It’s not morning in America, it’s just another day. Some people are working, kids are playing, two guys are opening a new restaurant and, oh yeah, somebody is running to be President of the United States. That would be Hillary Rodham Clinton, and she presents her candidacy cloaked so resolutely in the everyday and the normal that you would forget that someday she might get to ride Air Force One. Will she ask “Like my new ride?” like President Obama did when he got there? I think not. She will just get to work.
The Clinton announcement ad showed us the victory of normalcore. For one thing, it was a video, like millions you find on YouTube. It not only affirmed the creeping inundation of physical reality by the virtual one, but also lacked the focal and transformative quality of an event. One of the things that ties us together as people through our environment are the periodic interruptions in time and space that take the form of demonstrations, parades, fairs, or political events. It is true that such moments have become increasingly scripted and predictable, as they are designed to be seen on television as much as to be experienced, but they still have a quality that burst out from the ordinary, often by bringing those monuments with which we anchor our values and sense of cohesion into the picture. I remember watching President Obama announce his candidacy for his 2008 run on a freezing day in front of the State capitol in Springfield, Illinois, its classical architecture and the barren trees and condensing breath framing his rhetoric, making it seem both real and utopian. A few weeks ago, Ted Cruz announced his candidacy at a fundamentalist Christian university, placing him among what he hopes will be tomorrow’s community in his version of the City on the Hill into which he would like to transform America.
Hillary just wants everything to stay the way it is, with more opportunities for those with less means against more burdens on those who have occupied the high and the big places. In fact, you might call her campaign (this time) resolutely anti-monumental: I did not see a single big building or symbol in the whole video, which was composed mostly of close-ups in small and familiar places. The biggest space was a factory floor, whose machines humming away added the one hint of nostalgia (and, I assume, a gesture to what she hopes will be core labor support) to the mainly suburban scenes.
I understand the Clinton campaign is trying to fight both her campaign’s air of inevitability and the memory of her almost imperial, but doomed, march through the primaries last time, but the distance between the doctor’s offices and residential driveways and the White House seems so extreme that I have a hard time making the connection. She might want us to think that 50,000 square foot palace at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is just another home where people make everyday decisions (and House of Cards is helping to reinforce that notion), but it is not. There is an arena of state, and, however much we would like to be, it is not the same as the realm we like to inhabit.
Ideally, there would be an in-between place: somewhere we might call democracy. It was perhaps contained in the famous “O” that helped launched Obama’s campaign: inclusive and open-ended—even if we never got there in the end. The Clinton campaign’s logo, designed by Michael Bierut, does point to somewhere, but it is not here or there: it is an “H” producing an arrow. Elegant, refined, and yet bold enough to be believable, it gestures towards the opposite of the vernacular world the video exhibits. It makes it clear that the progressive message Clinton is now espousing will mean change from the environments we live in today.
So which will it be, Madame President-wannabe? The edited virtual reality of Facebook, YouTube, and Snapchat, or a new reality we will have to build together? Or is your campaign so far just a skin for a site that is in reality the continuation of an American world split between messy, continuous, and contentious landscapes and the grandeur of decisions whose site and contours we cannot see or oversee? I say, give me a place I can believe in.