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Back Clinton if you think it’s the only way to defeat Trump, but don’t pretend she’s an LGBT champion

Why do so many gays, and so many British Labour types (particularly so many gay Labourites), enthusiastically support the Democrats’ presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton?

Why do so many gays, and so many British Labour types (particularly so many gay Labourites), enthusiastically support the Democrats’ presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton? Let me add a strong caveat. I understand – though I don’t accept – a hard-headed, pragmatic argument for endorsing the former secretary of state. Donald Trump is, after all, a threat to the American republic, and (turn away now if you have a sensitive disposition), if he becomes president, a menace to global security.

I could present polls which consistently show Bernie Sanders does better than Clinton when matched up against Republican candidates: you could wearily retort that the figures will change after an inevitable Republican onslaught against a self-described socialist. Clearly, it would be an inspiring and overdue historical landmark for the US to elect its first female president. There is also an understandable revulsion at the sexism and misogyny – and not just from the right – that has been directed at Clinton.

But it’s the enthusiasm, sometimes bordering on the sort of devotion Justin Bieber receives, that I’ve never understood. The Blairite wing of the Labour Party has always attracted a large contingent of gay men, specifically, some of whom idolise Tony Blair like besotted teenagers. Yet that’s more understandable: say what you will about Blair (and I have), but from the equalisation of the age of consent to civil partnerships, there is no denying New Labour’s commendable record on LGBT rights. Clinton is the mystery. She receives endorsements from leading LGBT organisations and activists; here in Britain, LGBT Labour members garnish their Twitter feeds with declarations of being #readyforhillary. But where is the record to justify such zealous cheerleading?

Hillary Clinton’s almost farcically offensive intervention on HIV last week is a case in point. Lauding both Ronald and Nancy Reagan for beginning a “national conversation” about HIV/Aids, claiming that before the Reagans “nobody would talk about it” and “nobody wanted to do anything about it” was a very public insult to the memories of the tens of thousands of Americans who died from the illness, partly because of President Reagan’s inaction. LGBT Americans and their allies struggled to start a “national conversation” about HIV/Aids that Reagan did not want to have. Not only did Nancy Reagan callously fail to help her friend Rock Hudson as he died from the effects of the virus, but the president’s press secretary even joked repeatedly, in public, about an illness killing thousands of American citizens.

The uproar over Clinton’s comments forced her to backtrack and claim that she “misspoke”, a bizarre formulation she also employed in 2008 when she dishonestly claimed to have been forced to run for cover in Bosnia after coming under sniper fire. But really: how on Earth could she have “misspoken” such an obviously absurd claim? You don’t even need to know that much about American politics – let alone be a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, with decades of political experience touting yourself as an LGBT champion – to know about the Reagans’ contemptible role in the HIV/Aids epidemic.

Clinton was a high-profile opponent of equal marriage, only embracing the cause in 2013. Am I claiming Bernie Sanders was way ahead of his time? No: although he backed civil unions for many years, he didn’t come round to equal marriage until 2009. And there is a big difference between 2009 and 2013. By 2013, public opinion had swung decisively in favour of equal marriage. In 2009 a poll found that 57 per cent of Americans opposed equal marriage; by 2013, a poll showed 53 per cent now backed it. Sanders was in a minority of politicians who were ahead of public opinion; Clinton merely caught up with popular opinion and adjusted her position accordingly.

Indeed, Clinton defended her husband’s signing of the Defence of Marriage Act 1996, which defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman – and “Don’t ask, don’t tell” in the military as a defensive measure, rightly leading others to accuse her of historical revisionism. Perhaps she just misspoke again. When in 2002 she was booed after responding negatively on whether New York State should recognise equal marriage, she grinned like a Cheshire cat.

Then there’s Hillary’s hawkish foreign policy. The aftermath of the Iraq War, which she backed, has been calamitous for LGBT Iraqis. Similarly, after the 2009 military coup in Honduras (backed by Clinton) LGBT activists in that country were targeted by right-wing militias.

And yet it was Clinton who won the endorsement of the Human Rights Campaign, the biggest LGBT organisation in the US. Of course, the LGBT rights movement is not homogeneous and never has been. There are those who, for instance, will argue for equality before the law but back economic policies that lead to slashing of support for LGBT services. And then there are those of us who believe that the battles for LGBT rights and economic justice are inseparable.

