By Tom Ehrich
One of Fresh Day magazine’s regular contributors is planning a six-week renewal leave this summer. For her writing, I urged her to “be as creative as you want to be. Photos, videos, text pieces, poetry -- push the envelope.”
In other words, don’t be hemmed in by precedent, expectation, what she already feels comfortable doing, or self-doubt. As they say in my wife’s home state of New Hampshire, “Live free or die.”
I think of this exchange as I contemplate the impending nomination of Hillary Clinton and her battle with Donald Trump and his politics of bigotry, anger, fear and hatred.
Clinton’s nomination means many things, of course, including her being the first woman nominated by a major party for President. What I find noteworthy, in light of my friend’s leave, is the politics of possibility that Clinton represents.
From what I know of her life and career, she has “pushed the envelope,” not in righteous indignation but in the conviction that she can do anything she sets her mind to do. The fact that something is new to her, or new to her college, state or nation, doesn’t hold her back. She has lost many battles. But she keeps trying. She represents resilience, and resilience is the key to the politics of possibility.
The orange-haired bully, on the other hand, tries to push people around, by tapping their fears (being called a “loser,” for example, or “ugly,” or being threatened with a lawsuit) and taking away their possibilities. He has raised up a mob of angry people, many of them white men, whose cause is to deny possibilities to people of color or immigrants or women or religious outliers. Rather than “live free,” they want to live small, live angry, live in chains of self-perceived rightness. They would rather take away someone else’s freedom than risk exercising their own.
Trump is clearly a fragile man, as bullies and narcissists tend to be, without resilience. The saying about him is, “He was born on third base and thought he hit a triple.” He cannot bear to see the “loser” in his own business resume, or the shallowness of his dancing on third as he waits to be driven home, and he clearly doesn’t care that his pitch to frustrated white men aims at the wrong targets and will do nothing for them if he wins. Maybe he’ll just saunter on home and dare the umpire to call him out.
For better or worse, this nation was founded on possibilities. People believed it was possible to set aside monarchy and to have a free nation. They believed they could educate all men and, later, all women. They came to believe that all should be free – a possibility never tried on the face of the earth – and that all should participate in self-governance. They believed in open borders and new possibilities for the world’s losers. They believed in inventions, vaccines, massive dams, bridges, towers, great ideas, cures once thought impossible.
Yes, every possibility was resisted – often by the same narrow thinking that Trump is manifesting. Every possibility had detractors proving it wrong – until it worked. Some possibilities, like freedom and self-governance, took tragically long to come about – until they did come about.
Yes, some possibilities cost money, and that money has to come from a rearranging of benefits and privileges. Those who think they will lose in that rearranging push back. That’s understandable and can be dealt with in the normal push-pull of politics. What Trump has pursued, however, isn’t the cost question, but the darker question, Does this person even deserve possibilities? In Trump’s world, entire categories have no right to embrace possibilities or enjoy the freedom that possibilities represent. They don’t belong.
After a lifetime of successes and failures, miscues and mishaps, and bold service, Clinton hasn’t retreated into fearful bitterness. For all her scars, she continues to believe in possibilities, both for herself and for the nation she has served. She has endured much of the worst that a male-centered society can do to a woman, including the misdeeds of her own husband. She has been marginalized and patronized. But those setbacks haven’t hemmed her in or filled her with self-doubt. She is an inspiring model for many women who have experienced the same.
She is also an inspiring model to progressives like myself. I have been appalled by the rancid ranting of right-wing religion, right-wing politicians and now the mobs threatening violence if they lose. I have worked at staying active in the public square. Clinton’s resilience makes me treasure my own.
So I say to all of us, let’s push the envelope. Let’s be all that we can be. Let’s believe in a land of possibilities. Let’s live free.