I’m reading Hillary Clinton’s account of her stunning loss in the 2016 Presidential election. In her memoir, What Happened, Clinton talks about the well-coordinated campaign by the Trump operatives to fuel anger throughout the country. As Trump continued to provoke violence in his rallies, she kept thinking, “People are going to be shocked by this.” But as we know, they weren’t. She hoped that at some point in the campaign people would say: “OK, what are you going to do for me”? But there was so much anger, not only from the candidate himself, but from Fox News, Breitbart and from behind the scenes, Russians who were stealing information and weaponizing it, that Trump’s acolytes never stopped long enough to ask, “Where’s your plan?” There was no plan, just empty promises, “You can go back to things the way they were” he said,” without competing with a woman or a minority.” That’s not a plan; that’s called magical thinking.
Clinton admits, “I never figured out how to contend with the anger or overcome it. I wasn’t going to try to compete with that level of vitriol. That’s not how I’m made. ” (None of the men who campaigned against Trump figured out how to contend with it either.) I think this statement is key. Clinton points out the stark difference between the distorted competitive, domineering, confrontational, power hungry masculine philosophy of politics in contrast with her own.
Trump’s theory of politics is to divide people and to focus on a small but stalwart base of voters who agree with his bigotry and paranoia. After all, he started his campaign accusing Mexicans of being rapists and drug lords. His rhetoric was inflammatory and irresponsible. Clinton, in contrast, tried to emphasize the politics of inclusiveness, bringing people together. She used the slogan “Stronger Together” because she believes in a community in which people are embraced and respected. Trump’s philosophy is patriarchal and hers is feminist in the best sense of the word. (Feminism means the advocacy of women’s rights on the basis of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.) A feminist sense of power includes honoring affiliation, community, attaining power not for self-aggrandizement but for the good of others, striving for authenticity not perfection, speaking out and taking risks. Clinton risked backlash when she sought the Presidency of the United States. (Who does she think she is?)
I am intrigued with how we women can combat the level of anger and denigration of the feminine displayed by Trump. Too many people bought into his carnival show and thought it was okay to vilify Clinton. Is our country really that misogynistic?
Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook has done research about women in leadership roles and has found out that for men, likability and professional success are correlated. The more successful a man is, the more people like him. With women, it’s the exact opposite. The more professionally successful women are, the less people like them. She found another thing that’s very interesting: women are seen favorably when they advocate for others, but unfavorably when they advocate for themselves. Hillary was lauded when she was a fierce advocate for others in the Senate or when she was Secretary of State under a male president but when she stood up and said, “Now, I’d like to become President,” everything changed. Many voters responded with rage.
The night that Trump stalked Clinton at the second presidential debate on national television she faced a dilemma. Two days before the debate the nation heard the Access Hollywood tape in which Trump bragged about sexually assaulting women. Of course, very few people called him out for sexual assault, instead commentators said he only “groped” women. That should have been enough to sink his campaign but there he was, shadowing Clinton as she answered a question from the audience, following her as she walked across the small stage, breathing down her neck, making faces, and acting like the bully he was. Neither moderator told him to sit down.
Clinton chose to keep her cool; she continued talking, and did not respond to his constant intrusion. She could have turned around and said, “Back off, you creep.” But imagine what the response would have been if she had been that direct. She would have been seen in the press as an angry, aggressive harridan even though his actions were the ones that were aggressive and demeaning.
I wish she had chosen to confront him, but as she said, she was not equipped to overcome his anger and physical bullying. She’s from the Midwest, grew up in a Methodist household and confronting him was not in her DNA. I’m from New Jersey, grew up in an Irish-American household, and taught in the ghetto. It would have been easier for me to bark, “Back off!” I only hope that’s true. Certainly Barbara Mikulski would have. But in Clinton’s situation, neither keeping her cool, nor yelling at him to back off was a winning solution. It wouldn’t have been seen as Presidential. I hold the television moderators Martha Raddatz and Anderson Cooper responsible for not having the courage to tell Trump “SIT DOWN.”