It didn’t take long for the backlash against Hillary Clinton to begin. She blew it. She failed. She wasn’t the right candidate for the job. She was too enmeshed with the establishment, too tarnished by scandal, too cold. She could never have won the presidency—because, the implication goes, she didn’t deserve to.
Well, here’s the thing. She could have won this election. As of publication, she was winning the popular vote. She was strong enough, intelligent enough, brave enough. As much or more than anyone in the race, she—a former secretary of state, a former first lady, with long experience in the law and in office—had earned it.
What’s really painful for women inspired by Clinton’s campaign—by her career as a whole—is that there seems to be no rational reason for why she lost.
Then there’s this: Good people fail. And when you’re a woman fighting to reach the highest office in America—a job that has never been held by a woman, in a country that has revealed some deep seams of misogyny over this campaign—failing is probably more likely than not.
The backlash will continue. But so will the deep gratitude of women across America, and across the world, for Clinton’s unprecedented effort. It was expressed by Nicola Sturgeon, the leader of Scotland:
Many women—even those who did not agree with Clinton’s policies—were struck by her sheer grit. She has remained clear, poised, and confident throughout long, cruel months of campaigning.
Hillary Clinton delivered a powerful concession speech in New York City today, in which she emphasized the diversity of her support base. But she also addressed women, and young women, directly:
“I’ve had successes and setbacks and sometimes painful ones,” she told them. “Many of you are at the beginning of your professional, public, and political careers—you will have successes and setbacks too.”
Undoubtedly, this loss by a formidable female candidate will be a hard blow to girls—especially those growing up in an America led by a man who has boasted about assaulting women. Clinton also addressed them, too: “And to all the little girls who are watching this,” she said, “never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance of every opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams.”
Outside the US, women have held the highest office in several countries: Angela Merkel has been chancellor of Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, for more than ten years. The leader of the UK is a woman, and has been before. Many European, Asian, and African countries have been led by women, as has Australia.
But the US presidency is still symbolic: Because America is still seen as the most powerful country in the world, and its leader, by default, the most powerful person. And because getting there is so tough, so bruising.
“I know we have still not shattered that highest and hardest glass ceiling, but someday someone will,” she said in her speech today, to cheers and applause. “And hopefully sooner than we might think right now.”
Hillary Clinton is not perfect. She doesn’t represent enough Americans, in enough of the right places, to get her elected to office. But for millions of others, she inspires huge gratitude.
In her concession speech, Clinton said that she, too, was grateful to women. “Nothing has made me prouder than to be your champion,” she said.
For many of us, nothing will make us sadder than to have lost ours.