Psychoanalyzing pols may seem both inappropriate and futile. Besides professional acting, theirs is probably the most dissimulating of professions. But some pols do odd things that beg for analysis. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are two.
So it’s intriguing that these two, of all people, are likely to be rival contenders for the presidency come July. What’s more fascinating is that, quite apart from gender, they appear polar opposites.
The Donald goes out of his way to offend and insult people. He’s almost a caricature of Jon Stewart’s caricature of a New Jerseyite. He can say easily, in effect, “Ya ugly an’ stupid. Ya motha weahs combat boots, and ya faddah’s a no-good, lying, rapin’, murderin’ furrinah. No offense.” Trump’s famous insult to Mexican immigrants was very close to that.
Trump doesn’t seem to care what anyone thinks about him or what he says publicly. He says whatever pops into his head at the moment. Many voters love him for that. They love his “spontaneity” and “authenticity.” They adore his penchant for mouthing, and thereby validating, real prejudices and bigotry that they’ve had to hide for far too long.
Hillary’s the exact opposite. She is as careful of her speech as Trump is careless. Every day she goes out of her way, multiple times, not to offend or insult people. She wants all her Yankee family to be her loyal children. She never wants to play favorites.
When you think about it, this is odd for a woman with a single child (Chelsea), whom she’s had to protect assiduously from both marital difficulties and noxious political assaults all the child’s young life. But Hillary acts like a mother with twelve
children, ranging from astronauts and opera divas to drug dealers and pimps. She wants to pretend that she loves them all equally, never plays favorites, and can receive all their unconditional love (and votes) in return.
If you think of Hillary as that self-delusional mother of twelve, a lot of things come into focus. Take Wall Street, for example. Hillary accepts huge speaking fees and even bigger campaign contributions (directly or through PACs) from its bankers. Yet she claims to promote policies that will bring them to all heel even better than Bernie’s, who takes not a dime from Wall Street’s bankers and, like FDR, seems to “welcome their hatred.”
Logic says that Hillary is scamming one or the other. Either she’s taking Wall Street’s money and will turn on Wall Street once elected, or her promise to reign in the bankers is a ruse.
But that’s not it at all, at least in Hillary’s mind. Just think of Wall Street as the “black sheep” child, who’s done a lot to harm the others but in Mother’s eyes is still basically good. Its contributions to Hillary are just part of what it must do to demonstrate its love for Mother and its capacity for change. And if it would just stop gambling and swindling and get back to honest banking—real capital formation and intelligent investment in the next generation of real
(nonfinancial) industries—it could outshine all the other children, while making amends for prior misdeeds.
So there you have the two views of Hillary. Logically, she’s scamming either Wall Street or its victims; it has to be one or the other. But no mother of both promising and less promising children thinks that way. Is it any wonder that there’s a huge gender gap in assessing Hillary’s candidacy?
Next consider Hillary’s greatest error of political judgment: her unquestioning support for Dubya’s catastrophic invasion of Iraq. That invasion still hasn’t reached its conclusion, over thirteen years later. It has
produced a decade-long low-level Iraqi Civil War. It has
helped cause the destruction of Syria and the rise of ISIS.
When it was still a gleam in the Neocons’ eyes, Hillary was the de-facto leader of the Democratic party and a powerful, albeit new, figure in our Senate. Her dissent would have made big waves, if not delayed or halted the improvident invasion. But she went along, enthusiastically, playing the loyal mother to cretin Dubya’s father-in-chief. She added fire and momentum to the flaming juggernaut of war.
Today, she says breezily, it was all a mistake. Her apologies don’t sound very sincere, and she elides the entire catastrophe as if stepping over a dead bug.
Among the lessons of the gender-explanatory book Men Are from Mars, Women are from Venus
is a simple nugget: women and men don’t keep score the same way. To women, it’s the thought that counts, not necessarily the cost or the result.
Dubya’s decision to invade Iraq—let alone with one-third the troops used by Colin Powell, who stayed out
of Baghdad—was probably the most catastrophic single military decision made by any American president since Lyndon Johnson decided to escalate our desultory aid in the Vietnamese civil conflict into a full-scale Asian war. Not only did our invasion of Iraq lead to fracturing that nation itself, probably permanently. It gave Iran a much stronger foothold, led to destabilizing Syria, encouraged the regional involvement of a risen Russia (through Iran), and provoked an explosion of jihadism and the birth of ISIS. Not bad for a single decision of a not-too-bright “decider!”
The “domino theory” of spreading southeast-Asian Communism may have been a paranoid fantasy of the twisted SecDef MacNamara, but it has become reality in the Middle East. We Yanks started the dominos falling, and Hillary was complicit.
