Last night’s debate—hardly even a debate, in the usual sense—proved to me and to many others that we have a winner in Hillary Clinton, a “Happy Warrior” in her bright-red suit and gleaming smile, as a commentator called her, a winner who is happy in winning and who brings joy to my heart—and to many others.
Her nomination, and soon, her election (by no means assured unless we all get out there and phone bank and canvas and vote) measures a big, although nearly invisible, shift in American culture, one that was taking place during the two decades when some of us felt we were stranded in the old way.
Calling Clinton a “Happy Warrior” lines her up with leaders who were, and are, men: most recently, President Obama called Vice-president Joe Biden a Happy Warrior, and his ability to row through personal disasters with a whole heart makes him an excellent example. Further back in time, President Franklin Roosevelt, supporting Al Smith for a nomination he didn’t win, called Smith the same, and again, an exuberant sense of the great possibilities in life seemed to mark Smith out; even further back, President Theodore Roosevelt earned this title, and his regained ebullience in the midst of personal disasters (the early loss of his much-loved wife) and political toils matched this moniker. Finally, Hubert Humphrey, driving from his house in Minneapolis with his wife to vote, and becoming President Johnson’s Vice-President, showed the same endurance and delight, predicting to his wife that the rain would stop before they reached the polls because “This is St. Hubert’s Day.” And indeed, it did.
At the end of the day or the end of the debate, it is the contestant who is still enjoying the fight who will always come out on top.
It is not an accident that all these happy warriors were, and are, men. We have lacked, as a culture, examples of women who fight; the image of the striding Greek Athena, Goddess of War, is still not acceptable in a culture that sometimes seems to value sweetness and love in women above all else (ignoring that love, to earn the name, often involves vigorous combat and self-defense.)
It is one of the great strengths of the Clinton campaign that African-Americans and Hispanics are among her most passionate supporters. In these denigrated populations, powerful mothers, aunts and grandmothers have earned their place and the esteem of their communities, including lovers, husbands and sons who have seen that they would not survive if these women did not raise their voices against injustice.
These women are our mentors and our models, and it is their example that leads us to this moment in history.
Of course I support Hillary Clinton, first of all, because she cares about what I care about: the endless scourge of racism in this country (and her recalling Trump’s red-lining of his apartment buildings, where applications from African-Americans were routinely dismissed was a fact he couldn’t dismiss), her commitment to the middle class rather than the rich (and these days, the middle class includes many living from paycheck to paycheck), her determined support for equal pay for equal work, the law of the land since the 2009 Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act but still routinely ignored by employers, her expertise in diplomacy rather than Trump’s “If we have nuclear weapons, why don’t we use them?”—all of this matters more, on the rational level, than her joy in the combat.
But combat is what life is all about, and if we, as women, have sometimes failed the test—and there are many reasons why we may have failed—it is now time for us to master our weapons.
We are debaters; we are leaders; we are women who have learned a lot of the lessons of the past, when we may have seen our mothers and grandmothers fall victim to discrimination, sexual harassment, rape—but we now know more about how to defend ourselves, both literally and legally.
I could never have imagined, when I was a girl, that my father would teach me to repel a would-be attacker by “kicking him in the nuts,” as a dear friend advised his teenaged daughter, then showed her how to do it.
We have other, and perhaps better, means to defend ourselves, skill in the use of words prime among them, but there are times—and last evening’s debate was one of them—when posture and facial expression and tone of voice and the demonstrated ability to keep one’s composure and even to laugh count for even more.
We have arrived at a moment, I now believe, when the Mad Man culture of the 1950’s, which reduced me to despair as a girl, has finally passed. The women who worked to establish Women Studies programs at our universities, the women who marched and protested, others who were the first to graduate from Law Schools and Medical schools—all have paved the way. I am especially grateful to the mothers, mine among them, who bucked an ancient tradition to insist that their daughters must go college, as well as their sons, and to my grandmother, who reluctantly acceded control so my mother could go off for her education at a time when women formed only a small percentage of college graduates.
Because of all of us, the attitude Donald Trump depends on is passing. The jokes, the sneers, the just-us-boys intimacy that makes penis jokes, and even rape jokes, acceptable and amusing—the few who still hunger for that intimacy are growing older. Their sons are less likely to be amused.
“Alpha males,” so called, will pass, leaving behind vestiges of their rancor and entitlement. Maybe even the women who comfort and flatter them will open their eyes. Already there are not enough of these people to elect a president.
And, as the three young-sounding commentators on NPR this morning (two men and one woman) expressed, there is such a thing as winning, and such a thing as losing, and in Hillary Clinton, all of us have a winner.
These young journalists and commentators, men and women, are changing our views of the news.
When I heard, last night, that Trump had rushed back to the press room after the debate to begin to spin his performance (Clinton sent one of her staff), I was frightened: members of the press, like everyone else, love attention, particularly from those they think matter.
But this morning’s commentator remarked on the way Trump went into the press room, slumped and glum, like a sixth grader after failing a test, a sore loser even while insisting he didn’t lose.
We know who won last night and at last we have developed enough maturity, as a culture, to love—and to elect—a woman who wins.