What Happened, a Review
Now that we have finally entered what will (hopefully) be called the ‘post Trump era,’ I decided to take the time to read the seminal work of what closed out the ‘pre’ Trump era, Hillary Clinton’s election post-mortem, What Happened.
What Happened is the first book by Clinton that I’ve ever read, so that may have influenced my impression of it. Perhaps my hopes were too high, but in general I was greatly disappointed by it. What Happened is not bad by any measure, but considering the author and the subject matter, it didn’t come close to my expectations.
First of all, it should be said, it was quite satisfying to finally read a book by someone I have heard so much about. To finally hear from the Hillary herself, free from all the conjecture. But that’s also its main problem: despite being a “candid account,” this book doesn’t feel candid. It feels slick, and over produced.
Yes, there are numerous moments of candidness, from the way she talks about her relationship with Bill Clinton to her chapter about sexism in American politics, that resonate. Simply hearing from this woman directly feels refreshing. But for a book about “what happened” during the 2016 elections, there are many subtle evasions and notable absences. Too much blame is shifted, too many important moments glossed over. No mention of her campaign’s shady relationship with the DNC the year before the convention. No thorough account of the discontent that roiled the party after Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s resignation. A shallow acknowledgement her neglect of the Blue Wall.
Maybe it’s because what I believe happened to Hillary Clinton in November 2016 was such a horrific injustice, such a deeply personal and humiliating turn of events, that to me this book doesn’t even come close to transmitting the emotion of it in light of it being written by the woman at the centre of it all.
Honestly, I wanted anger. I wanted the full throated, unabridged, primal anger that Hillary Clinton is uniquely entitled to. A searing admonishment of not just Trump, but America itself. Of absolutely everything. Give us your rage Hillary. Give us your vindictiveness, give us your dejectedness, give us the human being hiding behind all those walls you’ve put up to protect yourself from us. Speak to someone other than your die-hards. Speak to us all.
In fact a book about the 2016 elections by Hillary Clinton shouldn’t even be a play by play. There is almost nothing Hillary Clinton can tell us about the reported events of the election that we don’t already know. What she can give us, however, is her unique perspective on it all. The emotion behind the battle hardened veneer. A play by play of what was going through her head during the first debate, and when she saw the opinion polls the next day. What it was like to so optimistically drift along from September to late October with the Oval Office inevitably just days away, and listen to the Access Hollywood tape. What it was like to hear words as inappropriate and humiliating as “because you’d be in jail” broadcast to all of America. And of course, most important of all, the incalculable disappointment of waking up on election night and coming to the cold realization that after everything, you’re going to miss your place in history, and Donald Trump is going to beat you. Page after page of this book is spent idling on the snacks she and Huma ate on the plane and how HISTORIC it was to be the first female Democratic nominee. Not enough of it gets gives us the real Hillary. The well publicized Bernie comments were nice, but there was the potential for so much more. Only fourteen measly pages are devoted to election night. Easily the most important sequence of the book, and it wasn’t given the emotion and attention it deserved.
But I know, deep down, that this is too much to ask for. I’m old enough to understand that she’s Hillary Clinton, and we will never get the real her. Not even now. A lifetime of sexist, callous treatment by the world at large has permanently shaped the way she presents herself to us. The injustice and double standards that this woman has been subjected to her entire life is made painfully obvious through the way this book reads. Hillary is still a woman in politics. She is not allowed to show weakness, she is not allowed to admit full mistakes, and she is not allowed to appear fully human. I get that. Perhaps she simply loves and respects America so much, that she refuses to stoop to the level of base emotion after holding such an important role in American politics. Perhaps she is simply professional to a fault, as a person seriously seeking the U.S. Presidency should be. The eminently capable woman who should have been President.
But that doesn’t excuse the fact that this book reads like a five hundred page long campaign speech. You would almost think she’s still running for President, the way she rattles off her accomplishments and policy prescriptions. This is a love letter to her supporters, not a serious examination of one of the most important events in the 21st century.