Business Day

While Clin­ton is flayed, Trump gets an easy pass

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IT HAS been both in­ter­est­ing and de­press­ing to watch the in­tense me­dia scru­tiny and crit­i­cism of US Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee Hil­lary Clin­ton’s re­marks at a pri­vate cam­paign fundraiser ear­lier this week to the ef­fect that her op­po­nent, Repub­li­can nom­i­nee Don­ald Trump, has le­git­imised some of the most un­savoury views held by Amer­i­cans from the ex­treme right wing.

Clin­ton ad­mit­ted that she was per­haps be­ing “grossly gen­er­al­is­tic” in say­ing: “You could put half of Trump’s sup­port­ers into what I call the bas­ket of de­plorables. Right? The racist, sex­ist, ho­mo­pho­bic, xeno­pho­bic, Is­lam­o­pho­bic — you name it. And un­for­tu­nately there are peo­ple like that. And he has lifted them up.”

She has been sav­aged in the me­dia since her ut­ter­ances were leaked to the me­dia. From sage po­lit­i­cal an­a­lysts who have ar­gued that it never looks good to at­tack vot­ers in­stead of can­di­dates (a view I agree with), to con­ser­va­tive crit­ics who have ig­nored her own dis­claimer and at­tacked her for mak­ing a “gross gen­er­al­i­sa­tion” about mil­lions of Amer­i­can vot­ers.

This fresh scan­dal is yet another ex­am­ple of the dou­ble stan­dards and false moral equiv­a­len­cies that have de­fined news cov­er­age of the US pres­i­den­tial cam­paign since Trump first en­tered the race last year.

Trump de­clared dur­ing a pri­mary cam­paign rally ear­lier this year that he could shoot some­body in the mid­dle of Fifth Av­enue in New York City, and it would still not dent his sup­port lev­els. Dur­ing a me­dia con­fer­ence in July, re­flect­ing on the e-mail server scan­dal that has dogged the former sec­re­tary of state through­out her cam­paign, Trump urged Rus­sia’s in­tel­li­gence ser­vices to hack her e-mail and “find the 30,000 e-mails that are miss­ing”.

“I think,” he added, “you will prob­a­bly be re­warded might­ily by our press.”

On both counts, Trump seems to have been right: his re­marks about mur­der­ing a mem­ber of the pub­lic did noth­ing to dam­age his cam­paign. And the me­dia has largely re­warded his call to for­eign es­pi­onage by the Rus­sian govern­ment with the same blan­ket cov­er­age that has fol­lowed every dis­grace­ful thing he has said on the cam­paign trail.

Clin­ton, on the other hand, has been re­peat­edly flayed for stat­ing the ob­vi­ous: Trump’s cam­paign has main­streamed racism, sex­ism, ho­mo­pho­bia, xeno­pho­bia; his sup­port­ers hold racist, sex­ist, ho­mo­pho­bic and xeno­pho­bic views. And all these things are de­plorable.

Dur­ing party po­lit­i­cal con­ven­tion sea­son in the US ear­lier this year, an in­ter­est­ing con­ver­sa­tion took place on so­cial me­dia around the hash­tag #girlgues­simwith­her or “Girl, guess I’m with her”. A play on Clin­ton’s cam­paign slo­gan “I’m with her”, the hash­tag was an ex­pres­sion of the muted en­thu­si­asm felt by le­gions of black Amer­i­can women for Clin­ton’s can­di­da­ture. They would sup­port her, the con­ver­sa­tion in­di­cated, but re­luc­tantly so.

So too would sup­port­ers of Se­na­tor Bernie San­ders, whose anti-es­tab­lish­ment cam­paign failed, some­what in­evitably, to se­cure him the Demo­cratic nom­i­na­tion. In­deed, re­luc­tance seems to be the dom­i­nant sen­ti­ment among many vot­ers for whom Clin­ton’s his­toric nom­i­na­tion should be cause for mas­sive cel­e­bra­tion.

This at­ti­tude to­wards Clin­ton, who is seen in many quar­ters as a can­di­date of the po­lit­i­cal es­tab­lish­ment, seems to echo a malaise felt by the cit­i­zens of many democ­ra­cies in the de­vel­oped world to­day over po­lit­i­cal elites.

Many have not for­given the sins of the 2008 fi­nan­cial cri­sis, the mas­sive govern­ment bailouts and large-scale fail­ure of ac­count­abil­ity they at­tribute to a po­lit­i­cal elite that is em­bed­ded with big busi­ness. And while it is easy to un­der­stand their dis­il­lu­sion­ment, it is dif­fi­cult sim­i­larly to credit their re­sponse — throw­ing elec­toral sup­port be­hind pop­ulists, dem­a­gogues and an odi­ous and ex­treme right-winger whose claims to be “anti-es­tab­lish­ment” would be laugh­able were they not taken so se­ri­ously by so many.

In France, pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates feel­ing the heat from their right flank have started sup­port­ing Is­lam­o­pho­bic cam­paigns to ban the “burkini” on pub­lic beaches. In Bri­tain, part of the fall­out from ex­it­ing the EU has been the ap­point­ment of a for­eign min­is­ter who once cheer­fully re­ferred to the cit­i­zens of African Com­mon­wealth states as “flag-wav­ing pic­canin­nies” who “break out in wa­ter­melon smiles to see the big white chief touch down in his big white Bri­tish tax­payer-funded bird”.

This is the world in which we live to­day — one in which ex­trem­ists are ex­pected to make de­plorable com­ments, while those oc­cu­py­ing the po­lit­i­cal cen­tre must walk on eggshells in de­fence of val­ues that un­til re­cently were con­sid­ered self-ev­i­dent. With every sub­se­quent elec­tion cam­paign, it seems the rhetoric of the right wing can only grow more in­flam­ma­tory.

Maz­ibuko, a former par­lia­men­tary leader of the DA, is a res­i­dent fel­low of the Har­vard In­sti­tute of Pol­i­tics.

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