With Donald Trump’s occupation of the presidency, most analysis of the 2016 presidential race focuses on the coalition of white voters of either a middle or working class and how it is reflective of the dissonance between the relative prosperity of urban centers and the decline of rural areas. While that is certainly a valid and important area of focus, personally when I look back at the 2016 election I can’t help but feel a ting of regret. A guilt directed at the democratic presidential nominee Hillary Rodham Clinton.
I am sure you know the figure well. Hillary Clinton: a Rose Law Firm attorney, a pro bono child advocate, a First Lady, a New York Senator, a Secretary of State, and a two-time presidential candidate. Or as Senator Bernie Sanders, then serving 26 years in congress, would have put it, the “establishment candidate”. Indeed, while the criticism from the right was to be expected, with it ranging from Benghazi conspiracies to outright sexist remarks, the criticism from the left seemed to dominate much of the discourse that election cycle.
Hillary’s rise to national attention in the 1990s came on the heels of the ‘third way’ realignment of the Democratic Party. In the aftermath of the Reagan’s administration and the conservative movement’s injection of skepticism towards the role of government and a preference towards market solutions, the third way sought to recover lost ground by combining a commitment to left-leaning social policies, such as LGBT rights and family planning, with fiscal conservatism as a way of reasserting the Democratic Party nationally by capturing the center.
This is not to suggest that Hillary, especially in recent years, is a strict adherent to this program. In 2016, she ran on a program of free-tuition community colleges and federal investment in infrastructure that would be unthinkable in the 1990s. Yet what consistently informs her in both these examples is a sense of pragmatism, of what the current zeitgeist of political discourse could make possible for left-leaning reforms and modifying proposals to fit that mold.
There is a lot of criticism that can be levied at this approach, namely how it is reactive and ignores the possibility of moving the Overton window to the left with more radical proposals. But rarely did criticism from the left ever acknowledge the context for Hillary Clinton’s evolution as a public servant, one that emerged in the shadow of the largest conservative realignment in recent U.S. history and helped build a national platform for the left to assert itself in this climate.
This, unfortunately, is the source of my regret, of having failed to acknowledge this context. In April 2015, several weeks after Hillary’s announcement of her candidacy, I wrote an article for Ramapo News heavily criticizing Hillary, calling her “no champion” of feminism, LGBT rights, and other causes of the left. Beyond the obvious problematic premise of the article, a straight white man gatekeeping struggles that he lacks an intimate experience with, the evidence I gave back then is what really strikes me with shame. Not that it is necessarily inaccurate, but how it served to put the suffering of people at the hands of major corporations and the ill-effects of U.S. foreign policy on one woman who was only tangential to the issue. I remember how I felt back then, so disillusioned with the U.S. and it’s institutions, so angry at my seeming powerlessness, that I lashed out at the nearest recognizable target I could find. I wasn’t being a critic, I was being a bully. Though, in retrospect, if I could say anything positive about the article it’s that it was ironically prophetic, as it seems that many others had similar feelings and reactions.
I remembered a conversation I had with a friend, one wiser than me and more patient than I deserve, about my feelings on Hillary’s candidacy. She said something that always stuck out to me, that despite the circumstances and system in place instilling disillusionment it was our duty to fight for ours and other rights, even if it only secures incremental progress rather than the massive reconciliation we seek. She was right, cutting through my veil of hopelessness like a knife, so much that I ended up voting for Hillary twice. But in regards to my initial offense, I still need to make amends. So Hillary, if you just so happen to fall down the rabbit hole into this strange corner of the internet I call home, know that you didn’t deserve that level of vitriol and I apologize for participating in it for even a second. I am sorry.