I have a group text with my mom, my dad, and my sister. It's mostly pictures of brisket, stories about how Liz's dog has met a goat or a child. There's a long stretch where I try to help them figure out how they can watch Lemonade. My mom often uses this forum to talk about what she'd do if she won the lottery, or as she calls it, "the big one." On the night last month when Hillary Clinton clinched the Democratic nomination, a text came in from my sister who had caucused for Bernie Sanders. It said:
"We've had the vote for less than 100 years," my mom replied, "This is beyond incredible." I hadn't watched it happen. I was at iO—Chicago's home for longform improv and loads of angry women. When I got home I wanted to post something about the historic moment but didn't know how, because the amount of equivocating we have to do in my sphere when we talk about Hillary, to avoid being called a shill, a whore, a dumb bitch voting with her vagina, would take away the power, the joy, the hope I felt when I finally got to watch her speech.
We live in a nation that thrives on dichotomy. When trans rights popped up in the mainstream, so many people were utterly dismayed by the fact that there are more than just men and women, that gender is an identity that is nonbinary. They could not handle the challenge to their very black-and-white worldview. When we open ourselves up to the nuance and complexity of human life, it makes it harder to maintain cut-and-dried opinions. It breaks down our talking points. It forces us to think—which is the No. 1 thing Americans hate to do.
It's our compulsive need for polarity that gives us a two-party system, gives us an absolutist political atmosphere bound by good versus evil. In my community that has been defined in this primary as corporate-shill-whore versus the second coming of Christ. Hillary didn't get to be an effective leader, a vocal champion of progress around the globe, because she had to be an evil rich lady with corporate interests and a taste for Afghani blood. We couldn't acknowledge that, just like literally every president our country has ever had, Hillary Clinton is a politician with a checkered record. Who has done both good and bad. Who has made mistakes, said things that range from the stupid to the horrible, aligned herself with shitheads and fucked up. But we don't get the luxury of voting for perfect people, untainted by their climb to power, whose actions and values match 100 percent with ours. We never have. Hillary isn't the leftist I am, either. But an all-or-nothing mentality isn't realistic in Real Life America. It just makes us feel good.
When Hillary Clinton is president she, like Obama, will do things that inspire and disgust me. She will make compromises that I hate. She will solve some seemingly insurmountable problems and ignore others. Ones I probably care about.
Why are we pretending this is new?
We hold Hillary's heeled heels to a different kind of fire. It's really three small fires burning together:
1) Good-versus-evil politics as usual. The other guy is always the bad guy.
2) It's the in thing to do. We consume more buzzwords than we do Big Macs in America, and like Big Macs we can't help but regurgitate them.
3) She's a woman. We not only get to but need to acknowledge that. We've long raked her over the coals a little extra. It's why we're a more eager to call out her lies and misrepresentations even though fact-checkers confirm that she doesn't do it that much. It's why we salivated over her deeply stupid, offensive comment about Nancy Reagan. It's why we punish her for doing the thing that is politics. It's why we attack her for being ambitious and entitled to the presidency and celebrated Bernie for refusing to drop out of a race he'd lost.
We hate Hillary Clinton. We hate her. She's done a hell of a lot more good than Bill, but we keep some love for Bubba. It's Hillary whom we've always hated. Hating Hillary is on trend. Surely there are longtime Clinton haters with plenty of good reasons, but suddenly we all care about every bad thing she's done, as though we always have, and we write about it on our computers built by children, while sipping coffee made from beans harvested by children, while wearing clothes made by children in ungodly conditions. We are not good. But hating Hillary lets us pretend we are.
At a rally for Donald Trump earlier this month in Greensboro, North Carolina, Jared Yates Sexton, writing for the New Republic, noted that the typical shouts of "Trump that bitch!" were accompanied by a disturbing new rallying cry: "Hang that bitch!"
It's so popular to hate Hillary that we've even turned on Elizabeth Warren, the patron saint of progressive politics. Warren's sin? She endorsed Clinton, so she's a sellout-shill-whore-turncoat.
If Clinton had failed to clinch the nomination after a little birdie landed on her podium, we would've seen a flood of Redditors posting pictures of birds with snapped necks accompanied by captions like "War hawk Hillary Clinton kills smaller bird over campaign failure" or "Killery wants us to believe bird snapped own neck" or "Vince Foster all over again."
