A recent opinion piece in the New York Times suggests that Hillary Clinton should forcefully denounce Trump on the campaign trail for his serial sexual assaults on women and that her husband’s own infidelities are what is keeping her in check.
“Though Hillary Clinton has stood at the center of feminist debates for more than two decades, she has at times been an imperfect messenger for the cause. That has never been more apparent than now, as her old missteps and her husband’s history have effectively paralyzed her during a moment of widespread outrage.” “Now, when the collective voice of American women and victims of sexual assault seems to be letting out a cathartic scream, Mrs. Clinton has deferred to another first lady to speak for her.” ”Mrs. Clinton has every political reason to avoid wading into the discussion of sexual assault that has riled a nation and thrown her Republican rival’s candidacy into chaos. Not known as a naturally emotive public speaker, Mrs. Clinton risks stumbling if she embraces the issue at a time when polls show that she is in her strongest position yet to defeat Mr. Trump on Nov. 8. She has played it safe….”
But Hillary’s most formidable strategy is to “play it safe” and for the duration of the campaign to remain above the fray. How can she add any more fuel to the fire than there already is over Trump’s bragging about sexually assaulting women and his unwanted advances and groping of a series of women who have bravely come forward in the last few days? Obviously, his pathology goes much deeper than casual “locker room boasting,” the phrase used when trying to explain away his lewd, vulgar comments.
The article contrasts her silence with the impassioned and very personal words of First Lady Michelle Obama in a speech earlier in the afternoon as she described “that sinking feeling” a woman feels when a “guy at work ... stands just a little too close, stares a little too long, and makes you feel uncomfortable in your own skin.” Her talk was lauded as a reminder of the indignities a woman feels when catcalls and behavior makes them uncomfortable and surely struck an emotional chord for all. Even a predator like Trump could feel the singe of its indictment.
As powerful and galvanizing as the speech was, the candidate Hillary is wise to take a different tack. As President Obama put succinctly: “If Donald Trump wants to implode, just let it happen. When life hands you lemons, you make lemonade. When life hands your opponent lemons, stay out of it.” Of course, this approach has little to do with Bill Clinton’s own past peccadilloes, rather it has more to do with the disgust and revulsion people already feel about Trump’s predations. Nothing Hillary could say would further the collective scorn. She is best to remain above the fray.
Let Trump wage his scorched earth campaign, which is growing increasingly ugly and paranoid as he conjures wilder and more intricate conspiracy theories. Trump’s wild accusations have even sounded crazy by his standards when saying the other day with utter surety: “We’ve seen this firsthand in the WikiLeaks documents in which Hillary Clinton meets in secret with international banks to plot the destruction of U.S. sovereignty in order to enrich these global financial powers, her special interest friends and her donors.” Of course, such comments have anti-Semitic overtones as it implies some sinister cabal of international bankers who control the media, the government, and banking, a common trope often used to gin up hatred toward Jews.
Trump has frightened away moderates who may have been leaning toward voting for him and he only serves to further inflame his already angry base. When using such shock techniques to rouse passions, like any good showman Trump must continually ratchet up the volume of his pitch in order to be heard above the general din or else he risks a bored and detached base, something given his massive insecurities he surely could not countenance. He needs the crowd and thrives on their exaltation and the objective world, the thinking world, the world of non-supporters be damned. There is nothing too far-fetched for him to say if it will stir his legion of supporters and rage seems the only emotion they are capable of feeling.
To win convincingly, Hillary must craft a positive message. Unlike Obama she can not inspire. She is not naturally emotive and has a plodding delivery. But she can appeal to one’s desire for competence without capturing one’s imagination. On the other hand, Trump’s constant debasements and gutter campaign may be serving to depress turnout, which likely gives him more credit for a rationale than he deserves. When large numbers of people vote, Democrats win elections so it is up to Hillary to give people something to vote for and not simply someone to vote against. She must contrast an ambitious, positive message with his rants and ravings. After all, asMichelle Obama declared at the Democratic National Convention, “our motto is when they go low, we go high!”