by MARK GABRISH CONLAN
Copyright © 2016 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved
Well, it’s finally over. The mountain has moved and brought forth two mice. Two of the most widely and viscerally hated people in the entire country, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, will be the major-party nominees for President of the United States in the November 8 election. Comedian Mort Sahl used to make a joke about the so-called “progress” of American politics, changing it only to update the names in the punchline: “In the 1790’s we were a nation of 30 million people and we had George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and Benjamin Franklin. Today we’re a nation of 320 million, and the best we can come up with is Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump? Darwin was wrong!”
The primary season started out with at least 22 more or less substantial candidates for President of the United States: 17 Republicans and five Democrats. It also began with the widespread assumption by the mainstream corporate media and the Washington punditocracy that the eventual nominees would be Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush (remember Jeb Bush — or “Jeb!,” as he futilely tried to restyle himself?). That would have been an even bigger snooze-fest than the 1988 Presidential election between Michael Dukakis and George H. W. Bush, both so bland one Los Angeles Times cartoonist joked, “You wanted a Presidential election that wouldn’t be about personalities? You just got it.”
The D.C. “experts” who get paid more money per year than I’ll probably see in a lifetime just to blather on and on and on in front of cable-news cameras, and who always remind me of Oscar Wilde’s marvelous line about the woman who “could state the obvious with a sense of real discovery,” kept telling us, “Clinton v. Bush, Clinton v. Bush, Clinton v. Bush,” as if they could hypnotize primary voters into making it so. Meanwhile millions of Americans thought, “Clinton v. Bush — didn’t we have that election already?”
When Hillary Clinton was running for the Democratic nomination against Barack Obama in 2008, I wrote an editorial that said one of the reasons I thought she would lose was what I called the “Groundhog Day” factor, after the Bill Murray movie in which he has to keep reliving the same day over and over again. I didn’t think that many voters would really want to cast their ballots so the sequence of Presidents from 1988 to 2012 would read, “Bush, Clinton, Bush, Clinton.” And quite frankly I’m not that sure all that many American voters are going to be thrilled about a sequence that reads, “Bush, Clinton, Bush, Obama, Clinton,” either.
Instead the Republican primary process was taken over by an orange-haired real-estate developer and “reality” TV star from New York named Donald J. Trump. He zoomed to the top of the Republican field from the moment he announced his candidacy in June 2015, when he said, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending the best. They’re sending people that have lots of problems and they’re bringing those problems. They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime. They’re rapists and some, I assume, are good people, but I speak to border guards and they’re telling us what we’re getting.”
The pundits told us that America wouldn’t stand for a Presidential candidate who was not only racist but so blatantly open and seemingly proud of his racism. They were wrong: Trump zoomed to the top of the polls for the Republican nomination and never lost his front-runner status. The next month he insulted 2008 Republican Presidential nominee John McCain for having been a prisoner of war in North Viet Nam. “He’s not a war hero” said Trump. “He’s a ‘war hero’ because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.” Again, pundits said Trump would get sunk by the military-loving voters of the Republican party for insulting a man whose courage in the face of imprisonment and torture had become legendary and inspired millions of Americans, including many who disagreed with McCain’s politics.
Wrong again. And the pundits were wrong again when he responded to Fox News debate anchor Megyn Kelly’s question about his demeaning remarks about women with a demeaning remark about her as a woman, saying that she had “blood coming out of her eyes, or her wherever.” Not only did his poll ratings soar, they soared even higher among Republican women than Republican men. Throughout the Republican primary campaign, Trump kept spewing out bigoted remark after bigoted remark, including his demand for a “temporary” ban on Muslims in America — and his political stock soared ever higher.
Most recently, he’s attacked the judge in the San Diego fraud case against Trump University — a crash course in real-estate expertise that’s alleged by the people suing him to have been a pyramid scheme — saying that because the judge is “Mexican” (actually he’s the U.S.-born son of Mexican immigrant parents) and Trump wants to build a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico, he can’t fairly judge Trump in the case. That’s given cold feet to the Republican Congressional leaders who had just begrudgingly bowed to the inevitable and endorsed Trump — House Speaker Paul Ryan called it “textbook racism” (a first for me: I can’t recall ever having agreed with Paul Ryan before!) — but it plays just fine to the people who’ve been Trump’s base from day one of his campaign.
