It was a historic night when Hillary Clinton was crowned the nominee of the Democratic party. As Clinton finished her speech, as the balloons fell down, as the music started playing, everyone knew that this was the shattering of the “glass ceiling” that Clinton herself had spoken about in 2008, after losing the nomination to an upstart young senator named Barack Obama. It was only with dogged determination that she was able to seize it this year, successfully repelling Bernie Sanders’s challenge.
“Putting a biggest crack in the glass ceiling”: indeed, surely this was the only way to describe the first time a woman had been nominated by a major party for president. And people certainly celebrated. But amid the dancing and the partying, however, it must be remembered: Yes, one glass ceiling has been shattered. But the ultimate one remains: the one at the White House. It would be helpful if the Democrats remind themselves that the election may turn out historic not because it crowned the first woman as president, but instead the first orange man.
And there are already warning signs that the road towards shattering that final glass ceiling will be perilous. Let us take, for example, the delegates at the convention itself. They calmed down as the nights passed, but it was still clear that the insurgency of Sanders was like a monster that did not die even with its head cut off. Walkouts, protests, jeering: the voters who had been so inspired by Bernie Sanders for so long were not willing to give up easily.
And for good reason, too: they did not believe that Hillary Clinton would uphold their interests. She is deeply unpopular with many members of the public, most of whom feel that she is untrustworthy. It did not help that she had the email scandal at the start of last year. It also did not help at all that the Democratic National Committee’s emails were hacked, one of which said that Clinton was being “forced” to remain on the left to appeal to Sanders’s supporters. For many Sandernistas who had never felt fully committed to Clinton, this was an obvious provocation: here was definite proof that the woman Sanders had endorsed never intended to uphold any of the pledges that she had actually made!
Or so they thought. To be sure, Clinton’s image is battered by decades of bashing by the Republicans. She has always found it difficult to appear relatable, human; she has been battling with perceptions all her life. What she truly thinks about having to adopt many of Sanders’s policies, us outside the Clinton clique will probably not know. However, it is also clear that Clinton is a weak candidate. Unloved by many on her party, untrusted by voters: this is a candidate that would perhaps be facing in another election the prospect of electoral disaster. It just so happens, of course, that the enemy she faces is Donald Trump, the Republican nominee, someone just about every bit as unpopular as his female counterpart.
But it is also because she faces Donald Trump that she must be more careful. Trump has run an exceptionally negative campaign, where he paints himself as a would-be Caesar of America , the only man who can turn back the tides of degradation that is facing the United States. “Make America great again”, he says, a message readily gobbled up by millions of disaffected voters. Clinton, on the other hand? “America is already great”, she says, a message repeated by President Obama himself (unsurprisingly, of course, since he has been running America for the past eight years). Some economists and political scientists hail this as true; the crime rate is technically going down, the economy is slowly but surely improving. America must already be great, according to the numbers.
Voters, however, care about feelings, not numbers. When Clinton paints a bright, optimistic picture of America, she has unintentionally crafted a message that will not resonate to the millions of disaffected voters that have been drawn towards Trump and Sanders. Why would an automobile engineer living in the industrial backwater of Detroit believe that all is well with the American economy? Why would someone who sees terrorism and mass shootings on the news weekly believe that America is safe? Globalisation has unleashed uncontrollable forces that have resulted in candidates like Trump and Sanders. America is angry; to resist that anger would be folly. The feelings that people feel cannot be dismissed; to do so would be electoral suicide.
It says something about Clinton’s weaknesses as a candidate that so many decided to vote for a 74 year old Jewish socialist from Vermont rather than her, former first lady and secretary of state. It also says something about her when her double-digit polling lead has eroded so far in the course of a month that she is now behind Trump for the first time in the race. It would be easy to argue that Trump’s convention has produced a bump that has lifted him ahead of Clinton, or that polling this far out from the actual election date is just noise and doesn’t yet mean much. But Trump himself is such a deeply flawed candidate. Should a credible opponent seize a message with resonance, the election should be a cakewalk. The fact that this election is competitive says a lot both about the potency of Trump’s message and the unpopularity of Clinton.
Campaigning has been going on for a little over a year by this point. Only a little more than a hundred days remain. Will voters believe that America is already great, or will voters want to make America great again? Will they choose to elect the first president with no political experience since Einsenhower, or will they elect the first woman president? Chances are still good, given all of Trump’s negatives, that Clinton will be elected the 45th president. But only November will answer these questions. Onwards, and towards the final glass ceiling.