Trump or Clinton: The Consequence of Anti-Intellectualism

The Oval Office is up for grabs between Clinton and Trump, and I can’t remember the last time that I, living in a capitalist society, as a consumer, somehow ran out of options. If I can get my beer non-alcoholic and my ice cream fat-free, surely, I can get my presidential candidate non-corporate and scandal-free, right? OK, so maybe this is just a ‘first world problem’, and I should be glad there’s even a semblance of a democratic process in all this.

Still, one can’t help but wonder how did we get here? Trump has no experience in political office and ‘misremembers’ worse than the last Republican president; while Clinton has too much of the wrong kind of experience– e.g. promoting fracking and selling arms around the world.[1] I feel like there used to be standards for this. Perhaps the moral compass of this country has been affected by climate change. The polar ice caps are not what they used to be and neither is the democratic process. Why? Anti-intellectualism. No, I don’t mean ‘democracy’ is in shambles because we lack a certain standard of intellectual capacity. In fact, anti-intellectualism has very little to do with one’s intellect at all. Rather, it is an attitude that expresses one’s masked fundamentalism. We are not as liberal or progressive as we think.

Typically, anti-intellectualism either refers to a disregard for facts, an unwillingness to engage in reasoned debate, or being under the sway of religious emotions. We’ve all been part of conversations where your interlocutor dismisses a reasonable argument simply because it does not agree with their own particular worldview– the person grows more belligerent and territorial in proportion to your use of reason. “How dare you be better informed than I! I who have the power of the Internet at my fingertips!” After all, if Siri said so, it must be true. We live in an increasingly automated world where we rely more and more on AI to do all sorts of things for us, including thinking. And it all feels so natural, as if AI were just an extension of our selves; but the boundaries between our thoughts and what thinks for us has become blurred. Our thoughts are not our own, we merely regurgitate what we find in media– be it on TV, before a pulpit, on clothing labels, in a snapchat– we take whatever fancies our self-interests and toss it into that shopping cart called identity. Identity has become an accumulation of what we consume. And what we consume is artificial. Anti-intellectualism is the consequence of surrendering one’s self to artificial intelligence.[2]

Anti-intellectualism stems from two necessary conditions: capitalism and cynicism. Anti-intellectualism reflects a negative attitude towards deliberation and diversity. It breeds a sense of identity that is territorial and inhibits one’s capacity to empathize and be connected to others. And when one’s values and self-interests become undifferentiable and non-negotiable, it is fundamentalism. And it is the ‘new black’.

The Over-Consumption of Free Speech

Trump’s popularity has been built upon a ‘freedom of speech’ platform that wages war against ‘political correctness’– the man speaks his mind, and people are drawn to this. However, ‘freedom of speech’ in an age of anti-intellectualism has become nothing more than the freedom for sound to endlessly bounce around in an echo chamber. When I think of ‘freedom of speech’ I associate it with freedom of the press, the freedom to dissent, or to conscientiously object to injustice perpetrated by the powerful– you know, the concepts of accountability and open dialogue that guard against tyranny. But this is not how ‘freedom of speech’ manifests itself today; it means something more like the freedom from guilt to excuse oneself when speaking in a tyrannical and bigoted way. “I’m exercising my freedom of speech” sounds more and more like “I’m justifying my stubborn inability to empathize or engage in reasonable debate with a differing opinion”, or it’s simply the shamelessly proud broadcasting of one’s tribal affinity. “Go Red Sox!” is affectively no different from “black lives matter!” or “vote Trump!” Freedom of speech, within the context of advanced capitalism, has become the freedom to advertise one’s personal brand; it is self-serving. But this really just serves corporate interests. Our addiction for self-advertising floods the marketplace of political discourse with content aimed at generating ‘likes’ for profit, not knowledge or truth.[3] Such logic is not sustainable for a healthy democracy. Freedom of speech should build constructive dialogue towards fairer governance and guard against bigotry and tyranny; instead, it tends towards inundating the public sphere with gossip and misinformation in the very service of tyranny.

‘Freedom of speech’ floods the public sphere with information, drowning out what is relevant news in a sea of undifferentiated headlines. Thanks to technology, we now have the means to produce information at a blistering rate. People tweet, Facebook, share and re-share information around the clock. It is not only the media elite that broadcast the ‘news’ anymore, it is literally everyone. We are the creators of what we simultaneously consume: ourselves. Narcissism has never been so profitable, or savory– at least, that’s what Trump would have us believe about Trump Steaks…or his taco bowls.

It becomes increasingly difficult to figure out what is relevant information when there is so much of it to sift through. The premise behind the HBO show ‘Newsroom’ is that a well-informed electorate is vital to a healthy democracy. Unfortunately, not many of us are as informed as we should be. Between Trump hijacking headlines and major news outlets’ tendency to report on spectacle, relevant information is hard to come by for the everyday voter.

Give the Clinton campaign credit here too. They are great at politicking and disseminating troll-worthy taglines to divert attention away from real issues. Clinton tweeted: “@BernieSanders prioritized gun manufacturers’ rights over the parents of the children killed at Sandy Hook”. The art of politicking aside, this tweet is, while disheartening, amusingly misleading; but the way in which it is worded does its job: it appeals to voters’ emotions by using a dubious analogy. When a drunken person gets into a car and runs someone over with it, it is not the car manufacturer that is at fault. It is the person using the car irresponsibly who is at fault. Voting in favor of manufacturer’s rights does not equate to the disregard of grieving parents. Sanders is actually on the progressive side of the gun control debate­­– he has voted to ban assault rifles, to expand background checks on gun buyers, supports closing loopholes that enable the illegal purchase of arms, and understands that curbing gun violence requires addressing infrastructure such as education and healthcare.[4] But of course, the Clinton campaign isn’t interested in any of that now are they? What it wants is for this little bit of 140 characters to be reproduced and disseminated as far and wide as possible. To be fair, there are examples of this spread of misinformation coming from all sides and every corner of the Internet.[5] Point being, the consumption of user-perpetuated information has become a form of addiction that keeps us fixated on spectacle without substance.

