‘Goodbye, Madam President’ — this has been a phrase I’ve been saying to myself for a while now these last few months. But last week’s inauguration of President Trump, and her gracious presence there with her husband on her arm really drove home the finality of this numbing, historic farewell.
Which brings me to the I’ve had one question since the election: How did we get here?
It started, of course, on Election Day, the day that all reputable pollsters had predicted a Clinton win. Of course, that is not the way things turned out.
Election night was a hard night. Watching the live results flash onto the Empire State building, seeing as her chances of winning the presidency tumbled into a free fall was unspeakably painful to watch. By the time I clocked out at 3 AM, I knew she had lost.
I went to bed that night tired, and afraid of the path our country had chosen to go down on. But even more than that, my heart broke for the brilliant, confusing, frustrating woman I had grown to admire over the last few years. I don’t know what hurt me more – the thought that losing could have finally made her break out in tears, or even worse, the thought that she probably did what she had done her entire life: kept a stiff upper lip, swallowed her emotions, and gracefully conceded to the winner, a significantly less qualified man who took up politics on a whim, rated women’s bodies on a scale of one to ten, and felt entitled to grab them, in his own words, “by the p*ssy”.
The criticisms and dissections of Clinton and her campaign in the aftermath of the election were tiring, too. Some were legitimate, but most were simply lazy journalism. The most annoying recurring criticism was that she was somehow a weak candidate. Weak? Please. It took Russia, Wikileaks, the FBI, and some of US history’s tightest voting law restrictions to finally take her down. And despite her loss, she still defeated her opponent in the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes.The woman has won more votes than any white man in history, and just less than an African American man. And although her strategy failed, she had the foresight to build a coalition of marginalized, minority voters who will one day be the majority of this nation. ‘Weak’ is a disservice to all of that.
So weak is not, in my opinion, exactly the right sentiment. But there’s a small ring of truth to the fact that aside from long-standing fans, most people never saw the good in her, or the potential she brought to the table.
Part of it, in my opinion, was because of the moral puritarian hysteria that swept the Democratic primaries. An imperfect candidate, record of public service aside, was suddenly unacceptable to the far left of the party. And so, hating Hillary became the new vogue. It was “in”, it was edgy, and all the cool liberal kids did it. Facts sure as hell didn’t matter, because Hillary was suddenly a corrupt Wall Street bitch, standing in the way of a white man who was, in reality, the self-appointed savior of a party he refused to officially join or fundraise for, and one who was probably no more or less “crooked” of a politician than Clinton herself. No, no, no, in their minds, she was just oh-so-conveniently responsible for everything that went wrong in the Obama administration and nothing that went right. Never mind that all her decisions had to be signed off by the president himself. Never mind that the leaked DNC emails showed no sign of rigging, just a staff that was royally ticked off on her behalf, but not on her instruction. Never mind that a quick search on Snopes would have eliminated 90% of people’s reservations about her. Because if you saw a meme on Facebook that said so, it had to be true, right?
Liberals always pride themselves on being so damn smart. The truth is that they’re just as susceptible to false information as anyone on the right, but they’re too stuck up to admit it. Being inflammatory wins you brownie points and social media shares. Being truthful doesn’t.
In the end, I bit my tongue and bore everything thrown her way — the blatant misogyny, the conspiracy theories, and the outright lies reposted over and over on my Facebook feed — because in the end, I truly believed that she would succeed in smashing that highest, hardest glass ceiling. My hope, as I told a friend, was to someday tell my children that we’d had our first African-American president and our first woman president back to back. I wanted to tell them that in this great country, despite the divisions of race and gender, with hard work, grace, and dignity, they could overcome anything and be anyone. I cannot say that to my children now, simply because I don’t believe that anymore.
The most depressing part of all this is that her loss is the only scenario where Hillary actually, truly wins. I mean that. Her Day 1 in the presidency would have been marked by some kind of faux scandal, an immediate call for impeachment, an assassination attempt, or all of the above. Instead, her loss comes as the equivalent of a political martyrdom, and the administration that could have been gets to live on in our imaginations as a rose tinted vision, an incomplete promise. I have no doubt that history will eventually vindicate her and call the election season for what it truly was — an extended witch trial. But the fact that her historic achievement was not truly appreciated when she ran still leaves a bitter aftertaste in my mouth.
The election also felt incredibly personal because as a young girl, Hillary was one of my first powerful female role models. Growing up, she was a living, breathing embodiment of what I fundamentally believed to be true: that hard work and ambition could shatter even the toughest of glass ceilings. I also saw parts of myself in her — her bookworm, wonky nature, her awkwardness with speaking to large crowds, her perceived lack of “warmth” — all things that she was mercilessly ripped apart for.
And in the end, I do believe she tried her hardest. She smiled. She wore makeup. She won all three presidential debates. She did everything she “needed” to do and more. And she still lost.
But now, in her defeat, she’s finally free. Free to do whatever the hell she wants — lose the makeup, scowl all she wants, paint her nails purple whenever she feels like it. If she wants to build 100 schools for girls in the Middle East through the Clinton Foundation, she can do it. If she would prefer to do nothing more than take selfies in the woods in Chappaqua, she can do that too. She has some lingering sadness, yes, but she also gets some well-deserved peace.
That said, I don’t believe we will have a female president any time soon. Truly, I don’t. And I wish that there could be some other way around it, but the way I see it, the Democrats’ audacity in running a female candidate at the top of their ticket, only to have her lose, is one that will hurt aspiring female candidates on both sides for a long, long time.
So goodbye, Madam President. There will perhaps one day be a woman leading our nation, but by God, I really wanted this one. Hillary Rodham Clinton was someone who never hid her ambition or intelligence, who worked harder and smarter than just about everyone around her, and who dared to smash through glass ceilings despite knowing full well that the impact could leave her bleeding. Well, something has definitely been shattered, and folks are definitely bleeding. I just hope that we can pick up the broken pieces so that someday, someone will be able to take aim at that highest, hardest ceiling once again — and break it.