What Hillary Clinton said may have been politically unwise but was also obviously true: Many Donald Trump supporters are motivated by racism.
“Just to be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables,” said Clinton at a New York fundraiser on Friday night, where access was purchased at a price of $1,200 to $250,000. “They’re racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic—you name it,” she said.
“But the other basket ... of people are people who feel that the government has let them down, the economy has let them down, nobody cares about them, nobody worries about what happens to their lives and their futures, and they’re just desperate for change,” Clinton added. “Those are people we have to understand and empathize with as well.”
Trump, feigning outrage, has gleefully seized on Clinton’s comments, and most observers believe they were impolitic. This is all, however, missing an important point: Clinton was wrong to divide Trump voters between the bigoted and economically anxious because many are both, and the two things are interrelated. For many, it’s just one big basket. Clinton, in drawing a distinction between the racists and the justly upset, echoes a broader and mostly unhelpful debate about whether Trump supporters are motivated by economic anxiety or bigotry: The clear answer, contrary to Matthew Yglesias and company, is “often both.”
Yes, Trump is getting a lot of support from professional racists on the white supremacist and alt-right, and reducing his base of support to any single constituency is a fool’s errand. But for many Trump voters, anger and anxiety over economic decline and precarity, the rising status of women and people of color, demographic change caused by immigration, and the country’s waning global power after more than a decade of costly and futile global warfare, are all wrapped into one big sense of foreboding terror. Trump promises relief and a reversion to something that was, in senses both real and imagined, better.
There is a lot that’s new about Trump. But the intersection of exploitative economics and white supremacy certainly isn’t: White economic anxiety is used to foment racism, and racism is manipulated to further elite economic interests.
As Michelle Alexander has written, America’s racial caste system has long been perpetuated by “appealing to the racism and vulnerability of lower-class whites, a group of people who are understandably eager to ensure that they never find themselves trapped at the bottom of the American totem pole."
The Southern slave-owning aristocracy and the Jim Crow governments that took power after Reconstruction’s defeat peddled white supremacy to protect a political-economic order that not only terrorized blacks but that also kept poor whites on the margins. As historian Ira Katznelson detailed in “Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time,” Southern Democrats during the New Deal era used their hold on Congress to leverage this divide and conquer logic on the national scene. They blocked civil rights measures and also obstructed the growth of a labor movement poised to improve the condition of workers across the racial divide and in doing so threaten Jim Crow.
Later, the modern conservative movement once again used racism toward economically reactionary ends, employing “racial dog whistles to transmute white anxiety into support for conservative economic policies that have harmed us all,” as Ian Haney-LÃ³pez and Heather McGhee wrote for The Nation.
“Beginning in the 1970s, conservatives deployed a highly racialized strategy that relentlessly linked public institutions to undeserving minorities in order to undo the country’s social contract,” Haney-LÃ³pez and McGhee continued. “The reactionary economic agenda made possible by dog-whistle politics is responsible not just for the devaluing of black lives but for the declining fortunes of the majority of white families.”
Talking about poor and working class people like they are research specimens and not human beings to very wealthy people at an exclusive fundraiser tends to not be a good look, as Barack Obama and Mitt Romney both discovered. But it’s not just bad optics. It’s crummy politics. The business-friendly agenda historically embraced by the Clintons fails to answer working-class white people’s economic concerns and in doing so actually fuels the fires of racism.
Opposing racism as some transcendent and ahistorical force obscures the fact that racism functions to not only keep people of color down but also to keep the 1 percent in charge. America’s racial caste system depends on white supremacy to ensure white privileges and oligarchic prerogatives. And so Clinton is right: We should understand and empathize with many Trump voters—not because establishment liberalism has much to offer them but because their problems are bound up with those of the people wom they hate.
A drug normally used to tranquilize livestock and elephants is now being ingested by human users to disastrous ends and may have contributed to a recent spate of overdoses in Cincinnati. It’s a powerful opioid called carfentanil, and is only the latest such drug with a funny name to burst onto the national scene: Fentanyl now rivals heroin as a leading cause of overdose deaths, and another drug called Opana fueled an HIV epidemic in Indiana. But as the opioid crisis cuts its widening swath across the country, an important fact often remains invisible: Heroin prohibition is driving the problem, not fixing it.
