Over the summer I finished reading Hillary Clinton’s What Happened. You’ll notice there is no question mark. It is a simple statement. Hillary knows damned well what happened. This book is her attempt to explain it all to us. From her point of view. Which is valid and instructive and heart-wrenching in many different ways. But over the years I’ve come to believe that given what she was up against, there were very few and narrow paths to electoral college victory. She lost by less than 80,000 votes spread over a few districts in only three states, but those districts had been specifically targeted.
What she was up against was the underestimated anger of middle- to lower-class whites who felt aggrieved at and frightened of the brave new world of liberal values and freedoms extended in ways they had never been before. And a pinpointed media campaign from yes, among other sources, Russia, aimed at encouraging the pallid underbelly of American culture to get on out there and vote in one of their own.
In these precincts, Hillary Clinton appears like a scolding wife who thinks she knows what’s best for you, and Donald Trump is the big guy down the bar who agrees with everything you say in the kind of bluster that makes you think he knows what he’s talking about. He’s the one with the racist jokes and misogynist wit, with a wink and a nod that say he gets you.
Hillary Clinton was up against something that had rarely, except in Deep South politics, appeared on the national stage. The id of the nation had ballooned almost beyond recognition. And she didn’t get it. Few of us did.
What Happened opens with Hillary Clinton making the journey she dreaded, a journey all of us dreaded with her and for her: through the corridors of the U.S. Capitol building to her seat at the West Front where she would be among those witnessing the inauguration of Donald J. Trump as President of the United States. I watched long enough to see the Obamas and the Clintons take their seats, and then I couldn't watch anymore. Hillary always had more of what it takes than I do.
The chapter “On Being a Woman in Politics” contains an episode straight out of that American id I was talking about:
… when I was twenty-nine, working for Jimmy Carter’s presidential campaign in Indiana, I had dinner one night with a group of older men who were in charge of the Democratic Party get-out-the-vote operation in the state. I had been pestering them … about their Election Day plans, and they were annoyed with me. I started explaining once again what I need to know from them and why. Suddenly one of the men reached across the table, grabbed me by my turtleneck, and yanked me toward him. He hissed in my face, ‘Just shut up.’
I grew almost as frustrated as she did as I watched her campaign. Hillary Clinton was not a house afire with passion for the job. Oh, she wanted the job and she was prepared for the job, but she couldn’t mouth a bumper sticker line to save her life. She continually shook her finger in our faces – not to chastise us but to emphasize points. It was a habit she should have broken. She put in miles and miles of campaign stops, she listened to people, she talked to people, she garnered small groups of voters wherever she went, but she couldn’t walk off with entire stadiums that way that Trump was doing. And yet, in the end, she walked off with about 3,000,000 more popular votes than her opponent.
I rarely saw her on the media, unless she was being interviewed, and even then the conversation too often turned to the emails or other spots of controversy. Rarely did I see her get a chance to talk about what her presidency could look like. Every time I saw yet another Trump clip, I yelled at the TV: What did Hillary do today?
I have admired Hillary Clinton ever since the day she said she wanted to do more than stay home baking cookies. I could understand, to some degree, the enthusiasm that many of my cohorts had for Bernie Sanders, but I could not understand why they hated Hillary so much. I lost at least one friend over that. Not because I objected to her support of Sanders, but because she never gave me the same courtesy. I supported Hillary Clinton, ergo I had joined the sheeple and deserved little more than disdain.
What Happened is in many ways a deeply personal book, which I enjoyed because I liked spending personal time with Hillary. She also tries very hard to pinpoint her mistakes, to find that one important moment when it all seemed to go wrong. In the end, she seems to believe that it was the Comey letter that persuaded those 80,000 voters in three states to move to Trump. But I don’t think so.
I can’t forget that it was Paul Manafort who handed over the Trump Campaign’s voter data to a Russian operative – data on four states in particular. Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. Hillary won Minnesota. The other three went for Trump by the narrowest of margins. America’s id trundled down to the polls that day. ‘Twas the Beast killed Beauty after all.