Sawant is wrong on Trump versus Clinton

An interesting debate on Democracy Now recently pitted Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant against former Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn. Both are supporters of Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign, but differ on what to do if the Democratic Party nominates Hillary Clinton. Sawant advocates not supporting Clinton in the general election, while McGinn says it is obligatory for progressives to do just that. My own response comes partly from two areas of political activism in which I have been most involved in recent years: Immigrant workers’ rights, and international peace and solidarity issues. I have written on Trump’s foreign policy proposals before, and will do so again shortly.

On the immigration issue, I think the “Bernie or bust” stance taken in this interview by Sawant is harmful and dangerous, in spite of Hillary Clinton’s manifest flaws.

The fact is that between the very last primary election (District of Columbia, June 14) and the November general election there are only four and a half months. In that time, the idea that some viable third force to the left of the Democratic Party could come out of nowhere and actually win the White House is unrealistic. Sanders got as far as he did because he won over, not just independents, but also millions of people who are simply not going to abandon the Democratic Party for a third party under foreseeable circumstances. Also, the idea of Bernie Sanders running as an independent and actually winning in November is just as unrealistic, and not only because he himself has said he will support Clinton if she is the Democratic Party nominee. If he did so, the political base of supporters which got him this far would probably split between Clinton and his independent candidacy, a development from which only Trump would benefit. So third parties and a Bernie Sanders independent campaign would be protest candidacies only, and, given the well-known defects of our electoral system, would likely throw the election to Trump.

Dangerous and ugly part of Trump’s demagoguery

There are those who think there would be no difference between a Clinton presidency and a Trump presidency. This is implicit in Sawant’s argument. In my opinion, these people are dangerously wrong.

Working with immigrants is how I cut my political teeth, so to speak, so I simply can’t forget about that most dangerous and ugly part of Trump’s demagoguery: His vicious attacks against Latino immigrants and Muslims. Recall that Trump has promised to create a special force to round up undocumented immigrants all over the country and deport them. He has made this the centerpiece of his right wing populist demagoguery. Already, as a result of his incendiary, racist lies about “Mexicans”, he has created a dangerous atmosphere not only for undocumented immigrants but for the whole Latino population of the United States, including citizens born here. The same is true for his poisonous anti-Muslim rhetoric. Cases are beginning to surface of law abiding immigrants and Latino and Muslim people, as well as African-Americans being verbally and even physically attacked by people who associate themselves with Trumpism. Should Trump win the presidency, such cases will mount exponentially, and immigrants, Latinos and Muslims will not be able to turn to federal government agencies to defend their civil rights. Trump has also threatened to fund his “wall” by seizing the money undocumented immigrants earn by working themselves half to death in this country, and which they send to their poor relatives in Mexico and other countries. This is unimaginably cruel as well as dangerous.

Many of the immigrants Trump would attack live in mixed families, in which the breadwinner may be undocumented, the spouse a legal resident and the children born in the United States and thus citizens of this country. So Trump would have to either deport U.S. citizens along with their undocumented immigrant relatives, or split up families, deporting, often, the breadwinner and leaving the spouse and children in the United States. But Trump also promises to somehow revoke the citizenship of U.S. born children of undocumented immigrants, even though this citizenship is guaranteed to all persons born in the United States by the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Some other Republican politicians want to end this birthright citizenship for people born here in the future, but Trump even wants to do this retroactively, i.e. so that people who are now citizens but whose parents were undocumented would actually lose their citizenship. It is questionable whether Trump would be able to do this as it would really trash the 14th Amendment and convert millions of people in this country into stateless persons with no rights at all, but remember that as president, Trump is likely to have the opportunity to appoint several new justices to the Supreme Court. Who knows how Trump appointed justices would “re-interpret” the 14th Amendment.

Both Sanders and Clinton have promised not only to continue but to expand the DACA and DAPA programs created by President Obama via executive orders. These programs, which give temporary relief from deportation to about 5 million undocumented people, are currently hanging by a thread as we await the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in response to a lawsuit brought by 26 Republican state attorneys-general as to their legality. Sanders and Clinton have also both promised to work for immigration reform legislation that would legalize the great majority of the 10 to 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States -legislation that has heretofore been impossible mostly because of Republican bigotry, intransigence and hyper-partisanship. Trump would not only not promote such legislation, he would veto it if Congress passed it.

To allow Trump to win the presidency for the sake of making a political point amounts, therefore, to throwing millions of immigrants and minority group members under the bus. Rather than being a high-minded stance, a principled position on the electoral issue, it is quite unthinking and could have cruel repercussions.

