Usually the US presidential debates are more about personalities than politics. The phony Commission on Presidential Debates, deeply in the pocket of Democratic and Republican parties, serves as a fig leaf to mask the shamefully narrow discussion that passes for democracy in “The Greatest Country On Earth.™” But living in the 21st century, we do not have to accept the limitations that those in charge would use to hem us in. With technology at our service, we can present a real, broader debate.
According to imperial decree, we are only allowed to hear from the two candidates that represent Wall Street and Corporate America. Both the Democrats and Republicans have a long history of supporting pro-corporate, anti-labor policies, with initiatives that promote racism, sexism, exploitation and environmental destruction. How do we know? Because together those two parties have been running the country for hundreds of years and the proof is in what we see all around us.
All serious candidates — including Jill Stein of the Green Party and Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party — should be included in the debates. Doing so could only broaden the discussion. But like the Democrats and Republicans, Bernie Sanders and the Libertarians all support capitalism in one form or another. To truly get at the heart of the problems we face today, an anti-capitalist perspective needs to be weighed alongside the other voices. To that end we bring you an expanded debate, where fictional socialist Sydney Solidarity squares off against the twin candidates of the ruling rich.
The first presidential debate of the 2016 campaign took place September 26, moderated by Lester Holt. Below are Solidarity’s responses to each of the debate questions. Lester Holt’s comments are edited for flow.
A transcript of the actual, limited debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton can be found here.
* * *
Lester Holt: We’re calling this opening segment “Achieving Prosperity.” And central to that is jobs. There are two economic realities in America today. There’s been a record six straight years of job growth, and new census numbers show incomes have increased at a record rate after years of stagnation. However, income inequality remains significant, and nearly half of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck.
Why are you a better choice than your opponents to create the kinds of jobs that will put more money into the pockets of American workers?
Sydney Solidarity: Thank you. The primary difference between socialists and the parties represented by Mr. Trump and Ms. Clinton, is that socialists tell the truth about the class divisions in our society and all that they imply. Mr. Trump and Ms. Clinton would have you believe that there is one America, one team, with everyone in the same boat and everyone pulling toward the same goal. This is a conscious deception. As socialists, we recognize that the 99% and the 1% — those who produce all of the nation’s wealth, versus those who, through various schemes, collect, control and oversee the disposition of that great mountain of wealth — have opposing and conflicting interests. The interests of Wall Street, the giant insurance companies and corporate conglomerates are different from those of working people.
Socialists argue that our current economic system is fundamentally undemocratic because those who produce all of the wealth have no say in how it is put to use, and those who control most of the wealth had nothing to do with creating it. As such, socialist solutions to current problems take into account the injustice of the current setup and we are not bound by the artificial constraints adhered to by the pro-capitalist candidates.
Socialists say a job is a right that should be guaranteed to all, at union wages. There is plenty of work that needs to be done and plenty of money to pay for it. To immediately put everyone back to work, we would launch a massive public works program to build and repair infrastructure, schools, parks and neighborhood health clinics; construct fast, cheap, efficient mass transit within and between each of our cities. We would invest heavily in research, development and construction of safe, renewable energy technologies like solar, wind, geothermal, tidal and more. To pay for all of this, we would eliminate the more than $600 billion war budget, which is used by the 1% to defend their interests and impose their will on the 99% at home and abroad. Finally, we would institute a steeply graduated income tax, with working people paying no tax, those earning more than $200,000 taxed at an increasing rate for each additional $10,000 of income, up to a top tax rate of 100 percent for any income over a million dollars. All types of income, including interest and capital gains, would be treated the same. This may sound radical, but we should remember that the top US tax rate from 1954 to 1963 was 91 percent.
Solidarity now responds to the comments by the other candidates.
Ms. Clinton said she cares about the “middle class.” This is a term she and others use to blur economic distinctions in our society. In Ms. Clinton’s view, everyone is “middle class,” spare those at rock bottom and the few at the very top. Actually, the overwhelming majority of our citizens belong to the working class. Those in the working class produce the goods and services that, taken together, are the sole source of wealth produced each year. However, by law and tradition, the wealth produced by working people does not belong to them and is not controlled by them. Rather, the wealth produced by so many is deemed to belong to a small class of capitalists. Because stealing from the poor to give to the rich is not a popular policy, the capitalists launder their wealth. This is accomplished by classifying the riches that the capitalists steal from working people as profit. When Ms. Clinton, Mr. Trump and other mainstream politicians pay homage to the “middle class”, it’s their way of muddying the water, trying to hide the fact that our country is made up of producers and exploiters — workers and capitalists. You will never hear Democratic or Republican Party politicians say that their first priority is the working class. Socialists like me, however, side squarely and proudly with the working class.