Throughout the campaign, pundits have been wrong about Trump. They’ve kept saying about his latest outrageous remark, “This will be the thing that takes him down” — and instead he’s soared ever higher. They’ve said he could win Republican primaries but he’d never get more than about 35 percent of the vote — until his vote totals started reaching 40, 45, 50, 60 percent. Now they’re saying, “O.K., he was able to win Republican primaries by appealing to the Republican base. But now he’ll be running in a general election, and he’s going to have to broaden his appeal.” That’s how a Presidential race usually works — you mobilize your partisan base to win a primary campaign and then move to the center to convince non-partisan or less partisan voters to vote for you too — but it’s not how Trump is likely to campaign, and there are very good reasons for him not to.
Donald Trump has three things going for him as the general-election campaign begins. First, he’s built up a reputation for “courage” for saying things other candidates may believe but don’t dare say — and in the process he’s given a lot of people, especially older white voters whose incomes have taken a bath as America has deindustrialized, a sense of pride in bigoted, racist attitudes they’ve been told by more conventional politicians and the media they ought to be ashamed of. Second, his policy statements — to the extent he’s made any — don’t fall along a simple, easy dividing line between “Left” and “Right.” His racism, sexism and religious bigotry and his overweening pride in himself and his money mark him as a man of the Right, but he’s also taken positions — like pledging to preserve Social Security and Medicare, and opposing the so-called “free trade” agreements that have sucked away America’s once-strong industrial jobs base — that are generally thought of as Left.
Third, and most important, Donald Trump is incredibly rich. Just how rich he is remains a matter of dispute; when one of the major economics magazines aimed at Trump’s fellow 1-percenters estimated Trump’s net worth at $4 billion, he called to complain and said it should have been $10 billion. When they asked him where the extra $6 billion came from, he said, “That’s the value of the Trump name.” But he does have a lot of money — enough to have so many homes in so many places it’s hard to keep track of him all. My joke about Mitt Romney in 2012 that he’d be assured of the election if he could only carry all his home states is true of Trump as well. And unlike the last politically inexperienced CEO the Republicans nominated for President (Wendell Willkie in 1940), Trump is running in a country brainwashed by decades of conservative pro-capitalist propaganda to revere money per se.
As I noted the first time I wrote about Trump in these pages, the cult of the general in American politics has given way to the cult of the CEO. We haven’t had a President who was a general since Eisenhower and we haven’t had a president who served in the military at all since the first Bush. Years of glorification of CEO’s through memoirs, fawning documentaries and “reality” TV shows like Trump’s own The Apprentice have trained many Americans to regard CEO’s as superior individuals whose very wealth is a sign of their intelligence and sagacity.
It’s not a new idea. It dates back to John Calvin, the founder of Puritanism, who believed that only a handful of superior people (the “elect”) were going to Heaven and God’s way of showing the rest of us who they were was their material success in this world. But when the Soviet Union and the Communist bloc in eastern Europe collapsed in the late 1980’s the U.S. Right sold millions of Americans on the idea that this showed not only the superiority of capitalism, but the superiority of capitalists. Willkie had the bad luck to run for President when America was still coming out of the Great Depression and trust in the U.S. business community was at an all-time low; Trump has the fabulous luck to be running in an era in which many Americans equate money with genius and think, “He must know how to run the country — he’s rich!”
There’s one more thing about Donald Trump that a lot of people don’t realize that makes him an incredibly strong Presidential contender, especially to the base of disgusted working-class men, victims of the systematic deindustrialization of America over the last four decades. He sounds like the voices they already trust to explain the political world to them: the voices of talk radio. Nation writer David Bromwich argued in a recent review of Jane Mayer’s book Dark Money (http://www.thenation.com/article/the-soul-of-the-tea-party/?nc=1), an account of how rich people on the radical Right, David and Charles Koch in particular, built the Tea Party movement into a massive force that largely took control of American politics, that her analysis had neglected the importance of talk radio and Fox News.