Legalizing and regulating unsavory drugs remains a controversial proposition. For many people, legalization and regulation seem to confer or imply approval. But the logic behind doing so is straightforward: the most dangerous things about opioid addiction, including ingesting drugs of unknown provenance and quality, and disastrously reorganizing one’s life to pay for a fix, are in large part byproducts of a drug’s illegal status.
Prohibiting dangerous substances has not only clearly failed to keep people from using them, it has also made the use of those substances more dangerous. And it has incentivized the rise of more dangerous opiates, because drug traffickers benefit from packing the highest level of potency into the smallest shipment at the lowest cost possible. To the extent that people who take fentanyl largely would prefer heroin, access to regulated heroin used under medical supervision would keep many from dying by overdose, and would help drive more potent narcotic interlopers like fentanyl from the market.
This is a debate worth having, and a debate that can be won. Most people, if they really think about it, oppose heroin for common-sense reasons, not as an end but as a means. The idea isn’t simply that we don’t want people to use heroin. More importantly, we don’t want people to use heroin because it so often makes them sick, miserable or dead. So the goal should be to reduce, as dramatically as possible, the sickness, misery and death associated with the drug’s use. Heroin prohibition isn’t the way to do that. In fact, it causes more of everything we don’t want.
These are the basic arguments undergirding a philosophy known as harm reduction. It’s an approach that, now more than ever, is winning new adherents. Officials in some states and cities are exploring the creation of supervised drug use sites, which has shown evidence of decreasing overdose deaths in Vancouver, Canada. In Maryland, one lawmaker has introduced legislation that would make pharmaceutical heroin, overseen by a doctor, available to users in some cases. Just last year, the federal government finally lifted its ban on funding needle exchanges. Harm reduction measures don’t encourage people to use drugs. In fact, they can make it easier for people to seek and access treatment when they are ready — treatment that they’ll be in a better position to make use of if their lives haven’t been destroyed beforehand.
The drug war has lost credibility with the public because it is a demonstrable failure, and law enforcement has in many places shifted to handling drug addiction as a matter of public health. That’s a good first step. As a recent New York Times investigation makes clear, it’s not happening everywhere: Many rural and suburban areas are cracking down harder than ever, even as cities ease up. And some prosecutors, including United States Attorneys’ offices under the Obama administration, are in some cases pursuing unusually harsh sentences against opioid dealers, in the mistaken belief that it will ease the crisis. Even when it comes to drug users, the U.S. is far from embracing decriminalization, as Portugal has done with great success.
Locking up drug dealers doesn’t stop the flow of drugs, and keeping drug users out of jail isn’t enough to keep them safe. The only way to confront the overdose crisis is to replace the underground criminal market with an aboveground legal market, turning a profit opportunity for drug cartels into a government-supervised public health endeavor. We can’t limit drug legalization to drugs we don’t think are that bad in the first place, like marijuana. Too many people are dying. The war against drugs, all drugs, is making things worse.
The generally horrible state of the world entices people to blow small pieces of good news entirely out of proportion. Such was the case last week, when the Department of Justice announced that it would phase out the use of private prisons to hold federal inmates. Contrary to popular belief, however, private prisons play a very small role in American mass incarceration, as Vox’s Dara Lind explained in a corrective tweet.
Most prisons aren't private. Most private prisons aren't federal. Most fed private prisons are run by DHS. New memo affects 13 prisons.— Dara Lind (@Dara Lind)1471534755.0
As of December 2015, just 12 percent of federal prisoners were in private facilities, most of them immigrants convicted of offenses like illegal reentry. What’s more, immigrants detained in private facilities pending deportation are in Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody, and won’t be affected by the DOJ announcement. Those detention centers can be a deadly nightmare for the hundreds of thousands held in the majority-private system each year, according to a July Human Rights Watch report.
