At least we’re not protofascists, right? Psychologist and New Matilda columnist Dr Lissa Johnson looks back on the Clinton campaign trail, forward to the next President of the United States, and she tries to explain why the left is so confronted by it all.
It’s nearly over. The winner of the most unhinged election campaign in US history will soon be revealed.
In the home stretch Donald Trump has been gaining on Hillary Clinton. Most polls put Clinton slightly ahead, but the race is tight. Guy Rundle said in Crikey on Tuesday, “I would mentally prepare yourself for the prospect of President Trump.”
To push herself over the line, Clinton “unleashed a fresh offensive” against Trump on gender grounds this week, asserting her natural feminine advantage. She said, “For my entire life, I’ve been a woman… And when I think about what we now know about Donald Trump… he sure has spent a lot of time demeaning, degrading, insulting and assaulting women.”
Barack Obama joined in, adding “if you disrespected women before you were elected, you will disrespect women once you’re president”. He noted, “We have to get over the hump” of electing the first female president of the United States.
The big question on everyone’s lips is, “Will the real candidate for women, Green Party candidate Jill Stein, get the game changing five percent her party needs to really ‘launch the independent political movement Americans are clamouring for?’”
Just kidding. Most media are still pretending that Clinton is the only female candidate in the race. Capitalising on this, Clinton said of Trump, “He thinks belittling women makes him a bigger man… He doesn’t see us as full human beings.”
She’s probably right. It’s a safe strategy. Clinton may have a history of waging brutal, bloody wars on false pretexts, but she never boasted about grabbing women by the crotch.
The last time Trump and Clinton waged this ‘political war with the weapon of an abused female body’, Clinton won. She could win again. If I were Clinton, though, I’d be glad that of all my allies’ abused female victims, Trump had only ever focussed on my husband’s.
I’d be relieved that no-one had brought up victims of my other allies. Like Saudi Arabia, with it’s system of gender apartheid. A system in which women are not full citizens but live under male guardianship, can be stoned to death for adultery, and where it is a crime for a woman to report having been assaulted by a man. A system that practices “near-identical punishments for a host of crimes” as ISIS.
I’d be pleased that no-one had called out my willingness to look the other way over such things, in return for $10-25 million in Saudi donations to the Clinton Foundation. Not to mention big Saudi arms deals for my other big donors, arms-manufacturers. Plus $500,000 worth of jewellery, and cups of tea on occasion.
What’s a little gender apartheid between friends?
But ‘gender apartheid’ is such an abstract term. It doesn’t arouse passions and speak to hearts and minds in the same way as real women with real names, faces and stories, like Trump’s accusers.
So I would be especially glad that no-one had connected the leaked memo of 17th August 2014, in which I said that I knew the Saudis funded and supported terror groups (as I had said in 2009), with events that occurred two weeks earlier, on August 3rd 2014.
On that day, in Mount Sinjar in Northern Iraq, ISIS militants stormed Sinjar, slaughtering, abducting and enslaving its Yazidi inhabitants, a religious minority in the region.
During the takeover, Yazidi women and girls were captured by militants and taken for use as sexual slaves. Thousands of Yazidi women still remain in ISIS captivity, but some have escaped and come forward to tell their stories.
Madline, 17, for instance, recalls, “My life was simply perfect before… The weather in our region was lovely, especially in spring. Everything was green. The gardens were in bloom… I went to school. I had a mum and dad, brothers and sisters. We weren’t rich but our life was beautiful.”
Vian, 15, says “They shot at the ground around us. And then they seized me… Many [of the other girls]were very beautiful. They took them to Syria. We sat and cried together many times, and I didn’t even know their names.
“I can’t even speak about what I saw there. When I remember, I start choking, and then I just want to kill myself, again. They did it to a 10-year-old girl. Her hands were tied. How could she avoid it? They were very aggressive and molested the girls up to 10 times a day.
“…The problem [now]is that I don’t feel happiness inside… [I] can’t get it out of my head… I wanted to become a doctor, but I no longer have any dreams. I just want to be with my parents. I can’t even make friends. I can’t talk to a girl who hasn’t been through what I have.”
Enslaved women such as Madline and Vian were traded and sold by militants in slave markets organised on WhatsApp. Video footage shows fighters joking about an upcoming slave market and exchanging girls for guns. US guns, likely as not.
