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 tenth 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 Ten: Sweating the Details.

* * *

This is the chapter in which Hillary Clinton talks about being a policy wonk. It is a chapter that speaks to the heart of this earnest girl, who appreciates that Hillary is earnest AF; that she does her homework; that she tells the truth, even when it isn't popular; that she is committed to the long slog of progress.

This chapter means a lot to me, for a lot of reasons.

It is the chapter in which Hillary discusses Matt Lauer and the Commander in Chief Forum, and how that farce was emblematic of the coverage in a campaign where optics were prioritized over policy.

It is also the chapter in which Hillary discusses running against Bernie Sanders in the primary, and how she often felt like she was wearing a straitjacket, because criticizing his expansive plans for being totally unfeasible opened her up to cynical criticisms that she wasn't progressive enough (or at all).

She also describes in this chapter her frustration with Sanders for his utter lack of intersectional analysis:
It was beyond frustrating that Bernie acted as if he had a monopoly on political purity and that he had set himself up as the sole arbiter of what it meant to be progressive, despite giving short shrift to important issues such as immigration, reproductive rights, racial justice, and gun safety. I believed we could and should fight hard for more equal economic opportunities and greater social justice. They go hand in hand, and it's wrong to sacrifice the latter in the name of the former.

But as frustrated as she was with Bernie, she notes that Donald Trump was, of course, far worse. And the press, who had abandoned all pretense of policy discussion, never held Trump to account for his appalling and dangerous lack of policy knowledge.
Donald Trump didn't care about policy at all. He seemed proud of his ignorance and didn't even pretend to come up with plans for how he'd build his wall, fix health care, bring back all the lost jobs in manufacturing and coal mining, and defeat ISIS. It was like he'd just wave a magic wand. He ridiculed me for taking the job seriously. "She's got people that sit in cubicles writing policy all day," he told Time magazine. "It's just a waste of paper."

I kept waiting for reporters and voters to challenge him on his empty, deceitful promises. In previous elections, there was always a moment of reckoning when candidates had to show they were serious and their plans were credible. Not this time. Most of the press was too busy chasing ratings and scandals, and Trump was too slippery to be pinned down. He understood the need and impulses of the political press well enough [to know] that if he gave them a new rabbit every day, they'd never catch any of them. So his reckoning never came.
A strategy which has, I don't need to tell you, continued throughout the first year of his presidency. There is so much chaos, so much corruption, so much incompetence, that nothing ever has time to fully register before it's on to the next.

Which is by design. Note that Hillary is not operating under any misapprehensions about whether Trump just bumbles his way through or is a savvy orchestrator of this deliberate mess. She knows. It's no accident.

Hillary wraps up the chapter lamenting how very different her presidency would have been, specifically because of her interest in policy. "A haunting line from the nineteenth-century poet John Greenleaf Whittier comes to mind," she writes, then quotes Whittier: "For all sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest are these: 'It might have been.'"


Shakesville is run as a safe space. First-time commenters: Please read Shakesville's Commenting Policy and Feminism 101 Section before commenting. We also do lots of in-thread moderation, so we ask that everyone read the entirety of any thread before commenting, to ensure compliance with any in-thread moderation. Thank you.

blog comments powered by Disqus