Was I right to back Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton? Absolutely

Trump’s unexpected victory triggered a process of radicalisation within the Democratic Party – and this process is now our only hope

Slavoj Zizek
Wednesday 26 June 2019 12:34
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Donald Trump launches his 2020 campaign by attacking Hillary Clinton and the Democrats

In the last couple of years, I have been often asked by friends (and by “friends”) whether I still stand by my preference for Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton, or would I now admit that I was terribly wrong. My answer is easy to guess: not only do I stand by what I said, but I think last year’s events fully confirmed my choice. Why?

As Yuval Harari noted, in his Homo Deus, people feel bound by democratic elections only when they share a basic bond with most other voters. If the experience of other voters is alien to me, and if I believe they don’t understand my feelings and don’t care about my vital interests, then even if I am outvoted by 100 to one, I have absolutely no reason to accept the verdict. Democratic elections are a method to settle disagreements between people who already agree on the basics. When this agreement on basics falters, the only procedures at our disposal are negotiations or (civil) war. That’s why the Middle East conflict cannot be solved by elections but only by war or negotiations.

So how does this apply to the growing lack of the agreement on the basics in the US politics? What complicates the situation is that the disagreement that exploded is double: first, Trump broke the established order from the side of the populist right, and then the Democrats (Sanders and others) broke it from the left. These two ruptures are not symmetrical. The struggle between Trump and the liberal establishment is a cultural-ideological struggle within the same space of global capitalism, while the left began to question this global capitalist order itself.

This is why the only true struggle going on today is taking place within the Democratic Party itself.

Liberals who are panicked by Trump dismiss the idea that the president’s victory can start a process out of which an authentic left would emerge. Their counterargument is basically a comparison with Hitler’s rise to power. Many German communists welcomed the Nazi takeover as a new chance for the radical left (“now the situation is clear, democratic illusions have vanished, we are confronted by the true enemy”) – but, as we know, their appreciation was a catastrophic mistake.

The question is: are things the same with Trump? Is Trump a danger which should bring together a broad front akin to anti-fascist popular fronts, a front where decent conservatives will fight together with mainstream liberal progressives and (whatever remains of) the radical left?

I think such a broad front against Trump is a dangerous illusion: it would amount to the capitulation of the new left, to its surrender to the liberal establishment. The fear that a Trump victory would turn the US into a fascist state is a ridiculous exaggeration: the US has a rich enough texture of divergent civic and political institutions so that their direct fascist Gleichshaltung cannot be enacted (in contrast to, say, France where the victory of Le Pen would have been much more dangerous).

What happened in the US is that the Trump victory triggered a process of radicalisation in the Democratic Party – and this process is our only hope.

Saritha Prabhu’s opinion piece recently published in the Tennessean deserves to be quoted at length. It moved me almost to tears with its description of a simple truth:

“Brace yourself; there is a civil war coming soon in the Democratic Party. At the heart of today’s Democratic Party is an identity crisis and an ideological struggle. For starters, is the Democratic Party a party of the rich or a party of the little guy? For many years, they’ve been the party of the rich playing a good game of pretending to be for the little guy. And the Democratic establishment does it in insidious ways that are too clever by half: they are for the marginalised guy or gal in the race, gender, and sexuality issues because, hey, that doesn’t hurt their and their affluent constituents’ pocketbook much.

“But in the economic issues that matter, they often sock it to the average Democratic working-class voter: in the global trade deals that’ve offshored jobs and have decimated the American manufacturing base; in their looking the other way as illegal immigrants depress the wages of working-class Americans, and more. But as long as they talk and talk and talk some more – about abortion and transgender rights and racism (not that these aren’t relevant issues), they can have their cake and eat it too. But all this worked until 2016, but can’t be pulled off anymore. The Democratic establishment wing is still either clueless or stubborn, but they want good ol’ Joe Biden to come to the rescue and Make Oligarchic America Great Again.

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“When you rip off their mask, what is revealed is troubling: the Party of Davos masquerading as the Party of Scranton, Pennsylvania, that essentially hoodwinks much of the electorate.”

Let’s make it clear: it was the rise of Trump which triggered the “civil war” in the Democratic Party – and, by the way, the proper name of this “civil war” is class struggle. So let’s not lose nerve, let’s rather use the opportunity inadvertently opened up by Trump.

The only way to really defeat Trump is for the left to win that civil war.

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