It is a remarkable moment that a young Hillary Clinton could barely have dreamed of growing up in a staid Chicago suburb during the 1950s: The first woman clinching a major party's nomination to become president.
And for her ardent supporters, the bells and whistles meant to signify such an epic achievement started last night -- with much more in the weeks ahead, capped with confetti when she accepts the Democratic Party nod here at Philadelphia's Wells Fargo Center in late July.
And yet there with a bitter irony in the way that Clinton became the party's presumptive heir apparent — in the dead of a Monday night, in an Associated Press story based on anonymous Democratic bigwigs, or "superdelegates."
Clinton's stealth win -- before voters even hit the polls in New Jersey and California -- only served to irk her legion of online critics who called the whole thing an establishment plot to subvert democracy.
"This is the perfect symbolic ending to the Democratic Party primary: The nomination is consecrated by a media organization, on a day when nobody voted, based on secret discussions with anonymous establishment insiders and donors whose identities the media organization — incredibly — conceals," wrote the liberal Pulitzer Prize-winning gadfly Glenn Greenwald.
It wasn't supposed to be like this for Hillary Clinton. It wasn't supposed to be this hard to pin down the nomination, and it wasn't supposed to create so much discord. Her unprecedented, history-making feat of lining up enough delegates to gain the nomination must be balanced against her rising unpopularity ratings — the highest for a Democratic standard bearer in polling since the early 1990s.
Tonight, the former secretary of state trounced her rival, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, in the key New Jersey showdown and hailed her victories before a cheering throng at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. She showed a video urging her supporters to "think of the suffragists who gathered at Seneca Falls in 1848 and those who kept fighting until women could cast their votes" -- linking her feat to feminist icons such as Shirley Chisholm, the first woman to run for the White House, and Gloria Steinem.
"Tonight's victiory is not about one person," she hold the crowd. "It beliongs to generations of women and men who struggled to make this all possible." Giddy supporters strolled around the airy venue holding aloft signs that read, "History."
Clinton has appeared eager in recent days to take the fight to the GOP's presumptive nominee, Donald Trump. Yet, even as the Manhattan billionaire and ex-reality show star has insulted or clashed with Mexican-Americans, Muslim-Americans, and a disabled reporter and seen his crass comments about women exposed, polls still suggest the November race will be frighteningly close.
In recent weeks, Clinton's fervent allies have portrayed her dipping approval numbers on his rivals and her enemies — a hostile news media, GOP attacks that date back to "vast right-wing conspiracy" days of the 1990s, and, most recently, the virulence and occasional misogyny of online so-called "Bernie Bros," angry young Sanders backers.
But the increasing bitterness and anger from "sore winner" Clinton supporters on Twitter and other social media sites often dodges the main reason why their candidate struggled to put away a 74-year-old "democratic socialist" from a tiny state: Hillary Clinton herself.
Flash back to 2012 and a time when Clinton, after her narrow and hard-fought loss to President Obama in 2008, was more popular than any time in her long public career. People chortled over a meme, "Texts from Hillary." Conservatives grudgingly said nice things about her tenure at State. Some liberals regretted voting for Obama instead of her.
But nobody but Clinton herself cooked up the legally dubious and, without a doubt, politically disastrous scheme to install a private server to host her emails — an enforced error that has dominated media coverage.
Nobody but Clinton herself thought it was a good idea to spend that brief two-year window between her time at State and her candidacy to give scores of paid speeches to major corporate clients — taking in more than $21 million even through she was already a multi-millionaire thanks to her husband the ex-president Bill Clinton and his paid speeches and consulting.
Nobody but Clinton herself chose to accept those quick down-and-dirty paydays from the likes of Bank of America, UBS, Verizon and — in three short speeches that netted a whopping $675,000 (because "that's what they offered") -- from Wall Street's notorious "vampire squid," Goldman Sachs. And no one knows what those huge companies will be seeking from whoever becomes the 45th president.
Nobody but Clinton herself designed a Democratic campaign that failed to send a clear message about just what exactly the candidate would do on Day One in office, that shifted its muddled slogans from "fighting for us" to "real results" to "stronger together."
Those flaws helped Sanders exploit something that many self-proclaimed political pundits did not see coming — a deep rift in the coalition that twice elected Obama, a divide between voters who see themselves as "progressives" first and those who see themselves as Democrats first.
It was those older, committed Democrats — an odd coalition of Northern suburbanites and African-Americans in the Deep South who felt deep loyalty to the Clinton family -- who rewarded Hillary with landslide victories and an insurmountable delegate lead.
But Sanders, who has already gained more than 10 million votes and was hoping for a fireworks finish with an upset in California's results, which are due later tonight, arguably won the future of liberalism by racking up huge margins among voters under 30.
"The lack of exuberance may come from the fact that this has all been going on for so long," Katy Kay, an analyst for BBC News, wrote this morning, adding: "A woman president would be new, Hillary Clinton is not."
Now, even with Clinton's insurmountable delegate margin, Sanders' supporters want to keep going, to fight for programs like a $15 minimum wage and for political reforms such as getting rid of the elite "superdelegates" who put Clinton over the top.
The "political experts" are baffled, but it's because most of Sanders' supporters want a revolution that won't end because their guy didn't win. But that Clinton revolution — despite the history that she made this week — begins and ends with Hillary Clinton, period.
If the Clinton campaign takes on the air of a crusade between now and November — and it may — it will be because of Donald Trump, and the risk that millions see in Trump's candidacy. Clinton's high moment in her campaign came in a foreign policy just last week, when she ripped her GOP rival as "temperamentally unfit to hold an office that requires knowledge, stability and immense responsibility."