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 twelfth 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 Twelve: Country Roads.

* * *

Oh man, this chapter. It is really tough reading What Happened one chapter at a time, while also spending my time documenting the horrors of the Trump administration. Here I am, in one minute writing about Trump's Justice Department stripping the citizenship of an immigrant as part of its heinous nativist agenda, and in another minute reading Hillary Clinton's writing about the reasons she supposedly "failed to connect with white working class voters."

Something I've mentioned a lot when I've been writing on the subject of voters who "eagerly preferred to listen to men who told them what they wanted to hear than a woman who told them the truth" is the way that Hillary's words about coal miners were twisted completely out of shape — and how she was obliged to apologize for telling the truth.

She opens this chapter by talking about that incident, and, because it is such a critical example of how she was punished for her honesty with voters, I want to recount the entire section here:
"We're going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business." Stripped of their context, my words sounded heartless. Republican operatives made sure the clip was replayed virtually nonstop on Facebook feeds, local radio and television coverage, and campaign ads across Appalachia for months.

I made this unfortunate comment about coal miners at a town hall in Columbus just two days before the Ohio primary. You say millions of words in a campaign and you do your best to be clear and accurate. Sometimes it just comes out wrong. It wasn't the first time that happened during the 2016 election, and it wouldn't be the last. But it is the one I regret most. The point I had wanted to make was the exact opposite of how it came out.

The context is important. The moderator asked how I would win support from working-class whites who normally vote Republican. Good question! I had a lot to say about that. I was looking right at my friend, Congressman Tim Ryan, who represents communities in southeastern Ohio suffering from job losses in coal mines and steel plants. I wanted to speak to their concerns and share my ideas for bringing new opportunities to the region. Unfortunately, a few of my words came out in the worst possible way:
Instead of dividing people the way Donald Trump does, let's reunite around policies that will bring jobs and opportunities to all these underserved poor communities. So, for example, I'm the only candidate who has a policy about how to bring economic opportunity, using clean renewable energy as the key, into Coal Country. Because we're going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business, right, Tim? And we're going to make it clear that we don't want to forget those people. Those people labored in those mines for generations, losing their health, often losing their lives to turn on our lights and power our factories. Now we've got to move away from coal and all the other fossil fuels, but I don't want to move away from the people who did they best they could to produce the energy that we relied on.
If you listened to the full answer and not just that one garbled sentence pulled out of it, my meaning comes through reasonably well. Coal employment had been going down in Appalachia for decades, stemming from changes in mining technology, competition from lower-sulfur Wyoming coal, and cheaper and cleaner natural gas and renewable energy, and a drop on the global demand for coal. I was intensely concerned about he impact on families and communities that had depended on coal jobs for generations. That's why I had proposed a comprehensive $30 billion plan to help revitalize and diversify the region's economy. But most people never heard that. They heard a snippet that gave the impression that I was looking forward to hurting miners and their families.

If you were already primed to believe the worst about me, here was confirmation.
This looms large in my mind as a perfect and terrible example of everything that was wrong with the 2016 campaign. Because it wasn't just Republican operatives who made sure that voters heard Hillary's words stripped of their larger context: It was the political press, and it was also her primary opponent, Bernie Sanders.

It's also scorched into my memory because it's so emblematic of mendacious discrediting campaigns against feminist women. One of the most ubiquitous strategies used against feminist and womanist writers and activists, including me, is to rip words from their context of communicating care for some issue or community in order to imply precisely the opposite — that we don't care about that issue or community.

Hillary Clinton and the Coal Miners is painfully familiar.

And it never ceases to infuriate me that our garbage political press continually plays into this profoundly dishonest and harmful strategy, either deliberately or due to the lack of editors who can recognize the pattern and thus avoid replicating it.

Moving on...

Another passage that really stood out to me in this chapter was Hillary talking about how the election was driven by resentment:
Usually when I meet people who are frustrated and angry, my instinctive response is to talk about how we can fix things. That's why I spent so much time and energy coming up with new policies to create jobs and raise wages. But in 2016, a lot of people didn't really want to hear about plans and policies. They wanted a candidate to be as angry as they were, and they wanted someone to blame. For too many, it was primarily a resentment election. That didn't come naturally to me. I get angry about injustice and inequality, abuse of power, lying, and bullying. But I've always thought it's better for leaders to offer solutions instead of just more anger. That's certainly what I want from my leaders. Unfortunately, when the resentment level is through the roof, your answers may never get a hearing from the people you want to help most.
Yes. I think Hillary was good at validating people's anger, but she didn't express their anger. And that's because of who she is temperamentally, but also because women simply aren't allowed to publicly express anger the same way that (white, cishet) men are.

And, even if we were, Hillary Clinton was never going to be viewed as a sufficient conduit and representative of white supremacist, patriarchal rage.

Which is to her credit.

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