Anti-Intellectualism is the state of being caught in a matrix of power relations where one’s ability to think becomes completely dependent upon something other than the self. This is what I meant earlier by alluding to AI; perhaps it is infiltrating human existence in ways science fiction has yet to warn us about. We conflate what thinks for us, with our own thinking, all the while internalizing an illusion of authority that simultaneously reinforces one’s false sense of self-autonomy. ‘What thinks for us’ are the institutions that are in the business of manufacturing information– the media, the sciences– that also function to police and enforce norms; or in Marxist terms, those who control the means of producing information. I say ‘information’, and not knowledge, because knowledge is some rare endangered thing not many of us recognize anymore, whereas information is ubiquitous. And that is the anti-intellectual context, an inundation of information that floods the public sphere keeping people from what would threaten the hegemony of the oligarchy: knowledge.[6]

Identity Within Advanced Capitalism

As consumers, we are experts in accumulation. We save, hoard, and collect all sorts of things, simultaneously accumulating and constructing a sense of self-identity or brand- “we are what we buy”. But this identity-building is not something uniquely our own. Rather, it is an identity manufactured and sold to us by corporations that profit off of our never-ending drive to express ourselves. What, where, when, how and why one buys is a pretty accurate indicator of one’s values, and of one’s own sense of identity.[7] This addiction to accumulation reveals how our desires have become increasingly narcissistic rather than empathic. We have stronger desires to learn about the latest trends in fashion, business, technology, and politics that reflect our own interests than we do about issues that affect others, never considering how acting on our own interests could negatively affect others.

As we consume, we fortify the illusion that we are expressing our freedom of self-creation, which taps into a powerful gravitational force that sucks us ever inwards. We seduce ourselves into believing the ‘I’ that is constructed via purchases is an autonomous being expressing individualism because it was constructed from free-market choices. Against the backdrop of capitalism a fundamental sense of identity for the individual is exposed– “I” constitute my own absolute authority because I am self-bought; I am the accumulation of what I have accumulated. Of course accumulation does not only pertain to material goods. We also buy into the different ideas and moral agendas that accompany these products, intentional or not. Regardless of wherever we might be– a shopping mall, in front of a television in the confines of our homes, at church– we are constantly bombarded with choices that tap into our consumer-driven subconscious, we either buy into whatever we’re presented with, or we don’t. During presidential election years this phenomenon is even more pronounced.

Never mind that our society is already constructed by enough binary oppositions– black/white, male/female, straight/queer, rich/poor, so on and so forth, every four years all the ugliness of our binary foundations rises to a boiling point when represented by the ultimate binary: a presidential election that decides an actual winner between two conflicting ideologies. Of course the notion that there could only be two major parties is another can of worms entirely, but certainly represents how our society is entrenched in binary logic.

Voting for a president has the potential for bringing either the best or worst out of an electorate. It’s as if most people forget about how passionate they are about things until presented with a high-stakes either/or decision in the form of a presidential election. Or perhaps people have just lost whatever passion they once had simply because for as long as they’ve been alive, there have only been just two choices: democrat or republican. For three out of every four years, people are generally content with tolerating others and coexisting despite differences, until that fourth year when they’re reminded that things could be otherwise. Suddenly, everyone’s a self-appointed expert in politics because it’s time to cash in on their invested identities. After all, most people vote relative to ‘their own’ interests, right? But what influential forces are informing these interests?

Again, the way in which we accumulate a sense of self-identity via consumerism tends to fortify, inform, and manipulate ‘our’ interests into aligning with corporate and/or two-party political interests. And this is to say nothing of different special interest groups that are also warring for our allegiances. In a society grounded in the binary antagonism of ‘us versus them’, the fight for rights has become reduced to an archaic form of tribalism causing marginalized groups to compete against each other to fight for their slice of the pie. All this is heightened during a presidential election year when a mind-boggling amount of dollars is invested into the U.S. war on democracy at home.

In a capitalistic context, sure, everything can ultimately become commodified for the sake of profit, but it is the inhuman force of accumulation that drives this process, and not a soul is free from its influence. Democracy as a ‘way of life’ gets in the way of democracy as a ‘form of government’; but of course the reverse can be just as poignant. All to say– while pluralism and diversity are ideas we celebrate and encourage, we really have no clue how to relate to them in a way that does not involve commodification– of others or ourselves. Anti-intellectualism reinforces one’s sense of sacred and unquestioned identity, which simultaneously decreases one’s capacity to empathize and identify with others. This in turn influences the competition and struggle between conflicting special interest groups who ironically end up commodifying their own ideology for the sake of broadcasting it. Don’t tell Sanders supporters this, but perhaps revolution really is impossible in a capitalist society. Or is that just cynicism speaking.

Cynicism and Fundamentalism

While necessary, capitalism alone is not sufficient to explain the increasing prevalence of anti-intellectualism. Cynicism, in concert with capitalist forces of accumulation, has fueled the spread of anti-intellectualism. The lack of faith in our elected officials to ‘do the right thing’ has given way to a defeatist attitude of simply accepting what’s coming despite our best efforts to resist, like the early rhetoric behind Clinton’s ‘inevitable’ presidential win. It is often said that cynicism has infected the youth, and that this is reflected in their dismal voter turnout. Those who are jaded by politics tend not to vote, they choose to tap out and not participate. But then those who do not vote have no business complaining about how non-ideal everything is. Sure, #firstworldproblems; but actually no– our problems are serious because they affect and trickle down to other parts of the world. The very people, young people, who have the most potential power to effect change, are the same ones who rarely vote.[8] Of course, our country has laws that actively make it difficult for people to vote, which in turn fuels more cynicism.[9] Sure, maybe the youth are too busy being young and preoccupied with making a life for themselves to worry about ‘petty politics’. It still doesn’t deny the point that they are the ones who make a difference, and will make a difference, being ‘the future’ and all. Too bad we (the ‘grown ups’) are generally indifferent to them making a difference because we’re too preoccupied with our past and present and not their future. And this reflects the anti-intellectual sentiment, being indifferent to the life outside of one’s own that one nonetheless affects (climate change anyone?).

