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Lesser Evil?

— August 6, 2016

Those who plan to vote for Hillary Clinton this fall as the lesser of two evils should consider carefully their position.

These are not our candidates. This is not our election. The New York Times, otherwise an arm of the Hillary Clinton campaign, did have the honesty to run a story titled “Only 9% of America Chose Trump and Clinton as the Nominees.” With so little active support, why are they the nominees? Between corporate vetting of candidates, corporate sponsorship to promote them and a corporate media to present them to the public, there is little question where the candidates come from or whose interests they can be counted on to serve. Yet presidential elections are placed before us as though they are a matter of the people’s choice.

The fact is that in Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, the public finds itself confronted with a “choice” between two candidates who are the most unpopular in decades. There exist other parties beyond the duoploy of the Republicans and Democrats, but the game is rigged. For instance, both the Green Party and the Libertarian Party sued to be allowed to participate in the presidential debates between Trump and Clinton, but their suit was thrown out. In such a sham of democracy, elections do not so much present voters with a choice as hold them hostage. At which point we must cease to see ourselves as voters. We must come to recognize ourselves as human beings whose only valid choice is to free ourselves from our captors.

Nevertheless, millions of Americans who do not want Hillary Clinton to become president will vote for her because they want Donald Trump to be president even less. They fear Trump, and rightly so, as an unpredictable megalomaniac who promises racist policies and who seems to have little familiarity with the concept of the separation of powers and other constitutional checks upon a president’s authority. A Trump administration would be unacceptable. A Clinton administration, the logic runs, would be less unacceptable. Clinton is part of the establishment. She was the secretary of state. She promises more of the same that we have seen under Barack Obama. Hillary Clinton represents the status quo. Surely the status quo is preferable to Trump.

I disagree. Not because I endorse Trump, but because I reject the false choice itself. I hope to show that the evils to be expected of a Clinton administration are not “lesser” evils. That a President Clinton is no less unacceptable than a President Trump. A vote for either candidate would be unconscionable, and there are no degrees of the unconscionable. A vote for either candidate, Clinton or Trump, guarantees that evil will be done, and I cannot traffic in evil. As Bernie Sanders cynically scolded his betrayed supporters, we must be aware that this is a real world we are living in. To face that reality, not cynically but in good conscience, we must find a course of action that is not limited to the non-choice of this election. Their election. It is not ours.

On his television program Real Time, Bill Maher promoted Hillary Clinton in a disagreement with an erstwhile Sanders supporter, the intellectual Cornell West, who now endorses Jill Stein of the Green Party for president. Maher offered West this analogy: “You want to go to San Francisco. There’s a wedding up there, you gotta get there. There’s one train that goes to San Francisco, but it’s a little slower than the one you want. There’s one other train leaving, but it’s not going to San Francisco. It’s going to Hell.”

It’s a good joke, and its logic is that of many who say they will vote for Clinton. But West called out its false premise: “The Clinton train: Wall Street, security surveillance, militaristic. That’s not going in the same direction I’m going!”

In a somewhat more sober setting, the Socialist Convergence meeting held in Philadelphia during the Democratic National Convention, journalist Chris Hedges made much the same point as West in a talk titled, “The 1 %’s useful idiots.” The talk excoriated those Bernie Sanders supporters who would do the Vermont Senator’s bidding and vote for Clinton. I quote from Hedges’s talk here at length:

“The Trans-Pacific Partnership will be pushed through whether Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton is president. The fracking industry, fossil fuel industry, and animal agricultural industry will ravage the ecosystem whether Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton is president. The predatory financial institutions on Wall Street will trash the economy and loot the U.S. Treasury on the way to another economic collapse whether Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton is president. Poor, unarmed people of color will be gunned down in the streets of our cities whether Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton is president. The system of neoslavery in our prisons, where we keep poor men and poor women of color in cages because we have taken from them the possibility of employment, education and dignity, will be maintained whether Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton is president. Millions of undocumented people will be deported whether Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton is president . . . And half the country, which now lives in poverty, will remain in misery whether Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton is president.”

I agree with Hedges’s assessment of the prospects that lie before us. Because our problems are structural, and because they are the problems that our late stage of capitalism has spawned, both Trump and Clinton, servants and beneficiaries of that capitalism, will maintain its structures and, necessarily, the human misery that they produce.

