All The Books I Can Read

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Thoughts On: What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton

on July 24, 2018

What Happened 
Hillary Rodham Clinton
Simon & Schuster
2017, 512p
Personal purchased copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

“In the past, for reasons I try to explain, I’ve often felt I had to be careful in public, like I was up on a wire without a net. Now I’m letting my guard down.” —Hillary Rodham Clinton, from the introduction of What Happened.

For the first time, Hillary Rodham Clinton reveals what she was thinking and feeling during one of the most controversial and unpredictable presidential elections in history. Now free from the constraints of running, Clinton takes you inside the intense personal experience of becoming the first woman nominated for president by a major party in an election marked by rage, sexism, exhilarating highs and infuriating lows, stranger-than-fiction twists, Russian interference, and an opponent who broke all the rules. This is her most personal memoir yet.

In these pages, she describes what it was like to run against Donald Trump, the mistakes she made, how she has coped with a shocking and devastating loss, and how she found the strength to pick herself back up afterward. With humor and candor, she tells readers what it took to get back on her feet—the rituals, relationships, and reading that got her through, and what the experience has taught her about life. She speaks about the challenges of being a strong woman in the public eye, the criticism over her voice, age, and appearance, and the double standard confronting women in politics.

She lays out how the 2016 election was marked by an unprecedented assault on our democracy by a foreign adversary. By analyzing the evidence and connecting the dots, Clinton shows just how dangerous the forces are that shaped the outcome, and why Americans need to understand them to protect American values and democracy in the future.

The election of 2016 was unprecedented and historic. What Happened is the story of that campaign and its aftermath—both a deeply intimate account and a cautionary tale for the nation.

So I’m not American. Obviously. And I don’t claim to know much (if anything) about American politics either. It’s a pretty different system to the one we have (in no way can you elect a random with zero political experience to the highest office in the country here). But let’s face it, everyone has an opinion on the 2016 election whether you’re American or not, an expert or not.

I like Hillary Clinton. I think she’s intelligent, articulate and probably one of the best qualified presidential candidates in a long time. She’s lived and breathed politics for decades and as a former First Lady, is well aware of the commitment and reality of being in that top job. But for some reason or other, it seems that huge groups of people loathe her – and I don’t buy that it’s just over the emails thing. Whether it’s because she’s a woman who assumed her suitability for that job, whether it’s because she stayed with Bill, whether it’s because of some other reason, I don’t know. But you have to look at the fact that there were people who didn’t even like Donald Trump all that much but made the decision to vote for him anyway, rather than Hillary Clinton. She seems to inspire either passionate defence or irrational hatred with very few in the middle ground. Even now, almost two years after the election, Trump still tweets about her incessantly – hashtag Crooked Hillary. The 2016 election was one of the most irrational things I’ve ever seen. I don’t think there were many people out there who truly thought Donald Trump was going to win. I know I didn’t. My American friends didn’t. It seemed like this election was Clinton’s in the bag. She was going up against a dubious billionaire with admitted bad behaviour towards women, with views that seemed decidedly racist and who could barely string a coherent sentence together. Trump was all over the place, rarely did he articulate policy except for “build a wall!” and “make America great again” and “immigrants destroy America” and “but her emails” and “Obama was born in Kenya”. He seemed to spout the most random shit and people just ate it up. A wall would be amazing! Never mind how on earth was that going to be done and who was going to pay for it? Immigrants are taking our jobs! Maybe Obama was born in Kenya! No matter what Trump did or said, he tapped into what so many people seemed to think and want – and that was a scary, scary thing. Trump ran on fear mongering – telling people that they should be afraid of things and that he’d be the one to take that fear away. And people seemed to buy it.

So obviously this book is for those that want the inside thinking on what went wrong in that campaign. It’s for fans of Hillary Clinton who want to know how she coped with that crushing loss and what she think contributed to the way things went. It’s quite brutally honest – Clinton doesn’t shy away from self-reflection or examining of her personality. She’s honest about the way she may come across to people and the choices she made that she feels contributed – and of course about the external forces that definitely damaged her run, the investigations into those emails. I found her analysis of that issue really interesting and frank and honestly, it seems gobsmacking that it became what it did. Her talk about what dominated the news cycle was interesting as well – all about her emails, very little about anything else. No one focused on her policy except to often accuse her of not having one and she doesn’t mind laying out in the book exactly what her ideas were and how she’d already been talking about them. It forced her to focus again on how she struggled to get her message across because everyone was too concerned with everything else, including her looks, dress, etc.

I said to my husband on finishing this, it must have been an absolutely crushing loss. A soul destroying defeat. Clinton sort of makes light of it in the book, because she had to do certain things – concede, appear publicly, etc. She alludes to some dark moments, a lot of thinking and wondering and reliving and rehashing things over and over. But she manages to impart some hope too, that just because she wasn’t successful, that doesn’t mean that the next woman won’t be. That maybe she’s smashed through just enough for the next person to break it. That soon it won’t be such an unusual thing to have a woman as a candidate.

This could have come across as ‘sour grapes’ and I’m sure some people will probably label it that anyway, her putting out a book on her loss so soon after the election. But on reading it, it really doesn’t feel that way. It feels like Clinton genuinely wanted to look back on how she went wrong just as much as how other forces played a role. I mean we all know a huge amount more about those ‘other forces’ now (even though I’m sure there’ll still be deniers) and I think Clinton really wants to make sure that it doesn’t happen again. That it cannot happen again. It doesn’t feel bitter, or nasty. It feels bewildered at times, but mostly Clinton comes across as she always does – a well put together, articulate woman who knows exactly what she’s talking about. Now perhaps that persona doesn’t do her many favours, and she even mentions that she doesn’t seem to connect well with some audiences because of her poise and the fact that she weighs up her words before she speaks them (honestly, compared with what Trump does, which seems to be vomit out whatever half sentence forms in his brain, it seems preferable). She also talks about how women ‘can’t win’ in some ways – if you cry and get upset, you’re emotional and unstable and probably on your period and do you want a woman on her period having access to the red button? Do you? Do you?????? And if you don’t show emotion, you’re cold. Likewise with speaking – women who raise their voice screech or are shrill and demanding attention. Men who raise their voices are powerful, demanding authority. There’s an entirely different portrayal of men and women doing the same things. Men who are tough are respected. Women who are tough are bitches.

Originally I thought I would struggle with what to say here, because it’s a really intense book, quite a lot of policy about things I don’t know much about and I always find it harder to write my thoughts on non-fiction. But it turns out that wasn’t really an issue! I found myself talking about this book a lot. I also own Clinton’s book Hard Choices on her time as Secretary of State and I’m definitely going to have to bump that one right up the TBR pile. And I’m eyeing another of her books, Living History about her time as First Lady and her interest in the policies of Bill Clinton’s Presidency. I know she has speech writers and editors and the like but I really enjoy the way she writes. Despite a lot of the dense topics, it feels very relatable and I never once felt like putting this down and taking a break. If anything, it was the total opposite.

9/10

Book #120 of 2018


One response to “Thoughts On: What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton

  1. I’ve always liked Hilary. I’m going to read this. Thanks for your thoughts on it, I enjoyed them!

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