‘Peo­ple thought I was evil’: Clin­ton mem­oir strug­gles to make sense of Trump’s vic­tory

In a new book, the beaten pres­i­den­tial can­di­date likens the White House’s ‘war on truth’ to Or­well and finds a host of rea­sons for her de­feat

The Guardian - - INTERNATIONAL | UNITED STATES - Sab­rina Sid­diqui and David Smith Wash­ing­ton Hil­lary Clin­ton with the chair­man of Barnes and No­ble, Leonard Rig­gio, at a book sign­ing for What Hap­pened in New York yes­ter­day Pho­to­graph: Seth Wenig/AP

Hil­lary Clin­ton uses her new mem­oir to draw par­al­lels between Don­ald Trump’s “war on truth” and the Soviet Union and Ge­orge Or­well’s Nine­teen Eighty-Four.

“At­tempt­ing to de­fine re­al­ity is a core fea­ture of au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism,” the de­feated pres­i­den­tial can­di­date writes in What Hap­pened, pub­lished yes­ter­day. “This is what the Sovi­ets did when they erased po­lit­i­cal dis­si­dents from his­tor­i­cal pho­tos. This is what hap­pens in Ge­orge Or­well’s clas­sic novel Nine­teen Eighty-Four, when a tor­turer holds up four fingers and de­liv­ers elec­tric shocks un­til his pris­oner sees five fingers as or­dered.”

The goal is to make you ques­tion logic and rea­son and to sow mis­trust, Clin­ton writes. “For Trump, as with so much he does, it’s about sim­ple dom­i­nance.”

She ar­gues Trump has taken “the war on truth” to a new level. “If he stood up to­mor­row and de­clared that the Earth is flat, his coun­sel­lor Kellyanne Con­way might just go on Fox News and de­fend it as an ‘al­ter­na­tive fact’, and too many peo­ple would be­lieve it.”

The 469-page mem­oir is heart­felt, hon­est and at times funny as it tries to come to grips with Clin­ton’s per­son­ally and po­lit­i­cally cat­a­strophic de­feat last Novem­ber. She iden­ti­fies many rea­sons, in­clud­ing racism, sex­ism, the late in­ter­ven­tion of the FBI and her own mis­takes.

She writes: “I was run­ning a tra­di­tional pres­i­den­tial cam­paign with care­fully thought-out poli­cies and painstak­ingly built coali­tions, while Trump was run­ning a re­al­ity TV show that ex­pertly and re­lent­lessly stoked Amer­i­cans’ anger and re­sent­ment. I was giv­ing speeches lay­ing out how to solve the coun­try’s prob­lems. He was rant­ing on Twit­ter.”

Don­ald Trump

Clin­ton pep­pers the book with in­sults aimed at Trump. Th­ese in­clude: “a clear and present dan­ger to the coun­try and the world”; “he’d re­made him­self from tabloid scoundrel into rightwing crank”; “for Trump, if ev­ery­one’s down in the mud with him, then he’s no dirt­ier than any­one else”; “he had no ide­o­log­i­cal core apart from his tow­er­ing self-re­gard, which blot­ted out all hope of learn­ing or grow­ing”.

Bernie San­ders

Clin­ton also shows lit­tle af­fec­tion for her ri­val for the Demo­cratic nom­i­na­tion, Bernie San­ders, iden­ti­fy­ing him as an­other fac­tor in her de­feat. “His at­tacks caused last­ing dam­age, mak­ing it harder to unify pro­gres­sives in the gen­eral elec­tion and paving the way for Trump’s ‘Crooked Hil­lary’ cam­paign. I don’t know if that both­ered Bernie or not.”

Clin­ton was ham­mered by both San­ders and Trump over her speeches to Wall Street. She ad­mits th­ese were a mis­take, ex­plain­ing: “Just be­cause many for­mer gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials have been paid large fees to give speeches, I shouldn’t have as­sumed it was okay for me to do it. Es­pe­cially af­ter the fi­nan­cial cri­sis of 2008-09, I should have re­alised it would be bad ‘op­tics’ and stayed away from any­thing hav­ing to do with Wall Street. I didn’t. That’s on me.”

The Rus­sia fac­tor

The Clin­ton cam­paign’s frus­tra­tion with a lack of me­dia at­ten­tion to­ward re­ported at­tempts by Moscow to in­ter­fere with the race were well-known. But Clin­ton ded­i­cates a lengthy sec­tion not sim­ply to how she and her aides be­came in­creas­ingly aware of Rus­sian ef­forts, but also to warn­ing that Vladimir Putin has only scratched the sur­face.

Clin­ton at­tests to shar­ing a re­la­tion­ship with Putin that has long been “sour”, say­ing of the Rus­sian pres­i­dent: “Putin doesn’t re­spect women and de­spises any­one who stands up to him, so I’m a dou­ble prob­lem.”

