Don Watson, plus Sam Vin­cent,

Josephine Rowe and Je­nan Tay­lor

The Monthly (Australia) - - CONTENTS - COM­MENT BY DON WATSON

“It’s not what you say, it’s what peo­ple hear.”

– Po­lit­i­cal strate­gist Frank Luntz

It seems cer­tain a ma­jor­ity of vot­ers in the United States have – at last – de­cided that Don­ald Trump is too odious and they will elect Hil­lary Clin­ton the 45th pres­i­dent. As she will be the first woman to fill the po­si­tion, this will be a great day for Amer­i­can democ­racy, as great as the day eight years ago when the first African-Amer­i­can was elected. There is noth­ing small in these de­vel­op­ments. From now on nei­ther race nor gen­der stands be­tween an Amer­i­can cit­i­zen and the pres­i­dency. Not only Chelsea Clin­ton or Ivanka Trump but also Michelle Obama and her daugh­ters can be pres­i­dent. Amer­i­can democ­racy just keeps on giv­ing.

Choos­ing a woman to be the most pow­er­ful per­son in the world is only half the good news: the other half is that Trump will not be cho­sen. The world will get a woman and dodge a clus­ter bomb. The trounc­ing she gave him in the first de­bate should have put an end to it. His pro­nounce­ments should have. Or the thought of him as com­man­der-in-chief of the Amer­i­can mil­i­tary and its US$600 bil­lion an­nual bud­get, with his fin­ger never far from the nu­clear but­ton – not that the prospect of Clin­ton in the role is much cause for com­fort.

But the is­sue was not to be de­cided on ques­tions of race or rights, or jus­tice, or the chances of hu­man­ity sur­viv­ing for a few more decades. As com­men­tary on the first pres­i­den­tial de­bate mainly con­cerned the weight of a Miss Uni­verse con­tes­tant, over the sec­ond one loomed an 11-year-old video of a con­ver­sa­tion Trump had with Billy Bush (NBC pre­sen­ter, celebrity spruiker, cousin of Dubya and Jeb, nephew of old Ge­orge) in which Trump spoke of his preda­tory sex­ual habits and likely se­rial as­saults on women. It was this that sent him crash­ing in the polls from a vir­tual tie with Clin­ton to seven points be­hind her, and cost him the sup­port of sev­eral dozen Repub­li­can heav­ies. (For his com­plic­ity in the out­rage, Billy Bush was drummed out of NBC.) Just why it took that video and the sub­se­quent ac­cu­sa­tions of eight women to con­vince so many vot­ers (mainly col­lege-ed­u­cated women, the polls sug­gest) that Trump is a creep is strange in­deed. Couldn’t they tell by watch­ing him? What’s not only strange but alarm­ing, and much more telling, is that a man­i­fest crook and quasi fas­cist be­came the Repub­li­can can­di­date in a land­slide, and just a month from polling day was still within reach of the White House.

There is more good news. Thanks largely to her erst­while Demo­crat op­po­nent Bernie San­ders, Clin­ton will be elected on the most pro­gres­sive plat­form in mem­ory. Sym­pa­thetic com­men­ta­tors who have both­ered to read the party man­i­festo (now in the form of a book called Stronger To­gether) have called it the “new New Deal”. San­ders and his for­mi­da­ble co-re­li­gion­ist El­iz­a­beth War­ren are stump­ing the prov­inces for Clin­ton; some­times, in what must be an un­al­loyed knees-up for pro­gres­sive au­di­ences, they are to­gether on the same stage.

It might be just Clin­ton’s po­lit­i­cal re­flexes, but there are signs that some­thing of her old re­form­ing self has been awak­ened by the cam­paign. She can still mix her ex­cep­tion­al­ist mantras – on tele­vi­sion af­ter the shoot­ing of an un­armed black man in Ok­la­homa, she said it was not the way to “the city on the hill, striv­ing for the more per­fect union” – but she now also talks about “sys­temic racism” and “im­plicit bias” in in­sti­tu­tions in­clud­ing the na­tion’s po­lice forces, and the need for white Amer­i­cans to imag­ine them­selves in black Amer­i­cans’ shoes.