It is galling to see Clinton transformed, undeservedly, into some sort of LGBT icon. When I asked LGBT Labourites whom they would choose, if they could magically ensure either Sanders or Clinton becomes president, some made a passionate case for Clinton, despite a worse record on LGBT rights and although she’s to the right of not only Sanders, but even the British Conservatives on some issues. If people sincerely believe Clinton is their only chance of keeping Trump out the White House, I respect that view, even if I disagree with it. But let’s not pretend her record on LGBT rights is anything other than a mixture of opportunism, belatedness and outright dishonesty. 

Owen Jones is a left-wing columnist, author and commentator. He is a contributing writer to the New Statesman and writes a weekly column for the Guardian. He has published two books, Chavs: the Demonisation of the Working Class and The Establishment and How They Get Away With It.

This article first appeared in the 17 March 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Spring double issue

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Leader: Trump's dangerous nation

From North Korea to Virginia, the US increasingly resembles a rogue state.

When Donald Trump was elected as US president, some optimistically suggested that the White House would have a civilising effect on the erratic tycoon. Under the influence of his more experienced colleagues, they argued, he would gradually absorb the norms of international diplomacy.

After seven months, these hopes have been exposed as delusional. On 8 August, he responded to North Korea’s increasing nuclear capabilities by threatening “fire and fury like the world has never seen”. Three days later, he casually floated possible military action against Venezuela. Finally, on 12 August, he responded to a white supremacist rally in Virginia by condemning violence on “many sides” (only criticising the far right specifically after two days of outrage).

Even by Mr Trump’s low standards, it was an embarrassing week. Rather than normalising the president, elected office has merely inflated his self-regard. The consequences for the US and the world could be momentous.

North Korea’s reported acquisition of a nuclear warhead small enough to fit on an intercontinental missile (and potentially reach the US) demanded a serious response. Mr Trump’s apocalyptic rhetoric was not it. His off-the-cuff remarks implied that the US could launch a pre-emptive strike against North Korea, leading various officials to “clarify” the US position. Kim Jong-un’s regime is rational enough to avoid a pre-emptive strike that would invite a devastating retaliation. However, there remains a risk that it misreads Mr Trump’s intentions and rushes to action.

Although the US should uphold the principle of nuclear deterrence, it must also, in good faith, pursue a diplomatic solution. The week before Mr Trump’s remarks, the US secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, rightly ruled out “regime change” and held out the possibility of “a dialogue”.

The North Korean regime is typically depicted as crazed, but its pursuit of nuclear weapons rests on rational foundations. The project is designed to guarantee its survival and to strengthen its bargaining hand. As such, it must be given incentives to pursue a different path.

Mr Trump’s bellicose language overshadowed the successful agreement of new UN sanctions against North Korea (targeting a third of its $3bn exports). Should these prove insufficient, the US should resume the six-party talks of the mid-2000s and even consider direct negotiations.

A failure of diplomacy could be fatal. In his recent book Destined for War, the Harvard historian Graham Allison warns that the US and China could fall prey to “Thucydides’s trap”. According to this rule, dating from the clash between Athens and Sparta, war typically results when a dominant power is challenged by an ascendent rival. North Korea, Mr Bew writes, could provide the spark for a new “great power conflict” between the US and China.

Nuclear standoffs require immense patience, resourcefulness and tact – all qualities in which Mr Trump is lacking. Though the thought likely never passed his mind, his threats to North Korea and Venezuela provide those countries with a new justification for internal repression.

Under Mr Trump’s leadership, the US is becoming an ever more fraught, polarised nation. It was no accident that the violent events in Charlottesville, Virginia, culminating in the death of the 32-year-old Heather Heyer, took place under his presidency. Mr Trump’s victory empowered every racist, misogynist and bigot in the land. It was doubtless this intimate connection that prevented him from immediately condemning the white supremacists. To denounce them is, in effect, to denounce himself.

The US hardly has an unblemished history. It has been guilty of reckless, immoral interventions in Vietnam, Latin America and Iraq. But never has it been led by a man so heedless of international and domestic norms. Those Republicans who enabled Mr Trump’s rise and preserve him in office must do so no longer. There is a heightened responsibility, too, on the US’s allies to challenge, rather than to indulge, the president. The Brexiteers have allowed dreams of a future US-UK trade deal to impair their morality.

Under Mr Trump, the US increasingly resembles a breed it once denounced: a rogue state. His former rival Hillary Clinton’s past warning that “a man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons” now appears alarmingly prescient.

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear