After 240 years of 43 white men and one black man at the helm and 97 years after women were allowed to vote in elections in the United States, Hillary Clinton Tuesday last week climbed into the arms of history as she became the first woman to win nomination of a major political party in a country that for so long practiced democracy to the exclusion of women at the top. With this feat, Hillary Clinton is on track to become the first female president and Commander-in-Chief of the world’s preeminent power.
The weight of the moment and the mood of the milestone were evident on Tuesday night in Brooklyn, New York as the subdued and emotional former Secretary of State addressed a crowd of supporters. The widely watched event choreographed in the fashion of presidential State of the Union speech captured the history, politics, and razzmatazz of democracy when practiced well.
The scene was worth beholding and obviously what many Nigerians including women would wish to experience in their lifetime. Breaking historical and cultural barriers against women is a global struggle dating back many years ago. As early as July 1848, the first women’s rights convention that took place in Seneca Falls, New York discussed the social, civil, and religious condition and rights of woman. Seventy-one years later Congress passed and subsequently ratified the 19th amendment to the US constitution that granted women the right to vote. Ironically, the law gave women the right to vote in elections mostly for men and not the other way round. Women in public life were not as acceptable as men. Women’s choices and voices were often ignored in national and global policy agenda. To date, some retrogressive voices still debate the relevance of girl education and women’s rights in remote parts of the world.
So Hillary Clinton’s accomplishment signals fundamental change in America and around the world. Given the significant influence of United States in the world, a potential power shift to women is likely to reverberate in different countries. The global import of the change taking place in this year’s presidential election is somewhat ironic considering the US leadership in practically every sector, and yet the country to this day lags behind such modern democracies such as Britain, Israel, Taiwan, Brazil, Argentina, Germany, and even African countries of Liberia and Central African Republic in electing women presidents or prime ministers.
Hillary’s journey to this moment in history is a classical lesson in courage, patience, and loyalty. Exactly eight years ago, Hillary was embroiled in a bitter primary election battle with then Senator Obama that culminated in the triumph of President Obama who later appointed her as the US Secretary of State. The 2008 primary election fight was so grueling and contentious and was almost replicated this year between the 74-year-old Senator Bernie Sanders and Hillary. It was unexpected as most Democratic Party establishment wanted to crown Hillary as the nominee in an apparent reward for her gallantry in defeat eight years ago. When Sanders proved a stubborn political foe and perceived as damaging Hillary Clinton’s chances, many party stalwarts came to Hillary’s rescue and often invoked Hillary’s concession speech and subsequent endorsement of then Senator Obama. Therefore, her victory and near unanimous support of Democrats is a reward for patience, character, and hard work. It is proof that once bitter political rivals can indeed become genuine friends as Obama and Clinton turned out to be today. That remarkable friendship was revealed in President Obama’s effusive endorsement of Hillary for president on Thursday. These virtues should resonate in other political environments such as Nigeria and other emerging democracies.
The historic nomination of Hillary is one step but a more important step is the election of the Democrat as President. In a society that is yet to overcome male chauvinism, it is going to be an uphill task. More so, as she faces an acclaimed misogynist and Republican Party nominee, Donald Trump in the November presidential election.
For many observers, the historic nature of Hillary’s candidacy is actually obscured by the unprecedented high negatives of her personality. Women, who traditionally constitute the majority of the US electorate are supposed to be jubilant and poised to vote massively for a fellow woman for president for the first time. But available data suggest a muted enthusiasm on the part of some electorate who view Hillary as untrustworthy and dishonest. The controversy surrounding her use of email and private server when she was Secretary of State and her traditional obfuscation do not help to improve her credibility among some electorate. Besides, the collateral damage inflicted on Hillary personality for the past quarters of a century contributes to her diminished reputation among her adversaries. The consolation, however, for Hillary’s supporters is that her opponent Donald Trump, the Republican Party flag bearer has higher negatives arising from the Billionaire’s bigoted and divisive rhetoric against women, press, judiciary, and minorities. So it is a coincidence that the November presidential contest is also an unpopularity contest between a candidate with the highest negative of any Democratic Party nominee and a Republican Party nominee with the highest negative of any modern presidential candidate. It is an intriguing era. Americans are stuck with electing the better of two evils in November.
The jaded view of the two presidential candidates among the American public, notwithstanding, the prospect of electing the first female president to succeed the first American president with African blood signals real change in a country haunted by the evils of slavery, racism, and male chauvinism. It is in this context that Obama’s 2008 slogan: “Change We Can Believe In” resonates most profoundly. During that historic presidential campaign, Obama spoke about change and in 8 years, he transformed American in many profound ways. The country has become more brown and changing from white privilege – a trend that gets into the skin of racists like Donald Trump whose campaign slogan “Make America Great Again” is perceived as dog whistle for returning America to the days of extreme racism and white privilege. To the credit of Obama’s change, discrimination on the basis of color, sexual and religious orientation, ethnicity, and others are being minimized in public policy agenda. Obama’s change agenda witnessed the emergence of additional two female Supreme Court Justices in the United States and the nomination of a woman as presidential candidate by the Democratic Party for the first time in 240 years of US history.
The change agenda will be capped in November if Hillary Clinton would succeed to lead Democrats to a third successive victory in the presidential election. That will change the course of history because she will defend Obama’s legacy in healthcare, immigration, women’s rights, consumer protection, and anti-discrimination policies and so on.
•Dr. Uchenna Ekwo is President of Center for Media & Peace Initiatives, New York