Given the recently leaked email exchange two weeks after Madline and Vian were abducted, if I were Clinton I’d be glad that no-one was asking hard questions. Questions such as, “How much did Clinton know? Why didn’t she stand up for those women, abducted at US-gunpoint by men acting with the backing of her close partner, donor and ally, Saudi Arabia? How far does ‘look the other way’ go?”
Julian Assange has said of the August 17 email, “I think this is the most significant email in the whole collection… All serious analysts know, and even the US government has agreed, that some Saudi figures have been supporting ISIS and funding ISIS, but the dodge has always been that it is some “rogue” princes using their oil money to do whatever they like… But that email says that it is the government of Saudi Arabia, and the government of Qatar that have been funding ISIS.”
Since the events of 2014 the plight of the Yazidis has become increasingly well known. Last month a Yazidi survivor, Nadia Murad, was awarded a peace prize and appointed a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador. Amal Clooney is currently representing Nadia at the International Criminal Court (ICC), in the hopes that “perpetrators can be tracked down and held accountable”.
What is not emphasised in the accounts of the Yazidi’s trauma, however, is the US-Saudi connection. The elephant in the room is that the fighters who capture and abuse the Yazidis are backed by the US and Saudi Arabia. They are equipped with Saudi training and ideology, Saudi money and US arms, all with US knowledge and co-operation, including Secretary of State Hilary Clinton’s knowledge and co-operation.
Despite knowing since at least 2009 that Saudi Arabia backs terror groups, including knowing in 2014 that the Saudi Government backed ISIS, the US and Clinton have continued pouring billions of dollars worth of arms into Saudi Arabia. In fact, Saudi Arabia is the largest arms market for the United States.
Medea Benjamin, founder of Code Pink says, “Instead of sanctioning the Saudis [for backing terrorism], Clinton did the opposite: She authorized enormous quantities of weapons to be sold to them. On Christmas Eve in 2011, Hillary Clinton and her closest aides celebrated a massive $29.4 billion sale to the Saudis of over 80 F-15 fighter jets, manufactured by Boeing [a Clinton Foundation donor].”
Equally damning is the fact that the US-Saudi armed extremists abducting Yazidi women belong to the same militant opposition groups that the US and Gulf states currently back in Syria. Dr Tim Anderson of Sydney University, author of The Dirty War on Syria says, “Whatever else people may or may not understand about the Syrian conflict, they should be clear that the US ‘war on terrorism’ in Syria and Iraq is a fraud. Directly or indirectly, Washington remains the key supporter of ISIS, al Nusra and the rest.”
According to a United Nations report released in June this year, ISIS continues to target Yazidis for torture and extermination in Syria. The report said that more than 3,200 Yazidi women remain in ISIS captivity to date, primarily in Syria. The UN concluded that this amounts to crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide. Secretary of State John Kerry agreed.
Piecing it all together, US-Gulf backed opposition fighters in Syria have been committing war crimes, rape and genocide against the Yazidis for years. This includes abducting Yazidi women, holding them captive, and using and selling them as sexual slaves.
It makes a mockery of Clinton’s attacks on Russia over alleged Syrian war crimes during the second presidential debate. Particularly as Clinton used claims of imminent rape by soldiers as part of her justification for regime change in Libya in 2011. By her own logic the US is overdue for some regime change of its own.
Given the current legal action in the ICC over war crimes against Yazidis, Clinton is fortunate that the ICC has a history of convicting only African leaders.
If elected, Clinton promises to escalate the war on Syria, leaving a trail of abused female bodies behind her. As she beats the drums of war, she is unlikely to tell American women that Syria was the first Middle East and North African Nation to give women the vote, or that it was the first nation in the region to elect a woman to parliament.
Should Clinton become the first female president of the United States, it might be celebrated as a victory for women’s rights, but it will be a sad day “for women living in countries that she desperately wants to bomb”.
Jill Stein says of women around the world, “We [The Green Party] don’t support bombing other people’s kids… The U.S. should not be in the business of buoying up oppressive dictators like Saudi Arabia that is sponsoring jihadi terrorism world-over, as Hillary Clinton herself said in a State Department memo put out by WikiLeaks.”
Clinton is so lucky that she’s not running against Jill Stein. As Comedian-journalist Lee Camp of Redacted Tonight said after the last presidential debate, “All you have to do is stand her next to a neofascist and she looks like [the]Easter Bunny”.
Perhaps that is why the Guardian said of Clinton’s debate performance, “It’s about women everywhere. How fitting it would be if she – another woman he’s insulted – speeds past him to the most powerful job in the world.”
