Book Review: What Happened
I finished Hilary Rodham Clinton’s What Happened this morning, January 21st, 2018, exactly one year after the Women’s March stormed the nation the day after President Trump’s inauguration. As of this morning, the government is currently shut down & our president’s latest scandal involves spanking by the way of an adult film star equipped with a Forbes magazine featuring the Trumps on its cover - this particular future was absent from HRC’s prediction of what 2018 and beyond might hold.
I had never been a fervent follower of politics and at worst was an apathetic observer of the United States’ political workings up until the 2016 election. Galvanized may be too strong a word, but the election and its results motivated me to follow along with our government at both a federal and state level. It may be that I am getting older and that the consequences of political decisions are more immediate rather than an arm’s length away, shielded by the naivety of young adulthood. I was interested in What Happened to obtain a knee-jerk reaction from a candidate so close to the conclusion of the election, review the strange occurrences of 2016, and to gather insight into where our country may be head in 2018 and 2020.
HRC’s candidacy was obviously quite a unique one. She had built a long career of public service, waited her turn through the Obama presidency, and had de facto control over the Democratic National Committee. Yet, Clinton had the obstacles of the glass ceiling and an inextinguishable stigma attached to the Clinton name. In picking up What Happened, I was curious how HRC handled the fallout of what had been a sure thing - at the moment Trump became the last Republican standing, I would’ve been deciding which size U-Haul truck would fit all my furniture to bring to the White House. I was interested in What Happened as both Clinton’s cathartic release and a reflection on her unique position as both a candidate and a person: To have worked your entire life for a single historical goal, to have done battle and lost, and to be a spectacle for the entire world to view, tweet, and cheer or cry about is an experience not many people have ever faced.
What Happened gave a nice preface to Clinton’s life leading up to her decision to participate as a candidate in the 2016 election. She discusses moments in her time as a student at Wellesley college, lawyer, First Lady of Arkansas, Secretary of State that helped her develop the perspective she has on American life today and inspired her to run for office. HRC spends time on what it means to be a woman in politics and in today’s America in general. She discusses days on the campaign trail in detail, interwoven with her reactions to news items or scandals revolving around candidate Trump. She also explains some of the gaffes she had herself on the campaign trail - she spends many pages on “putting coal miners and coal companies out of business” and the . The email scandal is addressed and dwelled on for quite some time but in the end is minimized. She offers many counterexamples of other politicians that had similar habits, explains that it was common practice to communicate over personal email in the early days of electronic conversation, that many emails were classified retrospectively, and that in the end the email scandal drowned out attempts at pushing the platform her campaign was run on. She mainly points to Comey as a major reason for her loss. Without the reopening of the email investigation just days before the election, she believes that she would now be sitting in the Oval Office. She uses some polls of public opinion to back up her point. She never blames Huma Abedin (whose husband’s infidelity inadvertently reopened the investigation) but indirectly addresses the blame that many cast on her following the election disappointment. She seems to address many of the major sticking points of her campaign that were not attacks on the platform she pushed but rather her as an individual.
She paints a picture of what the United States of America might have been with her at the helm, but also prescribes a platform for what she hopes the country can achieve in the future. In fact, this was one of the parts that stood out to me the most. She raises 4 major economic points - a major jobs program, incentives to raise wages and decrease outsourcing, higher minimum wage paired with worker protections, and higher taxes on the top 1% of wealth. She also proposes some bolder points that can impact all families, such as financial transaction taxes or carbon/pollution taxes that translates to a modest basic income for families. She goes on to discuss taxing fossil fuels and delivering that money back to US citizens. Overall, she insists that Republican ideology is bankrupt and that Democrats must take this time to push ideas that provide for all families. At the conclusion of What Happened, HRC provides some anecdotes to encourage all citizens to keep pushing on, striving to make the country better and to persist through times of struggle.
I appreciate the time and emotional struggle HRC must have endured to write this book, although its likely the writing was more for her than her readers. Regardless the side of the political aisle you fall on, this is an important book to read due to its proximity to the 2016 election, one we as a nation will be discussing for some time. It’s worth a read for the unique perspective it provides and as a concise recap of the 2016 election through the eyes of the losing candidate.