In her remarks, Ms. Clinton paid lip service to clean energy, equal pay for equal work, a fair minimum wage, affordable child care and debt-free college education. This sounds enticing, until you remember that the political parties that Ms. Clinton and Mr. Trump represent have been in power for generations, during which time the record on all of these issues has been abysmal. President Barack Obama has bragged about his “all of the above” energy policy, offshore drilling and building enough “new oil and gas pipeline to circle the Earth and then some.” In the first two years of Obama’s presidency, with a Democratic majority in both houses of Congress, absolutely nothing was done to advance the cause of equal pay, affordable child care or the rest.
Socialists, on the other hand, don’t just talk. We are active every day in movements in the streets to stop environmental destruction, halt the murders of African Americans and other minorities by racist cops, provide free child care for all, guarantee abortion on demand, guarantee equal rights for all, fight for $15 and a union, halt the imperial war machine and bring all US troops home now.
In his remarks, Mr. Trump promised to halt the flight of US companies overseas by cutting corporate taxes. This while his own business has extensive offshore operations. With unemployment up and real wages down, working people are indeed suffering. But in proposing to create jobs by cutting corporate taxes, Mr. Trump forces the rest of us to either pay more or get by with less. It’s highway robbery and the choice is a familiar one: “Your money or your life!”
Holt: Let me follow up with Mr. Trump, if you can. You’ve talked about creating 25 million jobs, and you’ve promised to bring back millions of jobs for Americans. How are you going to bring back the industries that have left this country for cheaper labor overseas? How, specifically, are you going to tell American manufacturers that you have to come back?
Solidarity: Socialists say that a job is a universal right. No one should ever have to go without a job — a good job, at union wages. Mr. Trump and Ms. Clinton say that they’re for jobs too, but it’s not true. In fact, they’ve got a big problem. The so-called free enterprise system, which they both worship, which Ms. Clinton says “built the greatest middle class in history,” absolutely depends on having millions of unemployed, underemployed and super exploited workers. Under capitalism, full employment is impossible. Why? Because if everyone had a job, the balance of power between workers and employers would be significantly altered. Workers could demand higher pay and the boss would have no choice but to agree. Workers could go out on strike, and there would be no one to use as strikebreakers.
In a rational system, if there was anything society required, if there was any public need not being fulfilled, people would be put to work fulfilling it. And if putting everybody to work full time would result in too much being produced — if full employment at 40 hour per week would produce more than what society needs — then the sensible thing to do would be to reduce the work week with no reduction in pay, dividing the necessary work among everyone. If you put human needs before profits, it’s easy to have jobs for all.
But if your first loyalty is to profits, as is the case for Democrats and Republicans, then these simple, rational solutions can’t be considered. Democrats and Republicans are for creating jobs only if it’s profitable to do so. That’s why their proposals always involve giving money to corporations and the rich.
Mr. Trump and Ms. Clinton point to the current economic downturn to explain why unemployment is so high. But what they don’t tell you is that regular, periodic crises, such as the one we are currently suffering through, are themselves a direct result of putting profits before human needs. The way our economy is organized, there’s a recession or depression every five or 10 years. No Democratic or Republican proposal has ever changed that.
From an early age, we’re taught — and Mr. Trump and Ms. Clinton will try to tell you — that these economic downturns just kind of happen, like thunderstorms. But that’s not true either. These crises occur when the economy produces more than can be sold at a profit. It’s then that businesses cut back, close down, lay off workers, and wait until profit potential improves. No consideration whatsoever is given to whether there are unmet needs; whether people are hungry, or homeless, or jobless, or poor. But the most outrageous part of all is that, with the current profit-driven system, the system President Obama has called “the greatest engine of prosperity the world’s ever known,” crises and high unemployment occur not when there’s a scarcity of productive capacity or goods that everybody needs, but when there’s too much!
To guarantee jobs for all, we would immediately reduce the workweek with no reduction in pay. Can we afford this? Absolutely. While most are suffering from the current recession, those at the top are doing quite well. US corporate profits are near an all-time high. Profits for the five most profitable Fortune 500 corporations were up an average of 30 percent in 2015. Jobs for all is possible and practical, but only if we reject the narrow framework of the Democrats and Republicans and instead put people before profits.
The candidates trade remarks about climate change.
