I don’t often find myself in the odious position of defending a politician but when I do I do it with friends. One of the great successes of the fox news era is the devolution of supposedly intellectual conversation between sophisticated people. I’ve never seen so many folks growling, barking and outright yelling at one another during social occasions as I have in this multi-year long election cycle. You would think we were debating reconstruction.
Well, debate is a strong word.
At a friend’s birthday celebration, after an exceedingly pleasant conversation a name was mentioned. Whispered perhaps by a ghostly sorcerer and then the screaming began. Now, many people have been on the receiving end of Trump-shouting and many people can witness the pervasive cognitive dissonance (“he’s never held office or done anything civic and that makes him qualified to hold the most demanding civic office in the world”) the naked xenophobia and hatred (“they commit crimes, its a national security issue”) and the strange desire to paint with the most demonic brush one Hilary Clinton.
Shame really. We were having such a nice time.
“She supported giving illegal aliens driver’s licenses. Those are for Americans! If you give them licenses anybody could just get a truck and drive it into something.”
To be sure, these kinds of sentiments are diffuse, often without basis and more often shouted with venom.
But what I found most intriguing about this particular episode was twofold:
The individual who was vehemently against undocumented citizens getting drivers licenses was a Haitian immigrant who had not ten minutes before lamented the detestable bigotry of Dominicans and violence visited thereby. In a sort of intellectual backflip for him the candidate who incites violence against minorities, spews incoherent foreign policy and nearly accepted an endorsement from the KKK (Trump) was a better choice than former Senator and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton.
How? How could it possibly happen that any individual of color, let alone an immigrant, would prefer a candidate who has made a career of vilifying both?
I won’t even explore the silliness of the idea that somehow it is worse for an undocumented driver to do harm with a vehicle than it is for a naturalized citizen. Or the fact that Americans kill more Americans than anyone on earth with cars and a terrorist doesn’t need government permission to drive a truck into anyone or anything and that if said terrorist were to seek government permission to do so he’d be a very bad terrorist indeed.
I’m mean this fool actually thought that auto accidents by undocumented immigrants was a “national security threat.”
I’m not a sociologist or psychologist but I found it exceedingly interesting that as the conversation got more and more intense, the worse Hilary Clinton became in his estimation. As if when more proof of Trump’s despicableness is offered the best counter is to assume something equally bad about his opponents.
Of course anyone familiar with the Fox News world knows this sort of rhetoric is de rigeur for their viewers. The only way they can justify endless misrepresentation and distortion is to claim loud and often that “the other side” is doing it too. Viewers internalize this ethos and spit it back out.
The Myth of Equity
“Hilary Clinton says racist things too. She’s never done anything either!”
It goes like this: Senator X (R-KY) has refused to vote for a bill that would send millions of dollars to veteran’s of the Iraq war unless Senators Y (D-MD) and Z (R-CA) remove a clause from the bill that would forbid women’s shelters from allowing husbands and male relatives indoors.
Pundit 1 – “some on the left are calling this political grandstanding. Senator X has been quoted as saying: ‘this is another tyrannical overreach by the Obama administration.’ But both sides do this. Everyone does it in politics.”
Pundit 2 – “you’re right both sides do this, it’s the political game, just like when Congresswoman A (D-NY) called for an end to republican obstructionism. There have been no votes in the congress for six months.”
Except there is no equity. Republicans simply lie more. A lot more.
This lie of equity of deception has been internalized by an electorate untrained in rhetoric and unprepared for the media terrorism of the early 21st Century. It is endless. The average American consumes eight hours of media a day. A full workday of blogs, Facebook posts, Tweets, Instagram and video video video. There is so much narrative, so much to sift through that even intelligent professionals are unequipped.
Something another dinner companion claimed: “Hilary Clinton says racist things too. She’s never done anything either!”
You can make a strong case–and many people have–that Hilary Clinton has a history of demonizing black men. In the 90s she and her husband exploded the prison industrial complex and militarized the police. These are the same prisons that are now overcrowded, the same police who are now exposed as brutal, predatory and untrustworthy in the communities they “serve.” Hilary was a part of the expansion of those powerful forces. She campaigned on it hard.
No one is saying Mrs. Clinton is perfect. She is very far from it. In fact personally she only gets my vote because the other guy is a crass, angry, unqualified bigot who would do everything he could to eviscerate the social safety net, destroy our image around the world and stamp a nauseating gold T on everything. (Not to mention the instability of a Trump presidency. That alone would send the financial markets into a free fall and encourage the world to radicalize.)
But Hilary suffers from a different kind of unattractiveness. She lacks a personality. And here I agreed with my interlocutors. Hilary has yet to respond to a question with an unscripted answer from her soul. If she has, I haven’t seen it. I wonder if she doesn’t poll the room before choosing steak or fish. It is hard to warm up to someone who seems so calculated, whose smile seems painted on her face.
