Wednesday, November 02, 2016
The Next President of the United States
It's one week before Election Day. This is the second presidential election I've ever voted in.
As a thirtysomething that sounds pretty bad. No, I didn't sit out the last two elections out of apathy or protest; I was simply living abroad and couldn't figure out how to get an absentee ballot sent to me in time. While the presidential campaigns start here a year well in advance, over in the UK, I didn't start thinking about US elections until nominees were picked and the news started to get relevant.
For the record, I was pro-Obama the second time. The first time, well, it was 2008 and I was eight months pregnant with my second kid, and I didn't even know it was an election year. So I kind of missed the climax of electing the first black president of the United States. But I was on the ball in 2012, ready to cheer my man back into the White House.
But if you think me not knowing the US was about to elect its first black president is shameful, let me admit this.
The only other presidential election I ever voted in was 2000 after I turned 18. I voted for George W. Bush. So there's that.
So anyway, here we are another four years later, and we're about to decide as a nation who will be our next leader. Yet unlike the past sixteen years, where the stakes were relatively low (Gore, Kerry, McCain, Romney - none of them terrible choices), this year the stakes seem ... relatively high.
I was an avid Bernie Sanders supporter. I made no mistake about that. I had a Sanders sign in my lawn and a magnet on my car. I wore a Sanders t-shirt and had Sanders buttons hanging from my rear-view mirror and on my desk at work. I'm a huge fan of the man; I was a fan even before he announced his bid for president.
But I was never a Clinton hater. I didn't like her much, but I didn't hate her. I still viewed her as the second best option across both debate stages (followed by John Kasich, Rand Paul and Jeb Bush, though it pains me to admit it). When she won the primary, I was disappointed but realistic. At this point, we knew Trump was taking the Republican nomination, and the more he talked, the more I was convinced he was the least fit person across both debate stages to become president. (He had a few serious contenders though, on both sides of the aisle.)
I decided it was time to learn more about Hillary beyond what the media and Facebook had to say. I started reading her autobiography Living History (which I haven't actually finished). I started looking into what she's actually done in her career. And perhaps most importantly I faced up to some unrealized internal biases; basically I had to admit to myself that I was more sexist than I wanted to believe. Many of my complaints against Hillary could have been placed on any number of other politicians, but they weren't, because they were male. Males aren't "shrill", they don't have to be warm and approachable, they don't have to prove they can successfully juggle a family and a career, they can talk over each other and fight to be heard without being seen as rude or bitchy. In fact, many of the things I genuinely think are valid criticisms of Clinton turned out to be focused more on her than the actual criticisms. In other words, I view most politicians as people who lie, stretch the truth, cover things up, flip-flop, make bad decisions and then try to justify them. I'd say that about just about all of them (with the exception of Bernie). But when it came to Hillary, those things seemed bigger and more important than they seemed in relation to every other (male) politician I could think of. Internalized bias and sexism? Maybe so. Did I feel as against Bill as I did against Hillary? Actually, no. I love Bill. So why the disdain for his wife? That is far harder to admit than casting my first ballot for George W.
Now again, there are valid criticisms against Hillary. I'm not saying everything comes down to sexism, because it doesn't. Not everything. But I wonder why Hillary's emails are never far from the headlines while George W's and Colin Powell's continue to be virtually ignored? What causes such vitriol against Hillary and the things she's done, or been accused of, that doesn't reach beyond her to all the other people who have done or do the same things? Maybe the fact she's running for President, and they are not. Or maybe it's because she's been held to a higher standard her entire life, and certainly in this election, and the impossible standards she's held to only grow.
Compare that to Trump, however. Oddly enough, the standards from Trump just keep getting lower and lower. In the primary debates, Trump had a good night if all he did was make fun of another candidate's sweaty brow (and not an entire ethnic group). Trump "debated well" if he managed to not mention the size of his penis more than once. As time went on, the standards Trump had to meet to have had a good day plummeted. If he went 24 hours without insulting a Gold Star family or suggesting a ban on an entire religious group or making a misogynist remark about a woman's looks or menstruation, he was doing well. We finally reached a stage where even a voice recording of him disparaging women and admitting sexual assault wasn't the last straw. Nothing sticks on Trump. Not like everything sticks on Clinton.
When you look at all the standards we hold across the two main parties, there is no equality. For one, we ask for perfection in high heels and a homemade pie made of rainbows, and for the other, we ask for 24 hours of no verbal diarrhea. When they both fail, we are less disappointed with the diarrhea. Because, well, we weren't really expecting much.
I'll admit one other thing: the media IS biased towards Clinton. I'm not blind. A post-debate panel on CNN will consist of two Trump supporters and eight "others". However, I kind of feel that when the stakes are this high and the candidates are this unbalanced, it's hard to be neutral. How can one be neutral over sexual assault, ethnic slurs and encouraged foreign espionage?
Now we're seven days away from Election Day. Without sounding dystopian, I'm nervous. Really nervous actually. I would have loved to see a President Sanders, but I'm actually pretty stoked over the idea of a President Clinton now. I'm excited for my son and daughters to witness the first woman elected as President of the United States. I don't think she'll do amazing things (though maybe I'm wrong), but I think she'll do good things. Still I'm nervous, really nervous, over the possibility that Trump might actually pull this off. I hate to negate everything by invoking Godwin's Law, but seriously - the parallels of fascism are frightening. A strong leader, who says out loud what the people are thinking but are afraid to say, comes along and promises greatness, promises to get rid of the problems (aka, people who look problematic), makes grandiose claims and bullies anyone who gets in his way. Strength right?
I don't usually talk about politics, but with the election so close, it's on the forefront of my mind. This will be my second presidential election, and it's a damn important one. I'll be casting my vote this week, for President, for Congress, for state legislature, for local officials and for state ballot initiatives. Then I'll sit back, biting my nails, as I watch history write itself before my own eyes.