Home 2016 elections How Hillary Can Gain the American People’s Trust

How Hillary Can Gain the American People’s Trust


Although Hillary Clinton is not my preferred candidate, I regard it as essential for the good of our nation that whoever is the Democratic nominee win in November. And since it is highly probable that Hillary will be that nominee, it would be good if her standing with the American people could improve. For recent polls show that some 60% of the public does not trust her.

The key to changing that may lie in whether people believe that Hillary really does care about the people and issues she claims to care about. I suspect that she does, and I propose a transformation in how she presents herself that could help her do a better job of conveying that.

The first step is to diminish how much time she spends in her hard-voiced fighting mode. I doubt I’m the only one who finds it wearing. And the armor that mode entails interferes with our seeing the real person inside.

It’s true that, as a woman running to be president of the United States, Hillary Clinton has a difficult needle to thread. On the one hand, the patriarchy has instilled into the culture the notion that women are not strong enough, not tough enough, to wield power and, in particular, to be the American commander-in-chief. On the other hand, that same patriarchal culture has taught people to regard a woman who does display the required toughness as “harsh.”

But my concern about the hardness of Hillary’s presentation is not about her being a woman. (I’d also like to see Bernie Sanders cycle more through his more humane and softer side, and be less continuously in his do-battle side.)

In any event, my objection is not to her fighting mode per se. Politics not being beanbag — being indeed a substitute for violent ways of dealing with our conflicts — Hillary needs to show herself to be a capable fighter. My objection, rather, is to the proportion of time she spends in that mode. If that’s all the public sees, they’ll know that she can fight, but that doesn’t mean they’ll trust that she will fight for them.

My first suggestion, therefore, would be to cut back on the time spent in combative tone to only as much as is required to demonstrate to the electorate that the toughness is available when it’s needed.

Perhaps, because she’s a woman, such a demonstration would need to be made more frequently than it would be for a man. But my bet is that Hillary has already established that capability pretty firmly in the public mind.

The second suggestion concerns what she should show between those moments of combative energy. This part could be characterized with words like “show her humanity,” “show her heart,” “show what she cares about.”

Showing these things conveys more of the authenticity that would inspire the public’s trust in her because, emotionally, the caring comes before the fighting. A person fights for something only because she cares about it; then because she sees that what she cares about is threatened; and finally because her desire to serve what she cares about requires her to fight against the source of the threat.

Just showing the fight skips the levels that are more fundamental. Closer to one’s heart.

It may well be that it is not easy for Hillary to show her heart in the public arena. Long ago, I trained as a clinical psychologist, and from having observed Hillary for more than twenty years my intuitive sense is that all the abuse she’s had to take from the right-wingers over the years – from accusations that she murdered her friend Vince Foster to the more recent pseudo-scandals of Benghazi and her email server – has been traumatic for her.

In the face of such trauma, with the sense of the world as dangerous, it is not easy to expose vulnerable parts of oneself.

One might say that the mistrust that people feel toward Hillary is in part a reciprocation of the mistrust that traumatic experience has led Hillary to feel about the surrounding world in which she operates as a political figure.

But, difficult though it may be for her, on occasion Hillary has shown her heart. And the evidence is that people respond favorably.

The most famous example of this, perhaps, is the moment in an interview just before the New Hampshire primary in 2008, when Hillary showed vulnerable emotion as she answered a question about how she kept going in the campaign. That moment – in which “her voice quavered and her eyes welled up”  — is credited with so endearing her with voters that it brought her an unexpected, campaign-saving victory in the next day’s New Hampshire primary.

More recently, there was the moment when Hillary conceded that “I’m not a natural politician,” contrasting herself in that respect with her husband and President Obama. It is my impression that this moment – which was much reported – evoked a positive response. I know that the needle on my own Hillary-meter went up at that point. And when she pivoted from that statement, and from the statement “This is not easy for me” that accompanied it, to talking about how she does this because she wants “to help people, to even the odds,” I believed her.

The point is not that Hillary has to get teary all the time, or to make frequent admissions of her limitations. What’s important is that she show us the human being that she really is.

That is what builds trust.

Perhaps the most important thing for Hillary to display in her presentation as a candidate can be called “devotion.” That has to do with where her heart is, what she cares about so much that she seeks the presidency in order to serve it.

If the Hillary-skeptics are right that what drives her is ambition – a desire for power to serve her own needs – then what I’m suggesting is useless. Hillary is not the actor who could fake devotion.

But if I’m right that – notwithstanding all her compromises – she is seeking power because she cares about the people whose votes she’s trying to get (rather than her seeking those votes because she cares about getting power), she should be able to orchestrate a better and more effective presentation to the public than she has to this point.

The orchestration – revealing a range of the humanity she would bring to the presidency — might run through this cycle:

1) “This is what I care about” (expressed from the heart);

2) “This is what needs to be done to take care of what I care about (expressed as a passion to serve); and

3) “This is how I will fight to overcome what/who threatens what I care about” (expressed in that hard-toned fighter mode she now overuses).

