Hillary Clinton at a campaign rally at Carl Hayden High School in Phoenix, Arizona. Photo: Flickr/ Gage Skidmore Hillary Clinton at a campaign rally at Carl Hayden High School in Phoenix, Arizona. Photo: Flickr/ Gage Skidmore

Clinton’s utter failure to inspire the growing movement in American society for real change has given Trump an opening

As Election Day approaches in the US, the possibility of Hillary Clinton somehow snatching defeat from the jaws of victory has suddenly developed. Eight years ago, she saw her career goal of becoming the first woman President scuppered by a hitherto unknown Illinois Senator named Barack Obama. This time, she has managed to perform the seemingly impossible act of making Donald Trump look like a serious contender for the White House. Clinton’s failure to see off the challenge of the worst Republican candidate in living memory is the ultimate reflection of the hollowness of the her brand of centrist, neoliberal Democrat politics and its failure to address the needs of an American working class still languishing amid the aftermath of the great recession that has dominated the US and global economy in this decade.

At the start of last month, Clinton appeared to be cruising to the Presidency with Trump’s campaign hitting rock bottom thanks to the release of recordings of his antediluvian misogyny coming to light. Clinton probably thought she could metaphorically put her feet up and light a cigar. Three rambling, nasty and downright bizarre performances by her Republican opponent in the televised debates consolidated the views of most observers that the election was in the bag for the Democrats. The stunning decision of the FBI to re-open its investigation into Clinton’s private emails at the end of October has given the 2016 campaign one final jolt on its already volatile trajectory. FBI Director James Comey is a registered Republican so his intervention strikes many as a blatantly partisan manoeuvre to affect the outcome. However, Comey had previously spared Clinton by suspending the investigation last July in a move that had enraged Trump and the Republicans. The revival of the email controversy has undoubtedly damaged Clinton’s momentum but the roots of her failure to put the election beyond her opponent’s reach go much deeper.

She has belatedly called upon the current President to try to inject some much-needed charisma into her leaden campaign. The fact that Obama could be succeeded by such an appalling figure as Trump, however, must also be seen as tacit indictment of his own eight years in power and failure to delivery on the surge of optimism that carried him into the White House in 2008. Obama’s most enthusiastic supporters in the media spoke at the time of the emergence of a post-racial America that had consigned its slave and segregationist past to the history books. Such optimism now looks cruelly naïve in the face of a seemingly endless procession of police killings of black Americans and Trump’s depressingly popular call-in some quarters – for a wall across the Mexican border.

Neoliberal to the bone

Clinton’s failure to inject political fuel into her 2016 campaign reflects the disconnect between her brand of centrist Democrat politics and the growing demand within American society for a movement on the left that voices the anger still boiling over from the crash of 2008. Clinton has always been on the side of the corporations and arms dealers, beginning with her pre-political career as a corporate lawyer in Arkansas, protecting big companies from damaging claims for negligence and against attempts at greater regulation. When Bill Clinton’s spin doctors instructed her in the 1980s to grow her hair long and take off her glasses to supposedly avoid upsetting conservative voters in the same state she meekly complied.

As First Lady in the following decade, she was the driving force behind ‘Clintoncare’  the botched forerunner of Obamacare-but adopted such a secretive management style that the initial enthusiasm for the policy drained away. As Senator for New York in 2002, she voted for Bush’s Authorisation of Military Force resolution in Congress that enabled him to launch the catastrophic war in Iraq without UN approval. This blunder deservedly cost her Democrat nomination in 2008.

When Obama appointed her as Secretary of State the following year, her hawkish instincts were fully unleashed on an unsuspecting world. The outbreak of the Arab Spring revolutions in 2011 was initially received by Clinton with a ham-fisted and failed attempt on her part to keep Mubarak, the Egyptian dictator, in power despite overwhelming public opposition from his own people. She argued for the Nato intervention in Libya that has turned the country into a failed state. In 2013, she was a public advocate of a US attack on Syria that would have accelerated that country’s descent into a hellish maelstrom. Clinton originally backed the corporate-driven agenda of TTP (the Pacific version of TTIP) until Trump’s opportunistic opposition to it forced her into an unseemly U-turn.

