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In the Bag

The implosion of Trump's campaign should give lesser-evil Clinton supporters space to criticize her policies. Why are they still silent?

Hillary Clinton in 2008. PBS News Hour / Flickr

Pour one out for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign — it’s dead.

October 7 saw the release of a tape from 2005 in which Donald Trump brags to Access Hollywood host Billy Bush about getting away with sexually assaulting women because he’s famous. The response from the media and most of the country has been swift and rightful: universal condemnation.

The flailing defenses of the comments as harmless and juvenile “locker room talk” by the few surrogates he has left would be laughable if they weren’t serving as apologetics for sexual violence. Immediately thereafter, new reports of women claiming Trump sexually assaulted them surfaced in the New York Times and People, and new tapes of Trump making insanely degrading comments about everyone from his own daughter to a ten-year-old girl were added to the already enormous pile of misogynist and frankly creepy statements he has made and things he has done.

Trump’s grotesque sexism should have been well-known before these incidents, but these seem to have particularly disturbed voters: FiveThirtyEight has Clinton’s chances of winning at over 85 percent; the New York Times’s Upshot has her just shy of 90. Harry Enten says that there’s no historical precedent for a candidate coming back from as large of a deficit as Trump currently has. The Republican Party doesn’t even seem to be thinking of victory as a possibility; instead, they’re fighting over how to pick up the pieces of their shattered party.

In other words, Donald Trump is almost certainly not going to be president — Hillary Clinton will be.

This is a great relief for anyone who was terrified of what kind of racist, xenophobic, misogynist, militaristic, anti-working-class hell a Trump presidency would have brought us. But it’s also an opportunity to those whose support of Clinton was always qualified.

Since primary season, we have heard variations on a theme from self-styled progressives: Clinton isn’t perfect, but a Donald Trump presidency would be so disastrous that we have to elect a safe, centrist candidate to stop him. Therefore, they had to put aside their critiques of Hillary in favor of preventing the rise of the Third Reich in America.

Now that we’re all but certain that Trump will not, in fact, win, they should feel liberated.  

They can stop focusing on how terrifying a potential Trump presidency would be and begin to focus more honestly on how terrible Clinton’s track record has been and likely will continue to be at home and around the world. Every liberal and progressive who has held back on criticizing Clinton’s close ties to Wall Street, or the disturbing revelations of the content of her speeches to Goldman Sachs, or her incredibly destructive foreign policy past from Libya to Honduras and her all-but-assured hawkish foreign policy future, or her role in pushing welfare reform, or her palling around with ghoulish war criminals like Henry Kissinger, and her pride at winning the endorsements of neoconservatives whose hands are dripping with blood like John Negroponte.

But strangely, it’s been over a week since the tape was released, and we haven’t heard from much from those supposedly reluctant Clinton supporters suggesting any kind of shift.

You’d think people with ironclad progressive commitments that so clearly clash with Clinton’s track record, now assured that their critiques won’t contribute to a Trump victory, would finally be ready to call Clinton out and begin building up the kind of strong, unyielding left flank that will be necessary to wring anything out of a self-described politician of “the center left to the center right.” And yet . . . crickets.

Over the next few weeks, pay close attention to who continues to offer the “progressive” defenses of Clinton, despite any possible need for doing so having clearly passed. Even better, once she takes office in January, see if those same people are offering excuses for Clinton’s destructive agenda.

The nightmare of a potential Trump presidency has passed. But what awaits us in a Hillary Clinton presidency is only marginally better. If this dynamic of barbarism vs. slightly-less-barbarous barbarism is ever going to change, activists and commentators will have to abandon their sycophant attitudes towards centrists like Clinton. There’s no better time to do so than right now.