A liberal case for Donald Trump: The lesser of two evils is not at all clear in 2016

Is there one? A Trump presidency needn't be a nightmare for the left. On many issues, Clinton presidency might be

Published April 29, 2016 10:00AM (EDT)

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump (Reuters/Brian Snyder/Photo montage by Salon)
Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump (Reuters/Brian Snyder/Photo montage by Salon)

There are perhaps no three words more jarring to liberals than “President Donald Trump.” The GOP front-runner and presumptive nominee has undoubtedly made enemies with his nativist rhetoric and bellicose persona. That said, now that the race between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton is effectively over, with the former secretary of state essentially guaranteed the nomination, many liberals and progressives are preparing, once again, to vote for the lesser of two evils. The choice may not be as clear as some Democrats believe -- especially if Democrats can take back the Senate and assure themselves of a check on a GOP House.

Once you've let that sink in, try this: There is a liberal case to be made for Donald Trump. The prospect of Trump defeating Clinton this November is not necessarily the apocalypse that some would lead you to believe. Here are some of the reasons why.

1.) He’ll Change the Conversation

Perhaps the best thing I can say about Trump is that he speaks his mind. This sometimes leads to some pretty outlandish things, but not always. As Shane Ryan of Paste magazine, pointed out in a recent article, Trump has spent much of his time lately, railing against free trade and NAFTA, as well as the gross inequality in our system. Trump often talks about raising taxes on “hedge fund guys,” and he has acknowledged that the primary process is skewed in favor of the establishment.

Like Sanders, Trump is neither beholden to special interests, nor coordinating with a Super PAC. This alone sets him apart from the other candidates in the race — especially Hillary Clinton. If he wins the presidency, it will send shock waves through our political system, much like what would happen if Bernie were elected, but with a twist.

Trump’s brand of populism has been enabled by the roughly 40-year decline of our middle class that both parties have facilitated through the abandonment of Franklin D. Roosevelt in favor of Ronald Reagan. Trump may not offer policy specifics, but he does not need them because the political establishment on both sides of the aisle, have failed the American people so badly, and the people have caught on. The United States is an oligarchy — at least that’s what professors Martin Gilens of Princeton and Benjamin I. Page of Northwestern concluded in their recent study.

Trump’s candidacy is further served by the fact that we do not have publicly financed elections, and by our corporate, ratings-obsessed mainstream media. He has a personality for prime time, and enough money to run himself in spite of the powers lined up against him.

If he were to be elected, it would force our leaders to have a real conversation about these problems that they simply won’t have if the people elect an establishment candidate like Hillary Clinton. If anything, the narrative that would emerge from a Clinton presidency would be that change isn’t possible. The parties pick the candidates, and regardless of what their policies are, the people fall in line with them eventually. Power never truly changes hands.

Excusing the fact that Trump, himself, is a corporate interest, he would shake the current system to its core — which needs to happen.

2.) That said, most of his policies are DOA

In all likelihood, Trump will not accomplish anything. He has made serious enemies in both parties and the media, whom he feels have slighted him, and I cannot see him working with those people. Trump holds grudges. He has filed more frivolous lawsuits than anyone in the public eye — or maybe we just hear about them more. Either way, politics do require compromise to one degree or another, and without it, nothing gets done. As such, when Trump finds himself up against institutional and bureaucratic resistance, it is unlikely he will deliver. For example, his wall -- paid for by Mexico -- is never going to happen. Ban all Muslims from entering the U.S.? Not a chance.

But what if he does work with Congress?

Well, first off, we do not know what his platform will be when he hits the general election. He likely tack to the middle. Second, even if he does work with Congress, he is still not going to get his social policies passed. The Senate with its filibuster and cloture rules is enough of a check on that, even if Democrats do not have a majority. Basically, we will not have immigration reform, but we will not have people rounded up in the streets and deported. Third and most important of all: I do not need to trust Donald Trump in the same way I would have to trust Hillary Clinton were she elected. The reason for this is very simple: Trump represents the GOP brand, and Clinton claims the mantle of progressive. If Trump fails to accomplish anything in office, or if he manages to do whatever damage he can do, he will represent the Republicans. Moreover, rightly or wrongly, he represents America’s crypto-fascist element. The best way to discredit both of these groups is to let them fail on their own. Trump will not succeed as a president.

On the flip side, if Hillary Clinton screws up by compromising too much (which is likely) or doing too little (also likely), progressivism will take a big hit in the public eye, which is something we cannot afford.

3.) The 2020 election looms

Now we arrive at the point where I start sounding old Jud Crandall from Stephen King’s "Pet Sematary." Progressives and Democrats should be focusing on the election in 2020 because 1) it is a census year — meaning the makeup of the House of Representatives for the following decade will depend on down-ballot voting — and 2) there may be openings on the Supreme Court.

The last consecutive two-term presidents from the same political party were James Madison and James Monroe. In other words, Democrats face long historical odds if Hillary Clinton wins in 2016, of winning again in four years.

