Hillary Clinton Can't Be Politically Incorrect

Hillary Clinton said recently that part of the reason Trump did so well with white women is that those women are more inclined to vote for who their husbands tell them to vote for.

I don’t know any women who voted for Trump at the request of their husbands but I know several who occasionally abstain from voting when their vote would contradict that of their husband because canceling out their husband's vote would mean that their household had a net zero contribution to an election.  The obvious problem with that is the assumption that one vote is more valuable than the other and the deference to one over the other, but that is a little beside the point for the moment.

I also tend to think Clinton’s statement was a bit counterproductive in much the same way as invocations of white working class desperation in the wake of Trump’s victory.  Both are ways to avoid wrestling with the unpleasant implications of complex motives for voting. As soon as one stops patronizing (in this case), white women, one must also acknowledge that along with agency comes a capacity for prejudice, cultural anxiety, and xenophobia.  That, too, is a little beside the point for the moment.

The point is that the truth of her statement or her motivation for saying it are incidental to the backlash it provoked.  Donald Trump said that Mexican immigrants were rapists and murderers. In addition to shock and anger, his statements produced countless pieces in center-left and center-right mainstream media arguing that his rhetoric gave voice to people who feel assaulted by immigration.  His (and Ted Cruz’s) extraordinarily racist pronouncements in December of 2015 about Muslims were distasteful but (supposedly) gave voice to people who felt anger and fear about the potential for terrorism.  His remarkably dangerous claims about illegal vote tallies and his laughable promises to drain the swamp were pointed out to some degree for what they were but also expressed how Americans feel betrayed by multicultural and corrupt elites.  

Trump’s routine bigotry, ignorance, misogyny, and cruelty are condemned in tandem with a sort of acknowledgment that he gives voice to what his constituents feel.  He tells it like it is - like they feel it is - and for that he is awarded a significant measure of legitimacy even when he is at his absolute worst.  What he said was awful but it’s time to consider why people feel the way he does.  Clinton is never afforded that legitimacy in her oversteps, inaccuracies, and generalizations (and is often denied it when she’s perfectly within bounds, but that’s another column for another day).

Perhaps the point is that Clinton belongs to a pre-intersectional generation of feminist activism that is perplexed by women who voted “against their interests.”  Accurate or inaccurate, no one cares to consider how they feel about that dynamic.  Even younger activists less surprised that feminism lost out to ethnic and class solidarity probably feel something quite similar.  She belongs to a generation of Democratic policy-makers that saw a twenty-year push toward universal health care starting with her advocacy for CHIP and ending with ACA.  She might have been patronizing but no one seems to care why loyal progressive women feel betrayed by people whose rights and security they fight to expand.

My point isn’t to argue that Clinton was right or wrong, but rather to ask why her occasional stereotyping is universally condemned without the parallel slew of countless think pieces and roundtable discussions.  It’s to ask why Donald Trump’s incessant streams of crude racism and casual misogyny spawn endless discussions of “real America” and the anxieties and frustrations of his supporters with the direction of the country. Clinton’s indelicacy doesn’t even exist on the same plane as Trump's near-constant demagoguery, yet she receives no legitimacy or curiosity even when her points are more valid.

The questions are rhetorical.  The answers are obvious. The reaction to their various statements have little to do with what they’re saying and far more to do with the gender of the speakers and assumed identities of the audiences.