Current affairs

US Election 2016 – Part II, Clinton

From the beginning, it seemed like almost no one whose name wasn’t Clinton wanted HRC to be president. If you wanted an experienced politician, you had Biden. A left-field choice? Bernie Sanders. A female president? Elizabeth Warren was a more exciting option. HRC, every time, was the choice with just too much baggage.

Biden chose not to run as he dealt with the personal loss of a son; Warren also declined to throw her hat into the ring, possibly deciding she could be more effective leading a left-wing fight from the sidelines. This left HRC versus Bernie and his young, loudly male, supporters. And, in hindsight, there was only going to be one winner there.

Bernie isn’t even a real Democrat; he’s an independent. He’s – in American political terms – too left-wing. Too far from the center of power. And the center of power is HRC’s home turf. Part of her unpopularity is this strong establishment vibe that she gives off. She might call herself an outsider, as a woman – and that much is obviously true. But she’s less of an outsider than Sanders, or a woman like Warren, who has never lived in the White House, never been Secretary of State, and probably doesn’t give expensive speeches to Goldman Sachs employees.

Very early in the process, the Democratic establishment aligned themselves with HRC, one of their own. She had every advantage that her status gave her, and she duly won the nomination. On balance, would the rank and file of the Democratic party have voted for her, regardless of  the behind-the-scenes politicking? Probably. She’s very much liked by significant sectors of the Democratic base. But having the DNC covering her back highlighted to non-Clintonistas once again how much the establishment protects its own.

And so there we were: the most unpopular Democratic candidate from a strong field (of those who could have won; those who did choose to run were, by and large, weak and lacked seriousness as potential Presidential choices) against the most unpopular RNC candidate for the title of second-least-unpopular overall candidate. And the winner gets to be president.

What are Hillary’s problems as a presidential candidate? Compared to researching Trump’s obvious issues, HRC is harder to write about. Her issues are complicated, with shades of gray, long histories of alternative versions and, frankly, some crazy conspiracy theories to muddy the waters. Let’s summarize them as a series of hashtags, because this is where we are as a society.

#Benghazi. Do you understand Benghazi? I don’t think anyone really does – it’s become an inkblot test that lets voters and commentators alike see exactly what they want to see. If you see a conspiracy with Hillary at the center, refusing support for a foreign embassy under attack and leaving good Americans to die, then there’s a narrative there for you. If you see an exercise in mudslinging, used by a partisan, divided political system specifically designed to bring down one particular candidate, then that’s there too.

After millions spent, an 11-hour grilling, and more focus on this topic than anything else in the political media for months at a time, not even the GOP could pin anything on her. She’s either made of Teflon, where nothing sticks to her (what with her being an anointed choice of the establishment), or she is totally without blame.

#Emails. This is an equally confusing and confused topic for the HRC friends and foes. HRC broke the rules – or at least skirted around the edges of the laws – about how top secret communications were stored. I think. But it turns out other people in her position did/do the same thing. Do we think any of those people shrieking about HRC’s use of a private server have done the same things themselves? Doesn’t this happen all the time in American politics? So, it’s possible.

Anyway, HRC had a private server at home. I’m not really sure what that means. I mention my ignorance not because I’m proud of it or I think it’s helpful; I just think it’s typical. I’m fairly certain that a large swath of the “Lock her up” chanters at Trump rallies have no idea what it means, either. And her opponent thinks the whole thing has something to do with “the cyber“, so I’m not sure he has the tightest grip on the subject.

But, apparently many people are prepared to take DJT’s word on it when he says that it’s a scandal. A scandal bigger than Watergate. (“Watergate” is one of those trigger words in the American psyche. The Right are always looking for a scandal on the left that can become “the next Watergate”, while the Left enjoy being overly righteous by pointing out the greatest scandal in modern presidential history belongs to the Republicans.) And if it’s bigger than Watergate, the reasoning goes, then Hillary is a crook and she belongs in prison.

Lock her up.

But, as we have seen, Trump lies. If we agree that Trump lies, then how are so many people believing him about this? Because people are prepared to believe that HRC is capable of anything when it comes to getting what she wants. Including murder. She’s Lady Macbeth made flesh – a powerful, ambitious woman who looks like she’s going to take it all. There has to be something fishy going on. Right?

Back to the emails – the complaint is not that any secrets were leaked to foreign powers or enemies of the state – just that they could have been. Despite the FBI finding no cause to prosecute, the stain of impropriety remains. When the FBI, at the apparent last minute, announced more emails were being reviewed, the conservative press – along with Trump and his supporters – jumped on this as further proof that she was up to no good. These were hidden emails, emails that would prove her guilt, the final nail in the coffin. HRC was going to prison.

This has proved to be the case. But, as a negative campaign topic, it did knock her lead at the polls.

Let me take a moment here to point at something that is perhaps becoming obvious here. When talking about HRC and the election, it feels like a grown-up subject. It’s not pussy-grabbing, or naked young beauty competition contestants; it’s politics.

Her scandals, if they hold any water at all, are more often political scandals concerning issues of substance. They are more policy than personal. DJT is tried in the showbiz media; HRC has been tried in front of actual committees. TMZ has prosecuted the case against Trump in the court of public opinion; HRC’s accusers are lawyers, politicians, using evidence collected by the FBI.