U.S. foreign policy and international relations

A second issue that is of great concern to me is that of U.S. foreign policy and international relations.

In that area we find the sharpest differences between the two remaining Democratic Party candidates. More than any other recent major party candidate for president, Sanders has shown a willingness to break with the traditions of aggressive interventionism in other sovereign nations. He has clashed sharply and publicly with Clinton on the issue, for example of Henry Kissinger’s international policies, and has been more willing than most U.S. politicians to call for fair treatment for the Palestinian people. Though both Sanders and Clinton have said they will continue with President Obama’s initiative on ending the U.S. opening to Cuba, Clinton has also attacked Sanders for his earlier positive statements about Cuba, claiming falsely that Cuba’s government “disappears” people. In fact, the Latin American governments that are known for “disappearing” people are those that people like Kissinger have supported over the years. Looking at Clinton’s record as U.S, Secretary of State, starting with her help in consolidating the Honduras coup of June 2009, then moving toward the “Asian Pivot” and adding the issues of Libya, Ukraine, Syria and other things, we have to conclude that she would, as president, not only govern on foreign policy issues to the right of Sanders, but to the right of Obama, who has been, according to some accounts, more cautious on such issues. So if the election were between Clinton and Sanders, we on the left should all be pushing for Sanders as hard as we can.

But we have been, and will continue to do so right up to the Democratic Convention. The question raised by Sawant’s statements in the Democracy Now program are not about that, but about what to do if the Democratic Party candidate in November ends up being Clinton-it is already clear that Trump will be the Republican candidate.

Is it really the case that Trump would be no worse than Clinton on foreign policy issues, and might even be better? After all, Trump has also said that he is okay with the Cuba and Iran policies of the Obama administration “but we should have made a better deal”, and that he would be able to make arrangements with Russia and China? Did not Trump also question the usefulness of NATO, and oppose the Transpacific Partnership?

A glance at Trump’s overall orientation shows that it does not bode well for U.S. foreign policy and for the interests of the world’s 7.4 billion inhabitants.

First of all, the belligerent and sometimes violent tone Trump takes toward other nations and peoples should serve as a warning sign as to what his actual policies are likely to be. His bashing of Mexicans, Muslims and foreign countries in general, and claiming that the Obama administration has been “weak” and has allowed China, Mexico and other countries to rob us blind, while Muslims are invading us for the purpose of perpetrating acts of terrorism on our soil, does not suggest that a Trump presidency would promote peace and understanding between the United States and other nations. One of the things the world sorely needs is for multinational institutions like the United Nations, but Trump has been attacking that body much more fiercely than he has been attacking NATO, most recently because of UN efforts to deal with the Israel-Palestine issue.

And Trump’s opposition to the Transpacific Partnership is for the wrong reasons. Whereas Sanders and others see the TPP as endangering poor workers and farmers in poor countries while also undercutting workers in the United States and benefiting only transnational corporations, Trump sees it as an assault on the United States by those same poor countries. Trump and his allies and supporters blame the poorer countries for “stealing our jobs”, which happens to fit in nicely with Trump’s diatribes against Mexican immigrants. This lets corporations, including U.S based ones, completely off the hook for situations that they and their political enablers have created and continue to profit by. This is political poison which anybody claiming to be progressive must firmly and actively oppose.

If Clinton ends up as president, it will be necessary to find new ways to oppose foreign policy positions that we will not like at all. But a Trump presidency would likely be much worse on this and every other issue. Also, foreign policy and domestic policy are not hermetically sealed off from one another. For example, a Trump presidency, especially if backed by continued Republican domination of Congress, would be very bad news for organized labor just at the point when major union leadership has been taking a more active and progressive role on foreign policy issues, such as Honduras. Under such circumstances, to weaken organized labor is to reinforce right wing tendencies on foreign policy.

If Clinton wins the presidency, we on the left will have to be more creative and more energetic in fighting for the things we want, not only in foreign affairs but other things as well.

If Trump wins, we will be thrown on the defensive as the real potential for mass based fascism confronts us, here in the greatest military power in the world, with Trump having his finger on the nuclear button. Unless we are gluttons for punishment, our options are clear.




Emile Schepers
Emile Schepers

Emile Schepers is a veteran civil and immigrant rights activist. Born in South Africa, he has a doctorate in cultural anthropology from Northwestern University. He is active in the struggle for immigrant rights, in solidarity with the Cuban Revolution and a number of other issues. He writes from Northern Virginia.