Over the course of the 2016 presidential campaign, and certainly in its immediate aftermath, I had a distinct dislike for Hillary Clinton. I regarded her as yet another centrist, ‘neoliberal’ shill whose cautious approach to governing was ill-suited to a country clearly in need of radical reform. Particularly in contrast to her primary opponent and socialist ideologue Bernie Sanders, she seemed to lack principles and conviction, instead choosing to cynically use identity politics and smears to win the primary. Her attacks on Sanders were often factually false, like her claim Sanders wanted to repeal the Affordable Care Act- he didn’t, he simply wanted to build upon it to move to single payer. Her campaign implied Sanders didn’t care about women and minorities, which wasn’t remotely true. Most importantly, she was far too hawkish on foreign policy. Her proposed no-fly zone over Syria could have led to direct confrontation with Russia. She hasn’t considered the shortcomings of the War on Terror or the Arab Spring. And unlike many Democrats, she never attacked defence spending for being largely wasteful and not actually making America safer. Overall, she really seemed like more of the same.
Then the shocking election result came in. When Trump won, my antipathy towards Clinton grew to new levels. Had Sanders won the primary, I thought he would have beaten Trump handily, particularly in the Midwestern states disillusioned with recent trade policy. Clinton did far worse than Obama amongst the rural white working class because she didn’t grasp how angry people felt at Washington. Rather than spending so much time praising Obama for his past record, Clinton should have spent more time explaining how she would have improved people’s lives now.
However, I’ve had a slight change of mind. While I still hold Clinton responsible for losing the most easily winnable presidential elections since Reagan defeated Mondale, I accept that Sanders’ policies never received much scrutiny, and so he may not have won as easily as the Trump vs Sanders polls were suggesting. I now have more reservations about Sanders’ policies; his healthcare programme was far too ambitious and costly. Clinton’s call for pragmatism and realism makes sense given how difficult federally-run single payer would be to get through Congress. I also no longer believe Clinton’s use of identity politics was entirely cynical. Rather, the Trump presidency has highlighted how prevalent sexism and racism still is in America today- Clinton was right to highlight those issues. As well as his bigotry, Trump’s protectionism has vindicated Clinton. Withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership will only make America poorer and more isolated. Clinton’s support for free trade was right, her mistake on trade was not defending it well enough.
The most significant factor behind my more lukewarm attitude to Hillary Clinton was not actually anything that happened in America, but Brexit. I voted to Remain, but I decided to be magnanimous in defeat, and work with Leavers for the best possible Brexit. In return, many Brexiteers have needlessly attacked Remainers, accusing them of being unpatriotic, disloyal and undemocratic. Despite being the victors, many prominent Eurosceptics feel insecure, choosing to demonise almost half the population. While it wouldn’t be right to overturn the referendum result, no one ought to be under any obligation to support Brexit. Calling Remainers ‘enemies of the people’, as an infamous Daily Mail headline did, is bullying. The once-respectable Daily Telegraph has also descended into the gutter, declaring 15 MPs who voted against fixing the exact time we leave the EU to be ‘mutineers.’
Trump and most Republicans’ attitude towards Clinton reminds me of the behaviour of the most fanatical Brexiteers. Like the Leave campaign, Trump and the Republicans are the victors. They control the presidency, both houses of Congress, the Supreme Court and most state legislatures and governorships. Yet they constantly feel the need to spew vitriolic abuse at anyone who dares question them. Clinton, a relatively centrist politician by any reasonable measure, is portrayed by Fox News and conservative talk radio as an unpatriotic hard-leftist who is irredeemably corrupt and seeks to destroy America. Somehow wanting to raise taxes on the wealthy back to 1990s levels constitutes extreme socialism. Much of the criticism is based on misogyny and conspiracy theories about Clinton; Ben Carson even said that she was in league with Lucifer at the Republican Convention, and the audience applauded! The constant reversion to emphasising how evil even moderate Democrats are betrays Trump’s distinct lack of accomplishments since coming to power.
None of this is to suggest the Right has a monopoly on abusive behaviour. Too often the Left is hyperbolic when it decries anyone opposed to socialism, including Hillary Clinton, as being part of an evil ‘neoliberal’ elite. But in the US and the UK, what makes the Right’s virulence so appalling is the pretence of anti-elitism. The reality is that any democracy is competition between different sorts of elites. Clinton and the Democrats are no more elitist than Trump and the Republicans. What makes the Right’s anti-elitism is misguided is that it is the Right who enjoys power, at least in the US and the UK. Thus, the denunciation of Clinton as an elitist smacks of rank hypocrisy. The Right should respect that Clinton lost, and leave her alone.