Unlike DJT, HRC can be judged on her public service record. And she is able to point to many successes. But her reputation as something of a hawk means that many left-wing feminists have real problems supporting her.

But the #email scandal points to a significant issue with HRC and her way of doing things. She, at best, obfuscated the truth. She tried to shift the blame. She could have worked much better with the investigation but seems to have done the exact opposite. She reacted exactly how her critics would expect her to. And she did the same when questions regarding her health arose.

In fact, it would be impossible to make the case that HRC is a totally honest politician. That’s why the alternatives – Biden, Warren, Saunders – have seemed preferably to many Democrats. But it doesn’t take much digging to find evidence of dishonesty among this crowd, either.

Hillary has a lot of years for her critics to work with – she’s been doing this for a long time. This is reflected in the third major criticism she’s faced this election cycle: #ClintonFoundation.

As I understand it, for her supporters, the #ClintonFoundation is a top-rated charity that has used the Clinton name for good around the world.

And there’s ample evidence for this.

For her critics, it’s at the center of pay-for-play deals where the Clintons have grown rich selling access to the government to wealthy foreign donors. (Let’s also mention here that DJT’s foundation also has more than its fair share of allegations…which seems relevant if what a charitable foundation does with its money is relevant to this election. They’re serious allegations but not necessarily political, because he’s not a politician. Would he change his ways if he gained access to the highest office in the land? I am willing to believe that the occasional leopard changes its spots from time to time, but old leopards? Leopards that seems to believe that they are infallible? Again, the electorate gets to decide.)

I don’t want to focus too much on the #ClintonFoundation – not because it’s not important, but because it makes me too cynical. It feeds into a central criticism of HRC, which again lends itself to another hashtag: #$hillary. She’s a corporate stooge, it says, a friend of the bankers, a central figure in a failed political system.

But look at the whole picture of the American democratic system. The lobbyists, the costs of campaigning, Citizens United. Money is at its core. It’s about nothing more than it’s about money. Getting it, spending it, leveraging it for power. A meme I particularly like shows senior politicians dressed as NASCAR drivers, with their overalls covered in the logos of their major “sponsors” – left or right, almost everyone has a paper trail leading to major corporate donors. The vast majority of American politicians owe their success and position to friends in big business, to donors with deep pockets and high expectations. DJT made exactly this point when he campaigned against career GOP politicians in the primaries. He contributed to whoever he felt could help him – and when he wanted something, they always took his calls.

American politics, compared to the standards of other western democracies, is corrupt. It’s based on a system of money-for-favors that would be called bribery in any other context – or in a Third World political system. That it is not called as much here is down to the US system’s skill with spin, an electorate that increasingly seems happy to fall into a belief of “my team, right or wrong”, and a media who would rather focus on scandal than substance.

Many problems that come with HRC as a candidate are not problems restricted to this one candidate: they are problems with the whole system of government in this country.

And maybe, in the great tradition of American politics, we can spin the DJT candidacy as a positive – that Americans are sick of politics as usual, of partisan obstructionism, of bribery as the natural way of doing business.

I don’t know if electing a billionaire is really a sign that Americans are really ready for an outsider. I don’t know if a candidate so beloved by the KKK, the Alt Right, Hannity, and Coulter is really the one to bring a divided country together.

Nor do I believe that HRC is really the best this country has to offer. Her judgment is suspect and her conclusions are not always ones I can stand behind.

But, of those who stood for nomination, none has been so consistently successful within the current system as she has for so long. If your gut reaction is to say that this is exactly the problem, then I have some sympathy. The system needs to be changed; it should be changed so it is more democratic and fair. But does DJT show any of the skills and behavior that would lead a rational person to believe he is the one to begin that rebuilding?

Has he demonstrated the ability to bring people of difference philosophies together, to work hard to the benefit of others, to take tough, unpopular decisions for the wider good, and then take criticism for those decisions on the chin, to lead coalitions of Right and Left, and finally to build something strong, long-lasting, durable, and fair – to everyone, from the elite down to the lowest-paid worker?

Here, we can judge him on his record.

While, to me, it looks like DJT has shown little evidence that he deserves to be President, the problem for the country is that the current political system means that the intelligent, capable politicians who rise to the top will tend to very much look like HRC (except mostly male).

After eight years of having a black president – a man with “Hussein” as a middle name – we would get at least four more with a woman at the helm. This is progress for the country as a whole. But, just as when the UK voted in Margaret Thatcher, simply voting in a woman does not instantly bring with it change for the better. MT got to where she was exactly because she was an establishment politician. She was more doctrinaire than most. And her time as PM is not looked on with much nostalgia for progressive thinkers across the water.

Clinton is  skilled politician. Like Obama, she will not take the country very far to the left and she may not mean much for the cause of progress for the traditionally powerless in this country, except (and this is not unimportant) as a figurehead for what is possible. Black Americans can be president. Women can be president. But having a black president or a woman president does not lead automatically to positive change; in fact, by providing a focus for discontent, it can make the problems this country has with the way it treats its female and its minority populations much more visible.

But change, even small change, is progress. A vote for Hillary Clinton, it seems to me, is a vote for that – a small, necessary shift in the right direction. A vote for Trump is a vote to set fire to the whole system. And while we may love the idea of watching the world burn, living in its ashes is not the future any of us wants for ourselves or for our children.

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