There is a lot to mourn in this sickening moment in American history. After Tuesday night, it becomes much harder to believe that America is even trying to express its highest and simplest ideals. We are not one nation, we are not indivisible, and we do not offer liberty and justice for all. The days to come will offer plenty of time for fear and pain on a grand scale. But as the results rolled in on Tuesday night, I was struck by a smaller and surprising sorrow: I mourned for Hillary Clinton herself, the woman who dreamed so big and worked so hard and fell so short.
As I write this, it’s not clear yet who will be declared the winner of this long, hideous race. But no matter the final outcome, the results can only feel like a loss for Clinton. Tuesday was supposed to be a blowout. From the moment Trump began to look like a contender during primary season, the consolation was always that Clinton would trounce him. All the serious polls showed her ahead in all the right states. All the right people said she would stroll to victory.
Of course it was always clear that the American people don’t love Hillary Clinton the same way they loved her husband or Barack Obama. That hurts, I imagine, but she seems to have steeled herself to it long ago. “People say I’m boring compared to Donald,” she joked a few weeks ago at a charity dinner. “But I’m not boring at all. In fact, I’m the life of every party I attend … and I’ve been to three.” It was even clear that many people really hated her. But they were the misogynists, the paranoiacs, the deplorables on the fringes of the American story. Weren’t they? They could hurt her numbers, of course, but they couldn’t hurt her feelings.
At least that’s how I have always imagined it went for Hillary. She seemed like a woman made of iron. She survived her husband’s humiliating infidelity, the failure of her health care initiative, and a surprise loss to a young senator from Illinois in the 2008 primary. Every time she lost, she just smiled and came back stronger. It was easy to imagine she was something other than human.
But Hillary Clinton just turned 69. This was her chance, and it looked like a clean shot at last. Instead, she lost Ohio, then Florida, then North Carolina. Her big Manhattan party looked like a funeral. Her campaign went dark for long stretches as her path to the presidency narrowed. There was no prime-time victory speech and no triumphantly broken glass ceiling.
The shattering of one woman’s career aspirations are no tragedy compared with the globally catastrophic effects of a Trump presidency or even just the awful knowledge that half of the American people are on his side. But I can’t help thinking right now about Hillary Clinton as a person, rather than a symbol. She’s a woman who stayed so strong for so many years, but who is, after all, only human. And she’s a woman who many of us have grown to love.