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Hillary Clinton: why I'm with her

Donald Trump's beauty queen shaming reminds me why I'm supporting the former secretary of state.

For a man who lies like a rabid dog drools poison, Donald Trump has hit on the one topic on which he remains broadly convincing: his opinions about women. Namely, that he believes they should be beautiful, obedient, and definitely not president. Last week, during the most-watched presidential debate in history, Clinton called Trump out for decades of professional misogyny, honing in on his harassment of a former Miss Universe contestant, Alicia Machado, over her weight gain when the man whose candidacy shames America ran the competition. Machado lost no time adding her voice to Team Clinton.

Panicked, perhaps, by the spectacle of women teaming up against him when they should be competing — he doubled down, spreading rumours about the contestant’s alleged sex tape, which seems to be largely fictional. With the support of allies like Newt Gingrich, he insisted that beauty queens are not supposed to gain weight, and they are certainly not supposed to have sex, and they are definitely not supposed to have political ambitions. Men like Gingrich and Trump, of course, can run for office and be serial adulterers with all the aesthetic appeal of boiled scrotums in suits. Men like this can spout incoherent sexist, racist, classist claptrap for 18 months and the world will still have less trouble envisioning them in the White House when their opponent happens to be a woman.

Oddly, this was the moment, for me, when it all became much simpler. Whatever happens next, right now — I am with her.

The presidency of the United States does not belong by right to anyone, man or woman, living or dead. If it did, though, it would belong to Hillary Clinton. Secretary Clinton has been preparing for this job for several decades, has worked her way up through decades of public excoriation and relentless misogynist attack, of having to be more competent than every man around her. Trump has been preparing for, generously, two years, because he thinks that being a rich, powerful white man entitles him to anything he wants, including the presidency. This entitlement is the basis of his campaign. Clinton’s job in these debates is to remain competent, calm and collected for 90 minutes, to appeal both to the sceptical left and the centre-right, to balance firm policymaking with the levity and humour she’s never been permitted in half a century of political work, to look both perfect and competent in a culture that still has no script for a female in such a powerful position, to argue down a freewheeling bully who has captured the febrile heart of the nation, remembering all the while that a single mistake, a single cough or hair out of place could cost her, and the country, everything. Trump’s job was not to shit himself on stage. And that was it. That is how patriarchy works. But maybe not forever.

I watched the debate in the cramped, noisy departures lounge of a New York airport, cross-legged on the floor with 50 other white-knuckled travellers only slightly consoled by the fact that whatever happened, we’d be leaving the country soon. Clinton was — and I use this word deliberately — perfect in the first debate. It was the best performance of a career whose length and breadth would make her the most qualified presidential candidate in history were it not for the pesky fact of her gender. She was funny, she was cutting, she was merciless without losing her cool, and she baited Trump gently and relentlessly until he revealed himself as the ignorant, bigoted invertebrate he is. She worked out that the best way to bait a mad dog is by showing it a mirror.

I want Clinton to win in November. Not just because I’d rather not see the world’s only superpower topple over the edge of political unreason. Not just because she’s clearly a better candidate than Trump — an ageing golden retriever chasing the Democratic ribbon on its own tail would be a better candidate than Trump. I also want Clinton to win because she is a woman and a feminist, even if her feminism is unlike my own. I believe that all else being equal — and in this case it’s not even close — it’s time for a woman to lead the nominally free world.

I do not expect a president of the United States —or any government leader, for that matter  — to be radical. It is not capitulation to be realistic about what can be achieved at the ballot box in a modern democracy, particularly in a presidential election. It is not defeatist to understand that the very most you can hope for is to stop things getting worse as fast as they might otherwise have done. With that understood, the office of president is largely symbolic, and the power of symbolism should not be underestimated. It will be decades before history can tell us the true, seismic impact of the election of a Black man to the White House.

Then, as now, those for whom that symbolism was not personally important rushed to dismiss it out of hand. I will not be shy about my own joy at the symbolism of a woman — and a proud feminist woman at that — taking the world’s highest political office. Nor will I be shy about challenging the implicit misogyny of those on the left who insist that there is nothing at all here to celebrate. If you would truly prefer a Trump presidency to this, if you truly believe that there is any moral equivalence between centrist soft-liberal feminism and an outright swivel-eyed billionaire despot with an army of gurning trolls at his disposal then you may want to take a look in the mirror and ask yourself, truly, if you might not be a little bit sexist.

The cultural struggle right now is not just between a powerful man and a powerful woman. It is between a racist, sexist, lying, vicious, amoral, bloviating overgrown toddler who has no compunction about tearing his country apart by whipping up a neo-fascist movement because he thought it might be fun to be president, and Hillary Clinton. Hillary Clinton! The very personification of steely-eyed, iron-jawed, soft-neoliberal feminism, a woman with short hair and pants, a woman whose marital humiliation was less culturally important than the fact that she was never content to be just a wife, not even a president's wife.

I want to see her win. I want to see her explode Trump's pride as one might pop a suppurating pustule on the face of American culture. This is no longer about whether Hillary is the hero America needs. She’s flawed, and she’s female, and that’s fine by me.

Clinton is a hawk with her beak deep in the Washington machine and talons aimed for the eyes of her enemies and I want her to be president. I want her and all the terrifying young women standing behind her in power so I can fight them on a battleground that isn't already ankle-deep in crypto-fascist gore.

A general election is about nothing more or less than choosing your enemy.  Any government leader must be considered an enemy to those who believe in radical change. Hillary Clinton is not yet that enemy but by damn. I hope she gets to be. Hillary Clinton is the sort of enemy I’ve been dreaming of over ten years of political work. She’s the kind of enemy you can respect. I look forward to fighting her on her commitment to climate protection, on workers' rights, on welfare, on foreign policy. Bring that shit on. That's the sort of fight I relish. I want to argue over how the state can best serve the interests of women and minorities, not whether it should. That's the sort of fight that makes me better. Four more years of fighting Donald Trump and his foaming acolytes would demean everyone involved.

Clinton is the enemy I would choose. Right now, though, she is the enemy of my enemy, and I will stand with her and cheer as she hammers Trump in the bloody arena of televised politics. She is not my champion, but she is the enemy of my enemy, and of yours, too. And for now, I’m with her.

 

Laurie Penny is a contributing editor to the New Statesman. She is the author of five books, most recently Unspeakable Things.

This article first appeared in the 06 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Trump's triumph

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The Macron Con: Why Emmanuel Macron isn't a liberal hero

A summer series.

Each week, I'll examine an area of the new French president's politics that doesn't quite live up to the hype.

#1: The French President's unhealthy obsession with symbolism

#2: Emmanuel Macron's "feminism"

#3: How Macron's media strategy has French journalists worried (to be published)


This list will be updated throughout the summer as the series continues.