It would be a good thing if other federal agencies like the Department of Homeland Security, under which ICE operates, followed Justice’s lead, as Human Rights Watch and The New York Times have proposed. But even if they did, the core problem is that our society incarcerates too many people, not the details of who incarcerates them or how. Roughly 193,461 people are still imprisoned in federal facilities (including 16,715 convicted of immigration crimes), the vast majority of which are public rather than private. Another 1.2-odd million people are incarcerated in overwhelmingly public state prisons, plus hundreds of thousands more held in local jails.
As of the end of 2014, just 8.4 percent of federal and state prisoners were incarcerated in private prisons. It’s revolting that private business turns a profit from mass incarceration. But the carceral state — meaning a government that in recent decades has been fundamentally organized to police and punish en masse — is a political problem, a disaster created and perpetuated by the state. Cutting private companies out of the deal won’t make things that much better.
Libertarians certainly shouldn’t gloat over this public-sector disaster: Economics has played a key role in the rise and persistence of mass incarceration, which is a problem not of too much government, but the wrong kind of government. As Marie Gottschalk notes in her book “Caught: The Prison State and the Lockdown of American Politics,” “the prison boom created and empowered new political and economic interests that have a large stake in maintaining the carceral state,” including “guards’ unions, private prison companies, public bond dealers, and the suppliers of everything from telephone services to Taser stun guns.”
More generally, mass incarceration arose to discipline and control a disproportionately black economic underclass largely excluded from the post-war economic boom and negatively affected by the transition to a post-industrial service economy that has followed. Mass incarceration took root because we have a government that invests in policing and prisons to deal with problems — economic marginalization, addiction, mental illness, domestic and gun violence — instead of social services and decent jobs to prevent and ameliorate them. It’s not just a budgetary tradeoff: the government’s role in perpetuating inequality and segregation produces criminality and the criminals for the government to lock up.
The idea that mass incarceration is driven by a conspiratorial pact between government and business, or a prison-industrial complex, is undeniably seductive. To borrow a seminal phrase from anthropologist Claude LÃ©vi-Strauss, it is “good to think” with: the relationship between a rampantly exploitative private sector and a complicit state ruled by oligarchs makes sense of a carceral status quo that feeds off and enforces dispossession and exploitation. It also jibes with the ideology of leftists, who were willing to criticize policies of mass incarceration long before that became politically trendy. After all, so much wrong with our society, from worker exploitation to environmental degradation, derives in significant part from the insatiable corporate appetite for profits. It’s not a bad hunch. Private prisons appear to be the apotheosis of a political and economic system that values certain human lives at almost nothing.
Michelle Alexander, criticizing the notion that there is a quick technical fix to American policing, wrote that a real solution requires that we “get honest with ourselves about who our democracy actually serves and protects.” The same holds true for our bloated prison system, which is filled by police and prosecutors enforcing democratically approved criminal statutes as ordered by the elected officials who ultimately supervise them.
Black Lives Matter, Occupy Wall Street and a broader youthful revolt against a status quo of mass immiseration have forced some progress. The rate at which people are being incarcerated has already declined; it’s just not declining fast enough, given the huge number of people serving incredibly long sentences, to render this country’s prison population less outrageous anytime soon.
The bad news is that the state made mass incarceration, and fighting privatization and profiteering aren’t enough to undo it. The good news is that we live in a democracy, however flawed, and through the hard work of organizing a transformative political movement, critics can take the state over. It won’t be easy. But the past few years of mass mobilizations in the streets and at the ballot box suggest that it can be done.
Hillary Clinton Is Tossing a Lifeline to Down-Ballot GOPers, but Is Pulling Punches Against Conservatism a Smart Idea?
Donald Trump has made this election, like everything else, about Donald Trump. Hillary Clinton, happily skewering him as he blows up his campaign with ruinous attacks on fellow Republicans and myriad others, has zero problems with this. But critics on the left do, because by playing it safe Clinton is sending troubling if unsurprising signals about the agenda she will set as president, and also missing a historic opportunity to crush the Republican Party in a moment of acute vulnerability. Instead of aggressively making the case that Trump represents the worst of Republican greed and bigotry, she is inviting their leaders and donors to join her campaign en masse.
