‘Hubris­tic’: Peter Con­rad on Hil­lary Clin­ton’s mem­oir

Hil­lary Clin­ton blames every­one but her­self for her de­feat by Trump in this hubris­tic book, writes Peter Con­rad

The Observer - The New Review - - THE NEW REVIEW - To or­der What Hap­pened for £17 to guardian­book­shop.com or call 0330 333 6846

In com­mon with every­one who is likely to read this re­view, I grieved when Hil­lary Clin­ton lost the election last Novem­ber. Now there is an ex­tra rea­son for re­gret: with time on her hands, the woman who was so qual­i­fied to be an able, dili­gent, clear-headed pres­i­dent has hastily writ­ten – or presided over the writ­ing of – an un­re­flec­tive book that in its com­bi­na­tion of num­ber-crunch­ing wonkery and stren­u­ously pi­ous up­lift re­veals more than she might have in­tended about why she lost. Her be­wil­der­ment is easy to un­der­stand, but couldn’t she have waited be­fore mon­etis­ing fail­ure and re­launch­ing her brand with a na­tion­wide book tour?

Bill Clin­ton’s mantra was “I feel your pain”, a phrase he ut­tered not at the site of a flood or a quake but in a Man­hat­tan night­club, where he was heck­led by an Aids ac­tivist. Hil­lary’s equiv­a­lent is not an of­fer of em­pa­thy but a de­mand for sym­pa­thy: she wants us to feel her pain – the numb­ing shock of election night, the an­guish of hav­ing to face a hos­tile crowd at Trump’s in­au­gu­ra­tion and lis­ten to him rant about so­cial carnage in a speech that Ge­orge W Bush de­scribed as “some weird shit”.

Public fig­ures like to claim that they’re self­lessly serv­ing us – the lit­tle peo­ple, their vot­ers and cus­tomers – and Clin­ton presents this ther­a­peu­tic ex­er­cise as if she had our emo­tional health in mind rather than her own. “Maybe it’ll help you too,” she says when de­scrib­ing how she healed her mis­ery with Chardon­nay, al­ter­nate nos­tril breath­ing, and a daily de­vo­tional text emailed by her pas­tor (whose an­thol­ogy of these mis­sives has just been pulped, since some of his feel­good smarmi­ness was pla­gia­rised). Then she glimpses her­self in the mir­ror and adds: “I doubt that many peo­ple read­ing this will ever lose a pres­i­den­tial election.” All com­mis­er­a­tion dries up: it’s as sel­f­re­gard­ing a re­mark as Trump’s “I’m the pres­i­dent and you’re not ”, or his smug­ness when he’s given two scoops of ice-cream while guests get only one.

This is a clas­sic tale of hubris (nowa­days called “en­ti­tle­ment”). Clin­ton pack­aged her­self as Amer­ica per­son­i­fied, wear­ing suc­ces­sive pantsuits – styled by Ralph Lau­ren – in red, white and blue for her three de­bates with Trump, and on election night she in­tended to de­clare vic­tory on a stage shaped like a cutout US map. Her gar­ment bag that evening in­cluded the pur­ple suit she planned to wear “on my first trip to Wash­ing­ton as pres­i­dent elect ”; she had al­ready bought the house next door in subur­ban New York as over­spill ac­com­mo­da­tion for her trav­el­ling troupe of White House aides. Not since Agamem­non swag­gered on to the red car­pet in the tragedy by Aeschy­lus has any­one so vain­glo­ri­ously asked for a come­up­pance.

All this tri­umphal­ism is re­called with no twinge of re­morse. In­stead, oth­ers are blamed – James Comey for rais­ing the alarm about her emails, Bernie San­ders for split­ting the pro­gres­sive vote, the “odi­ous” Ju­lian As­sange for Wik­iLeak­ing, and those best bud­dies Putin and Trump for the Darth Vader­like “dark en­ergy” they con­jured up. Every­one who op­posed her is ac­cused of do­ing so out of misog­yny: is As­sange’s dump­ing of scur­rilous in­for­ma­tion about the Demo­cratic party re­ally ex­plained by the fact that he “was charged with rape in Swe­den”? De­spite these ac­cu­sa­tions, her post­mortem on her cam­paign’s “data an­a­lytic plat­form” and “word-of-mouth favoura­bil­ity met­ric” re­veals why the masses didn’t warm to her. She mis­tak­enly as­sumed that Amer­i­can pol­i­tics is about pol­icy, whereas Trump saw that it is now an ex­ten­sion of show­biz.

