‘What Do Some White Males Fear Even More Than a Black President?’

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.
Twenty years ago: first lady Hillary Clinton with her book It Takes a Village. (Jeff Mitchell / Reuters)

I am on the road without time to do any set-up (or, sigh, to finish several pending posts on aspects of modern America that are more encouraging than the presidential race). So, unadorned, further reader thoughts on the rise of Trump and “she’s just as bad!” bitterness against Hillary Clinton:

The culmination of a long pattern. A reader in the northeast argues that in this as in many other matters, the GOP’s tone in 2016 is the logical result of trends underway for many decades:

A number of readers have already commented on the “Hillary hatred” phenomenon, but I think a few further points can be added on this topic:

First, it is not only the Trump supporters who invoke a caricature of Hillary as a “congenital liar” and/or “tool of Wall Street.” This is very widespread among Republicans generally. It is perhaps most commonly used, as seen with the “vote for Bozo” reader, to justify continuing to vote Republican virtually regardless of the candidate.

Second, the “congenital liar” label has been applied to Hillary for years. Trump’s emergence as the GOP frontrunner now puts Republicans like “vote for Bozo” in an especially awkward position. The rationale that they can’t vote for Hillary because of her dishonesty is blown to pieces by Trump’s epic dishonesty. To quote Republican columnist David Brooks, Trump is “perhaps the most dishonest person to run for high office in our lifetimes. All politicians stretch the truth, but Trump has a steady obliviousness to accuracy.” If you can’t vote for Hillary because of her dishonesty, then you can’t possibly vote for Trump.

Third, Hillary Clinton is hardly the only Democrat to whom this line of thinking is applied by Republicans. Indeed, virtually every nationally successful or effective figure in the DP in the past 25 years has been described by the GOP and GOP-friendly media as having character flaws that fundamentally disqualify them from holding office.

Obama was harshly attacked in this way starting in 2008, once it became apparent that he could win the election, and this has steadily escalated to the point where the GOP establishment now paints him as an essentially illegitimate president—refusing to consider his nominees or take up his budget proposal. Bill Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, John Kerry, and Tom Daschle have all faced smears and concerted vilification. Liberals often seem surprised by this.

How can anyone describe Obama, a moderate, center-left Democrat, in such extreme terms? This misses the point that these leaders are vilified and dismissed as illegitimate precisely because they are moderate. Portraying them as extreme won’t stick, and thus a different strategy is needed to raise their negatives.

This is Newt Gingrich’s gift to America. If Sanders is the Democratic  candidate (which looks unlikely at this point), my prediction is that he will be spared the character/ personal barrage directed at Hillary and others. It won’t be needed, because he can be effectively attacked as a Socialist.

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It’s even simpler than that. From another reader on the East Coast:

This experience has always stuck with me, though it may be colored/distorted by the tricks of memory.

The Albany, NY, press corps annually conducts a Legislative Correspondents Association show in which the press corps pillories the governor and legislatures. It’s like the White House Correspondents dinner in ways good (these clever people can be really funny, and it was a target rich environment) and bad (you can count the ways).

In either 1992 or 1993 (it was after Hillary Clinton’s “Stand By Your Man” 1992 comments on 60 Minutes), [a female] Associated Press reporter came out as Hillary Clinton. She wore a black leather bomber jacket (playing off some sort of stereotype) to perform a parody version of “Stand By Your Man.”

I don’t remember the lyrics, but I do remember the audience reaction when it was apparent that it was “Hillary” up there. It was very frightening:

The audience was largely male (lobbyists and the legislators they bought the expensive “charity” tickets for) and the reaction reminded me of being in a fraternity house when a porn movie started (sorry to say that I have experienced that kind of thing in the late ‘70s). The best way I can describe it was that there was a palpable “whoosh” of mysogyny. Hooting and catcalls, all directed at “Hillary.”

Hillary had obviously been on the scene a little while, but she was hardly well known. I remembered wondering what she could have done to earn this visceral, aggressive contempt. It continues now, and I’m not sure there is anything complicated about it.

What do some white men fear more than a black president? From another reader, who like the previous two is male:

When I was growing up in Eastern North Carolina there was always a certain level of Clinton hatred among whites.  But definitely Hillary got more of it than Bill. All Jesse Helms had to do was mention the name “Hillary” to get white North Carolinians riled up at “uppity feminist elitist” liberalism.

Something that was very clarifying to me was when a female friend posed this question: Do male politicians who have shifted positions get the same level of hatred for it as Hillary? The answer is obviously no.  Another clarifying thing was when I examined how Hillary’s favorable ratings fell as soon as she started running for President. Look at polls and it’s incredible to note her approval as Secretary of State and how that dropped, not from Benghazi, but as soon as she started running for President.

If we ignore the role that sexism plays in Hillary hatred then we are ignoring the truth that’s in front of our nose. Note that I’m not saying that it’s sexist to criticize Hillary. I’m not saying that she shouldn’t be held accountable for her record. But we males especially need to take an honest look at how our fear of a female President shapes our reactions to Hillary. If you’re a white male, do you react as strongly against Clinton’s positions when they are held by a male politician?  Biden has a similar centrist track record. Would he attract the same level of disdain for it as Hillary if he were running for President?

There are countless policy areas with which to disagree with Hillary Clinton. But it’s no accident that email servers and Benghazi seem to provoke more anger than Iraq and the Patriot Act. White males have always feared a black president.  We fear a female one even more.  

She doesn’t check the “good woman” boxes. From another male reader who grew up in the South:

I grew up in Arkansas during Bill Clinton’s political career there. Much of the Hillary hatred I hear from conservatives today is no different from what I heard then, when she came in for particularly spiteful criticism above and beyond her husband.

Boiled down, she’s a woman who checks none of their “Good Woman” boxes. There are many, many things that have been layered on top of that over the decades of her public career, but that one still lies at the base and is the main source of the particularly vitriolic hatred, I think.  Absent that, they would just hate her the same way they hate Harry Reid or Jimmy Carter.

I'll add that, like your defense contractor engineer, I have a hard time seeing myself voting in this year’s election. My own objection to Hillary comes from my civil liberties and open government views. Her notion of her privacy while holding public office could hardly be more at odds with what I consider the duties of any public official. (President Obama was a massive disappointment on this score, as well.) Her foreign policy views are also much too conservative for me.

My voting forecast wouldn’t change if Bernie Sanders happened to win the nomination, by the way. Not for any specific policy position or another, but because I simply think he'd be a terribly ineffective president who'd damage the liberal brand for a generation.

If I lived in a swing state, I’d probably hold my nose and go to the polls for either of them. But my state is going GOP by a wide, wide margin.

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What about Benghazi? Huh???? To balance things out, and as a sample of the anti-HRC mail that comes in, I offer this, from a reader who (unlike the previous three) doesn’t use his real name.

I was at a loss as to your article entitled "Why so much Hillary Hate?" did not address: 1. Her speaking fees from Wall Street banks resulting in a conflict of interest; 2. Her use of a private email server during her tenure as Secretary of State, for which there is a active FBI investigation concerning violations of national secrecy laws; 3. The appearance of the conflicts of interest between her actions as Secretary of State and donations made to the Clinton Foundation by UBS, Dow Chemical and the Russian Uranium deal.

When Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed banks, he replied "Because that’s where the money is".  When Hillary Clinton was asked why she paid $675,000 for three speeches to Goldman Sachs, her response was "Because that is what they offered".  To me it sounds like she was channeling Willie Sutton, a kindred spirit.

Right.