“He’s taken the Republican Party a long way from ‘Morning in America’ to ‘Midnight in America,’” Clinton warned in her convention speech, praising Ronald Reagan. She went on to peddle the class equivalent of “All Lives Matter,” pledging to “be a President for Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. For the struggling, the striving the successful. For all those who vote for me and for those who don’t. For all Americans together!”
It shouldn’t be a radical proposition to say that Henry Kissinger, Meg Whitman, Mark Cuban, Robert Kagan and Michael Bloomberg have no place in any political program seeking to make the United States a better place. But yesterday, the campaign launched Together for America to coordinate a mounting outreach effort to the very frightened legislators, national security hawks and rich people who have made things so horrible for so many here and around the world. It’s a country-first campaign conveyed through a stunning display of elite unity, pining for the lost days of Washington consensus politics instead of putting forward a substantive transformational agenda.
The strategy, as Carl Beijer writes, poses a more immediate electoral risk as well. Trump’s historic weakness as a candidate, he writes, “should create an extraordinary opportunity for the American liberal-left. As the standard-bearer for the Democratic party, Clinton is in a position to press this advantage against her political opposition and make them pay as high a price as possible for nominating such an unpopular candidate.”
That, of course, is not what’s happening. DNC Communications Director Luis Miranda complained that the Clinton campaign has requested that they not tie Trump to down-ballot Republicans, according to a Wikileaked email attributed to him and dated May 16. Instead, of holding candidates responsible for nominating a monster that reflects the party’s worst, the campaign wanted to celebrate the fleeing Republicans and distinguish Trump as abnormal.
The Clinton campaign, Miranda charged, would force the DNC “to throw out our entire frame that the GOP made Trump through years of divisive and ugly politics. We would have to say that Republicans are reasonable and that the good ones will shun Trump.”
Clinton’s bid to forge an anti-Trump consensus is a reincarnation of what Sarah Palin dubbed “that hopey-changey stuff”: Obama’s rapturous promise that his charisma and the basic goodness of American people could transcend partisan rancor. Clinton, like Obama but minus the charisma, is running not so much as a Democrat but as a bipartisan tribune of democracy—this time against what’s perceived to be an unprecedented threat of authoritarianism and chaos.
She’s running not against the billionaire class, as Bernie Sanders did, but against one outrageous individual who purports to be a billionaire. It’s a negative campaign but a bad one: instead of demonizing the Republican Party agenda, with its fealty to corporate America and scapegoating of racial, religious and sexual minorities, it attacks that party’s apotheosis, Donald Trump, as an aberration who must be defeated for the sake of protecting democracy.
Obama set the tone at the convention, praising Ronald Reagan as an icon who Trump has defiled, and declaring that “America is already great.”
Positive economic indicators notwithstanding, this is tone deaf given the state of economic misery and xenophobic anger coursing through both parties this year. Obama, however, does know from his own experience that this message has beat out Republican intransigence at the ballot box—at least for the presidency. In 2008, Obama delivered the warm, therapeutic salve that many voters wanted after Bush.
It has not, however, been much of a success down ballot: Democrats lost control of Congress and a huge number of state-level offices. This is in part thanks to Republican redistricting designs, and the non-proportional manner in which the country draws congressional and statehouse districts: more Americans voted for House Democrats in 2012 than Republicans yet Republicans nonetheless won a solid majority.
But Obama can still be faulted for not not broadly attacking the Republican agenda and for failing to articulate a coherent and transformational alternative. Democrats trotted out piecemeal reforms—and the disastrous capitulation of a proposed Social Security cut—to confront an expansive conservative blueprint drawn from religious and economic ideologues. Reaching their hand across the aisle, they were met time and again with the cold shoulder. After the 2010 Tea Party wave ushered in an overwhelmingly right-wing Congress it’s hard to know what Obama was thinking.
There is, of course, a Clintonian path to bipartisan cooperation, as is evidenced by some its key accomplishments in recent decades: NAFTA, financial deregulation and the Iraq War. Her current recruitment of disaffected Republicans is supposed to be pragmatic. In reality, it is the source of the very sort of policy disasters that have fomented the rise of Trump on the right and Sanders on the left.