So if you keep score like a man, Hillary’s complicity in that gargantuan blunder is a big, big deal. If you keep score like a mother, it’s not so bad. But for some 4,000 dead soldiers and some 30,000 wounded, the horrendous consequences have mostly occurred far away, outside the “family.” Most of the troops have now come home. If we don’t think too hard about it, maybe it will all go away. And anyway, didn’t Hillary’s complicity flow from a laudable if misguided loyalty to our American “family,” at a time when everyone from the Neocons, through the military (with That Idiot Rumsfeld sending our too-small force) to our mainstream press was beating the drums for war?
But the most salient point of Hillary’s psychology is her approach to political conflict here at home. In all the two decades or so of her political career that I have followed, she never seems to have an enemy.
have enemies, to be sure. Lots of people despise and even hate her. They describe themselves that way. She herself even speaks occasionally of a “vast right-wing conspiracy” that, in her view, has blown her few small flaws vastly out of proportion.
But that’s all abstract, airy stuff. That fact is, I have never seen Hillary Clinton name names (or groups) or call out anyone as an enemy of herself, or (what’s more important) of our American family. Not even the Tea Party, which is, to a man (it has few or no women) her enemy.
Hillary tries hard to fight without fighting, keeping everyone on her side. Even Saddam and Qaddafi she never called out directly; in the latter’s case she just worked as hard and quietly as she could to get UN authorization for the President to take Qaddafi out.
Why is this important today? Because Trump is the paradigmatic enemizer. He makes enemies as casually and thoughtlessly as most people tell off-color jokes. Sometimes he makes them deliberately, with malice aforethought.
So if he wins, we will have Archie Bunker in the White House. Indeed, we will have a man who is more thoughtless, capricious and oblivious to the consequences of his speech and actions than the fictional Archie Bunker ever was. In this respect, truth and the passage of several decades have overtaken fiction.
But can Trump win? Can Hillary beat him?
She’s certainly not off to a good start. Even the New York Times
, as Hillary-partisan a mainstream rag as exists in all of journalism, has noted her weak start
. She just doesn’t seem to have the old New Jersey moxie in her.
Worse yet, the State Department’s Inspector General’s report on her private e-mail server came out just as her campaign as presumptive Democratic nominee began to roll. It contradicted Hillary’s longstanding insistence that the Department had approved her using a private e-mail server for official State-Department business and that Hillary and her staff had cooperated fully with the investigation. The Report knocked her nascent anti-Trump campaign on its heels and made her look like a liar.
But that appears to be the least of Hillary’s problems. She has taken much greater hits before and retained her footing. Certainly any
blunder in connection with e-mail gate is nothing like complicity in the second greatest US foreign-policy catastrophe since Vietnam.
Hillary’s real problem is that she doesn’t seem to know how to fight back. She’s been struggling for love and understanding from all sides for so long that she doesn’t have a clue how to meet the Dark Side.
And make no mistake about it: Donald Trump is the Dark Side. He has absolutely no compunctions or restraints. He is a grown man with billions of dollars—and more to come from PACs whose funders ought to know better—who thinks nothing of acting like a teenager on a playground and saying whatever it takes to get under the skin of his rival of the moment. Neither American politics nor advanced-nation democratic politics generally has ever seen his like before, at least not so close to supreme power.
In addition to her cloying need to be loved, Hillary has another signal disadvantage. From her days as a political junkie at Wellesley College, she has always been, and still is, a student of politics. She is not a natural, as she has self-confessed. It took her most of a decade to recognize our mistake in Iraq and her part in it.
So by the time Hillary figures out a way to counter Trump’s Archie-Bunker-style all-out assault, or by the time she becomes comfortable with perhaps extreme expedients suggested by her staff, the election may be over, and Trump may have won.
It has taken Hillary decades to become a passible “maintstream” politician, starting from the abject failure of “Hillarycare.” It may take her another decade to appreciate the present populist era, in which she is the only
“mainstream” politician left standing (Bernie and Trump are “populist” mavericks). And it will take her and her staff at least a year or two to understand that the “Trump phenomenon” is a threat to the very nature of American democracy and therefore unique in our history.
There are no precedents for this student of politics to study. Anyone who wants to beat Trump, let alone decisively, is going to have to play it by ear and instinct. And as Hillary’s long and excruciatingly careful progress has shown, her political instincts just aren’t very keen.
So the surest way, in my view, to stop Trump is to make sure that Bernie becomes the Democratic nominee. Bernie knows what he wants and is not afraid to make or call out enemies. Without being gratuitously insulting, he does not balk at naming names or calling scoundrels what they are. If California does not go for Bernie significantly, and if enough “super-delegates” don’t recognize today’s unique threats, we well could have Donald Trump in the White House come January 20.