The Disqualification Campaign

As the 2016 presidential election enters the home stretch, it is reaching its final form: a contest over which candidate is more fully disqualified.

Yesterday, Hillary Clinton’s physical collapse after a September 11 commemoration was caught on video, giving credence to concerns about her health.

Sure, she merely “overheated” and she’s “just fine.” But normal people—even normal 70-year-olds—don’t pass out when it’s 80 degrees and they’re not engaged in particularly strenuous physical activity. There have been hints and whispers about Hillary Clinton’s health for months, reflexively dismissed by the mainstream media, but this video gives us obvious reason to doubt that she has the physical vitality required to meet the demands of the presidency.

If Democrats are smart, they will use this opportunity to push out Hillary and promote Tim Kaine to the top of the ticket. In addition to avoiding her health issues, this would eliminate a whole host of Clinton issues Democrats failed to take seriously in the primaries: her unfolding e-mail scandal, her history of flagrant influence-peddling, her responsibility for the Benghazi fiasco, and so on. It would also avoid the overall political problem with her candidacy: the fact that a whole generation of people on the right have been conditioned for a quarter of a century to oppose the Clinton family. Hillary Clinton may think that half of Trump’s supporters are “deplorable” racists, but I would estimate that more than half are simply Republicans who can’t stand the thought of voting for their longtime enemy.

In place of Hillary Clinton, Tim Kaine would give Democrats a relatively inoffensive former governor. Heck, I don’t particularly like Kaine, but at least he’s just a normal politician, and I might even vote for him given the other alternatives.

But precisely because putting Kaine at the top of the ticket is the smart thing to do, we can expect the Democrats won’t do it. Parties rarely do the smart thing. Instead, they do the thing they have been institutionally programmed to do. In the case of the Democratic Party, it has been shaped over many years to be an instrument of the Clinton family’s political ambitions.

In any case, the default mode of a political party in an election year is dogmatic, blindly partisan support for the nominee.

Which bring us back to the Republicans. Last week, when she was still conscious and ambulatory, Hillary Clinton dismissed “half” of Trump’s supporters as a “basket of deplorables” containing all of the usual leftist bogeymen: “The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic—you name it.” (Pro-tip: when you begin a sentence with “to just be grossly generalistic,” maybe you had better not continue.)

And then the Trump campaign proceeded to prove her right. Since social media nonsense is how campaigns communicate now—especially Trump’s campaign—Donald Trump, Jr., posted this meme to Instagram.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BKMtdN5Bam5/

Trump advisor Roger Stone tweeted out the same meme.

Now, take a good look at that image. In among more ordinary characters—Trump himself, his running mate, two of his sons, Roger Stone, Chris Christie, Rudy Guiliani, and Ben Carson—the “deplorables” include wild-eyed conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, alt-right apologist Milo Yiannopoulos, and a curious cartoon figure of a frog with a nefarious history. “Pepe the Frog,” it turns out, is an Internet meme appropriated by alt-right racists and white nationalists, often depicted decked out in a Nazi uniform.

So Hillary Clinton just claimed that Trump’s supporters are deplorable racists—and his campaign responded by borrowing propaganda images from deplorable racists.

At this point, we can’t just chalk it up to incompetence. Having been caught several times before recycling material from Internet racists, any other campaign would have had a meeting in which every person associated with the campaign was thoroughly trained to recognize and avoid this material and warned that if they failed to do so they would be hung out to dry. That the Trump campaign hasn’t done so implies that they just don’t care about telegraphing ideological sympathy with racists.

Meanwhile, on Friday a few leading lowlifes of the alt-right held a press conference. Mother Jones was all over it, as you can guess, because this is the moment the left has been salivating for: the moment when they finally get to tie the Republican Party to genuine, bona fide racists. And the alt-right leaders didn’t disappoint them. They played their parts to the hilt.

First, they made clear that they really are racists. Richard Spencer stated the alt-right “mantra”: “Race is real, race matters, and race is the foundation of identity.” Race is the foundation of identity. Your skin color is who you are. You couldn’t ask for a more essentialized, philosophically accurate definition of racism than that.

Spencer then went on to hail Donald Trump as a projection of their hopes for an imperial European ethno-state.

“I don’t think our support of Trump is really about policy at the end of the day,” Spencer said. “I think it’s really about Trump’s style, the fact that he doesn’t back down, the fact that he’s willing to confront his enemies…. You look at that and you think, ‘This is what a leader looks like.'” Spencer continued, “It really is about him and it’s about, in a way, projecting onto him our hopes and dreams…. [W]e want something heroic, we want something that is not defined by liberalism or individual rights or bourgeois norms. We want something that is truly European and truly heroic.”

Note, by the way, the signs of a genuine neo-Nazi: borrowing Marxist terminology about the “bourgeoisie” and openly proclaiming their opposition to “individual rights”—evidence that they have nothing to do with the actual traditions of the American right.

Donald Trump cannot be blamed for the warped values projected onto him by neo-Nazi fanboys. But notice that there is something real that joins them to his campaign. When Spencer talks about Trump being someone who “doesn’t back down” and praises his shameless style, what he is talking about is precisely Trump’s penchant for promoting alt-right memes and talking points and his campaign’s indifference to the stigma of being associated with actual racists.

This is utterly disqualifying. There are more than enough awful ideas in our current political debate without allowing a preening billionaire to revive an evil we thought we had exorcised from mainstream politics decades ago.

So with less than two months left, here we can see in a single weekend’s events the essence of the 2016 election. It is a race to the bottom in which the two main candidates are competing over which one can demonstrate greater unfitness for the office they seek.

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