“We are actually seeing a class solidarity of Washington careerists, policy wonks, the national security state and the media,” Olivier Jutel writes. “This open solidarity of the experts and elite is precisely what animates the fascist imaginary of the puppet masters undermining the American people’s natural order.”
There is a counterargument to be made: It’s possible that Clinton will best aid down-ticket candidates by driving up her margins by any means necessary. But this year, the strategy seems unwise: though ticket-splitting has withered in recent years, it is precisely what Republican down-ballot candidates are counting on for their salvation. And so far, most Republican incumbents are outperforming Trump in polls. Why toss Republican incumbents in Ohio, Wisconsin, Illinois, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and Florida a lifeline?
What excited many people about Sanders campaign was that he articulated a big picture vision of what the United States should be like. This frustrated pundits to no end. But what Sanders understood is that successful negotiations are impossible without a clear idea of what one wants to achieve in the ideal. At present, the Clinton campaign is dreaming small and peddling in nightmares. I’ll be pleasantly surprised if Clinton ends up being a better president than I worry she will be, at least on the domestic side. The mass investments in infrastructure and free (if limited) public university tuition she supports would be huge. But promoting elite consensus politics, under the depoliticized guise of national unity, risks handing Clinton a mandate empty of anything substantive aside from “never Trump.”
Sanders would no doubt have approached a general election matchup with Trump rather differently, emphasizing not only his profound lack of human decency but also pillorying him as the cartoonish icon of avarice and hate that the Republican Party so richly deserves. You can imagine what Sanders would have told Whitman and Bloomberg to do with their money. Hell, the money never would have been offered. But Sanders lost. Clinton is now the candidate she was destined to become. Will it nudge up her margin of victory? Maybe. Will it deliver the political moment necessary for a transformative presidency? Unlikely. Clinton, with such a good chance of beating Trump, is highlighting the very limits of Clintonism by pulling her punches against conservatism.
Insulting the parents of a soldier killed in action because they are Muslim is unacceptable, Republicans are forced to concede.
“I hope Americans understand that the remarks do not represent the views of our Republican Party, its officers, or candidates,” said Senator John McCain, in response to views expressed by Donald Trump, his party’s candidate for president. “While our party has bestowed upon him the nomination, it is not accompanied by unfettered license to defame those who are the best among us.”
Never forget that McCain, a purported font of maverick sincerity and bipartisan morality, chose Sarah Palin to be his running mate eight years ago. McCain is not a force for moderation. Rather, he is part of the modern conservative movement, which leverages white supremacy to protect the financial prerogatives of the wealthy, and in doing so helped create Donald Trump. The notion that Trump is an unacceptable deviation from acceptable conservatism is useful fodder for mainstream Democrats, too: recall that at the convention, President Obama held up Reagan as an honorable conservative whose legacy Trump has debased. But attacking Trump as an aberration absolves the very conservative movement (and the liberal establishment it helped mold in feeble opposition) that systematically created his base of support.
Meanwhile, leftist analyses of Trump veer between emphasizing that he’s new and scary on the one hand, and that he is a continuation of horrible business as usual on the other. In fairness, it’s a tough balance to strike. Trump’s surprise political career has been built upon violent xenophobic rants, sexist insults and the public stroking of his all-consuming ego. Much of what’s new (aside from the clinical narcissism) is that sentiments once articulated alongside barely plausible deniability are now blasted out unapologetically from a megaphone. This is precisely what years of Fox News, birtherism and culture war hysterics explaining what’s wrong with the world have primed a large chunk of Americans to want.
“They won’t like me for saying that,” said Trump, after saying something horrible. “I like the fact that he is not afraid to say what we’re all thinking,” said a fan.
Both Trump’s claimed rebel identity and the Republican establishment’s response to it exceptionalizes what has long been standard practice on the American right. Basic decency has never been highly valued by conservatives, and even the particulars of Trump’s attack on the parents of Captain Humayun Khan are familiar. In 2004, George W. Bush’s campaign benefited from Swift Boat Veterans for Truth’s smears that John Kerry, a decorated Vietnam War veteran turned protester, had lied about his service. Karl Rove, the brain behind Bush’s rise to power, called Gold Star mom Cindy Sheehan, a protester against the Iraq War that killed her son, “a clown.”
