Editor’s Note: This short essay was published on Nov. 4, 2017, as a note by the author on his Facebook page. We think placing the 2016 electoral outcome within the context of neoliberalism can deepen our understanding.
by Faramarz Farbod
That’s the title of Hillary Clinton’s new book.
But do we know “What Happened” in the 2016 election? Let me start by stating what didn’t happen: Putin did not happen; he is not responsible for the election of Trump. I will not, however, say more about this subject in this short note. Suffice it to say that if you are tired of the Russiagaters, as I am, I commend you. You may consider it a sign of sanity.
Hillary Clinton’s new book inadvertently hints at what happened on its cover: her name, as the author of the book, appears right below the title as if to suggest to her readers to go no further than the cover page, namely Hillary Clinton happened.
That is correct but I think this formulation does not go far enough analytically. We ought to learn to depersonalize politics if we are to have a deeper understanding of the social forces at work. The Clintons do not belong to an ordinary family in US politics. Their name is virtually synonymous with the neoliberal turn in US politics and I suggest we think of them in terms of an ism: Clintonism. So, properly speaking, Clintonism stands for the neoliberal turn dating back to at least the early 1990s (if not the 1970s).
And what is the neoliberal agenda? It has entailed vicious assaults against the working class with the aim of rolling back labor’s historic gains, the deindustrialization of the US economy, peddling austerity, pushing privatization of not just economic activities and assets but of human aspirations, the financialization of the economy (creating a volatile casino capitalism), a massive rise in the incarceration rates (the making of a prison-industrial complex), the further militarization of society and of foreign policy, and the protection of investor rights abroad at the expense of labor and the environment.
The result has been a massive growth in income and wealth inequalities and the accompanying impoverishment and alienation of millions of North Americans. Neoliberalism had already impoverished hundreds of millions of people in the Global South; now late-stage capitalism required that the ruling elites push austerity and neoliberal policies at home as well.
Insofar then as Clintonism represents this neoliberal turn, it is best understood as a bulwark against progressivism, notwithstanding its rhetoric – especially during electoral cycles. I should say also that Obama did not represent a deviation from Clintonism understood as such.
Returning to the 2016 elections, we must not forget either that one the most telling facts about it was the rigging of the Democratic primaries by the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign to ensure that no deviation from Clintonism, as described here, no matter how mild (i.e., the social democratic-lite agenda of Bernie Sanders), is permitted.
I think we judge amiss if we insist on thinking of Trump as Clinton’s “Other” or of Trumpism and Clintonism as mutually exclusive phenomena. Rather, Trumpism beyond Trump himself (neo-authoritarianism) is an ATTENDANT of Clintonism beyond Hillary Clinton herself (neoliberalism) once saner political alternatives (social democracy) are successfully blocked from entering the political arena.
It is also true that the arrogance of the powerful, if not their interests, often prevents them from taking a good look at themselves. They prefer propagating various bogeymen to explain their failures. But the stakes are too high for us to follow their chosen path or to play the game in accord with the rules they set. If we fail to see these forces for what they are, whence they come from, and what they portend, we are sure to suffer even greater indignities to come.
Faramarz Farbod, a native of Iran, teaches politics at Moravian College. He is a founder of Beyond Capitalism Working Group. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.