What is there to hate?

People can have legitimate policy differences with Hillary Clinton, but the hatred for the Democratic nominee shines a light on the capacity for implicit bias that lurks in all of us.

BRATTLEBORO — For me, the clearest and most interesting signal in all the noise of this election - unprecedented in my lifetime - is the misogyny and sexism being exercised under the guise of moderation and progressivism.

That signal - in the form of the trope “I hate Hillary Clinton, and I could never vote for her” - is difficult to detect. But once it came clear to me, it seemed very real.

I didn't support Clinton in the primaries; despite the odds, I backed her opponent, Bernie Sanders. As a Vermonter, I knew enough about Sanders, our longtime senator, to know that he might possibly be an effective president. And, of course, since I consider myself a progressive, his agenda was inspiriting to me.

Sanders spoke truths about the United States that forced Clinton to maneuver politically to the left. It was clear that he was not a typical politician and that typical politics have essentially failed in this nation. It also was clear that Clinton was a political animal after almost four decades inside various circles of power. She clearly represented the establishment that I would like to see change.

But I never hated Hillary Clinton.

I never thought that she was not qualified to be president.

It's an impossible job, of course. But if Obama thinks she is qualified, I wonder why anyone else would think otherwise.

* * *

I know why supporters of Hillary Clinton's Republican opponent, Donald J. Trump, hate her - 'nuff said. I also know why moderates in the party - the sane wing that is deserting Trump in droves - don't want to vote for her: her policy stances are anathema to the Republican agenda (which Trump still largely espouses).

Decent, thoughtful Republicans - and there are a lot of them - are faced with a really bad mess right now, and I can understand why they may sit out this election.

What has been hard for me to understand is why such a large percentage of the Democratic-leaning, Sanders progressive electorate, both male and female, is so steadfast in its hatred of Clinton. What is there to hate?

It is easy to hate the hegemony of wealth and ensuing establishment politics that have brought America to our present civil crisis. Hillary is connected to that world, but she is far from being a prime mover in it. In fact, whatever one might think of the Clintons, they have been under persistent attack by right-wing forces since Bill Clinton first took office, much as Barack Obama has been since 2008.

The Clintons are politicians, and veracity is a rare trait in the political world. There are decisions Bill Clinton made during his incumbency that seem reprehensible now. The coziness with Wall Street is pretty ugly. Hillary Clinton's handling of her email messes and the ways in which she has shaved the truth at various times do not inspire respect.

But still, why hate the woman?

Hillary Clinton is decent on the face of it, someone who since her early years has dedicated herself to public service. You might not agree with her work as a senator from New York or her decisions as secretary of state, but no one can say that she was not working as hard as she could to do what she considered to be the right thing.

Anyone I know who has worked with Hillary Clinton or has met her in passing describes her as warm and compassionate, a good listener with a good sense of humor. Her staff is incredibly loyal to her. She raised a child in the most chaotic, troubling, and public circumstances one can imagine, and seems to have done it very well.

And she has been loyal to but not beaten down by an errant spouse, working to preserve a marriage that has lasted for more than four decades.

So what's going on here? Sexism and misogyny - subtle, unconscious “implicit bias” that runs through all of our veins, no matter our race, gender, or age.

This is the kind of bias that might cause a typical, mainly young, progressive to view with some disdain an establishment-male Democratic candidate after the ecstasy of Bernie, but say that they “hate” - and would never vote for - a Democratic candidate with similar views but who happens to be female.

* * *

I grew up in the era when women finally gained a seat at the table. I am about 10 years younger than Hillary Clinton, so she was a forerunner - and it must have been hard, really hard, to be in that position. We admire the movement against the Vietnam war and the movement toward Black Power, but we forget the chants of “chicks up front” when the police moved in during protests, or civil rights activist Stokely Carmichael saying that the proper position for women in the movement for black power was on their backs. Or that women had to fight to wear pantsuits to work.

I remember that it was not until the early 1970s, when I was about 16, when female journalists at Newsweek - who had been consigned to do research until the end of time - finally demanded and won the right to be reporters and writers. Hillary was about the same age as those women, conducting a different battle in a different way.

The struggles that Black Americans took to achieve some sort of legal framework of equality were bloody and highly visible. The struggles that women of my era took on were far less visible and perhaps also more personal, but they were just as real, and there is a very real way in which I see Hillary Clinton as a survivor of those wars - just as so many of my women friends from those earlier years have been.

And yet, the marks from that long battle - still far from over, as Trump reminds us every day - make people hate Hillary. She is not warm enough. She acts like any other politician. She still wears pants suits. She is diligent, well-studied, serious, and kind of dull - that smart girl. A policy wonk. Not electric like Bernie. More kind of like Grandma, always reminding us that it is cold outside and we need a jacket and gloves.

But it is cold outside, and we do need gloves.

* * *

The world today is one of the most dangerous places I have known in my life - perhaps the most dangerous, since we face an existential crisis from climate change.

And our civic society also faces an existential crisis. This election is not about policy. It is about whether we want to give a charismatic sociopath sole authority to unleash nuclear weapons.

It is possible, should Trump be elected, that freedoms we take for granted might end. Trump is a fascist, and he is running a fascist campaign - I'm not saying that as insult, just stating a political-science fact.

I can understand why my right-wing friends who are too smart to vote for Trump might stay home or vote third-party - anyone but Hillary. I get that. She stands for policies that they oppose and care about, and for them, not voting for Trump is just subtraction. I also understand why my progressive friends might exercise a right of conscience and not vote for Hillary.

But I could never respect a vote for Gary Johnson, ignorant of basic facts about our world, or Jill Stein, a physician who has gestured support for the fraudulent notion that vaccines cause autism. Just write your name in or stay home - but in doing so, realize that you are also voting for Trump at the same time.

* * *

So if you are not going to vote for Clinton because you “hate her,” I would just ask that you examine the unconscious motives and biases that underlie that decision, and also recognize that the only way Trump can win this election is if people who support a progressive agenda do not vote for the Democratic nominee.

One last word. The reason that Clinton is on the ballot instead of Sanders is that she had the full support of Black Americans in the south, who are the most dispossessed people in the country, in terms of their voting power. The only time their vote counts is on Super Tuesday during the primaries.

In 2008, they won the nomination for Obama. In 2016, their votes won it for Clinton. I guess if John Lewis and Barack Obama are supporting Clinton, it should be good enough for me.

To waste your vote is an exercise of white privilege. Remember that.

Subscribe to the newsletter for weekly updates