How would she vote indeed! For close students of Dr. Ellsworth’s personality, the answer is clear: It depends on who asks the question. I could easily imagine her at the college campus, warmly congratulating students organizing for Bernie Sanders, then afterward talking politics with colleagues about how Hillary Clinton was the only rational choice. Later, she would probably circulate among Donald Trump supporters at one of her churches and agree with them as well.
Once I joked with Babette, asking why, given her social ambition, she never entered politics. “Ellsworth! For the People!” I proclaimed.
My professor shook her head and laughed. “You know, I cannot say the idea was never tempting, but someone like me needs to know when to keep a low profile!”
Babette had a point there. But deep down, who would she actually check the box for in 2016? As an admitted fascist who went to her grave admiring Adolf Hitler, many people might pick Trump. I suspect there would have been some fascination. Babette loved political strongmen. An individual with a cult of personality that could really whip crowds into nationalistic ferver. Still, she possessed a very traditional upper class sense of culture. Hitler and my professor shared deep passion for classical music and opera. It’s hard to imagine Trump appreciating an Anton Bruckner symphony or being brought to tears by Georges Bizet’s Carmen.
Then there’s Trump’s complete lack of substance. Babette loved remembering how Hitler spent his youth dreaming about ways to unite and transform a greater Germany, devoting his whole life to largely misguided but elaborate social and national plans. Grandiose conceptions finally brought to life, backed with brilliant propaganda. Trump’s drifting notions about economics, immigration and world politics seem like a shirking hangover by comparison. Milquetoast fascism lite.
Hilary Clinton, on the other hand, is another story. Babette enjoyed nothing more than the narrative of a strong woman achieving power through any means necessary. I can imagine her gloating over every procedural turn and trick Clinton used against Bernie Sanders to keep him from usurping her position in the race. Then there is her willingness to condone political violence, by supporting the 2009 military coup in Honduras as Secretary of State. My professor constantly bemoaned the fate of southern American dictators such as Pinochet. Clinton’s signaling a renewed tolerance for right wing governments would be quite pleasing to her.
Beyond founding the first student/faculty queer group at Portland Community College, Babette never particularly advocated for LGTBQ rights, but she would appreciate Clinton harnessing them as soon as they became mainstream. I can just see her marveling at the calculations. Adopting hot button liberal issues like gay rights and gun control, but at the same time supporting widely reviled Bush-era excesses like the Patriot Act and keeping NSA power intact. Of course, Babette also admired her husband for the same tactic. President Bill Clinton was famous for adopting regressive economic policies but skillfully deflecting criticism from much of the Democrat base who would have opposed any Republican doing the same thing.
As much as Babette might have seen something admirable in Trump’s bombastic approach, Hillary Clinton would ultimately be more her style. The kind of leader able to shift approaches depending on the political landscape, yet never loose sight of their status quo allegiances. As endorsements go, it’s probably not the most flattering one.
Dr. Ellsworth: For the People! 2016