Monday, November 28, 2016

Something Thoughtful

Nicholas Reid reflects in essay form on general matters and ideas related to literature, history, popular culture and the arts, or just life in general. You are free to agree or disagree with him.  


Because I never present you with things I whip up off the top of my head, I write this blog and schedule postings a number of weeks before you get to read them. This gives me time to edit and review what I have written, unlike knee-jerk, here-are-pretty-pictures-of-my-pussy-cat daily confessional blogs.
I am writing these words on Saturday 12 November, three days (New Zealand time) after Donald Trump has become president-elect of the United States of America. Facebook and other social media are awash with comment on this situation, much of it strident and nearly all of it self-righteous. On social media I have expressed my own view that Trump will be either (a.) a dreadful and erratic president; or (b.) will quickly morph into a standard Republican president, with the help of the solidly Republican congress he has to work with. In my posting America’sHindenburg-Hitler Election back in July, I expressed the view that Hillary Clinton was a dreadful candidate, and that the only merit she had was not being Donald Trump. My advice to the American electorate was to “hold your nose, try not to vomit” and vote for Clinton, she being the preferable option in a very bad choice.
And that is almost as much as I wish to say about the outcome of the American election, of which I am sure you are now heartily sick. To those who complain that Hillary actually won the popular vote, I say that that is simply the way of American elections with their Electoral College. You wouldn’t be complaining if Hillary had lost the popular vote and won the Electoral College.
But I am going to address a matter of some relevance to this situation.
Much of Clinton’s failed campaign was built around the “breaking the glass ceiling” myth – the idea that electing a woman president would be a great thing for women everywhere. Now I am sure that in a symbolic sense only, the election of a woman president would encourage many women, just as the election of an African-American president had symbolic value for African-Americans.
But in a material sense, what difference would it make?
I have annoyed some people by asking what great things have been done in the eight years of Obama’s presidency. Most get a little defensive and flustered, tell me what a nice and forbearing man Obama is (which seems to be the case) and what a gracious wife he has (ditto). In other words, they tell me that he plays well on television.
But apart from this comforting symbolism, what has his presidency achieved? I ask.
American foreign policy (much of it influenced by Madam Secretary Clinton) has continued to be both aggressive and short-sighted. A neo-liberal economic course has continued to be pursued. At this point, my interlocutors will tell me that President Obama cannot act because there is a Republican-controlled congress. But, say I, that again is part of the deal, given the nature of American elections where voting for a president is separate from voting for congress.
I cannot think of any Obama-sponsored or -endorsed legislation that will be remembered like Roosevelt’s social welfare New Deal legislation or Truman’s desegregation of the armed forces or Johnson’s Civil Rights laws.
It may well be that the beginning and end of his achievement was to be the first African-American president and to have an attractive demeanour.
And thus, plonking her in the context of the American constitution and the American political system, I say the same thing about Hillary Clinton. So what if she’s a woman? As a neo-liberal sponsoring an aggressive foreign policy and with strong Wall Street links, she would in most things have been more of the same. Glass ceilings be damned. Having a woman as president would have symbolic value only.
Of course there is one issue that was underplayed by the Clinton team during the election. Every so often, one of her team would say that Donald Trump would be bad for “women’s reproductive rights”, which is transparent code for abortion. Pro-abortionists (or “pro-choice”, to use their propaganda term) have the habit of talking this way. A president has much say in who is selected for the Supreme Court. Supreme Court judges are the ultimate arbiters of whether a law is valid or constitutional, and President Clinton would have looked to fill a Supreme Court vacancy with somebody who, like her, endorses late-term abortion – that is, the “right” to kill a fully-formed human being, just before birth.
I’m guessing that this issue had a greater influence on the election’s outcome than is being acknowledged. If Trump stuffs up bigtime, as he may well do, he can be voted out in four years time. But Supreme Court judges have life tenure.

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