Hillary Clinton embraces Henry Kissinger at the Atlantic Council.
The 2016 Presidential election looms ever nearer. On the right, Hillary Clinton offers platitudes, false promises, and outright lies, while on the far-right, Donald Trump echoes the sentiments of fascist demagogues before him. Both candidates pledge to kill enormous amounts of people if elected. Both candidates have little to no response to the growing global crises of our age. Both candidates essentially hope to fiddle while Rome burns.
If you’re familiar with any of my previous works, you’re probably thinking I sound like a stuck record. Last April, I wrote a piece about Clinton’s penchant for bloodthirstiness and corruption, a piece met with derision by devoted Democrats (the sort of people who talk about Barack Obama as though he were their personal friend, or some such nonsense).
Though I published this piece way before the rise of Donald Trump, I was (and have been) repeatedly informed by liberals that even mild criticisms of Hillary Clinton boost Trump’s chances of winning the election, and thus the chances of losing our hard-won social victories. It was my civic duty as any kind of progressive to hold my tongue and support Clinton on election day (despite being a British citizen) to stop fascism in its tracks.
We might call this Lesser Evil Syndrome, whereby voters begrudgingly support the candidate with the best chance of winning who isn’t the candidate they hate or fear. Of course, many people who intend to vote for Hillary Clinton are enthusiastic disciples, but others who are critical or even hostile towards her will still reluctantly vote for her in November because the idea of a Trump Presidency is too much to bear. To varying degrees, her lackluster campaign seems to rely on this – it often substitutes meaningful policy substance with foreboding tales of Trump’s plans.
John Halle and Noam Chomsky recently published a defense of Lesser Evil Syndrome, in which they essentially argue that voting should not be a form of self-expression or any attempt at a moral judgement. Instead, it should be a measure designed to inflict the least amount of harm on the fewest people possible, in this case by voting for Hillary Clinton. For the authors,
“The suffering which [Trump’s] extremist policies and attitudes will impose on marginalized and already oppressed populations has a high probability of being significantly greater than that which will result from a Clinton presidency” and “should Trump win [because of the left’s] failure to support Clinton, it will repeatedly face the accusation (based in fact), that it lacks concern for those sure to be most victimized by a Trump administration”.
At face value, Halle and Chomsky’s defense of Lesser Evil Syndrome has the curious effect of telling all of those who will be victimized by Hillary Clinton to go to hell.
If Clinton’s record is anything to go by – from threatening to commit nuclear genocide against Iran, to joining Haiti’s factory owners as they sought to destroy a minimum wage increase – she has, at times, implemented many of Trump’s policies.
The fact that she recognizes the threat global warming poses and Trump doesn’t (something Halle and Chomsky stress repeatedly), does not mean she has done much to mitigate it – her time at the State Department reveals that she repeatedly pushed fracking onto countries that didn’t want it, and meekly supported the Keystone XL pipeline until it became impossible not to oppose it.
Immigration, also oft-cited by those suffering from Lesser Evil Syndrome, yields few fruits either – Trump’s plan to deport millions of people is shocking and brutish, but Clinton has boasted about supporting a Mexican border wall, and admitted to deporting orphaned refugees while at the State Department.
“Truly, how can we call something “lesser” when it creates the framework for the “more”” – Andrew Smolski
Regardless, Halle and Chomsky’s crucial point is that if Trump wins, the left will be blamed for the things he does, making it harder to get their voice heard within the Democratic Party and get the changes they want in society more generally (if not supporting Clinton makes the establishment stronger, imagine what will happen if you do support her!).
In fact, the exact opposite seem to be true, as borne out by two dark chapters of European history:
In the final days of the Wiemar Republic, the Social Democratic Party of Germany sensed that the country’s mood was decidedly right-wing. In the belief that Paul Von Hindenburg could reign in the worst of fascism (he was considered the ‘lesser evil’), the SDP refused to put forward its own candidate, and backed Hindenburg in order to keep Hitler out of power. So enthusiastic was their belief that Hitler must be stopped at all costs that according to Hal Draper, they “rejected with scorn the revolutionary proposal to run their own independent candidate against both reactionary alternatives”. Hindenburg won the election, failed to rescue the German economy from depression, and appointed Adolf Hitler as Chancellor in 1933.
Mussolini’s rise to power during the 1920’s offers a similar warning. Italy at this time found itself in the grips of the Squadrismo, bands of fascist thugs who assaulted and murdered people and seized control of public spaces. Liberal politicians in the Italian Parliament sought to stop this fascist violence by any means necessary – even if it meant refraining from criticizing Mussolini, or even openly supporting him. In their cowardice, many praised his no-nonsense approach to corruption and disorder, and saw him as the only one capable of reigning in the Squadrismo. In other words, Mussolini was considered the ‘lesser evil’ even though he was responsible for much of the violence liberals were afraid of.
Naturally, the United States in 2016 faces very different calamities to those of the past. But the point is that allying with establishment or ‘lesser evil’ candidates rarely staves off the threat of fascism and idiocy, and certainly does little to shore up the ideological basis of the establishment philosophy. The SDP and the Italian liberals were not shored up by opting for the lesser evil – they were destroyed by it, and so was the chance for a real leftist opposition.
Even if we ignore the warnings of the past, Halle and Chomsky have not properly considered how Donald Trump has risen so high to begin with. It is not down to the work of Fascist Fairies who delicately sprinkle White Supremacy Dust on people’s pillows at night – it is down to decades of political corruption, economic stagnation, endless hungry wars, racist police violence, and an ever-widening gulf between the rich and poor, all of which establishment candidates are directly responsible for regardless of which party they hail from. No, Trump will not depart from this playbook, but he promises to, and that’s all that matters.
Democrats may humanize the inhumane through cutesy social media distractions, and throw the occasional tasty scrap down to the proles, but to think that they have any meaningful economic or foreign policy differences with the Republican Party is absurd and anti-historical. To think that opting for the right-wing instead of the far-right is anything but a self-defeating and short-sighted attempt at defeating fascism is also absurd and anti-historical. Both parties serve the interests of capital, above all else.
When one examines Hillary Clinton’s record in any meaningful detail, Halle and Chomsky’s argument seems to be that she is the preferable candidate because she will offer platitudes to today’s global crises and may leave the door ajar for the left to squeeze in. Conversely, Trump offers no such platitudes, and so he must be stopped. Reassuring lies are apparently a meaningful and preferable difference to frightening lies.
If the difference between the greater evil and the lesser evil is in the speeches they give and the language they use, rather than what their record shows, then voting truly has become a totally nihilistic and pointless exercise.
Signing the death warrants of Palestinian children at the ballot box is not a worthy price to pay for a candidate who will entrench corruption and illegality but will at least take good selfies while she does it. If for no other reason than that it doesn’t work.