Clinton and friends

Her pursuit of the Democrat nomination this year also exposed the unvarnished neoliberal agenda that lies at the core of her politics. Before the FBI’s intervention at the end of October, her campaign was nearly derailed by the Wikileaks revelations of her crassly pro-Wall Street comments made in secret before an audience of Goldman Sachs banksters. Clinton reassured her hosts that she had ‘a lot of respect for the work you do and the people who do it’ and further insisting that ‘the people that know the industry better than anybody’ namely ‘the people who work in the industry’ are the best ones to devise any new regulatory framework.

Even her ultimate securing of the nomination in the face of the Bernie Sanders insurgency was characterised by grubby behind-the-scenes manipulation. The Chair of the Democrat National Committee, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, was forced to resign in disgrace at the Convention in July when her blatant rigging of the primary contest in favour of the Clinton camp was exposed by another Wikileaks revelation. Clinton’s appeal to women voters is obviously far more credible than Trump’s (it would be difficult to be otherwise) but even that is not without flaws. Her choice of running mate is Tim Kaine, former Governor of Virginia who committed himself to reducing abortions in the state when he first ran for the post. He has also advocated abstinence as a preferable alternative to birth control.


The polls have tightened alarmingly in the swing states over the past few days, some of which are often characterised as the ‘rustbelt’ states such as Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin, in which a section of working class voters have become open to Trump’s anti-establishment and protectionist rhetoric. This has led to a myth among some media commentators that his campaign has largely being fuelled by a blue-collar uprising against the elite; and even more bizarrely, that therefore there is something progressive about the Trump campaign. There is no doubt he has tapped into pervasive alienation with the US political system, but the core of his support actually comes from the higher income bracket. Respected US pollster Nate Silver concluded recently that:

Trump voters’ median household income was higher than the median in every state, sometimes by a wide margin; and that 44% of Trump voters have college undergraduate degrees, compared to 29% of US adults.

Trump’s failure to seriously challenge Clinton until this point reflects the US ruling class’ preference for her style of global strategy based on neoliberalism at home and interventionism abroad, as opposed to his plans for economic protectionism and military drawdown. Trump’s unhinged notions such as forcing Japan to adopt nuclear weapons and annihilating Isis – by some undisclosed method – are obviously untenable; but the US national security establishment are genuinely alarmed by his suggestions of not invoking Article 5 of Nato’s founding treaty (and therefore not automatically supporting a member state under attack) or his apparent willingness to negotiate with Putin over disputes in Ukraine and Syria. A Trump Presidency would undoubtedly be a disaster for the US working class but it would also cause massive headaches for the elite.

Grim prospects?

The prospects for radical change in the US would look extremely grim if the choice of Clinton or Trump was the only one that mattered. One of the striking features of the US political scene, however, is the failure of this election campaign to express the idealism and creatively that clearly exist outside the confines of the two-party system. The Sanders campaign earlier in the year attracted a huge reservoir of support and put the idea of socialism back into everyday discourse for the first time in living memory.  Regrettably, the Vermont Senator chose to dissolve his movement into the Clinton apparatus (even after the DNC’s machinations had been exposed) but ‘Sanders-nistas’ clearly exist in huge numbers and could be the basis of an attempt to break the Democrat-Republican duopoly in the near future.

In combination with the growing dynamism and popularity of the Black Lives Matter, the potential for a revival of the US radical left is perhaps more real now than for a long time. Whoever prevails on 8 November will be confronted with the unenviable task of governing a bitterly divided country. President Clinton may face impeachment from an unforgiving Republican Congress. President Trump may face the wrath of an electorate who learn the astronomical cost of his proposed wall. Either way, the 45th President is going to struggle to control a society on the brink.  

Sean Ledwith

Sean Ledwith is a Counterfire member and Lecturer in History at York College, where he is also UCU branch negotiator. Sean is also a regular contributor to Marx and Philosophy Review of Books and Culture Matters