Leaving the Javits Center in midtown Manhattan on Tuesday night was a striking scene. Soaring above us was the magnificent glass ceiling the Clinton campaign hoped and expected to figuratively shatter on election night. A hundred feet below, on the sprawling and spacious floor of the building, were countless young Clinton supporters, most of them women, almost all of them teary eyed. The few without tears just stared off into space, appearing to have suffered a seismic and traumatic loss.
The next morning in a crowd awaiting Secretary Clinton’s farewell speech, a young man collapsed in a panic attack, terrified of a world with Donald Trump as his president. Campaign staffers, senior and junior mingled with supporters young and old, awaiting a speech in a modest hotel ballroom. People were more quiet than talkative, as even a kind word or glance often resulted in tears rather than a smile. Into this environment strode Hillary Clinton, who hours after suffering a stunning defeat, once again picked herself back up and lifted a room, and a nation. Bereft of sleep, she somehow concluded this lengthy and often dark campaign with a speech of grace and class that buoyed instantly our financial markets and the spirits of her disconsolate supporters.
She reminded us that her campaign was not about her, but “about an America that is hopeful, inclusive and big hearted.” She stressed that “the American dream is big enough for everyone – for people of all races and religions, for men and women, for immigrants, for LGBT people, for people with disabilities, for everyone.” These words reminded me of her defiant yet uplifting speech the night of the New Hampshire primary, when, after falling by over 20 points to Bernie Sanders she spoke of the need to fight for all Americans, to eliminate barriers facing women, the disabled, minorities, and those without regard to their sexual preference. I remember wondering that night if the country was truly ready for that fight, and alternatively, whether disaffected voters besieged by molasses-like economic growth cared enough about that fight to elect a candidate who made it her core message.
We may never know. All elections are ultimately subject to simple explanations that never match the complex stew of factors that determine their outcome. And this one was particularly and spectacularly complex. What we do know is that President-elect Trump decided that an inclusive message was not needed to win, and was ultimately correct. The Clinton campaign believed that stressing identity politics, diversity, and inclusion was worthy (it is) and could help her win (it may not have). The stark differences were apparent in the campaigns’ competing slogans – “Make America Great Again” as opposed to “Love Trumps Hate” and “Stronger Together.”
Having expected victory and instead swallowed defeat, Hillary Clinton doubled down on her message of inclusion and hope, using her final speech to implore her supporters to carry on for the cause. Expect setbacks she said. Some may be painful and severe, “but never stop believing that fighting for what is right is worth it.”
As awful as some of the vitriol was coming from our president-elect in this campaign, perhaps it will serve as an awakening for the American left that not all is as well as it seemed in our republic. Perhaps eight years of a largely successful Administration, led by a uniquely charismatic African American left progressives complacent and blind to the hurdles that still exist for so many in America. Perhaps the defeat of the first American female presidential nominee will persuade Americans that gender bias still exists on a greater basis than they were willing to admit. And perhaps Hillary’s clarion call to arms – coming as it did, so gracefully in defeat – will inspire a generation of young leaders to continue in the great American experiment to indeed ensure that all of us are created, and treated equally. If so, her candidacy will indeed be meaningful beyond its singular historical significance. In watching the protests across America this week, it is apparent that this was a campaign like no other. One can chose to be inspired or disenchanted from a campaign like this one and I chose the former. I see in the tears of young women and men the recognition that we came oh so close, which should inspire us to carry Hillary’s message of inclusion forward and follow her admonition, as quoted from the scriptures: Let us “not grow weary in doing good for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.”