Viewpoints

The emotion of a historic vote

I was just a half-block from the Manhattan school where I had cast my vote on Tuesday morning when I pulled out my phone and called my sister. I hadn’t planned to talk with her just then. But suddenly I had to. The feeling was as overwhelming as it was surprising.

“Wow,” I said to her. “That was really something. I just voted for a woman for president.” I almost didn’t get the last words out. My voice caught and my eyes grew wet.

This is a big day for women. That’s the official declaration, worded pretty much that way. Even if Hillary Clinton loses, female voters in this country never before had the opportunity, when choosing on Election Day between the Democratic and Republican nominees, to pick a woman.

And if Clinton wins? Well, the world’s most powerful nation will for the first time have a female head of state. The fact and the symbolism of that are profound.

But this is a big day for men, too. It’s an important, long-awaited marker in the march toward equal opportunity, which is something that matters – or should – to every American, regardless of gender, because it makes all of us better and richer in the ways that count.

And it’s a kind of promise, a sign of hope that the women in our lives can travel as far in this country – in this life – as their gifts, their grit and their goals take them.

This campaign has been so spectacularly ugly and corrosive that the milestone of Clinton is sometimes overlooked. The narrative of 2016 was essentially stolen by Donald Trump, whose countless outrages became the dominant theme. He left little oxygen for much else.

And Clinton has become so familiar to Americans, and forged such a complicated figure in our psyches, that she doesn’t wear the historic significance of her journey as tidily and romantically as Barack Obama did.

Over the last week of his campaign in 2008, people around me talked constantly – and with palpable pride and elation – about the imminence of a first black president. Over the last week of Clinton’s campaign, people around me weren’t projecting anything like that exuberance, and it wasn’t mainly because they had greater doubts about her victory. It was because they had greater doubts about her, period.

I get it. Like most Americans, I’ve struggled with my response to her, at once in awe of her strength and enraged by some of the compromises and needless messes that she has made. Her judgment doesn’t always match her determination. And she always seems to be holding us at such a far remove.

But that’s no reason to forget that history is being made or to surrender the celebration of that. I almost did, but then something bubbled up in me as I stepped out of that voting booth.

Something bubbled up in my sister, too.

Adelle is 45, juggles a high-powered job with raising two teenagers, and frequently makes the point that if women are considered dexterous and smart enough to take principal charge of something as precious as the brood, why notthe nation?

She trudged to the polls on Tuesday morning more in opposition to Trump than in support of Clinton, who is, in her eyes, “the epitome of a career politician” and too often “puts her own ambitions ahead of what’s right.”

But she discovered an unexpected thrill in casting that ballot, “a sense of sisterhood in putting the first woman in the presidency,” she told me. “It’s long overdue. It’s crazy how long overdue it is.”

And she hatched a plan that hadn’t occurred to her before. “I’m actually toying with the idea of going down to the inauguration,” she told me, getting ahead of herself and making the assumption that Clinton would win. “I’d like to bring Bella.” That’s her 14-year-old daughter. “I think it’s a huge thing,” my sister said, “for a girl her age to see a woman in the most powerful office on earth.”

It’s huge for all five of my nieces, who are inheriting, in some crucial regards, a fairer world. It’s huge for all four of my nephews, including Adelle’s son, and for their fathers as well as their mothers.

I might have called any of them after I voted, when I found that I wanted a witness to the moment and I needed an ear. I might have called one of my many close female friends.

The person I most wanted to call was my mother, and I wished for the millionth time that she were still around. While she was no fan of the Clintons, she was a sap for a world in which dreams have no ceilings, glass or otherwise, and she would have made me feel less goofy about my own unexpected weepiness, because she, too, would have been too choked up to talk.

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