That the Republican nomination of Donald Trump came in the same year the Democrats pass the baton from the first black President to the first female nominee is no coincidence. That Brexit occurred as the British Labour are led by a committed socialist, and elected the first Muslim Mayor of London should be no surprise. Donald Trump, Nigel Farage and their counterparts thrive on the loss of traditional entitlements incumbent in a changing world – the boiling frustration when your country, your gender and your race is no longer top of the tree. As the New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik wrote, “at the very moment when the old counterculture claims its biggest prize yet, the anti-counterculture makes its most vociferous and unhinged protest.”
It is ironic that the hopes of that counterculture now rest with Hillary Clinton, a candidate with a history so chequered as to almost admonish her progressive credentials. Whilst university students heeded Bob Dylan’s call for a change in the times, Hillary was a young Republican campaigning for the unsuccessful Presidential nominee Barry Goldwater – in many ways the forefather of Trumpism in America. She sat on the board of several prominent NGOs which lifted many out of poverty, yet also sat on the board of Wal-Mart where she remained silent on the deunionization of their workforce and consequent exploitation. She attacked the gendered violence of the Taliban and lauded feminism on the world stage, then supported the disastrous Iraq War which compounded the region’s manifold problems. She fought for healthcare, childcare, family violence assistance and the rights of children, then supported the unshackling of Wall Street which decimated the US economy and left formerly middle-class families languishing below the poverty line. Few careers have been so illustrious, yet so replete with contradictions.
Yet, in contrast to her only genuine rival, Hillary should appear saintly. If we are to set aside the equivocation, accommodation, fascination and appropriation of The Donald by the mainstream media, and attempt as much as is possible in our inextricably mediated lives to cast an objective eye upon such an absurd phenomenon, there is no doubt in my mind what we are witnessing – the contemporary incarnation of fascism in America. The mythology Trump has conjured is akin to a theatrical recontextualisation of Mein Kampf. The unapologetic white saviour rises amidst a pervasive national malaise, employing fanfare, divisive rhetoric and an imaginary fading Golden Age which he alone, with his unique bullish commitment, can resurrect.
Perhaps the greatest tragedy is the ease with which Trump has repurposed left-wing rhetoric, and the failure of progressives to convincingly reclaim their own discursive frame. Trump’s “lying media” diatribes sound like a dumbed-down Noam Chomsky book. His tales of post-industrial decay could be excerpts from union rallies. Trump has applied some Hollywood glitter and a spray tan to increasingly resonant left-wing arguments which, ironically, the Left is yet to promulgate persuasively. Yet, as with many of Trump’s products, scraping away the boastful veneer exposes a void of substance. His policies, largely an afterthought, would further entrench the inequalities he purports to reverse. To address the stagnation of the lower and middle classes, Trump proposes massive tax cuts for businesses and the wealthy. To help Americans afford healthcare, he will take away their government subsidies. To reign in the corrupt system of hoarding elites, he would repeal legislation limiting reckless bank loans and financial scams.
For non-Americans, it is tempting to assume the USA is populated with idiots. How can they not see through this shonky showman? One explanation pervasive in the mainstream media is that Trump supporters are not invariably racist, but are poor workers emasculated by economic globalization who want revenge. Yet, Trump supporters earn approximately $72,000 per year, which is $10,000 more than the average white American household. People who have lost their job, or live in areas affected by manufacturing decline are less likely to vote for Trump than the gainfully employed. Working class people make up only 30% of Trump’s supporters. The only consistently unifying characteristics of Trump supporters are unfavourable views of ethnic minorities and respect for authoritarianism. Attempting to mask Trump supporters’ actual concerns is not “taking them seriously” – it is a rather patronizing projection of the Left’s innermost insecurities about the rising inequality, institutional decay and social fragmentation and disenfranchisement. If you listen to Trump’s supporters, they will tell you their real concerns. They don’t like Muslims and Mexicans. There is no inextricable link between class and racism – they may interrelate, but are ultimately independent variables. Disentangling these variables is a task the Left must tend to, or else be led by the insidious narratives of white nationalism.
It is no surprise, given less than ideal candidates available, that many progressives have turned to third parties. Actress Susan Sarandon, for instance, spoke to the BBC on why she will support the Green Party’s Jill Stein. “I am worried about the wars, I am worried about Syria… I’m worried about fracking,” Sarandon said. “I’m worrying about the environment. No matter who gets in they don’t address these things because money has taken over our system.” On these fronts, whilst Trump is still uniquely horrible, the candidates are undoubtedly too similar for comfort.
Furthermore, many contrarian left-wingers such as Slavoj Zizek and John Pilger have claimed a Trump victory may even be necessary to smash the corrupt systems of US government. Repurposing Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine, which claims that neoliberals have strategically exploited crises to advance their cause, the narrative goes that Trump will leave behind a smouldering mess, fertile ground for progressives to sow the seeds of a socialist utopia.
Such radical positions are perhaps understandable given the tumult of our times. They are also thoroughly indulgent, and incredibly dangerous. Many claim they simply must vote with their conscience, unlike millions of other Americans who are presumably unprincipled or not sufficiently enlightened to see through the fog of conspiracy. It is emblematic of a contemporary moment so toxically volatile that voting based on a synthesis of one’s beliefs and a rational calculation of the potential effects of one’s vote is so easily conflated with the shameful complicity in a rigged system.
Yet despite the claims of moral purists to “vote with your heart”, there is no such thing as an unpragmatic vote. To vote purely based on the alignment of a candidate’s beliefs with your own, without consideration for the actual effect your vote will have is immoral. Ballot papers are not manifestos of personal beliefs – they are contributions to a brutally numeric, unemotive process which, in this instance, will result in a single candidate leading the most powerful country on earth.
People can vote how they like, but they must be willing to own the consequences. In the US first-past-the-post system, a vote for anyone other than Clinton risks a Trump presidency. For activists like Susan Sarandon, the material consequences would be minimal. Her relatives will not be banned from entering the country. She will be able to pay for healthcare without the government assistance Trump proposes to scrap. She won’t fall below the poverty line when Trump abandons those no longer useful to him. But millions of Americans will, as will hundreds of millions abroad. Those longing to smash the system must consider what might be left in the wake.
If I were American, I would have voted for Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primaries. I hope his revolution rolls on, and weighs heavily on Hillary’s mind if she does win the election. But it should be self-evident that Clinton will make a better President than Trump. It is perhaps the ultimate case of an unqualified male being elevated to the status of a vastly more qualified female. Her transgressions, whilst by no means beyond criticism, pale in comparison to the abominably bleak future Trump would usher in. A victory for Hillary may be a victory for the political class, but it will also be a great loss for the most potent far-right nationalist movement in modern American history. And as the election already casts a long shadow into the murky future of US politics, that reverberation would be profound indeed.