A socialist joins the 2016 presidential debates, Part II

A group of Hofstra University students stand in front of a CNN trailer with images of Hillary Clinton, 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, and Donald Trump, 2016 Republican presidential nominee, ahead of the first U.S. presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, U.S., on Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016. Clinton and Trump will face each other, and likely a record television audience, in the first general election debate of the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign on Monday. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images


This is the second part of an expanded debate in which socialist “Sydney Solidarity” squares off against the candidates of the ruling rich, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Part I of the debate, which appeared earlier on this website, dealt with economic matters. In this segment, the moderator, Lester Holt, asks the candidates about their views on climate change.

 Solidarity: Mr. Trump doesn’t believe that climate change is a serious threat. Ms. Clinton says she accepts the scientific consensus, but during her tenure as Secretary of State US oil production boomed and greenhouse gas emissions continued to rise. Either Ms. Clinton and her party are criminally incompetent environmental stewards, or they aren’t serious about addressing climate change. Or both!

Ms. Clinton and all supporters of capitalism have a serious problem where climate change is concerned. Within capitalism, there is room for reform, short of dismantling the entire economic framework. Every wage increase, union victory, advance in civil rights or civil liberties illustrates this.

But some issues, like climate change, are different. Addressing climate change is not a matter of dealing with one power plant or one factory or even a single industry; it’s a globalized, systemic problem. With enough pressure, you can get the powers that be to clean up a particular river, ban a particular toxic chemical or right a particular injustice, but there’s no way to end systemic pollution, poisoning of the environment or generalized injustice without ending the incentives that encourage those behaviors. Under capitalism, those behaviors are profitable, and profit is deemed to be the highest measure of success.

Socialists are for taking critical industries and resources out of private hands. We would eliminate the incentive to pollute by immediately nationalizing the energy industry under the democratic control of workers in that industry and those affected by energy policy. Any displaced workers would be guaranteed retraining good union wage jobs. They would also receive full union wages for as long as it takes to transition to their new employment. This isn’t radical. This is just common sense. This is what a caring, rational society that values human beings more than profits would do. What’s radical—what’s insane—when your house is on fire is to pretend that you care but do nothing about it, while continuing to offer financial incentives to anyone who pours gasoline on the flames!

 The candidates spar over trade agreements.

 Mr. Trump opposes NAFTA and the TPP. Ms. Clinton has strongly supported these agreements, but now pretends she has seen the light.

In the abstract, who could be opposed to international trade? It’s such a reasonable idea. But in typical Orwellian fashion, what are called “trade” agreements today—the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the Transpacific Partnership (TPP), the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), etc.—have little to do with trade. In reality, these are agreements among the 1% of various capitalist countries for maximizing profits and more effectively exploiting the 99% in all countries.

The hope is that we’ll be distracted by language. But if you call a fetid cesspool Freedom Lake, it doesn’t make it smell any better. Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch has amply documented the anti-labor, anti-environment, and anti-democratic nature of these agreements, which were negotiated behind closed doors.

The socialist position can be summed up simply:

  • No secret diplomacy behind the backs of working people! Open all files relating to trade and diplomatic agreements so that the American people can fully understand the secret schemes of the 1%.
  • Reject the TPP, NAFTA, TTIP and all other anti-labor, anti-environment or anti-democratic agreements.

Holt: OK, you are unpacking a lot here. And we’re still on the issue of achieving prosperity. And I want to talk about taxes. The fundamental difference between the three of you concerns the wealthy. Secretary Clinton, you’re calling for a tax increase on the wealthiest Americans. I’d like you to further defend that. And, Mr. Trump, you’re calling for tax cuts for the wealthy. I’d like you to defend that.

Solidarity: Both Mr. Trump and Ms. Clinton support the long discredited policy of trickle-down economics. Mr. Trump does this openly, by calling for tax cuts for corporations and the rich. Ms. Clinton makes a show of opposing this approach, calling it “trumped-up trickle-down.” But in this she is being utterly dishonest.

Ms. Clinton fully supported the Wall Street bailout, now estimated to total over $14 billion. She has also supported the Federal Reserve’s policy of “quantitative easing”, or near-zero interest rates, which has ballooned Wall Street stock prices while the rest of the economy continues to slump. Both of the corporate candidates and their parties subscribe to the Robin Hood in reverse school of economics—steal from the poor and give to the rich. They just each have their favorite way of going about it.

The economic policies of both corporate parties have led to outrageous levels of income and wealth inequality. The top 10% of U.S. households possess 76% of the total wealth.

Socialists oppose all forms of regressive taxation—from sales tax, to usage fees, to property tax. All taxes should come from corporate profits and from individuals earning more than $200,00 per year. Working people should pay no tax whatsoever. After, all, working people are already subject to an enormous hidden tax, arising from the fact that part of the value of their labor is called “profit” and handed over to unelected, unproductive capitalists. Profit is nothing more than value produced by working people for which they are not paid.

