Wayne O'Leary

The Foundation and Other Conundrums

It’s a strange election to say the least. As we approached the Labor Day weekend, the traditional kickoff time for presidential campaigns, the major-party candidates were most noticeable for their absence from the domestic political scene.

Donald Trump was in Mexico, trying to persuade its citizens that he loved and admired them despite previously calling them rapists, murderers, and drug dealers. Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, was nowhere to be found, having apparently taken up residence in Dick Cheney’s cave, emerging only for brief, secretive fundraising forays to the exclusive haunts of deep-pocketed Democratic donors, the source of $143 million in August.

Hillary did appear before the American Legion as part of her Republican outreach, hailing American exceptionalism (USA! USA!) and assuring the assembled conservative legionnaires (to muted applause) that her father had been a rock-ribbed Republican. Democrats can be forgiven for occasionally thinking their nominee is Mitt Romney in drag. The Clinton strategy is evidently to hunker down, say nothing provocative, be acceptable to the broad middle, and wait for Trump to self-destruct.

It’s a tricky tactical approach because Trump, having at last acquired a respectable campaign manager this side of crazy (Kellyanne Conway), could get his act together and pose a late challenge. But the Clintons obviously feel that running the clock out and backing their way into the White House is the best possible guarantee of success given the candidate’s inability to excite and inspire. Still, against such a flawed opponent, she should be much farther ahead at this point and not scuffling along with a precarious single-digit lead.

The Clinton campaign does possess an ace in the hole as they see it, an alternative route to victory if Trump unaccountably closes the gap this fall: the debates. Hillary is already preparing, studying her policy binders and getting ready to bury the Donald with facts, legislative minutia, and lawyerly maneuvering. It’s what Hillary does; she’s the ultimate wonkish nerd as candidate.

Trump, much like Bernie Sanders before him, is evidently going to wing it, employing verbal overkill and relying on the force of his personality. That’s what he does, and you have to admire the chutzpah. But he’s unlikely to be as good as Sanders (who, after all, had thematic consistency), and that’s what Team Clinton is counting on to prevail.

Until then, the Clinton campaign will keep on keeping on, maintaining a low profile and avoiding the press at all costs, lest embarrassing questions have to be answered or actual issues discussed. Better to keep the media focused on Trump and his faux pas. The media needs no encouragement; much of it is dedicated to destroying Trump despite his commercial value — to the extent that even The Nation magazine, which opposes the Donald, accused the liberal media establishment in August of employing reprehensible, over-the-top McCarthyist rhetoric against him.

There’s an aspect of piling on here. It’s become fashionable to demean Trump, to laugh at his exaggerated language, to express contempt for his wilder, more simplistic demands, especially as regards the very real problem of immigration. Most of all, it’s irresistibly easy to trash his more outlandish followers (the people portrayed in J. D. Vance’s new book Hillbilly Elegy), who fit well-established stereotypes about the uneducated white rural poor.

Highlighting the most extreme Trumpian positions and partisans, and coming out against them is really picking the low-hanging fruit. It allows critics to avoid the genuine angst his movement represents and the problems, especially those related to globalization, his imperfect solutions seek to address.

Among those piling on Trump are righteously indignant Republicans who claim to have seen the light and now reject their candidate in favor of Hillary Clinton. Some are so-called moderates sincerely appalled by his insensitive remarks and “racism,” but many more are plainly hypocrites who either don’t want to go down with the GOP ship or dislike Trump’s lack of sufficient commitment to right-wing conservative ideology, especially on economic issues.

The Donald’s defeat will at least allow Cruz types to recapture their party and write off the quasi-populist Trump apostasy as an aberration. Seen in that light, their sudden concerns over the immigrant and minority communities, after years of rejecting immigration-reform measures and supporting state voter-suppression laws, come across as crocodile tears.

These new “Clinton Republicans” may be jumping from the frying pan into the fire. They’re getting behind the first Democratic presidential nominee in memory who is literally hiding out from the media and refusing to hold press conferences, usually a Republican tactic. What’s behind this rather Nixonian behavior is the non-Republican elephant in the room: the Clinton Foundation.

After all the harmful publicity about Hillary’s “damned emails,” some of it hyped but much of it genuinely disturbing, the last thing the integrity-challenged Clinton campaign needs is more questioning about what rules or protocols the first family of Democratic politics may have stretched, manipulated, or ignored in pursuit of its political ends. So, the walls of secrecy are going up.

The problem is the Clinton Foundation is not a normal foundation; it is not a grant-making institution funded by a large, permanent endowment from a single benefactor. It raises money as it goes, through charitable donations from wealthy individuals, major corporations, and foreign governments, all of whom know the Clintons by reputation and have assumed they were likely at some point to be returning to political power.

Gifts to the foundation have been made, in other words, with an eye toward obtaining access to the Clintons, or establishing the basis for future quid pro quos by foreign individuals and entities having potential business with the US government (and banned from making direct campaign contributions). Most worrisome, this went on throughout Hillary’s State Department years. No specific conflict of interest has yet been alleged or proven, but appearances are everything, and so the Clintons have belatedly agreed to accept no future corporate or foreign foundation gifts, should Hillary reach the White House.

The reluctance with which this was done reveals the way the Clintons operate and will continue to operate. Trained lawyers, Bill and Hillary push things to the legal limit; if it’s not expressly forbidden by law, they do it — and explain it away through legalese. The phrase “meaning of is” comes to mind. It’s the Clinton way. Better get used to it.

Wayne O’Leary is a writer in Orono, Maine, specializing in political economy. He holds a doctorate in American history and is the author of two prizewinning books.

From The Progressive Populist, October 15, 2016


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