Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Progressive Fatalism: Leftists Who Did Not Vote For Clinton Must OWN Their Decision and the Terrible Consequences


Since the election, a slew of post-mortems have appeared in mainstream and social media. One theme that has emerged, particularly among progressives who did not like Hillary Clinton, blames Trump's victory on the Democratic nominee and the DNC who "chose" her. This argument suffers from one obvious problem. Democratic primary and caucus voters--not the DNC--chose Clinton; in fact, she defeated Bernie Sanders by nearly 4 million votes. The argument also suffers from deeper problems that reveal disturbing perspectives among many self-identified progressives.

Candidates and their campaigns undoubtedly impact voters, but voters have agency, and they are free to respond to the competing messages they hear. Clinton offered multiple messages, including immense competence, antidiscrimination, economic support and stimulation for families, and national security. Some of Clinton's messages--antidiscrimination and economic support--reflect core progressive principles--even if the specific policies involve some compromise and tailoring for the shared political space that we occupy. Despite dramatic claims by some progressives who say Clinton failed to offer an economic agenda, she promised to fight for a higher minimum wage, free 2-year college education, free 4-year public college education for students from families with incomes up to $125,000, infrastructure investment, increased spending for cities, protect and strengthen Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, and allowing states to develop a public option as a part of Obamacare exchanges.

Clinton also recognized that class and identity are intertwined. Thus, antidiscrimination measures formed part of her agenda, but these proposals had economic dimensions. Clinton promised to fight for gender wage equality, to expand access to educational opportunities for persons with disabilities, increase federal support for historically black colleges, protect immigrant families from the economic hardship caused by deportation, and to expand funding and staffing in the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice.

Collectively, if one judges her as a whole using progressive values, Clinton was on the right side of history. Reaching this conclusion does not mean that Clinton has not taken nonprogressive positions in the past, including supporting the Iraq War, the 1994 Crime Bill (like Sanders), and welfare reform. But a comprehensive analysis of Clinton in the context of this election--when there were just two possible winners--shows that Clinton was, undeniably, the progressive choice. Donald Trump was not a defensible progressive choice. His campaign appealed to white nationalism, xenophobia, misogyny, distrust of science and logic, antisemitism, sexism, Islamophobia, and other harmful ideologies. Clinton, not Trump, was on the right side of history--from a progressive perspective.

But Clinton's leftist critics cannot bring themselves to acknowledge this important point. Doing so would undermine their boiling hatred of her. But this would also allow us to analyze more pressing questions for Democrats moving forward. For example, why did so many Americans vote for a candidate who openly represents bigotry, ignorance, and incompetence? Which Americans supported this candidate? Were those Americans on the right side of history from a progressive perspective? If not, how do Democrats move them to this position?

Social scientists have compiled decades of research that addresses these questions. Bigotry is pervasive in the United States--either as implicit bias or open hatred of the Other. Also, whites gave Trump the election. Had only persons of color voted, Clinton would have have won every state--a complete shoutout. This is consistent with every presidential election since 1964--the last time a Democratic candidate won a majority of white voters nationally. Race is a longstanding part of US election politics and voter behavior.

Some leftists, however, dismiss the operation of racism in Trump's victory, citing Obama's wins in 2008 and 2012 and his support from some white Trump voters. But this argument fails to appreciate the complexity of racism and Obama's performance of race. Unlike Clinton, Obama did not run a very openly antidiscrimination campaign. He appealed to race subtly and symbolically. Also, his two opponents did not make such blatant appeals to bigotry as Trump. The 2016 presidential election primed bigoted ideology almost continually. Moderate whites who backed Obama could easily have been seduced by this rhetoric. Implicit bias research demonstrates that priming of racism causes many whites to engage in discriminatory behavior--including whites who view themselves as egalitarians. Furthermore, many progressive whites have written about their own ongoing struggles to disown white privilege and unlearn racism. If people who are knowledgeable of the subtlety of racism must struggle against it, then folks who lack information about these issues certainly need to--but are less likely to do so.

Although Trump's voters were on the wrong side of history, many progressive critics of Clinton and the Democrats have expressed sympathy for them, mistakenly believing that they are largely poor and economically subordinate whites. Trump, however, won wealthy and middle-class whites. He won college-educated and noncollege whites. Clinton won the poorest Americans and persons of color. She won young whites and white liberals. A significant amount of white progressives, however, voted for Jill Stein (or stayed home). Although it is still unclear what affect their decisions had on the election, Stein captured enough votes in states that Clinton lost to shift the victory to Trump. So, like Trump's white supporters, white progressives who voted for Stein (her voters were overwhelmingly white) or who stayed home (or picked Johnson) were on the wrong side of history--from a progressive perspective. When presented with the opportunity to stop Trump and his reactionary agenda from winning, they chose another route. They must own this decision. Instead of doing so, they want to relitigate the Democratic primaries. On November 8, only two viable candidates were on the ballot--Clinton and Trump. Only one of those candidates offered a message and concrete policies consistent with progressive values. If you did not vote for her, you betrayed the millions of vulnerable people who rely upon decent decision making by progressive voters. It takes a village to elect a president. In other words, election outcomes depend upon choices that candidates and voters make. You must own your choice and the results.

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