Depending on how you look at it, Hillary Rodham Clinton didn’t miss by much. She won the popular vote by a margin just shy of three million (2.1%). Trump carried 30 states to her 20, taking 304 electoral college votes to her 227. Regardless of whether you’re happy about it, learning to live with it, or fantasizing about the next quadrennial opportunity for regime change we’ve reached consensus on this much. Even if you spend your down time working through the Le Carre-esque scenarios that end in impeachment, the numbers aren’t in question. What is a source of legitimate debate are the reasons things turned out the way they did. In the not quite fifteen months following the election there certainly have been no shortage of theories propounded from every quarter imaginable on this subject. Responding to absolutely no popular demand I thought I’d add my (over priced) two cents.
We’ve heard a broad array of opinions and I have to say most of them feel like they have at least a grain of truth to them. A panalopy of rationales including, but not limited to sexism, Clinton fatigue, dirty tricks, brilliant strategy and probably another dozen ideas before we slide into the more febrile realms of blackmail, and international collusion, not to mention the electoral college, have all been identified as the absent nail which cost the former senator and cabinet member her kingdom. For me the central element has always been her staggering phoniness. She’s possessed of a level of insincerity that surpasses standard political prevaricating self-regard. Not that this is an endorsement of her opponent. Donald Trump is so relentlessly full of shit he’s probably polygraph proof. It’s just that he’s so obvious about all of it and so immature it doesn’t feel as sneaky when he does it. His intent is every bit as malign, he just stinks at it. Watching them on the campaign trail was (in his case) a constant reminder of this. Adolescent impulsivity combined with maniacal perseverance turned him into a sort of Tony Gwynn of the asinine utterance. Ms. Clinton presented in a different fashion. To be fair, part of her problem was, and is, an utter absence of the ability to engage with a group of humans in a way which indicates that she might be one of them. As much fun as it was to watch Trump stumble and sputter his way across the country on a daily basis, there was nothing like the all too seldom but unforgettable social implosion of one of HRC’s “authentic” moments. Between her strychnine poisoning frozen rictus of agony smile and the late stage multiple sclerosis arrhythmic clapping, spontaneous Hillary was a home run every time. Still if that were the sole manifestation of her ungainly mien it might actually have had an upside. When someone is undeniably pure of motive their lack of polish can, in it’s own way, reinforce our perception of them as trustworthy. At the end of the day Ms. Clinton’s critics could always refer to her Nixonian paranoia and a resultant tendency towards a behavioral secrecy that bordered on lying by omission. Scowling her way through questions about her health, emails or anything else the lumpen proletariat might be presumptuous enough to consider important she was never anything but clear in her belief that it was none of our damn business. How could she possibly be expected to take the time to deal with such childish nonsense. Besides she knew best. Let’s just leave it at that.
All of that might have been surmountable if not for three major integrity fails in the close to thirty years of national exposure she has enjoyed. When the nation first met her she was the lawyer spouse of a young, dynamic presidential candidate who seemed to have a rather casual relationship with the concept of honest discourse and a strong grasp of how to work a zipper. Wading through a river of accusations ranging from sexual assault (Paula Jones) to rape (Juanita Broaddrick), not to mention the odd confirmed extra-marital dalliance (Gennifer Flowers) she helped her husband execute a defense strategy that blended deflection and character assassination in a way that would have been beyond the pale for Strom Thurmond, no less an ardent, late twentieth century feminist. Working with her unique social skills she not only betrayed her professed ethical core, she also managed to pointlessly alienate Tammy Wynette fans everywhere. Which might be hilarious to you or me but was a tactical screw up for someone from the south. Still, if we were to work hard enough we might be able to see her perspective, if not actually put ourselves in her place. They were in a position of incredible promise. The White House and all that might come with it was a real possibility. On a personal level it must have been brutal to try and find the right public countenance and tone while suppressing the humiliation of the airing of all that dirty linen. It undoubtedly left many people with a bad taste in their mouths but in and of itself was not a fatal wound.
