Former US Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton warned of “a rising tide of illiberalism” in her talk in Trinity today, which saw her address her failed bid for president, the increasing divisions in society and the threat of the fall of democracy.
In her typical poised and polished style, Clinton addressed a Trinity audience filled predominantly with women, cautioning against increasing divisions of people around the world and restating the importance of preserving democracy again and again.
Clinton openly reckoned with her failed bid for US President, delving into the circumstances that led her to miss out on being the US’s first-ever female president. “That didn’t exactly work out the way I had hoped”, she joked in that self-deprecating manner she has taken to when speaking about the election.
Clinton addressed an issue very close to many audience members’ hearts: women in elections. Referencing a group set up by one of her aides, she talked about the success that young women can have when they run for office. In response to a pre-approved question from the President of the University Philosophical Society, Sorcha Ryder, at the end of the talk she offered advice to young women aspiring to be leaders: “Go in with your eyes wide open. There is a double standard there. It is diminishing but it still ubiquitous.”
“Make up your mind that you’re going to be a strong advocate for yourself, be confident in yourself, recognise you have to work hard, there no doubt about that but that You’re not going to be a critic that’s constantly in your own head”, she said.
The audience, which included prominent campus figures as well as national politicians, were audible in their reactions to Clinton. Indeed at every possible opportunity, Clinton was greeted with a warm applause and standing ovations. Meanwhile, outside her visit saw quite a different reaction, as protestors both from within the College and from outside lined up to express their anger at her visit.
In a perhaps-unintentional dig at these protesters, Clinton spoke about her experience talking with a group of young organisers of the revolution in Egypt that had toppled Mubarak. “They didn’t want to move from protests to politics. I warned that if they chose to stay on the sidelines, their revolution would be hijacked by one of two very strong forces in their country… Unfortunately, I wasn’t convincing enough”, she said.
Democracy and its importance was the central theme of both Clinton’s address and her conversation with former Irish President Mary Robinson. With a sincere sense of curiosity, Robinson asked Clinton about her thoughts on the Citizens’ Assembly as an alternative model of democracy. Clinton praised the result of Ireland’s recent abortion referendum – which, she said, she had watched closely – and emphasised the need for such alternative ways of involving people in democratic decisions.
Robinson and Clinton have much in common. But while Robinson was a total outsider when she ran to become head of state for Ireland back in 1990, Clinton was the ultimate insider, having served in multiple positions in government after serving as a first lady. Many emphasised at the time how Clinton was the most experienced candidate the Democrats could hope for, but it wasn’t enough.
When Robinson ran for president, the New York Times questioned whether Ireland was ready. After all, Ireland then was perceived to be a deeply conservative and Catholic country. Robinson defied the odds, however – something that her on-stage companion failed to do when her turn came around years later.
It was clear that the women had been deeply inspired by each other over years, with Robinson quoting Clinton speeches from years back and recalling funny anecdotes she had told her in the past. It’s not something one would expect from what was framed as a serious conversation between two very powerful female politicians, but the audience was in stitches laughing as the duo bounced off each other.
One such anecdote recalled delightedly by Robinson involved Clinton being stopped on her walk in Washington DC when a female jogger came alongside her to warn her that “two men were following her”.
Trinity has seen many major political figures walk through it’s leafy squares in the past few years. This year alone, politicians Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage, two figures associated with the rise of populism in the UK came to the College, prompting backlash among students. Clinton is someone who has come face to face with this brand of populism and offered interesting perspectives on the world today and where it is going.
While former Vice-President Joe Biden in his Trinity address just two years ago said that the world is at “an inflection point”, today Clinton echoed this: “We are at a global tipping point.” Never directly referencing her former political opponent and incumbent US President Donald Trump, she managed to slyly rebuke the current US regime as she has become known for.
If Clinton’s address today focused on her perspective on the state of the world during “this dark hour”, it was punctuated by affirmations of hope that young people will embrace democracy and the “tide of illiberalism” will turn.