Tomorrow, barring the biggest polling failure in history, Hillary Rodham Clinton will be elected President of the United States.
This interminable, hideous campaign will be over and our attention will turn to the frightening prospect of addressing the irreconcilable rifts it has revealed. It may be coincidence that the first female nominee of a major political party drew as her opponent a cartoonish buffoon who embodies every imaginable sexist trope, but it is not by chance that the elevation of a woman to the most important office in the world unleashed so much bile and ugliness from those who do not want to see the world change. Nothing of this magnitude happens without dislocation.
Regardless of what you think of Clinton’s character or politics, she merits enormous respect for staring down an opponent who belittled her, physically stalked her around a debate stage, and threatened to put her in prison for the crime of pretending to be worthy of the office she seeks, and she did it with gritty determination and almost superhuman strength. Like Barack Obama before her, she kept her cool when most ordinary people would have exploded in anger at the things being said about her. She had to if she was going to convince enough people to do something they never had done before, to make real the impossible. In 2008, Barack Obama won the electoral votes of Virginia, a state where his parents’ biracial marriage was illegal when he was a little boy. His soon-to-be successor is the daughter of a woman born in 1919 into a world where women were disenfranchised in most states. Tomorrow’s vote may have been almost a century in the making, but that is merely a heartbeat in human history.
A number of my college students do not sense the historic nature of what is about to occur. Ever since they have been cognizant of the larger world, a black man has been president. It only makes sense to them that a woman will be, too. They do not remember a time when if you were female your professional opportunities ranged from secretary to school teacher, a time when, in the words of the opening theme to the landmark 1970s sitcom All in the Family, “girls were girls and men were men.” That series, which depicted the clash of values between counter-culture baby boomers and their traditionalist parents, captured the unrest that always accompanies massive social change. It played out during the sexual revolution, when women demanded control of their bodies and their livelihoods. When women were making vocal demands for equal pay and equal rights. When an athlete named Billie Jean King would show the world that she could stand up to a man on the tennis court and in defeating him challenge his belief that she did not belong in a man’s world. When a woman named Ella Grasso would be elected governor of Connecticut, the first woman to be elected governor of a state without succeeding her husband, a mere 42 years ago.
When I vote tomorrow, I will be thinking about my daughter, herself a college freshman casting her first presidential ballot. I will be thinking about my daughter and how, on Wednesday, we will be living in a world with one less unbreakable barrier.