Hillary Clinton: Your Feminist Solutions

There’s a certain kind of feminism that gives feminism a bad name.  Like Jess Phillips’s ludicrous but headline-grabbing allegation that Jeremy Corbyn was guilty of ‘low-level misogyny’.  Or the way the media rallied round Laura Kuenssberg to depict those who accused her of an anti-Corbyn and pro-Tory bias of sexism.

In the first case, an ambitious MP and an opponent of Corbyn used a phony feminist argument in order to a) attack Jeremy Corbyn and the ‘misogynist’ left and b) get her name in the papers – in the knowledge that there are sections of the media that will always respond eagerly to anyone who suggests that a leftist leader of the Labour Party is guilty of discriminatory practices.

In the second case, accusations of sexism were used to discredit legitimate criticism of Kuenssberg’s snide editorialising.  We can expect to hear a great deal more of this kind of feminism over the next few months, now that the Democratic Party machine has completed its work and elected Hillary Rodham Clinton as the presidential nominee.

It goes without saying that Clinton’s critics on the right will be accused of sexism.  In the case of many Donald Trump’s supporters, such accusations may well be correct – some of the time.   But criticize Clinton from the left- or even refuse to get behind her – and you are likely to find yourself painted with the same brush by Clinton’s supporters.

Yesterday The Guardian‘s Polly Toynbee served up a taste of things to come, in a piece calling on the left to ‘ put aside its sneers and pray that this strong woman will get to rule the world.’

Toynbee might find this odd, but there are some of us who don’t actually want anyone to ‘rule the world’,  regardless of whether it’s a ‘strong woman’ or a strong man. Toynbee has looked closely into our hearts however, and seen real darkness.   She knows that in an era where ‘insurgency and novelty trumps experience’, left-of-centre opposition to a woman who ‘ all her life…has fought the feminist cause, for abortion and for equal rights, fearlessly’ can only be motivated by sexism.

‘ If you are naturally left of centre, especially if you are a woman, yet you find you instinctively dislike her, ask yourself why, ‘ she writes.   The answer, she insists,  lies in the fact that a ‘wall of noise from hostile men warps many women’s perceptions too’, to the point when ‘ if women of the left do break into the bastions of power, the sisters often view them as sell-outs to the establishment, as if permanent outsiderdom and victimhood is the only true mark of feminism.’

Yeah, the sisters will do that, won’t they?  As in thrall as they are to that ‘wall of noise.’ And naturally, being Toynbee, she can’t help following up this patronizing dismissal by noticing that this disorder  is ‘ a wider disease of the left among Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn supporters too. To win is to lose.’

Meanwhile, beyond that nihilistic sexist fantasyland:

‘Outside, the world looks on aghast at any possibility America could choose a racist, sexist brute over a feminist with a long track record of standing up for the right causes. For the young, she’s been around all their lives, not new enough to be exciting. Yet the prospect of a strong woman leading the world should be a beacon of hope to women everywhere.’

Call me a sexist if you will, but I don’t like Clinton at all, and it has nothing to do with her gender. I don’t like her because I regard her as the worst kind of machine politician, who advances by networking with the rich and powerful whilst pretending to represent the poor and the powerless.   I don’t like her because she is a Wall Street shill, like her slick husband,  who rakes in millions giving speeches to the likes of Goldman Sachs while promising to take on bankers, and doesn’t even have the guts to publish transcripts of her speeches in case their damage her progressive credentials.

I don’t like her because she has been one of the most recklessly hawkish and warmongering politicians in a country that already abounds with them, who has promised to pursue an aggressive and militarist strategy as president.  Clinton’s feminist supporters are entitled to think differently, but I don’t see a woman who laughingly says ‘we came, we saw, he died’ in response to Gadaffi’s sodomisation with a knife as a ‘beacon of hope’ the most inspirational role model for young girls.

I don’t like Clinton because she lies consistently,  about big things and small things, whether misremembering a sniper attack in Bosnia or lying about her emails.  Of course male politicians do the same thing, but I don’t like them either.  I don’t like Clinton’s belligerent and uncritical support of Israel.   As Shania Twain once sang, that don’t impress me much.   And despite the endless talk of her ‘experience’ and ‘competence’, I find her track record of supporting strategically incoherent and criminally destructive wars and regime changes without any regard for the consequences either before or after them just a little bit alarming.

