I Voted for Hillary, But I’m Glad Trump Won
As an English Language Arts teacher, I spend my days talking about the power of language. In many ways, language shapes our reality and not the other way around. No where is this fact more evident than in the language of politics, where pundits attempt to convince their audiences that universal health care is a basic human right or, conversely, that socialized medicine will undo the fabric of individual rights upon which our nation was founded. As Derek Thompson noted in The Atlantic this year, Democrats and Republicans are becoming increasingly insulated in large part because they are cocooning their respective parties in their own unique vernacular so that the end result is that, in a very real way, the two parties aren’t even speaking the same language any more.
The senior students in my AP Language class read an essay each year by an author who suffered from polio as a child. The author’s name is Nancy Mairs, and the essay is titled “On Being a Cripple.” In this piece, Mairs states that she prefers the term “cripple” to describe her condition to euphemisms like “differently abled,” which, she claims, “partakes of the same semantic hopefulness that transformed countries from ‘undeveloped’ to ‘underdeveloped,’ then to ‘less developed,’ and finally to ‘developing” nations’.” Mairs notes, somberly, that “[p]eople have continued to starve in those countries during the shift.” Her point is that some language attempts to obscure difficult or unpleasant realities, and, as a result of that language, we believe in a kind of false reality — the one that the language creates instead of the one that actually exists. As she notes in her discussion of “developing countries,” there is real suffering that remains unaddressed as a result of the fact that our language obscures it from our consciousness.
In discussing this piece with students, I often invoke the old adage “Let’s call a spade a spade” to help students understand Mairs’ point, and I think this adage and Mairs’ ideas can be useful in helping us — those people who voted for Hillary — see why a President Trump is actually a more productive step toward redressing the problems of racism, misogyny, and xenophobia than a President Clinton. Mr. Trump’s overt hostility to marginalized groups obviously resonates with a vast swath of Americans, and it is tempting for us “liberals” to denounce these Americans for their xenophobia and racism and misogyny, to elevate ourselves to the level of sainthood and to denounce Trump supporters as “backward rednecks” or — worse - “white trash.” But the reality is that their words are spades and to call them out on their prejudices is a rather easy feat because they acknowledge their views openly. There is almost no ambiguity in Mr. Trump’s racist and sexist language — his racism and sexism are stated matter-of-factly in plain terms that do not seek to obfuscate.
Ms. Clinton, on the other hand, seems — on the surface — to be Mr. Trump’s foil: her campaign ran on the language of inclusion and cooperation across the labels of identity politics. But, as Slovenian philosopher, Slavoj Zizek, pointed out in a recent interview on The Brian Lehrer Show, Hillary is “from Wall Street to Occupy Wall Street, from Saudi Arabian money to LBGTQ+ and so on. When you have such a broad coalition, I always ask: who is, nonetheless, not included?”
His point is that Ms. Clinton’s rhetoric is so inclusive so as to obfuscate the obvious reality that groups like Wall Street and Occupy Wall Street are diametrically opposed, that their value systems are, by their very nature, fundamentally and irresolvably in conflict. The other obvious reality that Zizek articulates in this interview is that we can’t have populism without the people — and while we may wish to believe that Democrats are the party of populism, it was Mr. Trump who had the people on his side.
This was the promise of Bernie Sanders: he invited the identity politics folks and the Rust Belt folks to the table — and, importantly, he did not invite Wall Street to this meeting. This was the fundamental flaw of Hillary Clinton: she (and we) banked on a neoliberal promise of inclusion for all — but turned a blind eye to the fact that she offered inclusion only in linguistic and not in economic terms, which, to be clear, are the real terms that determine if people eat or starve.
We liberals were all too happy to assert, via our tablets manufactured by slave laborers in China on social media sites that curate only the news they want us to read, that we believe in social and economic justice. But we can’t protect both the Corrections Corporation of America and the black communities who supply the bodies to secure its rising stock price. We can’t protect Americans’ 401(k)s and the immigrant bodies on whose backs that wealth has been built. We can’t protect our bloated defense budget and the men and women who suffer the effects of PTSD. We can’t protect our drone program and the lives of innocent civilians in the countries we surveille and attack. Ms. Clinton purported to be able to accomplish all of these things. I don’t think it takes a genius to see that these priorities are incompatible and can’t be serviced together.
Ms. Clinton supports reforms to the system, but this is a system for which the kinds of minor reforms that she might enact are so minimal and would do so little to address the fundamental exploitation upon which our society is built that it is, in fact, equivalent to maintaining the status quo. To call that liberalism is to distort reality: and the price of that obfuscation, make no mistake, is actual human lives.
If Ms. Clinton had won, we would all be celebrating what would have been the facade of progress, as opposed to true progress. We would be patting ourselves on our collective liberal back and exclaiming a new dawn of progressivism. And, all the while, Yemeni women and children will be dying, and black men will continue to languish in prison as targeted victims of the War on Drugs, and undocumented immigrants will continue to earn slave wages to harvest the food that nourishes our American bodies, and more and more veterans will continue to kill themselves at increasingly astronomical rates, even as we offer them our hollow thanks for their service. In the neoliberal narrative, there is no place for the recognition of these kinds of issues because they function as a counternarrative to the beloved neoliberal commandment for moral progress.
Because Mr. Trump won, we will be forced to reckon with the morally reprehensible reality of our — mine, yours, Trump’s, Clinton’s — national priorities. None of these things will stop happening, but what may change is our ability to see them, to discuss them. If we feel disgust that Mr. Trump has won, that’s good: it means we’re facing the hard truths about our nation rather than deluding ourselves with the naive idea that we are on the path toward progress. Real reform is hard, but it is possible if we begin by labeling our American values honestly and clearly — if we begin by calling a spade a spade instead of pretending that it’s a heart.