I think Bromwich himself ignored how much the Right’s money had to do with those. Fox News is a creation of radical-Right media magnate Rupert Murdoch, who’s used to using both his money and his media outlets to move politics in his native Australia, Great Britain and the U.S. dramatically to the Right; and major talk-show hosts like Rush Limbaugh stay on the air through the money of corporations run by radical-Right CEO’s even if more mainstream businesses drop them. But Bromwich is right about both the rhetorical style and the influence of talk radio and its hosts on the slice of America that has become Donald Trump’s political base.
“Many reversals that have surprised the Democrats in the last seven years would not have surprised someone who listened to Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Mark Levin, or Michael Savage, and to the people who call their shows begging for political guidance,” Bromwich writes. “Trump was a favorite golf partner of Limbaugh’s, who promoted his candidacy with a high good humor that has turned to serious advocacy — and he was a lively and frequent interviewee for Hannity on the subject of Obama’s birth certificate.”
One can hear the voice of talk radio full-blown in Donald Trump, just as one can hear them in embryo in the surviving recordings of Senator Joseph McCarthy, the legendary Red-baiter of the early 1950’s: the booming voice, the halting cadences (just to make sure everyone in the audience “gets” what they’re saying), the appeals to “common sense” over intellectual complexity (which, in the talk-radio world, is just a way the bad guys have of confusing people), the bellicose wise-guy tone, the pride they take in their racism, sexism and other bigotries, and the Manichean ideology which not only divides the world into 100 percent good guys and 100 percent bad guys but assumes that the “truth” of what they’re saying is so obvious no one could possibly have a good-faith reason for disagreeing with it. Everyone who disputes the gospel according to talk radio must be part of a vast conspiracy out to destroy America. Donald Trump has the votes of the up to 30 percent of all Americans Bromwich argues are part of the Tea Party because he’s the first modern-day Presidential candidate who sounds like a talk-radio host.
So don’t automatically assume that Donald Trump can’t win the Presidency. There may be a limit to the amount of outrageousness he can get away with before it reaches a critical mass that turns off enough voters so he loses, but he hasn’t hit it yet and no one knows what it is, or even whether it exists. To people who tell me they can’t imagine a country like this one electing that orange-haired thug, I say, “I’m sure there were a lot of similar conversations in Germany in the early 1930’s: ‘We’re a civilized country. We’d never let a freak like Hitler come to power.’”
Bernie Sanders and His “Army”
Meanwhile, on the Democratic side, an unlikely challenger emerged to the supposedly inevitable “coronation” of Hillary Clinton as the nominee. Through much of 2015 the group of activist Democrats that variously describes itself as the “Left,” “Progressive” and “Democratic” wing of the Democratic Party had been putting intense pressure on Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren to run for President. When she decided not to, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders stepped into the race. His first campaign appearances had the air of an understudy taking over a role from an indisposed star — “Senator Elizabeth Warren will not appear this evening. Her part will be played by Senator Bernie Sanders” — and that wasn’t the only, or even the biggest, strike against him.
First, Bernie Sanders had never run for office before as a Democrat. He’d spent 30 years in elective office — first as Mayor of Burlington, Vermont’s largest city; then as Vermont’s sole member of the House of Representatives (since it isn’t big enough to have more than one); then as a U.S. Senator — but he’d always run as an independent. Indeed, a number of Democrats were making a to-do about Sanders never having registered to vote as a Democrat — until it came out that Vermont’s election law doesn’t contain party affiliation: everyone who registers to vote in Vermont does so as a non-partisan.
Second, Sanders proclaimed himself a “democratic socialist” in a country in which that very combination of words has long since seemed oxymoronic. Both the sorry examples of the Soviet Union, China, Cuba and the self-styled “people’s democracies” of Eastern Europe — the repression, the terror, the Gulags — and the way Right-wingers had exploited them for propaganda had convinced most Americans that socialism is automatically tyranny. As things turned out, though, Right-wingers have so overdone their anti-socialist propaganda that the word “socialist,” though still negative, has lost the kiss-of-death status it once had in this country. From day one of Barack Obama’s presidency, Republicans have been denouncing him and everything he stood for as “socialist” — which I suspect led a lot of people, especially young voters who’d supported him, to think, “Hey, I like Obama, so if Obama’s a socialist, I must be a socialist too.”
