by Mark Lewis Taylor

I took the photo at right while driving through rural Pennsylvania on the way back from a prison visit a few weeks ago. It shows a military tank stationed along a highway covered with placards announcing “Gun Owners for Trump” and “Make America Great Again.”

Hidden from highway view, on the other side of the tank you can see a replica of woman’s legs in heels crushed under the military tank-track wheels. This hypermilitarist and masculinist display represents quite certainly a hoped-for crushing of Hillary Clinton’s electoral bid. More specifically, it is a sign of the blending of U.S. militarism and misogyny, as well as of white supremacy that are so integral to the Trump campaign. My stomach turned when viewing it.

My stomach also turned, though, because the image stirred other meanings and memories from other contexts. A US military tank running over a woman’s body? What are US wars by bombs and military hardware if not, perhaps above all, the crushing of women, their lives, their families, their children?

Because I long have taught and lived periodically in Mexico and Central America, I saw those legs protruding from under this U.S. tank as also those of women and families repressed and killed by US military forces in today’s Honduras, just one site of US global military violence.

Largely thanks to Hillary Clinton and her work as US Secretary of State for corporate elites, the women of Honduras, especially among its poor, live in a violent hell. It is a hell that comes courtesy of Clinton’s collaboration with Mexico’s Foreign Relations Secretary, Patricia Espinosa, to legitimize the 2009 coup in Honduras. As a result, now, Honduran women suffer from, according to historian of Latin America, Dana Frank, a “U.S.-supported dictatorship” that “runs roughshod over the rule of law, robs the public coffers blind, and allows security forces and death squads to kill human rights defenders and social justice activists with near-complete impunity.” The renowned and much-honored Honduras environmentalist and human rights activist (and women’s rights advocate), Berta Cáceres, was murdered for her resistance to that U.S.-legitimized coup. Her male colleague was murdered soon afterward. Two more environmentalists were recently murdered this October 2016 by Honduran special forces reportedly trained by U.S. military personnel.

Both the Trump and Clinton forces – with differences to be sure – produce such lethal and unjust consequences. Under either a Trump or Clinton regime, women’s lives and precarious poor communities worldwide would continue being crushed and repressed. Clinton’s tanks and Trumps tanks both represent a US military super-predator power. Both will need to be defeated, “brought to heel” by peoples’ social movements.

Defeating Both – Starting on Election Day

Since July I’ve been speaking and writing at various venues on the theme, The Time is Now – to Defeat Both Trump and Clintonian Neoliberalism.” We still live, I believe, in that “now.” There remains a political and moral demand to defeat both candidates and nearly everything they represent. But as the tumult of the 2016 electoral campaign has played out, this Election Day of November 8 remains important and prompts new thoughts about how to defeat both.

Voters’ choices on Election Day do not determine everything. They do determine which of the two nemeses we take down first, Trump or Clinton. To throw a vote for one candidate against the other is an action that we can take while keeping our primary political roots in social movements to create structures of justice and equality. For one thing, these social movements are necessary for mobilizing, as they have already begun to do, an anti-war struggle that will be necessary after either candidate’s election. This will be especially so if the election is won by the war-hawk Clinton. Trump’s bellicosity, no matter how much he criticizes Clinton’s wars, does not inspire confidence that he would be any less a US war president, or any less a jailer. Still, Clinton is the one who has the proven record in high places as being both warmonger and jailer.

As warmonger Clinton is unapologetically committed to using U.S. armed forces, and refuses to forswear using nuclear weapons to protect U.S. economic and imperial policies. She supported or advocated military aggression in Iraq, Syria, Libya, by Israel against Lebanon and Palestine. She is already playing war brinkmanship with Russia, revivifying cold war sensibilities of an “evil empire,” wherein Putin’s Russia is now charged both of hacking into her party’s emails and also of being the major threat to stability in the Middle East.

As jailer Clinton voices – sometimes – regrets over her role in supporting the seven-fold increase of U.S. prison populations through the 1990s and 2000s. Still, though, she has not effectively and comprehensively challenged the police powers in urban neighborhoods or the corporate extraction of profits made from imprisonment and from immigrant detentions and deportations. These powers have all grown stronger under a President Obama and there are no signs they will weaken under a President Clinton.

Clinton as “Greater Evil”/Trump as “the More Immediate Evil”

Because of her own record, and her being ensconced in the long trajectory of twentieth century Clintonian neoliberalism, I see her as – yes, I will use the term – the “greater evil” of this election. Trump, though, is the more immediate evil. His protofascism, as I have argued throughout this year, is a spin-off from the Clintonian neoliberalism and from the US imperialism that routinely have deployed rogue figures like Trump. Usually though, these rogue tyrants are outsourced by US elites to rule over other poorer nations that the U.S. wants to keep subjugated (recall the Duvaliers in Haiti, the Somozas in Nicaragua, indeed also the US ally Saddam Hussein in Iraq of the 1980s). But letting such a rogue loose as President on the U.S. mainland would destroy an illusion that many neoliberals want to preserve, namely, that US residents’ enjoy some kind of “American freedom” that does not involve violence.