Solidarity: Mr. Trump doesn’t believe that climate change is a serious threat. Ms. Clinton says she accepts the scientific consensus, but during her tenure as Secretary of State US oil production boomed and greenhouse gas emissions continued to rise. Either Ms. Clinton and her party are criminally incompetent environmental stewards, or they aren’t serious about addressing climate change. Or both!
Ms. Clinton and all supporters of capitalism have a serious problem where climate change is concerned. Within capitalism, there is room for reform, short of dismantling the entire economic framework. Every wage increase, union victory, advance in civil rights or civil liberties illustrates this. But some issues, like climate change, are different. Addressing climate change is not a matter of dealing with one power plant or one factory or even a single industry; it’s a globalized, systemic problem. With enough pressure, you can get the powers that be to clean up a particular river, ban a particular toxic chemical or right a particular injustice, but there’s no way to end systemic pollution, poisoning of the environment or generalized injustice without ending the incentives that encourage those behaviors. Under capitalism, those behaviors are profitable, and profit is deemed to be the highest measure of success.
Socialists are for taking critical industries and resources out of private hands. We would eliminate the incentive to pollute by immediately nationalizing the energy industry under the democratic control of workers in that industry and those affected by energy policy. Any displaced workers would be guaranteed retraining and good union wage jobs, plus full union wages for as long as it takes to transition to their new employment. This isn’t radical. It’s just common sense. This is what a caring, rational society that values human beings more than profits would do. What’s radical is when your house is on fire is to pretend that you care but do nothing about it, while continuing to offer financial incentives to anyone who pours gasoline on the flames!
The candidates spar over trade agreements.
Mr. Trump opposes NAFTA and the TPP. Ms. Clinton has strongly supported these agreements, but now pretends she has seen the light.
In the abstract, who could be opposed to international trade? It’s such a reasonable idea. But in typical Orwellian fashion, what are called “trade” agreements today — the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), etc. — have little to do with trade. In reality, these are agreements among the 1% of various capitalist countries for maximizing profits and more effectively exploiting the 99% in all countries. The hope is that we’ll be distracted by language. But if you call a fetid cesspool Freedom Lake, it doesn’t make it smell any better.
Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch has amply documented the anti-labor, anti-environment and anti-democratic nature of these agreements, which were negotiated behind closed doors.
The socialist position can be summed up simply:
- No secret diplomacy behind the backs of working people! Open all files relating to trade and diplomatic agreements so that the American people can fully understand the secret schemes of the 1%.
- Reject the TPP, NAFTA, TTIP and all other anti-labor, anti-environment or anti-democratic agreements.
Holt: OK, you are unpacking a lot here. And we’re still on the issue of achieving prosperity. And I want to talk about taxes. The fundamental difference between the three of you concerns the wealthy.
Secretary Clinton, you’re calling for a tax increase on the wealthiest Americans. I’d like you to further defend that. And, Mr. Trump, you’re calling for tax cuts for the wealthy. I’d like you to defend that.
Solidarity: Both Mr. Trump and Ms. Clinton support the long discredited policy of trickle down economics. Mr. Trump does this openly, by calling for tax cuts for corporations and the rich. Ms. Clinton makes a show of opposing this approach, calling it “trumped-up trickle-down.” But in this she is being utterly dishonest. Ms. Clinton fully supported the Wall Street bailout, now estimated to total over $14 billion. She has also supported the Federal Reserve’s policy of “quantitative easing,” or near-zero interest rates, which has ballooned Wall Street stock prices while the rest of the economy continues to slump. Both of the corporate candidates and their parties subscribe to the Robin Hood in reverse school of economics — steal from the poor and give to the rich. They just each have their favorite way of going about it.
The economic policies of both corporate parties have led to outrageous levels of income and wealth inequality. The top 10 percent of US households possess 76 percent of the total wealth.
Socialists oppose all forms of regressive taxation — from sales tax, to usage fees, to property tax. All taxes should come from corporate profits and from individuals earning more than $200,000 per year. Working people should pay no tax whatsoever. After, all, working people are already subject an enormous hidden tax, arising from the fact that part of the value of their labor is called “profit” and handed over to unelected, unproductive capitalists. Profit is nothing more than value produced by working people for which they are not paid.
All banks, including the Federal Reserve, should be nationalized, merged into a single government bank and run in the public interest. The casino known as Wall Street, which acts as a parasite on the economy and contributes absolutely nothing to the national wealth, should be shut down.
