Donald Trump's coronation at last week's Republican National Convention was a grim anticlimax to America's national nightmare. But Hillary Clinton's coronation in Philadelphia this week will be deadening and dreadful in its own right.
Whereas Trump is a Republican outsider likely to go down in flames, Clinton is an odds-on favorite who represents the cankered heart of her party at its most derelict, self-serving, and conventional. If the Republicans of 2016 are busy committing suicide, the post-Obama Democrats are on life support, and the nomination of Hillary Clinton confirms they refuse to die with dignity.
Like her career, Clinton's neoliberal ideology peaked at a moment when its foundations have all but rotted away. There is no great principle at work here that moves and inspires the crowd. To prevail, today's very old "New Democrats" must incessantly appeal to the bourgeois pleasure of staving off panic without banishing it completely. To make her case for uniting the scepters of the neoliberal West and the U.S. presidency, Clinton must hit a psychological sweet spot: one part sheer terror at the prospect of a fascistic or socialistic takeover, and one part smug satisfaction at not only being humanity's only hope, but having earned it.
In practice, this involves the busy work any big business functionary is right at home with, such as massaging the egos of social justice types until no one objects any longer to the way you work the levers of influence, power, and control. To be sure, good Clintonians really believe they are social justice warriors — the fairest of them all — and they will spend Hillary's convention establishing this over and over again until agreement is unanimous. The ritual will be like one giant team-building exercise on Theater Day at the corporate retreat, and it will be every bit as foreboding a spectacle as the worst of the GOP convention, because Clintonism is already the ruling orthodoxy of the Western world, and it believes it should be forever.
For all its dully sane functionality, Clintonian neoliberalism, like Clinton herself, is shocking in its interminable conformism and cognitive inbreeding. Trump's convention at least broke up its rank apparatchikism with novel forms of cognitive dissonance, such as Peter Thiel's idiosyncratic call for new human frontiers. Clinton's festival of stunted thinking will present as her party's and country's future Tim Kaine, the Associate Dean-type senator lobbied for hardest by Clinton's own prince of cronies and inexorable bagman, Gov. Terry McAuliffe — himself, by incredible coincidence, just now beginning his long sought-after term as chief of the National Governors Association. (Such is the purity of Team Clinton's shamelessness that McAuliffe's debut initiative is cybersecurity.)
See how this works? Isn't it wonderful? It just screams progress!
For the Clinton campaign, and the ideology she incarnates, the secret motto is simple: The fix is in, and you will like it. Because it really doesn't get better, except insofar as Clintonism rules longer. Clinton is the Pollyanna of power politics, for whom there's nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what's right with her and her squad. Clinton has twisted her husband's homey maxim about America's inner goodness into a tribute to her own — an unseemly funhouse reflection of Trump's own preposterous claim that "I alone can fix it."
Sadly, Democrats are now held just as prisoner to Clinton's bunker optimism as Republicans are to the showbiz pessimism of Trump. But it is hard to feel much pity for them, because they, too, only have themselves to blame. While the GOP is all too aware how close it has come to a full blown nervous breakdown, the Party of Clinton insists through its trademark rictus grin that it has never felt better. The ghastly truth shows through that smile, and in Philadelphia, it will seep through every pore of the gigantic happy face Democrats will be writhing behind.