Trump is, we might say, an immediately threatening tornado on the US landscape, one spawned by the seemingly interminable hurricane disaster that is global Clintonian neoliberalism and U.S. imperialism. I suggest throwing a vote for Clinton against the spin-off “tornado” that is Trump, so that we can focus come November 9 on the more massive, swirling, global “hurricane” represented by Clinton. She and her neoliberalism are the more insidious long-term threat, and it will be harder to dislodge.

With apologies to those whose cultures give them more expertise in the martial arts than I command, I offer this analogy. A vote for Clinton against Trump could be a martial arts-like move. It confronts the power of one aggressive body – here U.S. neoliberalism and imperialism – by moving with the heavier weight of that body’s force (Clinton as the “greater evil”) in order, first, to parry on election day the immediately threatening proto-fascism of Trump, and later to take down neoliberalism itself.

Radical Activists’ Critique

My radical activist colleagues will counter: “But Hillary Clinton is the one who is the more immediate threat, with all her commitments to war and showing the military brinkmanship with Russia that you yourself have just acknowledged. Further, she and her husband have been the great incarcerators.” Almost right, but not quite. US war-making and prison nation-building are not new conditions of life in the US. They have come to make up the banal evil that nearly all Americans have in some way had to live with for decades. US war-making and incarcerating power will remain the habits of US elites – and yes we must continue organizing against them. But Hillary Clinton is more of that same brutal mode of foreign policy and governance that Obama has accommodated. There have been plus-or-minus 10 wars in play over his second term, and he has done little done to effect any comprehensive “decarceration” of the nation.

Trump, though, especially over the last two months of this electoral season is morphing into a new phenomenon on the U.S. domestic scene. His fascist rhetoric not only takes aim at the presidency, but also now has been greeted by a consolidating law-and-order ruling cartel of FBI personnel fusing with formal and informal militia elements in the country. This essay’s opening photo is emblem of this.

Trump’s rhetoric from the beginning has been proto-fascist and reprehensible. Now though, he works not only by affirming the hypermasculinist militarism of US “Alt-Right,” anti-immigrant speech and the white militia groups. He also now has the endorsement of the largest police union in the nation, the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP). Many of us in political prisoner movements (for Angela Davis, Mumia Abu-Jamal, Leonard Peltier, the MOVE family, Assata Shakur and others) have encountered the FOP’s own proto-fascist, police state tactics. The FOP even has intimidated teachers forming curricula for students about imprisoned activists’ struggles – from Malcolm and Martin to Assata and Mumia.

Today, puffed up with the FOP’s endorsement, Trump has also this month called forth what some FBI agents themselves term, according to The Guardian, a “Trumplandia” ethos within the FBI that evidently has become strong enough to have lead FBI Director, James Comey to pre-election interventions, announcing reopened examinations into Clinton’s private server emails and into the Clinton Foundation. Comey’s recent actions and intentions remain unclear. But Comey is a powerful figure who can draw upon his past work experience as General Counsel and Senior Vice President with Lockheed Martin (the largest weapons contractor for the Defense Department), as a US surveillance state planner in both Bush and Obama administrations, and of course as one with access to worlds of US prosecutors and judiciaries.

If we recall COINTELPRO and other FBI maneuvers in previous administrations, Comey’s interventions are not new. Previous presidencies, surely Obama’s, have their law-and-order thugs at work in a surveillance state that still does not prosecute officials’ torture practices. But again, a Trump presidency buttressed by a law-and-order cartel of FBI agents, FOP endorsers and white militia thugs at-the-ready – all this points to a ratcheting up of organized domestic violence at the highest levels of government and with an openly bellicose institutionalization of that violence. So again, I say, a Clinton vote could have the advantage of throwing the weight of Clintonian neoliberalism to take out the immediate threat of these Trump forces. Then we can resume the task of taking down the neoliberalism of Clinton and her cronies.

Still one may ask: why not throw a Trump vote against Clintonian neoliberalism, and so shake things up in the US. The Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek suggested as much when he said he would vote for Trump if he could cast a US ballot because Hillary is “the true danger.” With her defeat, he continued, there would be “a great awakening” to foment “new political processes.” He’s right, Hillary Clinton is the true danger – in other language “the greater evil.” But my reading is that a Trump presidency would not issue in “new political processes,” but mainly be absorbed into the neoliberal rule and render it a more virulent and open repressor. This is because Trump (as I have emphasized from the beginning) – for all his critique of trade deals and regime change – is a billionaire made by and still dependent upon neoliberal elite war-making culture. He will not oversee or occasion “new political processes.” He really is not the “outsider” that many frustrated working poor and middle classes claim he is. He will reinforce the chronic brutalities of neoliberal caste that spawned him. In contrast, taking out Trump with a Clinton vote – if successful – would keep at bay, under wraps, maybe, the belligerent and flagrant law-and-order assault strategy that has to various degrees long been a part of neoliberal governance and which Trump mirrors. With Trump out of the way, his law and order thuggery does not go away, certainly the war- and prison-building elites do not disappear; but we have a bit more room to take down neoliberalism and cut back its many tentacles and, hopefully also go after its central nervous system.