For the right, hypocrisy is more a feature than a bug, less a moral failing than a political tool. Bill Clinton’s avoiding service in Vietnam mattered, and Trump and George W. Bush doing the same does not. Bill Clinton’s sexual history matters, and that of Trump—and Newt Gingrich, and for a while at least, David Vitter—have not. Obama’s religion is a matter of debate. Trump gets away with insisting that he likes the Bible even more than “The Art of the Deal.”
Though Trump is not much of a Christian — and is on his third marriage to an immigrant model who has posed nude and may have committed visa fraud—he is beloved by much of the Christian and anti-immigrant right. The right’s professed fetishes for country, family and God have been exposed to be proxies for the fundamentals of conservative politics: order, security, white supremacy, patriarchy. Perpetual war, economic crisis and mass incarceration have showcased the limits of American power rather than its exceptional quality. In 2016, the right’s various pieties have melted away, revealing the naked pathos and violent nostalgia at their core.
It is tempting to think that Trump finally went too far with his attack on the Khans, pushing his campaign perilously close to the edge of a narcissism-driven death spiral that will swallow his authoritarian ambitions in a purifying conflagration. But all the pundits who wrote him off so many times during the primary should refrain, promising new polls notwithstanding, from doing so now. Last July, when Trump insulted John McCain for having been captured in Vietnam, all conventional political norms should have been considered shattered. After all, it was when Joe McCarthy went after members of his own party and the national security establishment, Corey Robin writes, that he met his downfall. With his attack on McCain, it seemed that Trump had likewise turned on the wrong person, and most of the smart people bet against him en masse. A year later, he is the nominee. And feuding with Paul Ryan.
Trump’s rebellion, of course, isn’t about a revolutionary change in relations of power but about putting a more competent person in power. Establishment elites, Trump says, have failed at their job; only an outsider candidate can bolster the status quo of ethno-racial hierarchy and national preeminence. It’s brash, fresh violence intended to resurrect an immiserating status quo that was for decades maintained by the violence of war-making and prison-building. It looks like Trump will lose but it’s as unclear as ever what that means. He has said the election might be rigged, and advisor Roger Stone foresees a Clinton victory unleashing a “bloodbath.” Trump is the apotheosis and unraveling of an American political tradition that has always been indecent.
“They know that we will not bring a bill that takes away a person’s constitutionally guaranteed rights…without due process,” said Paul Ryan, dismissing the recently terminated Democratic sit-in for legislation that would bar those on government terror watch lists from purchasing guns as a “publicity stunt.”
Clearly, Republicans don’t actually care about civil liberties except where it concerns their distorted reading of the Second Amendment, or about civil rights aside from a twisted conception related to the interests of the white majority. But it’s true that the sit in, and the entire campaign to bar those on the terror watch lists, is nothing more than a really bad idea generated at the intersection of social-media-era public relations, a partisan general election, bloody tragedy and the grinding war on terror.
The legislation would not stop the vast majority of shooters, minor and major, from buying guns and would bolster the legitimacy of Orwellian watch lists that are discriminatory and entirely fail to give those trapped on them anything resembling due process rights.
“We oppose the Terrorist Firearms Prevention Act of 2016 because it appears to limit the ban on firearms purchases to American Muslims and seems to be more concerned about an appeals process to obtain a firearm, instead of creating a similar process for listed individuals to challenge watch list designations,” the Council on American-Islamic Relations said in a statement. “It would seem the Senate is willing to only apply constitutional limitations on the American Muslim community, which is disproportionately impacted by federal watch lists.”
The campaign isn’t about gun control. Banning assault weapons would be gun control. Instead, this is a ploy born of election-season opportunism: how better to flip the script on Republicans than by accusing them of facilitating the transfer of weaponry to ISIS? “Who’s soft on terror now?” the advertisements will say.
