I can’t write directly about what has just happened to us. It’s too big. And by “us,” I don’t only mean Americans. I mean the world.
(Just to name one consequence, the 2016 election ensures nothing will be done about climate change for four more years. Get back to me about building walls when entire nations become uninhabitable.)
But I watched most of Hillary Clinton’s concession speech this morning and I was struck again by the virtually impossible task of being a female American and running for higher office.
Even now. In 2016.
No one commented on Clinton’s hair or what she was wearing, but even I found myself wondering if she’d cry and what people would say if she did. What they will continue to say because she didn’t.
A man giving a Presidential concession speech – in 2016 – would be allowed to shed tears, be expected to when he gets to the part where he thanks his staff and family. He would be applauded for “bravery” in showing his emotions. No one would speculate on whether or not he had a vagina and fallopian tubes. And whether they disqualified him from leadership positions.
Further, men in public life are expected to “get things done,” which means cutting deals, trading tit for tat, compromising, holding your nose and making sure the check clears. Men are applauded for this behavior and even the good Christians in their midst concede Rome to the Romans as long as they are male.
If a woman does any of the things listed above, she commits two sins. The first is the sin of “corruption,” which is what “business as usual” becomes when it’s done by a high-profile female in American politics. The second – far weightier – sin is that of ambition. Also know as “pride” in the red states. Clinton made it clear that she considered baking cookies a secondary occupation at best, especially for a woman with any other discernible skills, and segments of Middle America never forgot and never forgave.
Which brings us to Tracy Flick in the 1999 movie Election. Tracy was ambitious to the point of ruthlessness, manipulative beyond the point of effectiveness, corrupt for realz, sexually suspect, and – worst of all – prideful. She had no time for cookies, but did make a mean muffin as long as it was big enough to contain her name in frosting letters.
Hillary Clinton was not guilty as charged of anything that I’m aware of. Not Whitewater, not Bengazi, not the stupid emails. Few people in American life have been so vigorously scrutinized and come up so clean. But the charges never stopped. As Clinton asserted early on, she was the victim of “a vast rightwing conspiracy” to smear her and remove her and the other Clinton from American public life.
In this latest election, the rightwing conspirators were joined by the more witless fringe of Berniebots, who accused Hillary (on non-news internet sites) of everything from being the brains behind the Trilateral Commission to sleeping with Sasquatch. It was irresponsible and dumb; it had an affect on the election. And, truth be told, a lot of the energy coming from that camp felt like garden-variety sexism. Which can comfortably stay sexist if your man is Trump but has to seek some other justification (however specious) if your man is Bernie Sanders, who made his own manly deals to be a Senator.
(Can you say no gun control, woodsy Vermonters? I can.)
Clinton found herself surrounded in 2016 by a lot of men (on her right and her left) who just weren’t comfortable with the fact she was a she. And had no way of thinking about her, judging her, characterizing her, except as some pants-suited grownup version of Tracy Flick. They demonized a good candidate – a good person, a good woman – and the world will now suffer mightily as a result.
Hillary Clinton bears no resemblance to Tracy Flick. They have no character traits in common. Except maybe pride. If pride is what we call it when a woman has the temerity to suggest she can do this job or that as well as a man can.
With all that said, in a race between Tracy and Donald Trump, I’d Pick Flick. At least Tracy possesses basic competence and only hates people who get in the way of what she wants.
Words. Just words. On this saddest of post-election days. “Ah, Bartleby. Ah, Humanity.”