I know that Clinton has the mainstream media in her pocket and wrapped around her finger, but still, why hasn’t all the damning leaked information hurt her more? Even many alternative media outlets have swallowed the lesser evil pill, and pretended that Trump and Clinton are the only candidates in the race, leak after leak after leak.
Why? How has Clinton survived so many damaging revelations? And what can we expect going forward?
A look back at the campaign trail might hold some clues.
Blame the Russians
If in doubt, blame the Russians. Caught stealing the primaries? Blame the Russians. Overheard mocking environmentalists and defending fracking? Blame the Russians. Colluding with Wall Street? Blame the Russians. It would probably work for the Yazidi slave trade, too.
It’s a psychological snap. Russia has been so demonised for so long that the words “Russian” and “aggression” roll effortlessly off the tongue. No substantiation is required.
As Professor Gary Leupp of Tufts University says, most Western narratives on Putin and Russia have long been “blissfully free of any need to provide evidence”. No wonder leaked emails between Clinton, her campaign chair John Podesta and columnist Brent Budowsky advised that the “best approach [this election]is to slaughter Donald for his bromance with Putin”. No evidence necessary.
Clinton took this advice to NeoMcCarthyist extremes. If you’re not with her, you’re a Russian stooge.
Republican Trump was cast as Putin’s Puppet, as was Green Party nominee Jill Stein. Wikileaks and Julian Assange were Kremlin operatives performing Russian propaganda to secure a Trump victory on behalf of Putin, Trump’s brother in bromance. Glen Greenwald and The Intercept were dubbed Russian apologists, and Kremlin weapons. And, of course, Russia hacked the Democratic National Convention (DNC) to influence the US election via Wikileaks. No evidence required.
In a recent interview with John Pilger, Assange dispelled claims that the Wikileaks cables were supplied by Russian hacks. He said, “Clinton has stated multiple times, falsely, that 17 US intelligence agencies had assessed that Russia was the source of our publications. That’s false – we can say that the Russian government is not the source.”
All the red-baiting, needless to say, has served to distract from the substance of leaked information, the content of which Clinton’s camp does not deny. It also helps Clinton to position herself as the lesser evil not only against Trump, but against Vladmir Putin, which will be handy post-election if she decides to go to war. Plus she’ll need a new opponent against whom to look good.
As I discussed last week, many observers fear that demonising Putin serves to pave the psychological way for military confrontation with Russia post election. Jill Stein says, “On the issue of war and nuclear weapons, it is actually Hillary’s policies which are much scarier than Donald Trump, who does not want to go to war with Russia.”
Stereotyping leaders such as Putin as right-wing dictators, autocrats or the “grand godfather of [a]global brand of extreme nationalism” is an effective way to create pro-war nationalistic moral disengagement across the board, not just among ‘patriots’ such as Trump supporters. It appeals to progressive thinkers such as Democrats, who eschew the more obviously xenophobic forms of prejudice and ingroup glorification.
In the name of greater good, be it democracy or freedom, antipathy towards a ‘right wing’ ‘autocratic’ leader overshadows the people behind him, distracts from autocracies at home, and renders violence against his people more palatable.
If some Yazidi women get abducted as slaves along the way, so be it. That’s the lesser evil.
Shoot the messenger
Shooting messengers has been a second defining feature of the Clinton campaign. In a NeoMcCarthyist atmosphere this is easy do. Russophobic arrows are always handy. You needn’t think before you shout “Putin apologist!”
Even better, you can shoot indiscriminately, branding Republicans and Green Party candidates alike with the same wonderfully simple smear.
Messenger-shooting has been Clinton’s only real defence against Julian Assange. Calling him a Russian spy and Kremlin agent wasn’t enough, however. He has also been branded a paedophile (on the Russian payroll – of course), in what his legal team described as an “elaborate scam”.
Psychologists call this ‘derogation of moral advocates’. It is an easy psychological sell.
In research, people who publically point out their group’s moral failings, such as whistleblowers, watchdog journalists and activists, are more disliked, ostracised and personally attacked than others. Although such individuals often “display behaviours that can be considered heroic”, they are generally viewed as more annoying, offensive, arrogant, selfish, self-centred, obnoxious, greedy, insulting and traitorous.
One reason is that moral advocates bring shame on their society or social group, which many people don’t like. To preserve the group’s public image, people are inclined to take moral advocates down.
