Yesterday I was lucky enough to attend a ‘Tina Brown on media, politics and women in the world’ 5 x 15 event hosted by the formidably funny Kathy Lette. The timing couldn’t have been better, as it was just after the first presidential debate between Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump, so suffice to say that it was one of the leading topics of the conversation. While I am not going to fully recap the evening for you, Tina and Kathy made me reflect not only on the subject of the upcoming US Presidential elections, but on Hilary Clinton in particular. I hope after you read my thoughts on the subject below, you will feel inclined to share yours. After all, only through dialogue, not monologue, we all learn….
Kathy started the conversation going by saying that Trump is the greatest laxative known to mankind, but Tina’s assessment was more reflectively reserved. She was concerned that even though Mrs Clinton crushed the debate, it might not make a difference to the mass electorate perception of Clinton, as whatever Trump does and or says, nothing seems to stick to him, as if he has a Teflon coating (I read it today in one of the editorials that he actually lied sixty times during that debate )….It’s hard to disagree with Tina’s assessment of Trump, as there are plenty of cases when one wrong phrase broke careers and reputations of much bigger people than him, yet Trump seems to get away with it. Is that the aftermath of the Brexit, is the electorate so enraged by the state of things, so disenchanted with politicians that they don’t want to think of the consequences of the decision they will take? As Kathy aptly put it ‘Brexit was an intelligence test that Britain failed, is US going to follow suit?’. We all remember Sarah Palin’s endless gaffs but does Trump’s success so far mean that US electorate is becoming, forgive me, dumber?
One of the major problems for Mrs Clinton is that she is disliked by the public and that sentiment isn’t subsiding, but growing. She isn’t good at coming across as authentic, Hilary admits to it herself, but when she is under pressure, the time when she comes into her own and truly shines, people still choose to judge her negatively – it’s almost like a no-win situation.
When it comes to the rhetoric, telling lies no longer matters or has negative impact on the candidate ( remember Nigel Farage and Borish Johnston’s pre-Brexit promises and how they all disappeared in the puff of smoke as soon as the referendum results were in. Were they brought to task? Far from it, Mr. Johnston seems to be successfully advancing his career in PM May’s cabinet ). We now have to admit to the fundamental breakdown of the trust between people and politicians.
Kathy did wonder why people don’t warm up to Hilary, questioning whether is the consequence of rampant sexism, encouraged by Trump or the fact that she used to be a lawyer?Tina’s reply to that was that Hilary isn’t the first person to be disliked, giving the example of Al Gore and his presidential campaign, but I do wonder if that is the question of liking vs respect. I was tempted to ask Tina that if we put Trump on the sidelines for a second and put forward another opponent but for Hilary, say Nancy Pelosi or Madeleine Albright, how would she fare then? Albright is a tough and experienced politician, who never runs away from her femininity, quite the opposite, and that doesn’t get in the way of her being widely respected, even by her opponents. So you can be a woman and have respect of colleagues simply based on your work, without compromising on your female attributes. Do people respect Hilary Clinton? I somewhat struggle to answer that question, even after talking to my US friends. For many it is not the question of her experience ( she has it in spades and Tina was spot on noting that Mrs Clinton is probably one of the best prepared people for the job of the US President ) or the fact that she is a woman. It’s not even the fact that she stood by her man after his plentiful indiscretions – a marriage is between two people and no-one has the right to judge how those two people dance or other they separate or choose to stay together. It’s the fact that with her eye firmly on the ball, Hilary Clinton is playing on the court with men, having forgotten her strong ace – the fact that she is a woman, a wife, a mother, a grandmother, a friend. We women are complex creatures, we multi-task and play multiple roles in the course of one day – a wife or girlfriend, a mother, a friend, a colleague, a teacher, a nurse, a customer, a boss, a psychologist, a chef etc – that’s our strength, the one with which a man would struggle to compete.
Yes, Tina is right in her sentiment that when you think progress is coming, we seem to go backward – with sexism, with misogyny that Trump not only unleashed on a major scale, but seems to be regularly validating. And yes, there is fear of the consequences of Trump supporters going on the attack, if he loses. After all, many of his supporters are people who are brash and potentially violent.
Often media doesn’t help either, because so many opinions are published and presented as fac that when one person states the fact, another objects because he read a conspiracy theory about it somewhere else. Media is not kind to women either, but often it is our own fault, as women tear at each other much more viciously than men.
What I personally struggle to understand is this: Hilary Clinton has been part of the political establishment for years, she knows not only the rules of the game but its ‘inner’ kitchen, so she should know how to ‘read’ her audience, yet it is Trump who seems to have his hand on the nations pulse and responds by saying what many, rightly or wrongly, want to hear. THAT can cost her the election. And the fact that in this bloodbath of a battle, she isn’t playing on her strength as a woman in the right way, so that women who hate Trump join her camp not because they are forced by the lack of the alternative, but because what she says resonates with them. Mrs. Clinton doesn’t have to invite journalists into her kitchen and let them see her cook pancakes, but she also can’t give her own daughter a bigger spotlight at rallies and on the board of her foundation, and then ring-fence her from journalists or veto questions. Can the mask come off and can we see the real Hilary, who like all of us, is human, has bad and good days, and isn’t a robot. Take her illness on the 9/11 event. If she didn’t show up, because she was ill, she would have been damned but coming, feeling unwell and then not addressing what people saw in that video backfired spectacularly. Hilary Clinton does work tirelessly on the Presidential trail, she must be beyond exhausted, putting the stain of young women to shame, if compared to hers, but taking a day off is not a weakness – it is actually a strength, to raise a hand and say I am human and today I need to rest because I am ill. There is no shame in that, it’s a shame she handles this the way she does and so does her immediate circle. Does noone on her team see this or do they fail to communicate it to her in a way that she takes it on board and acts on it? We all, irrespective of our sex or age, need to move with the time and we do need to change sometimes, otherwise we might as well retire from modern life.
I am not an American, I won’t vote in the US elections, but after listening to Tina talk honestly, passionately and eloquently on the subject, it is hard not to voice my opinion. I think the problem lies with Hilary and it has nothing to do with her professional abilities. She is more than ready for that job, but what people need to see is her real face and that takes guts. Is it a calculated risk and can it backfire? Absolutely, but like with many things in life, sometimes one just needs to take a leap of faith and trust her gut. The fact that people will see that glimmer of humility might just be the thing that will change the status quo. We need change, we need real people to shine and not their retouched or managed images. I sincerely hope America chooses the right candidate that will unite and not divide the already divided country further.