And those who ask what might happen if Donald Trump had his ‘ finger on the nuclear button’ should remember that  Clinton once boasted that America could ‘totally obliterate Iran‘ and has promised to take military action if Iran develops nuclear weapons.    Some may see this kind of talk as an expression of female empowerment,  but I would have been no less appalled if a man had said the same thing.  .

I could go on, but I might bore you.   So I’ll conclude with this.   In the end my hostility to Clinton isn’t about Clinton.  I just think it’s a testament of massive political failure that the US presidential race should be fought between the two most hated contenders in American history at such a critical political moment.  I think its a grotesque travesty that millions of Americans are now forced to choose between Trump and Clinton, because the Democratic Party machine chose to support the Clinton dynasty and ignore one of the most inspirational grassroots campaign in recent memory.

And I resent the fact that feminism is being instrumentalised to silence criticism of a corrupt and self-serving status quo and glorify a candidate who doesn’t deserve glorification, and who, as far as foreign policy is concerned, is no less dangerous than Trump himself.

And contrary to what Toynbee and others say, there are many other people – both men and women – who feel the same.   And we are not sitting in caves chewing on mammoth bones and looking for new ways to express our hatred of women – we are simply tired of lesser evilism in a world that is crying out for something better, and will not get it, either from Donald Trump or Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Donald Trump: American Fascist?

Just so you know, I’m not a fan of  Donald Trump.  I despise his racism and xenophobia, his brutal sexism, his shallowness, vacuousness, and egomania, his cultish ‘I can fix everything because I am Trump’ policy prescriptions.  I’m repelled by his sociopathic encouragement of the violence that so often accompanies his rallies, and the more I see of him the more repelled I feel.

That said, I don’t regard a Trump victory as the end of civilization as we know it, and I can’t help feeling feeling that some of Trump’s critics are somewhat overdoing it in their attempts to present him as the harbinger of some new American fascism.

These critics cover a wide spectrum, from Clintonite liberals to neocon supporters of the Bush wars and members of the same Washington elite that Trump has attacked with such cunning and ferocity. In the first category there is Bill Clinton’s former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, who described Trump, in March as a ’21st century American fascist’ and ‘ a profound danger to America and the world.’  Now Robert Kagan, co-founder of the Project for the  New American Century (PNAC), who wrote an article for the Washington Post that has been getting a lot of traction entitled ‘ This is how fascism comes to America,’ which warns:

‘ This is is how fascism comes to America, not with jackboots and salutes (although there have been salutes, and a whiff of violence) but with a television huckster, a phony billionaire, a textbook egomaniac “tapping into” popular resentments and insecurities, and with an entire national political party — out of ambition or blind party loyalty, or simply out of fear — falling into line behind him.’

And Hillary Clinton has suggested that Trump is a laughable and incompetent clown whose ideas are ‘dangerously incoherent’ and a threat to American security.  I find a lot of this overblown.  I agree that Trump is a danger to America and the world, but  I also thought Reagan was a danger to the world, when he unleashed a series of vicious covert wars, financed the Contras and brutal fanatics like Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

I thought the Bush/Cheney gang were a danger to the world when they took advantage of the 9/11 atrocities to declare a new era of total war against the ‘axis of evil’ and unleashed a swathe of destruction that the Middle East has yet to emerge from.   Kagan was an outspoken and influential supporter of these wars, and still is, like his mate Bill Kristol, who has also become one of Trump’s critics.

And as for  ‘Crooked Hillary’ – as Trump rightly calls her, well she is not one to give lectures on the dangers of incoherence in foreign policy, having leapt gleefully on board every single war that the US has fought since the end of the Cold War, with barely a thought for their consequences.

This record does not suggest that Clinton would be any more competent, or any less reckless, than Trump would be.   She has never reflected, never repented, never wavered from her shrill and blinkered hawkishness, and that is why people like Kristol and Kagan now see her as their preferred candidate.

As for fascism, ok, Trump has some elements that we have historically associated with fascism.  There is the cult of the strong leader, the racism and xenophobia, the violence that accompanies his meetings.  But frankly folks, fascism is a little bit more than that, and some of the qualities that Reich, Kagan and others see as defining features of Trump fascism have also been part of movements, trends and politicians that have not been fascist.

According to Reich:

‘ Fascists glorified national power and greatness, fanning xenophobia and war. Trump’s entire foreign policy consists of asserting American power against other nations….In pursuit of their nationalistic aims, the fascists disregarded international law. Trump is the same. He recently proposed using torture against terrorists, and punishing their families, both in clear violation of international law.’

