It’s Tuesday, a day generally characterized by blandness. This Tuesday however was different: Election Day, a stage-setter for individuals, communities, the nation and the world. The two center-stage candidates stood before us months on end, both polar opposites and both polarizing to no end. To me and doubtless other Americans, there was one particular candidate who could not be trusted over the other and the polls early into the night seemed to indicate I could rest assured that particular person wouldn’t see the light of day in office.
I got a good night’s sleep only to wake up into a nightmare: Republicans had taken control of the White House and led by a corporate mogul no less. How could this be? How could a misogynistic, spiteful, spoiled racist of a candidate have trumped the odds? The answer comes in the form of a question: who defines ‘the odds’?
By reasonable logic, a candidate that ostracizes all groups other than white men and exercises no courtesy in the heat of debate ought to have garnered little to no respect in the worldwide community but in this case, the odds worked for him. By the same token that nothing prevents men from appropriating the elements of feminine style to enhance their public discourse, men in the political arena are not inextricably bound by the more civil traits — nurturance, intimacy, and domesticity — attributed to feminine identity as female politicians frequently are.
In this respect, Hillary Clinton stood at quite the disadvantage. While her opponent can assume the traits of male or female, Hillary has to operate within the parameters of what traditional America understands as female, a role she has historically had a hard time coming to terms with — as sarahparente mentions, she made for an intimidating First Lady in Arkansas which did not fit the image… created for the governor’s wife in Arkansas.
But this was 1979 in Arkansas, a territory defined by its adherence to conventions and only a short 11 years after the passing of the 1968 Civil Rights Act. Hillary Clinton thus conformed to some of Arkansas’ physical expectations for a woman by acquiring contact lenses, lightening her hair, wearing more fashionable clothes and taking her husband’s name but according to Karlyn Campbell, no such change seems to have occurred in her rhetorical style.
The result? Bill Clinton gets re-elected and Hillary Clinton, though consistent in her gender-subversive demeanor, establishes early her reputation for catering to her audiences — a facet she is hounded for by the public to this day.
Hillary may call herself ‘the policy wonk,’ but the public prefers to see her as a policy ‘flip-flopper.’ When discussing her “Woman’s Rights Are Human’s Rights” speech, jameswheat argues that Hillary assumes the role of spokesperson for all women yet “does not acknowledge the struggles of women that can only be discussed when talking about intersectionality.” The exegesis of his piece is that “Politicians inherently have to appeal to a wide audience” and as long as Hillary embodies conservative and liberal ideals based on her audience, “theres no true way to tell what she believes.”
It’s easy for onlookers to isolate incidents where a candidate doesn’t live up to the expectations their demographic sets out for them and render any achievement they may have made less significant. This is made even easier via the advent of social media platforms like Facebook that facilitate proliferation of misleading media coverage: rather than get to know the facts and the issues, people get to pick and choose which side of the story they prefer and thus corrosive labels are born for demographics to unify behind.
Perhaps I fall on the spectrum that gives Hillary the benefit of the doubt when it comes to criticisms of whether she represents who she says she does but with good reason. After all, Hillary is cited as having stood up for the LGBT community before most people in politics had thought to or been courageous enough to do so (not to mention the other non-white male groups she stands up for).
Hillary has a particular challenge in being the strong woman who defies the stereotypes lashed at her in that she treads a fine line between protecting herself and not coming across as ‘walled off.’ Even when reflecting on her law school days, she recalls a man who tried to guilt trip her into backing out of the program so that he did not get drafted for the Vietnam War. To this, Csandoval poses an interesting question: What would have happened if she had reacted to their words?
In my own life, when someone tries to put me down, I usually feel compelled to either respond back in order to defend myself or hang my head down and let words get to me. It’s important to note that a middle ground does exist and that oftentimes, silence and reservation of emotions demonstrates character and strength; after all, if she did react to their words, she may have failed her exam!
But if controlling her emotions worked in propelling her into the national spotlight, why did it not sustain her dominance in the contemporary political arena amidst the likes of the volatile orange party (the Donald)?
On the one hand, Hillary Clinton did win the popular vote but on the other, she remained as divisive a candidate amidst the public if not more so than her opponent as shown by statistical data on the internet. I think a factor larger than the vote however is who stayed relevant in the public discourse.
When discussing the piece titled ImANastyWoman, Adelakolenovic brings up a great point in stating that, “Trump has said a lot worse unfortunately (aka bragging about sexual assault) and yet that didn’t even have such an affect on females siding with Clinton as much as it made them despise Trump further and I wonder what it was about being called a “nasty woman” which sparked that.”
It’s noteworthy that people are quicker to fall under the party of despising Trump rather than supporting Hillary. In this respect, any publicity is good publicity and while Trump certainly spewed his share of foul rhetoric, that rhetoric shares the same level of profundity as that of Hillary as a woman figure in her early days as a competent rhetor and thereby catapulted him into the national spotlight that Hillary struggled to sustain.
So what does this mean for politics at large? Is the presidential race becoming more of a popularity contest than it is a testament to qualifications to run the country? In an age where Kanye West is considered a viable candidate for the subsequent election cycle, the question is less one of trust than it is one of idolatry and what that says about the United States populace and its representatives.
In Who Do You Trust was authored by Theodore Wallace, a graduate student at CUNY Hunter College and English teacher in New York City.