When even master pollster Nate Silver declined to correctly conclude a devastating election loss, there is only one word that can explain “what happened”: dissent. At least this comes to be the outcome of Hillary Clinton, the U.S.’s first-ever woman presidential nominee, on the troubling events that, despite her winning the famous vote by nearly three million, cost her and the Democratic Party the White House.
In What Happened, her first book since her defeat in the November 2016 presidential election, the former First Lady, Senator and Secretary of State pulls no punches in giving a fascinating account of the many factors that she criticism for a loss that left her “shell-shocked.”
Ms. Clinton, who has relied on yoga, long walks in the woods and a healthy dose of cable television therapy to recover from the wonderful turn of events a small more than a year ago shows a unique level of objectivity in being capable to analyze and editorial her own campaign planning.
In doing so, she paints a canvas of American politics that raises disquieting quarries about the direction in which the nation is headed, rife with sexism and misogyny, pervasively permeated by Russian covert operatives, and ruled by an uneasy, hateful conservative class that would stoop to any low to maintain its grip on power. Two broad sets of causative factors can be anticipated in the list of reasons that Ms. Clinton says led to the victory of her candidate, controversy-ridden real estate billionaire Donald Trump. First, in terms of the big image, she contends that a toxic convergence of economic anxiety, unsubtle bigotry and endemic voter suppression dealt a death-blow to her proposal.
The quarry of perceived economic disenfranchisement of blue-collar workers has now become a red-flag problem. Did Ms. Clinton accord it that level of importance during her campaign? Yes and no, it seems.
Somewhere along the way, she admits, she made an extreme gaffe about shutting down coal miners’ jobs in the search for a greener energy policy — alternatively nicknamed the Democrats’ “war on coal” by Republicans. Yet, she rapidly backtracked from that remark and spent many precious campaign hours in the coal-mining states of West Virginia.
That was possibly too small, too late. In the final analysis, she admits that middle-class Americans distressed about what they perceived as the deepening economic malaise burdening them may have cared more about having an empathetic, angry, not-politically-correct listener for president than an analytically-sound woman leader who could present a coherent ten-point policy plan to increase infrastructure spending and make blue-collar jobs.
Populism has its advantages, clearly, but arrives with a dark side too, signified after eight years of government under the U.S.’s first ever African-American president, as racism, xenophobia, misogyny and a penchant for assault.
The email saga
A second set of components that Ms. Clinton contends contributed to the undoing of her Obama-style, data-driven campaign planning, was the stunning, unprecedented letter from Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey, scarcely 36 hours before Election Day, that more emails of Ms. Clinton’s had been discovered in an investigation (the Anthony Weiner episode) irrelevant to the main query into her use of an unofficial email server, which itself she describes as an ultimately unsubstantiated campaign to malign her.
Some facts are worth recounting here: first, the investigation into the email “scandal” was closed by the FBI in the summer of 2016 after finding no victim of wrongdoing or adjustment of classified material.
Second, there was, as Ms. Clinton laments, a sustained historical of “false equivalence” in the U.S. media, which depicted her use of a non-official email server as a sin that was as grave as Mr. Trump boasting on video about executing sexual assault, and his decidedly anti-woman, anti-Muslim, anti-Latino, anti-disabilities view of the word.
While history will be the judge of why the email arguments became as essential as it did in 2016, the role of Russian conflicting in subverting the campaign and election has cast a shadow on U.S. politics that will not go away anytime soon.
Part of the issue, Ms. Clinton says, was that America was ripe for such infiltration: “Many Americans had lost faith in the institutions that previous generations relied on for objective information, including government, academia, and the press, leaving them sensitive to a sophisticated misreport campaign.”
The hacking of the server of the Democratic National Committee followed by discharge of thousands of its emails by Wikileaks, and waves of fake news unleashed on social media targeting American voters, only underscored Moscow’s interest in pleasant in under-the-radar propaganda and covert subversion, she notes.
What Happened is compelling for its honesty, even if on balance it reads as one long approval for Ms. Clinton’s election defeat? The book is, however, mottled with admissions about errors made, and criticism accepted for these mistakes, and to that extent it blooms as a valid review of a disturbing, muddy period in American history. It will be read over and over again in years to appear as that country tries to unravel the machinations of its 45th president.