Moving ahead a few years we were treated to a sort of bimbo eruption redux when her husband decided that conducting his business in the oval office shouldn’t be an impediment to his enhancing his social calendar. I think most of us who are old enough can recall the special excitement we felt when we realized that the nation’s chief executive had taken it upon himself to answer the ancient question, “what would it be like if I used my favorite Cojiba as a speculum?” Not to wander off point here, but I still marvel at the multi-tasking skills one would need to time share between trying to address a trade imbalance and wondering whether or not an intern’s birth canal could function as a humidor. Surprising no one over the age of twelve the then first lady was happy to sing backup as Bill serenaded the country with a performance consisting largely of a series of variations on the theme of “who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?”. Not content to offer a low key, generalized show of support for her spouse, Ms. Clinton made sure to let us know that the third party in question was a “narcissistic looneytoon.” Which must have really been annoying when it turned out Monica Lewinsky was one of those blithe spirits who doesn’t feel the need to run to the dry cleaner after every little mishap. Given all that, her worst moment in my estimation came after it all ended. It doesn’t take any mystical level of empathy to see her predicament as the situation blew (sorry about that) up. Her husband was the sitting president of the United States. It’s not unreasonable to think that there was more at stake than her domestic happiness. If she undertook the task in a less than graceful way, it wasn’t any great surprise considering her well documented limitations in the social aspects of a very public life. Much more telling, I think, is her choice to remain married. Departing the presidency in January 2001 the world was likely to not hold a divorce against her, as far as I can tell. By now I imagine that some of the people reading this are thinking that I don’t have any right to judge her; her marriage is her concern and who am I to impose my perspective. And you know, you might be right. It strikes me that you’re also probably someone who hasn’t let the above detailed thought process stop you from forming some unpleasant opinions regarding Melania Trump’s motivations. So, you know, shut up. I understand things weren’t that simple for her. If nothing else she had to overcome significant financial issues, what with being dead broke. Still, that was an open door she seemed to lack the courage to walk through. I can’t imagine too many supporters, or critics for that matter, who wouldn’t have been happy to validate her wanting to leave the philanderer in chief. What ever her future plans were at that moment I think that showing a little self respect would only have bolstered them.
The previous scenarios focus on mishandling the public manifestation of what would have been, for almost all of us, personal problems. As I’ve written, I think the conflicted nature of the events engender a certain level of sympathy. I am obviously not a fan of either of the Clintons but I look back at all of that with at least a minimal sense of the intrinsic misery of the situation she was in. September 11, 2012 takes us in a different direction. If you’re hoping (or dreading) that I’m about to launch into an Alex Jones quality conspiracy rant, take a breath. I’m not about to challenge Ms. Clinton’s patriotism or assert that she flippantly disregarded ambassador Stevens’ pleas for increased security. I think that whatever missteps she may have made were probably reflective of the irresponsible and self serving beliefs of her boss. In that regard, she was in an impossible situation. In order for a Secretary of State to be effective there are two immutable pre-requisites. She or he must have a cogent foreign policy to represent and must be perceived as the incontrovertible voice of the president. As to the former it seemed to me that Barack Obama had a world view crafted to validate the idiocy of the Nobel committee. As to the latter she was doomed. It’s difficult to imagine seeing her as anything but a Vito Corleone appointment; “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” She never had a chance. I would not be surprised to find that she’d had a significantly more prescient understanding of the situation in North Africa and simply ran into a stone wall in the person of POTUS 44. There was probably nothing she could do in an official capacity to avoid the loss of American life in Libya. But she did have a personal option available. She could always have resigned her position. I’d have been impressed. It would have been the best way to take a stand in opposition to the president. A respectful way to put the nation above party or personal interest, I think it would have elevated the public’s estimation of her, and in doing so would have improved her chances when seeking the office of chief executive. It might also have spared her a congressional investigation which would have kept most of us from learning what a home brewed e-mail server was. Avoiding unpleasant scrutiny could have been enough to propel her into the White House. It certainly wouldn’t have hurt.