Holt: Mr. Trump, we’re talking about the burden that Americans have to pay, yet you have not released your tax returns. And the reason nominees have released their returns for decades is so that voters will know if their potential president owes money to — who he owes it to and any business conflicts. Don’t Americans have a right to know if there are any conflicts of interest?
Solidarity: Sure, Mr. Trump should release his tax returns. And Ms. Clinton should release her redacted emails, as well as the transcripts of her speeches to corporate firms, for which she was paid a total of $22 million. But we already know that these politicians and their parties are owned lock, stock and barrel by Wall Street and the super rich.
Holt: Well, we’re well behind schedule, so I want to move to our next segment. We move into our next segment talking about America’s direction. And let’s start by talking about race.
The share of Americans who say race relations are bad in this country is the highest it’s been in decades, much of it amplified by shootings of African-Americans by police, as we’ve seen recently in Charlotte and Tulsa. Race has been a big issue in this campaign, and one of you is going to have to bridge a very wide and bitter gap.
So how do you heal the divide?
Solidarity: Living as we do in a class society, where the class you are a part of is determined by your place in the economy — whether you need to work for a living and produce value, or whether you’re able to get rich living off the value produced by others — we can see that the scourges of racism, sexism, xenophobia, poverty, environmental destruction and endless war only benefit one class. Where wealth is so unequally distributed, where political power is concentrated in the hands of a few, where the government and the media are sold to the highest bidder, society is like a pencil, balanced on its point. It’s a very unnatural, unstable arrangement. In a true, open democracy, the inequality and minority rule we have today would not be tolerated. The only way a minority can enrich itself at the expense of the majority is by keeping the majority divided and disoriented, and by using force, where necessary, to keep the majority in line. This is the role played by racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination in society today. Their goal is to keep us fighting amongst ourselves rather than uniting against our common foe.
This is why socialists say, “Black Lives Matter.” It’s not only a matter of the moral repugnance of oppressing a group of people for something as inconsequential as the color of their skin. It is also for urgent, material reasons. Unless we join together as working people of all races and all nationalities to oppose our common exploiters — the 1% — we will never be able to deal with the big problems we face at the local, national and global levels.
Like all major institutions in a society divided into classes, the police serve only one class. From the time of their origin as slave patrols, the main function of the police has been to protect property, not working people. Ask yourself, why you never see the police protecting striking workers from strikebreakers, but always the other way around? Why are tyrannical operations like “stop and frisk” used against the poor, African Americans and other oppressed minorities, but never against bankers or executives on Wall Street?
We call for an immediate end to all racist murders by cops and for full prosecution of all killer cops. We support the right of African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, Puerto Ricans and other oppressed communities to fully control the defense of their own communities. This means complete control over the police at all levels, including hiring and firing, and the right to completely replace the police with community-based defense organizations if desired.
Holt: Our next segment is called “Securing America.” We want to start with a 21st century war happening every day in this country. Our institutions are under cyber attack, and our secrets are being stolen. So my question is, who’s behind it? And how do we fight it?
Solidarity: Secrecy and privacy in our country are completely upside-down. Today, the government is a closed book, operating in secret from the average citizen. Meanwhile, the NSA, FBI, CIA and police spy on every American. The government is opaque, but citizens have no privacy. This is exactly the opposite of how it should be.
The documents released by WikiLeaks, Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden and others show that government spying and secrecy are aimed at us rather than being designed to protect us.
All spy agency files should be opened to public inspection so that working people can see how the government is used to protect the rule of the one percent. All communications of private citizens should be automatically encrypted to prevent unauthorized eavesdropping by the government or anyone else.
Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden are heroes. Rather than being punished, their actions which shed light on illegal and immoral government spying and secrecy should be celebrated and rewarded.
Hillary Clinton says Edward Snowden should be prosecuted. Yet she has nothing to say about National Intelligence Director James Clapper who lied to Congress on national TV as he denied that the government was collecting data on all Americans. This double standard shouldn’t surprise or confuse us, for it is based on a consistent principle which Hillary Clinton and all mainstream politicians revere: do whatever it takes, say whatever you must to defend the interests of your corporate paymasters.
Holt: We think of ISIS certainly as over there, but there are American citizens who have been inspired to commit acts of terror on American soil, the latest incident, of course, the bombings we just saw in New York and New Jersey, the knife attack at a mall in Minnesota, in the last year, deadly attacks in San Bernardino and Orlando. I’ll ask this to both of you. Tell us specifically how you would prevent homegrown attacks by American citizens?
Solidarity: The rise of ISIS is blowback from the US invasions of Iraq and Libya, just as Al Qaeda was blowback from the US arming and supporting Mujahideen in Afghanistan in the 1980s.
