Americans seem to have a growing fondness for ignorance, an attitude that reinforces the downsizing of the civic function of language. As is clear in today’s race for the White House, falsehoods and deceptions are no longer marginal to political debate but rather shape much of what is said by US presidential candidates. This is shockingly true for Trump, who has organised much of his campaign around endless fabrications, sending fact-checkers into a frenzy of activity. When Trump is caught out telling a lie, he simply ignores the facts and ups the ante. His followers couldn’t care less whether he deceives or not.
On the other hand, Hillary Clinton has earned a reputation as a chameleon, willing to say almost anything to promote her political career. She too is prepared to sacrifice the truth for political power. Her email scandal is largely read as symptomatic of a more pronounced and deeper level of dishonesty. Consequently, she is viewed by vast numbers of the general public as untrustworthy.
In response, Clinton has managed her truth deficit by invoking her lifelong defence of families and children. For instance, during the second televised debate she claimed she wanted ‘America to be for our children’ and attempted to bolster her concern for the welfare of children by pointing to her early work with the Children’s Defence Fund. In the third presidential debate, she argued against Trump’s call for exporting 11 million immigrants, stating that she was against his deportation policies because she ‘didn’t want to rip families apart [and was against] sending parents away from children’. In her political television ads, she points to supporting policies that ‘will invest in schools and colleges [and work to] develop an economy where every young American can find a job and start a family of their own’.
Unfortunately, Clinton only focuses on managing some of the problems that young people face, rather than doing anything to change the conditions that produce them. For instance, she says nothing about what education might accomplish in a democracy when educational policies are driven by a neoliberal economy that she supports. And while she talks about providing jobs for young people, she has little to say about transforming rather than adjusting to an economy marked by wide gaps in equality, wealth and power.
Matters of power, state violence, extreme poverty, institutional racism, a broken criminal justice system, the school-to-prison pipeline and the existence of the mass incarceration state, among other important matters, rarely if ever enter her discourse and yet these are major issues negatively affecting the lives of millions of children in the United States.
And her alleged regard for children completely falls apart in light of her hawkish policies on global regime change, drone attacks and cyber-warfare, and her unqualified support for the warfare state. Her alleged support for children abroad does not capture the reality they face when their countries are invaded, attacked by drones, or subjected to contemporary forms of indiscriminate violence. Rather than critique the United States as a powerful engine of violence, Clinton has expanded its imperialist role around the globe. Quite contrary to her self-promotion as a friend of children, her warmongering ideology puts children in the path of lethal violence.
At the same time, Clinton’s promise to address the problems many children face in the United States reeks of disingenuousness, made visible by her history of welfare provision. Not only did she once call some young people ‘super-predators’, as First Lady she strongly backed her husband’s campaign to ‘end welfare as we know it’.
President Clinton’s welfare policies did great harm to poor children. They eliminated the Aid to Families with Dependent Children federal assistance program, infuriating Marian Wright Edelman, the president of the Children’s Defense Fund, to the degree that she ended her working relationship with Hillary Clinton. According to Edelman, the bill represented a frontal assault on the well-being of poor children and families. In 2008, Hillary Clinton was still touting this pernicious welfare bill as a success.
She also supported Bill Clinton’s ‘tough on crime’ policies, which, according to Michelle Alexander, have ‘resulted in the largest increase in federal and state prison inmates of any president in American history’, with devastating effects on families and children of colour. Finally, Hillary Clinton supported George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq, which led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of children.
Occupying the right wing of the Democratic Party, Clinton has aligned herself with a war culture that supports drone warfare and continues to support military policies that have resulted in the needless deaths of millions of children in the Middle East and other places that bear the brunt of US foreign policy. It is difficult to imagine, given Clinton’s coziness with the financial elite, big corporations, the military-industrial complex and the reigning war culture, that she will do anything that will lessen the violence which children, both at home and around the globe, will be subjected to if she becomes President.
Clinton has nothing to say about the need for a collective struggle for economic and political justice. Her commitments to war and security have been built on the misery, mutilation and deaths of young people and her recent alleged support for the welfare of children does little to cover up her complicity in the many ways in which capitalism, militarism, state violence and racism are killing poor Black and Brown youth.
– Henry A. Giroux
This post is an edited excerpt from a recent Op-Ed published at Truthout