Years of Republican plots, an opponent deified by television, and FBI smears stood in her way and she still won the popular vote by more than Kennedy did
Sometimes I think I have never seen anything as strong as Hillary Clinton. That doesnt mean that I like and admire everything about her. Im not here to argue about who she is, just to note what she did. I watched her plow through opposition and attacks the like of which no other candidate has ever faced and still win the popular vote. To defeat her it took an unholy cabal far beyond what Barack Obama faced when he was the campaign of change, swimming with the tide of disgust about the Bush administration. As the New York Times reported, By the time all the ballots are counted, she seems likely to be ahead by more than 2m votes and more than 1.5 percentage points. She will have won by a wider percentage margin than not only Al Gore in 2000 but also Richard Nixon in 1968 and John F Kennedy in 1960.
You can flip that and see that Trump was such a weak candidate it took decades of scheming and an extraordinary international roster of powerful players to lay the groundwork that made his election possible. Defeating Clinton in the electoral college took the 2013 gutting of the Voting Rights Act by Republican appointees to the supreme court. It took vast Republican voter suppression laws and tactics set in place over many years. It took voter intimidation at many polling places. It took the long Republican campaign to blow up the boring bureaucratic irregularity of Clintons use of a private email server into a scandal that the media obediently picked up and reheated.
It took James Comey, the director of the FBI, using that faux-scandal and his power to stage a misleading smear attack on Clinton 11 days before the election in flagrant violation of the custom of avoiding such intervention for 60 days before an election. It took a compliant mainstream media running after his sabotage like a golden retriever chasing a tennis ball. It took decades of conservative attacks on the Clintons. Comey, incidentally, served as deputy GOP counsel to the Senate Whitewater committee, that fishing expedition that began with an investigation in a messy real estate deal in Arkansas before Bill Clintons presidency and ended with a campaign to impeach him on charges related to completely unrelated sexual activities during his second term.
It took a nearly decade-long reality TV show, The Apprentice, that deified Trumps cruelty, sexism, racism and narcissism as essential to success and power. As the feminist media critic Jennifer Pozner points out: Everything Trump said and did was framed in a way to flatter him, and more importantly, flatter his worldview. The colossal infomercial fictionalized the blundering, cheating businessman as an unqualified success and gave him a kind of brand recognition no other candidate had.
It took the full support of Fox News, whose CEO, Roger Ailes, was so committed to him that after leaving the company following allegations of decades of sexual abuse of employees, he joined the Trump campaign. It took the withdrawal of too many Americans from even that calibre of journalism into the partisan unreliability of faux-news sites and confirmation-bias bubbles of social media.
It took the mainstream medias quarter-century of failure to address climate change as the most important issue of our time. It took decades of most media outlets letting the fossil-fuel industrys propaganda arm create the false framework of two equally valid opinions rather than reporting the overwhelming scientific consensus and tremendous danger of climate change.
To stop Hillary Clinton it also took Julian Assange, using WikiLeaks as a tool of revenge, evidently considering his grudge against the Democratic nominee important enough to try to aid the campaign of a climate-denying racist authoritarian. Assange now appears to have so close a relationship with Russia that he often appears on the state-funded TV channel and news site RT. He tweeted protests when Russian president Vladimir Putins information was included in the Panama Papers hack and has been coy about where his leaked information on the Democratic National Committee came from.
Many intelligence experts say it came from Russian hackers, and Putin made it clear that he favored Trumps win. The day Comey dropped his bombshell, the New York Times ran a story reassuringly titled Investigating Donald Trump, FBI Sees No Clear Link to Russia with its own astounding, underplayed revelation buried inside: Investigators, the officials said, have become increasingly confident, based on the evidence they have uncovered, that Russias direct goal is not to support the election of Mr Trump, as many Democrats have asserted, but rather to disrupt the integrity of the political system and undermine Americas standing in the world more broadly.
And it took a shortsighted campaign of hatred on the left, an almost hysterical rage like nothing I have ever seen before about any public figure. Some uncritically picked up half-truths, outright fictions, and rightwing spin to feed their hate and rejected anything that diluted the purity and focus of that fury, including larger questions about the other candidate and the fate of the Earth. It was so extreme that in recent weeks, I was attacked for posting anti-Trump news stories on social media by furious people who took the position that to be overtly anti-Trump was to be covertly pro-Clinton. If the perfect is the enemy of the good, whose friend is it? The greater of two evils?
A lot of people seemed to think the Sanders-Clinton primary ended the night Trump was elected. I saw that stuckness from climate activists, anti-racist journalists, civil-rights champions, and others who you might expect would have turned to face the clear and present danger of a Trump presidency. I heard, for example, much about Clintons failure to address the Dakota pipeline adequately which was true, and bad, but overshadowed by what we heard so little about: Trumps million dollars or so invested in the pipeline and the guarantee he would use presidential powers to push it and every pipeline like it through.
Its impossible to disconnect the seething, irrational emotionality from misogyny, and the misogyny continues. Since election night, Ive been hearing too many men of the left go on and on about how Clinton was a weak candidate. Ive wondered about that word weak, not only because it is so often associated with women, but because what theyre calling her weakness was their refusal to support her. Its as if theyre saying, They sent a pink lifeboat and we sent it back, because we wanted a blue lifeboat, and now we are very upset that people are drowning.
Or, as my brilliant friend Aruna dSouza put it Wednesday: At some point soon we need to discuss whether Sanders would have been able to win, but helpful hint: today, it just sounds like youre saying: The Democrats should have cut into Trumps lead in the misogynist vote and the whitelash vote by running a white man. Lets come to terms with the racism and the misogyny first, before analyzing the what-ifs because otherwise were just going to replicate it forever. And if you think that the angry anti-establishment vote won (hence Sanders would have fared better), let me remind you that patriarchy and white supremacy are the cornerstones of the Establishment.
I know that if Clinton had been elected there would not be terrified and weeping people of color all over the country, small children too afraid to go to school, a shocking spike in hate crimes, high-school students with smashed dreams marching in cities across the country. I deplore some of Hillary Clintons past actions and alignments and disagreed with plenty of her 2016 positions. I hoped to be fighting her for the next four years. But I recognize the profound differences between her and Trump on race, gender, immigration and climate, and her extraordinary strength, tenacity and courage in facing and nearly overcoming an astonishing array of obstacles to win the popular vote. Which reminds us that Trump has no mandate and sets before us some of the forces arrayed against us.