This was the presidential campaign where grace got lost.
Bear with me while I recap just a few ungraceful low points: Donald Trump admitted on tape that he enjoyed sexually assaulting and sexually pressuring women. He mocked physical disabilities and women’s appearances, all for laughs on the campaign trail. He proved to be quick to anger and established a pattern of insulting, interrupting and badgering Hillary Clinton in live televised debates.
Grace was talked about quite a bit before the polls opened, as in: Will Trump have the grace to concede defeat and let the nation move on from this long, hideous root canal of an election we’ve suffered through?
As it turned out, it was indeed out of defeat that we witnessed the rise of grace; the pundits simply had the wrong person. In a singularly elegant and consoling concession speech, Clinton delivered the warmth to draw us close, the gratitude to make us feel noticed and significant, and the uplifting call to action to prod us out of our shock, anxiety and dispiriting numbness.
It’s an example of grace from start to finish, an example of how to rise above the fray, how to connect deeply with people, how to ease worries with a polished demeanor and a message of hope, delivered with calm command. Most of all, she kept her eye on the big picture: assuring that the democratic process would continue unimpeded, urging the nation to come together, saying that we will need compassion and have work to do.
“I love you all too,” she began, speaking to friends and supporters at Manhattan’s New Yorker Hotel.
From there, she addressed the process: She had already congratulated Trump, she said, and offered to work with him “on behalf of our country.”
“I hope that he will be a successful president for all Americans,” she said, without a trace of bitterness, of the man who had threatened to imprison her, who made fun of her collapse from the flu, who attacked her in alarmingly personal ways.
[What it felt like to be in Washington on Election Day]
She continued by expressing her gratitude to her supporters, lavishing praise on her audience. She reminded us of the great goal: Her campaign “was about the country we love and about building an America that’s hopeful, inclusive and bighearted.”
Bighearted. That is the key, right there, to moving forward. Clinton urged us to move together, rather than apart. To heal the divisiveness of the election by opening our big hearts to those around us and across the country and in those communities we may never step into. Being human can hurt, as we have discovered through countless tragedies both close at hand and far away, when seeing others in pain can make our hearts fall to the floor. But it is through those hearts, that empathy, that what divides us can vanish: “If we stand together and work together with respect for our differences, strength in our convictions and love for this nation, our best days are still ahead of us.”
She had an inspiring message for women, to keep fighting to break “that highest and hardest glass ceiling.” She took care of a chief concern of mothers like me and many I know: What will we tell our daughters?
“To all the little girls who are watching this,” Clinton said, “never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams.”
Clinton mentioned the word “grace” only once, in reference to President Obama and the first lady: “We thank you for your graceful, determined leadership.”
But throughout the speech, I kept thinking: This is the grace I longed for. The warmth, the understanding, the quality of feeling personally touched and uplifted by a candidate’s words.
[A call to action for journalists covering President Trump]
Artists will tell you that extremes of emotions are the forge from which great art emerges. “This is painful, and it will be for a long time,” Clinton acknowledged in her speech. Surely the sharp, hot bite of her defeat helped give rise to her eloquence. This concession speech was a work of art, as so many graceful actions are. The wonder of them affects us and remains with us, and we hold them in those secret spaces of our mind where we cherish things of beauty and spirit.
“What does it take to be the first female anything?” Meryl Streep asked at the Democratic convention, where Clinton became the first woman nominated by a major party for the presidency of the United States.
“It takes grit,” the actor proclaimed, “and it takes grace.”
She wasn’t wrong. Clinton proved that, even as she became the first female candidate to lose a presidential election. She knew, wisely, that grace is what sticks with us, what consoles us and lifts us even when we feel anchored in despair.
“Scripture tells us, ‘Let us not grow weary in doing good, for in due season, we shall reap if we do not lose heart.’” Clinton said. “So my friends, let us have faith in each other. Let us not grow weary, let us not lose heart.”
“There are more seasons to come, and there is more work to do,” Clinton told us as she bid farewell to her dream, but not to her dignity, and not to ours. Inspired by her display of grace, by the ease, self-mastery, and high ambitions for all of us that she expressed so gently and with such feeling, her call to action stands an even greater chance of finding an answer.