The other day, WGBH interviewed Dr. Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate for president, who is recruiting disaffected supporters of Bernie Sanders. Given the current closeness of the race, and the dire consequences of a Donald Trump victory, the interviewer naturally wanted to know how she feels about potentially throwing the election to Trump. Her answer is the sort of jargon-laced evasion that, if previous Green Party nominee Ralph Nader is any example, we can expect to hear between now and the election:
What we know from history, and what we know from the current situation, we are seeing a rise in right-wing extremism, not just in the United States, and it’s not just Donald Trump, it’s also throughout countries in Europe. What is driving this? It is policies like NAFTA, like globalization, like the dominance of the banks, like the Wall Street bailouts, like the Wall Street meltdown thanks to deregulation. Who gave us those policies? The Clintons were leading the way on those policies! The answer to neofascism is stopping neoliberalism. Putting another Clinton in the White House will fan the flames of this right-wing extremism. We have known that for a long time ever since Nazi Germany. We are going to stand up to Donald Trump and to stand up to Hillary Clinton!
The key to unraveling this stream of gibberish is to begin with the sentence “We have known that for a long time ever since Nazi Germany.” What exactly have we known? It is hard to say. Normally, “we have known that” would refer to the previous sentence, but, in this case, the previous sentence is “Putting another Clinton in the White House will fan the flames of this right-wing extremism.” Surely, to whatever extent it can be “known” that a Clinton in the White House leads to right-wing extremism, it certainly was not known during the Third Reich — which occurred several decades before the first Clinton administration, at least according to the standard neoliberal calendar.
In fact, the one time in American history a Clinton held the White House, it did not lead to fascism. True, it did lead to a Republican administration, but it wouldn’t have if it weren’t for, among many factors, a Green Party candidate who siphoned off enough votes in Florida to tilt the outcome. The “history of bad things that happen after Clinton presidencies” argument is not a strong justification for Stein’s candidacy.
Alternatively, Stein might be referring to the previous sentence — the thing we have known since Nazi Germany is not that Clinton presidencies lead to fascism, but that “The answer to neofascism is stopping neoliberalism.” This, however, is also a strange conclusion to draw. The crisis in Weimar Germany had many causes, but one of them was the Communist Party’s insistence on destroying the Social Democrats. Because the Communists would not support any center-left government coalition, it was impossible to form a parliamentary majority without the Nazis. So whatever lessons about left-wing political strategy we should draw from the Nazi era, “withhold votes from the mainstream party that is the only viable alternative to the far right” is definitely not one of them.
What’s most fascinating is that Stein does not try to downplay the danger of a Trump presidency. Instead, she likens it to fascism and Nazism (a comparison that I actually think, for all of Trump’s authoritarian tendencies, goes too far). And yet, proceeding from her premise that Clintonism will lead to fascism, she concludes that she must “stand up to” both Donald Trump and the only candidate who can prevent Donald Trump from winning the presidency, in equal measure. “Neoliberalism” — the left-wing term of abuse for liberalism — leads to fascism, so we might as well skip the neoliberalism step and go straight to the fascism.