Of course, leveling such an unfounded accusation is both reckless and nutty. Bush Derangement Syndrome was the name of the malady conservatives ascribed to those who heaped obloquy on our last Republican president. Now Hillary Derangement Syndrome has struck Giuliani and quite a few other Republicans hard.
This is by no means a new affliction. Ever since she entered public life as America’s first lady, a barrage of allegations, many fair but quite a few preposterous, have been hurled against President Clinton’s wife. Without any foundation, she is said to be implicated in the “murder” of her friend Vincent Foster, to have caused the fiasco inBenghazi, and to be covertly promoting the Muslim Brotherhood. Trump has gone so far as to call her “the devil,” to which his supporters responded with thunderous applause. For those of us not subsumed by Hillary hatred, the level of anger is a mystery. What accounts for it?
First and foremost, one must point to the deepening polarization of our politics, exacerbated in recent years by the strains and stresses of the post-9/11 era. Given how divided the country has become on fundamental issues, anyone seeking the White House in this environment would be subject to severe disapprobation from the other side.
But the extraordinary intensity of Hillary hatred suggests it is based upon impulses extending well beyond disagreement over policy. Any explanation must begin by acknowledging that Clinton herself has regularly poured gasoline on the fires burning around her.
Dishonesty is a case in point. According to a Washington Post/ABC News poll, among voters who dislike Hillary Clinton, 47% cite untrustworthiness, a number that is well-earned. Examples abound. Most recently, we have her pointblank false claim about her use of a private email server to conduct official business as secretary of State: “It was allowed.”
Yet for all her failures on the truth front, Clinton is not a congenital liar like Trump, who spouts falsehoods without compunction or, seemingly, even awareness. Rather, she engages in what conservatives like me would call progressive prevarication. Like so many on the left, she sees herself as both a paragon and an agent of virtue. As such, she uninhibitedly bends the rules and stretches the truth to advance her own career and causes. This leads her critics to paint her as a practiced liar, but in her own mind she is always telling a higher truth. Wrongdoing mixed with self-righteousness naturally elicits a special kind of fury.
But not all the hatred is kindled by Clinton herself. Even as first lady, her activist role fueled attacks on her hairstyle, her pantsuits and her voice, all of which evolved into a set of shopworn memes deriving from her gender. The fact that she gained political ascendance by riding piggyback on her husband’s career has added energy to the sex-based enmity. Today, her status as the first female presidential nominee for a major party has turned this stream into a river.
It has not helped that Clinton’s candidacy occurs during a period when traditional concepts of marriage and gender identity are being overturned. As radical changes in this most sensitive realm are introduced — in some instances with the force of law — anxieties are boiling over. As a female politician visibly identified with the social transformation, Clinton is a locus of the backlash.
Trump, for his part, has been riding that backlash toward power. Misogyny is what he traffics in, and he is not alone. Indeed, his frank expressions of contempt for women — and Clinton as a living symbol of female political power — are an intrinsic part of his appeal to the non-college educated white men who form the core of his constituency. It is unsurprising that the cohort most insecure in the new social order is the one whose members most loudly chant “lock her up” at rallies and sport “Hillary for prison” bumper stickers on their cars.
All these factors have come together to create fertile soil on which a natural demagogue like The Donald has helped Hillary hatred to flourish.
Clinton is vulnerable to a number of critiques: flawed left-wing politician, undistinguished secretary of State, person who all too often shades the truth and skirts the law. Her haters regard her as a traitor and a witch.
The trouble is, she is neither. She is an imperfect candidate running against a reckless, impulsive, ignorant, immature man who cannot be trusted with a Twitter account, let alone nuclear weapons. Hatred is a poison that both induces irrationality and springs from it. Hating Clinton and regarding her and Trump as equivalent evils is a profound mistake.