Hillary Clinton and Sea Change


As Hillary Clinton nears her historic election as our first female president, we should marvel at how fast our society has changed in the last 24 years.

On Tuesday, Hillary Clinton will most likely be elected the first female president of the United States. This despite the level of forces that continue to align against her, from reports of the DNC being bugged to the Trump campaign openly admitted they are collaborating with the FBI to prevent this from happening, to accusations of witchcraft out of the 16th century. It’s a strange time to live through.

But amidst all the negativity this week, one shining moment stood out to me. During Friday night’s Beyoncé for Her fundraiser, this quote flashed up upon the screen.

"I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was to fulfill my profession."

It is major for Clinton to reclaim this line from the 1992 campaign, because of the uproar it caused at the time. Today we look upon this line and think it unremarkable. But 24 years ago, it nearly wrecked her husband’s run for the presidency. She was vilified for saying this. It was the first “Hillary scandal” I remember of the era, as much because to my 14 year old self it seemed ludicrous that she should be slammed for saying she wanted to go out and have a career. I remember how in the end, she wound up baking cookies for the press to calm the waters.

I hated them for doing that to her.

But it also underlines the level of social change that has happened in those intervening decades. From scandal to unremarkable. A child born when the line was uttered isn’t even old enough to rent a car yet. When I was eight years old, my third grade teacher told us “When I was your age, black people couldn’t use our bathrooms,” and it was the first time I viscerally realized how recent the civil right movement had been. Now I would tell a child of eight “when I was your age, to be gay was to be ostracized from society, and to not take your husband’s name and have a career was to be stared at and whispered about.”

When change of this magnitude happens, it’s a frightening thing. I’ve argued before that those voting for Trump have just as much “Trump Anxiety Disorder” (#TAD) as those racing to the polls to vote against him. One group fears what would happen if this man came to power. The others fear what happens when men like him fall from power. Though Trump may be a clownish caricature of the sort of preening macho misogynist that ran the world for generations, the truth is, it’s that type who ran the world for generations. After eight years of Obama, the idea that instead of the status quo we will continue to move towards leaders that do not look like they used to has tipped over into the intolerable. There is a genuine fear that the world as they know it will not survive without the return to the type of leader to which they were once accustomed.

Objects in mirror are closer than they appear.

Though this is impressive change on a quarter century scale, it has nothing on the sea change of the last eight years. When Hillary ran against Obama in 2008, the world was a vastly different place. The social dynamics at play were also different.

For those white men who refused to vote for Hillary out of sexism, it was easier to hide behind Obama. They claimed painfully faux racial enlightenment, delighting in screaming “racist” at anyone who dared to suggest otherwise. They pretended he was somehow the second coming of McGovern, and liberal justice would rain down with his election. (Compare to this cycle when those same voters turned out for Bernie. There’s a reason people said if they’d gotten their way with Sanders, they’d be as disappointed in someone new as they were with Obama by 2010.)

Image via CafePress. I’ve had this bumper sticker on my car since summer of 2008.

Compare that to our current election. Even without that “progressive veil” to hide behind for those whose motives are more driven by a fear of a female leader, the way Hillary has been talked about and treated has been far more equitable than eight years ago. And more importantly, when the obvious sexist tropes are rolled out, there are voices who rise up and speak against them.

Take, for example, MSNBC 8 years ago. During the primary between Obama and Clinton, I happened across a segment during one of those long stretches where the flapping heads fill the dead air with endless speculation. Chris Matthews and Keith Olbermann were discussing Hillary’s performances at the debates versus Obama’s.

The tone of the discussion, the level at which these two privileged white men talked about both candidates was horrifying to me. Obama was “so articulate!” “so smart!” “so polished”…all patronizing phrases.

But that wording had nothing on the way the two of them savaged Hillary.  “Unattractive!” “Shrill!” “Ugly!” “Unappealing!” They laughed at her, the way bullying jocks laugh at the nerdy girl with the glasses. And this was the rolling news who sold themselves as appealing to progressives like me?

I turned off the network and stopped watching them at all. I imagine the way I felt then is the way some conservative women feel now. They watch in silent horror as the white men in their party back Trump, even as more and more sexual abuse allegations pour forth. These are the ones who are supposed to be on our side, and this is how they behave?

REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE — Pictured: (l-r) MSNBC’s Chris Matthews and Keith Olbermann prior to the debate on May 3, 2007 — Photo by: Paul Drinkwater/NBC NewsWire

It was only this past year that I’ve started to watch MSNBC again, and the sea change on screen is remarkable. Chris Matthews is still as sexist as ever, to the point that he regularly comes off as “Trump-curious”, as I’ve seen it phrased. But he doesn’t dare now thoughtlessly spout off the same sexist nonsense he did eight years ago. He can’t.

Those who do are called out on social media, in firestorm-like waves, with publication after publication reporting on how this reporter has been called out for sexism until their network has to apologize. Those, like me, who were appalled, but unable to speak out and be heard, and could only just change the channel now have an outlet to make our voices heard. Places like Twitter are bringing a new level of equality to our society. Gone are the days when the media and public figures could belch out cluelessly bigoted speech with impunity. The audience now has a voice and it’s loud.

In 2009, Andrew Sullivan hysterically proclaimed that Twitter was fueling a revolution. At the time he was speaking of the Arab Spring. In that respect, he was wrong. But, in respect to the revolution, he was correct. The revolution happened here. Voices were given to the voiceless, the black and hispanic minorities and women, to rise up together and force society to hear them. That voice, the people’s voice, demands that society change.

It is this phenomenon that Trumpkins are speaking of when they complain of “PC culture run amok,” sneering at the younger generation’s demand for “safe spaces,” while using Trump rallies as safe spaces of their own to be openly racist and bigoted without judgement. We dismiss their complaints as demanding the right to be bigoted in public. But what they’re really complaining about and protesting against is less that than the intense suddenness of it all. Societal change does not usually happen this fast.

It was millennia between the time man walked upright and agricultural societies began, and millennia more before urban culture began. Our animal instincts are used to a pace where underlying change is measured in the millimeters that a tectonic plate moves in a year.

When a plate moves six centimeters, entire cities crumble to the ground. What’s happening now is  a huge foundational change where the movement is measured in kilometers. It is as if, in the space of eight years, the North America Plate picked itself up and drove straight across the Atlantic Ocean and slammed into the Eurasian Plate. If that were to happen in real time, the Earth would crumble, and everything on it would die. No wonder we are in adrenaline fight or flight overdrive, tearing at each other on Twitter and Facebook, and disregarding the usual norms of election cycles in crazed terror.

Next: On Election Tuesday We Wear White

It seems a mantra now on both platforms by everyone involved in the election cycle that this will all be over after Tuesday. As if the actual physical election of Hillary Clinton will be the high water mark. Once we’ve reached it, the wave will break, roll back, and the fever gripping the country will subside. But just like any earthquake and the tsunami that follows, there will be the aftermath to deal with–not to mention the backlash. Society may have made a major leap forward. But it will be some time before all of us fully adjust to where the land now sits under our feet.