It’s ironic that the distrust and antagonism towards the political process can result in the nomination of someone like Trump whose figure only further exacerbates cynicism in the process. It’s an endless cycle of violence. As distrust, fear, doubt, and contempt towards authority grow, so do cynicism and despair, which in turn only further alienate and disempower people from the sphere of politics. In a word, we are disenchanted. What were we enchanted by before? The American Dream? The belief in ourselves to be able to do anything, to overcome any obstacle, and to succeed? Whatever it was, that strong moral spirit of yesteryear is in drastic decline. But it is also of no use to attempt to return to those good ol’ days; otherwise, we are no different from Trump, who wants to ‘make America great again.’ What version of America was great, and for whom? This is why I am always skeptical of trends in fashion, real estate, and pop culture in general that increasingly embrace a return to what is ‘vintage’. What exactly is it that we are celebrating here or trying to make part of our identities? A return to the past is often an attempt at ‘reformation’, at cultural purification. Intentional or otherwise– it is neo-fundamentalism, the return of a worldview that is incapable of coexisting among others within a pluralistic context. Hipsters all across this country are the new white cultural elite, and perhaps young people should not be so ready to embrace this trend that celebrates the return of a masked supremacist ideology. This is what cynicism gets us when we fall into despair: a far worse situation than the one that currently inspires said cynicism, where there can only be the total surrender to the seductive promise of a return to the glory days.

With this nostalgia for days past, it is not simply the continual shift of politics towards the right, but a continual regression or gravitational pull towards a core or center. It is difficult to resist the allure of ‘better days past’. We tend to romanticize and fetishize selected memories we most identify with, creating a narrative for ourselves based on these; hence we are always trying to recapture some lost essence, which keeps us fixated on the past, simultaneously inhibiting us from moving towards the future. On a larger scale, the binary struggle between the two-party establishment and actual progressives reflects the binary between center and periphery, between power aggregated in one place and those on the margins fighting for justice. This is because fundamentalism is re-establishing itself as the norm thanks to anti-intellectualism. Anti-intellectualism and its rejection of reasonable discourse reveals itself as a phenomenon that not only inhibits one’s capacity for empathy but also simultaneously establishes one’s self as the absolute center of one’s existence. This applies as well to herd mentality and identity politics; individual and group desires begin to perfectly mirror one another. The individual becomes the unchallenged authority on all things, because the individual is free to create their own brand of information, which is merely mimicry. This is why Trump is so deft at deflecting critical questions, because his worldview is one and the same with the brand that bears his name. Every answer for Trump is ultimately self-referencing– this is symptomatic of fundamentalism. Clinton is a fundamentalist because of her capitalism; consider all her political positions and you will come to the conclusion that she is fundamentally incapable of adopting a worldview that does not cater to corporate interests.[10] But perhaps I’m just cynical.

Anti-Intellectualism: Active Disregard for Ethics

It is an interesting case where postmodern pluralism, its emphasis on freedom, and the proliferation of diversity and a multiplicity of different worldviews, simultaneously breeds an indifference to this freedom. The celebration of diversity has empowered individuals to pursue their own forms of self-expression. However, this freedom of self-expression has regressed into a narcissistic form of individualism where one dismisses worldviews that do not conform to one’s own. It is great that we have all sorts of disparate movements aimed at progressing social justice issues, but can these disparate movements break free from tribal tendencies that cause them to fight for their slice of the pie, and rather than see justice from a moralizing stance, see if from an intersubjective and ethical one? Being indifferent to other worldviews has become an ideology that people increasingly, collectively, and unconsciously internalize. Again, this is symptomatic of anti-intellectualism. To put it in the philosopher Charles Taylor’s terms, modern man suffers from secular near-sightedness, unable to see past his own secular presuppositions. ‘Secularization’, based on the unwavering belief in ‘reason alone’ has become sacralized to the point where its logic becomes increasingly undifferentiated from the logic of fundamentalism. The dismissal of all competing worldviews as a fundamental worldview then introduces the possibility for a demagogic figure like Trump to come along and manipulate this anti-intellectualism to his advantage. Something the previous Republican president did rather effectively, in fact.

When I consider the ramifications of anti-intellectualism, I recall the war on Iraq and the obfuscation of facts and intentions that accompanied it. The Bush regime somehow pulled off an unjust war while riding the wave of the public’s hyper-patriotic emotions in the wake of 9/11. It is now widely accepted and understood that the Iraq War was unjustified. So how is it that so many people supported it? Obviously there are many factors involved in understanding how the Iraq War unfolded. I am not suggesting that anti-intellectualism was solely responsible for it; I am saying that anti-intellectualism is the phenomenon that conditions the acceptance of what is without adequate justification. It is the disregard for ethics in favor of moral self-interest.[11] I once heard counterterrorism expert Malcolm Nance sarcastically comment during one of his book talks in NYC that the invasion of Iraq was as if we declared war on Mexico after Pearl Harbor. What is terrifying about Trump is one can imagine him saying something just as ridiculous, but in all seriousness, and being dismissive of criticisms against him. Of course, Clinton would not say such a thing; she’s more adept at keeping secrets while spinning alternative narratives that conceal the truth of whoever she might really be.