Pro-Clinton Campaigners’ Critique

From another wing, I hear my other critics, i.e. those Clintonites who ever since the appearance of Trump have dreaded him so fiercely – and often for good reasons. Unfortunately throughout the campaign they have often vilified those who wouldn’t immediately embrace Hillary Clinton when Trump came on the scene. They kept alive the idea that only Hillary Clinton could be a viable option to Trump. In response to my position in this essay, then, I hear such Clintonites exclaiming, “You should have known! You should have seen this coming and thus built support more strongly behind Hillary Clinton against Trump at an earlier time.”

To these I say an emphatic “No.” Clinton and the Democrats are struggling now against Trump not because many of us didn’t run into her arms from fear of Trump. If the polls are now correct in showing Trump closing in on Clinton, this is because she has always been a weak candidate. Many are desperate for alternatives to her neoliberalism, its looming wars, social dispossession and repression. If she wins – even decisively as some polls also now suggest – it will be largely because Trump has destroyed himself. He may have been the only Republican she could beat. (Sanders, recall, almost always polled better against Trump.)

Matters has been made worse for all potential voters this electoral season because her supporting corporate sponsors and other supporters refused to take any of the several options toward a people’s democracy. In fact the Clintonites spurned these other options. What were these options?

Clintonites, for example, resisted and sabotaged through establishment party politics and strong-arm tactics the campaign of Bernie Sanders. It also helped that while the media was hyping the braggadocio of Trump and his Reality-TV persona, the likes of The New York Times hardly covered the Sanders campaign. The Times became the “paper of Hillary” instead of a “paper of record.” Its online logo regularly featured themes and variations on the “I’m with her” refrain – tellingly, with the other corporate logos neatly arranged nearby.

Then, still other political developments unfolded across the four months from July to November, and these created the conditions for the Trump tornado to fully form. Sanders himself capitulated to the “fear of Trump” mania and began campaigning for Clinton. Simultaneously, he failed by not responding to Left movements and parties, like Socialist Alternative and the Green Party, which urged him to continue his campaign past the July convention, either as an Independent or in some kind of alliance with other Left groups.

We must also note the failure of the Green Party to respond, structurally and comprehensively to the overtures made by black activists like Cornel West and YahNé Ngdo to forge coalitions of voters between ex-Sanders supporters, the Green Party, and other Leftists, and with the vigorous but still-fragile organizations of radical black and brown youth, as in the Movement4Black Lives, Asians4BlackLives, and other coalescing groups. It has been hard to discern any serious outreach by the Greens, for example, to urban black youth radicals that matched the intensity of Green involvement in the North Dakota pipeline protest actions.

Lastly, it must be lamented also that so many of the young radical protest groups made little or no effort to engage or “take over” some part of the 2016 electoral process in order to forge new alternatives. I am more understanding of this “failure.” I agree that it is important for radical groups not to lose themselves in electoral politics and utopic efforts to build parties for which there are few constituencies. I agree also that putting a premium on nurturing revolutionary culture within radical groups, away from electoral establishment politics, is important in itself. But it is also a kind of failure if there is no fomenting of this revolutionary culture toward some attempt to get in the game to make a play for the levers of state power.

Overall – from the Clintonites insistence that only Hillary can save us, to Sanders’ capitulation, to Left parties and radical Left groups’ inchoate organization – there has been an insufficient dreaming of movements and electoral options. There was a paucity of courage to think real Left alternatives to Clinton and Trump. Many called for those alternatives early on and fought for them.

Too many of us, though, either from an uncritical embrace of the two party system, or from having some small comfortable slice of life in neoliberal USA, or out of a cynicism and despair over the entire political process, could only think the options of Clinton or Trump – or do nothing.

There should be no regrets by those who called for finding another way beyond the binary of Clinton vs. Trump. Imperfectly they tried to dream and seek a fledgling new Left. Indeed, that task now has to begin anew, to rebuild against a Trump or a Clinton presidency.

We can find some solace in that both parties in a sense are now in ruins, whatever the electoral outcome November 8. The political terrain features strikingly new dynamics that shake the land. The Republican Party has been sabotaged by Trump, who as its nominee drove out most of his own party’s elites and donors. The Democrats lofty reputation as advocate for working and middle classes is now spoiled, as the party is exposed as full of elite “fat cats,” this being so well evidenced by the new Republican corporate politicos who have signed on with Hillary Clinton.

Depending on the form these ruined parties take with the next presidential regime, revolutionary social movements for justice and peace for all will have an opportunity – once again – to set a another more liberating course for the peoples of this land.

[1] For this title I am indebted to the creativity of an almost identical title, heading an essay by Adolph Reed, Jr., “Vote for the Lying Neoliberal War-Monger: Its Important.” I can claim neither to have matched Reed’s incisive analysis nor that he would endorse the way I here analyze the current political situation.

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