During an interview last week with an Indian news publication, I was asked about 2016, and whether Trump is the “virus” or a “symptom” of something deeper going on in American society. Like most Americans, people overseas remain shocked and dismayed at what they are witnessing daily.
My first instinct was to defend Americans and explain how Donald Trump could have been elected. I said that places doing better economically typically lean Democratic, and places where there is less optimism about the future lean Republican. That doesn’t mean the coasts versus the heartland, it doesn’t even mean entire states. In fact, it more often captures the divisions between more dynamic urban areas and less prosperous small towns within states.
As I said throughout the campaign, Trump’s message was dark and backwards looking. I don’t need to list the reasons, but the foundation of his message, “Make America Great AGAIN” suggests that to be great we have to go back to something we are no longer.
I never accepted that and never will. I’m from the Midwest. I had plans that, had I been elected, would have focused on the real needs of hard-working yet struggling Americans in every part of the country. Raising the minimum wage. Paid leave. Affordable college. Affordable, quality health care for everyone.
Training for good jobs that don’t require a college degree. And giving workers a larger share of corporate profits and tax cuts. So far, Donald Trump has done nothing positive to ease the pain of the people who most strongly supported him, from the loss of jobs in coal country to the opioid epidemic to the tax bill that increases the debt by $1.5 trillion with a massive corporate tax cut, only 13% of which went to workers in the form of bonuses or pay raises.
I was also asked about women, specifically white women, the majority of whom have not voted for Democrats in recent history. I did better with them than previous Democratic nominees, but still lost them overall to a candidate who relies on scare tactics and false attacks, masking the fact that he is otherwise no friend to most Americans.
I also mentioned something in passing that’s gotten a lot of negative attention: that there is anecdotal evidence and some research to suggest that women are unfortunately more swayed by men than the other way around. As much as I hate the possibility, and hate saying it, it’s not that crazy when you think about our ongoing struggle to reach gender balance – even within the same household.
I did not realize how hard it would hit many who heard it. I was out there having a conversation, and this was one piece of a larger point about how Democrats need to do better with white women, because I know in my heart that Democrats have much more to offer them.
Do I believe that some women look at a powerful woman and question whether she can lead, maybe voting for the man their husband is voting for instead? It may not be universally true or easy to hear, but yes, it’s a dynamic still at play in our society. I know this because even I spent parts of my life wondering if I could achieve the same as male leaders, and a lot of that insecurity stemmed from my gender and how society views women.
When I was serving in various roles in public life, I was always more popular when I was working for or defending a man then when I was out there on my own. That’s the point I was making, in an effort to explain to an audience some of the many dynamics that have gone into these tumultuous last few years.
I understand how some of what I said upset people and can be misinterpreted. I meant no disrespect to any individual or group. And I want to look to the future as much as anybody. But our future requires us to learn from 2016. We need to protect our election systems from intrusion by Russia or anyone else. We need to combat voter suppression and the propagation of fake and misleading news.
I fear we are not doing anywhere near enough on those fronts, and I know we can do better. I love our country every bit as much as a private citizen as I did as a candidate, Secretary of State, Senator from New York, and First Lady. That’s why I don’t want us to remain passive in the face of these threats.
I want us to be free to focus on the future. A future in which I hope to be fighting for Democratic values of equal opportunity, social inclusion, and strong communities; for an economy that works for everyone; and for lifting up the next generation of leadership, particularly women.
So to those upset or offended by what I said last week, I hope this explanation helps to explain the point I was trying to make. And I hope now that we can get back to the real business before us: Protecting our democracy and building a future we can all share.
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