New York Magazine


Hillary Clinton took aim, for the second time, at the highest and hardest glass ceiling. What broke instead was the coalition of women and people of color she thought would pierce it—and our faith that it will happen in our lifetimes.

ON THE SUNDAY MORNING before Election Day, Hillary Rodham Clinton, the first woman ever to be nominated by a major party for the American presidency, gave a sermon at the Mt. Airy Church of God in Christ in Philadelphia. Her voice hoarse after days of multistate campaigning, Clinton sounded exhausted but happy to be there. Even at the bitter end of a nearly two-year marathon campaign, she could still get energized by speaking at a black church on a Sunday.

There was a feeling of confidence among many in Clinton’s campaign that weekend. They were spending a lot of time in Philadelphia, where the streets were overrun by canvassers who’d poured into the city to get out the vote. Polls had begun to show Clinton recovering from the dip she’d taken after FBI director James Comey’s letter re-embroiled her in the email morass. It looked at that moment, in and out of the campaign, like she was going to be the first female president of the United States.

Clinton preached to the congregation about the Founding Fathers—but not in the way that most politicians, in this era of right-wing deification of the country’s forebears, would invoke them two days before a presidential election. “Our Founders said all men are created equal,” Clinton said. “[But] they left out African-Americans. They left out women. They left out a lot of us.”

The congregation stood, hands in the air, calling back to her. “Our founders said our democracy should be shaped by ‘We the People,’ but we didn’t get to vote, did we? And even when the Constitution was amended to allow African-Americans to vote, it was still only men. And then, finally, when it was amended to allow women to vote, it took decades before that became a reality.”

Clinton’s point was clear: Her historic candidacy, coming on the heels of the election and reelection of our first black president, offered another crucial revision to the country’s founding assumptions, another inversion of its exclusions. And if she were to win, it would be thanks to a coalition of voters of color and women, exactly the people who had had to fight for centuries for the franchise.

The next night, Clinton stood alongside Barack and Michelle Obama before a crowd of 33,000 people outside Philadelphia’s Independence Hall, the spot where the architects of the nation had endowed its citizens with the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—as they built their new country on the backs of enslaved African-Americans and subsidiary women. Clinton and the Obamas were taking an audacious risk in presenting themselves as united in a mission to broaden America’s notions of what leadership could look like, of what the power of expanded enfranchisement could mean for the kinds of people from whom it was withheld for so long.

But little more than 24 hours after these three historic figures made their case for doing more work to perfect our imperfect union, it was clear that half of the country would prefer to return to the

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