Monday, 7 November 2016
To stop Trump, American leftists should "tightly hold their noses" and vote for Hillary.
I've largely spent the last few months thanking to Christ I'm not American. We know their elections are corrupted by moneyed vested interests and shamefully reduced to nothing more than sham popularity contests at the best of times but the one that's (thankfully) almost at an end is the worst yet. In fact, it's made the other ones seem like relics of a calmer, more serene era. Remember when the biggest scandal from 2012 was Mitt Romney answering a question on gender pay inequality by referring to his "binders full of women"? As Bunk from The Wire might say, "it makes me sick how far we done fell".
The main reason I've been thanking my lucky stars I was not born on the other side of the Atlantic these past few weeks, however, is the simple reason I don't have to grapple with my conscience in making a decision over who to vote for. My hypothetical choice is not Trump or Clinton, however - as I would rather whip myself to death with a burning rope than vote for that racist, misogynist, toupeed, idiotic megalomaniac the Republicans have shamefully decided to nominate for president - but whether to vote for Clinton or vote for a candidate who better reflects my political and economic views but has not a snowball's chance of winning. I would imagine this is a conundrum contorting the minds of thousands of American leftists ready to cast their ballot tomorrow. Many more are possibly staying at home, having understandably long since given up on seeking change within the confines of the American electoral system. A deluded minority, whose numbers have been exaggerated in recent weeks by centrists and Hillary supporters still smarting from Bernie Sanders' forceful challenge during the primary campaign, are possibly voting for Trump in the patently false belief that his victory would "shake up the system" and perhaps expose the material iniquities inherent in modern American politics. As the outcome of the Brexit vote has shown, when a minority of British leftists advocated for a left wing Brexit (or Lexit as they called it) in order to challenge the British and European elites, giving in to right-wing populism only strengthens it.
You can probably tell by the title I have decided that, with a heavy heart, I would vote for Hillary Clinton in the hypothetical scenario that I was able to vote in the US Presidential Election. I understand the disillusionment and despondency which is leading to reluctance among many leftists to vote for Clinton. Disregarding the fact that she is the 'establishment' candidate, there is a whole raft of problems relating to some of her previous policy choices and personal indiscretions. Her enthusiasm for welfare reform during the presidency of her husband Bill (which gutted support for poor American families and resulted in the number of families with children in poverty receiving cash assistance from the US government declining from 68% in 1996 to 36% by 2013), her support for the Iraq War and other American foreign policy misadventures, her questionable links with Middle Eastern governments with a litany of human rights abuses, her links with Wall Street and the millions of dollars she has received in speeches given to banks such as Goldman Sachs, CitiBank and JP Morgan are all good reasons to doubt her progressive credentials. She talks progressive but acts (and one would imagine would govern) as a centrist. Her claim in one of the emails leaked by Wikileaks that politicians should have a "public and a private position" on policy issues was revealing in how nakedly cynical she can be. While many conservative corners of the internet have acted as one large, hysterical symposium on Clinton controversies, reporting on every single indiscretion, from the real to the imagined, as if they all pointed to an incorrigibly corrupt and uniquely rotten candidate while simultaneously ignoring or excusing the indiscretions of Trump, there are genuine reasons to find many facets of Clinton's political career extremely problematic. While many of her supporters have begun to disregard any criticism of her as simply borne out of misogyny or conservative delusion, there are legitimate causes for concern. Simply put, if Hillary was a candidate in Ireland or anywhere else in Europe, I would not be voting for her.
