What Claire Underwood taught us about possibility

While we reckon, again, with the misogyny that seems to be baked into this country, I’ve come back a few times over the past month to a woman who doesn’t exist.

Claire Underwood.

Played brilliantly by Robin Wright, Claire Underwood was a main character in Netflix’s “House of Cards,” which ran from 2013 to 2018. In its sixth and final season, the show featured Claire Underwood as the President of the United States and, as you might expect, it had a number of striking moments.

The one that keeps coming back to me in 2020, two years after the show ended, as President-Elect Joe Biden announces the cabinet selections for his administration that will begin its work next year? It’s the one in which the doors to a meeting room opens, and members of Underwood’s cabinet rise from their seats around a long table and look toward the camera.

It’s a cabinet of all women. Different ethnicities and ages, but all women. I remember thinking, “Wow!” and then, “Psssshhhht! That will never happen,” and then, “ … but men have been doing it that way since this country started so… why not?”

We’ve learned a few lessons over the past four years, but perhaps the most important one? It’s that gender doesn’t determine whether an individual can do a job. Remember when the common thought was that a woman would be “too emotional” to be president? A woman, that thinking goes, of course would be “crazier” and more vengeful than a 70-something-year-old white man, right?

Already, members of the cabinet serving in the Biden administration look different than those who served, or are serving, during the Trump presidency. It’s diverse and history-making in a number of ways, including the fact that both of Biden’s nominees for Treasury Secretary and the National Intelligence Director are women for the first time in our country’s history. His communications team, which includes the very visible White House press secretary, is made up entirely of women. Former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, if confirmed, would be only the second woman to lead the U.S. Department of Energy.

Of course, the Biden cabinet is not perfect, but I don’t think you would have anyone from that team trying to articulate its perfection. That’s because nothing is perfect even if that’s what President Trump has frequently said about himself or his team.

While some members of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party have criticized the Biden administration for not having enough diversity, I do think it’s a very long way from what we have seen from the administration since 2016.

In recent years, we’ve had plenty of reasons to want to watch as the system burns to the ground, but -- while that might feel incredibly satisfying -- it’s not going to help get us, as a country, where we need to go. It’s very hard, but instead, we need to build bridges across divisions, shine lights on shortfalls and problems and just make an effort to lift up others.

And the bridge builders can’t be just those who need to cross it; those with privilege and power have to work on it. Those like our soon-to-be President.

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