Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Americans, please vote for Hillary Clinton

It’s a week till the big day. Much as I like to surprise readers with new perspectives on things, I don’t have one this time. I don’t know how far this will go, it’s not like this blog has a big readership. But this is perhaps the most urgent thing I’ve ever blogged about. So, small as my part must be, I’m doing what I can do. Maybe this will reach a few people who are wavering and tip them the right way. In 2000 the election was lost on a whisker-thin count in Florida, and this election is more consequential than that one.

I can’t vote for anyone, I’m not an American. But this election will reverberate around the world. I suspect it’ll have more impact on our lives here in New Zealand than our own election next year will. I have no rewards or threats to offer. All I can do is beg, and American readers, I’m begging you: please vote for Hillary Clinton this week.

It’s not the Trump voters I’m trying to reach, or not mainly. The people we see at those scary-looking rallies on the news wouldn’t listen to me if I did have anything to say to them. I mean, I could yell insults at them if I thought that would be helpful, but it wouldn’t change any minds. They might listen to this guy from GQ, perhaps. He seems at least to be in their world – I’m not.

There does exist at least one Trump supporter who is not a hateful bigot, because I’ve seen him on YouTube: his name’s Peter Thiel. [EDIT: I’m informed that this is not actually true, that Thiel doesn’t, for instance, see anything wrong with apartheid. But he’s not a thoughtless hateful bigot; he produces arguments that are worth answering.] But the arguments he uses are the same ones that other people use, the ones who I am trying to reach, so I’ll address them in a minute. No, the people I’m trying to reach are those who aren’t voting, or (equivalently) are voting Jill Stein or Gary Johnson or writing some other name in on the ballot. People who claim that yes, Trump is bad, but Clinton is just as bad. Because it’s them I fear. If everyone who understands what Trump is votes for Clinton, the election is a shoo-in. If enough people sit it out or vote third parties in protest, it’s not. Again, 2000 stands as a warning.

Yes, you guys, your grievances with the American electoral system are absolutely legitimate. Yes, it’s ridiculous that the self-proclaimed inventors of democracy are still using non-proportional voting. Yes, it is a serious problem that only two points of view get a go at the Presidency. You need to amend your Constitution. But you can’t do that at a presidential election. I understand why that’s when these problems get attention. Plebiscites are like magazine covers; they sell better with a human face on them. But you can’t fix a whole system by bringing in one new person. You need to run a referendum to change your electoral system, like New Zealand did in 1993. You can’t do that this week. You’ll have to wait, and plan.

No, Hillary Clinton is not guaranteed to get in no matter what happens. The Presidency goes to the candidate who gets the single highest number of Electoral College votes. Remember 2000 – that’s going to be the refrain for this post. Suppose that next week, as then, the Presidency depends on a single swing state. Suppose, in that swing state, Trump gets 48% of the vote and Clinton gets 47% and Jill Stein and Gary Johnson between them get 5%. If that happens, who’s President? I’ll give you a hint: it’s not a Clinton-Stein-Johnson co-presidency. That’s not how America works.

No, Hillary Clinton is not guaranteed to get in no matter what happens. If 2000 is too distant, remember Brexit. We all thought that was bound to lose. None of the politicians pushing it had a plan for what to do if they won. Yes, that is indeed due to the failures of neoliberalism, but xenophobia and racism are not better than neoliberalism. They are worse. And right now they are rallying.

No, Clinton is not just as bad as Trump. Consider the e-mail scandal going on around her right now. Clearly the FBI, or at least some very influential people in the FBI, are trying to stop her from becoming President – and those e-mails are the worst thing they’ve found on her, or they would be trumpeting whatever they’d found that was worse. Trump, by contrast, has among other things been indicted on child sex charges.

No, Clinton is not just as bad as Trump. Yes, she’s called for more American military engagement in the Middle East – America is currently involved in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, and Somalia, if I recall correctly. Her stance is that American intervention will prevent more deaths than it causes. I think she’s wrong about this and if I were in a position to argue with her directly I would take a very strong line. Trump, on the other hand, favours pulling the troops out. That was Peter Thiel’s big argument for supporting Trump. And I’d agree – except that “pulling the troops out” might mean either of two utterly different things.

  1. Send all the soldiers and military trainers home. Send diplomats to the governments of the various countries with this message (worded diplomatically): “We’re not going to kill for you any more. If you need a hand rebuilding civil institutions, we can talk. But no more bullets, no more drones, no more weapons.”
  2. Send all the soldiers, military trainers, and every other American home. Fire nuclear missiles at Damascus, Baghdad, Aden, Tripoli, and Mogadishu. Declare victory.

Which of these options do you think will be favoured by a man who has publicly said that all Muslims are potential terrorists and that he doesn’t know why America can’t use its nuclear weapons?

No, Clinton is really not just as bad as Trump. We on the Left have a bad habit of overusing the word “fascism”, with much the same effect as the boy who cried “wolf!” in Aesop’s fable. It’s not a lie, exactly, but it’s a worn-out hyperbole, and the trouble with wearing out a word with hyperbolic use is that you’ve then lost the impact of the word when it literally applies. Donald Trump really is a fascist. No scare-quotes, no “almost” or “virtually” or “practically” or any other hedge-word, he’s a fascist.

Fascism (unlike communism or neoliberalism) lacks any single definable credo, because it doesn’t seek international cooperation. It has, nevertheless, certain characteristic diagnostic features, and Trump displays them all. He preaches a lost era of national greatness; he proposes to restore it by purifying the nation of undesirable nationalities, religions, and races; he idolizes ruthless businessmen, or at least one ruthless businessman. These things he inherits from the Republican party he has commandeered. But he also has the other, still more sinister symptoms of fascism. He threatens his political opponents with the police; he chafes at the democratic restraints on his power; he encourages his followers to promote the cause through violence. Even George W. Bush didn’t do that.

This is not a drill. This is not a joke. This is not politics as usual. This is how democracies are overthrown. Just because you’re the United States of America doesn’t mean it can’t happen to you. Don’t let it. Vote Hillary Clinton on 8 November. I’m begging you.

And then, on 9 November, go and protest the Dakota Access Pipeline. Tell the President-Elect that you think it’s wrong. Tell her loudly, tell her angrily. Anger is appropriate. But remember, as you do, what the other potential President-Elect does to protesters.

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