Hillary Clinton delivers her concession speech

Secretary Clinton graciously uttered a unified strategy that was committed to justice and whose grace could leave no American heart unmoved. The only problem here is that she waited until after the polling booths were closed. After Clinton’s defeat, the second biggest surprise of this very surprising election was Clinton’s own summation of her defeat. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one expecting her to shave her head and emerge in a purple body stocking to scream, “I’m too good for you rat-fuckers!” as she wiped her arse with the TARP bill and a selection of those other documents that wrote her political end.

But Clinton did not replay the very worst of Mark Latham or Britney Spears. Instead, she did what she might have considered doing months ago and emerged as an earnest pragmatist whose belief in the democratic process was complete. If you’ve not yet seen the former nominee’s address to the nation, do watch it. It is elegant, credibly moving and likely to emerge over time as one of Western history’s best concessions. Even those of us still smarting about Sanders, the candidate most likely to have snatched victory from those maniacal Trumpkin jaws carved in hate, and the man who briefly revived that old solidarity between cultural progressives and low-wage workers, feel that we’ve lost something. Last night in the USA, Clinton gave us something to believe in.

The speech, which urges for restraint, is about as far as you can get from that “basket of deplorables” rot of the American fall. There’s not been a collective noun so fatal to a campaign and so over-used on opposition placards since Romney’s binders full of women. In September, Clinton’s appeal was, as it had long been, to those voters who identified with a technocratic class: if you have a college degree and think you are better than those slobs in trucker caps, vote for me. Last night, she convinced me that she cherished the democratic process, and wasn’t interested in governing only for those who fancied themselves to be just better.

You might not be of the view that liberalism, on whose ideals the US was the only nation truly founded, was bound to be consumed by history. You can probably concede, however, that the repeated condemnation of any voting bloc, even if it is comprised of newly impoverished white people, is not the most liberal utterance.

[Western feminism is dead, and Clinton’s victory will be its wake]

It’s true, of course, that racism and other false acts of class solidarity are deplorable. There are people in my own family whose fear of financial injury manifests in this hatred and I crave their company even less than I do that of the blockheads on social media who keep writing that the truest tragedy of this election is that little girls can no longer aspire to be president — and, what is that, by the way? Somehow, large numbers of people have begun to see the central work of the world’s most powerful person not as foreign and trade policy for billions, but as “role modelling” for pre-schoolers.

Back to the plot: racism and its vile cousins are deplorable. But, so, even and especially in the terms of liberalism, is the clear message that some people are just beneath your political interest.

Last night, all that was gone. Very sincerely — much more sincerely than Trump, whose kind words about Clinton seemed to me as genuine as his promise that he can put a tariff on Chinese goods — she revealed her commitment to the best ideals of liberalism. She said that she believed, and she urged all of us to do the same. She said that she was personally disappointed, but that she retained historic hope. Again, this is in stark contrast to her previous campaigning in which she did not cast herself as a servant of history, but simply as a great individual and a personal friend to beauty queens.

This — to be clear as one must in a political age largely obfuscated by the impoverished logic of “us and them” — I do feel for Alicia Machado, who became such a reliable presence in the last weeks of Clinton’s campaign. I have little doubt that Trump did call Machado horrid names, and probably drooled on her in the prelude to the swimsuit competition. But, in her person, we can see the reverberations of the echo-chamber into which Clinton allowed herself to be built. It is very strange to see a Miss Universe contestant saying “I was only judged for my looks”. This is a bit like hearing a plumber complain that she is only assessed by her boss for her capacity with a wrench. It may have been a surprise to the then-young Machado to enter a beauty competition and find out it was a beauty competition. But the rest of us never believed or even read the lies on the Miss Universe website, which declare it a foundation for scholarships.

In other words, Clinton’s use of diverse people and pro-diversity messages appeared, as they were, cynical and strategic. This is not to say outright that Clinton, who flirted with a little activism in her youth, does not retain some commitment to those ideals. It’s just to point out what was obvious to large numbers of voters: the campaign called camera-friendly minority representatives in when it suited them.

The dependence on Machado was a clumsy strategy. It is hard for people, including Latino people, to feel sorry for someone gifted of extraordinary beauty. It is hard for people, including Muslim people, to endorse the message, as delivered by the Khan family, of death in expansionist war. The experiences described by the Clinton campaign’s many photogenic minority representatives all seemed as obviously tailored to a very specific group of voters, because they were. There were as few people on the Convention stage that addressed a broad American experience as there were speeches that did this by Clinton herself.

Simply put, Clinton did not, until last night, speak from what we can now concede is her tolerably centrist heart. This campaign, with its tactical reliance on the good will of “brown and women pundits”, looked manufactured, as much as it might have been formed from good intentions. There were a thousand pieces to a campaign that demanded the right for beauty contestants not to be judged for their beauty, the right for Muslim soldiers to die. But what there was not, as Guy Rundle and others said long ago, was a unifying message.

[Rundle: progressives will blame everyone but themselves for this mess]

You can’t expect people going about the business of life to go to your website and read the finer points of the policy your well-paid advisers have written. You must provide a precis, especially for a nation whose powers of deliberation have been compromised by a failing education system. But there was to be no rousing synopsis at any point, just individual messages tailored to niches and bits of policy which, if you did bother to read it, was even itself at internal odds.

None of which is to imply, in any way at all, that Trump will be a good president. He will be only be good insofar as he inspires at least a week of hot, apocalyptic sex among the justifiably terrified. His own policy, that little bit of it which is actually written down, suffers internal contradiction, for example, he wants to be an isolationist, but he’s pretty keen on killing Muslims and he wants to make the world’s strongest economy the world’s strongest economy, and he’s going to do this by hiking prices on everyday goods for people who earn seven bucks an hour.

It is just to say what the many who voted for Trump have: the guy seemed to believe what he was saying. Which Clinton, who I am positive is more sincere, did not seem to do. Until last night’s legacy preserving speech.

She shoulda done it earlier.

Peter Fray

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