My grandma was the first to tell me we should never vote for women. I was ten, or maybe twelve. I tried, standing by her rocking chair and moving my hands a lot, to change her mind. I failed, but took comfort in the notion that she spoke for old folks only.
I weaned on what was anti-Hillary while growing into womanhood. Venom just a little something extra in every dose of rhetoric. I knew, by the time I entered college, that she was approximately evil incarnate. I had no idea why. It was in everybody’s tone and I never asked, for fear of being ignorant. In 2008 me and my friends sat in a common room cheering the news that she was dropping out. Obama was our hero after Bush.
The story of Hillary began, for me, when Trump became a threat.
People didn’t like him because of how he scavenged billions from his own dying enterprises, embezzled charity money, referred to border refugees as rapists, recommended state-registration of every Muslim in America, publicly mocked a guy for his physical disability, vowed to reinstate stop-and-frisk, pledged to punish women who undergo abortion, promised to bomb the regions with ISIS into oblivion, awkwardly defended his dick size to the press, encouraged his supporters to beat up protesters and then never paid their court fees like he’d promised, called global warming a Chinese hoax, chose a running-mate who supports electro-shocking gay kids into straighthood, and got caught on tape loudly describing his preferred methods of sexual assault while awaiting several rape trials. And people didn’t like Hillary, either.
The people who wouldn’t vote for her have all explained that this wasn’t due to racism, and it certainly wasn’t due to sexism. They hated Clinton on a strictly personal basis. (What’s sexist about that?) They hated her because The Crooked. The Sneaky. The Who’s-Pocket-is-She-in, The Bernie-Should-Have-Won, The Emails-Could-Be-Who-Knows-What. The searing We-Don’t-Trust-Her.
All of which are feels. Not policy. Not statement. Just questions about who she really is. You can argue that it’s Clinton’s fault for smearing others instead of defining herself – that Crooked Hillary became her default shorthand. But Crooked doesn’t define a character. Crooked is a lack of clarity. So no one knew, when damning her, quite what makes her tick.
I can tell you what does. I watched her, and I get her. See, I am what she is – a woman with ambition.
Do you remember a particularly sleazy episode in 2016’s September, when she lied about having heat exhaustion? I do. I wondered, then and now, by what power of God can anyone witness a 69-year-old granny shrug off pneumonia for three whole days, pass out, and get back to her feet still insisting, I’m fine, just a little too much sun – then decide the newsworthy angle is that she lied to us?
“Why would she fib?” People were asking. Pundits asked, people on the bus asked. Everyone asked. Having real, sincere wonder over what dark shrew heart would harbor her deep-seated treachery.
Gee, I don’t know, people-who-are-so-different-from-Hillary-that-she-makes-no-human-sense-to-you. I’m sure if you were an old woman who wanted to run our country, you’d never say you were fine when you weren’t. You have morals, after all.
That’s why I don’t love you. You’re not my people. I love Hillary – in my guts, above reason – for that lie you couldn’t understand.
To a woman with ambition, I’m fine, I’m fine, has never meant, ‘I’m fine.’ It means, chin up, and don’t look down. We’re getting through it, do you hear me? Just a little sleight of hand, just a smile that they won’t believe. There’s something weak in you, but girl, that’s locked inside. When you pull through no one will know you almost couldn’t.
If anyone could read the subtext, they wouldn’t have felt deceived. You might even have loved her. But America needed subtext, in the first place, because Hillary doesn’t explain herself. So that’s one more grudge against her. Why couldn’t she have spent more time on the campaign trail talking about who she is and what she’s good at? Why’d she have to spend so much time digging up dirt on other guys? Practically all she ever said about herself is, she’s a woman. But we already knew that.
Except that, we didn’t. We never remembered there were things Hillary couldn’t do – things that might have worked well for men that she wasn’t allowed to consider. We never remembered that female politicians, always, are more popular while they’re serving than while they’re campaigning.
