Brace yourself—I’m about to reference a movie that came out over 15 years ago with respect to the current election cycle.
I’m pretty sure you’re familiar with a particular scene from The Matrix. You know, the first one—before the then-Wachowski Brothers ran the story into the ground with the next two installments. The sage Morpheus offers the hacker Neo/mild-mannered computer programmer Thomas Anderson a choice between two pills: a blue pill, which will restore him to the life he knows (or thinks he knows), and a red pill, which Morpheus describes as allowing him to “stay in Wonderland” and him showing Neo/Anderson “how deep the rabbit hole goes.”
This U.S. presidential election cycle, the American people essentially have a choice between two “pills”—the red one (Donald Trump) or the blue one (Hillary Clinton)—though with much different possible side effects. In the former, many prospective voters are desperate to avoid the “Wonderland” that Trump insists his presidency would create, believing the country would instead be that much worse for it, and look at those who have swallowed the red-pill-laden Kool-Aid of “making America great again” with an air of horrified incredulity.
As for the latter, meanwhile, a good percentage of Americans are confronting the reality they might have to swallow a bitter pill in voting for Hillary. Many of those who have already willingly taken the required dosage to be “with her”—believing what they want to believe, as Morpheus puts it—look at those who have yet to gulp down the blue pill with a certain degree of condescension or derision, especially those dadgum “Bernie or Bust” types. Why doesn’t Bernie just find a nice rocking chair somewhere (even though he’s less than a decade older than Hillary) and pat himself on the back in running a fine race? Why don’t his supporters fall in line and support history in the making? WHY ARE THEY SAYING #HILLNO INSTEAD OF #HILLYES?!?
While Red Pill Donald has received the lion’s share of media coverage in spite of a lack of substantive policy and an abundance of vitriol, Hillary Clinton has garnered quite a bit of press in her own right—and even more now that she’s the presumptive Democratic Party nominee. Much of it, for better or for worse, has had to do with the notion she is preeminently unlikable. (Donald Trump is yet more unlikable, but as with one-time rival Ted Cruz, this reality is pretty much taken as a fact of life.) This has led to all sorts of pieces on why HRC is unlikable, why she is very likable, why the question of her likability is based on an unfair double standard related to gender, how male voters tend to have a problem with strong women, how Sanders supporters are often sexist, misogynistic thugs who have no regard for how the real world works and are only looking for a handout (sorry, got carried away on that last one). In whatever form, much of the discussion about Clinton’s support has been in the form of reactions to the folly of this anti-Hillary prejudice, usually peppered with an illustration of just how qualified the former Secretary of State is.
Is the writing on the wall with respect to the Democratic Party nomination? Yes, and on newspapers, blogs, Facebook Walls and across the “Twitter-verse.” Is Hillary subject to a different standard than that of many of her male contemporaries? Definitely. Have some Bernie Sanders supporters and other right-wing detractors been guilty of prejudice and worse toward women? I fully admit as much. But is a resistance to supporting Clinton in her bid to be the first female president in U.S. history necessarily a failure on the part of those who resist?
As someone who begrudgingly would vote for Hillary in the general election, I submit the answer to that last one is a resounding no. I mean, it’s nothing personal, Ms. Clinton. You’re just not “the One.”
Why aren’t you the One, former Madam Secretary? It’s not you—it’s me. Sorry, I have that the wrong way. It’s not me—it’s you. That is, it’s your politics, not your gender, or my latent chauvinism, or that cackle. OK, so the cackle probably doesn’t help. But, yes, it’s what you represent. Anis Shivani, in a lengthy piece in Salon that makes even my usual “TL;DR” status blush, outlines how the choice between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump facing the majority of pragmatic American voters represents a “neoliberal nightmare,” even going as far as to identify the crux of neoliberal theory which explains why the Clinton-Trump binary is so troublesome. At its core, explains Shivani, “Neoliberalism presumes a strong state, working only for the benefit of the wealthy, and as such it has little pretence to neutrality and universality, unlike the classical liberal state.”