If she can display her devotion as vividly as she now displays her readiness to fight, the trust the American people have in Hillary will grow.

  • Quizzical

    The attacks on Hillary from Bernie supporters seem to focus on her fundraising activities. Yet political campaigns in Presidential election years are becoming unbelievable expensive.

    The total amount spent by both parties at all levels has gone up like this:
    2004 – $2.4 billion
    2008 – $5.3 billion
    2012 – $ 7 billion

    So where is that kind of money coming from, in 2016?

    A party’s nominee for President is supposed to not only be the leader of that party politically, but also in fundraising, not only for the Presidential election but for all to downticket elections.

    And so Hillary has had to prove herself not only as a politician, but as a fundraiser. I don’t like it, but to quote a line from the Godfather, “this is the life that we have chosen” – as a country, I mean.

    If Bernie wins the nomination, the money spigots will be turned on for him before the balloons are released, exactly like they were for Obama.

    • Elaine Owens

      Some Democrats , including me, have difficulty getting past the fact that in 36 years in Congress, Bernie Sanders has not raised money or worked for other Democrats because he’s not a Democrat. He did join the party in 2015 simply to run in this year’s primary nomination fight. Otherwise, he’s been a Democratic Socialist all his political career. I personally like and respect Sanders very much, but party building has not been in his past. That’s a gigantic hurdle for me to get over…that and the fact that his proposed programs and ways to pay for them don’t add up. The arithmetic is faulty, and that is a pretty basic problem.

      • Again, I’m with Elaine 100%. Even today, Sanders is not saying he’d raise money for/work to help elect Democrats at all levels of government. To me, that’s just not acceptable for someone seeking the DEMOCRATIC nomination.

        • Elaine Owens

          Absolutely! I’m just one grassroots Democratic worker, but I have accomplished far more than Bernie Sanders has for the party. I’m glad he’ running simply because he has forced Hillary Clinton to the left, but he still remains somebody using my party for his own purposes and nothing else.

        • Quizzical

          I’ve had a soft spot in my heart for Hillary ever since watching her on CSpan fighting for health care, including going to televised meetings at the Capitol, during Bill Clinton’ first term.

          My advice to her would be simply to be herself, and to try to get enough rest.

  • Elaine Owens

    Sadly, it is men, including you, who seem to have to “mansplain” to Hillary Clinton how to present herself to the world. (Jimmy Kimmel did a recent wonderful spot with Clinton on this phenomenon.) I’m glad you recognize that it is patriarchy speaking in these instances. I personally find Bernie Sanders’ voice rather harsh and grating, but he’s allowed, isn’t he? He’s a guy, and guys talk that way. We women are “damned if we do and damned if we don’t.” Be tough to prove oneself as a strong leader, speaking forcefully and showing a take-charge attitude, and we become “harsh” and “in fighting mode too much.” Show emotion by “tearing up,” and we become more feminine and “nicer” but “too emotional to handle the tough jobs.” Hillary Clinton is in “fighting mode” because she’s fighting for the Democratic nomination. She will continue in the “fighting mode” when she wins that and faces the Republican nominee. In November we’ll see if enough men will vote for a woman who is the most prepared candidate to be president in my lifetime, or if she is just too “harsh” for their sensitive ears. I would recommend her latest TV ad to you, Andy. Even Joe Scarborough said it was her most effective ad, and it showed her caring side.

    • You are 100% correct, Elaine. This criticism and micromanaging of Hillary Clinton has gone way beyond annoying at this point, particularly when it’s from men (aka, “mansplaining”). Just. Stop. It. Already. Grrrrrrrrrrrr.

  • Andy Schmookler

    From some comments here, one gets the impression that Hillary has no need for any important improvements in her “performance” as a politician. I don’t think that captures the reality, and I hope that the people in her campaign who are advising her understand otherwise.

    Hillary herself said that she is not “a natural politician.” Why do you suppose she would say that, other than that she understands that it does not come easy to her to connect with the public as she would like to?

    In a private email, it has been suggested to me that the mistrust of Hillary is due largely to the right-wing smear job that’s been done on her for so long. Surely that is an important piece of it. But there’s evidence that something more is involved.

    That evidence is that a rather large proportion of Democrats — even those supporting her, if I recall the data — report having mistrust of Hillary. Democrats, in my experience, are not much influenced by the lies that come streaming from the right, on Hillary or anything else. So the right-wing smears, I would surmise, are not the cause of the Democratic mistrust.

    My own experience of Hillary is that I have been basically favorable to her since I first became aware of her. I continually hope for her to do well– except for a while in 2008, when I wanted Obama to be the nominee. I have wanted to like her a lot, but have not found it easy to do so. I don’t think I’m the only one. Yet I think there’s evidence that people who know her privately find her much more appealing than those of us who see her only in public.

    Remember Al Gore: people who knew him privately said that he was a very funny, very engaging guy in private. But in public he came across stiff, and one might say that had HE been a more “natural politician,” we could have been spared the nightmare of the George W. Bush presidency.