Want to know exactly why?
Women. Can’t. Brag.
It’s not just that nobody likes you when you do it. It’s that nobody believes you. Your judging yourself good at anything, will, in fact, be cited as an ethical transgression meriting denial. “She thinks she’s so smart,” translates directly into, “She’s not smart.” Hillary Clinton would be damned if she defined herself too often – especially since her assets are all the things we’re taught that men have and women don’t. She couldn’t tell you that she’s brilliant, rational, decisive, and a tank.
She couldn’t tell you that, We’re going to the moon! Guys who look like Kennedy can boast grand plans. People believe them, no matter the cost. They’ll believe in a wall we haven’t built, and debate who’s going to pay. But you can’t trumpet anything as exciting as “free college tuition,” while you’re a woman. Elizabeth Warren pushed the envelope with a “debt-free” plan, and Hillary followed suit just to be ignored. Then, if people did believe you and rally on the campaign trail, the punishment in office is never-ending opposition. We saw what happened with Obama and his uppity plan for healthcare. Only That Guy can get away with articulate ambition.
There wasn’t very much Hillary could say, and be believed. She could say she was a woman. So that was her one big explanation. It served as both apology and subtext. The rest of the time she could talk about the other guy, and what was wrong with him.
People hated her more for that – smear-campaigner, the venomous witch. It seemed personal, when she did it. She’d take no skeleton for prisoner. So when we didn’t hear much impugning Bernie Sanders, people were fine just assuming no dirt could exist. Her never bringing up his stealing-electricity-from-neighbors-while-on-unemployment-until-his-mid-thirties, his dumping-Vermont’s-nuclear-waste-into-poor-Hispanic-Texan-communities, his caught-on-tape-attendance-of-a-Sandinista-rally-where-they-chanted-death-to-Yankees wasn’t an act of personal mercy, of course. None of it was personal. She weathered through decades of blistering scrutiny, never complaining. It’s politics. It’s not about you. Hillary didn’t trash Bernie too hard, so that one of them could win. Bernie, likewise, warned after losing that now was not the time for protest-votes. (Not that half his rabid sycophants could listen.)
Campaigning was never Hillary’s chief objective. Governing was. As much of the time as possible throughout her long career, she kept her head down and went to work. It’s a thing about women with ambition. We let our achievements speak for us. Accomplishments don’t get interrupted. They can’t get doubted, or denied. Let your character be ripped to shreds. Who you are is in your legacy.
So Clinton mentioned, often, smugly, her years of Washington Experience. That, too, no one could deny. And it worked, although we hated her because of it. No one could disbelieve Hillary Clinton’s intelligence. No accusation of weakness, cowardice or sloth would stick. Trump himself, who interrupted her 51 times in one debate, admired her for being “a fighter” who “never gives up” when prompted for a compliment.
Relying on competitors to define you is a disadvantage, however. And we never needed men to self-explain, because there are models charming and familiar that spring to mind when an old white-haired man in glasses shuffles onto stage, or when that loud guy in a sea of baseball hats swaggers his way to microphone. Hillary had no popular female model to accommodate her merit. She could only smile hard and hope for the best. So it worked – but like a monkey’s paw. Every virtue she wished you’d read in her was twisted malicious in the pantsuit’s twinless narrative.
We knew that she was smart. But it was scary-smart, too smart to be familiar. We got that she was rational, but couldn’t fathom how she might, at the same time, have feelings; hence her emotional appeals could only be seen as phony, her every attempt to move you just plain manipulation. And being a fighter, while sexy in a man, reads as nasty in a woman – reads as vicious, reads as dirty.
She couldn’t be decisive without being self-serving; only leaders decide in the best interests of others. And “leader” isn’t assumed when you look at a woman. She has to convince you of it. The femme fatale, historically and still, is the go-to trope for smart women wielding power. A woman lacking explanation. You know what she wants, but not why. She is forever evil and a mystery.
