As we stand on the precipice of electing our first woman president, we are also fighting against healthcare restrictions that devalue women and rob us of our most basic autonomy. And as we near the end of the second term of our first Black president, we are seeing a dangerous reemergence of white nationalism – both at home and in Europe. These things are, of course, not coincidences. They are evidence of reactionary backlashes to social progress.
There is much progress to celebrate regarding the expansion of rights and visibility of marginalized people in this time, even as there continues to be much to grieve. There are battles which are far from won – and battles that we imagined were over are still being fought.
Legal abortion remains under assault four decades after it was meant to be settled fact. Federally legalized same-sex marriage is still new, and it remains under assault under the auspices of “religious freedom” laws and presidential candidates who promise – absurdly – to roll back the right. Decades after the Voting Rights Act, Black people and other communities marginalized by voting laws are still fighting institutional disenfranchisement. And on and on.
This is, in some way, ever the way of progress. There is something to celebrate, and something left to be done.
But backlashes are different. It is not just that there are things left to be done. It is that there are emergent hostilities reacting to the progress which has been made.
Ancient hatred and bigotries rear their ugly heads in a newly visible way. Strategies used against one marginalized population once upon a time are appropriated and deployed against the new “enemy.” Coded bias becomes increasingly overt, and rhetoric escalates into eliminationism.
It’s not merely that ideological opponents must be defeated, but that people whose identities deviate from those who disproportionately hold power must be destroyed.
Bias and anger are increasingly expressed through violence. Anti-Muslim hate crimes are on the rise again. Anti-choice terrorism has sharply increased. Fights break out at political rallies. There are 892 documented hate groups in the US, and there have been 167 mass shootings so far this year alone.
Fomented and fueled by decades of othering, scapegoating, and fearmongering, increasing numbers of white men (particularly, though not exclusively) are channeling their legitimate resentments at economic insecurity and their illegitimate belief that marginalized people are to blame into an aggressive, threatening nationalism.
This is happening not just in the US, but in many European countries. It frighteningly resembles dynamics that preceded both of the World Wars.
It is a dark time. And in times of darkness, we need light.
Love and kindness. These are Hillary’s motivating principles – despite what four decades of mendacious narratives would have us believe.
In this dark time, in a time where violence is used for publicity, we need a leader who is committed to love and kindness, because that is the only antidote to hatred and division – in combination with firm boundaries delineating what will be tolerated. And what won’t be.
This combination is one of Hillary’s greatest strengths: She values and understands the importance of amplifying marginalized voices, of leveraging her privilege on behalf of the people for whose rights she advocates, and of facilitating increased visibility and access to empowered roles. She also values and understands the importance of policy. Over and over, she has demonstrated a fundamental grasp of both the significance and limitations of each.
Visibility and access without legal protections, or legal protections without visibility and access, are not as good – not as effective – as the combination.
Eleven years ago, I read this post by John Rogers, which contained a statistic so striking to me that I remember it still: “When the Supreme Court struck down the bans against interracial marriage in 1968 through Virginia vs. Loving,” he wrote, “SEVENTY-TWO PERCENT of Americans were against interracial marriage. As a matter of fact, approval of interracial marriage in the US didn’t cross the positive threshold until – sweet God – 1991.”
That is the importance of policy. Urging meaningful inclusion is not enough. Nor is policy without an accompaniment of urging and modeling meaningful inclusion.
Breaking down barriers is not just about how we think and how we talk, nor is just about law. It’s about how both work together to create an environment in which truly breaking down barriers can actually happen. It’s about making space for people who have been excluded, and about ensuring – by the force of law, if necessary – that people who reflexively reject their inclusion are robbed of the means to do it.
This will not be an easy task. It will not be a task that Hillary can complete, even if she is given eight years to do it. It is not a task any person can accomplish alone, nor is there an easily identifiable end. Oppression and all its intersections morph and adapt in their desperate bid to survive and thrive.
But we need a leader who’s up to the task of trying, with all her might, to stop the escalation and begin to roll backward the surging waves of hatred that threaten stability and security, especially for vulnerable people. A leader who understands that it cannot be left to fester, but must be addressed, in all ways available to a person with the biggest and baddest bully pulpit on the planet.
A leader who gets, down to her bones, that love and kindness are key, but are fundamentally incomplete without firm boundaries.
A leader who wears both her heart and her brain on the sleeves of her colorful jacket.
We are in a dark time, and we need light. The light of a comprehensive approach to that darkness: Policy to address the brokenness undergirding the resentment, and to contain the backlash; love and kindness to facilitate de-escalation, and to center the inherent value of the people being targeted by the backlash.
There are precious few politicians who are up to the task. What luck, what enormous good fortune, that we have a politician in this moment, in this dark time, who is not only up to the task but willing and ready to take it on.
We have not, as a country, always shown Hillary an abundance of love and kindness. But still she shows it to us.
Still she perseveres. There may be no stronger evidence that she is prepared to meet the challenges of endemic hatred than that.