Between “a kook and a crook”

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ON NOVEMBER 8, or barely two weeks from today, US voters — or at least those who will bother to vote, most Americans being too cynical of the process to go to the polls, let alone be politically engaged enough to care about how they’re governed — will choose their next president. In one of those rare moments when he’s right, the Republican Party candidate for president, billionaire Donald Trump, has described the elections as “historic.” But it’s not because he could be Barack Obama’s successor, but because the Democratic Party nominee, Hillary Clinton, seems likely to be the United States’ first woman president.

As of this writing the opinion polls are saying that Clinton — the wife of 42nd US president William Jefferson “Bill” Clinton and therefore a former US first lady — is 50 percent ahead in voter preference compared to Trump’s 38 percent.

It took some doing, mostly by Trump via his sexism, misogyny, racist remarks and plain lies, for Clinton to get that lead. In the early months of the campaign Clinton and Trump were practically tied, until Trump’s campaign began to unravel not only because of his more absurd policy declarations such as his pledge that he would build a “big, beautiful wall” to keep out Mexican immigrants, whom he labeled rapists and criminals, but also through such gaffes as his failure to keep out of the media past misdeeds like his non-payment of taxes, his supposedly condoning and even practicing sexual assault, and his campaign’s belittling the contribution to US interests of a Muslim family’s soldier-son who was killed in Iraq.

In contrast to Clinton, Trump is almost completely in sync with the views of the US far right. Despite frequent school shootings and rising gun-related deaths, Trump supports the anti-gun control groups’ claim that the US Constitution’s second amendment mandates the right to bear arms, and is opposed to gun control in general. He wants to replace the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare” with a health insurance system friendlier to the interests of the medical and pharmaceutical establishments. Despite speculations that he has sniffed or still sniffs cocaine, Trump is against the legalization of marijuana for other than medical purposes.

Trump believes — or seems to believe — that global warming is “a hoax,” and claims that it was invented “by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive” and that the US Environmental Protection Agency is “an impediment to both growth and jobs.” He is against same-sex marriage, despite the 2015 Supreme Court ruling legalizing such marriages across the United States. His campaign mantra, reminiscent of Ferdinand Marcos’ catchphrase in 1965 (“Make the Philippines Great Again”) is “Make America Great Again.”

Overall he has argued that under the Obama presidency the US has become weak, lost jobs to other countries, and has opened its borders to illegal immigrants and refugees. He only recently said that Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s declaration of “separation” from the US demonstrates how “weak” the US has become.

Trump habitually refers to his rival as “Crooked Hillary,” and therein lies the dilemma of the progressive sectors of the US electorate, which, while outraged by the policy declarations and plain cluelessness of Trump, regards Hillary Clinton as corrupt and a creature of the corporations that rule the United States. They would have preferred to vote for and elect the “democratic socialist” Senator Bernie Sanders. Unfortunately, Sanders lost the contest for the Democratic Party nomination, that party’s fielding someone as “radical” as Sanders being unthinkable in the US, where liberals are regarded as leftists.

In an ironic echo of what Filipino voters go through every election season, US activist, author and Massachusetts Institute of Technology emeritus professor of linguistics Noam Chomsky has proposed that US progressives vote for “the lesser evil” on November 8 — an election in which, says The New Yorker magazine, most voters seem to be caught in the dilemma of having to choose between “a kook (Trump) and a crook (Clinton).”

Chomsky explains that “the so-called “lesser evil” voting strategy or LEV… “involves, where you can, i.e. in safe states, voting for the losing third party candidate you prefer, or not voting at all. In competitive ‘swing’ states, where you must, one votes for the ‘lesser evil’ Democrat.”

Voting for the lesser evil — i.e., Clinton — is premised on lessons progressives should have learned during the election of Richard Nixon in 1972, which, notes Chomsky, resulted in “years of senseless death and destruction in Southeast Asia.” (Nixon and his adviser Henry Kissinger caused the bombing of North Vietnam as well as Laos and Cambodia.)

Basically the “lesser evil” strategy is based on the assumption that a Trump presidency would have dire consequences for both the US and the rest of the world. Chomsky points out that “Trump denies the existence of global warming, calls for increasing use of fossil fuels, the dismantling of environmental regulations and refuses assistance to India and other developing nations as called for in the Paris agreement, the combination of which could, in four years, take us to a catastrophic tipping point.

“Trump has also pledged to deport 11 million Mexican immigrants, offered to provide for the defense of supporters who have assaulted African American protestors at his rallies, stated his ‘openness to using nuclear weapons’, supports a ban on Muslims entering the U.S. and regards ‘the police in this country (the US) as absolutely mistreated and misunderstood’ while having ‘done an unbelievable job of keeping law and order.’ Trump has also pledged to increase military spending while cutting taxes on the rich, hence shredding what remains of the social welfare ‘safety net’ despite pretenses.

“The suffering which these and other similarly extremist policies and attitudes will impose on marginalized and already oppressed populations has a high probability of being significantly greater than that which will result from a Clinton presidency,” argues Chomsky.

Maybe. But will a Clinton presidency mean less US intervention in countries like the Philippines, for example, or diminish US manipulation of local politics to the extent of supporting dictatorships and instigating coup attempts against governments whose policies it doesn’t like?

Hardly. The Obama administration pledged implicitly and explicitly to reverse the policies of the Bush administration: to shut down the US prison in Guantanamo base, stop torture and renditions (the practice of sending terrorism suspects to other countries where they can be tortured), respect sovereignty, generally abide by the rule of law, and to stop its devastating intervention in the Middle East.

Today Guantanamo prison is still open and full of suspected terrorists who have not been charged but have been detained for over a decade. The US invaded Iraq in 2003, but it was during the Obama administration that Libya and Syria have been practically destroyed, a process attended by the tremendous loss of human life. Obama has also authorized more drone attacks against targets in Pakistan and Afghanistan which have killed entire families and even entire communities. In violation of international law, US forces, during the Obama administration, entered the sovereign state of Pakistan and extra-judicially killed Osama bin-Laden.

What’s evident from all this is that the US foreign policy of intervention on land and sea, in the air and in space is a foregone, immoveable reality no change in administration can dismantle. There’s much to be said for the observation by the author Gore Vidal that the US doesn’t have two political parties, but two wings of the same party, one being more subtle than the other, but basically sharing the same interest of assuring US global dominance.

That means that specific to the Philippines, whether it’s Clinton or Trump who’s elected US president this November, the country will remain in constant danger of US intervention, through, among other means, a US-supported coup against the “anti-American” Duterte administration, which has dared declare that it would pursue an independent foreign policy “separate” from the US.

First published on BusinessWorld.

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