Anti-intellectualism expresses a disregard for ethics. Crudely stated, it is secular fundamentalism. The justification for one’s beliefs and actions are rooted squarely in one’s non-negotiable and unchanging sense of identity or tribal allegiance, others be damned. Neocons believe in the identity of this country as the world police, neoliberals believe in an unregulated market, republicans in this, democrats in that, and never the twain shall meet. Hence, perpetual conflict, war, and injustice.

Despite all the sentiment about the U.S. being post-racial, secular, egalitarian, and what-have-you, despite the appearance of being a multi-culturally sensitive and forward-thinking nation, Trump’s political narrative suggests that a lot of Americans are closeted bigots, sexists and racists. Clearly, there are Trump supporters of the Klan variety who are unabashedly so, and then there are so many who, like Trump himself, lack the critical distance to realize their own racism. As a nation we clearly do not have an adequate grasp of the concept of ‘race’– just take the Disney film Zootopia for example; box office returns suggest that Americans, if not a vast majority of critics, are scientific racists. My life partner and I are an ‘inter-ethnic’ couple that understand full well that a fox and rabbit cannot procreate because they are different species, whereas we can because we are the same species– human. Zootopia confuses its message by implying that racial differences are distinctions of species, and this could not be further from the truth. I am not suggesting that there is a correlation between fans of Zootopia and Trump, I am simply suggesting that we may not be as self-aware, progressive or liberal as we think we are. Just as Zootopia carries with it an implicitly racist message, everything Trump says contains traces of backwards fundamentalism that advertises itself as progressively American.

 . . .

Anti-intellectualism has corroded the democratic process. Trump’s candidacy has been won without recourse to anything resembling a reasonable democratic process– debate, consistent arguments, or communicating facts. He has gotten to where he is now because something extra-political about him appeals to the anti-intellectual kind of worldview that has become the norm. He speaks his mind, and changes it as need be for the sake of personal gain.

Just because Trump enjoys taco bowls does not mean he identifies with Mexicans or any of their interests; and just because he enjoys talking about building a wall does not mean he does not identify with Mexicans either. All his rhetoric in regards to Mexico, good or bad, only ever refers back to his own ego; it’s all about what Trump can do, what he can build. Sure, he says a lot of racist things, but he’s not so much a racist as he is a Trumpist first. He says Mexican immigrants are “bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.” For all his hateful and racist rhetoric, there’s always a point to all of it and it stems back to his business acumen. He’s creating a need. For what? For Trump! He realizes, and I think we are all coming to grips with this dark reality, that he fills a need felt by American voters. To be clear, Trump does not represent an anarchical ideology, or the absolute absence of any guiding principles. There is a guiding logic to his madness, and he traces it back to himself. He is his own man, proud in his self-made brand and identity. Something, for better or worse, nearly anyone can either relate or aspire to.

Abstract: In this article I explore what ‘anti-intellectualism’ is and how it has influenced this year’s presidential race. I distinguish between common-sense definitions of anti-intellectualism and suggest that anti-intellectualism is not any of these attitudes per se, but a phenomenon that conditions them. It is  a consequence of capitalism and cynicism. I begin with an analysis of how ‘free speech’ has devolved into inundating the public sphere with information, which makes it difficult to sepaI consider the relationships between ‘free speech’, cynicism, and anti-intellectualism, and how these undermine the democratic process. Throughout this article I show how capitalism has empowered the infiltration of anti-intellectualism in the public sphere.


[1] http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2014/09/hillary-clinton-fracking-shale-state-department-chevron, http://www.ibtimes.com/clinton-foundation-donors-got-weapons-deals-hillary-clintons-state-department-1934187.

[2] To be clear, I’m not merely referring to AI in terms of technology, but as a larger phenomenon that includes institutions like the media that are in the business of manufacturing information. More on this below.

[3] There are exceptions, of course, such as certain programming on NPR.

[4] See Sanders’ campaign website. Meanwhile, during Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State, the U.S. made twice as much in arms sales to foreign countries (most with sketchy human rights records) than the Bush regime did in total- many countries whose governments donated directly to the Clinton Foundation! She pays lip service to gun control while profiting from arms sales to corrupt regimes elsewhere in the world (http://www.ibtimes.com/clinton-foundation-donors-got-weapons-deals-hillary-clintons-state-department-1934187). Oh yea, she supports the use of drones too.

[5] Sanders’ critique of Clinton’s vote for the Iraq War is another example of reducing a complex narrative into a black and white issue. Though, despite a charitable reading of that particular part of Clinton’s voting history, one cannot help but wonder if her decision was ultimately naive, in trusting Bush, or hawkish towards public sentiment at the time. Ultimately, she is currently on the wrong side of history on this issue.

[6] Knowledge, as opposed to information, is something that results from reasonable debate, but I would add a Foucaldian caveat that it is also something created within a context of risk and ‘conflict’.

[7] Factors like where one lives, access to points of commerce, marketplace diversity, etc. Facticity sets limits on one’s capacity to construct an identity.

[8] Of course, we can argue whether or not voting actually ‘represents’ anything or whether representation is at all possible.

[9] Voter registration laws, closed ballots, redistricting maps, etc.

[10] http://www.thenation.com/article/the-problem-with-hillary-clinton-isnt-just-her-corporate-cash-its-her-corporate-worldview/

[11] In case it needs clarification, crudely formulated, ethics describes judgments based on particularities relative to context, while moral judgments are based on universal, or non-negotiable, principles.