We’re told that US military interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan Yemen, Somalia, Libya and Syria are necessary and just because we’re fighting for democracy, against totalitarian governments that support terrorism. Terrorism is defined to be anyone who resists imperial power. Any act of violence committed by our side is, by definition, justifiable and not terrorism. Applying this standard to the American Revolution and viewed from the perspective of the imperial power of the day, George Washington was a terrorist and the Red Coats were freedom fighters.
US political and military support for various dictators — Mubarak in Egypt; Ben Ali in Tunisia; the corrupt, repressive regimes in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Bahrain; Iraq’s Saddam Hussein throughout the 1980s; Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi from 2004-2009; and even Osama bin Laden in the 1970s and 80s — all demonstrates that, if a consistent thread is to be found woven through US foreign policy in the region, it must be something other than love of freedom, democracy and human rights.
In fact, the true pattern is easy to identify: Just follow the money. Our government’s military and foreign policy in the Middle East, North Africa and elsewhere is guided by what best serves the interests of corporate America. In each of these wars, working people from our country are induced to fight working people from another country for the benefit of the 1%.
The best way to ensure our safety at home is to spread peace, respect and solidarity throughout the world rather than violence and exploitation. We say, bring all the troops home now! Not one dollar for Wall Street’s wars!
Holt: Which leads to my next question, as we enter our last segment here (inaudible) the subject of securing America. On nuclear weapons, President Obama reportedly considered changing the nation’s longstanding policy on first use. Do you support the current policy?
Solidarity: You pose the question: Should we pledge to never be the first ones to use nuclear weapons, or should we maintain the longstanding US policy of keeping the world guessing and leaving, as they say, all options on the table? Both Mr. Trump and Ms. Clinton say, keep ’em guessing.
But this is an insanely narrow way to frame the issue. Socialists favor making this question irrelevant by eliminating all nuclear weapons from all countries as quickly as possible. Any nuclear war would likely spell the end of humanity. The US routinely spends some $35 billion on nuclear weapons every year. With the approval of the Obama administration, we are set to commit an additional $1 trillion (that’s one thousand billion) over the next thirty years to “modernize” our nuclear arsenal.
These weapons, like the bloated US military budget of which they are a part, do not make us safer. On the contrary, they are used to maintain the minority rule of the 1% at home and abroad. Technology exists that would allow the world to safely, verifiably eliminate all nuclear weapons everywhere and in short order. Socialists urgently advocate this return to sanity.
Holt: Some of you will not win this election. So my final question to you tonight, are you willing to accept the outcome as the will of the voters?
Solidarity: Of course not! What a strange question. Everybody knows that these nationally televised debates are rigged to exclude all but the favored candidates of the ruling rich. It is widely understood that our entire electoral system makes a mockery of democracy — from the Electoral College, to winner-take-all voting, to restrictive ballot laws, to long lines and inconvenient polling hours, to the one-dollar-one-vote system that gives the most press and the greatest exposure to the candidates with the wealthiest backers. All we can conclude after an election of this type is which of the corporate-approved candidates is least hated by the small percentage of eligible voters who chose to participate.
And what do we socialists intend to do about this? We will continue to do what we’ve been doing: organizing and working to win a majority to the understanding that to solve the critical problems that we face, the capitalist system must be replaced by one that puts human needs before profits; urging the labor movement to break with the two parties of Wall Street and form a party of its own that can extend the fight for workers’ rights beyond the shop floor and into the political arena; building teach-ins, rallies, marches and movements around the demands:
- No support to the imperial wars of the 1%! All US troops out now.
- Black Lives Matter! Stop the racist killings! Full community control of the police!
- Nationalize the energy industry under workers’ control! For a sensible, renewable energy policy now!
- 30 hours work for 40 hours pay to provide jobs for all!
- Open the files! No spying on the American people. No secret diplomacy behind the backs of the American people.
- Money for schools, healthcare and childcare, not war!
The stakes have never been higher (and our need for your support has never been greater).
For over two decades, Truthout’s journalists have worked tirelessly to give our readers the news they need to understand and take action in an increasingly complex world. At a time when we should be reaching even more people, big tech has suppressed independent news in their algorithms and drastically reduced our traffic. Less traffic this year has meant a sharp decline in donations.
The fact that you’re reading this message gives us hope for Truthout’s future and the future of democracy. As we cover the news of today and look to the near and distant future we need your help to keep our journalists writing.
Please do what you can today to help us keep working for the coming months and beyond.