It was for that rea­son, and her de­sire to pur­sue a more hawk­ish pos­ture to­ward Rus­sia, that Putin had de­vel­oped a “per­sonal vendetta” against her, Clin­ton writes.

But, she writes, she would not have ex­pected the as­sault that was sub­se­quently waged against her cam­paign, and the min­imis­ing of Rus­sia’s role in it.

“This wasn’t the nor­mal rough-and­tum­ble of pol­i­tics,” Clin­ton writes. “This was – there’s no other word for it – war.”

The wounds are re­opened with each rev­e­la­tion about pos­si­ble col­lu­sion between the Trump cam­paign and Rus­sia. Clin­ton says she has fol­lowed “every twist and turn”. As one of the young at­tor­neys who worked for the House ju­di­ciary com­mit­tee’s im­peach­ment in­quiry into Richard Nixon, Clin­ton sug­gests the Trump-Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion is “much more se­ri­ous” than Water­gate.

Her emails

Clin­ton is most scathing when she re­flects on cov­er­age of her de­ci­sion to use a pri­vate email server while she was sec­re­tary of state. In a chap­ter ded­i­cated to what she de­scribes as the sin­gle most de­ci­sive fac­tor in her loss, Clin­ton en­vi­sions a his­tory class, 30 years from now, in which stu­dents learn about the elec­tion that “brought to power the least ex­pe­ri­enced, least knowl­edge­able, least com­pe­tent pres­i­dent our coun­try has ever had”.

“Some­thing must have gone hor­ri­bly wrong,” Clin­ton writes, “then you hear that one is­sue dom­i­nated press cov­er­age and public de­bate in that race more than any other.

“‘Cli­mate change?’ you ask. ‘Health­care?’ ‘No,’ your teacher responds. ‘Emails.’” The imag­i­nary con­ver­sa­tion con­tin­ues, with stu­dents ask­ing if a crime was com­mit­ted or dam­age caused to na­tional se­cu­rity. “‘No and no,’ the teacher replies with a shrug … Sound ridicu­lous? I agree.”

Clin­ton ul­ti­mately blames the then FBI di­rec­tor, James Comey, who 11 days be­fore the vote told Congress that the agency had un­cov­ered a new stash of Clin­ton-re­lated emails, as be­ing de­ci­sive in her loss. “My team bat­tled se­ri­ous head­winds to win the pop­u­lar vote, and if not for the dra­matic in­ter­ven­tion of the FBI di­rec­tor in the fi­nal days, I be­lieve that in spite of ev­ery­thing, we would have won the White House.”

‘On be­ing a woman in pol­i­tics’

This is the ti­tle of a pow­er­ful chap­ter in the book. In it Clin­ton ar­gues sex­ism and misog­yny played a role in the 2016 elec­tion. “Ex­hibit A is that a fla­grantly sex­ist can­di­date won,” she writes. “A whole lot of peo­ple lis­tened to the tape of him brag­ging about sex­u­ally as­sault­ing women, shrugged, and said: ‘He still gets my vote.’”

But Trump did not in­vent such at­ti­tudes, she con­tin­ues, de­scrib­ing sex­ism and misog­yny as “en­demic” in Amer­ica and of­fer­ing as ev­i­dence the YouTube com­ments or Twit­ter replies when a woman voices a po­lit­i­cal opin­ion. To say it is not easy to be a woman in pol­i­tics is an un­der­state­ment, she goes on.

“It can be ex­cru­ci­at­ing, hu­mil­i­at­ing. The mo­ment a woman steps for­ward and says, ‘I’m run­ning for of­fice’, it be­gins: the anal­y­sis of her face, her body, her voice, her de­meanour; the di­min­ish­ment of her stature, her ideas, her ac­com­plish­ments, her in­tegrity.”

The for­mer sec­re­tary of state ad­mits that she hes­i­tates to go on, mind­ful that her words might act as de­ter­rent to women con­sid­er­ing a ca­reer in pol­i­tics. “I can’t think of a sin­gle woman in pol­i­tics who doesn’t have sto­ries to tell. Not one.

“For the record, it hurts to be torn apart. It may seem like it doesn’t bother me to be called ter­ri­ble names or have my looks mocked vi­ciously, but it does. I’m used to it – I’ve grown what Eleanor Roo­sevelt said women in pol­i­tics need: a skin as thick as a rhi­noc­eros hide.”

