Hillary Clinton has a bit of a likability problem.
That’s not news, she’s one half of the least-liked presidential election in history, the fodder for hashtags about progressive Democrats holding their nose and voting for what they see as the greater good. But where most people just stop at Hillary being unlikable (“because, well she just is“), I think there’s a deeper reason why people can’t seem to get behind her. Hillary’s likability problem is more of an empathy problem, for the life of us we can’t put ourselves in HRC’s shoes.
A big part of what creates that disconnect between voters and Clinton is also what makes her a good presidential candidate. She has decades of political experience, she’s a nerd who absolutely loves to dive into the nuts and bolts of policy decisions, she’s a well-heeled member of an elite political family that has spent years under the spotlight. And, of course, being the first female candidate for president for a major political party means that she has one huge area where no one’s going to get where she’s coming from.
But Clinton can take solace in the fact that there’s one person out there who knows exactly what it’s like to be Hillary. And it’s likely that that person would be more than willing to pull her into her #squad. The only person who can understand what Clinton is feeling right now is Taylor Swift.
This isn’t going to be some silly article where I point out that both women made hay out of their famous beaus and talk about how their both great at shaking off the haters (though, I mean, come on). It’s also not going to be some vague connection that ends in a sentiment of general girl power. The connection between Clinton and Swift is unique and real because they both are painfully aware of the struggles of uniquely powerful women.
The Taint of Corruption
While it’s certainly not a completely gendered issue, there’s something about women on top that leads to the general public believing that they are in some way evil or corrupt. Beyonce calling out her corny Illuminati haters isn’t going to stop them from assuming she’s pulling hidden levers and stuffing bodies in the floorboards of her tastefully decorated penthouse.
And Clinton and Swift have been dealing with the same sort of issues for most of their careers. The public assumes that they’re up to something and from that biased vantage point everything looks like evidence.
Benghazi has been investigated four times as much as the greatest tragedy in American history, with no evidence of wrongdoing found. The only way someone could watch Clinton breeze through hours upon hours of questioning and still come away with the idea that she intentionally misled the American public is if you already had your heart set on calling her a liar.
Swift found herself in a similar — though much less consequential — bit of public scrutiny earlier this year when Kim Kardashian released the tapes of Kanye West talking to Swift about his fire-starting track “Famous”. The hordes were out in force, snake emoji-ing their way through the social media profiles of someone they already thought of as duplicitous and underhanded.
Never mind that it’s totally acceptable for someone to feel ok with a joke-y line about sex and still feel upset when they’re called a “bitch” whose hard-earned fame only came via the interruption of someone else. The narrative of Taylor Swift as a lying and scheming pop star bent on Kanye’s destruction took hold all too quickly.
Hillary is facing yet another “scandal” that only counts as one if you think she’s inherently scandalous. Of course, the laptop of one of Clinton’s top advisers is going to contain emails that pertain to Hillary Clinton. FBI Director James Comey’s ridiculous “we found some stuff maybe, kinda, we’re not sure” announcement is actively effecting the polls because people have decided that everything Clinton does carries the whiff of a cover-up.
And once that die is cast, there’s no turning back. It simply doesn’t matter that Hillary Clinton has been in the public eye for three decades and none of her “scandals” have ever led to charges. It doesn’t matter that we’ve waited for Taylor to slip up for 10 years and she hasn’t. We just know they’re up to something.
A Sort-Of Validation
With Clinton and Swift firmly written off as Cheaty McCheatersons cheating the system, it becomes that much easier to discredit what they’ve done. In fact, in spite of their major successes, both women have only seen their talents validated when they are held up by other, less qualified men.
The argument for Hillary should have never been “Well, at least she’s not Donald Trump.” We’re talking about a Yale graduate who worked on the committee that led to Richard Nixon’s resignation, who served as First Lady of Arkansas and the United States, who was a U.S. Senator for eight years and Secretary of State for four more.
She’s one of the most qualified candidates for president in recent memory. It never should have come down to the fact that she’s running against a man who, among other things, faces multiple charges of sexual assault and completely lacks an understanding of consent.
Similarly, Taylor Swift had her remarkable talents as a songwriter validated to a certain kind of critic when singer-songwriter Ryan Adams actively made her mega-hit album 1989 into something… else. Liberated of the critical idea of Swift as a calculated pop-music lightweight, suddenly people could see that one of the biggest stars in the world who made her name in a lyrically focused genre actually had some measure of songcraft. In the words of slightly paraphrased words of Swift herself, what they were looking for had been there the whole time.
In both cases, it’s an example of a man that the general public views as “real” and “authentic”, who throw the edifices that Clinton and Swift have built into stark relief and allow us to marvel at how impressive they are.
They’re Just Fake
Talking about a built-up persona leads to one of the biggest criticisms that both Clinton and Swift face. Both stand accused of being inauthentic, of measuring their words too much and plotting every little action with mechanical precision.
This is one of the few criticisms that holds water. But, let’s be real. Of course Clinton and Swift are calculated. They are a politician running for president and one of the biggest pop stars in the world, respectively. You don’t get to that point (at least not until this election) without thinking very hard about who you are and what you want the world to see of you. Mega-famous musicians and candidates for the most powerful position on the planet are meant to be immaculately polished.
I’ve managed to sort of side-step it up to this point, but here’s where we can no longer ignore the idea of gender playing a factor in their criticism.
The HRC we see on television is no more of a ruse thanPresident Barack Obama‘s public face, it’s no more of a put-on than Mitt Romney repeatedly telling folks he loves “sport.” Taylor’s well-timed tweets and #squad mentality are no less planned than Drake‘s petty and meticulously crafted Instagram posts.
If you want to be world-renowned, having a very good idea of your persona comes with the territory. And it seems we punish ambitious women more heavily for this inescapable fact than we do their scheming bro counterparts.
In spite of all of these criticisms and attempts to tear them down, Clinton and Swift just keep on coming. They’re Type-A women who refuse to held back by a few naysayers. They seem to be the only people who routinely face this sort of bashing, but that just gives them something to bond over when they inevitably meet in the White House. Oh and while we’re here, don’t forget to vote on Tuesday. You know what makes a nice soundtrack to voting? 1989.