BY PARKER KLYN
It’s fitting that “What Happened,” Hillary Clinton’s tell-all book retroactively looking at the 2016 election season, is only available in hardcover, because it will rest on thousands of coffee tables for years. She seems to see it as her magnum opus, her final statement as she fades from public scrutiny for good. She sprinkles the book with quotes meant to reflect her experiences: A League of Their Own’s “If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it,” as well as Nietzsche’s “That which does not kill us makes us stronger,” which finishes with a winking nod to Kelly Clarkson. Unfortunately, just like her campaign, “What Happened” wallows in self-pity and entitlement. The book is the “I’m With Her” slogan stretched out to over 500 pages.
Like Clinton herself, it’s difficult to tell at first glance whether much of “What Happened” is genuine or fabricated, but the book accomplishes one thing extremely well: it entirely and exhaustively stays consistent with the messages and themes Clinton tried to portray in her presidential campaign. The staunch centrism, her forced relatability (“I love Beyoncé! I carry hot sauce! Hamilton!”), and her complete and utter disbelief that losing was ever even a possibility, let alone a reality – it’s all there.
The strategic choices that the Clinton campaign made seem to be openly and honestly discussed in the book, although I’m not sure they paint a picture that Clinton should be happy with. In fact, they portray her as incompetent rather than unfairly challenged. She talks about a desire to win the popular vote, which doesn’t make sense at all, because the popular vote doesn’t decide elections, the electoral college does. If I were one of the people who donated a portion of the $623 million the Clinton campaign raised, I’d be livid.
She discusses her unwillingness to “stoke people’s rage and resentment” à la Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders. “I rarely got partisan,” she says, only adding to the narrative that she had no message or grounded ideals. In fact, it seems she didn’t have any actual policy goals or, at least, she doesn’t discuss them here. Based on this book, it appears all Clinton wanted was to win. Everything else would come later. Unfortunately, later never happened.
For example, halfway through, she lists one of the main four reasons for selecting the uninspiring Tim Kaine as her running mate as “He was fluent in Spanish.” How cynical and patronizing can you be? I can’t speak for Hispanics and Latinos, but I’m fairly certain that simply speaking Spanish doesn’t win votes. Otherwise, noted son of a Mexican citizen Mitt Romney might be in the middle of his second term. Again, it’s clear that with this selection, Clinton retains a burning desire to win but lacks the necessary understanding of America and her people to make any sort of meaningful change.
Clinton’s lack of connection with the American people is exacerbated with all the little anecdotes and notes she intersperses within “What Happened.” Leaving notes to other people who lost presidential elections, like Romney, John Kerry and Al Gore, doesn’t add any sort of purpose to the book. A story about taking up George W. Bush on his invitation to get burgers after her loss falls flat when Clinton presents herself as a bastion for progressive change. Buddying up with a man who plunged the United States into wars that have killed tens of thousands of civilians will never make someone more appealing to progressive voters.
If there’s one thing “What Happened” succeeds at, it’s getting across the message that Clinton was genuinely traumatized with the results. The book makes it clear that it never even crossed her mind that she could have possibly lost, especially against Trump, and she uses that trauma to explain her lack of placement in the public eye in the months following the election. I genuinely felt sympathy for her reading this book, but the reality is that far more was at stake in this election than her state of mind.
I consider myself a progressive. As the 2016 election season moved on, I eventually became disillusioned with her brand of progressiveness, which seemed to align more with combating conservatism and maintaining the status quo than actual, meaningful change. Still, on Election Day, I found myself thrilled to see the impact of our first woman president. But when she lost, I and many other progressives were able to pinpoint what actually happened. That leads me to my main issue with “What Happened:” it blames everyone, especially voters, but Clinton for her loss.
In a capitalistic democratic society, the onus is not on the voter to do their own research and participate in the democratic process. Too many lower class people, especially the poor, have actual responsibilities to worry about: responsibilities that are far more pressing than a vote for a woman who may or may not have their best interests at heart. Trump, despite his unforgivable incompetence and malice, had a message for those voters: make America great again. With “What Happened,” Clinton proves she hasn’t learned from her mistakes. Hopefully, whoever replaces her as the Democratic nominee can do what she didn’t: capture the hearts and minds of voters.