Speaking of Kissinger/Nixon, less flat-footed defenders of the Dynamic Duo like to take a tack that goes like this: “Yes, yes, massive violence at the periphery—Vietnam, Cambodia, Chile, and elsewhere—but what about their more prosaic and peaceful achievements at the center: detente, the treaties with the Soviet Union, opening relations with China, and so on?”
Flaubert had their number many decades ago: “Be regular and orderly in your life,” he is supposed to have to said, “so that you may be violent and original in your work.” ~Corey Robin
“We are, all of us, exploring a world that none of us even understands and attempting to create within that uncertainty,” said Hillary Clinton in a graduation speech, cited by leftist Hillary-hater Doug Henwood. “But there are some things we feel, feelings that our prevailing, acquisitive, and competitive corporate life, including tragically the universities, is not the way of life for us. We’re searching for more immediate, ecstatic, and penetrating modes of living.”
“That is not the Hillary we know today,” commented Henwood, pointing out that she had foregone a job as an organizer with Saul Alinsky to go to law school, but added, sardonically, “under all that duplicity and ambition, [the Clintons are] just a pair of romantics.”
I think this statement is accurate: like many career politicians, media moguls, and other powerful figures, there must some sense of passion or adventure that underlies behavior that to us plebians may seem prosaic and calculating. We have never been a country merely of business managers and bureaucrats: alongside our Anglo-puritan values of production and accumulation, there has also been a certain romance of ambition, a barbaric, spirit of the conqueror that has been embodied in many of our great and terrible leaders—folks like Andrew Jackson and Teddy Roosevelt.
Undoubtedly, Donald Trump embodies this spirit more than anyone else in these presidential primaries. As the Rich Lowry wrote for the National Review, the major aspect of Trump’s success is that he has awakened a dormant Jacksonian part of the electorate, a group of people who follow “instinct rather than an ideology—a culturally shaped set of beliefs and emotions rather than a set of ideas,” as historian Walter Russell Meade is quoted describing Jacksonianism. Like with Trump, white Americans loved Jackson’s “un-PC,” or unsophisticated disposition, which was a bane of both the economic elites and poor nonwhites who were treated as obstacles to the success of the greater commonwealth. Trump appeals that “genius of the crowd” which isn’t invested in a specific ideology so much as a broader spirit of popular sovereignty that desires to dominate or expel those outside their group.
In contrast to the Jacksonian image, Clinton would seem to be the polar opposite: her current campaign’s emphasis on inclusion couldn’t be further from the white nationalism of Trump or Ted Cruz’s gun-toting identity politics. Whereas Trump boasts about not needing the support of the donor class, and not being afraid to stand up to nonwhites and their PC allies, Hillary has been relying on a coalition between corporate interests, trade unions, and “the liberal apparatus that includes major feminist, African-American, and Latino organizations,” as Arun Gupta put it. If she wins the Democratic nomination this year, which is more likely than not, it will be due to this power-consolidating Democratic infrastructure, but the effect of the Trump campaign, which has poisoned the well of populist revolt with an odorous mixture of bad faith, violence, and resentment, will have certainly helped.
This is perhaps why some have suggested that when former president Bill called up Trump roughly a year ago, his intention was to convince Donald to run. This is likely true, though what’s less clear is whether the Clintons had expected things to go this far, or whether or not Trump is intentionally a part of the joke. In any case, Donald has been useful as a foil to the RNC establishment, politically humiliating every prospective nominee to Hillary’s right. And as surprising as Trump’s success in the primaries has been, the prospect of him winning in the general election is still hard to conceive; even among Republicans, it seems that at least as many people hate him as love him, and at least a few of those attending his rallies are more bemused by the spectacle than anything else.
Whether or not Trump has been intentionally sabotaging the GOP, he has also helped Clinton in another way. Objectively, there is nothing in his rhetoric that is worse than anything proposed by other candidates in the Republican primary, but the optics of his campaign have been terrifying. He has appropriated current conservative politics and made it even less palatable (to decent folk, at least) than previously thought possible. This plays well into liberal fears that the American electorate has become too unhinged to be trusted not to finally drive us all off the cliff and into the shark-infested waters of Zombieland. The photogenic, grotesque fasc-ishness of the Trump campaign has given the Clinton camp enough room to make a wide stance, politically, with feet planted firmly in the left and the right, calling for prison reform and debt-free college while red-baiting against many of Sanders’ proposed economic reforms. Her qualified statements about abortion rights in town halls, her fatalistic opposition even to discussing single-payer, and hard-to-fathom revisionist comments praising the late Nancy Reagan as an advocate for AIDS victims, suggest that she is going to move sharply towards the right as soon as her left-wing opponent is out of the way, and she becomes the only alternative to what seems to be the political equivalent of the Stormfront message board.
This isn’t to say that Clinton is no different from the Republicans. Like Trump, she doesn’t seem to be lock-step with any particular ideology. Like much of the Democratic apparatus, she is a careerist neoliberal, who operates within and advocates for the sort of transactional centrism that has characterized the presidency of both her husband and the current administration. But this doesn’t doesn’t explain her worldview entirely. As many have pointed out, she has been consistently hawkish as Secretary of State, never missing an opportunity to escalate conflicts abroad. Probably the worst such instance was in Libya, a country that, like Iraq, has seen the fall of it’s secular dictatorship only to be overrun by even more destabilizing, murderous elements like ISIS. Her encouragement of our involvement in ending the regime of Gadhafi, and glib comments about his violent death—”We came, we saw, he died”—have been rightly criticized even by Republicans of late.
This is the sort of recklessness that distinguishes Hillary from glad-handing technocrats like Barack and Bill. Her foreign policy seems to be closer to the “political existentialism” that Corey Robin attributed to her friend and political adviser Kissinger. It is only in the world of beltway politicos and it’s power-sycophantic corporate press that these sorts are perceived as pragmatic realists, rather than compared to other political arsonists and lovers of chaos like Trump and Cruz.