The Democrats’ campaign, however, should inspire nothing but cynicism. The terror watch lists, as the ACLU has tried to argue amid deafening liberal war cries, are brazen rights violations.
Gun violence in America, by and large, has nothing to do with suspected terrorists buying guns. Rather, it is rooted in the fact that far too many ordinary Americans have guns, including high-powered assault rifles like those used in Orlando and Sandy Hook. And the vast majority of gun deaths, of course, occur in poor, non-white neighborhoods, often as a result of internecine feuds fomented by poverty and marginalization.
But the imagination of gun control advocates is all the time warped by America’s worst policy instincts. Measures to deal with urban gun violence by toughening sentences for illegal gun possession fuel the long-term growth of the prison system and fail to address the issues underlying street conflicts. Attempting to stem mass shootings by leveraging despotic watch lists and scapegoating Islamic terrorism will likewise evade root causes and ideologically legitimizes the treatment of terrorism suspects, broadly conceived in the hundreds of thousands by a voracious security state, as bona fide terrorists.
The Democrats are trying to beat Republicans at a war-on-terror contest that has always played to the right’s advantage. It’s a fight that can’t be “won” because the only possible winner is the security state and a war on terror that will emerge more resilient and less vulnerable to challenge. Liberals briefly insisted that the Orlando attack be viewed through the prism of homophobia and guns, and not primarily as an act of critical-thought-stopping terrorism. That, apparently, has changed. And that’s profoundly sad. If the goal is to ban assault weapons, the demand should be that they be banned. Taking a ban off the table in the face of Republican intransience, in exchange for these absurd and harmful half measures that will also go nowhere anytime soon, strictly limits the possibility that a real debate will go anywhere in the future.
This is not gun control. Democrats are sitting in to give up real gun control and also the slightest pretense that the war on terror has been an unmitigated disaster that must be brought to an end.
And so it begins: Hillary Clinton vaguely entreats voters to cast aside color-coded maps and “get on the American team” as her allies make “a furious round of calls to top Bush family donors to try to convince them that she represents their values better than Donald Trump.” Meanwhile, Trump publicly scarfs down a taco bowl and exclaims that he “loves Hispanics,” insulting Mexican food with the same vigor he has insulted Mexican people. This election is going to be horrible.
November will pit the most unpopular major party presidential candidate in recent history against the second most unpopular one. Eight years after Democrats embraced “hope” and “change,” the presumptive nominees can offer a restless electorate little more than dread. This campaign, of course, will be waged on fear. Trump will tell voters to be afraid of Muslims and Mexicans. Clinton will remind voters that the president has access to the nuclear launch codes, and that Donald Trump is, in fact, terrifying. An experienced hawk versus an unstable isolationist.
Trump’s clownish demagoguery is dangerous. But it also plays to Clinton’s strength by moving the debate away from the neoliberal economic record that harmed her during the primary. She can both embrace multiculturalism while aligning herself with Wall Street and the national security state. Clinton will likely peel off a good chunk of the conservative foreign policy establishment and in March, she raised a majority of Wall Street donations.
For Republicans, it is useful to pretend that Trump’s outbursts rather than his lack of right-wing bona fides is what offends. True to form, the Cruz camp is mobilizing “to protect against liberal changes to our platform” at the convention and to ensure that “girls go in girls bathrooms.” Today’s Republican Party is composed of one faction interested in Trump’s genitalia and another interested in everyone else’s. But Trump, the establishment would have you believe, is disgracing an otherwise dignified party.
“If the party walks away from any of its clearly cut social, family values issues, it will be an issue,” Family Research Council president Tony Perkins told the AP. “We’re not just going to fall in line because he’s the nominee.”
As for Clinton, she can depend on voters like Jan Franck, who told the New York Times that the candidate “could be a sock puppet running against Donald Trump, and I’d vote for her.” A recent Reuters poll found that a plurality of Clinton and Trump voters planned to back their nominee primarily because they wanted to stop the opposing candidate. She can also, of course, depend on a strong base of support amongst older black voters. As historian Eric Foner writes, they know first-hand the real dangers posed by right-wing figures happy to wage an unreconstructed assault on them. Their fear is real.
