Expectations for this election have become so warped that the primary conclusions media commentators took away from the second debate were that it had been an ugly, uninspiring affair and that Trump didn’t lose. Let’s set aside the absurdity that a man who brought up his own tax scandal unbidden, who threatened to jail his opponent, who betrayed his absolute ignorance of the nuances of the war in Syria, and whose best zinger amounted to recalling that Abraham Lincoln’s nickname was “Honest Abe” somehow fought to a draw with his opponent. Trump was as ugly and uninspiring as usual. But here’s what people haven’t been saying in the days since the debate: Hillary was inspiring as all get out.
Yes, I’m familiar with all the arguments against Hillary as inspirer-in-chief. She’s part of the establishment. She’s laden with potential conflicts of interest. Her judgment during the whole email thing was poor. She seems, to many observers, wooden and robotic. Fine. The fact remains that Hillary stood onstage and calmly and persuasively made the case for her candidacy while her looming, lurching, lunatic opponent attempted to humiliate her in front of the entire world. If Hillary can do that, then the rest of us can do whatever we put our minds to.
Put yourself in Hillary’s shoes for a moment. You’re 68 years old. You have spent decades—decades—in the public eye, absorbing criticism from every possible angle. Your opponent is an impulsive, amoral ignoramus with a long history of humiliating women. He has made it his strategy during this debate to dredge up what are probably the darkest moments of your personal life—your husband’s affairs and alleged sexual assaults—as evidence of your failures as a wife and as a woman. He has brought three of these women to sit in the front row during the debate in an attempt to throw you off guard and cow you into submission. He literally tells you to your face that he will imprison you if he wins the election.
What would you do? If I were Hillary, I would blubber incomprehensibly through my rage-tears for the duration of the debate, if I lasted onstage that long. What did Hillary do? She stood tall and looked comfortable. She listened carefully to the voters who were asking her questions and offered them empathetic, intelligent, and articulate answers. She serenely and thoughtfully enumerated the character faults that make Trump unfit for office. She laughed it off when Trump insulted her in the most personal of terms. And at the end, she complimented him on his children. Never mind that his children don’t really deserve that compliment—Hillary responded to undeniably sexist personal attacks that are unprecedented in the history of modern American politics with an inspiring level of grace and poise.
I am not saying Hillary deserves credit just for showing up and getting the job done. I am saying she deserves credit for showing up and getting the job done while a psychopath invaded her personal space, lied repeatedly, attempted to degrade her in the basest and vilest terms, and threatened to jail her for the crime of being a successful woman in the public eye. Nor am I saying that we all ought to live up to Hillary’s example: Crying and despairing are a completely reasonable response to being attacked and denigrated by a sexist pig. Not all of us have the guts and, yes, stamina to endure and overcome what Hillary is enduring and overcoming in this election. But that’s the point: Hillary has displayed superhuman strength in the face of disgusting, unfair, and false attacks on her character and judgment. If that’s not inspiring, I don’t know what is.