I’d moved on from the American election, obviously erroneously, thinking that most Barbadians had come to grips with a Donald Trump victory as a very plausible outcome. In this anniversary edition of Today’s Woman, I backtrack a little to the American presidential election outcome to make some observations relevant to women in politics.
This term can be very dubious and ambiguous but the reflection, I think, is worth having. There are a couple things to say. Firstly, Barbadians have developed a healthy interest in polling as evidenced by our own elections in the recent past. However, if the majority of Barbadians are surprised that Trump won, it would indicate to me that we still have many people who do not understand how to read and interpret polls.
Hillary Clinton, at only one point that I can remember in the election cycle, pulled away from Trump. This was in the immediate days after the ‘grab them’ fiasco. By the end of the week, Trump was again hovering over her shoulder. After the ‘grab them’ debacle did not see Hillary pull away in the polls, I was quietly sure that Trump could be victorious. The polls were clearly signaling that Clinton’s campaign had plateaued months prior and that the issues which she needed to be able to turn into voter motivators, she simply was not delivering on.
Additionally, each poll had a plus or minus five margin of error but most people seemed to have interpreted the margin incorrectly. If Hillary was the front runner candidate, then I would have read the margin of error to or from her. Since the poll results had them at a statistical dead heat, the poll was telling us that at best Trump could have been leading Hillary by five points. The other interpretation, or the minus side, is that Hillary could have turned five per cent on Trump but only if she had managed to stir up voter motivation and turn out.
The question then was: how would she have stirred up voter motivation and voter turnout? The answer had to be with issues which she simply failed to resonate on during the campaign. Issues including women’s rights, the economy and foreign policy. The fact that Hillary did not resonate on these issues made her, in my opinion, a weak candidate to begin with. A weak candidate is not determined by educational background or experience.
The weaker candidate in any race is the one who is less able to drum up emotion and voter buy-in. Although a candidate may be the best suited or qualified to win an election, this is only a small factor in the final outcome of any election. The person most likely to win an election is the candidate who can drum up and maintain the most emotional engagement in a campaign cycle.
Sometimes being a new candidate by itself helps with starting emotions going into an election. Conversely, coming in with an image people already know can be a detriment. Hillary’s perceived baggage is in part responsible for her defeat. She wanted to be the first female President of the United States but she wanted to do this without a partnership with the women’s movement of America.
Hillary was never seen, at any point in her career, as a strong advocate for women’s rights. As a young attorney, she helped to defend a rapist. As First Lady, she ‘let her husband off the hook’ for misbehaving in the White House. Ironically, the same populace who overlooked her husband’s transgression was expected to get incensed to a point of mass voting for Clinton over Trump who admits that men with money and status get to ‘misbehave a little’.
In my view, Clinton lost the White House when she stayed with Bill and alienated the women’s lobby. That bloc of voters who opted out of this election because they did not see their issues reflected, is perhaps why Hillary never fully pulled away from Trump. Americans had no problem with Trump voicing a reality they knew existed – rich men get to ‘misbehave’ a bit. Hillary even accepted this when she stayed with her husband.
They also had no significant issues with the underlying message of Trump for a single reason – Trump’s message is not ahistorical. America was built on the back of men like Trump. How we missed that fundamental sub-current in this election campaign is simply beyond me. In the end, Americans voted for the devil they feel they got to know more.
Whereas Trump was vocal on a number of issues people wanted to hear about, Hillary opted to play middle ground on several of those issues. That led to the perception that Hillary could not be trusted or that she was not really ‘strong’ on fundamental issues. Trump had a position – whether you agreed or not. Additionally, although she wanted to be the first woman president, she ran a very traditional ‘male’ looking and sounding campaign.
She placed a premium on her qualifications, experience and all of the traditional ‘trappings’ of male presidency. She did not up play her femininity. Simply put, her rhetoric and her philosophical mooring seemed at odds with each other. Hillary’s career and her perceived hardline nature was not in keeping with the image conjured up in Americans’ minds when they thought of their first female president.
People seem to be predicting that America’s sky will fall. Indeed, it shan’t. The presidency has a larger back end than front face. Donald Trump will be moulded into a president. As much as some people view Obama as a successful president, there are other communities, such as the Black community, who feel he should have done more. The same things that made Obama a ‘mediocre’ president in some people’s eyes will make Trump a great president.
That singular thing is the structure around the presidency which keeps it from being too radical or too left or too right. That will not change. And so, on this historical note, we celebrate Today’s Woman’s birthday. The column is exactly two years old now!! This is the 100th installation of the column. I salute the women of Barbados on this the eve of our 50th year of Independence. I salute the audacity of the Barbadian woman and their ability to keep thriving even if it gets us called all kinds of names – some more bald than others.
Hillary’s loss is not, in my view, an indictment on the progress women have made. It is also not a loss that comes down to gender in any linear manner. If anything, it shows the power of the feminist/womanist movement in America and their demand for realness and transparency in any person who wishes to win on their backs.
It is my honour to continue offering what I hope are helpful insights from the female perspective. I hope too that I can fire some kind of movement in the young women of this beautiful little Island.
(Marsha Hinds-Layne is a full-time mummy and part-time lecturer in communications at the University of the West Indies. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)