Academic journal article New Zealand International Review

The Audacity of Hope: Rita Ricketts Reflects on Hillary Clinton's Failed Bid for the US Presidency

Academic journal article New Zealand International Review

The Audacity of Hope: Rita Ricketts Reflects on Hillary Clinton's Failed Bid for the US Presidency

Article excerpt

Hillary Clinton's unsuccessful bid to become president of America is an epic that perhaps even Hollywood could not have dreamed up. Early in the morning of 9 November, her supporters wept in horror as reality struck, just as fervent British Remain supporters, around the world, wept last June. How Clinton had managed to lose an election to a candidate as divisive and, hitherto, unpopular as Donald Trump is providing unending copy for the media and baffling observers. For a woman to follow a black president was seemingly a bridge too far in the prevailing culture of myth, misogyny and mendacity.


On the morning of 9 November, the cry went up that women had failed each other, as well as Hillary Clinton. Even the scandal of the Access Hollywood tape failed to deter millions of women, who, although appalled by it, cast their votes in line with their husbands'. (1) A staggering 53 per cent of white women had voted for Trump, as did an unexpected number of liberal Hispanic women and non-university educated and rural women, who feared downward mobility. And 2 per cent less black women voted for Clinton than had supported Obama in 2012. Such was the momentum for change, at any price, that there was no gender unity. Are these women 'the enemy within ... women letting down other women, asked Yasmin Alibhai-Brown? (2) Ardent feminist Sheila Rowbotham, writing in 1972, had suggested that women who aspired to lead would be isolated by their critics: 'it is only when women begin to organize in large numbers that they become a political force'. (3)

Yet, Hillary Clinton did have the support of large numbers --it is the fifth time that the winner of the popular vote has lost the election (famously AI Gore over Bush in 2000). Nonetheless, some argue, the gender focus in Clinton's campaign created a message vacuum--a 'poverty of ideas'. Being a woman and uniquely well qualified for the job was not, in itself, sufficient. Clinton, as Anthony Beevor suggests, took it as read that 'she could count on the support of an army of women, blacks, Hispanics and students'. (4) But instead, writes Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, this army rebelled, and voted for a leader who had demonised them.

Trump and his populist acolytes, unashamedly propagating fake news, had successfully cut Clinton off from the support of women, and men, who, it had been assumed, were her natural supporters. She was torn apart 'for how she looked, talked or even laughed'. (5) Clinton had been under sustained attack from the Right since her husband was elected governor of Arkansas in 1978. (6) The treatment meted out to Clinton has many precedents in history. Take, for example, the case of Anne Hutchinson, in the mid-17th century Massachusetts Bay colony. Hutchinson's detractors, both men and women, successfully humiliated and negated her. Finally she confessed to heresy and was banished from the colony.

Addressing the Democratic Convention, Michelle Obama attempted to rescue Clinton from the calumnies created to eliminate her. She pinpointed her 30 years' experience, her advocacy of health care and children's and women's rights, and the steadiness she had shown as secretary of state that would equip her, as president, to deal with the heavy responsibility of the nuclear trigger. But this stout defence was dismissed out of hand by Trump and his apparatchiks. Clinton's past was just that, the past. She offered nothing new, only more of the same. Trump, however, was the future, a 'saviour to the people ... who were suffering the trauma of industrial decline'. (7)

Close alignment

Axiomatically the culprit was the very liberal coalition or 'establishment', with which Clinton could not have been more closely aligned if she had tried. (8) Much, of course, was made of her Goldman Sachs paid speeches, and the possible conflict of interest between her State Department work and the Clinton Foundation. Even Bernie Sanders had portrayed Clinton as the establishment candidate, and the assertion stuck. …

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