GABlog Generative Anthropology in the Public Sphere

August 26, 2016

An Interesting Moment in Hillary Clinton’s Speech

Filed under: GA — adam @ 8:12 pm

This is a central moment, the crescendo of her diatribe against the alt-right, but what, exactly, is she getting at:

This is part of a broader story — the rising tide of hardline, right-wing nationalism around the world.
Just yesterday, one of Britain’s most prominent right-wing leaders, Nigel Farage, who stoked anti-immigrant sentiments to win the referendum on leaving the European Union, campaigned with Donald Trump in Mississippi.
Farage has called for a ban on the children of legal immigrants from public schools and health services, has said women are quote “worth less” than men, and supports scrapping laws that prevent employers from discriminating based on race — that’s who Trump wants by his side.
The godfather of this global brand of extreme nationalism is Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In fact, Farage has appeared regularly on Russian propaganda programs.
Now he’s standing on the same stage as the Republican nominee.
Trump himself heaps praise on Putin and embrace pro-Russian policies.
He talks casually of abandoning our NATO allies, recognizing Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and of giving the Kremlin a free hand in Eastern Europe more generally.
American presidents from Truman to Reagan have rejected the kind of approach Trump is taking on Russia.
We should, too.
All of this adds up to something we’ve never seen before.

It looks to me like Clinton is claiming that Vladimir Putin is the leader of a global movement of extreme nationalists, making even Trump a mere agent of “Putinism,” and that this makes Putin’s Russia the main global enemy of the US, as conceived of by Clinton—much like, in a particularly bizarre twist, the USSR was in the post-war period. But in that case, who would “we” be, that find ourselves so absolutely opposed to, on the face of it, a rather odd choice for an arch enemy. It could easily be purely opportunistic—an attempt to make enough out of some Trump-Russian connections the media has been playing up lately so as to portray Trump as a kind of Manchurian candidate. (Using Farage as the link between them seems unnecessarily cumbersome, though.) It would be incredibly reckless for a potential president to so provoke Putin for such a narrow and dubious political advantage, but that wouldn’t be that surprising. Still, she says what she says, and there is a logic to it. To be anti-Putin is to be pro-immigration, anti-patriarchal, anti-majority, pro-EU, and uncritically bullish on NATO. I’ve heard it said recently that there are really three truly sovereign countries in the world: the US, Russia and China. Clinton’s targeting of Russia makes perfect sense in this regard because all of the features she objects to are markers of Russia’s sovereignty, and its preference for dealing with other sovereign nations. Even more, Russia has proven more resistant to infringements on its sovereignty than the US has, and this irks Clinton—especially if it means that the US might become more resistant to incursions into its sovereignty that she has planned. Think about how much Clinton must feel to be at stake in the abolition of sovereignty—she is willing to risk exactly what, according to her own words, generations of American presidents were willing to risk in the name of Western freedom: a potentially cataclysmic confrontation with Russia. But Republicans have been very hostile to Putin as well—they have been crowing over how Romney’s warning in his 2012 debate with Obama that Russia would be our main geopolitical rival has turned out to be right. Why, exactly? Why did we never try to make Russia an ally, especially post-9/11, once we were at war with Islamic militancy? What do they do that we so object to? Whatever human rights violations Putin can be charged with (as if that’s our business, anyway), China is far worse—and, yet, we are always urged to strengthen our ties with China. It is China that spies relentlessly on us, using students and guests to this country to do so, and hacks us, and makes the more outrageous claims to sovereignty over new territories. Maybe it’s that China is stronger, economically and politically, and so Russia can be insulted with impunity. But why wouldn’t we use Russia to balance China, in that case? Well, that would be to play the old game of sovereignty, balancing one great power against another. It must be that the enemies of sovereignty see China as the easier country to integrate into some international system, first of all through investment and trade deals, and then, perhaps, then through regional organizations and finally genuinely transnational institutions and norms. The fact that China sends so many students here is probably seen as a plus in this context. Whether China is genuinely being integrated or is just exploiting Western gullibility is a separate question—my rough and untutored analysis would suggest that there is something about Russia that is resistant even to fantasies of integration. A much smaller workforce, and one that is neither quite first world nor third world? Russia’s insularity as a land power? Do the subtle differences between Western and Orthodox versions on Christianity somehow, paradoxically, make Russia more alien than China? Lingering Cold War suspicions and intellectual habits? Surely Russia has some responsibility for the less than warm relations between our countries, but my point is that no prominent Americans (until Trump) seemed to think it even worth the effort to improve them. Whatever it is, there seems to be something irredeemably sovereign about Russia, even under the worst conditions, and that irritates the hell out of the globalists (those who want transnational agreements and institutions to supplant sovereignty). In fingering Putin as the leader (I suppose by example, as how else could such a thing be led?) of a kind of nationalist international, Clinton shows us the intrinsically and desperately global, anti-national, anti-family, anti-majoritarian needs and ambitions of the class of elites she presently seeks to lead. And whatever one thinks of Putin, it will probably be clarifying, at least, to put some effort into dissecting the reasons given by anti-Russian ideologues for the enmity they believe we should bear towards him.

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