If you can’t just drone them, you can try taking down their internet, while keeping them arbitrarily detained in an Ecuadorian embassy under virtual solitary confinement. Psychologically, the collective impulse to punish moral advocates facilitates such human rights abuse, by blunting collective outrage at the mistreatment and fostering a feeling of just desserts.
Efforts to take down Julian Assange this election have not stopped there. To alienate his supporters on the left he has been painted as allied with Trump and the alt-right. This capitalises on the lesser-evil logic that any detractor of Clinton is an advocate of Trump.
In reality, when asked to choose between Trump and Clinton, Assange said, “You’re asking me, do I prefer cholera or gonorrhea?”
As well as damage control and deflection, publically shooting messengers such as Assange sends a chilling public message: keep your mouth shut. It gives other potential advocates pause for thought before speaking out, for instance about the US and its allies’ complicity in war crimes against Yazidi women.
Lesser evilism and moral advocates
When a population is under the psychological spell of lesser evilism, shooting the messenger is like shooting fish in a barrel. Not only do moral advocates threaten a group’s public-image, they threaten to weaken the lesser evil, risking defeat. In this case defeat by Donald Trump.
Many people are understandably worried about this. In Australia 80 per cent of us are concerned about the possibility of a Trump victory.
To keep Trump out, eminent thinkers have advocated lesser evil voting, as I explored last week. Noam Chomsky, for instance, has advised US citizens in swing states to hold their nose and vote for Clinton.
Although Chomsky was referring specifically to voting, lesser evilism has pervaded every aspect of public engagement with this election campaign, including thought and speech. The world seems wary to even contemplate or discuss alternatives to the two evils, such as third party candidates, lest the lesser-evil balance tip.
At the psychological heart of this collective self-censorship is no doubt the eternal political mover and shaker, fear. Among many progressive thinkers, in mortal fear of President Trump, a Clinton victory must be protected at all costs.
People might actually vote for a moral advocate like Jill Stein if they got to know her. Stein is so frightening because she’s so good. She wants to put people, the planet and peace before profit. Scary stuff.
Fear is also likely to exacerbate lesser evilism through unconscious cognitive mechanisms. When we are fearful our attention narrows, to focus myopically on threat. We scrutinise danger so that we may respond, in this case fixating endlessly on the horror that is Donald Trump.
Human beings are wired, under threat, to shut out unnecessary peripheral information, such as third party candidates we think will never win. Or information that might complicate our choice, such as Wikileaks documents. When in danger, we can’t afford to be distracted.
We look for a way out. The safest bet. The electable lesser evil.
Whatever her faults, Clinton is better than Trump, right? Anything’s better than Trump. Isn’t it?
Anything but him.
Messages that undermine Clinton, and the moral advocates that dispatch them, risk delivering us to evil.
They must be stopped.
Freedom of speech and suppression of information
“Can’t we just drone this guy?” Clinton reportedly said of Julian Assange.
Her defence was that “It would have been a joke”. Trump said essentially the same thing about the Access Hollywood recordings, calling them “banter”. His cavalier attitude towards sexual assault was widely condemned. Clinton’s cavalier attitude towards murder by drone was widely ignored, even though she authorised drone killings as Secretary of State, sometimes on her cell phone, causing many civilian deaths.
To a public in a shoot-the-messenger mood, Clinton’s remark may have seemed less sinister than it otherwise might. Joke or not, it expresses a psychological sentiment that lesser-evil thinking spawns.
Inconvenient truths, however truthful, must be eliminated. For the greater good, in the name of the lesser evil. Why wait to shoot the messenger when you can silence in the first place?
The human mind is exquisitely prone to such mental operations. We routinely filter, select, and distort information to support our preferred worldview. We do this without a second’s thought, literally, as it is mostly unconscious.
In the election context, information that damages the Clinton campaign becomes enemy fire. An intellectual no-fly zone protects the campaign trail, in which facts outside the campaign narrative are legitimate targets for destruction.
Heaven forbid that factual information might influence the election outcome. That’s not democracy, that’s treason. Never let facts get in the way of a good campaign story. In an eloquent article on the subject, Seckro Horvat says, “The question should finally be turned around: isn’t the US mainstream media the one influencing the US elections?”
Which could explain why the Russian English-language news channel RT is currently facing closure of its UK bank account, without explanation, “creating an objective obstacle to the channel’s further functioning”.
