Ah, Hillary Clinton.
I’m not one of those journalists who produces a lot of insta-reaction content. I can do it, of course, but I don’t put much stock in it. I believe we can only really understand the meaning of a major event after it has settled in and become history. I think the best writing about the meaning of 9/11 will be done a hundred years from now.
Maybe we will live in Margaret Atwood’s Republic of Gilead by this time next year.
The same applies to the election of 2016. Who can really say what it means to women, and to the planet, that Hillary Clinton, a feminist, lost to The Donald, a caveman? Maybe we will live in Margaret Atwood’s Republic of Gilead by this time next year. Or maybe Trump will have made our destitute blue collar towns great again and even drained the Washington swamp.
I can only assess the effect of Hillary Clinton’s loss on myself and my friends. I am still tending to my depressed teenage daughter’s dashed hopes and my girlfriends’ gloom at the prospect of the coming era of regression.
That ’90s Show
I remember my feeling when I first realized Hillary was going to be the Democratic nominee—long before the Democratic Convention in “Hilladelphia,” which I attended, and long before the Bernie-bros started trashing corrupt granny. The Clintons revivified meant I would have to sort through my cobwebby boxes of early and mid-90’s notes and memories and relive it all. Some of it was not bad: Gypsy Kings; happy, carefree first years with the man I would marry; fun dinner parties in DC.
But: Monica. Vince Foster. Paula Jones. The definition of “is.” And the vast right wing conspiracy. Plus, she was from the “phony Beatlemania” hippie edge of the Baby Boom—as the Clash would say—not, like Obama (and me), the cynical, punk end.
Like her, I once fell madly in love with a big, shambling southern man-boy whose mother cried when Elvis died, a messed up, sex-addicted hick.
As a fellow midwesterner, a half generation younger, I could always personally relate to her on some levels. We share the same tinny nasal accent and the same provincial fashion insecurities and inability to lay claim to “a look” and stick with it. Like her, I once fell madly in love with a big, shambling southern man-boy whose mother cried when Elvis died, a messed up, sex-addicted hick who would literally fuck anything. It took a while to get over him, but get over him I did. She, on the other hand, remains enmeshed in what she and her friends call a lifelong conversation with her totally faithless man.
Now, with them both back on the national stage, I was going to have to contemplate that making-of-lemons-into-lemonade thing again.
Cue The Scream icon. Please God, no.
Hillary Clinton: Back in the Picture
As a journalist, I first fully focused on her in April 2015, for her UN press conference. She was supposed to talk about the Clinton Foundation’s expensive report on the status of women and girls 20 years after the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing (the news was not good) and remind everyone of her groundbreaking statement at that conference that women’s rights are human rights.
The press only wanted to talk to her about her private email server. She took questions for 45 minutes or so. Everyone wrote that she seemed brittle and tense. But I thought I saw glimmers of steel. Maybe she can do this, I thought.
She was always the best-prepared little girl you could meet, that was the legend.
The campaign commenced. Obama, who once famously questioned her “likeability,” now gave speeches about how she was the most well-prepared person ever to run for the presidency. And she was. She was always the best-prepared little girl you could meet, that was the legend.
No Homecoming Queen
She was the smartest girl in the room. But she had never also been—crucially, in terms of the job to which she now aspired—Homecoming Queen. We’ve seen this before—from the dour intellectual John Quincy Adams to Al Gore, American voters sometimes disdain the most deserving in favor of the guy (or maybe someday, gal) they’d like to have a beer with.
Months passed. She traveled around the nation in the pantsuits, listening, listening, listening and giving speeches that had something for every multi-cultural demographic.
As a woman, I kept waiting for her to talk to me.
As a woman, I kept waiting for her to talk to me. She gave a nice speech at NARAL after her nomination, but I think it was the only speech she would give that was really and truly speaking to women. Mostly she dropped a few lines about equal pay and then moved on to the next subgroup; apparently she/they/whoever ran the campaign believed that rousing that particular base—progressive women—would put downward pressure on all the other voters she needed. And she/they assumed Hillary had women like me in the bag. So why speak to us?
The Circus on the Side
Meanwhile, there was Trump. Let me remind you right here that journalists love mayhem. That’s why we do what we do. Scandal, silly behavior, car wrecks, war, give us more! It keeps our blood pumping and our brains attentive, and the more we get, the more we need.
Every day with Hillary was like being asked to eat peas, when the whipped cream sundae was right there, beckoning.
I saw all the reasons why Hillary needed to be elected, but, like everyone else, I preferred to watch Trump. Every day with Hillary was like being asked to eat peas, when the whipped cream sundae was right there, beckoning.
Which is why on election night, when I was supposed to be over at HIllary’s event at the Javits Center, I lingered a little longer than planned at Trump’s gathering at the Midtown Manhattan Hilton. And then when things went south, well, I found myself standing next to Sarah Palin at 3 a.m., watching a reality show star and his entourage take the stage in front of as many American flags as the (probably immigrant) stagehands had managed to pull together at that late hour.
Outside on 6th Avenue, drunken crowds of his supporters were howling “Lock the Bitch UP!” as cameras from China and Turkey and France and the UK rolled, transmitting the spectacle live back to Europe and Asia.
It was over. She was so gobsmacked she couldn’t speak that night, but saved her remarks for the next day. No tears, only a catch in her throat when she mentioned girls.
Months after Clinton’s loss, I still feel the massive unfairness of the treatment of her candidacy, and I am furious at the vile sexist abuse and can still bring up the visceral effect of watching that menacing large man, hovering over her at the second debate.
I felt sorry for her all the time–having to wear those ugly pantsuits because women in leadership need a uniform.
And then there are all those ifs. If she hadn’t lost it by collapsing in plain view of i-phone cameras at the World Trade Center memorial. If Comey hadn’t written that letter. If. If. If.
I felt sorry for her all the time, too, having to wear those ugly pantsuits because women in leadership need a uniform. The age-ism, the hateful Tweets about “granny.”
Would another woman have elicited the kind of hate she did? She carried so much baggage. But that’s not fair either. Look at the baggage carried by the bully who beat her. All the red caps on duty at JFK could not handle it.
In the end, while we know misogynists came out in droves to vote against her, I don’t think we can blame her loss only on sexism.
The Un-Revolutionary Revolutionary
I’m not blaming the victim, but she was an un-revolutionary revolutionary. Maybe she was the female Jesse Jackson. From the right demographic, but just the wrong person, not up for the job of running for president, which is, in the end, what being president comes down to. Her cold rationality, her deep understanding of the minutiae of policy, her affinity for homework and networking—those are the perfect skill set for a senator. Why didn’t she just stay in the Senate? She’d be useful right now, talking moderate Republicans into saving Obamacare. Some moderate president would have eventually put her on the Supreme Court.
Every woman has to come to terms with Hillary’s loss in her own way.
Those are the jobs she was born to do. Lifetime gigs, so she would never again have to kiss babies and shake hands and think up quick lines to deflect comments about Bill’s women, all while pretending to like doing it..
Every woman has to come to terms with Hillary Clinton’s loss in her own way. And what I think is still evolving.
Tomorrow I’ll have something else to say.
Right now, I’m thinking about the two African-American female TSA agents, manning the security desk that had been set up at 1:30 a.m. on election night at the New York Hilton. “President Trump,” I said to one of them, laughing, as they searched my bag. “Can you say it?’ They gave me a look, the look that says please don’t joke about bombs around me, and then quickly looked away.