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Hillary Clinton in Context: Progressive-ly Capitalist

I’ll start by being transparent. If I were asked what the most important election issue is, my immediate response would likely be: the environment. But in truth, there isn’t a single most important issue because they’re all important. I’m not trying to sound corny or pretentious. When I say every issue is equally important what I mean is that all the issues are deeply interconnected. If you support environmental preservation then you simultaneously care for the sustainability of our communities, which is directly related to challenging corporate interests, and promoting minority rights. I hope the connections between seemingly disparate campaign issues becomes clearer as I proceed to tease out the relevant information about Clinton and Sanders. If the below feels heavily slanted against Clinton I hope it becomes obvious why. The thought central to my inquiry into ‘Clinton vs. Sanders’ is this: which candidate can we entrust the future to. I’m in no way concerned with my own welfare and how any of these issues affect ME; rather, I’m concerned with how these issues affect humanity as a whole, with the understanding that the Earth is the only home we have. So that’s where I’m coming from.

 Historical-Environmental Context

For years now our Earth has continuously gotten warmer, and this year climate change has contributed to the hottest temperatures ever since we started keeping track.

The next president will come into office with their back up against the climate wall. Put simply, we are just plain out of time…everything is moving faster than the scientific modeling has prepared us for. The ice is melting faster. The oceans are rising faster.[1]

You may not be convinced by the apocalyptic degree of danger that the Earth is in- which is fine, since a lot of people also didn’t think the earth was round or that it revolved around a sun at one point either- but you may be convinced that environmental care corresponds directly with impacting our economy, social welfare, and all things progressive. Taking care of the environment and reducing CO2 emissions, for example, have direct ramifications on big businesses, the most powerful of which are entrenched in the fossil-fuel industry, which in turn affects international relations and human rights. Addressing climate change means challenging the hegemony of the two most wealthy and powerful forces on the planet- fossil-fuel corporations and the banks that finance them. So which candidate is best equipped to go toe-to-toe against the unstoppable wave of capitalistic forces and redirect the course of history? (If you’d like to learn more about the environmental crisis we face I highly recommend this entertaining and easily digestible 9-episode Showtime series: Years of Living Dangerously)

Clinton Money Complicit in Climate Change

When challenged that her campaign was in part being funded by fossil-fuel companies, Clinton supporters- ranging from California Senator Barbara Boxer to New York Mayor Bill de Blasio to NYT columnist Paul Krugman[2]- all came out of the woodwork attempting to silence a supposed non-issue, denouncing the fossil-fuel allegations as lies. Greenpeace calculates that $4.5 million of the Clinton campaign has received money from fossil-fuel connected donors. But there’s more. Among Clinton’s benefactors is one Warren Buffet who is “up to his eyeballs in coal, including coal transportation and some of the dirtiest coal-fired power plants in the country.” Exxon, Shell, ConocoPhillips, Chevron have all contributed to the Clinton Foundation in recent years. Including Enbridge lobbyists– and it should be highlighted that as Secretary of State, Clinton signed off on the Enbridge pipeline (alternative to Keystone XL pipeline) to be constructed to transport crude oil from Alaska to Wisconsin despite the negative impact it will have on climate change.[3] This just screams abuse of power and an agenda that is clearly pro-corporate interests and antithetical to environmental ethics.[4] Three lobbyists from Enbridge, the company responsible for building the pipeline, are contributing to Clinton’s campaign. From fossil-fuel companies to its lobbyists to businesses directly tied to fossil fuel interests, Clinton’s campaign is buried deep in an ideology that is fundamentally opposed to environmental care. And it doesn’t end there.

On the issue of fracking, she has promoted and sold the idea around the globe. ‘Fracking’, for those unfamiliar, is the process of drilling and injecting fluid into the ground at high pressure in order to fracture hard to reach rocks to extract the gas inside. It takes 400 tanker trucks to carry a total of 1-8 million gallons of water, chemicals and supplies to the site. Of the 600 chemicals used in fracking fluid, more than a few are carcinogenic and toxic: lead, uranium, mercury, ethylene glycol, methanol, hydrochloric acid, just to name a few. 500k active gas wells in the U.S. x 8m gallons of water per frack x 18 times a well can be fracked= 72 trillion gallons of water and 360 billion gallons of chemicals needed to run the wells. During this process methane gas and toxic chemicals are leaked out into nearby groundwater, 17x higher than in normal wells, water which is used for drinking in nearby towns and cities. Waste fluid is then left to evaporate releasing harmful compounds into the atmosphere adding to the concentration of all the shit already trapped up there.[5]

In 2011 Bulgaria signed a 5year $68m deal with Chevron granting millions of acres in shale gas concessions. This deal outraged Bulgarians and the government responded by passing a fracking ban. Clinton then intervened on behalf of Chevron -who conveniently financially supports Clinton- and weeks later Bulgaria’s parliament eased its moratorium on fracking.[6] (Which coincidentally also influenced neighboring country Romania to reverse its ban on fracking.) This is just one small episode in a much larger and insidious narrative of promoting fracking for political interests that are antithetical to fighting climate change.

OK, so Clinton is clearly not qualified to lead the charge to save our environment. Likewise, she is unqualified to lead the charge in economic reform considering how closely climate change and big business is related. But she has ‘experience’. This misconceived belief in Clinton’s experience has led her supporters to arrive at the conclusion that she ‘gets things done’- but what kind of things?

The Clinton Experience

Sure, Clinton might be great at warring against Republicans, and has more experience in office than Sanders does, but what good is said experience if it just results in more of the same? Well-meaning voters pay lip service to this concept of ‘experience’ but what does it really mean other than feeling at home in a system that has become comfortable with zero accountability. The kind of ‘experience’ that Clinton embodies is not the kind that brings about change; to lean on this concept of experience is not progressive, it is being beholden to a concept of value correlated with accumulated and fetishized moments of time. The ‘experience’ of someone with a corporate ideology is the experience that her supporters are blindly referring to– the kind that votes for the Iraq war, that votes for the Monsanto protection act, that has promoted fracking around the globe, that has catered to fossil fuel and big business interests. Someone mired in the experience of this cesspool of power is not suited to the task of implementing or sustaining any notion of progressive change.

