I never thought Hillary Clinton would be a shoo-in as president. Coming after two terms of a Democratic president in the White House, she was always a long shot. What has surprised me about this week’s presidential election is not her losing it but my own strong reaction to it.
I was not a totally enthusiastic Clinton supporter. I thought her too cagey and political to ever be forthright about what she really believed, and, worse, too hawkish. Her secretiveness and lack of trust in other people were constantly boomeranging on her, creating unnecessary problems. The private server to handle her email as secretary of state seemed typical of other incidents that generated suspicion and sprang from an unwarranted need to control.
And yet I liked Hillary Clinton. I never understood why more people didn’t or why they said they could not warm to her. To the question, “Would you want to have a beer with this candidate?” my answer was and is, “Absolutely.” She was knowledgeable, hard-working, full of tenacity and grit, and with a sense of humor that surfaced not all the time but enough. Whatever my misgivings about her, I thought she would make a competent president and possibly a great one. She had spent her life working for the job; she surely had some ambitions for what she wanted to do once she got it. I was curious to see how she would handle the presidency, and how she and Bill Clinton would negotiate their reversed roles as president and first spouse. It seemed like it would be a fun “first” to watch.
We will never know now what Hillary Clinton’s priorities would be as president or how she would govern. Facing an opponent far less experienced, qualified or deserving, she lost the election, and the overriding question today is: Why?
There has been a lot of talk this year about the grievances of white working-class men. They have them, surely, and they deserve attention, surely. But the economic discontent of the white working class does not explain why Donald Trump will be our next president. He did not offer any realistic policy proposals that would improve their circumstances, and millions of people who are not disadvantaged blue-collar workers voted for him rather than for Mrs. Clinton. The F.B.I. has, apparently, many Trump supporters, and I suspect they all get a fine salary.
I do not think most people who voted for Mr. Trump did so because they are virulently racist or Islamophobic or hateful, although they may not mind his shout-outs to that crowd. I think they voted for him because Mrs. Clinton was the Establishment candidate and he promised change, and they were sufficiently mesmerized by the mantra of “change” to take a flying leap into the unknown. Even more important, I think they voted for him because, presented with a choice of the smart, capable, well-spoken girl in the class who gets straight A’s or the loudmouth boy who makes outrageous, offensive remarks and serves as class clown, they chose the boy. They chose him because he was the boy. Millions of men, and no doubt some women too, do not want a woman as president, and are uncomfortable with a woman as boss. The election results say more about the enduring presence of sexism in our society than about policies or even populism.
Hillary Clinton’s concession speech spoke to both the high ideals expressed in our Constitution and the aspirations of women and girls. It was thoughtful; it was gracious; it was moving; it was inspiring. I know I am not the only woman who teared up when reading it. I wish she could have given more speeches like that during her campaign. Would it have changed anything? I don’t know that it would have. Too many American men are not ready for a female president, especially not after two terms of a black one.
I am surprised by how saddened I am by her loss. But rarely has a presidential candidate prepared so diligently for the presidency, worked so hard to get it or endured so much criticism along the way. The election results leave me feeling that I have just watched an incredible athlete lose the match of her career and lose it on a technicality. There’s heartbreak in seeing her career end this way, and with that admiration for the perseverance she has shown every step of the long way to this year’s presidential election. People can and will argue about whether she could have run a better campaign, but, regardless, she exits this election a champion. Perhaps even more than if she had won the presidency, she offers an example to others. We can’t all become president, but we can all pursue our ambitious with determination, dedication and undaunted courage. That is her legacy, and it is a great one.