There are people telling you who Hillary Clinton really is, if only you’re willing to listen.
There are a lot of observably stark differences between the Republican and Democratic conventions: The overall tone of each (pessimism vs. optimism); the levels of enthusiasm (empty seats vs. overflowing crowds); the prominence and cultural regard for the speakers (Scott Baio vs. literally anyone at the Democratic convention).
One of the differences that has stood out to me, ever more potently as the Democratic convention marches on, is how willing – and eager – the Democratic speakers are to offer ringing, resounding, reverberating endorsements of their nominee.
At the Republican convention, there were certainly people who endorsed Donald (among whom was not Ted Cruz), but the real passion was reserved for hating Hillary, rarely matched in endorsements of Donald.
Hillary suffers no such lack of enthusiasm from the speakers at her party’s convention. From Average Janes right to the President of the Unites States, each person speaks with unreserved admiration for her. Their endorsements are deeply personal and affirmative.
It’s very common at political conventions to hear from speakers who have benefited from a candidate’s policies, but never so many who have been personally helped by the nominee – whether it’s Anastasia Somoza, the young disability activist, who has known Hillary since she was 9; or Lauren Manning, the 9/11 survivor who told us of Hillary sitting at her hospital bedside; or the Mothers of the Movement, sharing their painful stories and acknowledging Hillary as the only one who would really listen.
Hillary has made a personal impact on an enormous number of people’s lives. And they are showing up for her. They are passionate about telling us about the Hillary they know.
They want us to know her character; not the caricature – and they are inviting us, pleading with us, to see past the decades of false narratives, personal attacks, petty demeanments, and straight-up sexism which have been used to try to discredit and destroy her, in order that we might see the real person. The person they know.
The person they trust. With their own lives, and with their children’s futures. First Lady Michelle Obama said, “This election and every election is about who will have the power to shape our children for the next four or eight years of their lives. And I am here tonight because in this election there is only one person who I trust with that responsibility, only one person who I believe is truly qualified to be president of the United States, and that is our friend Hillary Clinton.”
And veep nominee Senator Tim Kaine said, “On a personal level, as he is serving our nation abroad, I trust Hillary Clinton with our son’s life.”
These are not just distinguished people staking their reputations on Hillary Clinton. They are parents who are staking their children’s safety and futures on her. That is no small thing.
I understand being in the position where you don’t know any Hillary but the funhouse mirror version of her reflected through the lens of the media and decades-old rightwing talking points that have gone mainstream. I’m not just sympathetic to it; I was there myself once.
The first piece I ever wrote for this space was my own Hillary conversion story – how being obliged by my job as a feminist writer to deep-dive into Hillary’s record and background fundamentally and forever altered my view of her.
How it took me years to find the real Hillary behind a brick wall of impenetrable misogyny, and how I realized that the reality with which we all need to reckon is that a brick wall is infinitely more difficult to shatter than a glass ceiling.
It is challenging, for a lot of folks, to be asked to reconcile the grotesque caricature of Hillary which has been built by her opponents with her actual character, as described by the people who know her. And those inclined to subscribe to the narrative that she is inauthentic only regard this seemingly irreconcilable divide as evidence of her inauthenticity.
How, they wonder, can she insistently be said to be aloof and chilly and inauthentic, but really be engaged and warm and genuine?
Well, I have some ideas about that. I’ve now spent more than a decade writing professionally and publicly on progressive feminist issues. And, as I’ve previously noted, it’s continually fascinating to me that many of the misrepresentations of Hillary are the same misrepresentations I see of myself, and other feminist writers and activists: Inauthentic, cynical, cold, narcissistic, corrupt, bought, monstrous.
As intrepid and tenacious as I can be, as much as I can let the threats and abuse that are the cost of my work roll off my back, there is still something utterly jarring about seeing yourself cast as a monster. About being scrutinized by people examining you in bad faith, seeking to exploit your vulnerabilities.
