For those of us hoping to wake up last Wednesday to the glad tidings of a first female president of the United States, the news from across the Atlantic was simply dreadful. I checked my phone at 6.30am (GMT) and found a text from a friend who had waved goodbye to her husband and children earlier in the week to drive to Pennsylvania to get the vote out for Hillary. “I am bereft,” she wrote, “The orange-headed Redneck apocalypse is nigh. Bid civility adieu.” In the bed next to me, my daughter slept where she had conked out in the small hours. I didn’t want to wake her. In fact, I dreaded the thought of her finding out. She is a hopeful young person who believes that, although we still have a way to go, the principle of equality and mutual respect between the sexes is firmly established, at least in the West.
How was I going to phrase it exactly? “Sorry, darling, Hillary Clinton lost to a megalomaniac sexual predator with the grammar of an 11-year-old, the attention span of a four-year-old and the manners of a toddler running amok in McDonalds.” How in the name of God did that happen? Even Barbara Bush, the great Republican matriarch, said she didn’t understand how any woman could possibly vote for Donald Trump after his comments about Fox News’s Megyn Kelly.
Trump also said that when a woman reaches 35 “it’s check-out time”. Sexist and creepy? It didn’t matter. However obnoxious and boorish he was, 59 million people in America still thought Trump would make a better president than Clinton. Trump picked up 53 per cent of white women voters and 62 per cent of non-college educated women (Clinton had a slight advantage — 51 per cent — among those with a degree). Trump certainly grabbed women’s attention.
It follows that, if Trump was not a particularly attractive candidate (how could he be?), then Clinton must have been deeply toxic. The reasons for that are manifold, and some are not Clinton’s fault.
First, she was the Democratic candidate at a point when a Democrat president had already been in the White House for two terms. Malcolm Gladwell, the cultural commentator, talks of a phenomenon called “Moral Licensing”, whereby people who have done a nice, kind thing feel free to do a nasty one. America, which had put a black man in the White House, clearly felt entitled to replace Obama with his polar opposite in character, eloquence and decency. “So, we’ve let a black guy run the country for eight years, we’re not having some snotty white lecturing us.” I have no doubt that Clinton is a victim of the double standard that afflicts all powerful women. Her baffling email scandal was the single-most covered topic of the election. She would not have survived even one of Trump’s scandals, which were far more morally troubling.
A phenomenally well-prepared Clinton performed much better in the three big TV debates than a notably ill-at-ease Trump, who was happiest when boasting he was going do something “Bigly”. Who knows, perhaps a woman displaying such superiority played badly in the conservative heartlands. To put it another way, Clinton published a solemn, 589-page tome about her decades in public service called Hard Choices. Donald published Think Big and Kick Ass in Business and In Life. Which of the two authors do you think would win a reality TV show contest? In the end, that was what it came down to. Secretary Clinton, criticised for being the wrong kind of woman (is there a right kind? Can we get the memo?), tried to make herself palatable to the American people. She tried hard not to make mistakes. (Don’t look stupid.) She said she had sinus problems when she had pneumonia. (Don’t look weak.) She wore a unisex pantsuit (Don’t look frivolous or flirty.) So she made herself presidential and they said she lacked warmth. Hillary’s personal ratings have never been higher than when she broke down in tears in a New Hampshire coffee shop in 2008. Maybe she should have shown more human frailty, but a woman can’t take the risk of being herself. Not when she knows so many misogynists will hate her, just because. Say what you like about Trump, but he didn’t try to make himself palatable. For there is no known way you can be the wrong kind of man. Trump said some truly horrible things during the campaign and he was celebrated for his “honesty”. How must Hillary feel? Unbelievably wretched. Because of her, the worst man won. Her victory party in a venue with a symbolic glass ceiling is cancelled. It would have taken 240 years to elect the first female President of the United States. Now, Americans will be waiting a whole lot longer, maybe decades. No party in the near future will take the risk of proposing a woman candidate. No girl will grow up thinking, “I could be her”. When she woke up, my daughter put her arms around me as I typed this piece. “I’m so sad,” she said. Millions of us are sad today. So desperately sad. Given a choice between a highly qualified woman and a spectacularly unqualified man, they chose Donald Trump. God bless America.
— The Telegraph Group Limited, London, 2016
Allison Pearson is a columnist and the chief interviewer of the Daily Telegraph.