Clin­ton ad­mits she was taken aback by the “flood of ha­tred” that seemed to grow as elec­tion day neared, with crowds at ral­lies call­ing for her im­pris­on­ment and T-shirts depict­ing her sev­ered head like Me­dusa. “Now peo­ple seemed to think I was evil. Not just ‘not my cup of tea’ but evil. It was flab­ber­gast­ing and fright­en­ing. Was this all be­cause I’m a woman? No. But I be­lieve it was mo­ti­va­tion for some of those chanters and some of that bile.”

In an episode that emerged in pre­views of the book, Clin­ton re­calls how Trump hov­ered be­hind her dur­ing the sec­ond pres­i­den­tial de­bate, two days af­ter the re­leased of the Ac­cess Hol­ly­wood tape in which he boasted about grab­bing women’s gen­i­tals. “Now we were on a small stage and no mat­ter where I walked, he fol­lowed me closely, star­ing at me, mak­ing faces. It was in­cred­i­bly un­com­fort­able. He was lit­er­ally breath­ing down my neck. My skin crawled.”

What to wear

Clin­ton’s suits be­came a trade­mark – a white suit to ac­cept the Demo­cratic nom­i­na­tion; red, white and blue suits for the three de­bates with Trump. Her sup­port­ers formed an in­vi­ta­tion-only Face­book group called Pantsuit Na­tion.

“As a woman run­ning for pres­i­dent, I liked the vis­ual cue that I was dif­fer­ent from the men but also fa­mil­iar. A uni­form was also an anti-dis­trac­tion tech­nique: since there wasn’t much to say or re­port on what I wore, maybe peo­ple would fo­cus on what I was say­ing in­stead.”

Re­grets

If there is one re­gret Clin­ton sin­gles out in her book, it is com­ments she made that, while taken out of con­text, re­ver­ber­ated across mid­dle Amer­ica with ir­re­versible con­se­quences. “We’re go­ing to put a lot of coalmin­ers and coal com­pa­nies out of busi­ness,” she said.

She had a plan to rein­vest in op­por­tu­ni­ties for min­ers, whose jobs had been re­placed by a 21st-cen­tury econ­omy. But Clin­ton ac­knowl­edges can­di­dates were trained not to pro­duce such dev­as­tat­ing sound­bites. “If you were al­ready primed to be­lieve the worst about me, here was con­fir­ma­tion,” she writes. “I felt ab­so­lutely sick about the whole thing. I clar­i­fied and apol­o­gised and pointed to my de­tailed plan to in­vest in coal com­mu­ni­ties. But the dam­age was done.”

The in­au­gu­ra­tion

Clin­ton ag­o­nised over whether to be there. “Af­ter the mean-spir­ited cam­paign Trump ran, there was a de­cent chance I’d get booed or be met with ‘Lock her up!’ chants if I went.” But she was per­suaded to go af­ter check­ing with Ge­orge W Bush and Jimmy Carter, both of whom had de­cided to at­tend.

“At some point in the day’s pro­ceed­ings, Michelle and I shared a rue­ful look. It said: ‘Can you be­lieve this?’”

Clin­ton asks poignantly: “What would I have said if it were me up there?” To be the first woman to take the oath would have been “an ex­tra­or­di­nary hon­our”.

Trump’s in­au­gu­ral ad­dress was “dark and dystopian”, she writes. “I heard it as a howl straight from the white na­tion­al­ist gut … ‘That was some weird shit,’ Ge­orge W re­port­edly said with char­ac­ter­is­tic Texan blunt­ness. I couldn’t have agreed more.”

So, what hap­pened?

Along with her blun­ders and Comey, Clin­ton re­fuses to bow down to the no­tion that the elec­tion was not about race. When those who voted for Trump listed their top pri­or­i­ties as na­tional se­cu­rity and im­mi­gra­tion, Clin­ton writes, “that’s a po­lite way of say­ing many of th­ese vot­ers were wor­ried about peo­ple of colour – es­pe­cially blacks, Mex­i­cans and Mus­lims – threat­en­ing their way of life.” De­spite be­ing wary of brand­ing all Trump’s sup­port­ers as racist or xeno­pho­bic, Clin­ton states: “You had to be deaf to miss the coded lan­guage and racially charged re­sent­ment pow­er­ing Trump’s cam­paign.” But she adds: “I go back over my own short­com­ings and the mis­takes we made. I take re­spon­si­bil­ity for all of them. You can blame the data, blame the mes­sage, blame any­thing you want – but I was the can­di­date. It was my cam­paign. Those were my de­ci­sions.”

‘I was giv­ing speeches lay­ing out how to solve the coun­try’s prob­lems. Trump was rant­ing on Twit­ter’

‘I’ve grown what Eleanor Roo­sevelt said women in pol­i­tics need: skin as thick as rhi­noc­eros hide’

‘Putin doesn’t re­spect women and de­spises any­one who stands up to him, so I’m a dou­ble prob­lem’

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