but accurate enough to show the awesome might represented by a small portion of America’s nuclear force.

The Trident missiles are also incredibly accurate, with a circular error probability of less than 150 meters.  And the U.S. has 14 of these submarines.  (Not all are on patrol at any one time.) These highly sophisticated and ultra-powerful submarines are further augmented by land-based ICBMs (intercontinental ballistic missiles) and bomber planes (the “air-breathing” element), forming the other two legs of the American nuclear triad. Again, when it comes to redundancy, accuracy, and survivability, no other country comes close to America’s nuclear capability.

This awesome nuclear force is not a sign the U.S. is “old” and “tired” and “exhausted.” It’s a sign that the U.S. is incredibly powerful, and, if you’re a foreign leader, incredibly dangerous, especially if America’s next commander-in-chief is undisciplined, thin-skinned, and in possession of a scattershot knowledge of military matters.

Back in March of this year, Trump boasted at a debate that the U.S. military would follow his orders irrespective of their legality.  In this latest debate, he yet again revealed that he has no real knowledge of America’s nuclear capability and how modern and powerful (and scary) it truly is.

Sure, Trump is crude, lewd, and sexist, but those qualities won’t destroy the world as we know it.  Ignorance about nuclear weapons, combined with impetuosity and an avowed affection for he-man wild-card generals like George S. Patton and Douglas MacArthur, is a recipe for utter disaster.

Trump the Sorest of Losers

Trump holds a rally with supporters at the Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi, Michigan, U.S.
Trump, a self-avowed winner, is the sorest of losers

W.J. Astore

Are there too many articles about Donald Trump?  You might say yes, until, that is, you realize the man has a fair shot at being America’s next president.  With that disaster in the making, one must speak up, which is what Tom Engelhardt has done at TomDispatch.com.  Engelhardt shows us what Trump is all about – and what that reveals about the present American moment.

Here’s a telling sample from Engelhardt’s latest:

He’s made veiled assassination threats; lauded the desire to punch someone in the face; talked about shooting “somebody” in “the middle of Fifth Avenue”; defended the size of his hands and his you-know-what; retweeted neo-Nazis and a quote from Mussolini; denounced the outsourcing of American manufacturing jobs and products while outsourcing his own jobs and products; excoriated immigrants and foreign labor while hiring the same; advertised the Trump brand in every way imaginable; had a bromance with Vladimir Putin; threatened to let nuclear weapons proliferate; complained bitterly about a rigged election, rigged debates, a rigged moderator, and a rigged microphone; swore that he and he alone was capable of again making America, and so the world, a place of the sort of greatness only he himself could match, and that’s just to begin a list on the subject of The Donald.

Engelhardt highlights an aspect of Trump that more Americans need to see: Trump the Sore Loser.  Consider his first debate with Hillary Clinton.  Instead of taking personal responsibility (“I had a bad night, but I’ll win the next one”), Trump blamed everyone else and anything else.  The election’s rigged.  The media’s against me.  My mic was bad.  And so on.  Everyone’s accountable except himself.

In his sore losership, Trump is much like America.  One example: It took (some of) us nearly fifty years to get over defeat in the Vietnam War.  In fact, many U.S. “experts” still aren’t over it, arguing that America really won that war (like Trump argued he’d won the debate with Hillary at subsequent rallies), or alternatively that the war was “rigged,” i.e. that American troops were winning until they were stabbed in the back, betrayed by a hostile and biased media and pusillanimous and disloyal civilian leaders.  Really?

Here’s another telling excerpt from Engelhardt on Trump:

In relation to his Republican rivals, and now Hillary Clinton, he stands alone in accepting and highlighting what increasing numbers of Americans, especially white Americans, have evidently come to feel: that this country is in decline, its greatness a thing of the past, or as pollsters like to put it, that America is no longer “heading in the right direction” but is now “on the wrong track.”  In this way, he has mainlined into a deep, economically induced mindset, especially among white working class men facing a situation in which so many good jobs have headed elsewhere, that the world has turned sour.

Or think of it another way (and it may be the newest way of all): a significant part of the white working class, at least, feels as if, whether economically or psychologically, its back is up against the wall and there’s nowhere left to go.  Under such circumstances, many of these voters have evidently decided that they’re ready to send a literal loose cannon into the White House; they’re willing, that is, to take a chance on the roof collapsing, even if it collapses on them.

That is the new and unrecognizable role that Donald Trump has filled.  It’s hard to conjure up another example of it in our recent past. The Donald represents, as a friend of mine likes to say, the suicide bomber in us all. And voting for him, among other things, will be an act of nihilism, a mood that fits well with imperial decline.

Trump, in other words, embodies the resentment of Americans who are used to seeing themselves (and their country) as winners, but who now recognize, at least on some level, they are no longer winners – that they may be, horror of horrors, losers.  And, much like Trump, they are sore about this – but not sore (or honest) enough to look in the mirror.  No – far better to cast about for scapegoats, to shift the blame, to avoid taking any personal responsibility.

Trump is the Sore Loser of sore losers.  His (possibly winning?) appeal is to tell certain Americans exactly what they want to hear: That it’s not your fault that you’re losing.  No – it’s the fault of others.  Mexicans.  Muslims.  China.  Pushy women.  The liberal media.  You name it.

Trump, as Engelhardt notes, is a declinist candidate, a rare thing indeed.  But he’s declinist with a twist.  He’s not trying to motivate Americans to be better.  There’s no idealism to his pitch.  No appeal to the better angels of our nature.  No – Trump is all about finding (marginal and vulnerable) people to blame and punishing them.

