We’re not even three months into the Trump presidency but it behooves any one of us who voted for Hillary and are still numb at her loss to not continue to reflect about her defeat and what might we still learn from it. I remember watching the 2nd debate when Trump interrupted Hillary’s comments about fact checking (referencing his attack on her using a private email server while she was Secretary of State) with the words, “Because you’d be in jail.” Right then and there, I was ready for Hillary to respond to this preposterous assertion but not a peep came from her as she calmly sat back down. She decided to take, in Michelle Obama’s immortal words, “the high road” and respond to this bully with silent nerves of steel and grace. And for me, she lost the presidency, right then and there.
I remember being bullied at 12 years old in grammar school. It took the form of intimidating questions that I couldn’t respond to because I didn’t know the answers. This bully kept at me, making me feel stupid. He spoke to other kids about me behind my back. I remember the full name of my bully and the image of him remains firmly etched into my mind. This bully intimidated me for 3 + years. And nearly every time, I responded with silence. I was scared. I couldn’t summon the strength or energy to defend myself. I cowered in the face of this “bigger person” because I didn’t know how to answer him. Because of this bully, I ultimately changed schools as I tried to express to my mother, through tears, that I couldn’t take it anymore.
In my case, the bully won. So what was it that I was waiting for in Hillary’s case? Trump behaves like a bully. He makes accusations that are without merit or based upon any factual evidence. He impugns the character of individuals through his Tweets, including our former president, Barack Obama.
He enjoys intimidating and attacking his opponents without the least worry that he’s in anyway acting inappropriately as president. But here is what I learned:
When faced with a bully, you don’t remain silent. You don’t cower. You don’t behave politely in return. You use the language of your accuser back at them. While Hillary constantly referred people to her website in response to Trump’s attacks, what I wanted to hear from her during that 2nd debate was something like this:
“Donald, stop it! You’re a thug and a punk! How dare you! I’ve devoted the majority of my life to public service. And what have you done? You’re a billionaire real estate developer, who destroys unions, and have nothing but contempt for the average joe. You have ZERO credentials for running for the highest office in the land and you have the nerve to say you would jail me when you don’t even pay any income tax! YOU BELONG IN JAIL, Mr. Trump. You’re a tax cheat and a fraud. You ran a fake university and ripped off thousands of students. Your real-estate dealings have netted you billions but you’ve raped this country. And I for one will not have it!”
Now, imagine if you will, hearing words of this nature coming out of the mouth of Hillary Clinton. You wouldn’t expect it. None of her supporters would have expected it. Why? Because Hillary is a policy-wonk and she was coached by her staff to “take the high road” and not use the language of her attacker. Hillary was the more intelligent and sophisticated of the two candidates. She talked about her domestic programs and when she couldn’t take Trump’s appalling lies about her, she would shimmy and/or smile, trying to appear polite in contrast to Trump’s boorish behavior. While all Trump could do was make feel-good bromides about restoring America’s greatness, Hillary worked in Washington and came across like the establishment candidate that she was. But the biggest flaw of Hillary’s campaign was not appealing to those who were considering voting for Trump. Don’t forget that many Trump voters previously voted for Obama. Trump used the language of a bully to excite his voters and fan the flames of sexism, misogyny, and hate. By lashing out at Hillary with baseless accusations, he in many respects became a conduit for those Americans who felt economically disenfranchised and saw nothing to lose by voting in a billionaire real-estate mogul.
I’ve recently been attending swingleft.org meetings. I listened to several individuals who previously tried reaching out to Trump voters. The vitriol they were hearing from them was outright astonishing. “F-CK the bitch! She belongs in jail!” And I’m being kind. These are the words coming from a sample of Trump voters who were thrilled beyond belief to hear a man castigate a woman who was running for the highest office in the land. These voters were aping the language of their chosen hero.
We will never know, ultimately, if Hillary would have won if she had behaved any differently throughout her campaign. We do know that she did not spend nearly sufficient time in the Rust Belt meeting with unemployed white voters. Trump did so. But we also know that she ran against a bully. And this bully proved to be far more powerful than anyone ever realized. I, for one, kept wondering. Will Hillary ever fight back? Will she use the words of her opponent?
I can’t say for sure if Hillary would still have defeated Trump if she had spoken and behaved any differently towards him. But I know that what I was hoping to hear from her, never materialized. And I believe to this day that the only way to defend yourself against a bully is to not take the high road.