FeatureLiberal Democracy in Question

Why I Support Hillary Clinton For President: A Letter to My Friends on the Left

I support Hillary Clinton’s election unreservedly, and intend to work for her election, though I have no illusions about her character or her politics. My primary motivation is my absolute opposition to the candidacy of Donald Trump, who I regard as a danger to liberal democracy. Liberal democracy is a very flawed system that has in different ways been eroded by both the Bush and Obama administrations. But with Trump we are dealing with a brazen authoritarian who is hostile to civil liberties, pluralism, legality, and equal rights, and who mobilizes racism and xenophobia.

Honestly, I would have supported Clinton even if the Republican candidate had been Bush or Kasich or whoever. Because parties do matter, largely because of the constituencies they mobilize and represent, and in my view any Democratic candidate is preferable to any Republican candidate. This is “lesser evil-ism,” and I embrace it unapologetically as an approach to electoral support (all politics is not elections) especially in the waning months and weeks of a campaign when the contestants are clear.

That is not the only reason I am comfortable supporting Clinton. Although I understand the limits of “lean in” feminism, I also think it is a very progressive and principled commitment. It is a commitment that every woman I have ever befriended, collaborated with, parented, or loved has embraced. It is, indeed, a commitment that the most incisive feminist scholars who criticize it also embrace when it comes to their own tenure and promotion and professional development. I admire the way Clinton has promoted this commitment in the face of much hostility, and I believe it would be great progress for the US to finally elect a woman as President who is committed to liberal gender equality.

There are other things about Clinton that I also like, even though in general I am averse to partisan establishments and she is very much an establishment person. I believe that American society suffers from serious injustices that the Democratic establishment does not seriously oppose to my satisfaction. The party can be described as “corporate” and “neoliberal”(though I think that both of these terms are typically bandied about with little care) and I don’t like this. I welcomed the Sanders campaign. In terms of positions I lean in that direction. I know Clinton is an “insider” and she is rich, etc. But she is also a decent and indeed a pioneering liberal feminist in a world still gravely in need of this kind of feminism. She is a liberal centrist, no more nor less corrupt than most other liberal centrist politicians. She is far superior to Trump, and Trump is the only other person who could possibly be elected.

In addition, Hillary Clinton is the first woman in the history of the United States to be nominated as the Presidential candidate of a major party, and she is the first woman in the nation’s history to have a real chance at becoming President. This is major. MAJOR. I don’t agree with everything she stands for. But what she most symbolizes, and what has caused her to be the object of so much hatred, is something I emphatically support: the right of women to receive the same treatment as men, and the possibility of women achieving success and leadership in this country without facing obstacles based on their gender. Can the symbolic and real importance of this not be evident to my friends on the left, NOW? Okay, you supported Sanders. And he lost. And he has sensibly furnished his reasons for pressing his agenda and for supporting Clinton. And you still denounce Clinton (and now Sanders too)?

Right now, more than before, when I think of Hillary Clinton, I think of my mother, and my daughter, and my colleagues who still struggle, daily, against sexism. They may not be organizing janitors. How many of my friends are organizing janitors? They may not be struggling for socialism. How many of my friends here are really struggling for socialism, as opposed to talking about struggling for socialism? They are women who don’t want to be sexually harassed on the job, who prize reproductive freedom, who appreciate it (as most feminist theorists actually do) when their friends and partners “lean in” to support them. They want equal opportunity at work, whether this means opportunity to be hired or fairness in tenure and promotion or simple respect on the job. Hillary Clinton represents these things. Is it not time for such things to be given their due politically?

Okay, these things are not everything. Some of you have argued that a more “radical” politics was desirable. But this argument lost in the primary contest. It didn’t lose in a more general sense. Keep arguing. Keep struggling. But there is a time to acknowledge that your candidate lost, and has conceded, and it is time to move on. There is also a time to respect the process of the party that you supposedly sought to engage, and even to respect the actual positions of the party’s candidate, in spite of their limits. And there are always limits!.

Hillary Clinton is not Margaret Thatcher and she is not Donald Trump. You don’t like her? Fine. You disagree with her? Great! But do you really need to keep heaping scorn on her and her supporters? Do you need to be enthusiastic when a cadre of delegates chooses to be disruptive in ways that disrespect rightly respected progressive leaders trying to speak, can only weaken the campaign and strengthen Trump?

This is not an argument. It is an explanation. It is not a plea. People will do what they do. I am very proud to see how many friends have engaged these questions with seriousness. I am very sorry to see how many people have preferred to license or articulate a purism with decidedly anti-liberal dimensions. I do not respect this, even if I may respect some who choose to do it. I fear its consequences, and I am horrified by the indifference to consequences that seems all too common. And those who want to promote agonism, please don’t call me a liberal policeman! If politics involves agonism, then thicken your skin, take a hit, and respond if you wish.

I support Hillary Clinton. I will work hard to support her election. I will also continue to do the many other things that I do, politically and intellectually. And if she wins, I will be relieved, and even happy, and I will continue to do what I can to support serious intellectual engagement and critique. And if she loses, we are fucked. Seriously. We are fucked. Think about that. And then, perhaps, act accordingly.

Also for you:

Jeffrey C. Isaac

Previous post

Will We See Justice for Alton Sterling or Philando Castile?

Next post

Pokemon Go, Turkey's Coup, and the Irony of Reform