Hillary Clinton wasn’t that to me. She was my people. When I could read her story I found a politician who was, in all her faults, ordinary. I thrilled when she was leading, but I loved her when I watched her fail. I saw where she was coming from.
Many, loath even after Trump won to forgive the myth of her mystery, assembled at his heels to condemn Hillary’s co-sponsorship of a 2005 Flag Protection Act. Trump had tweeted that flag-burners should be jailed or stripped of citizenship. Hillary’s act, eleven years in the past, would have similarly punished flag-burning.
But that bill was never passed or even considered by Congress. And she knew it wouldn’t be, because Hillary plays the politics. She put her name on hopeless legislation for the sake of republican love. That doesn’t make her evil. It makes her quite like you.
Every poll was wrong about who’d win 2016. People lie, and people change alliances. Politicians and voters alike. You only know where they stand by watching how they use their power. I can call you sexist if you voted for Jill Stein; a vote for a woman you know can’t win is nothing but a token. And Hillary winning the popular vote means nothing, because in solidly-red-or-blue states those votes for her were tokens, too. She lost the electoral, by a lot – which means that wherever people had power, they used it (or refused to) in order to make Trump win.
We know who he is; we’ve seen how he uses his power. He buys to cannibalize, lives to get richer. He sexually harassed women and girls on his reality shows, asking other men to join in. Children accused him of rape. He ordered black people off the floor at his casinos, ran corporations that failed to rent to or hire people of color, and used his weight to clamor for the deaths of 5 black teenagers accused of murder – even after DNA exoneration. He makes decisions, reliably, in a way that hurts others and benefits himself.
Hillary’s legacy does not read this way. She plays the politics to gain her power, and deploys it in the interests of others. Her policies shift with the times, not ahead of them. She pushes, steadily, for progress – never hard enough to draw backlash. Ever tempered with awareness of political tug-and-pull. She compromises, and she disappoints. But the impact she leaves on the world is absolutely everything to her. She reads like a leader.
Many who wouldn’t vote for Hillary have said they’ll miss President Obama – without reference to the fact that his policies and hers are pretty well identical. She was among his top advisers for 5 years. And he won twice, landslide elections; there’s no denying people liked the way he worked.
It’s been thoroughly demonstrated that Clinton would have made a good president. By every objective measure, she was the candidate most qualified. Only, this year – directly after our first black president, as Clinton seemed poised to become our first Madam one – our nation decided we were done with Washington.
We needed, all of a giant sudden, change. Not in the way that Obama meant it. Not a mere departure from last-term’s policy and routine. No. We needed a real Washington Outsider willing to tear the house down. Somehow, by the end of popular Obama’s second term, everyone realized that its capital was a glimmering den of iniquity. Not to be trusted. Clinton was a disgrace by association (or maybe visa versa – who could tell?) The nation chose a man who openly plans to destroy what Obama has achieved, just because he achieved it. And Trump, far from being black, has a KKK-endorsement.
This is where Hillary’s story ends for me. She was fine, she was fine, she was fine, while everybody watched her and nobody got her and she was the devil incarnate. She was my people and Obama said he needed her. Who she is was in her legacy. And that legacy, tied at its crown to Obama’s, will be destroyed – along with every trace of black and girl still sticking to the White House.
Hillary could have saved us. From nuclear cold war, climate apocalypse, and the systematic dismantling of civil rights. Just her. We shot her down in flames.
Maybe somewhere there’s a woman we don’t know and haven’t damned in narrative as a slithering femme fatale. Not listening to anyone insisting she get lost. If her image is sparkling like Obama’s was, she could run, and even win – given unhappy years under Trump. But Hillary’s story has been told, on the highest platform in the world. It will be told again; for such is the nature of stories. We’ll see it replay in broad circles, in small towns, on boards and corporations. We’ll see it again at the level of states and nations. And those of us who share her anatomy can look in the mirror and see it in ourselves. America has spoken. We are not your hero.