All banks, including the Federal Reserve, should be nationalized and merged into a single government bank and run in the public interest. The casino known as Wall Street, which acts as a parasite on the economy and contributes absolutely nothing to the national wealth, should be shut down.

Holt: Mr. Trump, we’re talking about the burden that Americans have to pay, yet you have not released your tax returns. And the reason nominees have released their returns for decades is so that voters will know if their potential president owes money to—who he owes it to and any business conflicts. Don’t Americans have a right to know if there are any conflicts of interest?

Solidarity: Sure, Mr. Trump should release his tax returns. And Ms. Clinton should release her redacted emails, as well as the transcripts of her speeches to corporate firms, for which she was paid a total of $22 million. But we already know that these politicians and their parties are owned lock, stock and barrel by Wall Street and the super rich.

Race relations

Holt: Well, we’re well behind schedule, so I want to move to our next segment on America’s direction. And let’s start by talking about race. The share of Americans who say race relations are bad in this country is the highest it’s been in decades, much of it amplified by shootings of African Americans by police, as we’ve seen recently in Charlotte and Tulsa. Race has been a big issue in this campaign, and one of you is going to have to bridge a very wide and bitter gap. So how do you heal the divide?

Solidarity: Living as we do in a class society, where the class you are a part of is determined by your place in the economy—whether you need to work for a living and produce value, or whether you’re able to get rich living off the value produced by others—we can see that the scourges of racism, sexism, xenophobia, poverty, environmental destruction and endless war only benefit one class.

Where wealth is so unequally distributed, where political power is concentrated in the hands of a few, where the government and the media are sold to the highest bidder, society is like a pencil, balanced on its point. It’s a very unnatural, unstable arrangement. In a true, open democracy, the inequality and minority rule we have today would not be tolerated.

The only way a minority can enrich itself at the expense of the majority is by keeping the majority divided and disoriented, and by using force, where necessary, to keep the majority in line. This is the role played by racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination in society today. Their goal is to keep us fighting amongst ourselves rather than uniting against our common foe.

This is why socialists say: Black Lives Matter. It’s not only due to the moral repugnance of oppressing a group of people for something as inconsequential as the color of their skin. It is also for urgent, material reasons. Unless we join together as working people of all races and all nationalities to oppose our common exploiters—the 1%—we will never be able to deal with the big problems we face at the local, national and global levels.

Like all major institutions in a society divided into classes, the police serve only one class. From the time of their origin as slave patrols, the main function of the police has been to protect property, not working people. Ask yourself, why you never see the police protecting striking workers from strikebreakers, but always the other way around? Why are tyrannical operations like “stop and frisk” used against the poor, African Americans and other oppressed minorities, but never against bankers or executives on Wall Street?

We call for an immediate end to all racist murders by cops and for full prosecution of all killer cops. We support the right of African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, Puerto Ricans and other oppressed communities to fully control the defense of their own communities. This means complete control over the police at all levels, including hiring and firing, and the right to completely replace the police with community-based defense organizations if desired.

Government spying

Holt: Our next segment is called “Securing America.” We want to start with a 21st-century war happening every day in this country. Our institutions are under cyber attack, and our secrets are being stolen. So my question is, who’s behind it? And how do we fight it?

Solidarity: Secrecy and privacy in our country are completely upside-down. Today, the government is a closed book, operating in secret from the average citizen. Meanwhile, the NSA, FBI, CIA and police spy on every American. The government is opaque, but citizens have no privacy. This is exactly the opposite of how it should be.

The documents released by WikiLeaks, Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden and others show that government spying and secrecy are aimed at us rather than being designed to protect us.

All spy agency files should be opened to public inspection so that working people can see how the government is used to protect the rule of the one percent. All communications of private citizens should be automatically encryptd to prevent unauthorized eavesdropping by the government or anyone else.

Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden are heroes. Rather than being punished, their actions, which shed light on illegal and immoral government spying and secrecy, should be celebrated and rewarded.

Hillary Clinton says Edward Snowden should be prosecuted. Yet she has nothing to say about National Intelligence Director James Clapper who lied to Congress on national TV as he denied that the government was collecting data on all Americans. This double standard shouldn’t surprise or confuse us, for it is based on a consistent principle that Hillary Clinton and all mainstream politicians revere: do whatever it takes, say whatever you must to defend the interests of your corporate paymasters.

 The U.S. war machine

Holt: We think of ISIS certainly as over there, but there are American citizens who have been inspired to commit acts of terror on American soil, the latest incident, of course, the bombings we just saw in New York and New Jersey, the knife attack at a mall in Minnesota, in the last year, deadly attacks in San Bernardino and Orlando. I’ll ask this to all three of you. Tell us specifically how you would prevent homegrown attacks by American citizens?

