Hillary Clinton, Alexander Hamilton, and Propaganda

Something you may not know about Alexander Hamilton is that during his time as treasury secretary, he was accused of corruption constantly. He was accused of it for years on end, in ways that had little-to-nothing to do with his conduct and everything to do with politics.

On February 24, 1794, a committee full of his political opponents was formed to investigate his time at the treasury department, and pin whatever they could on him. Here’s how that turned out:

In its final report in late May, the Republican-dominated committee could not deliver the comeuppance it had craved. Instead, it confessed that all the charges lodged against Hamilton were completely baseless, as the treasury secretary had insisted all along.

Nevertheless, it frustrated him that after this exhaustive investigation his opponents still rehashed the stale charges of misconduct. He had learned a lesson about propaganda in politics and mused wearily that “no character, however upright, is a match for constantly reiterated attacks, however false.” If a charge was made often enough, people assumed in the end “that a person so often accused cannot be entirely innocent.”

Chernow, Ron (2005-03-29). Alexander Hamilton (pp. 456-457). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

When I read this, I couldn’t help but feel like it sounded eerily familiar.

While a lot of ink has been spilled over how GOP propaganda has created Trump’s base on denial of basic facts, there has been less talk about how the same forms of propaganda have impacted liberals. While it’s hard to find a liberal supporting Trump, it’s easy to find liberals who resent the hell out of Hillary Clinton.

People talk about her stealing the primary, about her dishonesty, about her corruption, about her being “basically a conservative”. Yet none of these claims seem nearly so clear-cut under scrutiny, and many (if not most) of them fall apart entirely with a closer look.

If decades of conservative propaganda paved the way for Trump, then decades of conservative propaganda also paved the way for the world’s current impression of Hillary Clinton.

People call her dishonest when she’s been rated more honest by Politifact than any other candidate who ran this year. People talk about her stealing the primary when she won it by a considerable margin on every conceivable metric. People talk about her e-mails, a “scandal” in which she has been investigated and found to have done nothing illegal, and which would barely register on the scandals-scale for any other politician.

Genuinely, the things that have passed as scandal for Clinton lately seem to do more to recommend her than to diminish her. The idea that this quote: “The people that know the industry better than anybody are the people who work in the industry” is the worst thing anyone can find in her Wall Street speeches is telling. The idea that people think “Those in an industry should have a seat at the table” is the same as saying “Those in an industry should be totally self-regulating” speaks to the low level of nuance of the accusations, and to the credulity with which many of us are reading the accusations against her.

But, as Alexander Hamilton mused more than 200 years ago after his own Benghazi-esque investigation and exoneration, “no character, however upright, is a match for constantly reiterated attacks, however false.”

If you think Clinton being dishonest is a major problem for her, but you didn’t think it was a problem for Sanders, who has rated almost exactly the same level of honest as her (and that’s without having to go through all the trumped-up investigations she has), and who cried “scandal” at primary rules that have been the norm for decades, and at 100% standard responses to reports of compromised data, then you are susceptible to media propaganda as well. I say this as someone who liked Sanders’ platform and much of what he had to say.

Believing propaganda may be a problem that is worse among Trump supporters, but this isn’t just a Trump supporter thing. Liberals have been taken in by propaganda, too. I have been taken in by propaganda, too. My distrust of Hillary Clinton has only evolved into trust over a long period of reading details about each of the scandals that have been reported. It was only in reading the details that I found that most of them are meaningless and none of them are remarkable.

Is Hillary Clinton a perfect politician? No. Neither was Alexander Hamilton. But they have the shared experience of (A) being imperfect (A. Ham. having cheated on his wife and, while not engaging in corrupt dealings himself, certainly being lamentably blind to the corrupt dealings of someone under his direct employ), (B) being constantly accused of corruption in ways that were eventually revealed to be baseless, and (C) their exoneration making hardly a dent in the minds of people already convinced they were crooked. Yet in spite of his faults, we don’t look back and scorn Alexander Hamilton for being imperfect, we look back and celebrate him for being capable.

If you think “Well, there’s so much more to the accusations about Clinton”, you should understand that in Alexander Hamilton’s time, the papers were absolutely inundated with accusations against him of all kinds — accusations that sounded plausible if you took their version of things at face value. Much as the accusations against Clinton sound plausible if you take them at face value.

In my opinion, a refusal to vote for Hillary Clinton isn’t a protest against corruption, it is an endorsement of it. It is an endorsement of campaigns of baseless propaganda and a reinforcement of the idea that they can work wonders on people from any (or no) political party. Not just the party of Trump.

 


If you want more reasons to vote for Hillary Clinton, check out Greta Christina’s posts about why to vote for her. If you want reasons to be skeptical of the coverage of her scandals, watch John Oliver’s coverage of them. If you think this election is as important as I do and want to help her win, this handy Chrome extension can suggest things to do to help, or you can just go to her website for events to volunteer at and/or a phone banking app you can use to do phone banking from home. And of course, make sure you register to vote.

 

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