Reich shouldn’t have to look far back in history to find American governments that have glorified national power and greatness, asserted American power against other nations in pursuit of nationalistic aims, disregarded international law or proposed using torture against terrorists.

All these things were part and parcel of the wars carried out by the Bush administration, and to a lesser extent by Obama, in the name of post- 9/11 American ‘exceptionalism’. According to Robert Kagan, ‘ What he [Trump] offers is an attitude, an aura of crude strength and machismo, a boasting disrespect for the niceties of the democratic culture that he claims, and his followers believe, has produced national weakness and incompetence.’

The restoration of this ‘aura of crude and machismo’ was precisely the point of the Bush administration’s unhinged militarism, and it received the full support of Kagan and others who hailed the Bush/Cheney wars as a return to Reaganite ‘moral clarity.’   Those critics who condemn Trump’s hollow obsession with  American ‘greatness’ as a mark of incipient fascism forget how deeply ingrained this notion has been in American politics for many years.

Where the British political establishment can’t let go of the idea that it has not been great for some time, the American elite – and to some extent the American population itself – cannot stand to see its ‘greatness’ evaporating, and continues to see American military might as the guarantor of American ‘greatness.’  In this, Trump is no different from his predecessors.   Consider these extracts from Trump’s ‘America first’ speech:

‘The world is most peaceful and most prosperous when America is strongest.’

And:

‘ And always – always, always, we must make, and we have to look at it from every angle, and we have no choice, we must make America respected again.  We must make America truly wealthy again.  And we must – we have to and we will make America great again.’

And finally:

‘ We will develop, build and purchase the best equipment known to mankind.  Our military dominance must be unquestioned, and I mean unquestioned, by anybody and everybody.’ 

These goals would fit perfectly well within the Project for the New American Century’s vainglorious and maniacal vision of American ‘preeminence’ and ‘preponderance’ in Rebuilding America’s Defenses.  In her speech this week attacking Trump, Clinton painted the election as a choice between “two very different visions.”

‘One that’s angry, afraid and based on the idea that America is fundamentally weak and in decline. The other is hopeful, generous and confident in the knowledge that America is great, just like we always have been.’

So Trump thinks America is weak and wants to make it great again.  And ‘Crooked Hillary’ just thinks America is already great and wants to keep it that way.  Where Trump differs from Clinton, and from the PNAC militarists like Kristol and Kagan, is in his rejection of the ‘false song of globalisation’, and the neoimperial regime change experiments that Bush and his supporters embarked on with exactly the same arrogance and insouciance that they now condemn in Trump.

That arrogance brutally unraveled in Iraq, and this is worth bearing in mind when we are invited to see Trump as a unique danger to America and the world.   Trump has said a lot of things on his campaign, in the course of his slick and ruthless destruction of his really quite pathetic opponents.  He has said a lot of things because it isn’t clear what he actually thinks, or what he would actually do if he was elected, once he works out what he actually thinks.

But whatever he wants to do, he will be subject to constraints that will prevent him from enacting some of his wilder schemes.   The main constraint is reality itself – and the limitations that the world imposes on American power.   Despite Trump’s vainglorious posturing,  he would be no more able to escape reality than his predecessors.   And the reality is that America is no longer ‘great’ in the sense that it once believed, and its military power cannot change that.

That doesn’t mean I don’t think that Trump is dangerous.  On the contrary, I think he would be a disaster, but I also think that Hillary Clinton would be disastrous.  Presenting Trump as an ‘American fascist’ tends to obscure the dangers that are already present in a country with too much military power, and which takes its ‘exceptionalism’ for granted, and which has drifted over to the dark side for a long time now.

So let’s condemn and oppose Trump by all means,  but let’s not present him as a freakish aberration that sprang from nowhere, or as some inexplicably nihilistic antithesis of respectable, common sense ‘normal’ politics. And let’s not call him a fascist just to circle the wagons around the lesser evil, because his conception of American power is not very different from many politicians before him, and he has more in common with many of his critics than he does with Hitler or Mussolini.

Truth, Lies, and Politics

In Werner Herzog’s The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser, a  pompous eighteenth-century professor asks the idiot-savant Kaspar Hauser a variant of the classic logical puzzle: You are traveling down a path and come to a fork in the road. One fork leads to a village where everyone tells the truth and the other to a village where everyone tells lies. Someone from one of the villages is standing at the fork, but you don’t know which village he comes from. You may ask him one question to determine which path goes to which village.

