During her 2016 presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton warned us that Donald Trump and his "basket of deplorables" were a threat to American democracy. She wasn't a prophet. She was simply offering a reasonable analysis based on the available evidence — and she paid an enormous political price for daring to tell that truth in public.
Two things can be true at the same time. Russian interference may well have played a role in Donald Trump's unlikely electoral victory in 2016. But it is also true that Clinton's truthful but politically unwise comment about the "deplorables" helped to swing the momentum — with the help of an eager and compliant mainstream news media — in Trump's direction.
Clinton's description was in fact about much more than the disreputable people who flocked to Trump's banner. It was also a warning about the regressive politics and antisocial values that Trump's followers represented (and still do), including cruelty, racism and white supremacy, sexism and misogyny, collective narcissism, anti-intellectualism, an infatuation with violence, proud ignorance and support for fascism and authoritarianism.
Whatever you think of her as a person and a public figure, Clinton clearly perceived that Trumpism would be a disaster for American democracy and the world, pushing the United States towards the brink of full-on fascism including an attempted coup. Clinton's campaign strategy against Trump had numerous evident flaws, but her diagnosis of Trump and his movement' was overwhelmingly correct.
One thing Hillary Clinton clearly perceived, even if she didn't put it this way, was that Trump's authoritarian politics would involve a campaign to limit human freedom, in accordance with the needs and goals of the Trump movement. Specifically, limiting and controlling the bodily autonomy of those groups and individuals deemed to be Other, the enemy or otherwise subordinate to the dominant group.
Such an exercise of power is central and foundational to American fascism in its various forms, as the history of slavery and Jim Crow ought to make clear. In America now, the fascist movement longs for the subordination, control, and domination of women's and girls' bodies to the sexual, emotional, financial, physical and psychological needs of men — especially, of course, white conservative "Christian" men. Restricting women's reproductive rights and freedoms, especially by attempting to force women to conceive and bear children, are recurring features of fascist-authoritarian political projects and societies.
Hillary Clinton warned us about this as well, as Colbert King noted several months ago in the Washington Post:
I'm also sick at heart because five years ago, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton put the country on notice that this day could come.
While celebrating the Supreme Court's June 27, 2016, decision rejecting two restrictive provisions in a Texas House bill regulating abortion, Clinton warned in a campaign release that the fight for the right to access health care, and for women to make their own decisions about their bodies and their futures, was "far from over."
She stated, presciently, "The fact that our next president could appoint as many as three or four justices in the next four years" is a striking reminder "that we can't take rulings like today's for granted."
Clinton left no room for speculation. "Just consider Donald Trump, the Republicans' presumptive nominee. The man who could be president has said there should be some form of 'punishment' for women seeking abortions. He pledged to appoint Supreme Court justices who would overturn Roe v. Wade. And last year, he said he'd shut down the government rather than fund Planned Parenthood."
And Clinton made clear the consequences. "If we send Trump to the White House and a Republican majority to Congress, he could achieve any — or all — of these things. And that's why this election is so important."
"The outcome of November's contests," she declared, "is going to be a deciding factor in whether our elected officials and our courts defend or attack a woman's right to health care for generations to come."
Transforming a democracy into a fascist-authoritarian state is usually a process, not a singular spontaneous event. In the United States in this decade, this has taken the form of one of our two institutional political parties becoming increasingly and openly hostile toward the very idea of multiracial and pluralistic democracy.
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More specifically, the Trump-controlled Republican Party and the larger neofascist movement it represents is the symptom of deeper societal problems, rather than their cause. This moment must also be understood as the result of long-term planning by right-wing elites.
Once again, Hillary Clinton was eerily prescient. During an interview in 1998 with NBC's "Today," she famously warned of the "vast right-wing conspiracy" that sought to destroy her husband's presidency. Less noticed at the time, she also spoke larger truths about American society and the forces working to undermine its most fundamental rights and freedoms.
