Hillary Clinton was poised to become the first female President in the history of the United States. And then, she didn’t. Most of the nation was shocked and even after almost a year, a lot of her supporters are still trying to come to terms with her defeat. In her own words, Clinton shares personal reflection on where things went wrong and how she felt in the aftermath of an astounding campaign defeat.
The book begins in the days following the election, when the wounds of losing are still fresh. Clinton laments that for weeks it was hard to even get out of bed. Reading the news was like “ripping off a scab” and at times all she wanted to do was “scream into a pillow.” The pain continued up until Inauguration Day when she had to sit up on the platform and watch as President Donald Trump was sworn in. She debated not going. But after some reflection and a conversation with former President Jimmy Carter, Clinton decided it was only right to go. It couldn’t have been easy to sit there for a second time and watch someone else get sworn in as President when it was something she so badly wanted. And for that, she deserves some respect no matter what side you take politically.
After the swearing in, Clinton begins to dig into why her campaign failed so miserably. She blames many of the usual suspects: sexism, misogyny, Russia, the media, her e-mails, former FBI director James Comey, Bernie Sanders and even other women.
“Since November, more than two dozen women – of all ages, but mostly in their twenties – had approached me in restaurants, theaters and stores to apologize for not voting or doing more to help my campaign. I responded with forced smiles and tight nods. I wanted to stare right in her eyes and say ‘You didn’t vote? How could you not vote?! You abdicated your responsibility as a citizen at the worst possible time! And now you want me to make you feel better?’ Of course I didn’t say any of that.”
She doesn’t stop to think that perhaps, the women who didn’t vote for her didn’t believe in her ability to govern or that maybe they just didn’t find her to be relatable. Admonishing other women for not voting for you because you are a woman certainly isn’t the right approach to understanding why you lost so many white women voters.
Clinton also believes sexism played a huge role in her loss and even now when promoting What Happened, the former Secretary of State is saying women voted for Trump because their husbands told them to. In an interview with NPR, Clinton states that “I’m talking principally about white women — they will be under tremendous pressure from fathers and husbands and boyfriends and male employers not to vote for ‘the girl.’”
Attitudes and statements like that show that Clinton doesn’t have much faith in her fellow women to vote their conscious instead of falling in line behind a candidate simply because she’s a woman. Frankly, it’s also a bit insulting to voter intelligence and shows just how out of touch she can be with everyday people.
There’s also quite a bit of shade thrown at former primary challenger Bernie Sanders, which is a bit puzzling.
“Bernie and I had a spirited contest of ideas, which was invigorating, but I nonetheless found campaigning against him frustrating. He didn’t seem to mind if his math didn’t add up or if his plans had no prayer of passing Congress and becoming law. For Bernie, policy was about inspiring a mas movement and forcing a conversation about the Democratic Party’s values and principles.”
“Bernie would come out with something bigger, loftier and leftier, regardless of whether it was realistic or not. That left me to play the unenviable role of spoilsport schoolmarm, pointing out there was no way Bernie could keep his promises or deliver real results.”
Later on in the book, she states Bernie’s attacks on her caused lasting damage and made it harder to unify the party once she secured the Presidential nomination. “I appreciate that he campaigned for me in the general election but he isn’t a Democrat. I am proud to be a Democrat and I wish Bernie were, too.”
When not talking about factors that played into her loss, Clinton’s thoughts meander into marriage and motherhood. Quite frankly, her frequent gushing about how much she loves Bill is nauseating and feels insincere. Only Bill and Hillary truly know if they love each other or not, but from an outsider standpoint, after all these years and scandals, their marriage seems more like a power play than an actual loving relationship, no matter how many times she admonishes that “there’s no one I’d rather talk to more than him.” If you have to try so hard to convince people you have a great marriage, things probably aren’t really as wonderful as you make them out to be.
Throughout the book, there’s also a lot of discussion about the now infamous e-mail scandal. Clinton calls it a dumb mistake and an even dumber scandal. Instead of actually admitting that keeping an unsecure, private server in your home could have greatly put the country’s national security at risk, she scolds the media for reporting so heavily on it. It infuriated her that James Comey stated she and the State Department had acted “extremely careless” when using unsecure servers to send and receive classified information. Clinton questions why, when Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice also used e-mail for work, aren’t they being investigated too but fails to realize the difference in the rules for electronic communication at that time. (Powell also never had a private server)
What Happened isn’t a terrible book but it doesn’t offer much new insight into the 2016 election that we all already didn’t know. Instead, it’s more of a cathartic work for the former presidential nominee – something she had to write in order to help her move past such a painful time in her career and life. While she does admit that mistakes were made throughout the campaign (like not visiting Wisconsin because her campaign staff thought it was in the bag from the get go and telling people in coal country that she was going to put a lot of coal miners out of work – something she says was taken out of context), she never fully takes responsibility for the loss. Instead, the media, Comey, Russia, Bernie Sanders and Trump’s “deplorables” shoulder much of the blame in her eyes.
I suppose, in a way, that humanizes her just a little bit because when it comes right down to it, most people try to look for someone else to blame other than themselves.
Clinton supporters will probably devour What Happend because many of them are still looking for answers and healing from last year’s election. The rest? They’ll still find her just as unrelatable, unbearable and unelectable as they did in 2016. This one’s really written for the fans.