The Idiotic Lecture I Keep Getting
A recurrent problem with some who read Left essays on U.S. politics is that a writer of such essays can’t criticize a Republican policymaker or politician without some “radical” reader sending that writer a snotty lecture on the writer’s supposed failure to understand that Barack Obama, the Clintons, Nancy Pelosi, and rest of the top Democrats are terrible too.
It’s very odd. It doesn’t matter how many times I have quoted the young Upton Sinclair or Eugene Debs on how the two dominant and capitalist U.S. political organizations are (in Sinclair’s words in 1904) “two wings of the same bird of prey.” It’s irrelevant how many times I have used the late Sheldon Wolin’s phrase “inauthentic opposition” to describe the Democrats – or how many times I’ve noted that that both reigning parties are captive to the same “unelected and interrelated dictatorship of money and empire.”
If I dare to criticize Donald Trump, I will get the same absurd online messages telling me that I am an apologist for the party of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and that I need to understand that the Democrats are capitalist and imperialist. “Paul,” one of these clowns – I’ll call him Big Bad Bob – recently wrote me:
“stop buy[ing] into the ‘Big Bad Republicans’ line. It’s a Con Game designed to implant the idea in the minds of the public that there is a genuine difference between the Democrats and the Republicans. They are a team. Need to read that again? THE DEMOCRATS AND REPUBLICANS ARE A TEAM! Both of them are paid and working for the Bad Guys, the centers of Capitalist power. Stop cooking up rationalizations of why your candidate is better than the other guy. They are both Capitalists and Imperialists.”
Gee, you don’t say. I had no idea.
Do I really have to attach an end-note listing my publications and speeches about and against Obama, the Clintons, and the Dems (an end-note that would run at least five pages even with a small font) every time I criticize a Republican? Do I seriously have to prove for the thousandth time my grasp of the elementary fact that the Democrats and Republicans “are both capitalists and imperialists”? (Though I never say they’re identical, with no differences at all, because that would be idiotic: the “two wings of the same bird of prey” have different if joined histories, different ethnocultural/demographic and regional constituencies, different funding bases, and different ideological and other permutations, of course. They need some real differences order to sell the corporate and imperial duopoly as “democratic” politics).
Imagining a Hillary Clinton Presidency So Far
Here, for it’s worth, are my reflections on what would be happening in America right now if Hillary Clinton (who Big Bad Bob calls “your [my] candidate”) had managed to squeak out an Electoral College victory (a far from fantastic possibility) last November. Yes, we would have been spared many of the terrible outrages, indignities and absurdities of the orange-tinted, malignantly narcissistic, Twitter-addicted, and eco-cidal beast called Donald Trump. But it wouldn’t be a pretty story, trust me.
Let’s start with the very elementary fact that Trump would not have conceded defeat. Recall that candidate Trump incredibly refused to honor the result of the election unless he emerged as the winner. The political campaign consultant and occasional CounterPuncher Geoff Beckman all-too commonsensically elaborates:
“Trump won the election by 77 electoral votes and he still screamed about 5-8 million phony voters and hired Kris Kobach and Hans Van Spakovsky to ensure that Democrats were barred from voting. Had he lost in a few states by 1%, he would have said the election was fixed and demanded recounts. Hilary — showing the dearth of sense for which she is known and reviled– would have demanded that there be no recounts (‘Al Gore don’t get a recount– why should he?’). Since a number of those states were in Republican hands, you would have had [Wisconsin Governor] Scott Walker, [Michigan Governor] Rick Snyder and maybe [Ohio Governor] John Kasich working against her. That would have gone on for months.”
Let’s assume Hillary Clinton survived a recount. Washington would be mired in the worst crippling partisan warfare since 1861. Congress would be in full revolt. The presidency would be endlessly mired in the email scandal. “And,” Beckman reminded two days ago, the Republicans’ “thing #1 (after another Obamacare repeal) would have been impeachment based on her email server.”
Indeed. Impeachment would have been a strong likelihood given the partisan balance in the House, though conviction and removal (requiring two-thirds of the Senate) would likely have been avoided.
Meanwhile, the right-wing militias (at least 500 strong near the end of Obama’s reign) would be on the murderous march. Who knows what their homeland body count would be by now with Trump, Breitbart, Sean Hannity, Alex Jones and Rush Limbaugh et al. egging them on to new levels of frothing white-nationalist and hyper-masculinist paranoia and violence?
“Crooked Hillary” has long been the gun-toting hard-right’s top bete noire – a bigger enemy for them than even the dastardly “Kenyan Marxist-Lenninist and Reparations Advocate Barack Obama”? A Clinton45 presidency would have pushed the looney-tunes, paranoid-style right into new heights of apocalyptic brutality.
The Clinton 45 administration would be loaded with top globalist ruling-class and imperial operatives from Wall Street and the Council on Foreign Relations. A dangerous Russophobic war hawk and a dedicated enemy of left popular nationalism in Latin America, Mrs. Clinton might well have initiated significant direct and dangerous military conflict with Russia in Syria or Ukraine and already orchestrated a U.S overthrow of the Maduro regime in Venezuela. She would be doing this to the measured applause of CNN, MSNBC, the New York Times, and the Washington Post.
Just how much a President Hillary’s likely mass-murderous militarism would reflect her strong ideological commitment to the American Empire Project (never forget her U.S. Senate vote to let George W. Bush criminally invade Iraq if he wanted to [he did]) and how much it would reflect a “wag the dog” need to deflect attention from domestic political chaos is an interesting question.
The anti-war movement would remain largely non-existent, crippled by so many liberals’ and progressives’ strange, and deeply conditioned inability and/or refusal to see Democrats as the war mongers they are.
