Here’s a news flash: if you’re a progressive, you can and should critique Hillary Clinton right now – and that doesn’t have to mean that you want Donald Trump to be president.
It means we are still using our brains, “That we are not checkmated,” as Michelle Alexander puts it, that engaging in discourse is not just possible, but necessary in a race with less than terrific choices. No matter who you ultimately vote for, don’t stop demanding a candidate endorse policies that benefit you in order to get your support, even if you vote for them.
Clinton should be pushed relentlessly by the left on her economic policies and history, for starters. While she made fun of Trump on the stump for having “a dozen or so economic advisers he just named: hedge fund guys, billionaire guys, six guys named Steve, apparently,” she is living in a glass house funded by Goldman Sachs and should be throwing no stones.
They’re not named Steve, but Clinton’s been courting endorsements from billionaires Meg Whitman, Warren Buffett and Michael Bloomberg. Her own son-in-law is a “hedge fund guy”, and the Wall Street Journal reported that “hedge fund money has vastly favored Clinton over Trump” to the tidy sum of $122m. Being bothered by what this portends for our economic future this is not a vote for Trump.
And though Trump is hinting to his supporters that they might want to use the second amendment to possibly assassinate Clinton or justices of the supreme court is disgusting, let’s not forget Clinton saying in May 2008 that she had to stay in that primary because “Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California” and, ho hum, you never know what might happen to presumptive nominee Barack Obama.
I bring this all up not to draw parallels between Clinton and Trump. She is clearly the more capable person suited to preside over this corrupt, perpetually and criminally violent enterprise known as the United States of America. But let’s not act like Clinton is a dove when it comes to matters of life and death.
She has embraced the endorsement of neocon John Negroponte and is even reportedly courting the endorsement of Henry Kissinger. As secretary of state, Clinton controversially supported not designating the 2009 ouster of Honduran president Manuel Zelaya as a coup , even though he was woken up by armed soldiers and forced onto a plane and out of his country in his pajamas. She has since defended her role in that situation, which has led to hell for women, children and environmentalists, including the assassination of indigenous activist Berta Cáceres. And as senator, Clinton supported the Iraq war, a vote which helped lead to the death of US army captain Humayun Khan.
Captain Khan’s parents have valiantly and admirably taken on Trump and his ugly Islamophobia. But turning a critical lens on the presidential candidate who supported the war that killed their son does not equate supporting her opponent.
So if you’re in what can broadly called the left, you a few have choices how to spend the next three months. You can scream “Yaaaaaaas, I’m with her!” and do your part to elect Clinton without thought or critique. That’s fine if her positions on war and economics don’t bother you, and there is value in shutting down Trump’s malarkey as quickly as possible.
But there is something perhaps more valuable in withholding your support and not giving it away too early, if at all. As James Thindwa wrote of the Congressional Black Caucus, the “rush by black leadership to endorse Clinton was an unforced strategic blunder”. Instead of “robustly challenging both Clinton and Sanders on racial justice issues [during the primaries] – as Black Lives Matter activists did,” the CBC “could have sent a strong message to a party that takes black Americans’ support for granted, fails to deliver real solutions and too often patronizes them”.
The CBC would likely have gotten far better economic policies backing Sanders; and, as Trump’s implosion has made clear, Sanders would have been a contender. Instead, the CBC backed Clinton too soon and now has to take whatever crumbs it gets from the Clinton trough as she wields America’s racist id incarnate like a cudgel as the only alternative. (And the CBC will get pushed away as Clinton welcomes Wall Street, warmongers and wealthy Republicans to pay for a place at that trough.)
You can critique Clinton and vote for a third party for any reason. American sovereignty lies in the individual, and our votes are never owed to anybody. However, Trump is shaping up as the Republican Walter Mondale, and could lose badly. At the same time, Clinton will still have very safe margins in large states that are not battlegrounds like New York and California. This means 2016 will be an especially safe year to vote dissent, because millions of people unhappy with Clinton in safely blue (or even safely red) states can vote for a third party without increasing Trump’s odds.
Finally, you can critique Clinton ... and still vote for Clinton. This is possible! I love my friends and family (and, on a good day, myself), but I am still very critical of all of us. Criticism doesn’t mean I don’t love us. Furthermore, politicians are not even our friends. As citizens, we should keep politicians working for our interests and our respect by critiquing them with a level of scrutiny the power we are entrusting them with demands.