The Guilt and Pain of a Clinton Supporter

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Megan, a reader who voted for Hillary Clinton, shares a powerful confession:

I’ve been thinking about the election a lot for the past two days, and the idea that I keep coming back to is that in some ways this is my fault.

It’s my fault because I voted for Clinton when she ran against Obama in the 2008 primary, but I didn’t tell anyone because she was the unpopular choice. I wasn’t embarrassed about my decision, but being a real liberal seemed to mean voting for Obama. So I voted quietly in the primary, felt my disappointment quietly when she lost, and seamlessly joined the Obama supporters in the general election.

It’s my fault because I voted for Clinton when she ran against Sanders in the 2016 primary, and I didn’t tell anyone because again she was the unpopular choice. She was even more qualified this time around and I had a greater appreciation for the depth of her public service, but being a real liberal seemed to mean supporting Sanders. So I voted quietly in the primary, and rarely mentioned my preference for her.

It’s my fault because during the long months of the primary and the general election I didn’t tell anyone how strongly I felt about Clinton. I didn’t put a sticker on my car, I didn’t put a sign in my yard, and I didn’t wear a T-shirt. My loudest statement of support was the tiny pin I purchased after the convention, at a time that it felt safe to be a Clinton supporter.

It’s my fault because when I ran into people who were voting for Trump—at the grocery store, in the gym, in my neighborhood—I changed the subject because I didn’t want to get into an argument. I told myself that it wasn’t worth it and that they wouldn’t change their minds.

It’s my fault because though I knew my mother was genuinely torn between the two candidates I didn’t engage with her. I didn’t want to know that she actually thought there was a real choice to be made.

It’s my fault because I never once asked my sister what she was thinking. She’d supported the Tea Party in the past, and I assumed she was leaning towards Trump. I didn’t want to know.

It’s my fault because my father and I had a massive fight about Clinton over Easter, and in an effort to preserve our relationship I stopped talking to him about politics. If we didn’t talk about it, then I didn’t have to deal with the possibility that he was sexist and racist in a way I’d never considered.

It’s my fault because I capitulated to the expectation that I not express my emotions publicly. I’m upset right now, and it isn’t lost on me that expressing this upset is potentially disqualifying. It isn’t lost on me that saying I’m angry will make me vulnerable to the accusation I’m too emotional. I’ve spent a lifetime calming down. It’s something that I try to do when interacting with men professionally, and it’s something that I try to do when I interact with men personally. And every time I do this in my private life, I normalize it and make it harder for women to succeed in public life.

And it’s also my fault because when I did support her, I did so in a provisional and caveated way. I said things like, “I realize she’s not a perfect candidate” and “I’m not arguing that she isn’t flawed.”

And every time I said something like this, I affirmed that there was a need to apologize. I singled her out as somehow different from other candidates (in both parties) who were worthy of unequivocal support, and I created the space for the impression that she was critically flawed. I did this nearly every time I spoke about her, and I saw this language in dozens of articles and editorials and statements of support (including The Atlantic’s editorial, though there doesn’t appear to be similarly caveated language in the Lincoln or Johnson endorsements). In fact, I don’t remember seeing this type of language in the editorials written for any of the similarly flawed men who have run for president over the past twenty years. And this, I think, is the thing I regret the most.

I woke up on Wednesday morning feeling overwhelmed in a way that I haven’t yet sorted out. I’m angry with the mainstream media for not doing better; I’m angry with the Republican party for embracing an unquestioned racist and sexist in pursuit of power; I’m angry with the right for cultivating a culture that celebrates anti-intellectualism. I’m angry because I can’t help but see Clinton’s loss as a referendum on women, in which the collective decision was that a peerlessly unqualified man was better than the most qualified candidate that has run in the past 20 years. I’m angry with anyone who thought that a presidential election with these stakes was an appropriate forum for a third-party protest vote; I’m angry with the left for failing to build a viable coalition in response to issues that we all feel strongly about (reproductive health, gun control, etc.); and I’m angry at myself for being quiet and for being calm.

At this point, I feel like I have two choices. I could give up and walk away. If nearly half of America thinks that Trump is qualified for this position (or finds it so abhorrent to have a woman as president that they’d convince themselves that he’s acceptable) then perhaps this isn’t a country I want to defend. Or I could double down and recommit to the things I care about. I love my country, and perhaps the question I should be asking is why I don’t spend more of my life committed to those causes that I feel passionately about.

Clinton, I think, would prefer I do the latter. But before I make this decision, I feel like I need to own my own responsibility. Because the truth is, this is partially my fault.

There is so much more to talk about and think about from here; and to be honest, my heart is too full this afternoon to put it clearly. I’ll write more, soon, but for now I’d like to hear from you. If you can relate to what Megan’s feeling, please send us a note: