There is always a heavy (read: unfair) burden placed on the trailblazer. There were plenty of black baseball players talented enough to make the major leagues besides Jackie Robinson. Robinson, however, was educated, disciplined from his military service and in a happy marriage with a child.
Satchel Paige liked to chase women and Josh Gibson liked to drink. (In other words, they were ballplayers.)
For the first black major leaguer, these traits were unacceptable. This individual had to be flawless, a quality never required of white players. Any perceived blemish could doom the entire cause.
Despite not being a largely unblemished ray of light like Barack Obama in 2008, Hillary has climbed higher politically than any female U.S. politician before her. And though it’s obscured by all the controversy over Trump and her husband’s treatment of women, that’s actually an encouraging step toward equality for women in politics.
Now the political realm seems to have embraced this value system: If you make a mistake (or just do something we disagree with), we will never forget it. The result has been that we’re turning to leaders with less and less experience in the public realm, merely because they’ve had fewer chances to screw up.
This is true of our first black President, who served less than four years in the U.S. Senate before becoming Commander-in-Chief.
It’s true of his predecessor, as George W. Bush was governor of Texas for less than six years and hadn’t held any earlier elective office.
And if Donald Trump is elected, we will have chosen a candidate who for much of his life couldn’t even be bothered to vote. In 2015, The Washington Post reported he missed 10 out of 28 general elections, while The Smoking Gun found he switched parties with the seasons, going from Republican to Independence Party to Democrat back to Republican to “I DO NOT WISH TO ENROLL IN A PARTY” to Republican, take 3.
By comparison, heading into the 1988 presidential election, George Bush Sr. had Vice President, Congressman, Director of the C.I.A., chief diplomat to China and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations on his résumé. You may not have wanted him in the Oval Office, but there’s no denying he was ready for it.
Hillary Clinton served eight years as First Lady, eight years as a United States Senator and four as the Secretary of State. Which means that whether you loathe her or love her or somewhere in between, you can’t deny that she is experienced and damned formidable. Even her enemies would admit this fact: If she weren’t a force, they wouldn’t be so terrified of her—hey, Trump himself concedes she’s a fighter, and he doesn’t concede shit.
But 20 years in high offices means loads of chances to make mistakes, and she’s definitely taken advantage of them.
Whether you think the email controversy is a complete betrayal of our nation’s security or an endless witch-hunt by a political party desperate to distract us from their disaster of a candidate, both sides can agree on this: Hillary did something dumb. Indeed, she’s done a lot of dumb things, from how she attempted to get health care approved back in the ’90s to uttering the infuriating phrase “Trumped-Up Trickle-Down Economics.” (Yep, that one’s bound to be a killer in a debate.)
Let’s face it: As a trailblazer, Hillary Clinton fails the Jackie Robinson test. If you want to find stuff to criticize about her, you definitely will. Yet that hasn’t stopped her from becoming the first woman nominated for president by a major political party and she may even reach the White House, based on the fact Donald Trump can’t count on the votes of anyone beyond his immediate family at this point.
In other words, despite not being a largely unblemished ray of light like Barack Obama in 2008, Hillary has climbed higher politically than any female U.S. politician before her. And though it’s obscured by all the controversy over Trump and her husband Bill’s treatment of women, that’s actually an encouraging step toward equality for women in politics.
See, one laudable level of social progress is reached when, say, we welcome a black player into major league baseball. But a whole new level is reached when we let human beings be actual human beings. Jackie Robinson paved the way for many other black players who excelled on the field and conducted themselves with quiet dignity off of it.
But the playing field was appreciably more level by the time we got to Reggie Jackson, who won four World Series while generally acting like a jerk, and Rickey Henderson, who redefined both batting leadoff and speaking in the third person with his knack for uttering bon mots like “Rickey don’t like it when Rickey can’t find Rickey’s limo”—a remark that surely would have made Branch Rickey’s head explode.
Throughout this election, we’ve often heard that Hillary Clinton is “just another politician.” May we not lose sight of how much progress America had to make for that even to be possible.