′Love Trumps Hate’ has become one of Hillary Clinton’s official campaign slogans. It’s a clunky pun but you get the point. Hillary stands for love — i.e progressive global values, equality, that sort of thing. Donald Trump represents white nationalism, bigotry, all the nasty stuff. Love is good; hate is bad. Trump must be trumped, so that history can keep marching in the right direction.
The trouble is, Americans don’t love Clinton. The feeling they have for her tends more towards hate, actually. Clinton’s ‘favourability ratings’ are famously bad. Between 30 and 40 per cent of Americans say they have a ‘highly unfavourable’ opinion of her. To give you a sense of how woeful that is for an aspiring leader of the free world, Barry Goldwater (the Republican candidate in 1964) and George McGovern (the Democrat in 1972), who are usually cited as the most disastrous presidential nominees of all time, scored 20 and 26 per cent respectively. If she wins on 8 November, Clinton will be the most disliked president-elect ever. And that is a small ‘if’, thanks to the epic anti-popularity of Trump (he scores a whopping 44 per cent on the unfavourableometer) and the self-destructing beast that is the Republican party in 2016.
Some people might take perverse comfort in the fact that, whether it is Trump or Clinton, a widely reviled figure is about to become the most powerful human on the planet. It suggests that elections are not always mere popularity contests; almost the opposite, in this case. But most of the world is a little disturbed. What does it say about the future of civilisation that the West’s foremost nation is about to elect a leader it can’t bear?
Clinton’s candidacy has enjoyed a reasonably good summer. Her poll ratings have improved, and her unpopularity has gone down slightly as Trump’s went up. But never underestimate the power of Hillary hate, which comes and goes like a tide. Whenever her victory starts to look inevitable, as it did earlier this year and in the 2008 election cycle when she faced Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination, voters seem to remember how much they dislike her and turn on her. Sure enough, as election day begins to loom, the polls are starting to suggest that Trump is cutting back her lead. This week indicated that Clinton’s advantage among independents, the bloc who swing elections, has dropped from 8 per cent to 4 per cent. Clinton’s popularity is even diminishing among gays, who have long been among her most ardent supporters.
Clinton’s many advisers and strategists struggle to keep her unpopularity in check, so they must be dreading the upcoming presidential debates. The first will air on 26 September, and is expected to be the most watched event in the history of political TV. Hillary, a former attorney, fancies herself in rhetorical combat, and no doubt she will score points over Trump, who seems to suffer from attention deficit disorder. But the more people see of Clinton, the less they like. The same is not necessarily true of Trump. For all his manifold flaws, the Donald has a roguish charm. He entertains people. He makes cruel jokes, and his viciousness delights — in the same way that professional wrestling does. He makes for good television, and the thought of him hurling insults at Hillary on primetime will have lots of Americans drooling in anticipation.
Why do people despise Clinton so? Let us count the ways. People think she belongs in jail. They say she murders people. They think she will destroy America and/or freedom. As Larry the Cable Guy, the popular blue-collar comedian, put it this week, ‘Hillary Clinton will be the end of this country. That’s all I’ve got to say.’
That is a common sentiment. It’s not just right-wing loons who abhor her; plenty of Democrats do too. The chants of ‘Lock her up!’ at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July were repeated, with almost as much vigour, at the Democratic Convention a week later in Philadelphia. It is said that American politics is divided, but voters left, right and centre agree that elite politicians have crippled their great country. And presidential candidates don’t come more elite or more political than Mrs C.
According to a recent Gallup poll, the words Americans feel best describe her are: ‘dishonest’, ‘liar’, ‘poor character’, and ‘don’t trust her’. It doesn’t help that, over her 40-odd years in the public eye, she has been caught telling countless fibs. Familiarity breeds contempt; familiar liars breed disgust. It’s not just that Hillary says she always supported gay marriage when she didn’t. Or that she puts herself forward as an enemy of Wall Street greed while accepting millions of dollars from big banks to make speeches. Or that the supposedly charitable Clinton Foundation is funded by some of the world’s worst people. It’s not just that she has prevaricated endlessly over the scandal of her sensitive emails being on a private server when she was Secretary of State. Or even that she played hard and fast with the facts about the Benghazi massacre, which left four Americans dead (43 per cent of Americans think she deceived the families of the victims).
People expect politicians to con them. Bill certainly did, and people are still fond of him. It’s Hillary’s sillier untruths, the pathological lies, which make her seem unworthy of high office. A good example is her claim that she was named after the man who conquered Everest, even though Sir Edmund Hillary achieved his great feat when Hillary was six. Remember in 2008, when she claimed that she had landed in Bosnia under sniper fire? That was soon disproved by a video showing her arriving on the tarmac smiling and being hugged by children. She has also made out that she tried to join the Marines in 1975, only to be told she was too old. Despite no firm evidence to the contrary, nobody believes her because at that time she was already a hotshot lawyer who was about to marry a rising political star.
Hillary’s fans — and she does have fans, but then so did Ed Miliband — put the widespread hatred of her down to sexism. They talk about Hillary Derangement Syndrome — a reprise of the Republican joke about Bush Derangement Syndrome among lefties in the 2000s. Right-wingers, they say, find the idea of a progressive woman president so threatening that they become hysterical and start spewing bile.
There’s truth in that. You don’t have to be a paranoid misogynist to hate Hillary Clinton, but it helps. Now that Trump has torn their party apart, many Republicans can only energise themselves ahead of this year’s election by coming together in Hillary hate, so they are going wild. That’s why the presidential candidate Ben Carson suggested in Cleveland that she was inspired by Lucifer, and the whole convention roared. Anti-Hillary sentiment has long been motivated by an animus towards her sex, hence the Lady Macbeth references in the 1990s as she stood by her wicked man, and the pro–Donald T-shirts today that say ‘Trump that bitch’.
But to say Hillary Clinton is loathed because she is a woman is a bit like saying people dislike Katie Hopkins because she is a woman, or that Robert Mugabe is reviled because he is black. It is to muddle cause and effect. Clinton is disliked because she is dislikeable. She has always rubbed people up the wrong way, which is why at school she was called Owl Face and Sister Frigidaire. It can be tempting to feel sorry for her on that front — the prim girl destined to be put down by bullies. But then she goes and spoils it all by being herself again. Or should that be selves? Over her long career, Hillary has developed various public personas, and somehow she makes them all seem fake. There is Hillary the liberal missionary, author of books about improving the world such as It Takes a Village, who then endorses the bombing of cities. There is Hillary the feminist, who once shunned make-up and expensive clothes but who now changes her look and her hair every few weeks and dons expensive power outfits. Or, everyone’s least favourite, Hillary the sassy granny, who tries to cackle charmingly on chat shows, then scowls at journalists who dare to ask her difficult questions.
It’s possible that Clinton’s superior grasp of policy will mean she triumphs over Trump in the TV debates and storms to victory in November. But given her lifelong habit of putting people off, that is far from certain. The choice in 2016 is indeed a question of love and hate: who do voters most love to hate? Or to put it in Trumpist terms, who will be the biggest loser? The answer could still turn out to be Hillary Rodham Clinton.