U.S. Elections

A Triumph of Ideology

Democratic U.S. presidential nominee Hillary Clinton waves after speaking at a campaign rally in Lake Worth, Florida, U.S.
What does support for Hillary Clinton say about us? Source: Reuters
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    While people agree on Donald Trump’s shortcomings, their support for Hillary shows a troubling acceptance of the economic and cultural philosophy she represents.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • Slavoj Zizek is an influential, popular and eclectic philosopher who criticizes capitalism, liberalism and political correctness.
    • Mr. Zizek argues popular rage fueled support for Donald Trump on the right and Bernie Sanders on the left.
    • Given support for Hillary is growing since revelations about Donald Trump, Mr. Zizek notes she could have moved to the left but has instead moved to the center.
  • Audio

    Audio

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Alfred Hitchcock once said that a film is as good as its villain – does this mean that the forthcoming U.S. elections will be good since the “bad guy” (Trump) is an almost ideal villain?

Do the latest revelations about his comments about the sexual availability of women not make it clear that we have already move beyond politics proper? There is something ridiculous in the ongoing wave of these revelations: why do people act “surprised” by how Trump was behaving towards women? Was something like this not to be fully expected? Was such acting not part of his public image? To put it in a tasteless way, it is almost like inviting Hitler to dinner and then being surprised when he starts throwing off anti-Semitic remarks. What did Republicans who supported him expect him to be?

Any consternation now is thoroughly hypocritical, and is in itself, much more than Trump’s vulgarities, a sad symptom of where we are.

The popular rage which gave birth to Trump also gave birth to Sanders.

The figure of Trump is a ridiculous excess, vulgar and exploiting our worst racist and sexist prejudices, a male chauvinist without a minimum of decency so that even Republican big names are abandoning him in droves… If Trump will remain the Republican candidate, we will thus get true “feel good elections:” in spite of all our problems and petty squabbles, when there is a real threat we can get all together in defense not only of our basic democratic values, like France did after the terrorist attacks, but also of our simple sense of decency.

However, this very comfortable democratic consensus should worry us. We should make a step back and turn the gaze on ourselves: which is the exact “color” of the all-embracing democratic unity of decent people? Everybody is there, from the Wall Street to Sanders supporters from what remained of the Occupy movement, from big business to trade unions, from army veterans to LGBT+, from ecologists (horrified by Trump’s denial of global warming) and feminists (delighted by the prospect of the first woman president) to the “decent” Republican establishment figures terrified by Trump’s inconsistencies and irresponsible “demagogic” proposals. However, these very inconsistencies make his position unique – for example, recall the ambiguity of his stance towards LGBT or abortion:

“After Orlando, he came out all warm and fuzzy about LGBT victims/people – in a manner that no other Republican would have dared. Also, it is common knowledge that he is not a ‘faithful’ Christian and that he only says that he is for show – and by ‘common knowledge’ I mean that this is known by the Methodists and the Mormons and the other Christian sects that make up the U.S. Fundamentalist Front. Lastly, his position on abortion has for decades been a liberal one and it is, again, common knowledge, that he does not favor a repeal of the Roe vs Wade Supreme Court decision. In short, Trump has managed to change the cultural politics of the Republican Party for the first time since Nixon. By adopting a crass, misogynist, racist language he has managed to release the Republican Party from its traditional reliance on the Fundamentalist, the homophobic and the anti-abortion ideological straitjacket. It is a remarkable contradiction that only a Hegelian can grasp!”[1]

The reference to Hegel is here fully justified: Trump’s vulgar racist and misogynist style is what enabled him to undermine the Republican conservative-fundamentalist dogma (whose pure representative is a freak like Ted Cruz, which is why the hatred of Cruz towards Trump is understandable) – Trump is NOT simply the candidate of conservative fundamentalists, he is perhaps an even greater threat to them than to “rational” moderate Republicans. (I is absurd to consider the hedonist and promiscuous Trump a Christian hero.)  The paradox is thus that, within the ideological space of the Republican Party, Trump was only able to undermine its fundamentalist core through the recourse to racist and sexist populist vulgarities. This complexity, of course, disappears in the standard Left-liberal demonization of Trump – why? To see this, we should again turn our gaze towards the Hillary consensus and ask: what disappears in this apparently all-embracing conglomerate?

