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Trump and Clinton and the politics of fear

Written By | Jul 6, 2016

WASHINGTON, July 6, 2016 — Hillary Clinton won’t be indicted, but the FBI makes clear that she violated the spirit and the letter of the law. The juxtaposition of her words and FBI Director Comey’s statement also makes clear that she lied about it, repeatedly and brazenly, for months.

This should end her campaign and prevent her from ever again holding a position of trust within government or without. But it won’t. The majority of her party thought she should run even if indicted, and she will keep their support.

Negligent, incompetent, but un-indicted: A win for Hillary

The conservative reflex is to dismiss Clinton’s supporters as blind or corrupt. In the wake of Comey’s comments, hardly anyone will maintain the fiction that she was blameless or honest. But many people who will vote for her aren’t blind, nor are they corrupt.

They’re afraid.

The GOP alternative to Clinton is Donald Trump. Trump is a difficult man to pin down, a mixture of bluster, crudity, self-importance and sometimes-bigotry, his fingers in several bad or dodgy business deals. He is ideologically neither conservative nor liberal, and he seems blithely uninformed on national security and foreign affairs.

The liberal reflex is to dismiss Trump’s supporters as ignorant, stupid and racist. But many people who plan to vote for Trump are painfully aware of his weaknesses. They aren’t blind, nor are they racist.

They’re afraid.

The great victory of the Republican and Democratic Parties has been to convince most Americans that their monopoly on national politics is unbreakable and as firmly woven into our political fabric as the Constitution. They dominate the political debate process, they dominate media coverage, they dominate in the race for funds.

That domination is not enough to maintain a monopoly, especially when consumers are widely dissatisfied with the product the two parties are selling. There are no legal barriers to entry, and wide swaths of the political market are under-served by the monopolists (duopolists, to be accurate) of the DNC and RNC. But the parties have found that they can support their monopoly by other means.


Faced with candidates A, B and C, you might prefer C, but A and B have been provided by the dominant monopoly. A and B are shoddy products, but the monopolists want you to reject C as an alternative.

If A and B are palatable second-bests, then voters will be willing to give their votes to C. But then C will have a real chance, and the A-B monopoly might be broken. So what if A and B are frightening, but each is slightly more frightening to a different segment of the voters? If you are convinced that A or B will win, then you can be persuaded to vote not for C, but for A or B: the lesser of two evils.

C is the superior candidate, but you rationally reject C in favor of A, because you’re certain that a large portion of the electorate is malicious and corrupt, or stupid and racist. You have to vote for A to ensure that B will never be elected. You accept A because you’re afraid of B.

The logic of this game is to preclude competition by keeping the two sides afraid, and not just of candidates A and B, but of each other. More afraid of B than of A, and unable to conceive that members of the other party will ever vote for any reasons other than stupidity or for any interests that aren’t corrupt, people who would otherwise vote for C back A instead.

They feel they have to. The alternative is frightening.

Millions of Americans will vote for Trump because they’re afraid of and disgusted by Hillary. Millions more will vote for Hillary because they’re afraid of and disgusted by Trump. They will go to bed with the ogre because they’re afraid of the troll. At least, they hope, the ogre will appoint decent Supreme Court justices.

Fear keeps voters in line, even when the candidates are bad. In fact, the worse the candidates are, the more effective fear is at keeping the voters in line.

Fear and contempt of other voters is at least as important as fear of the other candidate. It convinces us that voters on the other side, “sheeple,” will always choose terrifying candidates, forcing us to stick with our own miserable candidates.

Voting out of fear will create a downward spiral, in which candidates always sink to match our fears, and we’re too afraid to consider third parties. We might want candidate C, but we’re not stupid, and we won’t throw away our votes on anything as quixotic as principle.

Traitors to the GOP who are choosing Hillary

It is only fair to admit that millions of people will support Clinton and Trump out of more than fear. There are positive reasons to support either candidate, ranging from concerns over immigration and vast numbers of people left behind by the new economy to the threats imposed by a volatile and dangerous world.

Trump is not the racist caricature that we see in the press; he once brought a law suit against social clubs in Florida to force them to admit Jews and blacks, he supported same-sex marriage for a decade before Clinton and Obama jumped on that bandwagon, and unlike the Obama Administration, he pays his female executives as much as he pays the men.

Clinton is liberal, but she’s not the America-hating socialist caricatured on the right. She has always been pragmatic, and if compromise will get her half a loaf, she’s willing to let the other side have its half-loaf, too.

But for millions more, there is no good reason to vote for Clinton or Trump, but only a bad reason: fear of the other candidate. Until voters are willing to stop listening to their fears and vote their hopes and their principles, the major parties will always give them bad and fear-inducing candidates. Our executive and legislative branches will be debased.

Tactical victories in the courts will always be just a president or a court appointment away from being lost; the politics of fear doesn’t stop at the judiciary’s edge.

This is no way to run a democracy. It’s time to stop playing the Republican-Democrat game. It’s time for Americans to vote their consciences and their hopes and not their fears. If the stakes are too high to do that now, remember, they will almost never get lower. That too is in the logic of the game.

Vote a third party. Stop living in fear.

Jim Picht

James Picht is the Senior Editor for Communities Politics. He teaches economics and Russian at the Louisiana Scholars' College in Natchitoches, La. After earning his doctorate in economics, he spent several years doing economic development work in Moscow and the new independent states of the former Soviet Union for the U.S. government, the Asian Development Bank, and as a private contractor. He has also worked in Latin America, the former USSR and the Balkans as an educator, teaching courses in economics and law at universities in Ukraine and at finance ministries throughout the region. He has been writing at the Communities since 2009.