According to the professor there is only one correct solution to the puzzle, and he is completely flummoxed – and angered – when the uneducated wild boy Kaspar says that he would ask the stranger ‘ Are you a tree frog? ‘ – a left-field question which nevertheless resolves the puzzle.

I was reminded of this episode by an article by Jonathan Freedland today, lamenting the rise of ‘post-truth’ politicians like Donald Trump and Boris Johnson.  In Freedland’s view, both Trump and Johnson come from the village of lies, but you wouldn’t bet on either of them to admit it unless they thought that such an admission would advance their careers.

Freedland rightly excoriates the narcissism and vacuousness of both politicians, and their indifferent attitude to fact-based arguments and empirical evidence.  But his lament seems to regard these two dangerous clowns as some kind of freakish aberration – a manifestation of some inexplicable of intellectual and political decline that is particularly striking in the United States.

‘In this era of post-truth politics, an unhesitating liar can be king, ‘ he wails. ‘ The more brazen his dishonesty, the less he minds being caught with his pants on fire, the more he can prosper. And those pedants still hung up on facts and evidence and all that boring stuff are left for dust, their boots barely laced while the lie has spread halfway around the world.’

A depressing state of affairs, to be sure, but ‘post-truth’ politics didn’t begin with vapid mountebanks like Trump and Johnson.   There are few brazen examples political dishonesty than the manipulation of the 9/11 attacks by the American and British governments as a justification for endless war against enemies of strategic choice that had nothing to do with the attacks. .

You may quibble about whether politicians like Bush, Cheney, Rice and Freedland’s hero Tony Blair lied directly or lied by omission to justify war against Iraq, but their relationship with ‘the truth’ was no less contingent on short-term calculations that Trump’s or Johnson’s, and the ‘pedants still hung up on facts and evidence and all that boring stuff’ were often conspicuously absent when it came to holding their spurious claims to account.

These weren’t ‘mistakes’; they were lies and fantasies, intended to mislead and terrify their populations and realize certain strategic objectives, and there are many, many others where these came from.   The Republican Party has certainly lowered the benchmark for evidence-free political lying.   For years rightwing politicians in the United States like Tom Tancredo have claimed that the US-Mexico border is being regularly infiltrated by Hezbollah and other terrorist groups.

No such groups have ever been seen – why would they?  Talk like that and you can’t be surprised if you get Trump offering to ‘build a wall’.   And it isn’t only Republicans with orange hair who tell lies.   We also have Hillary Clinton,  one of the most breathtakingly mendacious politicians in living memory.  ‘ Crooked Hillary’, as Trump calls her, is no less dishonest than Trump himself, yet Freedland doesn’t mention her.

Closer to home we have a government that routinely disseminates lies and half-truths for political advantage, whether falsely accusing Naz Shah of calling for Jews to be ‘transported’ to the US, inventing phony stories of jobseekers who supposedly benefited from Ian Duncan-Smith’s welfare reforms, or peddling fake death rate stats at weekends to justify imposing a new contract on doctors.

Freedland quotes Washington Post editor Marty Baron, who asks ‘How can we have a functioning democracy when we cannot agree on the most basic facts?’  It’s a good question, but the fact is we haven’t had such a democracy for a long time,  and its partly because we have tolerated this situation for so long,  that men like Trump and Johnson feel able to say whatever they like.

 

The World According to Bono

I’ve got  nothing against famous people getting involved in politics or embracing political causes.  On the contrary, there’s no reason why the accident of fame and the weird cult of celebrity-worship that comes with it should place anyone above politics  or preclude celebrities from taking moral and political positions on issues that they feel strongly about.

My reservations about celebrity politics are essentially four-fold: 1) when an issue becomes important or interesting simply because someone famous is associated with it 2) when celebrity-politics becomes an exercise in narcissism and self-aggrandizement 3) when celebrities think that being famous entitles them to say things that are idiotic and banal, and 4) when celebrities use their fame to confer political credibility and legitimacy on governments, individuals and institutions that actually deserve to be criticized .

The rock-star politician known as Bono sums up most of these reservations.   Many years ago, back in the early 1980s, I saw U2’s first gig in New York and thrilled to the Edge’s chiming guitar sound and the soaring anthemic songs that lifted the roof off a packed club in the Lower East Side.