Since its inception the Clinton Foundation  has operated under the belief that any problem can be solved by partnering with the wealthy– so one shouldn’t be surprised by what powerful influences shape her policies. Her so-called ‘solutions’ always come packaged as market-friendly, appeasing the interests of the powerful and rich while giving the illusion of being progressive among voters. Such as the Bulgaria/Chevron incident above. How it looked on the surface was: providing affordable fuel, but underneath this supposed ‘win’ lurks the acceleration of global warming and the increase of a major corporation’s power, a corporation that helps fund her campaign. Scenarios like this have become the norm with the Clintons’ win-win ways. But this give and take, while on the surface seems effective, has been the very ideology that has brought our environment (both natural and economic) into the crisis it faces today.

Sanders and his supporters understand something critical: It won’t all be win-win. For any of this to happen, fossil-fuel companies, which have made obscene profits for many decades, will have to start losing. And losing more than just the tax breaks and subsidies that Clinton is promising to cut. They will also have to lose the new drilling and mining leases they want; they’ll have to be denied permits for the pipelines and export terminals they very much want to build. They will have to leave trillions of dollars’ worth of proven fossil-fuel reserves in the ground.

 Meanwhile, if solar panels proliferate on rooftops, big power utilities will lose a significant portion of their profits, since their former customers will be in the energy-generation business. This would create opportunities for a more level economy and, ultimately, for lower utility bills—but once again, some powerful interests will have to lose (which is why Warren Buffett’s coal-fired utility in Nevada has gone to war against solar).[7]

There exists a deeper underlying problem beneath the superficial critique of Clinton’s ties to corporate funding and influence: it’s not simply the money, it’s her fundamental worldview that cannot admit that the ties to corporate cash is a problem to begin with. Clinton is so deeply embedded in corporate relations that she is incapable of parsing the difference between problem and solution. Her solutions are simultaneously the problems, new and old.  Care for the environment is simultaneously the care for humans that inhabit this environment. But our economics has created an environment in which we treat the other as competitor, not as fellow participant and co-sharer in a world that no one can rightfully claim as their own. The legacy of control and domination over nature directly affects how we treat other humans.

When so much of Clinton’s policies are shaped by corporate interests antithetical to environmental preservation how can she possibly be seen as progressive, let alone a ‘democratic’ candidate with people’s best interest at heart? What Hillary represents is the inhuman corporate machine of capitalistic and anthropocentric interests that has forever paraded itself about as being concerned with the everyday man but this is simply not the case. This is the kind of experience that her supporters are so proud of? This is her stellar track record of getting things done? For who?

Clinton Politicks- Gun Control and Minority Support

Give the Clinton campaign credit. They are great at politicking. They are great at spinning and distorting headlines to avoid the truth of issues. Here are just two examples that keep coming up during the primaries: the minority support for Clinton, and Sanders’ support of gun manufacturers. Both issues, when analyzed exposes just how deceptive the Clinton camp can be.

Clinton tweeted: @BernieSanders prioritized gun manufacturers’ rights over the parents of the children killed at Sandy Hook. This tweet is entirely misleading but the way in which it is worded does its job: it appeals to voters’ emotions by using a false analogy. Basically, Sanders is on the progressive side of the gun control debate. He has voted to ban assault rifles, to expand background checks on gun buyers, and supports closing down the loopholes that allow people to illegally buy guns. Furthermore, he understands that the fundamental problem to gun violence is not the guns themselves or the gun manufacturers, it is the inability of our healthcare system to adequately take care of those who suffer from mental health issues. Basically, the problem is systemic. Sanders understands that to deal with gun violence one needs to address infrastructure such as education and healthcare. When a drunk person gets into a car and runs someone over with it, you do not sue the car manufacturer. It is the person using the car irresponsibly who is at fault. This is just one reason why the Clinton tweet is insidious in its intent and flat out false in its suggestion. The other reason is very simple: during Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State, the U.S. made twice as much in arms sales to foreign countries (most with sketch human rights records) than the Bush regime did in total. Many countries whose governments donated directly to the Clinton Foundation! Clinton is flat out hypocritical here in her stance against gun violence. She pays lip service to it while profiting from arms sales to corrupt regimes elsewhere in the world.[8] Oh yea, she supports drones too. You can’t make this shit up.

The Clinton campaign prides itself on the overwhelming support it gets from minorities. During primary debates you’ll hear about how Clinton won all the states in the ‘deep south’ with large numbers of minority voters. To be fair, this is something that baffles me. I have absolutely no substantive explanation for why there is so much minority support for the Clintons. I’m tempted to think that the electorate is simply misinformed, deceived and blindly buying into the Clinton brand very much like how Trump supporters have bought into his brand. Or, as Sanders argues- they are simply incredibly conservative in the South.

The idea that Clinton is the candidate for minorities makes no sense. When you’re this deep in corporate influence and this complicit in climate change you are fundamentally opposed to ‘minoritarian’ values[9]. Trickle down economics simply does not work. The notion of a sustainable future is at the heart of the youth and green movements. Environmental ethics go hand-in-hand with human ethics. The present is one ruled by the wealthy and powerful. The future is promised to the poor and disenfranchised, to the structural ‘other’ of the white property-owning straight male. To challenge things like income disparity, an issue close to the heart of many minorities, is to challenge corporatocracy, which is simultaneously to be pro-sustainability and pro-environment. Clinton is none of these things and clearly does not represent ‘minority interests’.