In 2016, Clinton revisited that warning during a televised town hall meeting in New Hampshire. Here's how CBS News reported that event:
"At this point it's probably not correct to say it's a conspiracy because it's out in the open," Clinton said. "There is no doubt about who the players are, what they're trying to achieve. ... It's real, and we're going to beat it." ... [R]eferencing GOP financiers like Charles and David Koch, Clinton said the right wing is now "even better funded."
"They've brought in some new multibillionaires," she said. "They want to control our country. They want to rig the economy so they can get richer and richer.
"They salve their consciences by giving money to philanthropy," Clinton continued, "but make no mistake, they want to destroy unions, they want to go after any economic interest they don't believe they can control."
The Supreme Court is now signaling, in bright lights, that it intends to follow through on the decades-long plan by the Republican Party, its Christian fascist elements and other "movement conservatives" to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade decision and otherwise sharply restrict women's reproductive rights and freedoms. Taking away women's bodily autonomy to this extent is another step in the Republican-fascist assault on the human and civil rights of all Americans.
In a new essay, author and talk-show host Thom Hartmann warns that this is "just the first of a series of ideas Republicans have to regulate women's behavior and roll back the clock to the early 1960s when women couldn't get a credit card without their father's or husband's permission, had no legal right to birth control in some states, and faced fully legal discrimination in housing, education and employment." He continues:
In the 1960s, employers could fire women for getting pregnant, women had no legal right to a harassment-free workplace, were charged extra for health insurance, and could be legally raped by their husbands, among other indignities.
And this is just the start. Today the Court is hearing a case out of Maine that could require states to pay for the tuition of all students attending religious schools, using taxpayer money that normally funds public schools. This would include forcing states to pay for religious schools that openly discriminate against LGBTQ+ students and staff, and teach children that being gay is a sin.
Once Republicans are done with birth control they'll be coming for gay marriage and, ultimately, broader civil rights laws themselves including, like in Hungary (their new role model), ending the rights to assembly, free-speech, and due process.
And if you think that's an over-the-top concern, consider: Just a few months ago, Ron DeSantis signed a bill into law that provides immunity to drivers who plow their cars into protesters, if those protesters are on a public street. They're already going after our right of public assembly.
Winter is coming: next stop, Gilead.
Last week, Hillary Clinton spoke to MSNBC's Rachel Maddow about America's democracy crisis and the Republican threats to human and civil rights. She was describing the plot of the fictional thriller she co-wrote with Louise Penny, "State of Terror," but also America at present: "[T]here is a plot against the country by people who truly want to turn the clock back. They believe that the progress we've made on all kinds of civil rights and human rights, the cultural changes that have taken place, are so deeply threatening that they want to stage a coup."
America's crisis of democracy is in a wild and dangerous moment, where unpredictable and horrible new realities are being born and where hope is diminishing. The choice between democracy and fascism may have narrowed so far that the real choice at this moment is more about how bad the emerging American fascist regime will be and what possibilities for effective resistance will remain. That may sound hyperbolic, but matters are rapidly becoming that dire.
Defending American democracy in the time that remains requires setting aside factional differences within the Democratic Party — and within the political "left" and "center" more generally — and uniting around the common goal of defeating the Republican-fascist movement. "Hillary derangement syndrome," in the form of the extreme hostility and rage some leftists and progressives still feel toward Clinton, is only a distraction.
Hillary Clinton tried to warn the American people what would happen if Trump and his regime took power — she was proven to be correct. She continues to warn the America and the world about the all-too-real "vast right-wing conspiracy" that continues to push forward, winning victory after victory in its war against human rights, human dignity, social democracy and freedom.
In various ways, Hillary Clinton's unexpected "defeat" by Donald Trump in 2016 offered an important preview of what was to come, with American democracy increasingly under siege. Many people perceived it as a fluke or an anomaly at the time, but it was nothing of the kind. It was a sign. Love her or hate her, the fact remains that Hillary Clinton understood the danger clearly.
More on reproductive rights and Hillary vs. the "deplorables":