And so on.
This isn’t the reaction of all Clinton supporters, of course, but it does characterize what I really want to talk about in this essay: the idea of politics as fandom. Responses like those above are the sort of thing you’d associate more with the support of a sports team or a favorite artist than a politician. They indicate a world view wherein everything your favorite does is somehow explicable or excusable, and everything their opponents do is worthy of virulent condemnation.
This goes both ways, obviously: the people on Twitter who jump all over every perceived Clinton wrongdoing as evidence that she is some sort of evil witch who should be locked up forthwith are gleefully milking this for all it’s worth. For the record, in this writer’s opinion, those people are just as obnoxious as those who insist on presenting Hillary as some sort of flawless avatar of virtue.
In any case, it’s a natural reaction to root for whoever it is you root for, whether it’s in sport, or music, or politics, or whatever else. It’s also natural that we often support the politician with whom we identify most — especially in the context of a US Presidential primary or election, given the personality-focused nature of those contests. And god knows there’s been enough shit thrown at Hillary Clinton over the last couple of years. It’s understandable, then, that her supporters feel somewhat protective of her.
When it comes to politics, though, this kind of devotion is a reaction that we absolutely need to be conscious of and try to transcend. Politicians are not celebrities. They’re not people of who you become fans. To some extent, the politics of fandom is an extension of celebrity culture: politicians are presented, first and foremost, on the basis of their personalities. We saw the nadir of this with last year’s Republican primaries, wherein Donald Trump basically spent all his time shitting on his opponents’ perceived personal failings. If he discussed policy at all, it was only in the sense of vague promises that he’d get around to it at some point.
But politicians are the sum of their policies — nothing more, and nothing less. The politics of fandom is both asinine and dangerous. It invites people to judge politicians as “good” or “bad” depending on who they are, not what they do. It allows us to cast the people we don’t like as cartoonish figures who are entirely good or entirely evil, when in virtually every case — there are, of course, exceptions — politicians are an amalgam of good and bad. This is at least part of the reason for the polarized landscape of American politics, I think — if you think your opponent is flat-out evil, how can you engage with him or her?
In this case, if it was Donald Trump who’d been enjoying the prison labor of Arkansas, it’s not hard to imagine those defending Clinton to be just as enthusiastically condemning Trump. If it was Bernie Sanders, some of those condemning Clinton would be defending him. And so on. In every case, a situation that pretty much any liberal (or compassionate human being) would agree is objectively fucked up is presented as somehow OK because of the people involved.
But look, we have to be able to discuss issues — issues that might relate, however tangentially, to Hillary Clinton, or Bernie Sanders, or Donald Trump, or whoever — without those issues devolving into partisan shitfights. In this case, there are some people who are still salty at Clinton because of either the Democratic primary or the Presidential election and will use something, anything, like this to jump all over her. There are other people who think Hillary must be defended to the hilt over anything, even something as self-evidently indefensible as this.
The rest of us, hopefully, can get away from the idea of politics as fandom and say, “Damn, look at this passage from HRC’s book. Isn’t it terrible that penal labor is used in the goddamn governor’s mansion in Arkansas? Doesn’t that show how pervasive this awful system is? Maybe people should be talking about it!”
Clearly, a world in which people are able to calmly and objectively evaluate a politician’s policies, without recourse to personal sympathies or the lack thereof, is an impossible ideal. Humans don’t work that way. But it’s nevertheless an ideal toward which we should strive. Until we do, we’re doomed to an eternity of Twitter fights, and god knows that no-one deserves that.