Wednesday, April 10, 2019
What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton
I feel like this review needs a disclaimer. When What Happened came out, I had no interest in reading what I presumed would be a rehash of what happened in the 2016 election to make it go wrong for Hillary Clinton. But, then seemingly every old, white male in America (or, at least, those with access to Twitter) and everyone on Fox simultaneously appeared to tell Hillary Clinton to "sit down and shut up", "take up knitting", or simply said her days in politics were over and she should be ignored. I ordered a copy of What Happened, then, in defiance of the narrative that told the candidate who got the most votes in the 2016 election that she shouldn't be heard. But, again, it wasn't a book I was all that interested in reading so it went on the stacks and sat there for about a year. I picked it up to read when I realized March was Women's History Month. As a long-time public servant and the first female presidential nominee, Hillary Rodham Clinton has certainly made history for women.
What Happened is not just about the election or the election season as a whole. In the book, former Secretary Clinton reflects on her many years of public service, her beliefs and their roots (including how her beliefs as a Methodist influenced her decision to go into public service), her mother's influence, and her own experience as a mother, wife, and female. Here, for example, is a quote in which she reminds readers of the real meaning of the word "feminism", which has recently become badly distorted:
While we're defining things, let's take a moment for feminism: "the advocacy of women's rights on the basis of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes." Not domination. Not oppression. Equality. Or as the English writer and philosopher Mary Wollstonecraft put it 225 years ago, "I do not wish women to have power over men, but over themselves."
And, here's a quote that I thought described how the other candidate managed to dodge scandal while Clinton was buried in a controversy (also described in detail -- how and why Clinton chose to use a home server and why her choice to use a personal phone was not unusual at the time).
Most of the press was too busy chasing ratings and scandals, and Trump was too slippery to be pinned down. He understood the needs and impulses of the political press well enough that if he gave them a new rabbit every day, they'd never catch any of them. So his reckoning never came.
I was surprised how much I learned from the reading of What Happened. There were a lot of subjects from which I'd skimmed the surface but Hillary Clinton, having been a First Lady, a senator, and a Secretary of State, knows the dangers of Putin intimately, for example. She knows his history, his methods, and has interacted with him on many occasions. She understands his motivation. I knew enough to say, "Uh-oh," when I heard that the Republican platform had changed in a way that benefitted Putin, and I knew much of Trump's history with the Russians but my knowledge lacked depth. I also had a vague understanding of the connection between what she calls "Christian morality and white nationalist purity and power" and Putin, and had connected the dots with the help of some people I follow (to what Trump is doing: suppressing LGBTQ and women's rights) but she clarified it nicely.
And, finally, there were plenty of stories that were reported so badly that I always wondered what on earth the reporters and my right-wing friends were going on about -- she explained these well. For example, I had friends who said that Hillary Clinton planned to put coal miners out of business and that she was evil for taking away jobs. I'd seen the clip but was never able to find the context of what was said. She repeats the entire paragraph from which her comment -- making it sound like she was happy to be putting people out of work -- was taken, so that you can see how the context was about her understanding that a move to clean energy would put people in the coal industry out of work, so it was important (in her viewpoint) to make sure those people were taken care of with transitional help and job training in order to make sure they were able to continue to survive. This particular story certainly shows how poorly the press covered Hillary Clinton. I couldn't even locate the full transcript online, at the time when friends were talking about Hillary "gleefully" putting people out of work. I presumed the full story wasn't being told but reading her book was the first chance I had to truly understand what she was attempting to get across to viewers.
I've seen similarly misleading stories happening in my own world in real time. When the Mississippi River was flooding, a few years ago, we went to downtown Vicksburg to see how far the water had gone. Vicksburg used to have the nickname "The San Francisco of the South" because of its steep hills and while there are still homes in various flood zones (at least one entire subdivision, away from the river, was bought out because it flooded so frequently), most of the city and surrounding area sits well above the flood plain. So, what did you, the viewer, see on the national news during this historic flood? The cameras were positioned on a hill, where tons of people were happily walking around, looking down upon a former train station (now a museum) that floods every single time the Mississippi leaves its banks. It was incredibly misleading but dramatic. This is the way Hillary Clinton says her email "scandal" was portrayed. You didn't get the full story, ever. It was nice to read the full story.
Highly recommended - Written with grace and humility, Hillary Clinton's memoir of the election, with reminiscences of her life in public service, is both nicely written and informative. I was surprised how much I learned and how much I enjoyed her voice. I have only two small complaints. It appears that the book was rushed to press. There are a few errors. Most are not major; they just jumped out at me for their inaccuracy. She said, for example, that Narcan "can save lives by helping prevent overdoses". Narcan actually reverses the effect of narcotics on the system (often painfully so, depending on how skillfully it's administered) but it doesn't prevent overdose. I hope this misstatement has been changed in subsequent printings. The other complaint is that I thought she hammered James Comey's influence on the election a little too hard. I agree with her that he made some mistakes and they likely swung the election but two mentions would have been enough. I counted four. Otherwise, I found What Happened so interesting that I may reread it, at some point.
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