When Hillary Clinton received the Democratic nomination, articles flooded the net from women who said they had tears in their eyes. I too had tears in my eyes. Not because I was a solid Bernie Sanders supporter who had hoped he would go independent. Not because Sanders seemed to put the Democratic Party ahead of ideas in a flat-out sell-out.
And not because a woman was nominated as a major party’s nominee. (Margaret Thatcher, Angela Merkel, Fernandez de Kirchner, Dilma Rousseff, and other presidents and appointed heads of state have led the way.) I teared up because we suddenly faced the realistic prospect of a ninth, tenth, 11th, and 12th year of a Clinton presidency, which I saw as a further slide into dynastic rule.
Either a Bush or a Clinton has been in power for 20 out of the 28 years since 1989, or 71 percent of the time. Electing Mrs. Clinton would increase this to 24 out of 32 years, or 75 percent of the time. Thomas Jefferson warned about dynastic rule in a 1786 letter to George Washington in which he wrote, “An hereditary aristocracy…will change the form of our governments from the best to the worst in the world.” Those who support Hillary Clinton seem to forget, everything else aside, that a vote for Hillary will be a vote for dynastic rule. This cannot be the sort of change for America that I believe Bernie supporters really want.
The Establishment Wants Politics as Usual
Throughout the election process, Hillary Clinton’s team has consistently positioned her as a contrast to candidates who deviating by extremes. The conceptual framing device looked like this:
Sanders was presented as that wacky, way-left candidate whose untenable ideas such as universal health care and free education at public colleges were from another planet. Bernie’s supporters were allowed to have a good run because everyone knew that talk is cheap, rallies are good clean fun, and, as shown in part by recent WikiLeaks documents, once we got down to an end game Sanders’ campaign would be over.
Simultaneously, Trump has been and continues to be presented via dire warnings as an opinionated demigod with questionable impulse control and a finger on the red button, when the reality is that any American president is restrained by the myriad checks and balances found with due process, the separation of powers, and the rule of law.
The point here is that Clinton’s message is positioned as the moderate antidote to both Bernie and Trump’s “‘totalitarian’ excess,” to use the phrase of philosopher Slavoj Žižek. In this position Clinton continually backs away from dynastic considerations, such as using Hillary rather than Clinton in her messaging.
On February 9, 2015 the Brookings Institution hosted a discussion with Sanders, where he said, “There is a lot of sentiment that enough is enough, that we need fundamental changes, that the establishment — whether it is the economic establishment, the political establishment, or the media establishment — is failing the American people.”
Let’s reframe the candidates based upon each candidate’s position to the existing establishment.
In this configuration, Sanders and Trump share outsider status. As we have seen, both the liberal and conservative establishments have worked hard to discredit the outsiders. It appears that for establishment members, the predictability of politics as usual is preferable to unexpected changes, no matter which side the changes come from. But what exactly is the desired politics as usual?
A Vote for Trump Is a Vote for Change
For an answer we can look toward neopatrimonialism, a word used by political scientist Francis Fukuyama to describe the way political leaders invoke public good during campaigns yet in reality rule for private gain. If this sounds somewhat familiar, we only have to recall Bernie’s speeches about the 1 percent and about campaign donations. To again quote Fukuyama, “Elites tend to get more entrenched because they can use their wealth, power, and social status to get access to the government….This process will continue until nonelites succeed in mobilizing politically to reverse it….”
Now that two major-party candidates remain, Bernie supporters are continually being told to vote for Hillary. Not long ago, a New York Times headline titled, “Let’s Grow Up, Liberals” implied Bernie supporters’ ideas are juvenile. Approximately two weeks later, an article titled “Will Sanders Supporters Come Around?” suggested Bernie supporters were misguided. Such dismissive and demeaning attitudes should gall all of us Bernie supporters.
As I see it, one of the fundamental themes of Bernie’s campaign was this: Positive change may mean challenging the ingrained establishment business-as-usual model. In this light, a vote for Hillary Clinton, if nothing else, is simply a vote for an establishment insider, for politics as usual, and worse for a continuation of dynastic rule. If Bernie supporters continue to believe change is possible, and I think we do, then I question how we could possibly support establishment insiders and dynastic rule. This cannot be the roadmap for change.
We are told by liberals that this time this candidate will be different, as though continuing dynastic rule will somehow not be neopatrimonialism. In response, I offer the old aphorism: Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. We have already recognized, as Žižek wrote, political dynamics in which we get “more of the same in the guise of constant change.”
Bernie supporters, in the long run, have more to gain by supporting Trump, because if anyone has the potential to challenge dynastic rule and business as usual it is an outsider. Sure for many, Trump is an unknown, but he’s an unknown outsider, and this is important. I expect Bernie supporters won’t agree with everything Trump proposes. Yet we can at least credit him for being explicit and for stating his terms. A debate with him on differences will therefore be much fairer than to try and debate someone who acts empathetic to our call for change, yet who never actually effects changes.
A vote for Trump may be Bernie supporters’ best chance to continue having a voice and to further advocate for the changes we rallied for all along.