This is brav­ery unimag­in­able six months ago. No doubt Clin­ton has been pulled there by Black Lives Mat­ter, as she’s been pulled to more rad­i­cal po­si­tions by San­ders and

War­ren. And she must have been made bolder by Trump’s in­sipid­ness in the first de­bate and his down­right scary per­for­mance in the sec­ond. And all the while the Repub­li­cans look more craven and in­ept.

In the cir­cum­stances Clin­ton was bound to say that, while glob­al­i­sa­tion, trade and im­mi­gra­tion are good for Amer­ica, and while the econ­omy is grow­ing and job growth is un­prece­dented, the coun­try has to do more for those who missed out on the ben­e­fits. But the plat­form goes beyond that kind of cant. The prom­ises are many and im­pres­sive. There’s the big­gest in­vest­ment in jobs since World War Two, the big­gest in­vest­ment in in­fra­struc­ture since Eisen­hower’s high­way pro­gram. She will make Amer­ica “the clean en­ergy su­per­power of the world”. She will “re­ward” com­pa­nies that in­vest in Amer­i­can jobs and share prof­its with their em­ploy­ees, and pe­nalise those that move their busi­ness over­seas to avoid tax. She’ll re­form the tax code in favour of work­ing Amer­i­cans, “make debt-free col­lege avail­able to ev­ery­one”. There will be paid fam­ily and med­i­cal leave; child care; “uni­ver­sal, qual­ity, af­ford­able health care”; im­mi­gra­tion re­form. Her hus­band’s “three strikes” pol­icy not­with­stand­ing, she in­tends “end­ing mass in­car­cer­a­tion”. The Trans Pa­cific Part­ner­ship is weighted too heav­ily against Amer­i­can jobs and Amer­i­can in­ter­ests, and she will op­pose it “be­fore and af­ter the elec­tion”. The North Amer­i­can Free Trade Agree­ment (NAFTA) will be “rene­go­ti­ated”. There will be tougher reg­u­la­tion of Wall Street and the banks, and tougher penal­ties for ex­ec­u­tive mis­cre­ants. “As Pres­i­dent,” vot­ers are told, “Hil­lary will make sure that cor­po­ra­tions and the most for­tu­nate play by the rules and pay their fair share – be­cause they can af­ford it, and we’re all in this to­gether.” Well, some­times she does stray to­wards cant.

The Clin­ton do­mes­tic doc­trine di­rectly con­fronts the Repub­li­cans’ per­sis­tent 30-year ef­fort to sat­isfy their greed­in­spired anti-govern­ment ob­ses­sions and their his­toric mis­sion to dis­man­tle the New Deal with what is gen­er­ally known as sup­ply-side (or “trickle down”, or “horse and spar­row”) eco­nom­ics. Keynes – or at least Paul Krug­man – is back. The wife of the pres­i­dent who let cap­i­tal off its postDe­pres­sion leash says she will put it on again. “Democrats for the Leisure Class” is what Jesse Jackson called Bill Clin­ton’s Demo­cratic Lead­er­ship Coun­cil; but the woman who fol­lowed her hus­band’s every step as he took the

Democrats to the right, to the donor class and the elites – or to­wards “prag­matic” pro­gres­sivism, as she called it when she was try­ing to beat off Bernie – will now lead them back to the work­ing class. The can­di­date whose hus­band gave the coun­try NAFTA, and the ally of the pres­i­dent who wants to give us all the Trans Pa­cific Part­ner­ship, has lined up with their op­po­nents. The free trader has be­come the eco­nomic na­tion­al­ist. The woman who earned just shy of a quar­ter of a mil­lion dol­lars each time she spoke to Wall Street has sworn to rein the banks in. The can­di­date whose cam­paign raised bil­lions from cor­po­ra­tions says she will make good cit­i­zens of them. By God, she’s go­ing to end every species of in­jus­tice and cor­rup­tion and make Amer­ica great again – Whoops!

