Slavoj Žižek: The Hillary Clinton Consensus Is Damaging Democracy

Hillary Clinton
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks during a campaign stop in New York City on April 13, 2016. The polls are currently placing her comfortably above her rival Donald Trump. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Alfred Hitchcock once said that a film is as good as its villain—does this mean that the forthcoming U.S. elections will be good since the "bad guy" (Donald Trump) is an almost ideal villain? Yes, but in a very problematic sense. For the liberal majority, the 2016 elections represent a clear-cut choice: the figure of Trump is a ridiculous excess, vulgar and exploiting our worst racist and sexist prejudices, a male chauvinist so lacking in decency so that even Republican big names are abandoning him in droves. If Trump remains the Republican candidate, we will get a true "feelgood election"—in spite of all our problems and petty squabbles, when there is a real threat we can all come together in defence of our basic democratic values, like France did after the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January 2015.

But this cosy democratic consensus is not healthy for politics and the Left. We need to take a step back and turn the gaze on ourselves: what is the exact nature of this all-embracing democratic unity? Everybody is in there, from Wall Street to Bernie Sanders supporters to what remains of the Occupy movement, from big business to trade unions, from army veterans to LGBT+, from ecologists horrified by Trump's denial of global warming and feminists delighted by the prospect of the first woman-president, to the "decent" Republican establishment figures terrified by Trump's inconsistencies and irresponsible "demagogic" proposals.

But what disappears in this apparently all-embracing conglomerate? The popular rage which gave birth to Trump also gave birth to Sanders, and while they both express widespread social and political discontent, they do it in the opposite sense, the one engaging in Rightist populism and the other opting for the Leftist call for justice. And here comes the trick: the Leftist call for justice tends to be combined with struggles for women's and gay rights, for multiculturalism and against discrimination including racism. The strategic aim of the Clinton consensus is to dissociate all these struggles from the Leftist call for justice, which is why the living symbol of this consensus is Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple who proudly signed the pro-LGBT letter and who can now easily forget about hundreds of thousands of Foxconn workers in China assembling Apple products in slave conditions—he made his big gesture of solidarity with the underprivileged, demanding the abolition of gender segregation.

This same stance was brought to the extreme with the U.S.'s first female secretary of state Madeleine Albright, a big Clinton supporter who served in her husband's administration from 1997 to 2001. On CBS's 60 Minutes (May 12, 1996), Albright was asked about that year's cruise missile strikes on Iraq known as Operation Desert Strike: "We have heard that half a million children have died. I mean, that's more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?" Albright calmly replied: "I think this is a very hard choice, but the price—we think the price is worth it." Let's ignore all the questions that this reply raises and focus on one aspect: can we imagine all the hell that would break out if the same answer would be given by somebody like Putin or the Chinese President Xi? Would they not be immediately denounced in western newspapers as cold and ruthless barbarians? Campaigning for Hillary, Albright said: "There's a special place in hell for women who don't help each other!" (Meaning: who will vote for Sanders instead of Clinton.) Maybe we should amend this statement: there is a special place in hell for women (and men) who think half a million dead children is an affordable price for a military intervention that ruins a country, while wholeheartedly supporting women's and gay rights at home.

Trump is not the dirty water that should be thrown out to keep safe the healthy baby of U.S. democracy, he is himself the dirty baby who should be thrown out in order to shine a light on the uneasy nature of the Hillary consensus. The message of this consensus to the Leftists is: you can get everything, we just want to keep the essentials, the unencumbered functioning of the global capital. President Obama's "Yes, we can!" acquires now a new meaning: yes, we can concede to all your cultural demands without endangering the global market economy—so there is no need for radical economic measures. Or, as Todd McGowan, professor of film theory and history at the University of Vermont, put it (in a private communication): "The consensus of 'right-thinking people' opposed to Trump is frightening. It is as if his excess licenses the real global capitalist consensus to emerge and to congratulate themselves on their openness."

And what about poor Bernie Sanders? Unfortunately, Trump hit the mark when he compared his endorsement of Hillary to an Occupy partisan endorsing Lehman Brothers. Sanders should just withdraw and retain a dignified silence so that his absence would weight heavily over the Hillary celebrations, reminding us what is missing and, in this way, keep the space open for more radical alternatives in future.