It’s late in the game, but worth mentioning that Bernie Sanders has had the highest net favorability rating of any candidate. Sanders’ popularity might, as some argue, reflect that voters don’t know enough about him. But in American politics, the word “socialist” not automatically turning a voter off is pretty good news for a socialist politician. And if someone knows one thing about Sanders, it’s that he’s a socialist of some variety.
Barring divine intervention or nearly impossible indictment, however, Sanders will not win. Yet the remaining primaries still hold out the promise of embarrassing Clinton by highlighting her weakness with the very economically precarious white people in states like West Virginia to whom Trump makes his pitch.
“The stress is unbearable, living in poverty,” said Erica Lucas, according to the Charleston Gazette-Mail account of a Sanders forum on poverty in McDowell County, where more than half of all households earn less than $25,000 a year. “And you don’t have anything else, so either you take drugs or you fight through.”
The Democratic Party, however, hopes that Lucas might purchase their new hat. It reads, “America is already great.” America is indeed exceptional in that it possesses so much wealth but distributes so little of it to average people.
The Democratic Party might not suffer for their blitheness: pundits are once again insisting that Trump has no chance, and this time he likely doesn’t. But some humility might be in order given the recent epic fail of professional prognosticators and a newly released poll showing the candidates in a dead heat in critical swing states Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio. People are already picking holes in the poll’s sample for skewing too white. After the debacle we just experienced, however, it’s probably time to shatter the wonks’ crystal balls.
As for the Sanders campaign, it has hinted that it would be handling Trump rather differently.
“The Democratic Party is the party that passed the Social Security Act, a 40 hour work week and the minimum wage, Medicare, the Civil Rights Act and much more,” emailed Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver in a recent fundraising pitch. “Surely we can aspire to more than simply convincing enough Americans that a reality television star should never be our president.”
West Virginia voted yesterday, and voters decisively backed Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist in a state the Clintons have always won—in large part likely because of racism in 2008. But this time, Clinton has faced protesters, angry over a to-be-sure taken out context statement that the country was going to “put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business."
Sanders, who has been far more outspoken about global warming than Clinton, has not taken such heat. Why? I think the answer is obvious and important: Sanders is mapping out a transformational vision of a better future. Advancing a green agenda without proposing a clear economic alternative, as neoliberal environmentalists do, pushes miners into their bosses’ corner.
The Sanders vote, however, requires more scrutiny: more than a third of Sanders supporters said they would vote for Trump over Sanders in November. Some analysts claim that voters casted an anti-Clinton “mischief” vote. This is probably part of the story, given that more than 40-percent of West Virginia Democrats voted for a no-name federal inmate over Obama in 2012. But a more straightforward idea, I think, is just that this chunk of Sanders voters prefer Trump to Sanders and Sanders to Clinton—which means that Sanders would have a better shot at winning them over in November.
It would take in-depth reporting to determine what the West Virginia electorate is thinking and sadly, most people paid to write about this right now are sitting at computers, looking at numbers, far from West Virginia. Whatever the truth, the New York Times’ declaration that “Mr. Sanders’s victory was less about policy differences with Mrs. Clinton…than about the state’s demographics” is nonsensical: there is alway a reason that a given demographic group leans in a one political direction or another.
Sanders success with white working class voters suggests a longtime left-wing talking point was prescient: Highlighting class conflict is the only way to move the anger away from land-use battles and culture-war bigotries. Don Blankenship, the former CEO of Massey Energy sentenced to a year in prison for safety violations after 29 miners died in one of his mines, knows this is true: He showed up at an anti-Clinton protest.
Republicans are sheltering in place, confident that they can at least hold onto the House of Representatives thanks to the warped and unrepresentative manner in which America apportions the weight of votes. If Trump is blown out in November as expected, lessons will be learned. They are, however, guaranteed to be stupid lessons about the pitfalls of running a candidate with anything short of sterling right-wing credentials. As for Clinton, she will probably win, thanks to the inspiring campaign message, “I’m not Trump.” Next time, that kind of message might not win Democrats much at all.