"I'm With Her, but...". On the search for heroes.

I've been planning to write a Hillary Clinton companion piece to my last post, which was basically me desperately begging family and friends not to let Trump grab their, well, you know. I was feeling kind of sick, and rainpocalpse was supposedly descending on Seattle, so to that end I spent the evening a few nights ago eating ice cream, listening to the Afghan Whigs, and reading over the "Issues" page on Hillary Clinton's web site. (I'd encourage you to do the same, because right now there's an 85% chance that she'll be your next president.)

If we can all be honest, none of us know a thing about "Issues" this year because people keep screaming racist slurs and sexual assault threats in our proverbial ears, and that, plus their spray of spittle on our cheek, gets distracting.

Trust and Principle

I read over her page because I think that in order to make a moral decision when you're voting, you need to consider which candidate will likely produce the greatest good (or least evil) for the largest number of fellow humans. The two basic things to consider when attempting to make such a grave moral choice include:

1) Policy: Will the candidate's policies benefit more people than the other party's.

2) Trust: Will the leader be someone you can trust to push for their stated policy stances when in office.

On the trust issue, it is as clear as it possibly can be that Trump is not trustworthy. But perhaps more importantly, he is not principled - that is, he doesn't have an underlying set of moral values, or even a coherent political philosophy, that works as a primary driving force for his political aspirations. He's quite obviously driven primarily by self-interest and the will to power, which means that he cannot be trusted to fulfill any promise which comes in conflict with his own self-interest.(And the political philosophy he does espouse is an extension of his narcissism - ethnocentric, nationalistic, misogynistic).

Clinton, to my mind, is questionably trustworthy on any given promise as well. I think that people frequently read her as a liar because she does lie, and is bad at it. I also think they read her as untrustworthy because she, at times, publicly professes one policy position while pursuing others in private in order to achieve political goals (she stated as much in one of the Wikileaks speeches). I also believe she avoids talking about unpopular positions, even when they are important (Has anyone heard the word "Afghanistan" during this entire 2 year election cycle, for instance? Those guys know we're, like, still there, right?) But I personally read her type of untrustworthiness a bit differently from Trump's, because I believe she is basically principled. That is, while I don't question that she's got some significant degree of Nietszchean impulse towards power (martyrs and saints typically aren't interested in running countries), I think she has consistently been guided by some basic American moderate liberal political principles - for every knock on her, there's also this sort of account of her life. (As a sort-of side note, I think this is born out in reading the highlights of her Wikileaks material - does some immoral stuff, while also coming off as smart, playing the game, and generally guided by liberal political principles.)

In short, I feel like I basically know what I'm going to get with her, and I think she is driven in large part by a particular vision for America that isn't completely superseded by her own desire for power and fame and sex and money.    

And so, I ate ice cream (vanilla with peanut butter) and read Clinton's policy while listening to Honky's Ladder because I thought it would help me gain a sense of what to expect from a Clinton presidency, and to think about how it might affect my fellow Americans, and the citizens of the world.

Inspiration and Disappointment

I hoped to get a little more informed by this endeavor (and by subsequent days' reading of some of her more controversial Wikileaks excerpts), but I didn't expect to be particularly inspired. For a progressive, Clinton will always seem moderate in her domestic policy stances. I think that's a function of the fact that she knows how the system works, and the Federal government isn't particularly amenable to rapid or dramatic change. And that's what you get with her stated policies: intentions to fix some of the problems created by the crime bill her husband signed in the '90s (without getting rid of it), intentions to fix some of the problems with Obamacare (without replacing it), closing loopholes in the tax system to shift some of the tax burden to the wealthy (without overhauling the whole system). It's the kind of stuff that's hard for a progressive to argue with, (and maybe the best a realist can hope for?) but also difficult to get particularly excited about. Domestically, my feeling coming away is that she'll be a fine president. Domestically, I personally think she'll be better for American citizens than her husband, but not as good as Obama was. I'm confident that she'll get things done, some of them positive, some of them negative, but that she's no revolutionary.

But I have to admit that I was also frustrated by the experience. For a former Secretary of State, I found her statements on international policy (defense, trade and diplomacy) to be notable primarily for their absence. In her role, she was our head diplomat and the chief foreign affairs advisor to the president for a term and a half, so you know she has ideas and opinions. But her stated opinions online are basically meaningless mush: "We should maintain the best-trained, best-equipped, and strongest military the world has ever known." "Invest in innovation and capabilities that will allow us to prepare for and fight 21st Century threats." And on trade, she will "reject trade deals that don't meet high standards." She doesn't get much more concrete than that - at least on her website.

This took me to that dark, sad place that anyone who follows American politics knows well, because I read this as a great example of Clinton's Machiavellian tendencies, and what has made people angry about establishment politicians during the last, well, 200 years: a lack of openness about intentions around important issues which in the end essentially functions as deception through omission. To her credit, I've heard almost no discussion about American impact abroad during this election cycle from anyone, so maybe the average citizen doesn't care? But personally I think military, diplomacy, and trade policies are the most important moral issues in every election, because they impact the largest number of world citizens, and frequently negatively. What I would hope for in a president is someone who can facilitate a nuanced discussion of what an ethical America might look like on the world stage. Hillary is smart and experienced enough to do that, but it is clearly not a priority. I'm guessing she's avoiding it intentionally because it's messy.