Over the course of a decade, subjected to this sort of destructive instinct at such intense levels, I have found myself slowly but surely closing off parts of myself from public view; closing off access. It has happened so incrementally that I don’t really see the scope of it until I remember what it was like, what I was like, when I began.
Hillary has been doing this on an exponentially more visible scale for a much longer time. There are certainly parts of her she does not submit for public consumption any longer; parts of her which are only observable in their full vibrancy to those closest to her. The rest of us get the outlines. Which is maybe all she can personally afford to allow, anymore.
That has to be okay. And maybe what those of us still searching for Hillary need to give her is some slack, rather than more scrutiny.
By which I mean: Maybe we need to listen to the people who are telling us who she is, instead of insisting that she demonstrate for us beyond what her work already tells us, knowing such demonstration will be used to harm her.
As someone who has long and zealously advocated for letting marginalized people be the authorities on our own lives, to let us tell our own stories and to believe us, there is some bit of aching irony for me that I am now suggesting listening to other people talk about Hillary, to find out who she is.
But there has never been anyone like Hillary before, and no woman in her position. No candidate has been subjected to such a concentrated, sustained campaign to destroy them, both personally and professionally, before they even secured the nomination.
So listen to the people who speak for her. Listen to every marcher in the parade of intelligent, respected, ethical, and trusted people, some of whom are elected politicians and some of whom are private citizens, telling stories about the Hillary they know.
Because they are saying, each of them, how profoundly decent a human being she is. How caring and loyal and steadfast and hardworking and kind and determined and talented and indomitable.
How very much not like the caricature we have come to accept as Who She Is.
Listen to them and consider if there is, truly, any rationale for stubbornly believing that Hillary is the exact opposite of everything they say she is.
And consider this, too: To maintain the opinion that the caricature is real, one must necessarily believe that every one of the speakers at this convention is a liar.
Is President Obama a liar? Is Michelle Obama a liar? Is Joe Biden? Is Michael Bloomberg, who quite literally has no reason to appear at the Democratic convention, aside from because he believes Hillary is the superior choice? Is Tim Kaine a liar? Is John Lewis? Is 11-year-old Karla Ortiz, who is worried about her parents being undocumented immigrants, and believes Hillary will protect her family?
Is this picture a lie?
Listen to the people who know her character, whose lives are better in big and small ways because she is a part of them. Listen to the people who have seen, up close, what she has accomplished, and note how often they say she didn’t do it for the cameras. Listen to the people who trust her implicitly, who trust her with their very lives.
And then listen even harder to her when she speaks for herself.
Maybe you will hear that Hillary has some policies with which you disagree. Welcome to the club. The argument is not that you should have no differences with Hillary, nor that she is above criticism; the argument is that she is not the sum of those differences.
That is the treatment to which Hillary is subjected against which I’m arguing – this reductive dehumanization the consequence of which is Hillary being defined, only and exclusively, by her perceived flaws.
Her abundant achievements, her many positive qualities, the enthusiasm of her supporters, the admiration and adoration of her friends and colleagues – these have all been systematically disappeared from the public conversation about Hillary.
If you were reduced to only your worst features, only your failures, and those shortcomings magnified alongside misrepresentations and outright lies about you, and your successes and attributes minimized until some of them were virtually invisible, and all of it was broadcast on an impossibly grand scale for decades, do you think that caricature of you would resemble who you actually are?
What would the portrait of your life look like if your triumphs had been excised? Your qualities turned into points of exploitation?
I bet you would hope that people who had seen nothing but that caricature listened to the people who love you. That they would listen to you.
Tonight, Hillary, a woman who is petitioning to lead a country whose people are often cruel to her, will officially accept her party’s nomination. It will be a historic moment, and it will be an opportunity to listen, really listen, to the person behind the caricature.
And one thing I can tell you with absolute certainty about Hillary Clinton, though I have never met her, is that she is worth listening to.