Sanders, it turned out, had a lot going for him that virtually nobody in the media or the punditocracy realized. First, he’s an infectiously energetic campaigner. Second, he became one of those unlikely older figures that inspires young people, His attacks on the corporate aristocracy that really rules America no matter who gets elected to political office, his demand to smash the power of organized money over the political system and his holding up Hillary Clinton, with her six-figure speaking fees to Goldman Sachs and the potential conflicts of interest between her role as Secretary of State in the first Obama term and the Clinton Foundation, resonated less than what he specifically proposed to do. To young people stuck living with their parents so they can take advantage of the provision of Obamacare that they can stay on their parents’ health plan until they’re 26, and even more concerned about spending their entire adult lives paying off a six-figure student loan debt, Sanders’ calls for universal health care and free public-college tuition resonated because those were things that would immediately benefit them.
But Sanders, with his foxy Jewish-grandpa persona (he got compared so often to comedian and Seinfeld creator Larry David that when Saturday Night Live started parodying him they hired David to play him), offered young people more than just a few tangible benefits like access to health care and free college. He also offered them a sense of hope, a sense that there’s a way out of the horrible mess they’ve been born into. Before young people embraced Sanders en masse, I had thought the overwhelming majority of America’s youth thought about politics pretty much along the lines of The Hunger Games. In Suzanne Collins’ trilogy, the existing system sucks, the one the so-called “revolutionaries” want to create sucks almost as much — maybe a little bit more — and the only healthy alternative for people who want to live a decent life is to drop out altogether, live as individuals, have as little to do with politics as possible and literally cultivate their gardens.
Like Occupy Wall Street five years ago, the Sanders campaign pulled back the curtain and showed America’s young people a glimpse not only of a better future but a way to get there. My hope is that they will continue to build the “political revolution” Sanders called for and build a progressive electoral movement, within but not of the Democratic Party, that will contest elections at all level — and simultaneously build a Tea Party of the Left, an organized movement outside the electoral system and put pressure on elected officials, especially Democrats, to keep their promises to the people who elected them to pursue a progressive agenda instead of doing what Bill Clinton and Barack Obama did — and what, absent this kind of pressure, Hillary Clinton is likely to do as well if elected — which is gravitate towards the center and pursue only as much “change” as the 1 percent will permit.
My fear is that the young who turned out in droves to support Sanders will slink back into their closets, just as many of them did after the Occupy camps were closed down (the few Occupy movements that remain viable, like Women Occupy San Diego, were the ones made up mostly of older people). Unable to make political change in the first electoral campaign they tried it in, a lot of the Sandersistas might just give up on the system altogether and revert to the view that both big parties are corrupt and therefore we shouldn’t have anything to do with something as dirty, messy and slimy as (ugh) politics. Indeed, one of my biggest disenchantments with the Hillary supporters is they are pissing away the energies of the young people they need to rebuild not only the Democratic party but the progressive movement as a whole.
Instead, they’re backing an old Establishment war horse whose supporters keep telling America she’s the “most qualified” candidate ever to run for President. And Clinton herself, putting forward her experience and her résumé as the big reasons we should vote for her, seems clueless about how much the American political landscape has changed, to the point where experience seems to be a negative in the minds of many voters on both Left and Right today. If I were Hillary Clinton about the last thing I’d want (or want my surrogates) to do is prattle on about my “experience” and how it makes me “qualified.” By those standards, probably the most “qualified” President in U.S. history was William Howard Taft — who made such a hash of his one term that when he ran for re-election in 1912, he placed third. And one of the least “qualified” Presidents, Abraham Lincoln — whose whole political experience before 1860 was three terms in the Illinois state legislature and one term in Congress — did a pretty good job defeating the racist, slaveholding South and holding the country together.
How Trump Could Win
I actually started writing the above a month ago, after the primary season was more or less over and Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump had emerged as the presumptive major-party nominees. I wrote most of what you’ve just read before the galvanic events of the past month: before the massacre of 49 patrons of the Pulse Gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida by a screwed up young Afghan-American who claimed “allegiance” to ISIS (and to al-Qaeda, and to a martyr who belonged to al-Nusra — three groups that hate each other almost as much as they hate “infidels”). Before subsequent terror attacks in Turkey and Saudi Arabia — including a suicide bombing in Medina, Islam’s second holiest city, of pilgrims on the most sacred Muslim rite, the hajj — which makes one wonder why these supposedly super-devout Muslims are so outrageously flouting Muhammad’s injunction in the Quran that Muslims must never kill other Muslims.
