By Tafi Mhaka
Margaret Thatcher must be turning in her grave after the failings of Hillary Clinton in the US presidential election of 2016. When it seemed like a fresh milestone would be celebrated last November, a sad and sober, unembellished reality settled in, instead, after voters rejected and abandoned Clinton.
A morally challenged former Reality TV star bagged a tough guy role in Washington for four years, ahead of a famed Yale Law School alumnus. The stage had been set for Clinton to shine out, so said many highly respectable pollsters and experts, but a loud-mouthed billionaire stole the show in the last minute.
Clinton failed to make the final cut in dramatic style, in spite of woeful allegations of misogyny and racism hounding her male Republican rival throughout the presidential race.
Amid the uncertainty of whether Clinton was untrustworthy or unlucky – since she had it all to lose, really, or Donald Trump was a bigot of the highest order, or just your average boastful guy, this question remains largely unanswered as January 20 approaches: What torpedoed a sound leadership run for office, by a former Secretary of State, and tamed, in all honesty, a well-oiled political machine, which was buoyed by support from none other than a pairing of two-term US presidents in Bill Clinton and Barrack Obama?
Without muddying this contentious debate in deep political dogma, here is the choice America had to make last November: Clinton looked like a safe bet, an old hand at the game – a smart, composed and somewhat considerate establishment-type leader, who happened to have a credibility issue engulfing her campaign.
Trump seemed utterly sexist and racist, boisterous and tough, irrational and larger-than-life at times – a latter-day Rough Rider, who was ready to battle Mexicans, Muslims, Chinese or non-American people alike, and fight dirty for American prosperity on every social, political and economic front he could possibly muster in his fertile imagination.
Supporters of Clinton expected voters to rally behind the former First Lady for she had the experience of working at the highest levels of politics in the US Senate and State Department. And she so spectacularly made mention of her fight to shatter the proverbial glass ceiling at the Democratic Party convention last July.
But – in as much as Clinton did not blow her feminist horn or flaunt her female credentials much, Michelle Obama did step in, and make that case for her, in a groundbreaking speech delivered at the Democratic Convention, in a bid to halt the election of a boorish Republican candidate.
Trump, who attacked all forms of femininity and derided female journalists, TV anchors and analysts, and made fun of Clinton’s womanhood and physical frailties during the presidential campaign, has become the poster boy for feminist movements across the world in 2017. Yet, he stands tall and proud at the moment, in full and unapologetic alpha male mode, hours from becoming the 45th president of the USA.
But it is not just US voters who struggle to empower female candidates. The only female leader who is likely to win a major election this year, is the battle-hardened Marie Le Pen of the far right National Front party in France.
Although her far right positions reek of blatant extremism, racism and discrimination – she really is the closest leader to Trump France has – she is notoriously tough, and has taken early leads in some polls, ahead of presidential favorite and Republican candidate Francois Fillon.
Why is this so? Well, it might not be politically correct to say this, but most people, and this includes many women, still prefer to be led by men, or strongmen – or mannish-like leaders – and not women.
Le Pen, like Angela Merkel, is an exception that proves the rule. Whether by design or not, both women exude a subdued sense of femininity in public, which allows them to project strength.
It figures: Voters love to hear tales of lofty-sounding nationalist ideals and steely fortitude coming from macho sounding leaders like Barrack Obama. Chants of “Yes, we can,” defined Obama during his presidential campaign in 2008. But even as a non-divisive Democratic candidate, back then, Obama, probably the greatest orator of the 21st century, cast himself as a man of action in high-sounding speeches that reverberated across the world. So did Trump in 2016, but in much less inspiring fashion.
Potency reigns big in politics when prosperity and security sit atop a national agenda. Men like Nicholas Sarkozy, Rodrigo Duterte and Trump tend to rise to power in such desperate times.
But before you blame American voters or Filipino voters for supporting two hot-blooded men with extremely far right political views, ask yourself this question: Who is the new Secretary-General of the United Nations?
Antonio Guterres, former Prime Minister of Portugal, began his tenure as UN Secretary-General on January 1, 2017, after being elected in a secret ballot held by members of the UN Security Council last year; and he was officially endorsed by the UN General Assembly on October 14, 2016.
Guterres beat distinguished nominees like Helen Clark, former Prime Minister of New Zealand, and Susana Malcorra, foreign minister of Argentina, and Irina Bokova, a Bulgarian politician who is Director-General of UNESCO, the UN agency.
The UN has not had a female Secretary-General since its formation in 1945. This is woefully embarrassing, chauvinistic, and unacceptable – and sets the bar low for girls in school today.
If the UN Security Council, a body tasked with safeguarding us all, an organisation established through the collective agreement of all nations on earth, a body supposedly representative of both male and female genders, of all people, really, has failed to elect a female leader for almost 72 years, does this mean the majority of female leaders are not born to lead at the very highest levels of society?