On Freedom Not Being Free

It seems I'm not the first person to think of this.

Just so you know, I think bullfighting is an abomination. 

I also think this year's three Presidential "debates" were an abomination. So there's some resonance there.

Reading up just now about bullfighting (that's called "research"), I learned that a bullfight is a highly ritualized spectacle, most of which involves goading, torturing, and weakening the bull to render the final, fatal sword thrust more effective. Bulls intended for the ring are raised in conditions that render them more wild than domesticated. The bullfight itself is extremely hazardous, frequently leading to injury and even death for the humans and horses involved in the ritual. Of course, the bull is almost always dead at the end of the show, so maybe there's some justice in that risk.

Back to the debates: each reinforced the impression that what I was watching was a ritualized spectacle, a confrontation between two unequal combatants, with a foreordained conclusion. One was a dangerous, charismatic, mercurial, yet ultimately predictable beast; the other was a skilled athlete, cool, prepared, focused, keeping her emotions in check, exploiting every opening, goading, tormenting, dancing away, exploiting every opening her clumsy opponent gave her. Over the course of the debates, Trump's lunges and charges hurt him far more than his intended target.

Here's where the analogy runs out of steam: as the Trump campaign flounders toward Election Day, this raging bull is stabbing itself. Clinton can just step out of the ring and watch Trump bleed to death.

The real horror of this spectacle, though, isn't the Trump campaign. It's that Hillary Clinton's ascent to the White House had to be in this climate, with this opponent. Eight years ago, we had a Presidential campaign that stirred hearts, made history, and inspired a generation. The ultimate failure of the nation to fully embrace the hope of that moment has been tragic. The auto da fe that Clinton has had to endure is a logical extension of the racist intransigence with which Republicans have treated the Obama administration. Its predictability doesn't make it any more acceptable.

We're on the cusp of a second watershed Presidency, one that could and should be even more significant than Obama's. As many have observed, Hillary Clinton is the most experienced, talented, skilled politician I'll ever have the opportunity to vote for. As President, she'll make pragmatic decisions that will, at times, leave me cold, but there is no doubt in my mind that the direction of her leadership will be for the betterment of this nation. I expect it will be akin to the Johnson administration, making great gains for civil rights and social justice. Hopefully it won't lead us into another Vietnam, but that's a topic for another column.

All of this is a given. Becoming the first female President of the United States should be irrelevant to Clinton's astonishing intellect and skill set. If this election was to be truly fair, if this nation was anywhere close to what it should be to deserve as gifted a leader as she will be, she should have faced an opponent who offered voters a clear choice between pragmatic progressivism and idealistic conservatism: Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney, someone along those lines.

Instead, we got Trump. Because, as the red, white, and blue pro-military bumper stickers like to remind us, "freedom isn't free."

Because, as much as this election should've been about ideas, about truly making America even greater, about building on the successes of the Obama years while transcending their failures, in the end, it was about gender. It was about the last gasp of a generation of older white men clinging to what's left of the power they once enjoyed just by virtue of two accidents of genetics: skin color and gender. Obama dealt a mortal wound to their race privilege, and it infuriated them. All they had left, it seems, was their testicles. And now a powerful woman was rising up to render even that distinction moot.

It was too much for them to take. They lashed out in the only way they safely could: nominating a candidate who was a living, breathing, tantruming avatar for all they hated about what America was becoming. Racist, sexist, simplistic, reactionary, an insult to the intelligence of anyone who knows anything about civics, 

Donald Trump should never have gotten past his first primary debate. Instead, he was elevated to as high a position as a monstrous misogynist has ever achieved. He is the Bobby Riggs to Clinton's Billy Jean King. She shouldn't have to prove herself in this kind of a contest. It shouldn't have to be a battle of the sexes. Given the anger of the white male electorate, though, it couldn't have been any other way.

So there she is in the ring, cool, sophisticated, and deadly. The outcome is inevitable: her opponent may be loud and powerful, but his ploys are laughably ineffective. She refuses to be shaken by him. He'll lumber around the ring, bellowing out his fury at her, insisting the whole thing is rigged, refusing to admit that he is the bull and not the matador, sullying American democracy with the blood and feces that spew from his orifices, insisting that the fraction of the crowd who love him should be running the country, forcing the rest of us to deal with the reality that after this election, those angry white guys will still be out there, our neighbors, customers, clients, former friends. They're not going away. President Clinton will have to find a way to welcome them back to our evolving culture.

And maybe that's what needed to happen for us as a nation: we needed to learn just how powerful and angry that minority of white guys is, to have a sense of their frustration before they finally fade from our political consciousness. Our first woman President, too, may very well have needed to defeat the World's Worst Man.

I have no doubt that Hillary Clinton's victory speech and inaugural address will be models of grace and reconciliation. She's been studying for those moments for her entire life, and she's a very good student. I, for one, will be celebrating these accomplishments, doing my best to put all the ugliness that is candidate Trump behind me, as I hope the nation can do.

We didn't give Hillary Clinton the campaign she deserved. Let's see if we can help her have the Presidency she deserves.

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