In her concession speech, Hillary Clinton urged her supporters to give President-elect Donald Trump a chance to be a leader for all Americans, saying, "We owe him an open mind." President Obama has echoed this sentiment, encouraging a peaceful transition of power again in his farewell address. The motivations for both Clinton and Obama are clear -- encouraging a peaceful transition of power shows faith in our democracy, and contesting Trump's presidency could have devastating political consequences. While outright criticism may be off the table until after the inauguration, Clinton could harness her power and become our most important political ally in the fight against the Trump administration's regressive politics.
Clinton's reputation suffered during her presidential campaign. After achieving a 69 percent approval rating as secretary of State, she was plagued by a dead-end email scandal, accusations that she was a Wall Street pawn, and a failure to promise a $15-an-hour minimum wage. But since the election, some former supporters are feeling burned by Bernie. Sanders has taken a firm stance against Trump's policies and administration, but he's often left marginalized communities behind by downplaying the importance of civil rights issues and implying that Hillary's campaign amounted to "I'm a woman -- vote for me."
On the other hand, Trump's win seems to have reinvigorated Clinton's supporters. The excitement over unfounded New York City mayoral race rumors, the outpouring of letters thanking Clinton for her campaign, and the three standing ovations she received from the audience at a Broadway performance of The Color Purple indicate even the once reluctant #IGuessI'mWithHer voters want Hillary on their side now more than ever. Those who railed against Clinton's status as a Washington insider are now facing the alternative; a president with no political experience.
Her grace in defeat, her heartfelt concession speech, and even her time hiking through the Chappaqua woods made her seem more human to those who once saw her as steely and robotic. Attention has shifted from Hillary's emails to Russian hacking, which the CIA determined was aimed at helping Trump. While she lost the Electoral College, Clinton won the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes. The injustice of the Russian hacking efforts and her Electoral College loss coupled with her vulnerability in defeat have turned her into a new kind of symbol -- a "wandering folk hero," as Vanity Fair called her. Because she has the kind of political and social influence Sanders (who also seemed to fit the folk hero label) could only dream about, and because she made so-called identity politics a major part of her campaign, Clinton has the ability to be a uniquely powerful champion in the ongoing fight against Trump.
Just as we knew Hillary's phase as a Chappaqua woods cryptid would not last forever, it seems inevitable she will return to public service. Her next move, however, is unclear. Frank Bruni explored rumors of Hillary Clinton's mayoral aspirations against New York City's current mayor, Bill de Blasio, in a fanciful New York Times op-ed that imagined Clinton redirecting the Mexican Day Parade past Trump Tower and Trump's hotels swarming with city health inspectors. While Clinton hasn't ended speculation and would likely dominate in a city where 79 percent of the population voted for her in the presidential election, aides have flatly denied such rumors.
Neera Tandeen, a Clinton ally and president of the Center for American Progress, told CNN's Jake Tapper she didn't anticipate Clinton running for an elected office again, saying she would probably focus on her lifelong passion for helping families and children. Will Clinton spend her time rallying her political allies to roadblock Betsy DeVos, Trump's anti-public school nominee for secretary of Education (a woman whose family has given lots of money to anti-LGBT causes)? Clinton's fierce condemnation of fake news -- especially after a false, defamatory story about her running a pedophilia ring led to a shooting -- could also hint at her next major battle. Will she champion the free press and fight propaganda?
If Clinton decides not to run for public office again, the influence she could have through social media, speeches, and writing is also an exciting possibility. A well-timed tweet or a fiery speech condemning any of Trump's actions in office would draw huge social media reaction and major media attention, and prolong the news cycle of the story.
Hillary Clinton may not be the first woman elected president of the United States, but the next few years are her chance to cement her legacy as not only a decades-long dedicated public servant, but as a hero who stood up for all Americans when the founding principles of our democracy were most threatened. Whether we were with her from day one or only with her in the voting booth, we need her to stand up for our rights -- no matter our religion, sexual orientation, ability, immigration status, race, gender, or class. Her experience and influence could make her our most powerful advocate over the next four years, and since she's never stayed down after a fight before, she's probably still up for the job. In theory, Clinton could retire, but what would she do then? Bake cookies and have teas?