I also wrote it before the so-called “Brexit,” the vote in Great Britain — well, England (aside from London) and Wales, anyway — to leave the European Union (EU), and the virtually complete meltdown in British politics that resulted. When I heard about the fallout from “Brexit” — the resignation of pro-EU Conservative Party prime minister David Cameron; the sudden withdrawal of the person who seemed like his likely successor (pro-“Brexit” Conservative Boris Johnson); the resignation of Nigel Farage, the closest thing to a British Trump, from the leadership of the openly racist and xenophobic UK Independence Party; and the effort of leaders in the Labour Party to unseat their party chair, Jeremy Corbyn (essentially the British Bernie Sanders) — I started joking that if things kept going that way, Queen Elizabeth II might have to pull rank on everybody, declare the British electoral system a failure, and rule not as a “constitutional” monarch but a real one.
And I wrote it before the bizarre mixed verdict from FBI director James Comey after the year-long investigation of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private e-mail server to conduct government business while Secretary of State, and whether she broke the laws regarding release of classified information. Comey’s report offered balm for both Republicans and Democrats; he called Clinton’s practices in particular (and the State Department’s in general) “extremely careless” and discovered 110 out of 30,000 e-mails that had been marked at some level of classification while Hillary Clinton sent, forwarded or attached them. (He also found 2,000 e-mails that weren’t classified when sent but were classified later.) But he also said there wasn’t enough evidence to prosecute Clinton because there was no showing that she intended the unauthorized release of classified material.
The terror assaults and the “Brexit” vote don’t guarantee Trump the Presidency, but they do make his election quite a bit more possible. “Brexit” indicates that a modern-day electorate in a cosmopolitan country can be swayed to vote against their interests by an openly racist appeal to anti-immigrant sentiment and a factually false but emotionally appealing argument that “foreigners” are taking money that could be spent to help “real” Americans/Britons/Germans/Austrians/French/whomever. Also, the more people are scared by terrorists in general and ISIS in particular, the more they’re going to vote for the strong man (emphasis here on man) and against the woman who’s pledging to continue the policies of President Obama, whose measured, nuanced responses to terrorism and political turmoil in the Middle East and the Muslim world in general just make him seem “weak.”
In this, as in so much else, Hillary Clinton is following the blueprint of the women who ran for head of state in various countries in the 1960’s and 1970’s — Indira Gandhi in India, Golda Meir in Israel, Margaret Thatcher in Britain — who were obsessed with the idea that they could be just as “tough,” just as butch, just as warlike as the men who’d run their countries before them. She’s running as Obama’s political and ideological successor but also on the historical record that when she was Secretary of State there were a lot of opportunities to put American troops into harm’s way in the Middle East and elsewhere that she wanted to grab — and Obama wouldn’t let her.
The fact that there’s another way for a woman to run for head of state and succeed escapes Hillary Clinton. The currently most powerful woman in the world, German chancellor Angela Merkel, has emphasized consensus and “soft power,” and presented herself not as an ardent anti-terror warrior (given Germany’s history, that sort of thing from a German politician scares a lot of people, including a lot of Germans) but as a rather colorless technocrat. Indeed, one could argue that Merkel has pulled off by purely economic means what Otto von Bismarck, Kaiser Wilhelm II and Adolf Hitler failed to achieve by force of arms — to make Germany ruler of Europe — and she’s done it without either the machismo posturing of German-descended Donald Trump or the just-because-I-don’t-have-a-dick-don’t-think-I-can’t-fuck-you attitude of Hillary Clinton.
