This past week Hillary Clinton took the stage at the Professional Women’s Business Conference in San Francisco in one of her first major public appearances since losing to Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential race. Clinton’s remarks focused mostly on issues regarding women’s equality, ranging from gender diversity in business settings to accessibility of maternity care. She also criticized recent racist behavior directed at prominent women of color, including a joke about California Congresswoman Maxine Waters’s hair and journalist April Ryan’s being “patronized” in a White House press briefing on Tuesday. Although it never mentioned Donald Trump by name, Clinton’s speech was a clear critique of the new administration, particularly through the lens of women’s issues. The conference appearance garnered coverage from a number of news sources as a rarity of sorts. A nearly constant presence in media coverage only a few months ago, Clinton has largely remained out of the public eye since her loss in November.
Clinton is hardly the only political figure to have taken a break from the spotlight after the results of the 2016 election cycle. President Barack Obama, for example, has remained largely under the radar, opting for beach vacations and casual dinner parties over interviews and political speeches. Clinton’s speech this week, however, suggests a potential return to visible participation in political discourse, coming after weeks of increased Twitter activity from Clinton’s previously silent account. In tweeting selectively about current issues such as the failed Republican health care bill and International Women’s Day, Clinton has demonstrated her willingness to offer pointed commentary despite her presidential run being over. This may suggest a Clinton “comeback” of sorts in the works, as they have been accompanied with rumors of upcoming speaking engagements and writing projects.
The limited nature of Clinton’s public presence in the past few months underscores just how much power she has in shaping her post-2016 role. The moments that have prompted Clinton to tweet or speak reveal her ability to pick and choose the issues and causes she acts on publicly. Although far from a fresh start after decades in view of the American public, 2017 offers Clinton a meaningful chance to determine her involvement outside the context of an impending or ongoing presidential run. In her first speaking engagement after conceding to Donald Trump, Clinton addressed the annual gala for the Children’s Defense Fund, urging those in attendance to fight for the rights and well-being of children. If these speeches at the gala and in San Francisco are any indication, it seems that Clinton may choose to focus much of her energy on issues that have been key themes throughout her career: advocating for women and kids.
Clinton’s supporters will likely be happy to see her return to the public eye. In response to the Trump administration’s first few months in office, women across the United States — many of them Clinton fans — have mobilized to resist harmful policies and degrading rhetoric. Millions of people across the country and around the world participated in January’s Women’s March, coming together on Inauguration Day to protest Trump’s sexist behavior and stand in solidarity for social issues. This moment is a crucial one where leaders have an opportunity — and perhaps a responsibility — to step forward and advocate resistance toward problematic public policies and attitudes. Clinton’s position affords her a powerful chance to determine how and for what issues she speaks up. Advocating for the rights of women and children has always been a key focus for Clinton, and her post-2016 role is a chance to hone in on these issues within the public sphere without the context of a national political campaign. Speeches like last week’s in San Francisco suggest that Clinton might be gearing up to do just that.