‘Does this mean we have to vote for Hillary?’ asked my wife. It was early morning 16 March, and the queen consort of the Democratic party had seemingly sewn up the presidential nomination — a coronation promised years ago by her king but thus far denied by unruly subjects.
As I scanned the headline in the New York Times, ‘Clinton and Trump Pile up the Delegates’, I felt sick at heart. The Times has functioned throughout the campaign as court gazette for the Clintons, but there was no denying the basic accuracy of the story. Rebounding from Bernie Sanders’s stunning upset a week earlier in the Michigan primary — a victory that defied the polls and the Clinton propaganda machine — Clinton had won Florida, Illinois, North Carolina and, most depressingly, Ohio, where Clinton-ism has committed some of its worst ravages in the form of ‘free trade’ deals, bank deregulation and ‘welfare reform’.
Sanders partly had himself to blame. Despite his denunciation of Wall Street chicanery and factory jobs lost to China and Mexico, the insurgent senator from Vermont has repeatedly failed to be specific, tactically flexible or appropriately critical of Hillary’s profound dishonesty. Beginning last October, when he gave her a pass on her use of private emails while employed in her public position as Secretary of State (‘the American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails’), the self-proclaimed socialist insisted on placing politeness and decorum above strategic intelligence.
This is no way to beat the Clinton couple, whose corruption and cynicism at times leaves me breathless. Over their long political careers, Bill and Hillary have been perpetually on the make and on the take — from Wall Street, from Walmart, from foreign governments via the Clinton Foundation — and Sanders can’t bring himself to say that clearly.
But my wife’s question wasn’t about Hillary per se. It was about Hillary as the last rampart against the vicious vulgarity of Donald Trump. If ever there were a moral case for choosing the lesser of two evils, wasn’t this it? My answer is no. For one thing, Clintonism, in its dogged adherence to political deception, is in large measure to blame for the rise of Trump. The Clintons specialise in double-talk and hypocrisy. Promoting the virtues and ‘inevitability’ of globalisation is deeply cynical when incomes are stagnant or falling — when blue-collar workers see their jobs and the futures of their children evaporating into smoke clouds over Juárez or Shanghai. But it’s worse when you masquerade as a friend of the working class, all the while taking huge campaign donations from financial firms and $225,000 a speech from Goldman Sachs. Salesmanship, as Donald Trump probably knows, only goes so far. Eventually the suckers tire of the pitch.
No friend of labour, Trump benefits from the Clintons’ reliance on Wall Street cash and works it to his advantage: ‘Look at me,’ he shouts. ‘I’m too rich to be bought!’ The Clintons have snubbed their noses at ordinary people for decades now, mocking them with bromides about ‘the future of our global economy’, ‘internet freedom’ and business ‘innovation’, so they shouldn’t be surprised when a Trump comes along and rouses the hoi polloi to a rage. The former Autolite spark-plug worker in Fostoria, Ohio, who used to make $22 an hour, knows that ‘innovation’ won’t bring back his old job from someone on two dollars an hour (any more than Clinton Foundation-sponsored ‘microloans’ will help poor Africans). In comes Trump with his supposedly straight talk, and desperate people, their intelligence insulted by the Clintons, rally to his candidacy.
Would that the Clintons actually believed some of their own rhetoric. There is, I concede, a principled case to be made for genuine free trade. But the Clintons don’t believe in anything beyond their own careers. They don’t really support free trade as a concept and they don’t oppose it either. Successfully harassed by Sanders over Nafta and Permanent Normal Trade Relations with China, Clinton suddenly dropped her support for the Trans Pacific Partnership (a trade deal designed to facilitate US corporate production in Vietnam and Malaysia to make up for rising labour costs in China). She’s lying when she says she’s changed positions, but her positions are meaningless in any event. For Bill and Hillary, ‘free trade’ is just a fundraising angle designed to please Wall Street grandees.
God knows why Bernie Sanders or Trump don’t ridicule Hillary’s six years of service on the board of Walmart, the gigantic retail chain that hates labour unions and loves buying cheap products made in China. In 2005, Hillary, then the junior senator from heavily unionised New York, piously sent back a $5,000 contribution from the company’s political action committee because the association with Walmart had turned bad for her image. But she hasn’t returned any of her director’s fees earned from 1986 to 1992, and I haven’t seen her calling for unionisation or pay rises for any of Walmart’s 1.4 million employees. As of 1 January a new, full-time entry-level ‘sales associate’ is paid $9 an hour. After completing Walmart’s ‘Pathways’ training programme, they are raised to a pharaonic $10 an hour, with the hope of someday making it to $13.38. For a former factory worker who once made $20 an hour with good health insurance, Pathways is a pathway to voting Trump. No euphemism (Walmart extolling its ‘competitive pay’ scale or Hillary promoting her ‘progressive’ credentials) can suppress the humiliation of the downwardly mobile.
Trump’s working-class supporters are supposed to be stupid about a lot of things, including foreign policy. But they’re clearly smart enough to understand that it’s they or their kids, not Chelsea Clinton or her hedge-funder husband, who fought the stupid war in Iraq. Hillary Clinton has never apologised for voting in favour of George W. Bush’s destructive folly, and she won’t. There’s a reason she embraced Bush at Nancy Reagan’s funeral. She has no shame.
Of course I won’t vote for Donald Trump. He’s a wolf in wolf’s clothing. But all around me I hear liberal sheep rustling in the fields, preparing to rationalise their vote for Hillary. I’d rather spoil my ballot by writing in ‘Jeremy Corbyn’ — and take my chances with the wolf.
John R. MacArthur is publisher of Harper’s magazine.