I wasn’t quite as keen on Bono’s histrionic and somewhat messianic stage persona. In the years that followed it became obvious Bono was a rock star whose exaggerated but not disreputable belief in the power of music to change the world was coupled with an extremely grandiose conception of his own ability to change it, or simply to be seen to change it. .

Since then Bono has gone on to become the perfect embodiment of 21st century hip capitalism, combining philantrophy with tax avoidance, while hanging out with NGOs,  US generals, George Bush and Tony Blair, and now Lindsey Graham.  In his polemic The Frontman: Bono (in the Name of Power), writer Harry Browne has accused Bono of “amplifying elite discourses, advocating ineffective solutions, patronising the poor and kissing the arses of the rich and powerful”.

He’s not wrong, In Bono the now quaint notion that rock n’ roll is inherently subversive force or a challenge to the status quo has become an advertisement for the status quo, in which even the most right wing politicians seek to acquire a veneer of cool humanitarianism and rock star chic by having themselves photographed alongside the man in the leather jacket and shades.

Bono’s appeal to politicians like Blair, Bush and Lindsey Graham resides in his willingness to tell certain governments and politicians what they want to hear about themselves, and leave out the things they don’t.  As a cool variant on missionary benevolence and Western good intentions, he makes them feel good, and he also makes them feel that they could be cool themselves.

This has been going on for a long time.   Nevertheless it was a novelty to hear that Bono has been summoned by the US Congress to give testimony to a Senate committee on the ’causes and consequences of violent extremism and the role of foreign assistance.’

It’s difficult to understand why the Senate felt it necessary to consult Bono on these matters. It’s true that the US doesn’t exactly have a stellar record when it comes to dealing with ‘violent extremism’.  In fact  this phenomenon has grown exponentially across the world since 9/11, partly as a consequence of the insane and reckless militarism which the Bush administration embarked upon so disastrously, and which has been continued less overtly by his successor.  But is the US Senate really so desperate that it needs to seek advice on these matters from a man who believes that   ‘comedy should be deployed’ in the struggle against groups like Boko Haram and ISIS?

It seems so, and his audience at the Senate might chuckle at this fetching example of rock star naivete, but  one can’t help suspecting that Bono was serious when he observed that: 

‘The first people that Adolf Hitler threw out of Germany were the dadaists and surrealists. It’s like, you speak violence, you speak their language. But you laugh at them when they are goose-stepping down the street and it takes away their power. So I am suggesting that the Senate send in Amy Schumer and Chris Rock and Sacha Baron Cohen, thank you.’

Yep, if only Hitler hadn’t ‘thrown out’ those dadaists and surrealists, why the whole German population would have quickly fallen about laughing at the sight of those goose-steppers, and their belly laughter would have ‘taken away their power.’   If you believe that, it’s perfectly possible to believe that ‘sending in’ Sacha Baron Cohen and Chris Rock into occupied Mosul or northern Nigeria would help defeat ISIS or Boko Haram.  Because it’s like, as Bono says,  ISIS is showbiz,  and if you can just get people to laugh at all those floggings, executions, rapes and murders, it takes away their power.

No wonder Bono’s pronouncements have been working their way through the Internet, accompanied by the clacking of a thousand dropping jaws at what is surely one of the most idiotic pronouncements that any celebrity-politician has ever made.

But no one should be surprised that Bono would say such a thing.  What is really surprising – and alarming – is that  the government of the most powerful country should feel the need to call upon this posturing narcissist in the first place.

If the US Senate really wanted to understand its own contribution to violent extremism, it might have done better to invite Malik Jalal, the tribal elder from Waziristan who has just come to the UK to ask why the US has been trying to kill him by drone on various occasions over the last few years.  Jalal is a member of the North Waziristan Peace Committee (NWPC), which has been trying to broker peace with local Taliban groups in Waziristan.  In denouncing the American and British governments for his unwarranted inclusion on a US ‘kill list’ and the deaths of entirely innocent people that has resulted from the attempts to kill him, Jalal argued:

‘Singling out people to assassinate, and killing nine of our innocent children for each person they target, is a crime of unspeakable proportions. Their policy is as foolish as it is criminal, as it radicalises the very people we are trying to calm down.’

Too right.  And perhaps if the Senate invited people like Malik Jalal to its committees, the US government might have a better understanding of the roots of extremism than it has shown so far.

Unfortunately, it seems to prefer Bono.