Hillary Clinton reliving her presidential election sounds like Miss Havisham talking about her wedding day. They both, one senses, harbored great expectations that became great resentments.
The letdown of the loss, of an office and of a husband, unleashed psychological torment. The latter copes by donning her bridal gown; the former, by periodically playing pundit pontificating on why a benighted electorate rejected her. Both characters exude a Dickensian quality in that they come across as such, well, characters.
Around the time she tripped over her feet in India last weekend Mrs. Clinton tripped over her words. She blamed her electoral loss on the “backward” parts of America. She described the unenlightened electorate thusly: “you didn’t like black people getting rights; you don’t like women, you know, getting jobs; you don’t want to, you know, see that Indian-American succeeding more than you are.” If only she threw in a “like” and some “ums” with those “you knows,” then maybe a few of the “backwards” types she speaks about would finally understand her.
She also attributed votes for her opponent by “married white women” to “a sort of ongoing pressure to vote the way that your husband, your boss, your son — whoever — believes you should.” Daddy’s Goldwater Girl knows of the false consciousness she speaks.
Clinton found some consolation in defeat. She informed the Indians, “I won in counties that produce two-thirds of the economic output in the United States,” a variant of which she repeated elsewhere in the speech. Ironically, in her boast of the beautiful people she won she cogently explained, albeit unwittingly, why she lost ugly.
Consciously, publicly, outwardly she appears incapable of accepting blame. Instead, she conjures up villains straight out of central casting — did a single person vote for Trump because he or she resented the fact that an Indian-American enjoyed more success? — that make her look like a heroic martyr. Just as she failed to grasp why referring to a massive swath of her fellow countrymen as “deplorables” made for bad politics during the campaign, she does not see why bashing half the country as racists or Stepford wives or backwards hayseeds after the election reaffirms their decision to not vote for her.
In desperation to prove a position we often discredit it. Clinton did this last weekend in India.
But on a stage in Nevada in October 2016, she feigned indignation as Donald Trump refused to embrace the election results no matter the outcome. Truly, Trump showed his worst there. But Clinton did, too. When she answered the question, she lied. She said what she thought the audience wanted to hear before doing precisely what she told them represented beyond-the-pale behavior.
“This is a mind-set,” a vexed Clinton explained at the final presidential debate. “This is how Donald thinks, and it’s funny, but it’s also really troubling. That is not the way our democracy works. We’ve been around for 240 years. We’ve had free and fair elections. We’ve accepted the outcomes when we may not have liked them, and that is what must be expected of anyone standing on a debate stage during a general election.”
She behaves not just ungraciously in defeat. She fans the flames of a conspiracy theory that conjures up collusion between her opponent and foreigners to deny her rightful position as leader of the free world. She does this as a congressional investigation has conclusively proven that her campaign, and the Democratic National Committee, colluded with a foreigner — former British agent Christopher Steele — to derail Trump’s candidacy. Here, as in India, Clinton seems oblivious to her hypocrisy — and the condescension and condemnation that turned so many of the voters she rails against against her.
Clinton cares about people like her — urban, wealthy, progressive elites, people who do not compete with immigrants for their livelihoods, who call 911 instead of Smith & Wesson when matters go sideways, who do not know any active-duty enlisted men, families with five or more kids, or the names of anyone on the WWE roster, and those repelled by the name of Washington’s football team but not players kneeling for the national anthem. It’s as though the candidate imagines politics as a top-down exercise in which the office-seeker votes for a particular electorate rather than the electorate voting for a particular candidate. Politics, despite its obvious appeal to narcissists, remains a humbling profession — but only for those strong enough to endure a humbling.
Richard Nixon, Hubert Humphrey, and Al Gore all lost close elections. They all won plaudits for how they lost (Gore’s concession speech, belated though it was, may be the best in American history). No such praise comes Hillary Clinton’s way.
Not becoming president need not mean becoming pathetic.