Role Models in American Politics?

By Jennifer Pavlick

November has been a disgraceful display in American politics. Some of the most powerful and heinous characters have been given the opportunity to come into the spotlight, or to return to the forefront of public attention in positions of power that are far from deserved. I find myself nonplussed by the promise that the White House as we know it is going to be replaced by the equivalent of the cast of a reality- TV-show. From Donald Trump’s general bullying policy, to his nepotistic attempts to include family in his staff, to his numerous conflicts of interests by way of the Trump organization, to the array of hateful and racist appointee’s such as Steve Bannon—who’s far-right Breitbart has boasted headlines as blasphemous as: “There’s no hiring bias against women in tech: they just suck at interviews”—the characters at the ‘top’ of American politics seem to offer little in the form of inspiration, guidance and acuity.

Amongst this chaos is a converse set of characters that are also entirely wrapped up in the same scene, yet they offer an antithetical manifestation of behaviour. Hillary Clinton, Megyn Kelly and Michelle Obama: three powerful, admirable and intelligent women with influence and sway in American politics, who have displayed astounding resilience, maturity and composure—regardless of political views—in light of the current political atmosphere.

First among these is the defeated presidential candidate, Hilary Clinton. As the first woman who has ever run for president of the United States, she was not able to shatter what she called “the highest and hardest glass ceiling.” However, in her sparse media appearances since the election, she has displayed diplomacy, personability, honesty, and perseverance. In her concession speech, Clinton offered hope, composure, reassurance, and confidence, as she offered a touching and warm speech, confessing that “I’ve had successes and I’ve had setbacks, sometimes really painful ones,” and offered advice to young people saying that “you will have successes and setbacks too, this loss hurts, but please never stop believing that fighting for what’s right is worth it.” In her subsequent appearance at the Children’s Defense Fund’s Gala, she admitted “coming here tonight wasn’t the easiest thing for me…There have been a few times this past week where all I wanted to do was curl up with a good book and our dogs and never leave the house again.” Clinton has shown levels of honesty and humanity, which, in retrospect, we would be so grateful to have coming next in the White House.

Second, and not surprisingly, is another victim of Trump’s behavior in the public eye: FOX News journalist Megyn Kelly. Her new book Settle for More is commanding much attention as an exposure of the darkest sides of Trump’s behavior towards women. Kelly’s alliance with FOX News positions her on a conservative end of the media political spectrum. Regardless of party alliances, however, Kelly’s commitment to journalism and exposing Trump’s abysmal treatment of women throughout the whole campaign process, highlights her as a stoic fighter against sexist behavior, and an advocate for reporting without party affiliations. In an interview on CNN’s with Anderson Cooper, she confesses that her stark and honest reporting of Trump’s behavior caused her to be put in such a compromised and threatening position, that she had security with her and her family all year. Furthermore, after questioning Trump on his views about women in the presidential debate, the backlash was so strong from the Trump-team that she had reason to fear for her life. She claimed to have “felt like a human being who had been dropped into a shark tank.”  Despite any skepticism towards her news network, considering the entire Trump campaign, Kelly has proven committed to truth, women, and integrity, prioritising journalism over her own ego, where she even claimed “I didn’t want to be the story.” This is a refreshing attitude and sense-of-self compared to the attention-seeking president elect.

The last example is the beloved first lady Michelle Obama, who has consistently been one of the few respectable voices of reason, stability, warmth and insight over the past year. While people continue to suggest that she herself, run for president, these proposals are consistently met by her humbling refusal. In October, she reacted to the accusations against Trump for sexually harassing multiple women, she said “This is not normal. This is not politics as usual. This is disgraceful. It is intolerable…no woman deserves to be treated this way. None of us deserves this kind of abuse.”  Last month it came out that the director of a non-for-profit group in West Virginia made a Facebook post referring to her as “an ape in heels.” The comment subsequently sparked banter between that director and the mayor of the town, who agreed with the comment. Petitions to remove the women from their jobs went viral and, as a result, the mayor resigned and the county official has left her job as well. Although Michelle Obama did not specifically reply to these insults, her previous contributions to dialogues around injustice provide the tools and outlook to overcome such incidents. She consistently rises above all criticism, defying the barriers culturally imposed upon her in American society. Her stability and poise are unmatched and will be truly missed come January.

These three women in mainstream politics—and many others who are both in the spotlight, and outside of it—have a profound ability to persevere in the face of defeat, abuse, and harassment. It is clear that a consistent air of inequality and misogyny is always already at play in American mainstream media-culture. And while many of their experiences are deeply unfair, watching them work though hardship, while under the scrutiny of the public eye, brings forth the qualities of individuals that we can look up to, trust, and seek for guidance and wisdom in consuming, disenchanting or hopeless times. These women have been forced to ‘rise above’ both in their personal lives and in their public and professional lives, and it is guaranteed they will need to continue to do so over time. But each time they push through, we learn from behaviour that is respectable and admirable; a refreshing change of pace in times like these.