In­stead of re­cu­per­at­ing, Clin­ton has opted for a re-en­act­ment of a re­mote past. Her book grows fat on rosy rem­i­nis­cences about her child­hood base­ball games, her first date with Bill, and Chelsea’s breech birth, with vic­tory laps to com­mem­o­rate her achieve­ments as a “lady lawyer” in Arkansas, a “home­town sen­a­tor’ in New York (where she had never ac­tu­ally lived when she ran for of­fice), and a sec­re­tary of state who trav­elled “al­most a mil­lion miles”. She has rea­son to be proud, but does any of that help ex­plain what hap­pened on 8 Novem­ber? When the reck­on­ing ar­rives, she di­verges into fan­tasies about an al­ter­na­tive fu­ture. She gives de­tails of the leg­is­la­tion she would now be ad­vanc­ing, and even prints (or, as she puts it, “shares”) the ora­tion she “never got a chance to de­liver that night”, which ends by declar­ing that “Amer­ica is the great­est coun­try in the world” and promis­ing that “we will make Amer­ica even greater” – lines that might have drib­bled from the mouth of Trump.

It’s all very well to re­peat “I love Amer­ica”, as she rit­u­al­is­ti­cally does: mustn’t she also dis­like at least half of it for re­ject­ing her? Here her im­mense self-pos­ses­sion comes to her aid. She re­mem­bers Dy­lann Roof, the white su­prem­a­cist who mur­dered the wor­ship­pers in a church in Charleston, be­ing told by rel­a­tives of his vic­tims “I for­give you”. Then she asks her­self what she feels about Trump vot­ers, the so-called “de­plorables”. She an­swers: “It’s com­pli­cated”, but the pre­ced­ing anec­dote speaks for her. She for­gives them: like the rab­ble of cru­ci­fiers, they knew not what they did.

A brief, em­bar­rassed ref­er­ence to ear­lier times is in­ad­ver­tently telling: Bill and Hil­lary were guests at Trump’s wed­ding to Me­la­nia (and, as the ti­tan­i­cally petty bride­groom still re­mem­bers, they didn’t bring a present). “We weren’t friends,” says Hil­lary de­fen­sively. Then why go? It turns out Bill was “speak­ing in the area that weekend”, so they went for a laugh; Hil­lary cal­cu­lates that Trump wanted them for their “star power”. The com­ment re­flects as badly on the Clin­tons as it does on Trump: they re­mind me of the Duke and Duchess of Wind­sor, who sub­sidised their res­i­dence at the Wal­dorf As­to­ria by charg­ing a fee for at­ten­dance at Man­hat­tan cock­tail par­ties.

There is one wrench­ingly per­cep­tive in­sight about Trump, who seems, she says, as if he “didn’t even want to be pres­i­dent at all” – un­like Clin­ton, who wanted it al­most more than life it­self. Yes, he now re­lives the election as ob­ses­sively as she does, and with sim­i­lar mis­giv­ings. He thought it would be the prize handed out in the sea­son fi­nale of The Ap­pren­tice; it didn’t oc­cur to him that four years – if we’re un­lucky – of te­dious of­fice work lay ahead. Mad­dened by the false po­si­tion he finds him­self in, the pris­oner of a re­al­ity that is not at all like re­al­ity TV, he’s there­fore con­cen­trat­ing on find­ing a way to get him­self fired. De­spite Clin­ton’s ap­peal for sym­pa­thy, it’s Trump that her book made me feel mo­men­tar­ily sorry for.

Win McNamee/ Getty

Hil­lary Clin­ton and Don­ald Trump in the sec­ond of last year’s pres­i­den­tial de­bates at Wash­ing­ton Univer­sity in St Louis, Mis­souri.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.