Today, Hillary Clinton delivered perhaps the most difficult speech of her lifetime after losing the race for the White House to President-elect Donald Trump. It also may have been her most inspiring. Clinton urged women and young voters dealt a gut-punch by Trump’s stunning Election Day upset not to stop working toward their shared vision of the future. Both she and President Obama also called for unity between two political parties that barely seem to recognize one another anymore.
“I’ve had successes and I’ve had setbacks, sometimes really painful ones,” she said to the young people who worked on and supported her campaign. “You will have successes and setbacks too. This loss hurts, but please never stop believing that fighting for what’s right is worth it.”
Clinton is a singularly apt agent for that message. As Trump often pointed out during the campaign, she has been in the public eye since the 1980s, first as first lady of Arkansas, then as first lady of the United States, a senator from New York state, secretary of state, and as a two-time presidential candidate. Those thirty-plus years of public life have been riddled with scandals—from her husband Bill Clinton’s extramarital affairs to more recent allegations of corruption at the Clinton Foundation, to say nothing of the private email server scandal that weighed heavily on her bid for the presidency this year.
But at 69 years old, Clinton never stopped trying. In his victory speech in the wee hours of Wednesday morning, even her opponent, President-elect Trump, acknowledged as much. “Hillary has worked very long and very hard over a long period of time, and we owe her a major debt of gratitude for her service to our country,” he said before an elated audience at the Hilton hotel in midtown Manhattan.
Clinton was at times teary-eyed as she delivered her remarks before a small gathering of staffers and friends, but her message was of the need to embrace optimism even in the face of painful loss. She made a special point of extending that message to women, 54 percent of whom cast their ballots to make Clinton the first female president. What was expected to be a historic election for shattering the glass ceiling will now go down as a historic upset. But, Clinton said, the ideas her candidacy—historic in its own right—represented for women should still hold true.
“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 said to little girls across the country.
In his remarks shortly following Clinton’s speech, President Barack Obama, flanked by Vice President Joe Biden, echoed those sentiments. “To the young people who got into politics for the first time and may be disappointed by the results, I just want you to know, you have to stay encouraged,” President Obama said. “Don’t get cynical. Don’t ever think you can’t make a difference.”
Both Clinton and President Obama stressed the importance of a seamless, peaceful, and cooperative transfer of power to President-elect Trump, but they also communicated a need to defend against Trump’s more incendiary policies around religious bans and mass deportations.
“Our constitutional democracy enshrines the peaceful transfer of power, and we don’t just respect that, we cherish it,” Clinton said. “It also enshrines other things: the rule of law, the principles that we are all equal in rights and dignity, freedom of worship, and expression. We respect and cherish these values too, and we must defend them.”
These two liberal leaders did their best to offer up a message of unity to a country that, as last election night proved, is not only deeply divided, but deeply clueless about where the other side stands. What’s more, they offered that message to an electorate that appears more immune than ever to the authority of the political class.
There is always uncertainty the day after an election. But there is more this time, considering the country has elected a leader who has never served in public office or the military before. Whatever this uncertain future may bring, Clinton ended her statement—and her candidacy—with a message she hopes the country will carry with it: “Scripture tells us let us not grow weary in doing good for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart,” she said. “Let us not grow weary. Let us not lose heart. For there are more seasons to come.”