Hillary Clinton bravely faces Trump & the forces of darkness.
The journey of women, like America’s journey, is always evolving toward equality and social justice.—Meryl Streep, narrator of Shoulders: Hillary Rodham Clinton’s Story, below.
By the final presidential debate, who could deny that our nation’s howling retrograde armies have assumed the bodily form of Donald Trump? In the face of ignorance and evil, Hillary Clinton acquitted herself almost flawlessly and looked fantastic. Her white suit alluded to the long struggle by women in America for equal treatment—and thereby stood, as well, for justice for all. In contrast, Trump was his usual vile self, and the Women of the House of Trump dressed in black—Melania capping her ensemble with a “pussy-bow” blouse, as if to refer dismissively, from the summit of haute couture, to her husband’s vulgarities. Symbolism has never had it so good.There’s been so much inspired ink on what Trump’s surprising level of support means. The dominant narrative, of course, is that it springs from economic pain among America’s middle- and lower-middle classes. But clearly in this backlash there’s also a strong racist, sexist, misogynistic, nativist, homophobic component. Trump’s sole gift as a leader may be, in stirring the embers of fear and pain, to kindle rage.
As a progressive who fervently believes in American exceptionalism, I’m worried. A proven cure for angry, unexamined feelings is education, which leads to consideration of others’ viewpoints and to self-inquiry, but that’s a slow process.
This week’s New Yorker brings comic relief of sorts with an entertaining analysis of Clinton, Trump, and their campaigns’ supporting players by historical novelist Thomas Mallon. He outlines what he’d write about the campaign in a novel he’d call Presumptive. With Trump barely two-dimensional—a “flat character” in fiction’s lexicon—he doesn’t merit Mallon’s serious consideration to carry the novel’s point of view. Clinton, of course, does. But right off the bat, Mallon hits his hardest, darkest note regarding her:
If Nixon was shredded and poisoned by each of his pre-Presidential defeats, Hillary died a little with each of Bill’s victories, one after another, in Arkansas and beyond, all of them forcing her to stand at a spot on the stage that she knew she should not be occupying. Her life was supposed to take place behind the lectern, not beside it, hoisting the hand of the man who’d just got the votes.
By the time it was “her” turn, it was psychologically too late, just as it was for Nixon in 1968. In his case, winning could not make up for losing; in hers, fifteen years of jury-rigged self-fulfillment cannot make up for the previous twenty-five of self-suppression and worse.
In going with the unoriginal Clinton-is-Nixonian metaphor, Mallon inflates a minor observation into a risky and false-feeling note in an otherwise savory essay. I do agree she’s better than Bill—as a person: but that dawg Bill was a successful president, and she hasn’t pulled that off yet. As well, the sexism she faced, if nothing else, impelled the couple to take turns. Did waiting and racking up political triumphs—becoming a stateswoman—really kill her soul?
Wary and inscrutable do not equal warped. She faces a white tycoon who bleats how the system is rigged against him. Why? In large part because he faces a “nasty woman.” Can anyone imagine Hillary Clinton having survived with even half his record of mendacity and infidelity? With children by three husbands? A string of business swindles?
So, yes, she’s cagey after three decades of far-right assault, most of it as absurd as her opponent.As for Clinton’s steely pragmatic nature, similar doubts might’ve been sounded about Abraham Lincoln, who worked as a tough, amoral lawyer. He represented a railroad. Who could have predicted his rise to personal and political greatness? That is, besides pretty much the entire South?
So Lincoln gives me hope. He knew—and the South knew—what his election would mean. The first assassination attempt on Lincoln’s life came on his way to taking office. Idiots still debate whether the Civil War was “really about slavery, and whether Lincoln “really cared.” What’s true is that he grew in office. It was as if America produced him; in doing so, the union preserved itself and removed one of its last impediments to greatness.
We can’t know whether or when America will need to produce such a person again. But Trump’s depravity makes this moment feel like Armageddon. Clinton, resplendent in her white tunic, has shown considerable courage in facing this rough beast unleashed by dark forces. Never mind her secret soul—who most fears Clinton’s effect on America’s historic and evolutionary destiny? Trump’s supporters.
Clinton is an incrementalist who faces a number of intractable problems caused by previous politicians, of both parties, and by human nature itself. I believe she can grow, as she has in the past. I’m certain Trump cannot. And, moreover, that he’d harm America for decades through bad appointments. Since I got over my own unexamined sexism regarding Clinton—that maybe she’s not “nice” behind the scenes, when my standard for male politicians was much lower—I have only one concern.
She’s hawkish for my taste. Her vote for the Iraq war was the biggie. Out here in the hinterlands, I saw George W. Bush’s crime-in-the-making for what it was. Why couldn’t she? But at least she’s admitted her error. Moreover, Barack Obama’s Lincolnesque move of appointing her as Secretary of State, after they’d been such bitter rivals, not only grew her as a stateswoman—as he intended it to—but surely grew her as a person as well.
This week’s issue of the New Yorker features an eloquent endorsement of Clinton, “The Choice.” Its weakest aspect comes in addressing my concern, vaguely hoping she has “learned greater caution” in military matters from Obama. Though it spends much time thumping her unworthy opponent, the essay otherwise makes a good case for Clinton’s tax plan, her economic development policies, and her likely restoration of moderation to the Supreme Court. Clinton, like Obama—and, for that matter, her deeply flawed husband—appears to understand America’s march toward a sacred horizon.
Belief in America is part and parcel of my own hard-won sense of our species’ spiritual destiny. But will we ever get out of the weeds? Maybe this is what democracy is about after all, a series of crossroads. Maybe it’ll take 2,000 years to get everyone on the same page. Maybe “Amazing Grace” is right—it’ll take 10,000. Until then, I guess, it’s baby steps. Now each side—one mildly progressive, one violently regressive—has presented to us its avatar. We must choose one or the other.
Through many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
’Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home—“Amazing Grace”