Historically, the party in control of the White House loses seats in the midterm. A Trump presidency would force Democrats to organize and turn out in the off-year. And it might provide a head-start on taking back the chamber in 2020

Clinton is also one of the weakest candidates ever to secure the nomination for president from either party. As Gallup pointed out, the word most associated with her name is “dishonest.” Her favorability ratings are abysmal, she’s prone to secrecy which opens her up to perceptions of scandal, and she has an FBI investigation hanging over her head. Unlike her rival, Bernie Sanders, but like Donald Trump, she underperforms among Independents — a necessary voting bloc for any president.

Trump will also struggle in 2020 due to his lack of policy understanding, unwillingness to work with others, and lack of popularity. As I mentioned, he will probably be defending a record of little by way of achievement at a time when voters are demanding serious overhauls.

Trump now would enable the Democratic Party to regroup, and reform under a more economically populist banner in order to tap into the American zeitgeist. Perhaps 2020 could see President Elizabeth Warren.

4.) I’m Not Afraid of Donald Trump

Some of you might be reading this and thinking to yourselves: “That’s all well and good, but Trump is dangerous.” I understand those feelings. Donald Trump’s messages on social policy have been mixed at best, and fascistic at worst. His approach to climate science is frightening considering the dire situation our planet is in. Trump is also the kind of man who would use the office of the president to aggrandize himself, and punish his detractors — well, attempt to do so, like in his many libel and slander suits. Over the last twenty years the powers of the president have expanded considerably as commander-in-chief, and that’s concerning, too.  Additionally, there is the matter of the Supreme Court of United States.

But let’s step back for a moment, and address some important points:

Trump will not transform America’s oligarchy into a fascist dictatorship, nor is he the second coming of Hitler. Our political culture precludes such a shift within any one presidency.

Regardless of what Donald Trump has said in this primary, like Hillary Clinton, his past positions and financial ties belie his sincerity. He’s been a consistent ally (and donor) to the Clintons for decades — so similar, he even shares the same Delaware address as they do, to avoid taxes:

In 1999, he supported efforts to eliminate our national debt. In 2000 he supported “tough on crime” policies, called for prosecuting hate crimes against homosexuals, criticized U.S. dealings with China, saying we’re “too eager to please,” and criticized the Communist country for their record on human rights. He has supported the assault weapon ban, waiting periods, and background checks, called for universal health care. and was tentatively pro-collective bargaining, arguing that unions “fight for pay, managers fight for less, and consumers win.” In 2010, he called for government partnering with environmentalists before undertaking “projects.”

Trump has also been consistently to the left of the Clintons on trade. In 1999, he said that the world views U.S. trade officials as “saps,” and in 2000, when Hillary Clinton was still very much pro-NAFTA, he called for renegotiating our trade deals to be more tougher and more fair for American workers.

Even today, Trump is to the left of Hillary Clinton on some issues. He supports medical marijuana, while she says “more research” needs to be conducted. He’s against super PACs — instructing those supporting his campaign to return all the money to the donors. I would not be the least bit surprised to see Trump run to Clinton’s left on economic policy in a general election — especially given the fact that he just announced that he will be using many of Sanders' attacks on her then. The implications of such a move are a subject for a separate article.

As for foreign policy, Trump and Clinton are both talking about bombing ISIS, and have aggressive outlooks. For her part, Clinton recently announced, on the verge of a lasting peace, that the U.S. could "obliterate Iran." Both have, at one point or another, supported torture. She voted for the war in Iraq, he opposed it. They each want to escalate some U.S. involvement overseas. They have at one point or another, both supported torture.

Their rhetoric makes my inner dove cringe. Hillary Clinton, for example, has pandered to Netanyahu and AIPAC. She couldn't even say, during the Brooklyn debate, that the Israeli prime minister wasn't "always right." She recently announced that the U.S. would "obliterate" Iran in the event of a nuclear conflict. The U.S. and Iran are on the verge of a lasting peace deal that she supposedly supports.

Trump's foreign policy talk has alienated our allies like the United Kingdon, and that isn't something to take lightly. However, it has also earned praise from Vladimir Putin. That is interesting and of course potentially disingenuous, yet we've not had a good relationship with Russia for some time and Clinton's "reset" as secretary of state failed.

There is one important distinction between the Clinton and Trump: she has a body count. Her foreign policy blunders — voting for the Iraq War, legitimizing the coup regime in Honduras, and supporting violent regime change in Libya — have cost thousands of lives.

Finally, let's talk about the Supreme Court.

We have no way of predicting who Trump would appoint, but we can speculate with Hillary Clinton. While she has said that her litmus test for nominees will be commitment to overturning Citizens United v. FEC, there is little reason to trust her given how much she benefits from the current campaign finance system that is a product of that ruling and others. Clinton's reliance on dark money and coordination with super PACs, along with her lack of serious discussion and failure to prioritize this issue belie her promise to reform.

This is the single most important, and inclusive problem today because it affects our ability to deal with every other issue. It is also the one area Democrats are not necessarily better than Republicans. President Barack Obama's recent Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, is one of the judges responsible for the disastrous SpeechNow.org v. FEC ruling which gave us Super PACs, and upheld Citizens United. Trump has talked about appointing additional Scalias. That's dangerous -- and all the more reason to hope Democrats take back the Senate, but also play hardball as well as Republicans have in the last year.

In the end, it is doubtful that the more negative aspects of Trump's platform will ever come to pass. In 2016, the lesser-of-two-evils is not so clear.


By Walker Bragman

MORE FROM Walker Bragman

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