Nate Silver published a blog piece addressing this very issue titled: “Clinton is Winning the States That Look Like the Democratic Party.”[10] Using statistical analysis Silver shows how all the states won by Clinton have somehow been more ‘democratic’ than states Sanders has won. Well, what exactly does the ‘democratic party’ look like? According to Silver, the larger the percentage of racial minorities, the more aesthetically democratic a thing looks. The very premise behind his article is faulty. Why? Because it suggests that a ‘democrat’ is directly equated with a certain racial makeup. It’s classic white-man power politics- the reduction of any complex issue to identity politics. This in turn becomes a tacit way of policing the democratic party, and what it ‘ought’ to look like. ‘Democrats’ are identified by more than just racial profiles, there’s stuff like, y’know, ideology involved too- justice, equality, ethics, etc. Masquerading itself as scientific evidence of Clinton’s minority support, it’s shit like this that every voter is up against when trying to sort through all the bullshit in the news. The suggestion that Clinton is the minority’s candidate is asinine. “The last thing we need is a second republican party.” Which leads me to my last major point of analysis.

Sanders the Outsider

“Ok, so maybe Clinton’s experience and policies have been sketch…but what has Sanders done?”

A response to that criticism requires context. I will start by alluding to a statement I made above, that bad news reporting such as Silver’s functions as a way to police what the democratic party ought to look like. And Sanders does not fit this corporate media profile. Bernie hasn’t been able to get ‘much done’, as his critics are apt to point out, because he works in an environment where he is constantly the minority position. Being anti-establishment within the establishment doesn’t win you many allies. His critics are quick to point out, his ’marginal status in congress [has resulted in him having] done nothing’.[11] Stop to consider that this ‘nothing’ has everything to do with not supporting bad legislation after bad legislation, that this ‘nothing’ is the wisdom to withhold action, when said action panders to all that he stands against. The critic’s response then is that Bernie is too ‘extreme’, too far to the left- a place one cannot govern from because it does not represent a majority of ‘Americans’- to get along with the rest of the kids in the playground. So then the argument shifts towards the notion of compromise. But this is just not Sanders’ modus operandi. It is compromise after compromise, the slippery slope of working with big business, etc that has brought us to the dire situation we are in today. The question then becomes: would you rather a president that repeats much of the same that has created our current conditions, but sells the illusion of work and progress, or would you rather a president that may not be able to get much done, but will be able to stop our present collision course, and at the least inhibit the neofascist republicans and the ever shifting right-wards democrats from digging ourselves into a deeper hole?

The Progressive’s Responsibility towards the Future

The idea of ‘progressiveness’ is constantly paraded about by campaigners, and with it, the notion of ‘liberalism’ is usually not too far behind. But the use of the term by politicians adds oxygen to their fires of moronity- it’s oxymoronic. Progression implies a movement of change, not the continuation of the status quo. While a lot can be said to paint politics as something that is fundamentally opposed to progress (especially in the context of late-capitalism and neo-liberalism where the only notion of ‘change’ has to do with regime turnover. In other words, power remains the same), the intention behind this section is to compare Bernie and Clinton on this notion of ‘progressiveness’, and highlight the disparity between therein.

I’ll start by saying that there can be no concept of the progressive without the embraced recognition of youth movements. What typically comes with adulthood is resistance to change; in other words, the older we get, the more we become set in our ways. This is in-part a function of an inadequate way of how we tend to relate to our memories- we tend to mistake memories of personal experiences as ‘true’ or reflective of reality, but not just any reality, my reality, and in this way it becomes difficult to break free from a narcissistic and egocentric worldview the older one gets. Other phenomena are simultaneously at play of course- habit, routine, tradition, upbringing, social context, etc. Adults don’t have the free time at their disposal to play, hence they stop exploring or learning and relating to their world in a way that is not instrumental, or a means to an end. Adults tend to relate to their world in terms of utility, a place that they can manipulate and maneuver around to fit their needs. Children who, by virtue of having not lived as long, and hence not having been repeatedly beat in the head by socializing influences, are not ‘in’ the world, they are ‘with’ the world. Their sense of self is as yet amorphous and elastic, everything is affective, nothing is yet hierarchical, values are not judged relative to their instrumental worth but rather to the capacity to free the imagination. Hence a stick and wheel may be of more value than a bar of gold. All to say, youth are constantly relating to and reimagining the world in different ways that are creative and not bound to the static laws and standards that adults have become habitualized and medicated into.

Exit polls show that Clinton holds a large majority of voters over 45, while Sanders inversely has the large majority of the youth vote, especially of those under 30.  The interpretation of this demographic divide typically dismisses youth as being idealistic and naïve. Again, the underlying assumption of ‘experience’ looms large here. Just as they will appeal to Clinton’s political experience, older voters will similarly appeal to their own experience of being ‘veteran voters’; which, by some leap of entitled logic leads them to conclude that their judgment on what constitutes ‘good politics’ trumps the naiveté of the twitter generation. But what is unique about having voted after the fallout of the ‘60s through the cold war to now is that there forms a gravitational pull away from a sense of empowerment, or ‘hope’, and towards fear instead. What I’m suggesting is that fear seems to be a driving influence behind Clinton supporters who, despite recognizing Sanders’ progressive platform, base their vote on who will more handedly defeat whatever clown the Far-Right throws into the ring. And of course the repeated majority of the ‘fear vote’ has led to the ever-rightward shift of the political spectrum towards authoritarianism and ‘national security’ (i.e. imperialism and enforcing national interests abroad). The force of such gravity is great and difficult to withstand. As I stated above in my introduction, what concerns me in my decision to vote is not my own interest; rather, I’m trying to take in a holistic view and understand how it is precisely this logic of private interests that have co-opted the political process. I think this is a concept that a lot of young people are plugged into. Especially those of us dealing with high rent prices and unsustainable living conditions in urban areas, those of us who grew up listening to ‘Fuck tha Police’ and who realize that nothing has changed, those of us who’ve inherited this world of economic shambles and environmental decay. All these disparate issues that the older generations are able to so easily compartmentalize and seemingly so eager to dump onto youth are recognized by the youth as interconnected problems for which solutions need to be ‘revolutionary’.

