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The end of a dream

The United States has missed an opportunity to make progress on gender equality

Berna González Harbour

The Free State of Jones, an extraordinary film that went largely unnoticed when it was released a couple of months ago, tells one of those little stories that reflects History with a capital H. A humble Mississippi farmer and Confederate deserter, brilliantly played by Matthew McConaughey, establishes a colony with fellow white deserters and runaway slaves. They find refuge in a remote, marshy area of Jones County that the Confederates, fighting ever-encroaching Union troops, cannot reach.

Two women watch the count on election night.
Two women watch the count on election night.WIN MCNAMEE (AFP)
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El fin de un sueño

The movie is filled with moments of simplicity and grandeur, especially as the colony grows and McConaughey fills the screen with righteous speeches about the equality of all men regardless of the color of their skin. Don’t miss it.

That story unfolded in 1863, when a few good men began to build the foundations of racial equality in the United States. That struggle ultimately led to the election of the first black man, Barack Obama, to the presidency in 2008. But small heroes like that farmer, along with great men and women like Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., and Rosa Parks paved the way for it.

At the age of 69, Hillary Clinton has missed her opportunity

The film also highlights the need for another revolution: gender equality. When the characters speak of equality, they are always talking about men, and even the women applaud them.

Men were equal with men before women were equal with men. This is not about comparisons between the two causes, because slaves were fleeing the cruelty and barbarism of a system that had enriched itself through their exploitation. The point is that in a century, the United States has tried to make this epic journey toward both goals, but it looks like gender equality will have to wait.

The Fifteenth Amendment of the US Constitution granted African Americans the right to vote in 1870, though it required the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 under the Lyndon Johnson Administration to become a reality. The Nineteenth Amendment granted women the right to vote in 1920.

A Hillary Clinton victory in 2016 would have closed the circle that suffragettes began. But the dream vanishes with Donald Trump, a man who insults women.

Hillary Clinton, born in Chicago in 1947, has faced all kinds of problems, including her own lack of charisma, that have prevented her from breaking the glass ceiling. For many years, she represented generations of women who gave up their careers to support their husbands and build families.

Men were equal with men before women were equal with men

She worked as a lawyer on the Democrats’ impeachment of Richard Nixon after Watergate (1974) and then gave up her career in Washington to return to Arkansas with Bill, whom she married in 1975. Since then, she has lived in his shadow.

She campaigned for him, served as first lady when he was governor (1983-1992) and then in the White House when he was president (1992-2000). She endured the Monica Lewinsky case with sad sobriety and failed to see her healthcare program implemented when she had more power. She was always Bill’s wife and finding a role to match her education became an impossible mission.

But Hillary Clinton waited. Once the Bill era ended, she won a Senate seat for New York. But she also had to wait for the Barack Obama era to pass after losing the 2008 Democratic primaries. At the age of 69, she has missed her opportunity to put into practice what she said in a speech at Wellesley College in 1969: “ Fear is always with us but we just don't have time for it. Not now.” There is no more time. The dream is over.

Electing Hillary Clinton would not only have put a woman in charge of the most important country in the world, along with other great nations like Germany (Angela Merkel), the United Kingdom (Theresa May and before her, Margaret Thatcher) and Brazil (Dilma Rousseff until she was impeached). More importantly it would have allowed the United States to make two symbolic moves in two back-to-back revolutions: racial equality and gender equality. And if it were on a roll, why not imagine a Hispanic man or woman in the White House?

Instead, the United States has elected the enemy of minorities, women, immigrants, Muslims and the political correctness that has made coexistence possible in democracies. The dream fades and, in its place, a nightmare begins.

English version by Dyane Jean-François.

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