I instinctively dislike her and will vote for her with reluctance if I’m needed, as it increasingly looks like she will. But the rancor she inspires – which is best deflected towards her husband, a man who served as president of the United States for eight years – is out of proportion to her perfunctory accomplishments unless hanging out with plutocrats in Davos and being misguided by the uses of American power in the Middle East still rankle (no president, even the purportedly cool Barack Obama, is immune to the latter). Still:
Clinton distrusts the media, and her fear of mistreatment can drive her to act like a person with something to hide, making reporters suspicious, which inflates her own paranoia. But the scale of her actual mistakes and misdeeds comes nowhere close to the scale of her reputation and cannot account for it alone.
One cause of Clinton’s reputation is the Democratic primary, which subjected her to an extended character indictment. Bernie Sanders has spent a career lacerating mainstream politics as grotesquely tilted toward the interests of the rich and powerful. To him, Clinton served primarily as a useful stand-in for the failings and compromises of a system he regards as rotten. But many voters who lack a deep familiarity with the assumptions and terminology Sanders uses may not have understand his criticism in this context. When he used terms like “corrupt” and “rigged” and “bought and paid for,” they understood these in a much sharper way. Younger voters, who did not form clear views of Clinton in the 1990s, were introduced to her as a literally criminal figure.
There’s a debate – nah, an argument – taking place among liberals about whether Donald Trump is a Unique Threat or a culmination of forces that first coalesced around Ronald Reagan in 1980 if not Barry Goldwater in 1964 (and I’m sure in 1979 liberals argued about whether Reagan was a Unique Threat or a culmination too). I’ve wrestled with it myself. We all want to be right, and I don’t even write for New York Magazine or Mother Jones.
But who fucking cares? Trump is Clinton’s rival. Should he win, a volley of catastrophic changes would follow: rogue appointment to federal agencies like OSHA, the EPA, and NLRB; disastrous nominations to the Supreme Court; the triumph of a Republican Congress. These phenomena would have happened under Presidents Romney and McCain. Add the legitimating of thuggery as a diplomatic posture and multifaceted, brazen ignorance as a standard for public policy as the novel elements that Trump would bring to the Oval Office. In short, everyone is correct. Trump is a unique threat and a culmination, and Hillary Rodham Clinton would be a better president.