Fear of fact probably also explains the EU Foreign Affairs committee vote last month to “bolster institutional capacities to counter ‘Kremlin inspired propaganda’. According to journalist Finian Cunningham, “the next step would be institutional mechanisms to block Russian media access”, such as RT.
Oliver Stone has recently defended RT in the face of these threats, calling it “responsible”, “very clear about the facts” and “pluralistic”. Stone adds, “It’s difficult now to criticise America as we did in the 70s.”
Ask Democracy Now! journalist Amy Goodman. In an effort to bring facts onto the campaign trail, Goodman filmed protesters at the Dakota pipeline being attacked by security firms’ dogs. She is now facing charges of criminal trespass as a result. According to The Nation, “Bill McKibben has called the fight over the pipeline ‘a leadership test’ that presidential candidates cannot duck.”
Nevertheless, an arrest warrant was issued for presidential candidate Jill Stein after she joined the Standing Rock Sioux tribe to protest the pipeline. At least Stein wasn’t handcuffed to a chair for eight hours while surrounded by 16 police officers this time.
And then there’s the aggressive collusion between Clinton, the DNC and the media to silence her rivals, including Bernie Sanders. In another recently leaked email, a Clinton adviser wrote to campaign chair John Podesta, “Bernie [Sanders] needs to be ground to a pulp…. Crush him as hard as you can.” And Podesta replied, “I agree… Where would you stick the knife in?”
Yikes. Disagreeing with these people is not for the faint hearted.
I doubt, however, that all this censorship, self-censorship, corruption, intimidation and intellectual paralysis was what Noam Chomsky had in mind when he advocated lesser evil voting. He simply said “if you live in a swing state, hold your nose and vote for Clinton”.
The trouble is that that is psychologically difficult to do. Most people struggle to feel strongly one way and then act another. If they are to prepare for a Clinton victory, the psychological impulse is to try to like her. As David Swanson says, people “identify with their lesser evil candidate and delude themselves into adoring the person.”
Forgetting Jill Stein and women in Saudi Arabia and Syria and Iraq, Clinton looks great compared to Donald Trump. You could probably delude yourself into adoring her if you only focussed on him. As Christina Asquith, and Professor Valerie Hudson of the Program on Women, Peace, and Security at Texas University wrote, Donald Trump Was the Man Hilary Clinton Needed to Win the Women’s Vote.
Interestingly, after the “Access Hollywood” recording was released, the women who migrated to Clinton were mainly white, married, Republican, conservative and evangelical women.
Which makes sense. If Clinton is any woman’s candidate she is the privileged woman’s candidate. What Clinton offers women is an American exceptionalist version of feminism. An ingroup-glorifying, collectively narcissistic mutation of women’s rights.
Hers is a gender equality comfortable denouncing the misogyny of Donald Trump while linking arms with a nation that practices gender apartheid. It is equally comfortable feigning ignorance that that same nation churns out violently misogynistic men, indoctrinated to fight viciously and mercilessly in our imperialistic wars and proxy wars, using weapons supplied by us, abusing thousands of women for light relief along the way.
At least she’s not a protofascist like Trump.
This is the moral drift that lesser evilism spawns. Trump’s overt xenophobia and sexism becomes a moral dead weight, dragging our moral reasoning down. Clinton’s covert, proxy variety we can tolerate.
If she will save us from him, we will forgive her her sins. We might even forgive ourselves.
To keep the lesser evilism alive post-election, the Clinton campaign has built a psychological bridge on a Trump-Assange-Putin backbone. Capitalising on the nativisim of Trump, moral advocacy and critique of Clinton have been smeared with the stench of the alt-right. This paves the way to walk all over dissenting narratives in order to defeat the next greater evil of the day, possibly Putin.
The real threat post-election, however, will be ruling elite groupthink, whether climate denial under Trump or nutty-neocon war and regime change under Clinton. Both, as Jill Stein says, place “profit over everything else… in a way that now puts us all in the target hairs”.
And the antidote to groupthink?
Disagreement. Resistance. Moral advocacy. Dissent.
For inspirational dissent you will find Tim Anderson on Twitter here, Jill Stein here, and Code Pink here. And you can watch John Pilger interview Julian Assange on RT this weekend. In fact, there are lots of great shows on RT, here.
Damn those Russians.
* New Matilda is an independent Australian publication. It survives on the subscriptions of readers. You can help support our work by subscribing here, from as little as $6 per month.