Hillary Clinton’s not going to get another shot at this. There may well be a female president one day, but it’s not going to be her.
In the last 32 years, three women have appeared on the Democratic or Republican presidential ballots. Two for vice president – Geraldine Ferraro and Sarah Palin – and Hillary for president. Considering there are only two presidential candidates every four years, there are too many variables to plan for another female to be on the ballot again – let alone president – in our lifetime.
On Tuesday night, when many hoped Hillary would come out and give a jubilant speech as the first female president-elect, the fireworks rumoured to be ready were silent. Instead of one of the biggest victories for women in modern history, John Podesta came onstage and told the world to go home and get some sleep.
I’m not sure what it means yet that Donald Trump is president. Tuesday night’s results are going to be the subject of discussion for the near future, though not forever. The margins weren’t thin enough to ruminate on endlessly. Trump won decisively.
The people, like it or not, have spoken. Whether they voted or stayed at home, they played their role in this result.
Hillary wasn’t a “dream” candidate – whatever that is. There is metaphorical blood on the hands of every politician. She had a lot of experience, but Hillary’s limitations as a candidate overshadowed this at times. She’s always struggled with the common touch and appealing to the disenfranchised. She’s seen as “establishment” when many people are fed up with the political status quo. The email scandal cast a pall of untrustworthiness over her and there is no doubt she would change how she addressed it.
Misogyny is also an element in the equation – whether we feel comfortable admitting it or not. Many of Hillary’s political strengths and perceived flaws do, in one way or another, intersect with her gender. It’s not easy to unbundle all of these issues from one another; all we can do is acknowledge misogyny had a role. We must acknowledge that it wasn’t merely being a woman that felled her; it was being Hillary Clinton with all the baggage her name and persona comes with. Another woman may find herself more successful on the ballot one day.
As a gay man, I find myself drawn to strong women. For the preciously-voiced and limp-wristed, it’s not always easy to navigate a world where machismo is valued so highly. When I meet a woman with a strong personality and look her in the eyes, we know, both of us, that there’s a certain shared experience: you’ve seen some of what I’ve seen. We know that being “ourselves” – code for not traditionally masculine – can be a hindrance in getting what we want socially and professionally.
Over time, you cultivate certain mannerisms to help. I freely admit that I have. You cut through emotion with facts and become more decisive. You learn to speak dispassionately and on message. You interject and tell people to stop interrupting you. You learn to command a conversation, a dialogue or a negotiation instead of being a participant. You become a flat reflecting pool to showcase your message and not your emotions.
Gay men still hold an advantage here. A roommate I had in Alberta once told me that I was an alpha male and not “your typical faggot.” Alpha women don’t even get the generosity of a backhanded compliment like that. They’re painted – in one shade or another – as some sort of “bitch.”
Hillary made a lot of bargains in life to get ahead. She moved to Arkansas and channelled a lot of her early ambition into her husband’s career. When Bill lost re-election after his first term as governor and Hillary’s persona was seen as playing a part, she made changes.
As Connie Bruck once wrote in The New Yorker, Hillary “surrendered the notion that she could do things in her unvarnished way; and she set about repackaging herself—changing her name, her appearance, and her public demeanor.”
For all of this, there was a means to an end. Bill got re-elected and would go on to be president. Hillary’s bargains then and subsequently would set the stage for her own political career.
As a supporter, this is why I wonder about some of her missteps during the campaign that seem incongruent with her calculating mind.
The “deplorables” comment was one. The handling of the email scandal another. The optics of Bill chatting with Loretta Lynch was stunning. The optics of Huma Abedin as her top aid, absurd. As a woman who knows firsthand how a husband’s scandal can taint her own reputation, something about working closely with Anthony Weiner’s estranged wife seemed naïve.
When friends criticized Hillary for not coming out and speaking last night, I reminded them that she couldn’t. No matter how she appeared – angry, exhausted, matter-of-fact, sad – she would have been pilloried. She’d lost enough already and there comes a point where you just have to stop losing.
In the second presidential debate, Donald Trump said that what he admired most about Hillary was that she fights hard and doesn’t give up. When Trump spoke kindly of her last night in his victory speech, I didn’t challenge his professed sincerity.
Anyone who has ever been ambitious knows that phone call to concede – and to Trump of all people – must have been the most difficult thing she ever had to do in her life.
I believe that when he received that call he understood the full gravity of what had just happened: how, for Hillary, decades of ambition and bargaining and hard work had just gone up in smoke.
Trump professed that he was going to contest the election and here was Hillary accepting defeat. I’m sure that phone call was just as chilling an experience for him as it was for her, and in turn, for many of us.