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.