For someone like Clinton who boasts of her identity as a “progressive who gets things done” in contrast to someone like Bernie Sanders, this is indeed a problem, for a strong state that works only for the benefit of the wealthy is decidedly not progressive. As Shivani goes on to say:
It should be said that neoliberalism thrives on prompting crisis after crisis, and has proven more adept than previous ideologies at exploiting these crises to its benefit, which then makes the situation worse, so that each succeeding crisis only erodes the power of the working class and makes the wealthy wealthier.
In this way, the neoliberal tradition seems particularly, dare we say, insidious, for, within this purview, it is not only responsible for widening disparities of wealth and power, but gets excused for its role in promoting such inequality. As Shivani argues, the market is the ideal structure for the neoliberal politician, such that attempts to regulate the literal markets or rein in this philosophy are met with swift rebuttal. A particularly instructive example would seem to be found in the Salon piece’s example of Hillary Clinton’s hesitancy to support regulation of Wall Street and commercial banking under the premise that we as Americans have to “abide by the rule of law” (Bernie-or-Busters, please try to hold your laughter at the apparent hypocrisy), in which everyday individuals are subjugated in favor of the corporation.
By no means is Hillary the only influential neoliberal in politics today; Obama is also referenced heavily in Shivani’s thought piece, as is Mr. Clinton and even George W. Bush. That said, its author views the presumptive Democratic Party nominee as the example par excellence, and views her espoused policies—many of them critical points of contention for Sanders supporters—as indicative of the internalization of the neoliberal mindset. The attack on trade unions, climate change and a messy break with fossil fuels and fracking, Clintonian criminal justice and welfare reform, debt/deficit reduction and slashing taxes, the $15 minimum wage, free college tuition—these issues and the people behind them matter. In Clinton’s neoliberal world, however, people are more or less “human capital,” as her shameless pandering to and trotting out of minorities in her campaign ads suggests. Even the references to her “firewall” among African-American voters in the deep South are, for all intents and purposes, dehumanizing. There is a wide range of experiences and opinions among the larger black community in the United States, and terminology such as this sends the wrong message about politicians thinking they do not and perhaps should not have to earn each and every vote.
The antithesis to the neoliberal movement marked by figures such as Clinton, Dubya and Obama has been identified by Anis Shivani and other social critics in the persons of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. A growing negative reaction to neoliberalism’s maintenance of the status quo within the American people, characterized by an anger toward established economic and political institutions, is seen as a key reason why both politicians have maintained such a high profile until the end of the primary season. In fact, many pundits envision Sanders and Trump as two sides of the same red-faced coin. In reality, the objects of scorn for Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump are quite different, as is their level of insistence on a reform of the political process to benefit the public. For Sanders, political reform is his raison d’être; for Trump, such matters are of secondary performance because the Republican primary produced a winner—him.
Accordingly, it is Bernie who has taken it upon himself to wage a personal war against the erosion of the middle class in the United States and the influence of money in politics that makes our vaunted American democracy so disturbingly undemocratic—and helping lead a revolution against our so-called corporate overlords. Returning at last to the Matrix analogy, this would make the 74-year-old secular Jewish democratic socialist from Brooklyn Neo—or maybe Morpheus—I’m still working out the kinks on this whole Matrix parallel thing. His path, one of freedom from the cycle of pay-to-play, my-more-expensive-vote-counts-more-than-yours politics, I believe, is the true path, and I also hold to the belief that the establishment politics of figureheads such as Barack Obama, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Hillary Clinton and Paul Ryan—the “Matrix” of moneyed interests—is living on borrowed time.
So, addressing you directly one more time, Ms. Clinton, consider yourself lucky. If not for the threat of a Donald Trump presidency and all hell breaking loose, you might not be on the march to the White House that you find yourself. For all your hard work in playing the political game and for your decades of professed service to the American people, because of your neoliberal politics—more than any other factor which might lack legitimacy—you are playing the wrong game, and serving the wrong interests. Hillary, if I may call you that, you may be the first female POTUS, reaching a long-overdue milestone in U.S. politics, and you may have my vote come November, but in spite of yourself. Though your attitude betrays a sense of entitlement that your coronation is a long time coming, you’re not the One. Not by a long shot.