We don’t have to be­lieve her, of course. And a lot of peo­ple don’t: ac­cord­ing to a re­cent poll, up­wards of 60% of mil­len­ni­als, for in­stance. Two in ten Obama sup­port­ers say they will not vote for her. Only six in ten Demo­crat-lean­ing in­de­pen­dents in­tend to vote for Demo­crat can­di­dates for the Se­nate that Clin­ton must have on her side if she’s to gov­ern with ef­fect and get her jus­tices onto the Supreme Court. It might be enough to win the White House, but re­ly­ing on the anti-Trump vote to over­come the anti-Hil­lary fac­tor looks like a los­ing strat­egy in the longer run. A quar­ter of San­ders sup­port­ers are still hold­ing out against Clin­ton. Sixty per cent of mil­len­ni­als say the coun­try needs a revo­lu­tion, not in­cre­men­tal change, and that in­cludes half of those who in­tend to vote for Clin­ton. James Carville’s Democ­racy Corps found trickle-down eco­nom­ics and cor­po­rate power and wealth were mil­len­ni­als’ dom­i­nant con­cerns, and Clin­ton made most progress with them when she made the case against ne­olib­er­al­ism and said what they wanted to hear: “that [she] is up­set with what is hap­pen­ing with cor­po­ra­tions and politi­cians and she will take on the cor­po­rate spe­cial in­ter­ests”.

Clin­ton not only needs her new pro­gres­sive mes­sage, she needs to be­lieve in it. The story of Hil­lary Clin­ton, as it is un­der­stood by Amer­i­can vot­ers, has kept Trump in the game, and it will do more than a bit to keep Repub­li­cans in con­trol of Congress. What’s more, prag­matic pro­gres­sivism (or “ra­tio­nal”, or “ne­olib­eral”, or “nei­ther lib­eral nor con­ser­va­tive”, or what­ever you want to call the Clin­tons’ guid­ing phi­los­o­phy) has not al­ways proved to be ei­ther prag­matic or pro­gres­sive. Sup­port for the in­va­sion of Iraq comes to mind, as does the per­sis­tent fail­ure to re­gain the House ma­jor­ity they lost in 1994. Mrs Clin­ton needs a new story, not just to counter Trump’s tale of be­trayal and de­cline and the GOP’s Ayn Rand fix­a­tion; she needs it to give her­self a new iden­tity and her pres­i­dency mo­men­tum and pur­pose. It will be as noth­ing to the might of the mil­i­tary, and even less to the un­stop­pable forces of eco­nomic glob­al­i­sa­tion and mo­nop­o­li­sa­tion. But with­out a rad­i­cal chap­ter in her story the past 18 months, not to say her life­time of re­lent­less work and ma­noeu­vring, will be for pre­cious lit­tle.

More to the point, her coun­try needs it. US in­fra­struc­ture is run-down; wages for a third of the pop­u­la­tion are pa­thet­i­cally low; in­equal­ity is grotesque, and wors­en­ing; the sys­tem, as El­iz­a­beth War­ren says every day, is rigged – to­wards the very rich. And if the pat­tern con­tin­ues, the repub­lic, as its founders warned, might not en­dure. Clin­ton should need no con­vinc­ing: the proof is right in front of her and its name is Trump. It’s there in every Trump rally, every Tea Party rally, every time Trump says that as pres­i­dent he will put her in jail or one of his sup­port­ers says she should be shot. It’s there not only in Trump but also in those lin­ing up to suc­ceed him. And in the dark forces, both old and new, and the per­va­sive fear that, with the help of Fox News and the wis­dom of Frank Luntz, they will con­tinue to feed and be fed by.

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