By Jim Miller
In late July, I was at the American Federation of Teachers convention in Minneapolis, Minnesota watching Hillary Clinton address a hall of thousands of educators as a handful of #Black Lives Matters and assorted other protesters tried, unsuccessfully, to disrupt her speech, which inspired a few angry delegates to start yelling, “Get them out! Arrest them!” until a wiser soul chimed in with, “Aren’t we supposed to be different than Trump?”
For the most part, Clinton’s speech was a laundry list of interest group button-pushing, but I was pleased to see how far the primary seemed to have forced her to adopt Sanders-like positions and rhetoric on things like affordable higher education.
At least in that way, the left wing of the Democratic Party has had an impact on the campaign. But as the Democratic Convention later revealed, those gestures to the left are married to the usual triangulation with the right, complete with a safe, conservative Democratic running mate and homages to the military industrial complex worthy of a Republican affair.
So it goes.
A few days after the AFT convention, I was sitting at a pizza place in Chicago, Illinois when Trump’s grotesquely large head appeared on the screen as he gave his big dystopian speech to the assembled throng in Cleveland and the nice family sitting next to my table (from a small town in Indiana it turns out) winced in dismay. Reading their displeasure, I leaned over and said, “This is really happening, isn’t it?”
“It’s horrible, he’s so horrible. I just can’t believe it,” the young mother of the family responded. Her husband, a Marine veteran, joined in with, “He’s a joke. A bad one.” After we had all turned our attention back to pizza, I said to my wife and son, “That’s it. It’s over.”
And it is. Donald Trump is achieving the historically rare feat of losing the race in August. Back during the primary, I chided some of my anxious Democratic friends by penning the following:
To all my fearful friends on the liberal side of the spectrum, some perspective: we are not on the fast-track to fascism. In the end, the electoral map just doesn’t add up for Donald Trump and the truth is that the PUMAS (Party Unity My Ass) that supported Clinton in 2008 to the end were far more recalcitrant than the majority of Sanders supporters are today if the polls tell us anything. As the New York Times recently reported: “Still, the Democratic resistance is less widespread than it was in the 2008 primary. While 72 percent of Mr. Sanders’s supporters say they would vote for Mrs. Clinton this fall, a Times/CBS News survey taken in early May 2008 found that only 60 percent of Mrs. Clinton’s supporters said they would vote for Barack Obama in the general election.”
As of this writing, the numbers show that around 80% of Sanders supporters are, however reluctantly, in the Clinton camp, and Trump’s daily implosions are quickly burying him. In fact, Nate Silver is currently putting Clinton’s chances of winning the presidency at around 93.9%. The slightly more conservative model at Real Clear Politics prophesizes a similar shellacking when it’s all said and done.
Clinton is weak with historically high negatives that almost any other conservative candidate might have been able to exploit, but not Trump. Protest votes for Jill Stein won’t save him, nor will the inevitable drip, drip, drip of shitty news about Clinton and the Democrats from WikiLeaks. Trump is, as my friend from Indiana put it, a bad joke.
Surely we can count on a tightened poll or two and several more Trump panics, but it won’t amount to anything.
Thus we can be assured that the Donald will continue to disgust and amaze the corporate media with his predictably outrageous behavior so they can continue to lambast his antics while providing him 24/7 coverage.
It’s good for the ratings.
In the end, we will be able to give three cheers that the calculated incrementalism of the neoliberal wing of the Democratic Party defeated Trump’s cartoon fascism, but that’s a pretty damn low bar.
For clear-eyed progressives, on the other hand, this race is already boring and depressing. As Matt Taibbi noted in Rolling Stone last week, Trump’s incoherent right-wing populism was made possible by Democrats’ continued adherence to neoliberalism and the “borderless utopian religion” of globalization:
The problem with all of this is that the Democrats went so far in the direction of advocacy for the global religion that they made something as idiotic as the rise of unabashed nativist Donald Trump possible.
Worse, Trump’s rise will give the Globalist Faith Militant an automatic argument for more time. They will decry any criticism of free trade or globalization as racist Trumpism, and Trump is such a galactic jackass that this will work, his vast inventory of offensive bleatings discrediting even the legitimate economic concerns of his voters.
And as Thomas Friedman’s recent panic about Clinton’s nods to progressive populism show, the pressure will be on for the Democrats to continue to marginalize the vanquished left and move back to the kinds of policies that have defined the Clintons and the career of her running mate, Tim Kaine.
Why worry? Kathleen Geier of In These Times aptly underlines the reasons why Kaine’s record is hardly encouraging for those hoping for a progressive administration:
[I]f we look at Kaine’s politics on a right/left spectrum, it’s clear that he is one of the more conservative members of the Democratic Party. His roll call votes for the 113th Congress (the most recent figures available) rank him as the 41st most liberal senator (out of 57 who caucus with the Democrats). And then there are his positions on a wide range of core progressive issues: Kaine has close ties to the financial industry and has supported policies such as anti-labor right-to-work laws, “free trade” measures like NAFTA and fast-tracking the TPP, destructive environmental practices such as fracking, and abortion restrictions like the Hyde Amendment and parental notification laws. (Since being pegged as Clinton’s VP, he has reversed course on right-to-work and the TPP.) That’s a picture that should raise alarm bells for those of us who actually are progressives.
So perhaps, Taibbi notes, despite the ongoing Trump circus/Clinton cakewalk that will surely ensue, there is reason to be worried long-term that Clintonism and the Democrats’ “America is already great” chorus will not ultimately address the anger that gave rise to Trump:
But to deny that something needs to be done, and to ask American voters to keep having faith in this “we’ll all see gains in the end” fairytale that so far has very conspicuously only delivered gains to a tiny group of very wealthy people in this country, will do nothing but drive more workers into the Trump tent.
And maybe the next strongman those voters pick to lead them out of the wilderness won’t be quite as huge an idiot, or as suicidal a campaigner, as Trump. Sooner or later, failing to deal with these questions is going to come back and bite all of us.
Yes, we can hope that Trump will evoke so much horror that the right is swept not just from the Senate but also the House, but that’s unlikely as Clinton’s campaign is better suited to electing her than discrediting the Republican Party in general. So is the likelihood that Clinton will not flip on TPP and abandon much of her progressive platform when confronted with a divided government and the reality that triangulation will be the only road to “get things done.”
All that said, it is still crucial to defeat Trump for the future of the country.
The Supreme Court is up for grabs, as is any hope for meaningful action on climate change and a host of other key issues like immigration, criminal justice reform, and much more. This is all surely true.
But after Trump is defeated, progressives who think something big is needed to reverse course on inequality, catastrophic climate change, and the rigged game that is our increasingly oligarchical system will still be in for a huge fight, this time against their presumed champion.
Like it or not, this is the world we live in.