Although two weeks have passed since the U.S. Presidential Election, for many of us it’s still a very topical issue. And rightly so – because when all is said and done, this was an election like no other.
While the 2008 presidential race between Barack Obama and John McCain inspired hope in much of the American public, this past election has sparked hate and animosity. The resulting protests and talk of sanctuary cities project the possibility that America could be on the verge of some sort of a revolution.
While political science scholars, pollsters, and statisticians frantically search for the sole cause of this year’s surprising election outcome, the rest of us would be better off quickly coming to terms with the fact that there was no single cause.
Part of hysteria could be attributed to our society’s penchant for drama and spectacle. Social media allows us to not only to observe, but to be a part of the entertainment. With all the commotion, you could imagine that we just witnessed the corrupt election of a dictator in a developing country.
The simple fact of the matter is that we haven’t: this was by all apparent means a fair and legitimate election. And while political science scholars, pollsters, and statisticians frantically search for the sole cause of this surprising outcome, the rest of us would be better off quickly coming to terms with the fact that there was no single cause.
The failure in defining Hillary Clinton’s political image is a symptom of an imperfect campaign, not an imperfect candidate.
One hypothesized cause I’d like to put to rest is that Hillary Rodham Clinton was an inadequate candidate. The theory may hold some merit, as the Chicago Tribune has outlined. But the failure in defining her political image is a symptom of an imperfect campaign, not an imperfect candidate.
Even worse is the “What-if-Sanders” propaganda that has been pervasive since the election. Bernie’s promises to cure America of all its social ailments, although well-intentioned in nature, are nearly as unrealistic as “The Great Wall of Trump.” After all, weren’t many of Bernie’s ideas similar to those that Obama ran on and subsequently struggled to achieve?
If there is anyone to blame, it is the ill-informed public. In a society where viral news outlets deceivingly present opinions as news, it’s easy to portray people and events in very broad, inaccurate, and cartoonish terms. While Clinton has long endured varying rates of public disapproval, Trump’s barrage of attacks were particularly successful in dissuading voters and bringing her approval ratings to new lows.
And what’s even worse? Trump likely doesn’t believe his own rhetoric.
Long before this past election, the Clintons and Trumps were friends. Maybe not close friends, but they shared the kind of polite friendship that is customary in elite circles. For instance, Hillary and Bill attended Donald and Melania’s wedding, Chelsea and Ivanka are acquaintances, and Trump even praised Hillary after her loss in the 2008 Democratic primaries. At that time, Trump called Hillary a “wonderful woman,” and said that she would go down in history “at a minimum, as a great senator.” His words suggest that he was among those who could imagine Hillary Rodham Clinton becoming the first female President of the United States.
Flash forward eight years and Clinton had suddenly gone from being a “wonderful woman” to a “nasty woman.” This passing remark from Trump in the final debate captured the angle from which he’d been framing Clinton throughout the election. From promising to prosecute Clinton over her email scandal, to arranging the attendance of Bill Clinton’s former mistresses to debates, Trump did everything he could to paint Hillary as a narrow-minded political crook, as a political elite personified. Clinton, on the other hand, framed Trump as an ignorant racist, a portrait he willingly contributed to painting himself. These were the broad caricatures most voters were presented by the candidates, and in many cases, swayed to believe.
Flash forward to the present, where Donald Trump is now President-elect Trump and, to the surprise of some (and not to the surprise of others), he is taking a step back from many of the grandiose promises and claims he made, including those regarding Clinton. In a 60 Minutes interview, Clinton is now proclaimed by Trump to be “strong and smart,” and he has even taken a step back (albeit a small one) from his promise to prosecute her. Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, quite understandably expressed disappointment and frustration in her first appearance since her concession speech.
It would be unfortunate for someone who should be heralded as an icon for public service, policy expertise, women’s empowerment, and children’s rights to be remembered by the inanity of this past election – especially when Trump himself likely doesn’t subscribe to the ill-conceived caricature of Hillary that he has contributed to.
It is important to be cognizant of the nature of political rivalry. After all, Clinton and Obama were also once intense political rivals, though not to the same sensational magnitude. In fact, Obama was Clinton’s first barrier on her quest to break the highest glass ceiling. Their relationship, however, was not defined by these interactions alone. Clinton was later appointed as the 67th Secretary of State, marking the beginning of an admirable friendship. That is not to say that Clinton will suddenly become a Republican and join Trump’s administration. But it does suggest that perhaps both Trump and Clinton understand that public bashing and smearing is part of the political process, and know not to take it personally.
We may be taking the residual effects of political rivalry more seriously than the candidates themselves. Look no further than the comments of a typical Hillary Clinton video, to find people reciting the “gospel of Trump” rather than an actual understanding her policies. It would be unfortunate for someone who should be heralded as an icon for public service, policy expertise, women’s empowerment, and children’s rights to be remembered by the inanity of this past election – especially when Trump himself likely doesn’t subscribe to the ill-conceived caricature of Hillary that he has contributed to.
All that being said, it didn’t take long for “Hillary for President” shirts to be replaced with “Hillary for Prison” shirts. How will Hillary Rodham Clinton be remembered? Only time will tell.
Rohan Balram is a Master of Public Policy candidate at the University of Toronto’s School of Public Policy and Governance. He holds an Honours Bachelor of Arts degree in Public Policy and City Studies from the University of Toronto. His policy interests include social policy, urban development, and education.