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 fourth 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 Four: Getting Started.

* * *

This is the first chapter I didn't read through a waterfall of tears. And it's because it made me too angry to cry.

Not the parts where Hillary Clinton writes about how she wanted to run for president, and how she prepared to do it; nor the parts where she gives abundant and well-deserved credit to her amazing team; nor the parts where she talks about developing her vision for the campaign, learning from past successes and failures, seeking advice from trusted advisors including President Obama, and giving her announcement speech with the precise language she wanted to communicate how much her fellow Americans mean to her.

None of that made me angry. All of that — the gratitude, the self-reflection, the value for preparedness, the love of people — was precisely reflective of who I understand Hillary Clinton to be.

(And thus it was a pleasure to read.)

What made me angry was the number of Can't Fucking Win traps in which Hillary was stuck before she's even begun to campaign.

She had to acknowledge the country's problems that still need fixing, but couldn't appear to be criticizing President Obama for not fixing them, and convey that he'd been stymied by Republican obstructionism, but not appear too reflexively partisan because voters were tired of D.C. gridlock.

She had to not act like "a queen" by throwing big rallies out of the gate, but she also had to prove that voters were enthusiastic about her by throwing big rallies.

She had to be authentic and open, but she also had to be guarded let the press twist her every word into a mendacious bullshit story.

She had to fight back against both rightwing extremists and leftwing revolutionaries, but at the same time not be seen a centrist (even though most of the United States populist is "center" to those particular bookends).

Throughout the entirety of this chapter, she details so many of these traps — without really complaining about any of them. To the contrary, she writes about Teddy Roosevelt's "Square Deal" in a way that suggests trying to pull unexpected solutions from dichotomous expectations is how she navigates through the morass of seemingly inescapable traps that is her political life.

Hillary Clinton is a woman who looks at barriers and regards them as a challenge. Not because barriers don't frustrate her, like any other human; but because there are so many. To see them as anything else would be demoralizing. So she makes a choice. And she moves forward.

Sometimes she beats the trap. Sometimes she falls into it.

And sometimes, we all do.
Still, in terms of fighting the previous war, I think it's fair to say that I didn't realize how quickly the ground was shifting under all our feet. This was the first election where the Supreme Court's disastrous 2010 Citizens United decision allowing unlimited political donations was in full force but the Voting Rights Act of 1965 wasn't because of another terrible decision by the court in 2013.

I was running a traditional presidential campaign with carefully thought-out policies and painstakingly built coalitions, while Trump was running a reality TV show that expertly and relentlessly stoked Americans' anger and resentment. I was giving speeches laying out how to solve the country's problems. He was ranting on Twitter. Democrats were playing by the rules and trying too hard not to offend the political press. Republicans were chucking the rule book out the window and working the refs as hard as they could.

I may have won millions more votes, but he's one sitting in the Oval Office.
To our lasting regret.

Hillary Clinton was up against a lot. She didn't even know how much she was up against until it was all over. But she knew it would be a lot. And she tried anyway.

I will never stop being grateful for that.

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