Through much of the US presidential election campaign, Hillary Clinton was seen to be the frontrunner. But the woman who was going to be president remained relatively quiet ever since she lost to Donald Trump in November last year, even as the new administration in Washington has courted controversy, and gone about dismantling much of the legacy of the Barack Obama presidency — from healthcare reform, inter-racial and inter-community relations, and even in terms of the US role in global affairs. Now, Clinton has announced a return of sorts. On Monday, as she launched Onward Together, a platform “dedicated to advancing the vision that earned nearly 66 million votes in the last election” by “encouraging people to organise, get involved, and run for office”, she seemed to be making an important point: There’s politics after electoral defeat.
Of course, there are reasons to doubt the efficacy of the Clinton initiative. The stated aim and even the name of the new organisation may well indicate that she hasn’t quite accepted her defeat at the hands of Trump — Onward Together is a throwback to her campaign slogan “stronger together”. The fact remains, Clinton did not prove to be a viable presidential candidate and failed to escape the image of an entitled Washington insider, even when her opponent was a flamboyant billionaire who had been associated with known racists and had been recorded making sexist and misogynistic comments. However, Clinton does well to recognise that Trump’s actions since he became president have opened up a political space which has not been wholly occupied by the traditional apparatus of the Democratic Party. The Republicans control the White House and have a majority in the US Congress and a large number of state legislatures.
A large number of non-party organisations, however, have taken to the streets in America to protest the Trump presidency. Despite her electoral setback, Clinton appears to have seen and seized an opportunity to support and strive for change through these spaces and movements. Her attempt to do so is a tribute to her resilience and offers a glimpse of an unputdownable spirit. But it also challenges a larger complacence — all too often, political parties and politicians define politics in limiting ways. It is not just about winning or losing elections. In a democracy, the hard labour of politics is also about what lies in between.