The alternative to Clinton, however, is much, much worse. While one of the supposed reasons many people are voting against Clinton is that she is the 'establishment' candidate and that 'nothing will change' if she's elected (and I believe there is credence to these claims), what Trump offers is a scary lurch into the unknown. The personal scandals which have blighted his campaign - from his characterising of Mexicans as "drug traffickers and rapists" to his insulting of a disabled journalist at one of his rallies to the leaked video of him boasting about sexually assaulting women - should already disqualify him from anyone's consideration. But his policy platforms, if you could even call them that, are so insidiously racist, dangerous and tilted in favour of the wealthy that if even a fraction of them were to come to fruition it would wreak havoc upon millions of people. He wants to cut taxes for the wealthiest Americans, he wants to ban Muslims from entering the United States for an indefinite period of time, he wants to defund Planned Parenthood and clamp down on abortion rights and he wants a build a stupid wall which he stupidly and erroneously claims Mexico will pay for. His attitude towards man-made climate change, the single biggest threat to our species today, is uniquely dangerous. He is a climate changer denier who wants to take American out of the Paris Agreement, a legally binding agreement that mandates every country who signs up to reducing carbon emissions and ensuring the Earth's temperature does not rise by more than 2 degrees Celsius, and once infamously said climate change was a myth invented by the Chinese to hurt US manufacturing. If you care about climate change, if you care about income inequality and if you care about a woman's right to choose, Donald Trump should terrify you.
Stopping Donald Trump should be the greatest motivation for American leftists heading into this election. While I would usually be a fervent advocate for voting third party given America's torrid and corrupted two party system, I feel this time is different. Ironically, I don't think any third party candidates since Ralph Nader in 2000 have gotten as much attention during an election cycle as Jill Stein and Gary Johnson have this year. Johnson, given his right wing credentials, is someone who leftists should not even entertain voting for, but Stein presents a conundrum as she's someone who has a much more appealing stance on things like student debt and climate change than Clinton and her attitude to Wall Street could not be any different to Hillary's too. There are many problems I have with her campaign though, from her cosying up to Putin to the lack of economic coherence in her plans on student debt, but the main reason I would not vote for her is that she doesn't have a chance of winning. In such a crucial election, where any number of votes could nudge Trump over the line, I feel it is crucial we ensure that he is not elected. This is a difficult thing to admit and it may invoke the ire of many leftists who see this sort of outlook as a capitulation to right wing political orthodoxy, but I think that stopping Trump is actually more important than voting for the candidate with whom you share the most in common with. If American leftists do, however, find it too unconscionable to vote for Clinton and decide to vote for Stein or another left wing candidate instead, I would totally understand. Parades of liberals have been lining up to excoriate anyone who is even considering voting third party in the last few weeks, with the same smug and self-satisfied tone as greeted many potential Leave voters during the Brexit vote in the UK. We all know how that went but I would urge American leftist to bite their tongue or, as Yanis Varoufakis put it recently on Question time, "hold your nose tightly" and vote for Hillary.
But we shouldn't stop there. This has been largely ignored by the press, but Clinton is campaigning on the most outwardly left-wing platform a presidential candidate for one of the two big parties has ever ran. Now in fairness, that's not saying much given the weakness of the left historically in America, but there are some glimmers of light there. She wants to increase the federal minimum wage, introduce legislation to help poor families send their kids to college, introduce paid parental leave, oppose free trade agreements unless they have suitable protections for workers and embark on a massive federal infrastructure programme. As I already mentioned, Hillary has always been more moderate than progressive but she was pushed to the left by Bernie Sanders' primary campaign which was one of the few redeeming qualities of this election. His platform, which challenged Wall Street, challenged income inequality and challenged the prevailing economic orthodoxy, emboldened millions of particularly young Americans and that energy should be retained to ensure that Clinton stays the course and does not bow to corporate pressure, as she has so many times in the past. As well as that American leftists should agitate for real, substantive change independent of mainstream politics and should continue to campaign fervently for worker's rights, for women's rights and against all forms of racism. Hillary Clinton's presidency is not the means to an end but it is certainly better than the alternative. Clinton might represent a continuation of Obama, whose foreign and domestic policies have justifiably disappointed many leftists, and not much might change but it is surely better than the hateful world a Trump presidency would bring.