Hillary Clinton thinks she has the perfect comeback to Donald Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again.”
Using a debating technique popular on playgrounds across the country — the same one responsible for zingers like “That’s what you are, but what am I?” — the Clinton campaign is producing baseball hats emblazoned with the words “America Is Already Great.”
If “America is already great,” it has a funny way of showing it to the massive number of US workers who struggle in various ways each day — the 15 million workers who have jobs, but get by on $10 an hour or less; the 7.4 million homeowners who are “seriously” underwater on their mortgages; the 31 million people who go without health care because they can’t afford the expense.
But that isn’t what Clinton has in mind. For her, for the Democratic Party establishment and for the corporate rulers they represent, America is great. Really great.
For them, the Great Recession is part of the past — corporate profits, Wall Street gambling and skyrocketing CEO compensation haven’t just recovered, but are flourishing like never before. Plus, they have a political representative they can count on poised to win the White House: Hillary Clinton.
The Clinton campaign is acting like it has the Democratic presidential nomination in the bag — with the general election soon to come — even though Bernie Sanders has won the most recent primaries and seems likely to continue doing well through the final voting in early June.
The truth is that Clinton was the choice of the American ruling class before Sanders even announced his campaign. That’s only being confirmed as Donald Trump — who’s really no more bigoted than the average member of the US ruling class, but who probably is more unstable and unreliable — comes closer to clinching the Republican nomination.
Clinton and her campaign advisers know they won’t need to do much for Democratic voters to fall in behind her, even if her allegiance to Wall Street stands exposed, and not only because of the Bernie Sanders campaign. Clinton’s secret weapon is the widespread fear of Donald Trump.
The gap between the attitudes of the anointed Democratic candidate Clinton and the concerns of the majority of working class people is big and getting bigger all the time — yet she will be the person they will be told to vote for in November.
Left-wing author Thomas Frank put it well in a recent column in the Guardian, calling Hillary Clinton the “complacency candidate”:
Seven years have passed now since the last recession officially ended, and yet the country’s fury has scarcely cooled. To this day we remain angry at Wall Street; we rage against career politicians; and we are incandescent that the economic system seems to have been permanently “rigged” against working people.
Listening to the leading figures of the Democratic Party establishment, however, you’d never know it. Cool contentment is the governing emotion in these circles. What they have in mind for 2016 is what we might call a campaign of militant complacency. They are dissociated from the mood of the nation, and they do not care.
Hillary Clinton is more or less openly offering herself as the complacency candidate.
Not only are the movers and shakers in the Democratic Party completely removed from the daily struggles of working-class Americans, but they are more comfortable than ever in their dedication to Corporate America and the status quo.
The Clinton campaign demonstrates this in an obvious way, with the huge support it has received from corporate interests. Election 2016 is expected to break all previous spending records, and Clinton has already amassed some $4.2 million in total from Wall Street, $344,000 of which was contributed in March alone.
But the relationship between the Democrats and big business is about more than campaign contributions, and the Obama administration has been a perfect illustration of this little-discussed reality of the two-party system.
Expectations were high when Obama beat out Clinton for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination. Voters everywhere, even in reliably conservative areas, were fed up with eight years of George Bush and angered by the banks that enriched themselves while workers saw their only assets, their homes, disappearing.
A record number of people voted in 2008, and among them, more than six in 10 said the economy was the most important issue, according to Pew Research Center. One in three voters said they were very worried about being able to afford the health care services they need — among them, 65 percent went for Obama.
So voters’ expectations were high as Obama entered the White House after a long campaign promising change. But if Wall Street had any apprehension about Obama, it didn’t take long for its fears to be put to rest.
In his book The Democrats: A Critical History, Lance Selfa describes a meeting between the new president, his Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and the CEOs of the 13 largest banks:
New reports quoted Obama lecturing the CEOs that “my administration is the only thing between you and pitchforks.” But the main result of the meeting was the administration’s reassurance to the bankers that it had no intention of forcing a change in the way Wall Street does business.
Journalist Ron Suskind quoted one of the CEOs who attended: “The sense of everyone after the big meeting was relief…The president had us at a moment of real vulnerability. At that point, he could have ordered us to do just about anything, and we would have rolled over. But he didn’t — he mostly wanted to help us out, to quell the mob. And the guy we figured we had to thank for that was [Geithner]. He was our man in Washington.”
In the years to come, bankers and CEOs not only dodged the “pitchforks” — they made out better than they ever had before. Once the economy was back in positive territory, almost all the economic benefits went to the tiny minority at the top.
Since the official end of the Great Recession, wages have not just stagnated but declined, once inflation is accounted for, according to a report by the National Employment Law Project. Low-wage workers were hit hard; for example, cooks and food preparation workers experienced wage declines of 8.9 percent and 7.7 percent, respectively, between 2009 and 2014. Yet the administration refuses to take action for a significant increase in the federal minimum wage.
There’s more of the same in store under a Clinton administration, if the Democratic nominee can win in November. And she doesn’t need to meet with CEOs to assure them she’s on their side — they already know.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Wall Street donors are already moving their financial support from Republican candidates who dropped out of the race, such as Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, to Clinton.
There are lots of reasons why business leaders might abandon Corporate America’s preferred party and choose Clinton over Trump. There’s Trump’s recent statement that the wealthy might (maybe, possibly) see a tax increase under his presidency. Plus, the billionaire reality TV star has based his right-wing populism partly on opposition to international economic agreements like the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Just as importantly, Hillary Clinton is a known quantity. Corporate America understands that she may — like her husband Bill Clinton and her former employer Barack Obama — talk left to win votes during an election campaign, but she will ultimately come through for them.
Even during the campaign season, when Democrats are expected to make promises that energize the party’s voice, Clinton resisted pressure from the Sanders campaign and opposed an increase in the federal minimum wage or the reconsideration of single-payer health care.
In his Guardian article, Frank references an illuminating quote from Barack Obama’s recent interview with the New York Times, in which Obama reaffirms the hard choices his administration has made and challenges his critics:
[B]oth on the left and the right, [there is] a temptation to say, “If we could just go back to an era in which our borders were closed,” or, “If we could just go back to a time when everybody had a defined-benefit plan” or “We could just go back to a time when there wasn’t any immigrant that was taking my job, things would be OK.”
That says a lot about how Obama and the Democratic Party establishment think about the party’s base. Obama equates people who want a decent pension to retire on after they are too old to work with racists who want a border wall to stop immigrants from “stealing” jobs.
In other words, for the “party of the people,” racists are basically the same as workers who dream about a decent retirement — at the least, irritants to the smooth running of the government, and at the most, threats to Democratic rule who need to be defeated.
Instead of making good on his promise of hope in 2008, Barack Obama has only made the situation more hopeless. As for Hillary Clinton, she isn’t even bothering to make the promise.
The Bernie Sanders campaign, with its goal of shaking up the Democratic establishment, should be changing this dynamic. But besides forcing Clinton to answer for her corporate ties, it hasn’t changed the fundamental priorities of the Democratic Party.
The most important impact of the Sanders campaign has been on the large numbers of people energized by his message and inspired to do something political in response. That something may be limited to Sanders’ primary campaign for now, but it can be the basis of protest, activism and independent politics in the future, both short-term and long-term.
If Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and the Democratic Party represent the absence of hope, the left can set its sights on putting forward a hopeful vision, based on left-wing politics and principles — and on the struggles from below to win real change.