In 2008, I was confused by my immigrant father’s devotion to the Hillary Clinton campaign. In 2016, I can understand it better. In politics, Dad reserves his respect for paranoid anti-liberal or even radical types like Richard Nixon and Mao Zedong who take no prisoners and brook no dissent. Dad enjoys a whiff of authoritarianism; Hillary Rodham Clinton’s demeanor makes the Chinese immigrant feel right at home.
In 1983, when I was home on spring break from sophomore year at Yale, Dad and I had fights about race. Armed with liberal arts-infused arguments and ideas, I thought the first step to “raising his consciousness” was to point out to Dad that he held racist views. He threw a stainless-steel plate at me from across the living room and it smashed, Frisbee-like, into my upper arm. I had a bruise for weeks.
Yet during the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, Dad himself was victim of countless racist snubs, or what we would call today microaggressions. In Taiwan, he had been a brilliant young man, full of energy and promise. In New York City, he was a short Asian man with a heavy accent. Even though he succeeded in the U.S. beyond his wildest dreams by landing a job as a translator at the United Nations, negotiating the simplest aspects of American life with Americans of any race has not been easy for him.
Dad likes to protect himself against the vagaries of fate and the casual racism of white America by holding on to the things that make Asian immigrants feel safe: money in the bank, internationally recognizable brands, and winning sports franchises (Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers and the 1970s Oakland Raiders). Clinton represents a powerful political brand: She can lay claim to an aura of progressiveness that masks the reactionary attitudes that she and her wing of the Democratic Party hold. Her candidacy promulgates the fiction that America is always getting more progressive: We just had a black president and now we are getting a woman. A comforting story, but such stories not only mask the reality of neoliberalism, they also help to sustain it.
In fact, since the 1990s, with the double blow of welfare reform and the North American Free Trade Agreement, the US government has been treating entire swaths of its population as if they were disposable. Now we have the statistics to prove that the class war from above has been devastatingly effective. Princeton economists Angus Deaton and Ann Case have shown that death rates for working-class white Americans between the ages of 45–54 have risen dramatically since 1999. Not since the collapse of the Soviet Union has an industrialized country seen such a significant rise in death rates among adults. Economic policies attacked the working classes and the poor while benefiting the wealthy. Economic despair and social isolation and the collapse of unions and social safety nets have consolidated the misery of working-class Americans of every race.
For Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Foundation, poor Americans are probably just not entrepreneurial enough. When Thomas Frank attended the 2015 Clinton Foundation “No Ceilings” celebration of global microloans, he found Chelsea and Hillary, with the help of Melinda Gates, oohing and aaahing over “Third World” women who had recently become microloan debtors. A Hillary Clinton presidency will provide us with a never-ending spectacle of the ruling class disguising its neoliberal profit extraction as do-goodism. Her billionaire’s solutions to poverty have strengthened the very financial institutions that have produced increasing levels of economic polarization. Since 1990, the percentage of American children living in poverty has risen from 16 to 22%: Thirteen states where higher-than-average percentages of children are living in poverty are located in the South. The Obama administration, despite its lofty rhetoric, has done nothing to stop the deterioration of life prospects for working-class people in the United States. Americans are justifiably angry about our “Third Worldization,” but the Democratic Party would like to hold us hostage with threats of a right-wing populist revolt.
In 2008, I supported Barack Obama and my father displayed a signed 8 × 10–inch portrait of Hillary Clinton that she “sent” him after he contributed to her campaign. Well into his eighties, sharp of mind and impervious to arguments about gender equality and racism, my immigrant father was devoted to Hillary. It becomes clear now that my father admired the Clintons for their ambition and ruthlessness. For him, politics is not a place for idealism and the Clintons embodied a cold-blooded willingness to consolidate power to which all his political heroes, from Kissinger to Mao to Nixon, could lay claim. Yes, there were Bill’s sexual scandals, which should have repelled the puritanical immigrant, but for Dad, that was just part of the game. Like Henry Kissinger, Hillary Clinton has been on a relentless quest for power; like Richard Nixon, she complains constantly about being persecuted by implacable enemies.
In 2016, it is clear that Hillary is about consolidating her power. Hillary’s political strategy in the Senate was to do as little as possible while courting Republican allies. There, Hillary Clinton took a page out of Cosimo de’ Medici’s playbook, remaining strangely passive while amassing a great fortune. The pure political inertia whereby inevitability reproduces itself as inevitability might work in 2016 to send another Clinton to the White House, but let us have clear eyes about what Hillary Clinton represents — an authoritarian neoliberal status quo. There is nothing revolutionary in her trajectory, despite all claims to the contrary.
Read Catherine Liu's essay in full at Buzzfeed.