Chelsea Clinton has developed a reputation as someone so preternaturally nice that she can take the most offensive insults hurled her way by simian-brained right-wingers and reply with a kind and even-tempered response that makes the author of the attack look even worse than if she had justifiably skewered them.
Behind the extreme manners that the daughter of President Bill and Hillary Clinton possesses, however, is a simmeringly brutal assessment of the direction that this country has taken since Donald Trump won the presidency through that quirk in the electoral college system that awards the position to someone who lost the popular tally by three million votes.
Chelsea Clinton expressed that less visible, vitriolic side of her personality a bit in an interview with The Guardian yesterday and made some memorable comments on the Trump administration and the state of America under its questionable leadership.
It’s not like the younger Ms. Clinton has unreasonable expectations for America under Trump.
“Not only do I want an administration that isn’t venal, corrupt and focused on making life harder for millions of Americans, I also want a competent administration,” she said. “So for me, the larger question is the collision of cruelty and incompetence and corruption that we see across the administration.”
“I don’t agree with what he’s doing to degrade what it means to be an American,” she later added.
That degradation is manifested in the now increasingly common public expressions of hatred, racial and political animosity, and general meanness in the Trump era. The Guardian asked Clinton how she managed to maintain her composure in the face of the venom slung her way.
“For me, maybe because I’ve had so much vitriol flung at me for as long as I can literally remember, people saying awful things to me even as a child, I’ve never found it productive, personally, to engage in that way. To retaliate with crass language or insult someone personally – I just don’t think I’m built that way.”
While she was brought up to ignore the meanness that can often dominate social discourse, her views on the political atmosphere are beginning to change now that Trump holds the office her father once held.
“Now I’ve come to feel differently, because I think that the way that our president and many people around him have not only mainstreamed hate, but mainlined it, is so deeply dangerous.”
Clinton cited the recent Southern Poverty Law Centre report on the rise of school bullying as an example of the effect Trump has had on our society in less than two years in office.
“Not just the hundreds but now thousands of instances in schools across America, where children are citing the president as they’re demeaning a little girl, or they’re chanting ‘Build a wall’ in an attempt to demean and degrade brown children. So the reason, now, I no longer ignore it when people say hateful things to me on the street or on social media is, I think we have to shine a light. I think those of us who have platforms to do that have to say this is wrong and unacceptable, so we don’t normalise it but try to detoxify what has been unleashed. Because if we don’t, we leave a vacuum. And I think the darkness fills that vacuum.”
Chelsea Clinton’s metaphor of the Trump administration as a cloud of darkness slowly obliterating the bright light of America’s better qualities is an accurate portrayal of what has happened since the president’s inauguration, although the pace of the smothering of the light may be quicker than any of us realize.
“I think one of the big mistakes,” Clinton explained, “was, for so long, we focused on tolerance, which I just think is insufficient. People tolerated casual misogyny, but casual misogyny is maybe the gateway drug. We have freedom of speech, which I do think is hugely important – and yet people thought you couldn’t dispute hateful things, because they’re like – well, it’s freedom of speech. Well, freedom of speech doesn’t mean there is freedom of consequences.
“Sure, you should not be in prison because you said something racist. But you also shouldn’t be able to run for president. And yet here we are.”
Yes, here we are, hoping that Trump doesn’t irreversibly destroy our democracy and searching for those beacons of light to shine through the darkness the president is engendering every day.
Follow Vinnie Longobardo on Twitter.