If you haven’t been hiding in a cave (either out of ignorance or for your own sanity) you are probably aware by now that we are in the final throes of one of the biggest farces of human interaction perpetrated in centuries. And by that I mean the 2016 US Presidential Election.
Long-time readers know I have been grousing about this stuff for years now, and I have witnessed time and again the very little change brought about by both major party candidates. Now in this possible nadir of American democracy (#demopocolypse), I want to examine the arguments being pursued in favor of one candidate over the other. This is known as the “lesser of two evils” argument, and had been bandied about in political circles since the entire process became much more corporatized a back in the 80’s. Essentially it boils down to this: yes, both candidates are corrupt, venal creatures forced to accept basic bribery to keep their campaigns afloat, but only one of them is “pure” evil. Since that is the case, vote for the other person.
Generally this argument can be laughed out of hand, because it pre-supposes that we as American citizens have absolutely no other ways to affect our democracy. But during this Presidential election, the idea has more allure than ever. This probably has something to do with the orange, misogynistic monster that somehow has captured the GOP nomination. But it also contributes to a softening of the picture on Hilary, overlooking her casual relationship with corruption and deceit throughout a (mostly) decent run as a public servant since being elected to the Senate from New York in 2000. In any other “normal” campaign, the leaks coming out regarding Clinton and her supposed two-faced motives would be potentially threatening. But that campaign left the station right around the time the orange behemoth began spouting white-nationalistic rhetoric like “Mexicans are rapists.”
In the effort of giving this argument the full hearing it deserves, I wanted to take a look at what we are acknowledging when we make the “lesser of two evils” argument.
First, TheDonald. What else remains to be said about this cretin? Misogynist, racist, neo-facist, xenophobe, the list could be endless. But I’ll be honest, what really freaks me out about this guy is what he represents: the conservative worldview as it remains in this decade. Remember when a bunch of old, white people filled up those town hall meetings to protest the Affordable Care Act? They weren’t protesting the legions of problems with that legislation (no public option, allowing the corporate health behemoths to continue to raise prices), but were angry that their hard-earned tax dollars were going to be used to pay for health care for people without their lovely skin complexion. This is just one example of the alternative universe that right-wingers live in these days. I should say have been allowed to live in, as the propaganda factory building to this was initially established in the 1970’s. But the important thing to remember is this: when Trump spouts garbage about building the wall, how our inner cities are like “hell” and regurgitates nonsense like the Clinton machine assassinating Vince Foster, he is saying these things because he believes them to be true. Just like millions of people who get “information” from places like Fox “News” and conservative radio think they are true. For you see, an entire disinformation campaign has been built up on the right for decades. Trump is as pure a form of that type of thinking as I’ve ever seen, and it terrifies me. Growing up in rural Iowa, I listened to a fair amount of Rush Limbaugh as my father and uncles drove around the farm fields. That didn’t prevent me from gaining a great work ethic, but it did contribute to my inability to be a free-thinking individual. Despite rejecting all of that fear-mongering over a decade ago, I still reflect with horror over how much I drank the Kool-Aid, because it was what I was taught to believe. Of course when I got to college and learned the value of free thought I abandoned it, but a lot of people never get to that point and simply become more and more angry throughout their lives. Kinda like the brutish Oompa-Loompa we saw on that stage last night. The people that support Trump might have a hard time dealing with his horrendous treatment of women, but they have no problem with ninety minutes of sustained assault on Clinton. In their minds, everything Trump is saying is true, but the supposed “liberal” media (anything that proves these conspiracy theories are false is “liberal”) won’t tell us the truth about it. This is literally the mindset of a ton of people, and it’s not like they are going away after this election. Many political commentators I read have speculated that it will only take a serious politician with brains another four years to radicalize these poor saps enough so that they might actually take over the country. Because if you believe the world is out to get you, all you really want is somebody telling you that you are right. Trump in certain moments got that correct, but was such a clownish buffoon the “liberal” media needed only to replay the stuff he said in public to show how unfit for the office he is. Just remember, millions of people liked everything they heard over the last year. They are not going away, and they are not going to be exiting their alternate universe any time soon. With real, actual problems like climate change (another part of reality they deny) occurring with scary regularity, now is not the time to have a huge percentage of your population living in a fantasy world.
