What Hillary Must Do to Win Bernie Voters
It has been a hard year for our friendships, fighting over the course of this presidential primary campaign. I am sure that I have said things which have irritated and upset you, as you have irritated and upset me, even when we have not openly clashed. And so I am writing to you now to describe the presidential race as I see it, to answer your appeal to me to get behind Hillary Clinton, and to appeal to you, in turn, to act in a way that will allow me, and the many folks like me, to respond favorably to your appeal to us.
I want to confess, first, that I am very scared of a Trump presidency. He is, from my limited reading, very much cut from the mold of a Mussolini. As many Americans see or saw Trump as a clown, with all his self-adoring posturings, so too did many Italians see Mussolini as a clown. I have often wondered how Mussolini could take the chaos of post-WWI Italy, the rampant anger at the rule of the rich, and turn that anger into support for a man and a political party which reinforced Italy’s great inequalities.
Well, I am seeing that process unfold here, giving me a bit more clarity as to how that process unfolded in Italy nearly 100 years ago. Only here, in the United States, with its long history of white supremacy, its long history of poor and working class whites turning their anger at racial others, Donald Trump’s task is easier than was Mussolini’s.
So here lie the problems: First, I do not want Donald Trump to become our next President. The only candidate who can defeat Trump, however, is Hillary Clinton.
When Hillary answers Trump’s “Make America Great Again” with her “America Never Stopped Being Great,” she insults and demeans tens of millions of people in this country and she drives them to still more fervent support for Trump.
Unfortunately, Hillary is a weak reed on which to hang my hopes. She is weak because she has not, to this time, been able to address the root cause of so much of the anger that fuels Trump’s candidacy. That anger roots itself, in part, in white supremacy.
Facing disappearing jobs and a declining standard of living, many Trump supporters cast their eyes to a mythical past. This used to be a white man’s country, they say, and if it still was I wouldn’t be in the sad shape I’m in. Hence, the true meaning behind Trump’s pledge to “Make America Great Again”: that we’re going to put these Muslims, and Mexicans, and, yes, black people, back where they belong.
But this is only part of what stands behind the anger of millions of white people in this country. Their standard of living is falling, and falling rapidly. When Hillary answers Trump’s “Make America Great Again” with her “America Never Stopped Being Great,” she insults and demeans tens of millions of people in this country and she drives them to still more fervent support for Trump. She is, in effect, telling people that if they’re suffering it’s their own personal fault. America, after all, is a great country. No wonder Trump’s numbers do not fall, however buffoonishly he conducts his campaign. And then, add to this, the fact that Trump has correctly named one of the sources of the deteriorating standards of living in this country – the free trade export of jobs to low wage parts of the world. In contrast, Hillary dances around the question of these free trade pacts, in unstated deference to her Wall Street backers. Hillary is a terribly weak reed on which to rest our hopes.
Put simply, I could not go door to door in my downscale neighborhood trying to convince my neighbors to vote for Hillary. She offers nothing to my neighbors, nothing but condescension.
Hillary will certainly lose in my state, Tennessee, regardless of what I do. But let’s say despite her weakness she wins nationally and implements her centrist Democratic program: a cosmetically altered TPP, a moderate loosening of regulations on banks, or even a cosmetic tightening of those regulations. The standard of living for the Trump constituency, for my neighbors, and probably for me, will continue to fall, and the anger, and the hatred, and the violence we’ve seen this year, will grow to greater and greater heights. This presidential campaign season will come to look like a hippie peace and love fest as compared to what will follow in the next four years.
You must understand this, friends: I know we all like to blame the Republicans for Trump’s rise, their covert and overt pandering to white supremacist ideology; but just as certainly centrist Democratic policies have also created Trump. In pandering to Wall Street while talking in the name of the people the Democrats have created the grounds for Trump’s candidacy. Continued centrist Democratic policies will fuel the growth of a still more virulent fascist movement in this country. And in 2020 we will have less of a chance of defeating that movement than we have today.
So these are the problems I have with having to rely on Hillary’s candidacy.
You have asked me, in some cases, insisted, that I support Hillary, lest we get Donald. And while I say this without rancor, I must tell you that in some cases some of you have even insulted me, for example, with lines like “It’s time to grow up and get behind Hillary.”
Casting aside that level of discourse, it is now my turn to ask you for something. If you want my vote for Hillary, and the vote of many, many folks like myself, you must do this for me, and for Hillary, and for this nation. You must convince Hillary that if she maintains her ties to Wall Street, if she will not stand up, whole-heartedly to the rich folks, and stand up, wholeheartedly, in the interests of poor and working people; if she will not stand up and really champion $15 an hour, really champion a revamping of healthcare, championing some form of single-payer; if she will not stand up and say that she is going to impose meaningful taxes, and meaningful regulation on the rich and over the great banks and corporations they run; if she will not fund programs for the poor and working people, to safeguard those people from the predations of the rich; if she will not stand down from her long-standing commitment to the use of military force, and cut the military budget so that we can fund the kind of programs that will re-build this country’s infrastructure; if she will not do these kind of things, then you will not vote for her.
This is what I am asking of you.
If you do this, if you can simply get her this message, if not only my immediate Hillary-supporting friends, but millions of good-hearted Hillary supporters can do this, can get her this message, so she hears it, Hillary can have my vote, and, I’m sure, the votes of millions of people like me.
In the meantime, while you are reaching out to your candidate, or not, I will be doing the only sane and rational thing I can think of: I will be working for the Green Party’s candidate, Jill Stein, who brings to the presidential race the same type of platform that I worked for with Bernie.
Does Jill Stein have a chance? No. But by supporting Jill Stein’s candidacy I can talk honestly with my friends and neighbors about the real problems this country faces.
In the end, it’s only our ability to talk frankly about these problems, about the rule of the rich, about the demagoguery that conceals the rule of the rich, it’s only our ability to speak frankly about these problems that can secure us against the likes of a Trump today, and of the still more dangerous Trumps who will follow in the future.