But she didn't fail. She won the votes. So we say that the rules which Bernie and Hillary both understood, agreed to, and followed—however outdated or overcomplicated or unfair they may be—were not rules at all, but were the machine actively inventing ways to keep Bernie down. Bernie chose to use this system because he knows you can't legitimately run as an independent. He used the system. He made that choice. He knew what it was. It was a sly, savvy political move, and he did well. But as Hillary won more and more, the rules they both signed on for were called voter suppression, rigging, more classic Clinton cheating. Hillary, who has a record of opposing real voter suppression like redistricting and ID requirements, was accused of it simply for, ya know, winning votes.
And this condemnation isn't entirely because she's a woman. As stupid as it is to say all of the criticism directed at Hillary is sexist, it's equally stupid to say that all support for her comes straight from my vagina. I will tell you what comes from my vagina—a mucous membrane that enables penetrative sex which I enjoy, and I'm grateful for Hillary's commitment to my reproductive rights. Menstrual blood, which is currently filling my Diva Cup. I'm lucky I have access to products to aid in menstruation, and I'm glad that Hillary Clinton advocates for women worldwide to have access to these products as well, and that she fights to reduce the stigma surrounding menstruation. Sometimes there is cloudy discharge that may mean my vagina is sick, and I might need to go to Planned Parenthood to get affordable, judgment-free healthcare. I'm glad that Hillary stands with that organization.
I don't vote with my vagina. I vote with a brain that understands what having a vagina means in this modern world. I also vote with a brain that believes Hillary Clinton when she says she's listened to the criticism of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and agrees that it's not a good thing. She changed her public stance on gay rights to match what I believe is her private position, something she did too late, something I think she hadn't done earlier for political reasons. I vote with a brain that thinks that's fucking shitty, but is horrified by the prospect of a president who believes he's always right and never yields. My parents were Republicans for 22 years of my life. They said and believed things I now find abhorrent, but they listened and they changed. I vote with a brain that respects that.
I vote with a brain that says "hell yes" to Clinton's pro-EPA, pro- affirmative action, anti-gun, pro-civil rights, pro-police reform, pro-women progressive platform. I support Hillary's efforts worldwide to give education, skills, and financial independence to women, especially those in the developing world. I vote with a brain that says, "Let's challenge Hillary to continue moving further left on issues of incarceration, business, and the military."
I vote with a brain that knows that real progress starts in local politics but can't get anywhere if our country is run by a xenophobic, racist, misogynistic business failure with a bad tan. I vote with a brain that understands how dangerous a Trump presidency is. A brain that holds information about history, like the fact that a divided left helped a fascist come to power back in the 30s. A fascist who promised to make his country great again. Who blamed problems on outsiders, religious minorities, and "others."
"I'm done with the lesser of two evils," you say. But I vote with a brain that knows taking your toys and going home to pout is one thing, but burning down the whole damn sandbox because you lost the game is a dangerous overreaction.
I vote with a brain that knows I don't deserve threats of death and rape for acknowledging that Hillary Clinton isn't all bad. Or for saying I'm excited that she's going to be the first woman president. That I am now firmly, proudly, and excitedly with her.
When I finally did post something on Facebook, the place where I have most of my interactions with other human beings, I did equivocate, perhaps too much, because I too had to come around on Hillary after I voted Bernie in the primary. I understood her faults and failures, which are real and deserving of criticism, but hadn't bought into the narrative that she's "just as bad" as Donald Trump. I braced myself for a shitstorm, like the one I experienced when I dared to call out the Bernie-or-bust movement. But that didn't come; my post was met mostly with thank-yous.
I also saw a lot of people say, "I'm good with a woman president but not this one. I wish she wasn't so tainted." As if she's the first flawed person to run for this office. As if her flaws make her at all unique. We simply hold women to a higher standard. We compare them to each other in more false dichotomies—Clinton versus Warren, Beyoncé versus Rihanna—when really we need them all. As Hillary came up in the political world, she deferred, compromised, and fudged on her own beliefs to get ahead. Gross. Normal. Real. She got ahead and now the world is a little different, and now we get to have Elizabeth Warren who speaks openly and honestly. And I hope she's our next vice president.
I remember the days when it seemed like Obama was going to be president forever, and a united left shared memes of Hillary on her BlackBerry because she was cool. We all thought she was a badass motherfucker at the 11-hour Benghazi hearing. We forgot Bill was even a thing until we'd see a picture here or there of what we at first thought was a candle melting into a troll. Hillary's approval ratings during her tenure as a senator were high, and then as secretary of state they were higher. When she runs for office, though, they're low. Maybe because "secretary" is a girl job, and running for president—and having the confidence and ambition to do so—is for boys. v
This essay was first performed in The Paper Machete, the live magazine hosted by Reader contributor Christopher Piatt at the Green Mill (4802 N. Broadway) on Saturdays at 3 PM. For more info, go to thepapermacheteshow.com.