Solidarity: The rise of ISIS is blowback from the U.S. invasions of Iraq and Libya, just as al-Qaeda was blowback from the U.S. arming and supporting Mujahideen in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

We’re told that U.S. military interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan Yemen, Somalia, Libya, and Syria are necessary and just because we’re fighting for democracy, against totalitarian governments that support terrorism. Terrorism is defined to be anyone who resists imperial power. Any act of violence committed by our side is, by definition, justifiable and not terrorism. Applying this standard to the American Revolution and viewed from the perspective of the imperial power of the day, George Washington was a terrorist and the Red Coats were freedom fighters.

U.S. political and military support for various dictators—Mubarak in Egypt; Ben Ali in Tunisia; the corrupt, repressive regimes in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Bahrain; Iraq’s Saddam Hussein throughout the 1980s; Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi from 2004-2009; and even Osama bin Laden in the 1970s and ’80s—all demonstrates that, if a consistent thread is to be found woven through U.S. foreign policy in the region, it must be something other than love of freedom, democracy, and human rights.

In fact, the true pattern is easy to identify: just follow the money. Our government’s military and foreign policy in the Middle East, North Africa, and elsewhere is guided by what best serves the interests of corporate America. In each of these wars, working people from our country are induced to fight working people from another country for the benefit of the 1%.

The best way to ensure our safety at home is to spread peace, respect and solidarity throughout the world rather than violence and exploitation. We say, bring all the troops home now! Not one dollar for Wall Street’s wars!

Holt: Which leads to my next question, as we enter our last segment here—the subject of securing America. On nuclear weapons, President Obama reportedly considered changing the nation’s longstanding policy on first use. Do you support the current policy?

Solidarity: You ask the question: Should we pledge to never be the first ones to use nuclear weapons, or should we maintain the longstanding U.S. policy of keeping the world guessing, and leaving, as they say, all options on the table? Both Mr. Trump and Ms. Clinton say, keep ‘em guessing.

But this is an insanely narrow way to frame the issue. Socialists favor making this question irrelevant by eliminating all nuclear weapons from all countries as quickly as possible. Any nuclear war would likely spell the end of humanity. The US routinely spends some $35 billion on nuclear weapons every year. With the approval of the Obama administration, we are set to commit an additional $1 trillion (that’s one thousand billion) over the next thirty years to “modernize” our nuclear arsenal.

These weapons, like the bloated U.S. military budget of which they are a part, do not make us safer. On the contrary, they are used to maintain the minority rule of the 1% at home and abroad. Technology exists that would allow the world to safely, verifiably eliminate all nuclear weapons everywhere and in short order. Socialists urgently advocate this return to sanity.

Holt: Some of you will not win this election. So my final question to you tonight is: are you willing to accept the outcome as the will of the voters?

Solidarity: Of course not! What a strange question. Everybody knows that these nationally televised debates are rigged to exclude all but the favored candidates of the ruling rich. It is widely understood that our entire electoral system makes a mockery of democracy—from the Electoral College, to winner-take-all voting, to restrictive ballot laws, to long lines and inconvenient polling hours, to the one-dollar-one-vote system that gives the most press and the greatest exposure to the candidates with the wealthiest backers. All we can conclude after an election of this type is which of the corporate-approved candidates is least hated by the small percentage of eligible voters who chose to participate.

And what do we socialists intend to do about this? We will continue to do what we’ve been doing: organizing and working to win a majority to the understanding that to solve the critical problems that we face, the capitalist system must be replaced by one that puts human needs before profits; urging the labor movement to break with the two parties of Wall Street and form a party of its own that can extend the fight for workers’ rights beyond the shop floor and into the political arena; building teach-ins, rallies, marches and movements around the demands:

  • No support to the imperial wars of the 1%! All U.S. troops out now!
  • Black lives matter! Stop the racist killings! Full community control of the police!
  • Nationalize the energy industry under workers’ control! For a sane, renewable energy policy now!
  • 30 hours work for 40 hours pay to provide jobs for all!
  • Open the files! No spying on the American people! No secret diplomacy behind the backs of the American people!
  • Money for schools, health care, and child care, not war!

Photo: Andrew Harrer / Bloomberg / Getty Images

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[Editor’s note: We reprint this article by the Committee for the Abolition of Illegitimate Debt (CADTM). In 1989, the Bastille Appeal was launched, inviting popular movements throughout the world to unite in demanding the immediate and unconditional cancellation of the debt of the so-called developing countries. This crushing debt, along with neo-liberal macro-economic reforms imposed on the global South, has led to an explosion of worldwide inequality, mass poverty, flagrant injustice and the destruction of the environment.


CLIMATE CRISIS STRIKES PAKISTAN — To aid the millions of Pakistanis suffering from the catastrophic floods: send donations through ESSF (Europe solidaire sans frontières)