    Yes, Elaine, I agree — as, indeed, I said in the piece — that Bernie Sanders comes across to monochromatically in the angry mode. But I am less put off by Bernie than by Hillary — NOT because he’s a man and she’s a woman, but because I feel I can read Bernie, and I know that he means what he says, that his outrage is a genuine moral passion. But with Hillary, I’ve tried for years to read her, have come to some beliefs that she DOES care. But the point is that I don’t feel sure that I really know where she’s coming from.

    I’m not the least perceptive observer around, and I know that there are plenty of other people who also have trouble seeing through to what they feel sure is the real Hillary, to read what she really cares about.

    And another reason it is not about her being a woman — though I do readily concede that double-bind I describe in the piece above — is that I don’t have any such problems reading Elizabeth Warren. With her, I never wonder where she’s coming from.

    For all those reasons, I believe it is a mistake to wave away the issue of how Hillary can do better. I would rather give my thoughts on the matter to her, or her inner circle, directly, but that is not available to me. So I do what I can.

    And I do it because it is so important that Hillary, if she’s the nominee, win in the fall, and so important that if she wins in the fall, she gain the standing with a substantial majority of the American people to be able to move the nation forward, even against the resistance of the obstructionist GOP.

    • Quizzical

      As a layman, I better just stick with my best advice to her, which is to be herself and try to get enough rest. Maybe I’d add to that, take her vitamins. I agree that she isn’t a natural politician like her husband was or is, but she is plenty good enough this year. She’s 68 and this isn’t her first rodeo.

      She has taken a lot of punishment in the political arena over the years, and I have to marvel that she has climbed back into the ring again. I look at Al Gore, and realize that he is the same age as Hillary. Gore basically quit electoral politics after 2000, and has not come back even though he has gotten rich and has passionate beliefs about the environment, and he was right, dammit! Hillary has come back, scars and all, to fight again, knowing what it would be like. So I have to believe that she is responding to her sense of duty and is fighting for us, and for the millions of people who would lose health insurance if the Republicans win.

      • Bingo.

      • Andy Schmookler

        I agree with you, quizzical, on two main points. First, I agree that Hillary has shown a lot of resilience and strength in being able and willing to stay in the arena despite all the ill treatment she has received. She is indeed tough. Second, I agree you that she should “be herself.” I would say, actually, that “be yourself” is another way of putting my main message to her, which I put in terms of “show your humanity.”

  • Quizzical

    From what I’ve read elsewhere, a lot of the distrust of Hillary has to do with money. Not even only campaign donations, but the money she earned on the speaking circuit. The reasoning seems to be that nobody is worth speaking fees of that size, and therefore she is bought and paid for, case closed.

    So I’ve been thinking about this, and reading up on this lucrative Washington Speakers Bureau gig. And the odd thing is, guess who has the record as the person who has receives the highest fees for giving a speech? Donald Trump, who gets between $1,000,000 and $1,500,000 per speech.

    After he stopped being President, Ronald Reagan gave two speeches in Japan, at $1 million each. He went on to have a lucrative run on the speaking circuit. George H.W. Bush made a lot of money on the speaking circuit.

    Bill Clinton, who left office at a relatively young age, has had a very lucrative run on the speaking circuit. Al Gore has done it, Dick Cheney has done it, and there’s a list of 10 or 20 others who have been able to get the highest fees on the speaking circuit, not all of them politicians.

    And Hillary’s on that list. What does this all mean? To me what it means is that there are conventions of professional and trade groups who are willing and able to pay big bucks to have a big name keynote speaker at their conventions.

    Also, if you’re lucky and hardworking enough to find yourself in the position to command those kind of speaking fees towards the end of your career, wouldn’t you do it? Wouldn’t you feel that you owed it to your family to do it?

    If you look around, a lot of what our society does with regards to money and celebrity doesn’t seem rational. Why do some lanky kids who are good at basketball sometimes make tens of millions? Why did Facebook take off like it did when there were other websites that already existed that could do everything that Facebook could and can do, and often do it better? The only answer is that the marketplace decides, and sets the value.

    In sports, there is sometimes reference to a player going “post-economic”, and how that will affect his or her play. Meaning, once the player has made so much money that all economic needs are met for the player and the players family, will the player still have the fire in the belly to do what it takes to be a champion? Often as it turns out, the answer is no.

    One of Trumps main selling points is that he is post-economic, that he already is a billionaire and is only running for office to help the country and the people. And he is self funding his campaign, so he isn’t owned by the large donors. That’s actually part of his stump speech.

    On the Democratic side, is it a bad thing to be post-economic? Bill and Hillary Clinton are post-economic now, going by their combined earnings on the speaking circuit, and not even counting anything else. It’s a crazy world we live in, where someone can make so much money giving speeches, but that doesn’t equate to being bought and paid for, or owned, by anyone. It seems to me to mean exactly the opposite.