And the particular type of messiness is my biggest concern about her - which is that she will almost definitely continue what I'd call the Secretive Kissingerian approach to American influence abroad that has defined our international policy since Vietnam: covertly funding and arming rebels and special forces against leaders we disagree with, turning a blind eye to Geneva Convention violations by our allies, helping orchestrate assassinations (without carrying them out ourselves), undermining democracies and destabilizing countries that we are in conflict with by arming rebels and corrupt governments. And not talking about any of it publicly until documents are declassified years later. All of this stuff is the essence of Machiavellianism, where the ends are expected to justify the means: unpopular, immoral policies that are pursued for what are seen as pragmatic reasons, without the knowledge of the voting public, with an assumed greater good in mind. Maybe this is where we are as a world, because in the age of enhanced interrogation and drone strikes on hospitals every living president has this type of blood on their hands (With Carter maybe as a notable leader who tried to disengage from Kissinger-style ish). It's what Clinton's track record as Secretary of State looks like - particularly in the Middle East. I know these things are complicated, and foreign policy, particularly in war zones, is a series of choices between bad options. But those choices are morally significant. Maybe some day we'll have a leader who will discuss them publicly, but I sincerely doubt that it will be Clinton (although I'd love to be surprised). It definitely won't be Drumph. Maybe it could've been Sanders in an alternate reality?

Voting and Radical Acceptance

Which brings me to the place that politics always brings me - that there is no way to vote for a president with a good conscience. At best, every candidate I can remember has been Machiavellian to greater or lesser degrees (stating the popular, avoiding or lying about the unpopular, and covering up the immoral). And the world they live in is a messy one where the choices all seem to be potentially bad, and many are genuinely terrible. If you play the Game of Thrones, you're going to end up at a Red Wedding at some point. Choosing to vote requires a radical acceptance of the fact that the world has deep seeded issues, and that those issues are not going away this election cycle or the next one.

The Player and the Game

I've been trying to write about Hillary for longer than Trump, but it's been difficult for a couple of reasons: Trump is so clearly the worse option in this election, and I don't want to do anything to imply otherwise. And "I'm with Her, but..." is an annoying (and not at all original) position for a white male to take, particularly for people who are inspired by what she represents, and who have more riding on the election than me.

And it's not that I can't find things that are inspiring about her. She's overcome the toxic impact of an asshole husband on her political career, which can be seen as a kind of precursor to Beyonce's Lemonade in that regard. And as a woman who's been in a man's game for so long, there's a strong argument to be made that she's battled through the toughest rise to power of any presidential candidate ever. This last battle with Trump seems kind of like the last stage of a video game, where the final boss is a larger, uglier version of what's come before, and she's crushing him.

And I also think now that she will absolutely win, and absolutely should.

But I think it's okay to be "With Her", and genuinely inspired by the fact that she's made it where she has, without justifying what it takes (for anyone) to get there. In essence, you can hate the game without exactly hating the player. 

Imaginary Saints and Real Life Mental Patients

My posts during the last year or so have tended to lean towards folksy life lessons I've learned in the midst of travel and grief, and I try to generally keep things upbeat. But deep wrestling with national politics is not conducive to keeping it upbeat. Wrestling with politics is useful because it shows us where we are - and being honest about where we are is as sobering as it is hopeful. 

Two conclusions I came to when I was working in the religious world that shape my political perspective are that: 1) There are no saints and 2) The more comfortable you are with that label, the more suspect you should be. A perspective that I've come to working on the psychiatric unit is that any of us, at our best, are only a few life circumstances away from hospitalization. So, when I think about human beings as political leaders, and the impact that their decisions make, it's hard to feel anything but trepidation even in the best cases.

And so, I'm with Her but I think her husband is generally a douche (not her fault BTW). I'm with her but I wish I could trust her ethics around war and trade. I'm with her but I wish she had more sophisticated environmental policies. I'm with her but I wish she'd stop with the Machiavellian secrecy and redirection. And I'm with her, but I'm not really that much with anyone when it comes to politics. I'm with Her, but I wish the world were better than it is.

And when she wins, we'll still be supplying arms to a Saudi government committing war crimes in Yemen, we'll still have 2 million people in prison. We'll still have undue influence of money in politics. We'll still have 40% of a country that can tolerate open bigotry. And we'll still have at least 40% more that tolerates it covertly (as evidenced by our complete lack of interest in foreign policy, among other things.) We'll hopefully have a president who will take on a few of those issues and help lead towards a little bit of progress.

But when you wrestle with the issues, and with reality, it's hard to move beyond the fact we'll still be human beings with a long way to go. We all we got, but politically speaking, I'm not sure we all we need.