Trump could very will win the election on three issues: his pledge to do anything, regardless of international law, to rid the world of ISIS and its ilk (down to restoring waterboarding and killing their members’ families); his promise to restore America’s industrial base and bring back the good-paying blue-collar jobs that allowed white ethnics to rise and become middle-class in the 1940’s and 1950’s; and his pledge to preserve Social Security and Medicare for “real” (i.e., white) Americans by shutting the borders and building walls to keep out Mexicans and Muslims. The Republican Party in general isn’t worried about the so-called demographic shift of the country — the growing numbers of poor people, young people and people of color — because they hold control of so many state legislatures, where the rules of how America’s elections are win are set, they can pass so-called “voter fraud” laws that make it impossible for people who’d vote against them to vote at all.
There are other weapons, secret and not-so-secret, Trump has going for him. In virtually all the Republican primaries he did better than the polls said he would, which suggests there’s a kind of reverse version of the “Bradley factor” working for him. The “Bradley factor” was a phrase coined when Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, an African-American, lost an election for governor of California by 2 ½ points when the final polls said he’d been ahead by that much. Political experts realized that about 5 percent of the people polled were too racist to vote for a Black candidate — but too ashamed of their racism to tell a pollster that they wouldn’t. I suspect that Trump has a “Bradley factor” of his own working for him — a lot of people who are going to vote for him but realize that’s not the “politically correct” thing to say to a pollster — and he’s likely to do about 5 percent better in the actual election than he is in the polls.
But the biggest factor Trump has going for him is the creaky way America elects its presidents. The people don’t elect a President; according to the Constitution, that’s done by something called the Electoral College, which consists of 538 people — the number of each state’s members of the House of Representatives and Senate, plus three to represent the District of Columbia, which didn’t have the right to vote in Presidential elections until the early 1960’s and still isn’t represented in Congress. Since Electoral College votes are winner-take-all by state, Hillary Clinton could win the popular vote but Donald Trump could win the election. How could that happen? Hillary racks up large vote margins in big “blue” states like California and New York, but Trump ekes out narrow victories in the Rust Belt states and places like Pennsylvania that have been hit especially hard by America’s systematic deindustrialization.
Why You MUST Vote for Hillary Clinton
The simple fact is, given the way American politics is structured, with virtually all offices elected on a winner-take-all basis by district, there is no room for alternative political parties. Organizing the Green Party made sense in its original home, Germany, where if you get 5 percent or more of the national vote you get that percentage of seats in the national legislature. It did not — and still does not — make sense to set up a Green Party in the U.S., where aside from a few local offices that are officially “nonpartisan,” alternative parties are blocked out from actually electing anybody by both law and custom. So anyone who, under some sort of twisted conception of political or moral “virtue,” rejects the Clinton vs. Trump choice and casts a ballot for Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party, Dr. Jill Stein of the Green Party or any of the myriad of other nominal Presidential candidates of alternative parties, Left or Right, might as well not vote at all.
And the biggest reason to vote for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump is that if Hillary Clinton wins in 2016 there will be another Presidential election in 2020. If Donald Trump wins, that is far from certain. It is quite likely, knowing what we know of Trump — that he’s a vengeful paranoiac with a sense he’s been eternally persecuted and a determination to lash back at his enemies even when he’d be better off rolling with the punches and leaving them alone — that he simply will not take no for an answer. If Congress doesn’t give him what he wants, he’ll simply rule by executive fiat (as some Republicans already accuse Obama of doing). If there’s another terrorist attack in the U.S. on the scale of 9/11 or the November 2015 attacks in Paris, I suspect Trump will call a meeting of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and, if they sign on and thereby put the power of the U.S. military at his sole disposal, he will simply suspend the Constitution and become a dictator, ruling by decree.
And if no terrorist attack actually happens, I wouldn’t put it past Trump to stage one. I never believed the 9/11 conspiracy theories — the idea that the George W. Bush administration staged the attacks to justify asaults on civil liberties like the USA PATRIOT Act and foreign policy adventures like the war in Iraq — because they seemed too much like Left-wing versions of the “birther” myth (that Obama was born in Kenya and therefore ineligible to be President) Trump did so much to propagate. But though I never believed that George W. Bush was capable, either morally or intellectually, of ordering a phony terrorist attack to justify moving his political agenda in authoritarian ways, I would have no problem believing that of Donald Trump.