The popular rage which gave birth to Trump also gave birth to Sanders, and while they both express the wide-spread social and political discontent, they do it in the opposite sense, the one engaging in Rightist populism and the other opting for the Leftist call for justice. And here comes the trick: the Leftist call for justice tends to be combined with struggles for women’s and gay rights, for multiculturalism and against racism, etc.

The strategic aim of the Clinton consensus is clearly to dissociate all these struggles from the Leftist call for justice, which is why the living symbol of this consensus is Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple who proudly signed the pro-LGBT letter and who can now easily forget about hundreds of thousands of Foxconn workers in China assembling Apple products in slave conditions – he made his big gesture of solidarity with the underprivileged, demanding the abolition of gender segregation… As is often the case, big business stands here proudly united with Politically Correct theory.

This same stance was brought to extreme with Madeleine Albright, a big “feminist” Clinton supporter. On CBS’s “60 Minutes” (May 12, 1996), Ms. Albright was asked about the Iraqi war: “We have heard that half a million children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?” Albright calmly replied: “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price — we think the price is worth it.” Let’s ignore all the questions that this reply raises (up to the interesting shift from “I” to “we”: I think it’s a hard choice but we think the price is worth it), and focus on just one aspect: can we imagine all the hell that would break out if the same answer would be given by somebody like Putin or the Chinese President Xi or Iranian President? Would they not be immediately denounced in all our headlines as cold and ruthless barbarian monsters?

Campaigning for Hillary, Ms. Albright said: “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other!” (Meaning: who will vote for Sanders instead of Clinton.) Maybe we should amend this statement: there is a special place in hell for women (and men) who think half a million dead children is an affordable price for a military intervention that ruins a country, while wholeheartedly supporting women’s and gay rights at home… Is this Albright’s saying not infinitely more obscene and lewd than all Trump’s sexist banalities?

Trump is not the dirty water one should throw out to keep safe the healthy baby of the U.S. democracy, he is himself the dirty baby who should be thrown out in order to obfuscate the true dirty water of social relations which sustain the Hillary consensus. The message of this consensus to the Leftists is: you can get everything, we just want to keep the essentials, the unencumbered functioning of the global capital.

President Obama’s “Yes, we can!” acquires now a new meaning: yes, we can concede to all your cultural demands… without endangering global market economy – so there is no need for radical economic measures. Or, as Todd McGowan put it: “The consensus of ‘right-thinking people’ opposed to Trump is frightening. It is as if his excess licenses the real global capitalist consensus to emerge and to congratulate themselves on their openness.”[2]

This is why Julian Assange is right in his crusade against Hillary, and the liberals who criticize him for attacking the only guy who can save us from Trump are wrong: the thing to attack and undermine now is precisely this democratic consensus against the Villain. Now that Trump’s campaign is caught into a self-destructive spiral, one would have expected Hillary’s campaign to move to the Left since she already got the votes of many undecided centrist and even conservative voters – but she is doing exactly the opposite, moving further to the center to secure the votes of those who are abandoning Trump…

And the poor Bernie Sanders? Unfortunately, Trump hit the mark when he compared his endorsement of Hillary to an Occupy partisan endorsing Lehman Brothers. Sanders should just withdraw and remain silent in dignity so that his absence would weigh heavily over the Hillary celebrations, reminding us what is missing there and, in this way, keeping the space open for future more radical alternatives.

 

This article originally appeared in Die Zeit. To contact the author: redaktion@zeit.de

[1] Yanis Varoufakis, personal communication.

[2] Todd McGowan, personal communication.

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