But Hedges could have gone on. Beyond the domestic suffering the next four years will bring, the rest of the world will pay a price for our system of finance capital, debt peonage and imperialist war. Even as Barack Obama spoke at the Democratic convention, he was secretly preparing Washington’s new attack on Libya. And a President Clinton would be more certain than a President Trump to escalate the war in Syria, where U.S.-supported “moderate” Islamist rebels are losing in their bid to overthrow the government of Bashar al Assad. In fact, the Democratic convention was notable for nothing so much as its bellicose celebration of militarism, despite the superficial liberalism of its charade of identity politics.

More than Trump, Clinton is a dependable hawk. She supported the invasion of Iraq, which resulted in the deaths of a million Iraqis and which in a just world would be addressed as the war crime that it was. Clinton is in complete harmony with Obama on his war in Afghanistan, which is the longest-running war the U.S. has ever been engaged in. And Clinton promises to further the same reckless antagonism of Russia and China as U.S. capitalism is currently pursuing. A vote for Clinton, make no mistake, is a vote for bloodshed and war, including the vastly increased possibility of nuclear war. Such evil is in no humane calculus a lesser evil.

Finally, let us consider Clinton’s involvement in Washington’s vile practice of drone assassination. During her tenure as secretary of state, Clinton had a voice, and a hand, in U.S. drone strikes on Middle East targets, and there is every reason to believe that she will continue the escalation of drone attacks as planned by the Obama administration.

Washington’s drone program has been much criticized, primarily on three fronts. First, the targeted assassination of foreign nationals constitutes extrajudicial homicide. That is, murder. The illegal nature of drone attacks has merited little public comment from the government, and the Bush and Obama administrations have proceeded with their targeted strikes as if the technological ability to kill serves as its own justification. A case of might makes right. The public is told that the victims of these attacks are “senior operatives” of al Qaeda or other groups, and sometimes Washington backs up such claims with names. But the killing of such individuals is, many claim, itself a heinous crime. Often, however, those killed in drone strikes are simply referred to as “militants,” “enemies” or even “bad guys.” This verbal carelessness leads to a second source of criticism, the killing of civilians.

The 2015 release of “The Drone Papers” by the news web site The Intercept revealed the shocking ways the intelligence community labels the effects of its drone attacks. When a person is killed intentionally, it is a “jackpot.” Many more people die, however, who were not intended targets. These people, no matter who they are, are marked down in the official logs as “enemies killed in action” (EKIA). So while an innocent family may be incinerated in their home, the government will release the information that “enemies” were killed, which the domesticated corporate media will parrot without question.

The third criticism of drone assassinations has to do with the technology itself. Some find the safe and sterile setting of those who do the killing to be especially chilling and a macabre development in warfare. How much easier killing must be when the killer does not physically confront their victim. This concern, and its whacked-out corollary that finds a lack of valor and honor in such killing, has always attended the developments of mechanized warfare. The fear is reasonable, but it may be a source of sad relief to those who fear a future of video-game killing that drone pilots themselves have been found to suffer a form of post-traumatic stress and that they have quit their jobs in droves.

One remote killer who does not appear to have suffered any such remorse is Hillary Clinton. From her perch as secretary of state she endorsed over 99% of proposed CIA drone strikes in Pakistan. This despite the fact that, by the CIA’s own numbers, the vast majority of those killed in drone strikes are not the intended target.

But Trump is unacceptable! Indeed he is, and so is Clinton. The election itself is unacceptable. It will take place. One or the other servant of venal and violent capitalism will ascend to the White House, and an unacceptable situation will continue. There is no redeeming “realism” or “pragmatism” in voting for Hillary Clinton. The genuine realism lies in facing up to the demands of a citizenship that goes beyond voting. Our participation in the life of our country and in our future requires that we create an alternate reality. This course of action will not be handed to us in the form of an election. It will involve communal activity. It will require organization. It will require effort and, as Hedges insists, sustained acts of civil disobedience.  And there is no guarantee that all our efforts would succeed.

The forces arrayed against us, from Wall Street to the Pentagon, are the most powerful forces in the world. The election allows us only to choose which of two monsters will become the face of these forces. Those who want to tell themselves they are being realistic will vote for Clinton. Those who actually face reality will see in the election no choice at all.

Sources: “Trump Vs. Clinton Poised to be Battle of Most Disliked Nominees in Decades” “Third-Party Nominees Failed to Sue Their Way Into Presidential Debates” “Real Time with Bill Maher: Hillary Train vs. Trump Train” “Hillary Clinton’s Hawkishness Revealed in Her Emails” “The Drone Papers” “An Illegal Military Strategy Disguised As Technological Advance” “A chilling new post-traumatic stress disorder: Why drone pilots are quitting in record numbers”

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