And I don’t want to be too hard on her. Politics sucks. I can’t imagine anyone who harbors even the most nascent ideas of equality and public good wading through the greed, the ambivalence to the future, the self-importance and downright stupidity of some politicians. Let alone the nitwits who go to the polls who don’t have the intellectual fortitude to see their own hypocrisy and bigotry. Smiling must be a difficult proposition.
But it can be done. President Barak Obama endures the most vitriolic and blatantly false assaults on his character and often finds some time to smile and engage in conversation. Many people are cynical. Some would say it’s a political persona, not authentic human emotion. I think it’s both. I think it can be done. Hey, it’s a tough job and it takes a good strong heart to do it. So where is Hilary’s?
Which is why I can understand how the woman who declared that “Hilary says racist things too” and that she’s “done nothing” in her career could say such a thing in a heated argument. Never mind that Trump is a misogynist, a liar, a xenophobe (the woman in question was Puerto Rican–another immigrant who suddenly forgets what that means) and all other manner of bad. Her support for this man was not rooted in anything related to him. Not once did she extoll his vision for the future, he plan for America. All she could do was run down Hilary Clinton.
It makes sense when you apply the Myth of Equity. To summarize: if Trump is bad she must be worse and because she’s been around long enough it is easy to cherry-pick her history and twist her character into a devil. Let’s go back to the 90s.
Before the crime stats were skyrocketing, the ghettos had been abandoned and left to rot for years on the strength of Reagonmics. Schools had been financially abandoned and the American government opened the doors to their Colombian drug-lord friends who waltzed through with mountains of crack-cocaine. These drug-lords, it should be noted were undocumented and had numerous automobiles.
Having been abandoned by a government that was all to eager to use their bodies for the Vietnam war the disproportionately poor and African-American inner cities turned to the drug that had conveniently, magically, appeared on their doorsteps. Manufacturing jobs were embarking on their long voyage overseas. Presidents and congress people were lamenting the horrors of the drugs they’d supplied and there was a huge outcry, nationwide really, to do something about those impoverished, violent African-Americans.
Lock those animals up! They are after all, “super-predators,” as Hilary Clinton, then first lady, extoled. Her husband signed the 1994 Violent Crime and Control Law and Enforcement Act and around the nation people who had never been anywhere near those “super-predators” cheered.
But take a closer look at the people who asked for the bill in the first place. Who is there? Numerous African-American groups lobbied for this bill. Why? Why would black people vie for a bill that would ultimately hurt black people?
The answer is in both history and the provisions of the bill. The 1994 crime bill also included an assault weapons ban that forbade the manufacture of military style weapons for public sale. It included the violence against women act, it bolstered privacy by limiting the information that could be shared publicly from an individuals drivers license (introduced as countermeasure against anti-abortion activists who’d been using DMV records to hunt down and harass medical professionals) The country was calling for intervention and Bill Clinton did what he thought he had to do. He made a choice under political pressure and good came from it and a whole lot of bad too.
Which is the salient point: Hilary Clinton was not president at the time, although she did campaign on her husband’s behalf. More importantly: the Clintons responded to a crisis imperfectly. Because people are imperfect and always have been and no political, military or spiritual leader has ever done anything without unintended consequences. We’re not electing perfection. We’re electing vision, ideas, plans, record and character.
Trump has no record, so he can say anything and devolve the conversation into character assassination, which is all opinion when one has no record. But Hilary does have a record. And like her husband there is good and bad. She is imperfect, which is a weapon that the supporters of Trump wield like a club.
That imperfection is fodder for the ridiculous myth of equity. Imperfections get twisted into malevolence. A mistake is spun into conspiracy (see Benghazi). And when confronted by the vicious demagoguery of Donald Trump, individuals like the woman who declared “Hilary is just as racist” do what they’ve been trained to do: throw the evidenced characterization of “their” candidate back at the reporter and attribute it to the opposition. Because hey, its all just reality TV character assassination.
“Donald Trump lies and changes his position every day. He’s a racist.”
“You don’t think Hilary is racist. She lies too!”
If one does something, the other must by default be guilty of it too. Because it feels fair to believe that everyone is equally rotten. But that’s lazy. That’s a shortcut to understanding the world and the power structure. It crafts a simple narrative that both empowers and absolves: everyone is bad in the same way, therefore my candidate is as good or better than yours and I also don’t have to look any deeper.
Big trouble is in store for a democracy when its people devalue intelligence. Even bigger trouble when they are distracted and can only be engaged by sensationalism. How come we to this place where the servants applaud the master for his abuse?
We the people are being defined by a reality television bully masquerading as a politician. Even the people he demonizes are mistaking him for a leader of some kind.
My Haitian friend uttered something astounding, something that only grows more shocking every time I hear Trump or one of his supports insist that “he tells it like it is.”
Amazingly, that is precise what he is not doing.