Palestine and Hillary, 'the lesser evil'

Palestine and Hillary, 'the lesser evil'
Comment: Support for Clinton might keep Trump from the White House, but that means nothing for those 'in distant lands' destined to suffer under her colonialist administration, notes Steven Salaita.
4 min read
26 Jul, 2016
Accepting Clinton as a less-worse option assumes certain communities are disposable, writes Salaita [Getty]

In the United States presidential race, we have officially entered into the moment of lesser evilism, which demands grudging support of the unappealing Democratic candidate in order to prevent the election of an even more deplorable Republican. 

Few things inspire such acrimonious debate among liberals and leftists. Rather than rehearsing the usual (and by now painfully familiar) arguments for and against voting Democrat, let's explore what lesser evilism means for the communities on the receiving end of the necessary evil. 

Lesser evilism makes sense in the framework of electoral pragmatism. The US two-party system forces voters into terrible choices. Plenty of liberals maintain the system because it works well for them, which isn't a good reason for anybody else to concede.

The elite enjoy unprecedented power and wealth, no matter who ostensibly runs the country. Analysis that stops short of this recognition is useless to everybody but the ruling class. 

The most explicit discourse of US exceptionalism in existence today, lesser evilism assumes that certain communities are disposable. It apportions people into rigid hierarchies. It judges who is worthy of safety and security.  It asks us to voluntarily defer liberation. Lesser evilism may sound appealing as a practical metric, but it comes with severe human costs.

It's okay to reject a system that requires complicity in the oppression of fellow human beings. 

But fewer people will be oppressed under the Democrat, the logic goes. It's a dubious argument, but even if we accept it as true, we're still put in the terrible position of cosigning somebody's misery.

The US two-party system forces voters into terrible choices

Our political imagination has to be more humane than these awful moral algorithms. US exceptionalism has always compelled people to ignore or minimise the violence of racism and colonisation. 

As usual, we can turn to Palestine as a spectacular example of the limitations of US electoral pragmatism. Palestinians have suffered equally under Democrats and Republicans, just as they have under Labor and Likud. The seeming inevitability of their dispossession influences the all-too-common liberal acquiescence to imperialism.

To most American liberals, and many leftists, there's always something more important than Israeli brutality. They merely accept that Palestinians will continue to suffer.  Palestinian suffering thus becomes one of the unacknowledged pillars of lesser evilism. 

But what if we reject that possibility? Why does it seem so radical to even ask the question? When people try to interject Palestine into the discussion, they're informed, usually tacitly but sometimes directly, that Palestinians simply don't matter.

Those who choose lesser evilism have to account for the settler colonial logic they reinforce

Plenty of folk who identify with the Palestine solidarity community circulate or implicitly validate this ugly proposition. I've tried again and again and have learned that it's impossible to affirm Palestinian liberation in a context of US electoral punditry. The simple entreaty to remember Palestine will result in righteous bellowing:  Agitator! Purist! Saboteur! Cynic! Republican! 

This week at the Democratic convention in Philadelphia, Hillary Clinton, in the crowning moment of her campaign, will get on stage and openly call for war, colonisation, and ethnic cleansing - as she has done dozens of times already. 

On what basis can Palestinians consider this promise to annihilate their national aspirations as less evil than other options? More to the point, on what basis can the advocate of lesser evilism justify the annihilation of Palestinians? 

Those who choose lesser evilism have to account for the settler colonial logic they reinforce. It is not the obligation of the dispossessed to justify why they reject the institutions responsible for their dispossession. Why opt into a system that necessitates violence against black citizens, indigenous peoples, Palestinians, the poor, and many other communities around the globe? 

To most American liberals, and many leftists, there's always something more important than Israeli brutality

Too often people who make that choice tacitly say "the well-being of this group is more important than the well-being of the other group" or "some people are, unfortunately, destined to suffer".

Perhaps an explanation can escape the confines of US exceptionalism, but I've not seen it happen. We've managed to make a worldly politics unthinkable. In the moment of reckoning, one either rejects the expendability of the dark, the strange, the disempowered, the foreign - or that person reverts back to the exceptional comfort of uncomplicated decisions.

What, after all, is more exceptionalist than the silly idea that empowering a plutocratic American political party will save the world from destruction? 

How is it possible that Hillary Clinton supports the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people - yet we're still supposed to consider her a lesser evil? Ask the question and you'll hear plenty of explanations, but the most important reason is rarely made explicit: Lesser evilism is possible only because we're so accustomed to seeing certain people as lesser human beings.  

Steven Salaita is an American scholar, author and public speaker. His latest book is Uncivil Rites: Palestine and the Limits of Academic Freedom.  Follow him on Twitter: @stevesalaita 

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author, and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.