Our Neoliberal Nightmare: Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump and Why the Wealthy Win Every Time


Anis Shivani’s article published in truth-out.org on June 10, 2016:

“Absent the neoliberal framework, we simply cannot grasp what is good or bad for citizens under Cruz versus Trump, or Clinton versus Sanders, or Clinton versus Trump, away from the distraction of personalities. To what extent does each of them agree or disagree with neoliberalism? Are there important differences? How much is Sanders a deviation? Can we still rely on conventional distinctions like liberal versus conservative, or Democrat versus Republican, to understand what is going on? How do we grasp movements like the Tea Party, Occupy, and now the Trump and Sanders insurgencies?

Neoliberalism has been more successful than most past ideologies in redefining subjectivity, in making people alter their sense of themselves, their personhood, their identities, their hopes and expectations and dreams and idealizations. Classical liberalism was successful too, for two and a half centuries, in people’s self-definition, although communism and fascism succeeded less well in realizing the “new man.”

It cannot be emphasized enough that neoliberalism is not classical liberalism, or a return to a purer version of it, as is commonly misunderstood; it is a new thing, because the market, for one thing, is not at all free and untethered and dynamic in the sense that classical liberalism idealized it. Neoliberalism presumes a strong state, working only for the benefit of the wealthy, and as such it has little pretence to neutrality and universality, unlike the classical liberal state…

What, indeed, does happen beyond Sanders, because as we have seen Hillary Clinton is one of the founders of neoliberal globalization, one of its central historical figures (having accelerated the warehousing of the poor, the attack on trade unions, and the end of welfare and of regulatory prowess), while Trump is an authoritarian figure whose conceptions of the state and of human beings within the state are inconsistent with the surface frictionlessness neoliberalism desires? To go back to Hillary Clinton’s opening campaign commercial, to what extent will Americans continue to believe that the self must be entrepreneurially leveraged toward maximum market gains, molded into mobile human capital ever ready to serve the highest bidder?

As to whether a non-neoliberal globalization is possible and what that might look like on the international stage after a quarter-century of Clinton, Bush, and Obama — which is essentially the frustration Trump is tapping into — I’ll take that up in a follow-up essay, which will further clarify the differences between Sanders versus Clinton, and Trump versus Clinton.

I would suggest that it is not that globalization causes or has caused neoliberalism, but that neoliberalism has pushed a certain form of globalization that suits its interests. This is a crucial distinction, on which everything else hinges. The neoliberal market doesn’t actually exist; at the moment it is pure abstraction; what is actually filling up economic and political space can only be discussed when we step away from this abstraction, as Sanders has so ably done, and as the Occupy and Black Lives Matter movements tentatively set in motion.”

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