There are other more logical, less speculative reasons to prefer Clinton over Trump as President. One big one is the makeup of the U.S. Supreme Court. There already is a vacancy on the Court — thanks to the Senate Republicans’ refusal even to consider an appointment made by President Obama — and there are likely to be at least two more in the next Presidential term. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is in her eighties and in poor health, and Justice Anthony Kennedy — normally a hard-line Right-winger (he wrote the second most loathsome Supreme Court decision in U.S. history, Citizens United) but one who departs from the Right-wing reservation on juvenile justice and Queer rights, and recently provided key votes to sustain affirmative action and women’s right to reproductive choice — is also getting up there.
Trump has already released his short list of 11 potential appointees to the Court (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/19/us/politics/donald-trump-supreme-court-nominees.html?_r=0) and challenged Hillary Clinton to do the same. Among the names on his list are Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willett, who according to the New York Times article by Alan Rappeport and Charlie Savage cited above “previously worked for the Bush White House’s office of faith-based initiatives and later in Texas government, where he pushed to keep a monument of the Ten Commandments on public property and the words ‘under God’ in the Pledge of Allegiance, issues he has promoted on his Facebook page.” Another is 11th Circuit federal appeals judge William H. Pryor, Jr., “whose appointment Senate Democrats had tried to block,” wrote Rappeport and Savage, “in part because, in his previous role as Alabama attorney general, he denounced Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that established a constitutional right to abortion, as having manufactured ‘a constitutional right to murder an unborn child.’”
So if Trump gets elected, goodbye to religious freedom in the U.S. for anyone who isn’t Christian or Jewish. Goodbye to women’s right to reproductive choice. Goodbye — especially if he gets to replace Anthony Kennedy, who’s written all the Court’s opinions expanding Queer rights — to any legal protections for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender people, and hello to sodomy laws, police raids on Gay bars and a legal definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman (period). And goodbye to any meaningful attempt by the judiciary to rein in Trump’s excesses or to protect the due-process rights of detainees in the “war on terror.”
On issue after issue, the Democrats aren’t as progressive as they should be, but compared to Trump they’re infinitely preferable. The Democrats acknowledge that human beings are causing climate change — though their proposed actions hardly match the magnitude of the potential crisis — but Trump thinks human-caused climate change is a hoax invented by Chinese propagandists. (I’m not making this up, you know.) Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders spent a lot of time in the primary debates arguing over whether the U.S. minimum wage should be raised to $12 or $15 per hour; Trump said during a Republican debate that U.S. workers are overpaid and need to make less so they can compete with workers making the starvation wages employers pay in China, Viet Nam or Bangladesh.
It’s time for all those people who still repeat, mantra-like, that there is no difference between the Republican and Democratic parties to wake up and smell the bitter stench of reality. The Democrats are hardly as progressive as they should be (if they were, we would be writing “presumptive Democratic nominee Bernie Sanders”), but the Republicans are an ideologically libertarian party dedicated to eliminating all social programs, all workers’ rights (including the minimum wage as well as occupational health and safety), all labor unions, all public education, all regulation of businesses, all environmental protections and all limits on the “right” of corporations and wealthy individuals to buy elections. If you don’t believe me, look at what they’ve done in state after state — Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Kansas, North Carolina and others — where Republicans control the governorship and both houses of the state legislature. If you still believe there’s “no difference” between the Republican and Democratic parties, I’ve got a bottle of contaminated water from Flint, Michigan to sell you.
The bottom line is that if we want to preserve any hope of a progressive America in the future, we need to elect Hillary Clinton President in 2016 and we need to return Congress to Democratic control. We also need to be in the streets constantly to push her to honor all the progressive promises she made in the primary campaign, and to do the same with other elected Democrats. The electoral Republicans and the Tea Party activists have worked together brilliantly to move the center of gravity of American politics quite far to the Right. We need to do the same. We need both an electoral movement and a street protest movement to bring it back again and take America forward instead of letting it revert to the past when Donald Trump says it was “great” — when African-Americans and other people of color were still on the back of the bus, women were still in the kitchen, Queers were still in the closet and the richest Americans’ rule was absolute and unchallengeable.
I’ll end this long article with a quote from my long-time hero and my first choice for President this year, Bernie Sanders: “Hillary Clinton on her worst day would be a better President than any of the Republicans on their best day.” He said that in at least two Democratic primary debates, and he clearly believes it. So do I.