A ‘choiceless choice’

Which Democratic candidate had the country's best interests at heart? Keystone

Being a socialist in America was so frustrating that Kali Tal left the country for Europe a decade ago. She saw Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders as a real option for the Presidency. Now the former university professor has little hope that Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump will make the world a better place.

This content was published on July 24, 2016 - 17:00
Kali Tal in Bern

Throughout my decades of teaching American and African-American Studies at US universities, I tried to instill the same hope and desire for progress in my students that had always inspired me. But in October of 2005 I stopped teaching and left the country because I could no longer offer young people that hope. I had lost it myself.

A life of antiracist and feminist activism had made me, quite literally, sick and tired. We won a few battles, but the Supreme Court’s appointment of George W. Bush as President over Al Gore in 2000 and a Supreme Court under conservative judge Antonin Scalia made it clear progressives had lost the war, and I couldn’t live with that.

I left because I loved the United States – I loved the idea of it, I loved the continual expansion of rights embodied in our Constitution, and I loved the liberal ideals on which the country was founded – and I could not bear their betrayal. I had an opportunity to move to Berlin, and took it. Later I relocated to Switzerland.

Kali Tal has a B.A. (University of California at Santa Cruz) and a PhD (Yale University) in American Studies, and taught at universities in the US for 20 years, most lately as a Professor of Humanities at The University of Arizona. She is a lifelong Democratic socialist who has always voted Democrat. She lives in Bern, Switzerland. Courtesy of the author

A candidate with possibilities

Like many expats, I follow US politics closely, and I vote. Until he withdrew from the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, I had planned to vote for Bernie Sanders. He represented the possibility that the Democratic party could return to the ideals of men like Bobby Kennedy or Jimmy Carter. That the party might again represent the working and middle class, and address the needs of the poor and disadvantaged. That was liberalism in the era in which I came of age.

Despite its flaws, and despite its focus on reform rather than radical change, the party under Sanders was a Democratic party I could support ­– if not enthusiastically, at least without feeling nauseated and furious at my choice of candidates. Perhaps, if Sanders had begun to campaign earlier, if he had spent his years of service reaching out to communities of colour on a national level, the Democrats could have nominated a candidate of that calibre, and I could have again settled for reform while continuing to work for systemic change.

The lesser of two evils

Perhaps it was foolish to deny the inevitability of Hillary Clinton’s nomination. But Sanders helped me rediscover the hope I’d lost, and I didn't want to lose it again. Clinton will, however, be the nominee, which means that the choice US progressives are always forced to make between “the lesser of two evils” is no longer a choice at all: it is a total defeat.

Like many other progressives, I had watched the expansion of neoliberalism with horror. I, and others, had written about the danger of privatising public utilities and services (from telecommunications to prisons), the disaster that the North American Free Trade Agreement would bring, the inevitability of a market crash, the pending student loan crisis, the destruction of public education, the erosion of civil rights. I had watched the Democratic party embrace the unfettered capitalism and corporate expansionism of neoliberalism over every liberal argument against them.

The Democratic party moved ever more to the right, abandoning local problems and local politics to the Republicans, who consolidated their power in state elections and in the House of Representatives. The rights that progressive Democrats had fought hard to secure (voting rights, consumers’ rights, workers’ rights, women’s rights) had all began to erode under President Ronald Reagan, and neither Bill Clinton nor Barack Obama (I voted for them both) reclaimed the ground that the Republicans had captured.

Now, we are exactly where progressive scholars and activists and radical economists predicted we would be: democratic institutions are crumbling, human rights are being trampled, corporations determine which political candidates will be elected, and wealth is so concentrated in the hands of the 1% that today inequality rivals the imbalances of feudalism. The US has the largest prison population in the world, unarmed citizens are shot down in our streets by a heavily militarized police force, we execute innocent men based on admittedly flawed DNA evidence, we openly run an assassination and illegal detention program, we condone torture, and we protect corporations over our own citizens, and the citizens of any other nation. 

‘Not my kind of feminist’

Some argue that Sanders and Clinton are “so close” on the issues, it should be easy to support her, but they are wrong. Clinton brags of her close relationship with Henry Kissinger and his approval of her policy. She supports banks over people, trade “rights” over Constitutional and human rights, privatisation over public utilities, and war over peace. Her supporters argue she has the “experience” for the job, but it’s the wrong kind. She’s a woman, and I’m a feminist, but she is not my kind of feminist. Her policy decisions have created millions of refugee women and children, exploited and endangered women and child workers around the world, funneled money from the poor to the rich, and supported repressive dictatorships.

Clinton is simply the next step in the long shift to the right: she embodies heartless corporate elitism, just as Donald Trump embodies megalomaniacal corporate elitism. For decades, the Clintons and Trump have coexisted harmoniously in the same circles. Trump even donated generously to Clinton’s political campaigns – his political donations have always skewed Democrat, even though he covers his bases like most billionaires.

What happens next?

I’m still not sure who I’ll vote for on election day. If I do vote for Clinton in November, against my principles and in absolute despair, what can I expect out of a Clinton victory? Will those who supported Sanders join with progressive Clinton supporters to build a movement devoted to replacing Republicans and corporate Democrats with local and state officials whose values match our own? The political system is now so broken that we will always have to save America from someone. So let’s start talking about what's going to happen after the election, because, at this point, it’s the only thing that matters.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of swissinfo.ch.

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