Finally, a woman stepped in and reminded us how things are supposed to work.
By Rachel Sklar
A former lawyer who writes about media, politics, gender and culture, Rachel Sklar is the co-founder of the women’s professional network TheLi.st.
November 22, 2019 at 10:49 a.m. MST
I will say this for President Trump: He certainly makes you appreciate smart, accomplished women.
It is not because he appreciates them; we all know by now that the only thing about a woman he appreciates is whatever he can grab. But his bad behavior really does bring amazing women out into the spotlight from where they were formerly working competently but with little fanfare. Reluctantly, because they are far too busy to bother with vainglorious showboating, more and more of them have been compelled to step forward on behalf of a grateful nation to testify — with authority, expertise and conviction — about the corrupt and ill-advised actions of a self-dealing president.
The latest in a long line of amazing, impressive whollystan-worthy women to make us swoon with their briskly efficient competence is Fiona Hill, an expert in Vladimir Putin’s ways and former National Security Council official. Hill was the star witness in Thursday’s House Intelligence Committee impeachment hearings, not because of any glittery celebrity or grabby cable sound bites but because of the substance of her testimony. She did not have talking points; she just had her deep knowledge and years of experience (and, of course, the bare minimum common sense to know that, yes, two plus two equals four).
Hill had no time for Republican conspiracy-mongering about anyone other than Russia meddling in the 2016 election, and she scolded the GOP accordingly: “In the course of this investigation, I would ask that you please not promote politically driven falsehoods that so clearly advance Russian interests.” (Translation: Stop being useful idiots.) She also had no time for U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland’s ill-informed office politics, GOP histrionics or workplace sexism. (She did, however, have time for an I-told-you-so: “I said to him this is all going to blow up, and here we are.”)
Comparing Trump to these women is like juxtaposing a dense, properly footnoted scholarly paper to his big-print Sharpie, and just to be clear, it is the Sharpie that is mentally exhausting. Yet it is instructive to realize these women are notable precisely for what he diminishes and dismisses: experience, hard work, credibility. Hill’s cool, crisp testimony was the opposite of Trump’s unhinged Twitter ranting; her calm authority gave us comfort that, yes, there are still people who actually know what they are doing in the executive branch (or at least, there were until she resigned). After an unsettling almost three years of knee-jerk, whiplash governance by a White House led by an impetuous, impulsive wannabe autocrat, it was almost … soothing. It was not just the cavalcade of people on Twitter declaring themselves fans (George Conway) and stans (or in progressive podcast host Zerlina Maxwell’s case: “stannnnnnnnnnnnnnn”), it was Hill’s book suddenly zooming into the Amazon top 100. That is a dense 520-page book on Putin, shipping weight 2 pounds, and yes, of course, I bought it. (Amazon founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
Even more, the sense of relief and comfort was obvious everywhere. Listen to author Morra Aarons-Mele: “The grown-ups are back: smart and calm, informed and unbiased.” Or journalist Lizzie O’Leary: “Today’s episode of Impeachment really hitting the sweet spot of my personal Netflix algorithm: procedural drama and British female leads.” Or comedian Heather Gold: “Listening to Fiona Hill testify is the most relaxed I’ve felt since election night 2016.”
The point is, it is not just that Hill is impressive. (And don’t call her overprepared!) She is, but it is also the realization of how rare it is to see a person — let alone a woman — like her in this bumbling, ruinous, norm-shattering administration. Trump is all grifty bravado; he plays the strongman even as he withholds his tax returns, pays $2 million in settlement for shorting a charity, callously separates young children from their families, and oh yeah, uses the power and privilege of the Oval Office to push his reelection advantage (a.k.a. for a “domestic political errand,” as Hill put it, much to the chagrin of Stephen R. Castor, the Republican lawyer who unwittingly led her right into that line). Hill is due process and righteous anger, brains and brilliance and fire and loyalty ready to be deployed for her country, now and forever.
It is not just that we are hungry for norms and qualifications. We are desperate for someone competent and principled to be in charge. We want someone smart to tell us it will be okay and that they care.