The Sociopath Faction

Donald Trump, German TV news. Schoenefeld Airport, 9 August.

Taking journalistic potshots at the Republican National Convention really amounts to the grabbing of low hanging fruit (or perhaps low hanging nuts). The level of self-involved crazy is so great, and so profoundly weird that it’s not difficult to find targets for humorous engagement.

The DNC is an altogether different sort of experience. While the Republicans wallow in the morass of their own collective terrors, the Democrats present themselves as steely-eyed realists. Their brand of realism comes complete with a human face, but it is, in fact, motivated by impulses in many ways similar to those of their Republican competitors. But while the former spend time and verbiage getting wound up in a suffocating hermeneutics of conservative suspicion, the Democrats focus on ways to get the carbon blobs to work to their advantage.

Hillary Rodham Clinton is the poster child for the hold-your-nose-and-vote theory of democracy. Occupying a political territory in many ways slightly to the right of Ronald Reagan, one of the real ironies of her current position in the American political firmament is the Republican insistence that she is somehow too gentle with regard to international politics and terrorism. In part this has to do with the men are hard/women are soft binary that shapes their entire political argot.

Clinton, who by necessity presents a very hard-nosed persona, doesn’t really fit into that caricature. And thus the level of ire that she draws from her political opponents is that much more shrill. I’m not entirely sure, but I believe that she is the first woman in American politics who is consistently compared to Hitler among the more lowbrow segments of the Republican voter base. Usually they seem satisfied with simply employing a word beginning with “b”.

It seems lost on these people that Clinton was the factotum charged with carrying out Barack Obama’s expansion of the drone war in the Middle East. This policy has resulted in shattered lives and burned limbs but little in terms of tangible gains in the fight against ISIL, radical Islamism, or whatever it is that the policy is meant to defeat. It has done so while dramatically reducing the number of flag-draped coffins being flown back to this country, one of the most dismal features of domestic life in the United States during the Bush II administration.

Hillary Clinton. German television, August 9th.
Hillary Clinton. German television, August 9th.

One would think that the executor of a policy whose victims were almost all brown-skinned and far away would meet with some sort of sympathy from the bigoted zealots in the Republican foreign policy establishment. One would be wrong. Their image of HRC is of the heartless bureaucrat who stripped security protections from Benghazi (even though 13 reports and $13.5 million worth of investigations have failed to uncover evidence of this). HRC is, in their eyes, and unwomanly woman, so it is important to show that she is also bad at being a man.

Clinton is a stone cold political operator. This, perhaps, goes some way to explaining the intense animus generated between her follower and those of her primary opponent Bernie Sanders. Sanders, who (pace his more intense followers) really had no chance of winning the Democratic primary, is a sort of hold over from the resurgence of the Democratic left. An independent who styles himself a democratic socialist (albeit of a very moderate stripe), Sanders tweaked the Clinton campaign precisely where it didn’t want to be touched: on its tender leftward flank where its progressive social policies are sent off to die in obscurity.

Clinton needs a goodly portion of Sanders’s voters to rally to her colors in the general election. This is itself an irony given that Trump cannot seem to make it one entire news cycle without emitting some utterance tending alienate groups whose support he needs to forge his own challenge for the White House. That Clinton is still grubbing for votes from former Sanders supporters is an illustration of her fundamental unpopularity.

Certainly, there are some very avid HRC supporters out there, especially among middle-class women who (not unjustly) would like to see someone who reflects their own identities in the Oval Office for the first time. But there is a segment of the electorate, and I’m guessing a rather large one, who have other reasons for supporting Clinton. Not the least of these is that, unlike Donald Trump, the economic opinions that she has publicly espoused don’t (necessarily) seem certain to cause the US (and thereby the world) economy to implode in the short term.

It is difficult to know if HRC actually believes anything. Unlike her opponent, whose appearance in this regard arises from his inability not to say the very first thing that comes into his head, for Clinton this is a matter of precise political calculation. Beneath the cheery, media-friendly exterior lurks a political mind committed to nothing more elevated that triangulating the views of the American electorate and shaping political rhetoric (and sometimes even policies) to line up with a suitable plurality.

Clinton makes little secret of her connections to major Wall Street institutions and their deep-pocketed financial support. It should come as no surprise that her choice of running mate was not the reasonably critical Elizabeth Warren but the politically amorphous Tim Kaine, a guy with all the fiery kick of day-old Wonder Bread.

Trump, in German.
Trump, in German.

It is also worth noting that Clinton’s embrace of Henry Kissinger was clearly calculated to add to the heft of her foreign policy credentials. Espousing friendship with the man responsible for the merciless (and wholly ineffective) bombing of Cambodia, a supporter (and enabler) of the horrific Dirty War of the Argentine general, as well as of Pinochet’s marriage of neoliberalism and homicide in Chile, comes with little political cost in a country numbed to mass brutality by years of the “war” on “terror”.

The fundamental difference between the Democratic and Republican Parties currently is at the level of the psyche. In place of the Republicans’ psychotic fear, Clinton and her Democratic coterie offer program of institutional sociopathy. The Democrats, both in terms of its functionaries and its institutions, fundamentally lacks (and probably lacks the capacity for) a serious affect connection with other human beings. Their political line seems to be, “We’re not crazy.” And to take this approach in an environment in which a smarmy ideologue John Kasich is seen as a representative of middle-of-the-road conservatism is not obviously wrong. But one simply doesn’t have to dig very deep in order to discover that the basis of human care and sentiment on which their program would seem to be ground is nowhere to be found in the Democratic Party.

The operative strategy of Clinton (and perhaps this is a reflection of her own internal monologue) is to find out what the carbon blobs want, and convince them that we’ll give it to them. In this respect, she is not that different from her opponent. She’s just better at it. Trump, or at least the more lucid of the people around him, would like to execute this approach for the electorate at large. Sadly, their boss can only manage to do so for the segment of the voter base comprising uneducated white males over 40 (and a couple of thousand dude bros and vapers along with them).

Trump and his party are the prisoners of their fear. Clinton and hers have the liberty that comes with the combination of large amounts of capital and a complete lack of political convictions. And if the latter comes across as safer and saner than the former this should probably tell you something about the political situation in the United States at the present moment.

Photographs courtesy of Joel Schalit