Back to the Future

The concept of ‘future’ is often alluded to during election campaigns. ‘A better tomorrow’ is always the goal. Building a sustainable present for future generations. If this is so then climate change needs to be front and center of our election discussions since there is nothing threatening the very existence of tomorrow more than global warming. I’m pretty sure no one is gonna deny the importance of the future, which is why our policies in the here and now need to change and cannot be about legacy dedicated to buttressing outdated ideologies (i.e. Clinton Foundation). Environmental ethics is, to me, the most important political issue of our time because it directly affects all facets of social life.

To be able to move forward in a progressive way demands transparency. Secrets of the past continue to mire Clinton in shadow politics while Sanders is as transparent and honest as can be. Take for example how Clinton’s speeches to Goldman Sachs have yet to be released to the public; which just adds ammunition to the critique that Clinton and corporate America are bedfellows. And then there’s Sander’s courageous stand for the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

This is why Sanders is more progressive than Clinton, and why Clinton has increasingly become difficult to distinguish from a Republican (see following chart). While it is extremely important, the topic of climate change isn’t simply about environmental ethics; it is also about economic policy and corporate influence, and ultimately about a philosophy and worldview that treats minoritarian values with respect. To be pro-environment is to be anti-capitalist, anti-racist, and anti-sexist. Sustainability is directly correlated with corporate responsibility, which economically impacts the poor.

(courtesy of politicalcompass.org)

“But Hillary has this thing in the bag. She will win.” In a world where we show our absolute fear and hostility towards an uncertain future in our unwavering faith in risk analysis and risk management, ykno- the statistical revolution- the concept of the future or tomorrow has been negated in favor of a predetermined and manufactured ‘land of tomorrow’. But who creates this vision of the future? The statistics show that the outcome of the primary race is all but assured. The force of mathematical trend is absolute and undeniable. While there is a fundamental and deeply concerning flaw to such uber conservative logic- making decisions, living life based on the best odds- even if we could look into the future and see that Clinton indeed does win, how would one vote regardless? And this comes down to what it means to vote. Does one vote to be part of the winning team? To be able to say, I made the ‘right’ decision…conflating ‘rightness’ with ‘majority outcome’? That’s just one side of the problem with election rhetoric- that there must be a winner and loser. In reality there is neither. We only declare winners and losers when all is said and done, but the end is never reached. If one does not vote to have made the ‘right’ prediction, then does one vote to have their voice be heard? Voting in the face of inevitable loss is a vastly different experience from voting in the face of certain victory. The former shows courage. Kinda like the way Sanders continues to campaign despite all indications that he is fighting a losing battle.

This election season is the rare occurrence where those that feel beaten down and completely disempowered and incapable of actively doing something to effect change…can actually do something about it. Places of power are VIP access only. You and I have very little influence to affect the kinda change necessary to curb the tides of war and destruction our politics are so drawn to. So the opportunity to be a part of placing a representative of actual progressive interests in a seat of power is not an opportunity to be wasted or taken for granted. Don’t get me wrong. I’m as cynical as they come. Even if the ideal candidate in an imaginary scenario winds up in the White House I’d still think ‘we’re all screwed’. But the Clinton corporate machine and all its bullshit was just too much for me to ignore. Even if Sanders loses (which is likely), the hope is he’ll have pulled Clinton back towards the left some.


[1] http://www.thenation.com/article/the-problem-with-hillary-clinton-isnt-just-her-corporate-cash-its-her-corporate-worldview/

[2] Krugman published a morally induced and moronically self-righteous piece in the NYT lecturing the Sanders campaign on ‘guidelines for good behavior’. Just another example of the waning influence and authority of the NYT in general. http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2016/04/01/feel-the-math/?_r=0

[4] https://casetext.com/case/sierra-club-v-clinton

[5] http://www.dangersoffracking.com/

[6] http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2014/09/hillary-clinton-fracking-shale-state-department-chevron

[7] http://www.thenation.com/article/the-problem-with-hillary-clinton-isnt-just-her-corporate-cash-its-her-corporate-worldview/

[8] http://www.ibtimes.com/clinton-foundation-donors-got-weapons-deals-hillary-clintons-state-department-1934187

[9] I use the term ‘minority’ here with great unease, but for practical purposes since everyday voters will equate ‘minority’ issues with poor, urban, issues related to income equality and racial justice. But make no mistake about it, the very use of the term ‘minority’ already structurally fixes non-whites in a position of disenfranchisement.

[10] http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/clinton-is-winning-the-states-that-look-like-the-democratic-party/

[11] http://www.democracynow.org/2016/4/15/robert_scheer_v_torie_osborn_a

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Dave - Feeling the Bern, huh?

On Intellectual Responsibility

“Intellectuals should make public use of the professional knowledge that they possess, on their own initiative and without being commissioned by anyone to do so. They need not be neutral and eschew partisanship, but they should be aware of their own fallibility. They should limit themselves to relevant issues; in other words, they should endeavor to improve the deplorable discursive level of public debates. Intellectuals must walk a difficult tightrope in other respects as well. they should not use the influence they acquire through their words as a means to gain power, thus confusing influence with authority tied to positions in party organization or government. Intellectuals cease to be intellectuals once they assume public office [one ceases to reflect and critique in freedom once tethered to the expected adherence to some prevailing ideology]. If there is one thing intellectuals- a species that has so often attacked its own kind and pronounced its demise- cannot allow themselves, then it is to become cynical.” (paraphrased from Between Naturalism and Religion x Habermas, pp. 22-23)

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