Today is Election Day in the United States.
It’s my plan to avoid most of social media today. My timeline on Facebook this morning is full of vitriol from all sides, desperate messages imploring people to vote, screaming memes that grab viewers by the throat and threaten Armageddon if they don’t vote the way the poster does. All sides are doing this, not just the Big Two.
Let’s give this a little perspective:
On the one hand, we have an intelligent, poised, dignified, devoted, capable, honest (or as honest as any career politician can be), pragmatic human being (setting aside gender for a moment) who has devoted an entire adult life to public service in one form or another. I might disagree with many of the positions of this person—and in point of fact I do—but there is no question in my mind that here is a truly qualified candidate who, through those long years of service, has made some critical errors but not very many, given the time span. No person in the public eye can go as long as this person has without missteps.
On the other hand, we have a supremely un-qualified, petulant, egocentric, misogynistic, racist, violent, narcissistic, sociopathic, personality-disordered (according to a number of professional assertions), reactionary, exclusionist, isolationist, reality television star who has devoted a life solely to personal enrichment at the expense of everyone, who provokes audiences to violence, who not only exposes but encourages abuse and separatism (all the while claiming innocence), is quite possibly a criminal many times over…and whose messages eerily echo those of another, very very dark, time and place in recent human history.
The remaining candidates are so incomplete in their qualifications that it hardly bears mentioning, and while one of them has some genuinely good things to say, I am of the opinion that there’s no chance any of the third- and fourth-party candidates have even the remotest chance of being elected.
This is one major failing of a two-party system, and one that really needs to be remedied. A parliamentary system that accommodated multiple parties and perspectives might have resulted in far less obstructionism in recent years. But that is another article for another time.
Where gender belongs in this discussion:
I have lived long enough to be able to vote for a woman. And before that, a black President. Twice.
In both cases, I voted not because of those characteristics but because I believed each was the most qualified in that race. It was especially satisfying to be aware of those characteristics, but not the most compelling reason. Not by a long shot.
But why, in this day and age, is a black president or a woman president even remarkable?
Let’s unpack this:
Americans live in a country that has long prided itself on being the most advanced in every regard. Superior technology, superior education, superior architecture, superior infrastructure (none of these are actually true, but that’s a whole book series, not one simple essay), superior everything.
Why has it taken so very long for us to acknowledge that a candidate can be any color, any gender, and yes, any religion (oh, that one will be tricky, to be sure) and still be a good public leader? Surely this country is made up of more than middle-aged white Christian men? So why doesn’t our elected government reflect that fact?
The answer to that question is complex and deeply embedded in our long, long, bloody human history. Others can explain it far better than I. Suffice it to say it’s long overdue, and there is still lots more work to do.
The fact that there is even a question who is the more qualified candidate in this election cycle is nothing less than terrifying. It means that a substantial portion of the people in this country actually believe that making America “great again” includes turning refugees away at the border, restoring slavery, grabbing women’s genitals or attempting to kiss them without consent, avoiding taxes, reviling people who live in poverty (even when a large proportion of the people who support that candidate actually do live in poverty), mocking belief systems that don’t fall into the evangelical Christian circle. Jesus wouldn’t recognize his followers.
Intellectually, I understand the appeal of the political outsider, someone who isn’t constrained by the trappings of diplomacy, who “tells it like it is” (I voted for Bernie Sanders in the primaries). The problem is that Donald Trump doesn’t tell it like it is. He shoots from the hip, constantly contradicts himself, presents no substantive solutions for fixing the mess we’re in—and the “solutions” he does propose are preposterous at best and catastrophic at worst—lies, cheats, and steals to get what he wants. He’s a canny carnival barker, a bullshit artist of the highest order.
Many have said that about Hillary Clinton, too, and perhaps to some extent it’s true, but certainly not on the scale claimed by her opponents. The worst I can say about her is that she’s pragmatic, and that has led her to make some decisions with which I vehemently disagree. Heaven forfend she is actually human.
The truth is that every woman in this country is held to an impossible standard. Every woman in public service even more so: she must behave within a painfully narrow constraint of behavior and demeanor—be nice, but not too nice or you’ll be considered a pushover; be assertive but not too assertive or you’ll be called a bitch (“nasty woman” anyone?); be smart but not too smart or you’ll embarrass the men in the room, poor things; be pretty and feminine but not too pretty and feminine or else you won’t be taken seriously; the list goes on.
Hillary Clinton has been held to an utterly impossible standard for most of her career. She has been under a microscope by her detractors for decades, every move scrutinized, analyzed, vilified—and were she male, the issue of emails or unfaithful spouses wouldn’t even be on the radar, and even the news of Benghazi might have gone past the world without a tremor. Little of this would have touched her were she male, certainly not to the extent that it has.
I stand on my patriotic right to vote AND my patriotic right to voice my dissent about the issues at stake. I don’t have to like my candidate. I even believe that some of Hillary Clinton’s positions are dangerous. But I have no question that here is the most able candidate in the current field.
I have exercised my right to vote. I voted for the person I believe is the most qualified in this cycle. Because I’m pragmatic, too. And I plan to hold that person accountable if she is elected. Because I still believe we can do better.
And if the other guy is elected? The world will be a far more dangerous place than it already is. In fact, by virtue of his appearance on the world stage, he has already made it so.
Today the world changes.