On Tuesday 8 November 2016, a new global political narrative took shape. The people of the United States cast their ballots and citizens across the country and the rest of the world reacted.
Many of us knew a lot, or, a little about the leading candidate’s background in business, real estate and reality TV. What many failed to predict was that Donald Trump would win the election to become the 45th President of the U.S.; having for months campaigned on a rhetoric fuelled by an aggression never before seen in one of the most ethnically diverse and multicultural nations, the product of large-scale immigration from many other countries.
As President-in-waiting Trump went on to meet outgoing President Barack Obama later that week, the tolerance of racism and misogyny seemed sealed in a handshake, endorsed by the electorate, qualified as the new “normal”.
Without analysing the ins-and-outs of what went wrong for the Democratic Party, and what went right for the Republican Party, I want to draw on some of the accomplishments Hillary Clinton did make – even though she will not be President. For me, as a woman, she still made history.
From the very start of her career in law and later in politics, she made gender equality a priority. “Human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights,” she said. Clinton turned her principles into actions, spearheading a law against discrimination and creating an ambassadorship for women. She helped millions of uninsured children in the U.S. gain access to healthcare.
In addition, she endured an election cycle with Mr. Trump, who labeled her a “nasty woman” and pledged to “lock her up” if he won the Office.
As I write this, Trump is assembling an all-male, all-white team, plucked from the ultra-conservative, if not radical side of the Republican spectrum. Now that the Republicans will be dominating in the U.S. House and Senate – who will now look to develop these pressing issues? Who will progress gender equality, when Vice President-elect Mike Pence aims to curtail women’s rights to abortion?
“I never doubted that sexism is alive and well in America, that sexual assault is widely accepted, and that women in leadership roles are often resented, but I thought America had more respect for the office of the presidency. I am afraid that advances in women’s healthcare are going to be erased,” said one 34-year-old woman I interviewed from Pennsylvania, residing in New York.
Clinton may have been condemned as a warmonger and deemed “untrustworthy”, but her contributions to U.S. social protection mechanisms – in my mind – far outweigh the criticism she faced for decades.
We know by now that Clinton was not the only presidential candidate to win the popular vote yet lose the election. Trump is the fifth person to become President despite losing the popular vote.
“So many politically liberal Americans are living in a bubble; they call themselves thinkers and writers and leaders and yet their choice to isolate themselves from reality is morally reprehensible,” said a Denver, Colorado based colleague.
“I am still hopeful about our future, but I am also terribly disappointed, saddened, and frightened about the coming years – for children who are from ethnic minorities, for all American children, and for all the children on our planet,” she added.
In canvassing a small portion of opinion from the 18 percent of Latinos who backed Trump (Source: Washington Post), I found one explanation in that, for some, his wealth and self-projected image as a self-made man was what inspired them to set up shop in America. The land of opportunity where you can be anyone you want to be if you work for it.
Seemingly erased by the election result are the multiple allegations of sexual assault, bigotry, rancour, gratuitous sexism, and, to coin the Oxford Dictionaries’s international word of the year, his endless “post-truths”.
We can level blame, for this is another favourite game of current culture, at the Democrats for neglecting voters in Rust Belt States. We can blame Clinton for not knowing when to step aside to allow another candidate to run in her place. Clinton can blame the FBI Director for dragging on the e-mail scandal leading to her loss. We can blame the media for failing to reign in the xenophobic insults uttered by Trump, or, blame the broadcast network CNN, which, among others, gave him endless airspace because he boosted ratings. However, this is not about delving into what went wrong, where, when and why. It is, instead, a note of regret for the women of the world who need to see female role models reflecting their value systems in positions of power. For, the present global trend seems to be one of reversing our evolution instead of building on it.
“I am not prepared to be a politician who maintains a diplomatic silence in the face of attitudes of racism, sexism, misogyny or intolerance of any kind,” said Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. One remaining role model.
Her words are the most common sense commentary I have heard over these tumultuous few days, as we wrap our heads around the news turning to history, which promises to spur on further divisions across our fractured world.