Hillary’s Wall Street speeches (the ones Bernie Sanders pressed her to release) suggest strongly that a Madam President Clinton would be working toward the privatization of Social Security or at least the rollback of Social Security benefits while otherwise and more generally advancing the Bob Rubin-approved-neoliberal-pseudo-“inclusive”-capitalist agenda she and her husband have trail-blazed for decades. Serious union organizing would remain essentially illegal, wages could continue to stagnate, wealth would continue to concentrate into ever fewer hands. A new financial meltdown would beckon.
This would set the GOP up for gaining yet further hard-right-wing power in Congress after the 2018 mid-term elections. The nation would be waiting for a right-wing presidency possibly worse than Trump’s in 2021 or 2026.
As under Obama44 and Clinton42, the nation’s disproportionately Black, Latino, and Native American poor would continue to endure harsh socio-economic and criminal justice oppression – with little if any help from the federal government despite best effort of Identity-politicized liberals to rally them to the defense of the Democratic Party.
Maybe it was best to go through this TrumPence shit sooner rather than later. The rightmost party wants to completely deregulate energy and accelerate the exterminist cooking of the planet beyond human livability. Is it better to confront that horrific reality now or in four or eight years, when capitalogtenic climate change has moved us closer to extinction?
The Obstruction Out
It would be useful, perhaps, for a Democrat to be seen sitting atop the corporate and imperial state. One ultra-left theme (another staple in my email in-box) welcomed Trump as the “spark for the revolution we need.” But it doesn’t really work like that, I’m afraid. Horrible moronic white-male Republicans in the White House tend to reinforce the narrative that the national fix is electing a Democrat. Masses of people are more likely to get it that a radical popular uprising is required when a sitting Democratic administration demonstrates that the dismal, dollar-drenched Dems are every bit as corporate as the other capitalist party – and that “everything still sucks” when the hold the highest office. The Democrats are better at posing as an Opposition Party – and thereby coopting real popular resistance – when they are out of office than when they are “in power.”
But, of course, Hillary, like Obama after 2010, would have Republican and Congressional “obstruction” to blame for her failures, making it all too easy for the Democrats not to own the state-capitalism they help advance.
So that’s my take on how wonderful things would be if “[my] candidate” (right) Hillary (I voted Green as usual) had won.
In the Absence of a Left, It Doesn’t Really Matter….
Ultimately, I increasingly find, tactical considerations on whether it’s better for those of on the left to have a Democrat or a Republican in the White House are fairly immaterial in the absence of an actual and functioning Left in this country. Let’s say you think it’s better to have the GOP in – this out of some Maoist or other “backlash theory” of revolution (“heightening the contradictions” and all that). Or let’s say you share my longstanding (if fading) sense that Democrats in the White House tend to be more educationally useful in demonstrating how both of the capitalist parties suck (something I understand very well, whatever Big Bad Bob wants to think). In the absence of serious Left organization beneath and beyond the quadrennial, major-party, big-money, big media, and candidate-centered electoral spectacles that are sold to us as “politics” – the only politics that counts – it really doesn’t matter all that much. Either way, we’re screwed.
Neither progressive policy proposals nor radical societal vision beyond the current reigning unelected dictatorships are in short supply on “the Left.” Leftists are commonly, even almost ritually told that they carp and complain without offering solutions. But as Noam Chomsky wrote eleven years ago, “there is an accurate translation for that charge: ‘they present solutions and I don’t like them.’” What is most missing on the Left are not policy and societal solutions but rather cohesive, resilient, long-lasting radical organization tying together the various fragmented groups and issues around which Left progressive and Leftists often fight very good struggles in the U.S. Without serious, durable, unified, and convincing Left organization, neither revolutionary vision nor reform proposals are going to go very far.
This is no small matter. Given capitalism’s systemically inherent war on livable ecology – emerging now as the biggest issue of our or any time – the formation of such a new and united Left popular and institutional presence has become a matter of life and death for the species. “The uncomfortable truth,” Istvan Meszaros rightly argued 16 years ago, “is that if there is no future for a radical mass movement in our time, there can be no future for humanity itself.”
Last year, as every four years, the U.S. “Left,” such as it is, tore itself up in the usual quadrennial debate about how to best respond to the narrow and stupid, plutocratic electoral choices on offer from the horrid party and elections system. We can obsess and hold our breath until we’re blue in the face about supposedly nice cops (Carter, Clintons, Obama) versus bad cops (Nixon, Reagan, Bush I, Bush II, Trump) – about execution by bullet versus execution by hanging, death by heart attack vs. death by stroke – or we can stop, breathe, and dig down to do the elementary work of building ongoing, dedicated, popular movements beneath and beyond the masters’ deadening election cycles.
Help Paul Street keep writing here.
Paul Street is an independent radical-democratic policy researcher, journalist, historian, author and speaker based in Iowa City, Iowa, and Chicago, Illinois. He is the author of seven books to date: Empire and Inequality: America and the World Since 9/11 (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2004); Segregated Schools: Educational Apartheid in the Post-Civil Rights Era (New York: Routledge, 2005); Racial Oppression in the Global Metropolis: a Living Black Chicago History (New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2007); Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2008); The Empire’s New Clothes: Barack Obama in the Real World of Power (Paradigm, 2010); (with Anthony DiMaggio) Crashing the Tea Party: Mass Media and the Campaign to Remake American Politics (Paradigm, 2011); and They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy (Paradigm, 2014). Paul writes regularly for Truthdig, Telesur English, Counterpunch, Black Agenda Report, and Z Magazine.
from the archives: