I have generally avoided posting about the ongoing US primaries. However, with them winding down, it seems as though my facebook feed is populated with nothing else. The information overload and ever shriller tone of impending doom has led even us Europeans to begin discussing this amongst ourselves.
The flavor of internet memes and status updates that are flooding my feed at the moment are of precisely two flavors:
- OMG Trump is going to destroy America and the foundations of everything everywhere RUN!!!! SAVE YOURSELF!!!
- You Bernie Sanders supporters better all turn up and vote for Hillary in the general election or a Trump presidency is going to be ALL YOUR FAULT
While I understand where both of these sentiments are coming from, I find the European perspectives on the US election cycle to be also quite interesting, as they are clearly formed from a very different cultural and political context. There is some pondering, and a bit of disagreement, as to which of these two presidencies would really be worse for America. Undoubtedly there are Americans amongst you who could not give a flying squirrel shit about what a bunch of Italians, Greeks, Serbs and Germans have to say about the whole affair, but to those of you who are curious, I elaborate below the fold.
Let me make one thing clear: The people who argue in favor of letting Trump win the general election are not doing so from a place of appreciation for Trump’s message. The people I associate with are all quite appalled at his fascist message, and amused by his buffoonery. I am confident that everyone who has entered in this discussion with me would have voted for Bernie Sanders if they were in the States. However, while his chances are still mathematically possible, they are at this stage highly improbable, so the discussion now revolves around the presumptive Trump vs. Hillary match-up. Voting for Trump, or not voting for Hillary, is talked of as a protest vote, which is something that many European countries have done and many people believe in.
The idea of protest voting is one of calculated misery, i.e. paying a short-term price for a potential long-term gain. The principle is to break a broken system which is beyond fixing. Breaking a system always brings with it a significant short term cost to the country, but with the hope that the rebuilt system brings a net benefit to the country in the future, one with fresh faces and new ideas. Whether or not to engage in protest voting depends on how you evaluate the pros and cons of such a decision.
When it comes to Trump, there will undoubtedly be a severe cost to pay. However, it is also unlikely that he will actually build a wall across the US-Mexico border, that he will be able to ban all Muslims from the country, and it is even less likely that he would be elected for a second term. It would be four years of hardship, but his fascist rhetoric is likely to add fuel to the flames that were Bernie Sanders support and turn it into a full blown forest fire. A Trump presidency could pave the way for a real shot at a left wing populist presidency, like an Elisabeth Warren or someone in that vein.
Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, would also bring a cost to the American economy and foreign policy, though a much smaller one. She is hawkish, but also shrewd. It is likely that she will eye possibilities for buying up Brazilian oil, and probably support the TPP. However, it will be a calculated and mitigated cost. It is very unlikely that she would plunge the US into a war with Iran, or start additional and unnecessary open warfare in the Middle East. Essentially, it will be more of the same. I understand why Bernie supporters are reluctant to throw their vote to Hillary, she is being incredibly condescending towards them and not understanding that she will need to move to the left if she wants their support, but rather she boasts of the millions more votes that she already has, as if the people Bernie inspired to participate in the electoral process matter not at all. She will also likely win a second term, because her bad decisions will probably not resonate with the average American the way that Trump’s will. Confronted with another 8 years of business as usual, it is possible that the fervor that was seen during these primaries for a true left-wing candidate will fizzle out and die. Political revolutions rely on timing as well as purpose, and a Hillary presidency could likely kill the timing on the revolution that the United States so desperately needs. Holding your nose and voting for the lesser of two evils is not always the best choice in the long run.
Given these suppositions, the question becomes this: How much more damage could Trump really accomplish in four years? Is this damage worth it, in the long run?
If Bush is any indication, the answer is that there is a lot of damage a US president can do in four years. Whether or not it would be worth it, not just to the American people but to the world, given how influential the States can be on the global economy and warfare, is where the debate amongst us resides. Some think that Trump is a load of hot air, and would probably be an ineffective president more than an outright disastrous one. Others are worried about who he would pick for his cabinet, seeing many familiar faces from the Bush years, and say they would vote for Hillary and cross their fingers that the Democratic Party learns its lesson from this primary and moves further left in future. I find myself somewhere in the middle. I don’t think that the Democratic establishment has learned a damned thing, and will just take the message that a Hillary win means people are fine with their center-right business-as-usual ways. On the other hand, I fear four years of Trump deeply, and I am not so convinced that he will be as ineffective as some people hope.
Would the cost of four years of Trump be worth a true political revolution in the near future? He is so unpredictable, so inexperienced and so full of himself that I cannot say for sure one way or the other. I am very glad that I do not vote in the States, and that I will not have to make that decision.
I open the floor to you.