Again, he’s the sorest of losers.  Come this November, Americans need to make sure he remains a loser.

Ignorance and Dishonesty: Trump, Hillary, and Nuclear Genocide

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Some honesty, please!

W.J. Astore

Should the United States reject the “first use” of nuclear weapons?  That question was put to Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump during their first debate.  Colonel (retired) Andrew Bacevich asks us to take their answers seriously in his latest insightful essay at TomDispatch.com, which I urge you to read here in full.

Trump was asked to respond first, and his rambling answer, I thought, showed the evidence of someone who had crammed for a test.  He was desperate to show he knew something – anything – about America’s nuclear forces (here some may recall how Trump obviously knew little about America’s nuclear triad during the Republican primary debates).  So Trump rambled on about obsolete B-52s flown by the sons and grandsons of previous pilots, a non sequitur since the B-52 has been continuously upgraded with new engines, advanced avionics, the latest in high-tech weaponry, and despite their age they’re still more than capable of doing the job.  But somebody must have told Trump to use the B-52’s age as a talking point, and he was determined to get it in.

As confused and incoherent as Trump’s reply was (read more about this at TomDispatch.com), at least he tried to grapple with the issue.  Trump did reject First Strike.  He did refer to the terror of nuclear war, even as he got lost in other talking points about North Korea, Iran, and allegations about how weak on national security Obama is.

By comparison, Clinton’s response was classic Hillary.  Avoid and evade.  Try to be all things to all voters.  Bloviate, in other words, as Warren G. Harding did in 1920.  In essence, Hillary ducked the question.  She refused to address the issue of first use of nuclear weapons; indeed, she didn’t address nuclear strategy and policy at all.  Instead, she drew a contrast between her experience and predictability versus Trump’s inexperience and unpredictability.  Her message was clear: I’m not talking about nuclear weapons or policy, except to say you shouldn’t trust Trump with the nuclear launch codes.

Who won on this question?  Bacevich is right to say neither candidate won, but it’s clear who lost: the American people.  And the world.

It’s shameful that this country hasn’t rejected the first use of nuclear weapons.  It’s also shameful that instead of working to eliminate nuclear weapons, the U.S. is actually planning to spend nearly a trillion dollars over the next 30 years to upgrade that arsenal.  For what possible strategic purpose, one must ask?  America’s current nuclear deterrent is the most powerful and survivable in the world.  No other country comes close.  There’s no rational reason to invest more money in nuclear weapons, unless you count the jobs and money related to building new nuclear submarines, weaponry, bombs, and all the other infrastructure related to America’s nuclear triad of Trident submarines, land-based bombers, and fixed missile silos.

Neither Trump nor Hillary addressed this issue.  Trump was simply ignorant.  Hillary was simply disingenuous.  Which candidate was worse?  When you’re talking about nuclear genocidal death, it surely does matter.  Ignorance is not bliss, nor is a lack of forthrightness and honesty.

Next time, Mr. Trump and Secretary Clinton, let’s have some rigor, some honesty, and some wisdom on the issue of nuclear weapons.  Not only America deserves it – the world does.

Does Trump Really Want to be President?

Trump holds a rally with supporters at the Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi, Michigan, U.S.
Throwing the presidency?  Or crazy like a fox?

W.J. Astore

Is Trump trying to lose?

It’s a serious question, and I’m not the first to ask it.  Michael Moore wrote an intriguing article that suggested Trump was deliberately trying to sabotage his own campaign.

Trump is seemingly doing his best to alienate everyone but white males driven by testosterone.  Today, he suggested that military veterans who suffer from PTSD do so because of their own failings, i.e. that they simply can’t handle what stronger veterans can handle.  Add this (careless? ignorant?) statement to attacks on a Gold Star mother, the denigration of John McCain’s military service and time as a POW, and all the other attacks on Mexicans, Muslims, even an entire gender (his high school locker room mentality when he talks about women), and you have to wonder how such behavior could possibly be part of a winning strategy.

Why would Trump want to be president?  To him, the salary is vanishingly low, and the workload incredibly high.  Sure, being president would feed his ego, but Trump is mainly driven by capitalist greed and the celebration of his own magnificence.  Being president is burdensome.  It can be tedious, even boring.  It requires discipline.  Self-control.  These are realities that don’t play to Trump’s strengths.

Trump is a showman.  A braggart.  A strutter.  He’s thinks of himself as the biggest fish in the smallest pond.  He seems to delight in thrashing around and upsetting all the little fish.  But he’ll have precious little chance of doing this if he’s shackled to the Oval Office and all the responsibilities that office entails.

One thing is certain: Trump is rewriting all the rules of U.S. presidential politics.  It’s hard to keep track of the constituencies he’s offended, the bridges he’s burned, the leaders he’s estranged.  That he can still win it all is incredible: indeed, it may be incredible even to Trump.

Trump, I believe, would personally profit far more from losing the “rigged” election than winning it.  If he loses, he becomes a martyr, at least in the minds of his followers.  He can build a Trump Network/conglomerate that taps all the voters he’s rallied — and riled.  He can milk them for all the money they’re worth, and bask in their adulation while being unencumbered by the real responsibilities of holding public office.

By losing, in other words, he’ll really be winning.  Between now and the election, look for more outrageous statements by and from Trump.  He already knows he can say or do almost anything without losing his core supporters.  (As he himself boasted, he could shoot someone in cold blood in New York City and his loyal followers wouldn’t blink.)

Look for him to lose in November as well.  And then look for him to clean up — big-time.