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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

NICHOLAS KAMM / Staff
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Blow-dried and supplicant, Ivanka shows the limits of the power women are allowed in Trumpworld

A new book by the US President’s daughter has surpisingly strong echoes of medieval royalty.

Exactly 500 years ago this month, the apprentices of London rose up, ­angry with Flemish immigrants and the bankers of Lombard Street. The race riot was quelled only when a couple of dukes sent in their private armies. Hundreds of looters were arrested and some were hanged, drawn and quartered. But some rioters were as young as 13 and the city’s residents felt sorry for them.

Henry VIII wanted to look magnanimous, but not weak. And so, at the trial in Westminster Hall on 7 May, ­Cardinal Wolsey first asked for mercy on the youngsters’ behalf. He was refused.

And then three women came forward: Henry’s queen, Catherine of Aragon, and his sisters Mary and Margaret, the widowed queens of France and Scotland. Faced with three women on their knees, the king relented. “It was a scene straight from the pages of chivalry,” writes Sarah Gristwood in her history of Renaissance women and power, Game of Queens. “An intercessory function, of course, had been traditional for queens, from the biblical Esther and Bathsheba to the Virgin Mary.”

Whenever contemporary politics gets too depressing, I take refuge in history. I always hope I will gain some perspective from people whose problems are very different from my own. Yes, climate change is terrifying; but at least I don’t have scrofula! Yet modern life has a way of creeping back. Late-medieval Europe was full of resentment for “aliens”, for example, who were felt to be prospering at the expense of native populations, even if those tensions were often expressed in religious rather than nationalist terms. It was Catherine of Aragon’s parents, Isabella and Ferdinand, who expelled all Jews from Spain in 1492.

Nonetheless, I was surprised to find such strong echoes of medieval royalty in Ivanka Trump’s new book, Women Who Work. I won’t waste your time by attempting to review this seminal tome, especially as it’s largely constructed out of bits of other self-help books. The advice boils down to: be “multi-dimensional”; don’t be afraid to use “architect” as a verb; feel free to turn down Anna Wintour, when she offers you a job at Vogue straight out of university, because your true passion is real estate. If it’s a busy time at work, as it was for Ivanka on the campaign trail, go into “survival mode”. (“Honestly,” she writes, “I wasn’t treating myself to a massage or making much time for self-care.”) Something for everyone.

Still, Women Who Work gave me the chance to contemplate the point of Ivanka Trump. I’ve seen her far more than I have heard her, which is no surprise, as her role in the administration is largely symbolic. What is Ivanka if not a Renaissance queen, tearfully pleading with her lord to show mercy? She is, we are told, his conscience. When his daughter’s clothing line was dropped by the US retailer Nordstrom in February, Trump tweeted: “My daughter Ivanka has been treated so unfairly by @Nordstrom. She is a great person – always pushing me to do the right thing! Terrible!”

Two months later, her name was invoked again. The First Daughter was distraught – “heartbroken and outraged”, she tweeted – at the sight of Syrian children gassed by the Assad regime. This prompted her father to bomb an airbase to atone for the slaughter of what his statement referred to as “beautiful babies”. “Ivanka is a mother of three kids and she has influence,” her brother Eric told the Telegraph. “I’m sure she said: ‘Listen, this is horrible stuff.’”

This is the power that women are granted in Trumpworld: softening, humanising, empathetic. Their tears moisten the oak-like carapace of great leaders, showing them that sometimes it’s OK to be kind – but obviously not too kind, because that’s a bit soppy and girly and gay. Women are naturally prone to emotion, of course, unlike sturdy, ­rational men, who get so cross about the way TV news is reporting their firing of the FBI director that they start sending unhinged tweets implying they have incriminating “tapes” of White House conversations.

In this structure, however, the limits of women’s power are sharply circumscribed. The tears of both Ivanka and Catherine of Aragon only provided cover for something that their lord and master wanted to do anyway. (As New York magazine urged acidly on 13 April, “Someone Please Show Ivanka Pictures of Starving Yemeni Children”.) Ivanka’s whole book is designed to render female power unthreatening by making it “feminine”; merely a complement to male power instead of a challenge to it.

To reassure us that she isn’t some frumpy bluestocking, Ivanka has crafted an image of expensive, time-consuming perfection: perfect white teeth, perfect blow-dried hair, perfectly toned body. Her make-up, clothes and home are all styled in unobtrusive neutrals. Together it says: let me in the room and I promise not to be a nuisance or take up too much space, even on the colour wheel. It’s noticeable that no woman in Trump’s orbit has “let herself go”, even though his chief strategist, Steve Bannon, has the complexion of a body that’s been found after two weeks in the water. I somehow doubt he ever makes “time for self-care”.

And don’t come at me with all that garbage about a nice frock and a manicure being “empowering”. Look at Donald Trump, the one with his own military: he has a fat arse and uses Sellotape to hold his ties in place. A president is allowed to have appetites – for women, for food, for power. His supplicant daughter gets to peddle platitudes about how you should “bond with your boss”. (Being a blood relative helps, although, sadly, Women Who Work is silent on what to do if he also fancies you.)

Is this how far we’ve come in 500 years? Ivanka Trump might try to sell herself as a modern woman, but her brand of female power is positively medieval.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

This article first appeared in the 18 May 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Age of Lies

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