Which brings me to Clinton. Again, there are over thirty years to pick through, but I want to focus chiefly on her tenure as Secretary of State. This is mostly because when she became First Lady I was a scant ten years old, and then only a few years away from my indoctrination into the conservative universe. I think of Clinton more as the spineless pretender of the 2008 race, in which her campaign surrogates didn’t think twice of revolving around pictures of Obama in supposed “Muslim” garb (remember that?). This woman almost completely defines “political corruption” in the modern world, and anyone who has considered voting for her ought to be well aware of this. This doesn’t mean she isn’t qualified for the job of president, but so what? Just being qualified does not excuse a litany of horrendous, appalling judgement that has led to the suffering of thousands. In case anyone forgot, Clinton was all over the bandwagon of support for the disastrous, illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003. Oh sure, she later called it a “mistake” but I don’t ever recall her apologizing for the over 100,000 Iraqis who were killed in the conflict, nor for pathetic ineptitude of her party, upon re-taking the Congress in 2007, to end the illegal devastation. But more contemporarily, her tenure as SOS has been littered with disaster (although that word might be a Trump trademark by now). I guess I’ll start with Libya, since Clinton herself seemingly still will not concede what a monumental error in judgement it was to remove Gaddafi from power there. After fear-mongering all summer 2011 (during the height of the Arab Spring), she essentially pushed Obama into bombing the crap out of Gaddafi’s forces, even going so far as to claim credit for the destruction like a good imperialist (“we came, we saw, he died”). Of course, one of the few factual claims Trump has made over the course of this farce of a campaign is that since then, the country has devolved into tyranny and terrorism, which is what happened but will never be acknowledged by Madam Secretary. Another thing that really bugged me during her tenure was that she bragged about how many countries she’d visited and how little sleep she maintained, as if that was an excellent recipe for conducting diplomacy around the world. How many meetings do you suppose she traipsed through due to lack of sleep? And I suppose I should mention the private email server - while yes, this was incredibly stupid and possibly could have allowed classified foreign policy information to be purloined, what really freaking irritates me about this incident is the complete lack of awareness of why this was a bad idea. Remember, this was the same woman who cried endlessly about Chelsea Manning leaking those secrets to Wikileaks six years ago, doing something potentially even worse (Manning was trying to wake up the American populace to the slaughters perpetrated by their armed forces; she specifically did not leak any intelligence secrets to Russia, and of course neither did Snowden) with her own email servers. Stupid, stupid, stupid, and a huge reason why she should not be trusted when she starts spouting garbage about Wikileaks’ supposed menacing connections with Putin. This woman clearly does not understand either how the Internet works or how it is going to be used to keep her in check now that it has become the dominant communication system of the world. Any Millennial with a Snapchat account ought to be aware of how disturbing this is.
So what is the point of this diatribe? Everyone who makes this argument needs to, at the very least, acknowledge what you’re asking people to admit. On the one hand, you have an orange monster, on the other, a corrupt politician who thinks little of the pain and suffering brought by our nation upon the rest of the world. Of course these aren’t even the totality of candidates, but you wouldn’t know that from the obscenely corporate-controlled “debate” process/farce that we saw play out over the past month. The fact that Jill Stein and Gary Johnson have viable viewpoints on the future of our nation means little to the corporate elite controlling the “debate” process, most of whom would prefer if Clinton glided into the White House. Recall that by proffering this argument you are saying it’s just fine that our democracy is bought and paid for, and that you have to accept either of these power-mad people in the highest office in the land. You are also stating that we have to accept that this is the way things have to be, instead of the thousands of meaningful ways activists have tried changing the conversation over the past decade. In the “debates” there was not a SINGLE mention of climate change (this happened almost to the letter in 2012, too) - but that didn’t stop activists from shutting down numerous pipelines during the same time period. From the questions asked at the debate, you’d think the Second Amendment had been nearly torn out of the Constitution, instead of the very reality of dozens of black men being shot on the street by their supposed “protectors.” By saying that these two are the most viable and best candidates for the job of POTUS, you are conceding the terms of the debate.
And while I can’t tell anybody how to vote this November, at the very least if you’re going to make an argument about the lesser of two evils, it should be your sworn duty to bring up the many, many things that argument does not acknowledge. For only if we see this nightmare of democracy for what it is, and what it could be, then we can begin to change it into something that works for everyone. It is my hope that this crazy campaign and what it has revealed about America might begin that process, but who knows? It’s gone on this long, perhaps it will continue until we all melt in the wake of Co2 emissions. Here’s hoping that doesn’t happen.
It’s time once again for another update in my Year of Living (Actually Reading) Fictionally. The previous book covered in this series was Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club. I decided to pivot in another direction with my next selection: the great William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury. Most of you are probably aware of this incredibly difficult novel’s literary significance in the American landscape; as another author I had embarrassingly managed not to read until now I felt it was my duty to take on what is considered his greatest achievement.
And what an achievement! While this book was staggeringly obtuse to puzzle through at times (especially the first two sections) it was without a doubt one of the greatest books I have ever read and clearly established Faulkner’s legacy alongside other great American writers such as Fitzgerald and Hemingway. I’m not going to spend much time on the plot of the novel, parts of which if I’m being honest flew way over my head and will require a second, more in-depth read at some later part of my life. It centers around a traditional southern family during the first decades of the 20th century and how each member copes with their siblings’ perceived faults and the tarnished reputation the (once respectable) Compson name. What I really want to do is draw out some of the massive literary lessons that can be interpreted from this work. More so than any other book I’ve included on this list, however, is the fact that each reader can perceive their own conclusions about the characters and life itself from these pages, and so I would absolutely recommend this book to anyone who is looking to delve into a complete work of art. Here are some of my takeaways:
To be honest, these three lessons are just barely scratching the surface of what this book can teach readers. The only way to truly understand and grapple with it is to sit down and read it, and see how it connects to your own life. I will add the caveat that Faulkner, like Twain before him, did not shy away from using the language of his day to provide realism, which sadly does include a huge amount of racial animosity. Some readers may be downright turned off by how the black characters’ dialog is written in an extremely phonetic style, especially given our own present age of racial distrust. Even so, I still would recommend this book as it is an unflinching gaze into a disturbing period in our country’s history. And I cannot state enough what an incredibly rewarding experience reading this book can be for any reader.
Next up I am heading in an altogether different direction, tackling a book that was first recommended to me by my father-in-law: Exodus by Leon Uris. Stay tuned for the next update in my year of fiction!
John Abraham-Watne is an author and freelance journalist located in the Twin Cities, where he lives with his wife Mary and their two cats. This blog is his attempt to catalog all the events that culminate a local writer's life.