In July we attended the wedding of the son of a dear friend. Because we didn’t know Seattle, we indulged ourselves by taking Lyft around town. We had drivers from Ethiopia, Africa, Afghanistan and India, among other places.
But one young man was homegrown, from the States. His name was Patrick. When I identified myself as a liberal, Patrick said he wasn’t.
“Oh?” I responded.
He said he was a socialist, as were many young people in the Pacific Northwest, according to him. He proceeded to dissect the 2016 presidential election, laying the blame on “Neoliberalism,” and calling Hillary “a man in a pantsuit.” He said he was ready for a true female candidate for president.
Hillary is now on the book tour circuit promoting her campaign memoir, What Happened. Although I haven’t finished the book, I have read up through the chapter titled “On Being a Woman in Politics,” in which she asks: “What makes me such a lightning rod for fury?”
She talks about the cottage industry that set out to investigate Whitewater, Travelgate, emailgate, then says: “But I think there’s another explanation for the skepticism I’ve faced in public life. I think it’s partly because I’m a woman.”
This seems like the understatement of the century.
Hillary was defeated by a man who is perhaps the most unreconstructed sexist in our midst. Just this week Trump retweeted a GIF that showed him hitting a golf ball that struck Hillary in the back, knocking her down.
Hillary was voted against by 53 percent of white women, who voted for our president despite a tape that showed him bragging about grabbing women in the privates.
Hillary was pilloried by crowds at campaign rallies yelling “Lock Her Up!” and “Guilty! Guilty!”
In What Happened, Hillary asks: “What in the world was this? I’ve been in politics for a long time, but I was taken aback by the flood of hatred that seemed only to grow as we got closer to Election Day. I had left the State Department one of the most admired public servants in America. Now people seemed to think I was evil. Not just ‘not my cup of tea’ but evil. It was flabbergasting and frightening.”
Right after the election, when it became clear that the improbable had happened and Trump had won the Electoral College, one of my first thoughts was “Geez, people really hate women!”
This has been a tough year for many people, but I think especially for women. Women in my writers’ group have said they feel stuck. Women in my social circle have said they have been depressed since the election. The last time I felt really buoyant was the day before James Comey re-opened the e-mail investigation. I was briefly cheered by the huge numbers that turned out for the Women’s March, but the months since Trump’s election have been surreal and eroding.
Maybe that’s partly why I’ve visited presidential libraries this year, to view evidence of presidents who were more presidential-acting than our current one. In June my husband and I toured the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum in Dallas. Bush is from my hometown of Midland, Texas, so I have a curiosity about him. Finding himself restless in retirement, he read Churchill’s book on painting and decided he would take it up. Currently on exhibit is “Portraits of Courage,” oil paintings of 66 “wounded warriors,” post 9/11 veterans of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. The paintings are heavily textured and seem to capture the essence of the person. Painting has obviously been a kind of penance for invading Iraq. With his art and his initiative to help vets transition into civilian life, Bush has put his post-presidency to positive use.
I also felt emotional in August touring Bill Clinton’s presidential library in Little Rock with my husband and our 20-year-old son, but my feelings were altogether more complicated. Watching the introductory film, I felt disappointed at the opportunities squandered by the sexual scandal and impeachment proceedings, and wondered how much baggage Bill presented for Hillary in her bid to become our first woman president. That said, he is a skilled, policy-wonkish politician, as is evident in his museum.
When our Lyft driver said he wanted to vote for a real woman, not just a man in a pantsuit, I think he was saying he would vote for a perfect woman candidate, or maybe a woman with Bernie’s politics and Hillary’s experience. Hillary was flawed ― in love with big donors, not candid enough on the campaign trail, not on the ground enough in the Rust Belt, etc. – but whatever her shortcomings, they fill a thimble compared to those displayed by the current occupant of the office. In her book, Hillary lists Russian meddling, Comey interference, the media’s preoccupation with her e-mails, as well as voter discontent as costing her the presidency.
She makes a distinction between sexism (discomfort at women in power) and misogyny (woman-hating). As she writes, both were at play in her defeat. As a country, we need to grow up, to get over the resistance to being led by a female.
Hillary’s loss, in short, is our loss.