The What Happened Book Club

image of Hillary Clinton's book 'What Happened' sitting on my dining room table, with my Hillary action figure standing on top of the book, her arms raised over her head

This is the third installment of the What Happened Book Club, where we are doing a chapter a week.

That pace will hopefully allow people who need time to procure the book a better chance to catch up, and let us deal with the book in manageable pieces: I figured we will have a lot to talk about, and one thread for the entire book would quickly get overwhelming.

So! Let us continue our discussion with Chapter Three: Get Caught Trying.

* * *

This chapter wrecked me.

Hillary writes about her decision to run for president — and how difficult it was. Ultimately, she tells us, the thing that convinced her is that the last two Democratic presidents, her husband Bill and her friend Barack, told her that she was the best person for the job.

That's a pretty compelling argument from two pretty compelling characters.

She defends the Clinton Foundation and Clinton Global Initiative; explores the narrative that she must have had some nefarious reason for running for president; and talks about how she believes that doing corporate speaking gigs was a mistake, because the optics were bad. Given that her speaking fees were such a contentious issue in the campaign, it's hard to believe that critics of the book who insistently claim she doesn't own her mistakes miss this rather significant admission. Ahem.

And of course she provides us with yet another spot-on insight into Donald Trump: "For Trump, if everyone's down in the mud with him, then he's no dirtier than anyone else. He doesn't have to do better if everyone else does worse."

It is, once again, the stark juxtaposition between who Hillary Clinton is as a human being (and what kind of president she would have been) and who Donald Trump is as a human being (and what kind of president he is) that wrecked me.

Every page of the chapter reveals her deliberative process, her self-reflection, her humility, her integrity — all of the qualities that Trump lacks.

I won't ever stop grieving the leadership we could have had. It would suck if she'd lost to Jeb Bush. It is devastating, quite literally, on an unfathomable scale that she lost to Donald Trump.

Nothing broke my heart more deeply than this passage, which underscores such a profound difference between Trump and Clinton:
In the end, I came back to the part that's most important to me. We Methodists are taught to "do all the good you can." I knew that if I ran and won, I could do a world of good and help an awful lot of people.

Does that make me ambitious? I guess it does. But not in the sinister way that people often mean it. I did not want to be President because I want power for power's sake. I wanted power to do what I could to help solve problems and prepare the country for the future. It's audacious for anyone to believe he or she should be President, but I did.

I started calling policy experts, reading thick binders of memos, and making lists of problems that needed more thought. I got excited thinking about all the ways we could make the economy stronger and fairer, improve health care and expand coverage, make college more affordable and job training programs more effective, and tackle big challenges, such as climate change and terrorism. It was honestly a lot of fun.
I thought about Hillary having fun preparing to do the toughest job in the world because she wants to help people. And I remembered the photo of her preparing on the campaign trail, which had meant so much to me. And I cried. Again.

Just over a year ago, regarding the overwhelming response I received regarding my short essay about that photo, I wrote:
It occurred to me that there is not just a dearth of stories about Clinton supporters; there is also a dearth of stories about Clinton herself, the way her supporters see her.

There is a frustrating abundance of stories casting Clinton as any one of the myriad caricatures of her that have been drawn over decades, but precious few that are written with an eye to look at her, the human being behind the exaggerations, mischaracterizations, and outright lies.

It is remarkably rare to find someone writing about Clinton in a way that neither demeans her, nor tasks her with the colossal obligation to be unyieldingly inspiring. Putting someone on a pedestal, after all, can be just as dehumanizing as kicking them into the dirt.

I do not need Clinton to be on a pedestal. I can see her just fine sitting on a folding chair.

A life in high-level public service, the celebrity of politics, has always struck me as the most irreconcilable of dichotomies: You are at once hyper-visible and unknown.

What a strange thing indeed to have everyone know your face, and believe they know you, but not necessarily know you at all — especially if the mass media labor to make sure you are not.

I don't really know Hillary Clinton, either, but I see her.

And clearly there are other people like me who see her and long for validation; who long to keep company with others who see her, too.
In the third chapter of What Happened, Hillary Clinton is asking us to see her. She is reaching through from the other side of a wall in which every brick is another misogynist caricature, vitrified with the dual purposes of concealing her and caging her — locking her forever behind other people's notions about who she is.

I recognize that particular vulnerability, that thing that women (and marginalized men, and genderqueer folks) have to do, petitioning others to see us as we really are. I know the pain and frustration that lie behind it.

This chapter was hard to read. And what I want to say most after reading it is: I see you, Hillary Clinton. I see you.

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