THE RUSSIAN PLOT: Or, How to Avoid Responsiblity for Losing a Presidential Election
The presidential campaign of 2016 presented Hillary Clinton with a seemingly irresistible opportunity, one that also coincided with her natural inclinations: to run to Donald Trump’s right on issues of foreign policy. Without a clue, even after the Bernie Sanders rebellion, that the working class was preparing to jump ship in key industrial (that is, de-industrialized) states, Clinton and her advisors labored hard to paint Trump as a Russian “puppet” who could not be depended on to protect America’s ubiquitous interests around the globe.
That the Democrats’ messages were mixed, if not contradictory, didn’t seem to matter. Assuming that most working people would have no choice but to vote for Hillary against a billionaire realtor with an anti-labor record, they insisted that Donald Trump was too unstably hawkish to be trusted with the U.S. nuclear codes, and too buddy-buddy with Vladimir Putin to serve as a reliable hawk. What voters made of these inconsistent charges is unknown, but they probably served only to confirm Trump’s assertion that Clinton was the candidate of the Establishment while he was the agent of change.
Did hacking of the DNC and John Podesta’s emails by the Russians (or leaks by non-Russians, or some other form of cybernetic shenanigans) cost Clinton the election? On the one hand, the margin of victory in key states was close enough to suggest that any one of several hundred factors, including the alleged hacks, might have been decisive. On the other, despite dogmatic assertions by Clinton partisans like New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, there is virtually no evidence that the hacks had a decisive effect.
“Did the combination of Russian and F.B.I. intervention swing the election?” Krugman asks. The question itself is odd, to say the least, since combining Russian and F.B.I. activities into one “Putin/Comey” entity dodges the question of whether either activity alone had a causal effect. In any case, he answers, “Clinton lost three states – Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania – by less than a percentage point, and Florida by only slightly more.” (Actually, the margin of victory was this close only in Michigan.) “If she had won any three of those states, she would be president-elect. Is there any reasonable doubt that Putin/Comey made the difference?”
Readers with a modicum of critical sense and logical training will recognize that this rhetorical question conceals a non sequitur. Not only is Putin’s involvement in the alleged hacks still an unproved hypothesis rather than a fact, but even supposing that he ordered or knew about the hacks, there IS reasonable doubt that either his role or Comey’s was decisive. Other explanations of why Clinton lost five key states that Barrack Obama won handily in 2012 are more convincing and far more easily substantiated than the Russian Plot hypothesis.
Recall that Clinton went down to defeat in Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida, thus losing the election to Donald Trump by 74 electoral votes. The key fact, which many liberal analysts seem determined to minimize, was the defection of large numbers of normally Democratic voters in de-industrialized states suffering from skyrocketing inequality, wage stagnation, business shutdowns, underemployment, shortened life expectancies, and callous neglect by the governing elite. If anti-Clinton activities by Andrew Comey, Julian Assange, the Russians, or anyone else did have an effect on voters’ behavior, the underlying context for this was intense, widespread feelings of betrayal on the part of workers effectively abandoned by Democratic leaders beholden to Wall Street and the Pentagon – a leadership that seemed far more interested in assisting marginalized identity groups than in solving the problem of class oppression.
Among white workers, racism, anti-immigrant sentiment, and misogyny clearly played a role in Trump’s victory – but it is crucial to remember that racism, nativism, and sexism are not the result of character defects. They are false answers to unsolved social problems. One of the basic laws of modern history is that racist nationalism surges when working people suffer and no credible socioeconomic remedies are on offer. (As the German Marxists used to say of a parallel situation, “Anti-Semitism is the socialism of fools.”) Moreover, whites weren’t the only people responsible for the narrow Republican victory. According to the Pew Foundation, Trump ran about as well among whites as Romney did in 2012, but Clinton did not do nearly as well among African-American and Hispanic voters as Obama had done.
The great lesson of the election, I believe, is the need to restructure the American social, economic, and political systems to give working people control over their own lives and destinies. But this seems to be the last thing that most Republicans or Democrats want to discuss. In fact, restructuring remains a taboo subject, since to think about it means recognizing that elitist social systems exist, allowing people to imagine the existence of alternative systems, and asking them to choose which system or combination of systems they would like best. It’s far more comforting for liberal and conservative elitists to obsess about the Russian Plot and to hold the “deplorables” responsible for Clinton’s defeat than to overcome these taboos.
What, then, is to be done, now that The Donald is naming cabinet members and preparing to occupy the White House? I have three blunt messages for the anti-Trump forces. Please pardon my lack of nuance, but liberal and pseudo-radical posturing has gotten under my skin!
First: Stop using the Russian Plot and F.B.I. director James Comey’s ill-considered statements to delegitimize the election of Donald Trump.
The election Clinton lost was certainly no more rigged or unfair than, say, the election of 1960 (won for John F. Kennedy by Mayor Richard J. Daley of Chicago) or that of 2000 (won for George W. Bush by five justices of the U.S. Supreme Court). If the Russians screwed with us this year, that’s not good – but we haven’t stopped screwing with them since 1989.
The attempt by hard-core Clintonites to revive Cold War-style Russophobia in order to delegitimize Trump makes “bad loser” seem a grotesque understatement. If it’s obviously wrong to whip up racism, sexism, or anti-LGBT sentiments in a political campaign, what makes them think it’s perfectly ok to whip up fear and hatred of the Ruskies? As a matter of fact, I voted for Hillary in order to keep Trump at bay, but the implicitly imperialist thrust of the current anti-Russian campaign makes me wonder whether I was naive to do so.
Second: Start developing the programs to end poverty, minimize inequality, and empower working people that Democrats have not managed to produce since the heyday of the New Deal.
Obviously, raising the minimum wage and increasing taxes on the rich, while fine ideas, won’t come close to rehabilitating American workers or empowering the poor. The Bernie movement’s edgier proposals (free tuition at public colleges, single-payer health insurance, limiting the size of banks,) were radical only by comparison to Hillary’s pallid ideas. Basically, they were welfare reform proposals, when what we need is structural change – a rethinking and transformation of the relationship between working people (including poor people, small retailers, and retirees) and the owners and managers of large enterprises.
Should we be thinking about communal ownership and control? About a European-style industrial policy? About legal rights to a job and a decent annual income? About a Marshall Plan for America’s inner cities? The time to start a national dialogue on such subjects is now.
Finally: Abandon the posture that personifies Trump as evil and proposes to obstruct him at every turn. Distinguish between a partisan opposition intended to benefit out- of-power Democrats and a principled opposition intended to benefit American workers, poor people, and the members of marginalized groups. Independently pick the issues that are worth fighting for and the vehicles and methods best suited to conduct these struggles.
If we want to reconstruct the American system, we will need a new politics to do so. We will need programs, methods of organization, and modes of struggle that begin where the Occupy and Bernie movements left off. Some Dems want us to unite behind their leadership and to worry about a host of minor or misconceived issues, ranging from Trump’s business interests to his friendliness toward Putin. This sort of opposition is intended to divert us from imagining a radically better socio-political system and developing the methods needed to bring it into existence.
This is the essential task. We need to talk to each other about it at length, and to do so early in Trump’s presidency. Let the spring and summer of 2017 be a time of Reconstruction and Dialogue – a 21st century version of the Summer of Love – a period when people across the country from all walks of life get together to talk about the kind of country and world they want, and how to get there!
I’m ready to participate in such activities here in the nation’s capital. How about you, dear friends and comrades, in cities and towns across the land?