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Gerald Caplan
Gerald Caplan

Gerald Caplan

Hillary Clinton lost, but she leaves an important legacy Add to ...

Gerald Caplan is an Africa scholar, a former NDP national director and a regular panelist on CBC’s Power & Politics

The reward of being a congenital pessimist is that one is rarely disappointed. Bad news is always around the next corner; just wait. But at least anticipating the worst often softens the blow when the worst arrives, as it so often does.

Attentive readers of this space may recall that in column after lugubrious column, I kept warning that Donald Trump could still pull it off. This was long after most pundits and pollsters were complacently counting him out. How desperately I wish I’d been wrong.

Poor Hillary. You can’t help wondering whether history will be fairer to this remarkable woman than her own era ever was. What it should record is that she was as able a presidential candidate as America has seen, far more impressive, more presidential, than most of the male campaigners of our time. The two Bushes? Richard Nixon? Al Gore? John McCain? Michael Dukakis? Donald Trump? I’ve witnessed lots of campaigns and Hillary was among the best candidates ever.

She may not have “connected” with her audiences as Obama had done. She may not have seemed “authentic.” But how many male candidates have or do? She refused to back down or be cowed by Trump’s verbal intimidation. She’s smarter than him, and smarter than most men. She always knew her issues, all of them. She was strong and disciplined. She could always pull herself together, no matter how bone-weary she must have been. She took ill only once throughout the entire interminable campaign.

She won all three debates, despite Trump’s bullying – a sensational performance. What other candidates could claim the same? And, let’s not forget, she actually won more votes than Trump. She won the democratic election. Only the anti-democratic Electoral College – doing the job it was created to do – lost her the presidency.

She lost in significant part because so many Americans couldn’t stand the thought of a woman as president. This was even true, it seems, of other white women. There’s no point in arguing whether old-fashioned Yankee racism or old-fashioned Yankee misogyny did her in. Let’s be mature and compromise here. Let’s agree that both did, and together they were insurmountable. Make America white again, run by straight men: The perfect storm. Trump played both cards disgustingly but successfully.

It was heartbreaking to witness on a daily basis the hold that plain bigotry still has on so many Americans. But I’m forced to say that American racism and American sexism are not the country’s most disheartening characteristics.

Ignorance is. What do you do with a nation where a majority of citizens, at the end of 18 months of Donald Trump, believe he is more honest than Hillary Clinton? Indeed, Hillary’s untrustworthiness, in the eyes of a majority of her fellow Americans, is almost as monumental as his.

Yet I’d bet the mortgage that the vast majority of Americans who distrust her had little idea why they did so, other than having heard or read something somewhere. Everyone knew about the e-mail thing, maybe little else. But did they have a clue what her e-mail sin really was?

And what exactly was contained in that latest batch of e-mails that the FBI director scandalously injected into the final week of the campaign? Nobody knew, nobody asked, nobody cared. In truth, so far as we know those e-mails proved absolutely nothing while somehow proving yet again how untrustworthy she was. Americans who “just know” that evolution and climate change are both hoaxes also “know” that Hillary’s e-mails were further proof that she could never be trusted. She could never catch a break.

Here’s another mystery: How could so many Roman Catholics and so many evangelical Christians – 80 per cent of the latter, it seems – vote for Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton? How could a quarter of the Jewish vote go Trump? How could any woman vote against Hillary, let alone 53 per cent of white women?

Of course, we can be confident based on her record that President Hillary would have pursued some disastrous policies. Neoliberal capitalism would’ve remained the state ideology. Her pals and benefactors among the 1 per cent would have retained total responsibility for economic matters. A dependable hawk, she’d have used military force at the drop of a conflict. She’d have used armed drones even more liberally than Barack Obama did.

But she would have cared about women and children, she knew climate change was real, and she would have appointed progressives to the Supreme Court and to those 4,000 important government positions new presidents get to fill and that will soon be filled with the reps of corporate America and zealous young far-right-wingers. In politics, you can never have it all, and Hillary is about as good as we could have gotten. Bernie Sanders had gone as far as an old Jewish socialist could go.

Hillary Clinton’s legacy is crystal clear: In one way or another, she made a new crack in that glass ceiling every single day of the campaign. She was an inspiring role model for girls around the world, including my granddaughters, who cheered her on. If she is flawed, so is the world. Very soon, someone will finally smash right through the cracks she made. Like the man said, that’s how the light gets in.

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