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by Hillary Rodham Clinton
(Click for Amazon book review)
BOOK REVIEW by OnTheIssues.org:
The autobiography entitled “What Happened” by Hillary Clinton serves as a reflection of her experiences during the 2016 election in which she was electorally defeated at the hands of the politically inexperienced candidate, Donald Trump. This book is not an easy read, and in some parts becomes unbearably cringeworthy as Clinton sways in the limbo of describing what happened, and moving on from her failed endeavors. From a political standpoint, unless Clinton decides to run again in 2020, this book is utterly useless. It has no substance, no insight into relevant political gossip and no gripping untold political storyline. “What Happened” merely details Hillary’s carefully filtered inner thoughts about her campaign and post-election reaction. The purpose of Clinton writing this book is to appeal to the American public; something that, as a flaming liberal, I’m honestly tired of hearing. We’ll discuss whatever takeaways exist in the book and if it’s worth your time reading.
Clinton begins her introductory chapter at the presidential inauguration of Donald Trump and tells of how she begrudgingly attended the ceremony because she “felt a responsibility to be there” (p.4). At face value, Clinton’s attendance at the inauguration could be described as admirable and that maybe she had moved on from the presidential loss. Not so fast. The emotional tone in the book shows, that in January when she attended the inauguration, she wasn’t over it, and 8 months later in September when this book was published, she still felt compelled to include her ostentatious behavior and thoughts of the time. We see this through Clinton’s exasperating pity party when she describes how several politicians including the Bushes and John McCain came to console her for the loss. She then unfurls her disdain toward Trump by calling out his strategic use of the media which Clinton claimed he used to manipulate the American public.
Although accurate, these shots at Trump repeat throughout the chapter, and they reek of emotional despair, instead of their intended use of showcasing Trump’s villainy. Her emotional recount of that inauguration paints Clinton as an estranged teenage girl who just went through a breakup. In this case, it’s an experienced and internationally recognized politician who was just rejected by the American public for a second time. She’s hurt in this introductory chapter, and it shows. She begins the chapter by “taking one for the team” by attending the inauguration, and ends with taking parting shots at Trump’s Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, and Utah Congressman Jason Chaffetz, who Clinton jokingly thought was Reince Priebus.
Clinton’s behavior, and description of the events at the inauguration exaggerates her desire to be admired by the American voter. This is seen through her thoughts on the middle class where she says “The American middle class really had gotten screwed. The financial crash of 2008-2009 cost them jobs and ripped away their security…” (p.8). It feels like she’s still on the campaign trail in this book, and the pursuit of voter affection continues into her chapter titled “Frustration” in which Clinton campaigned in a strong Republican district in West Virginia.
Clinton begins by talking about a comment she made during her campaign that was taken out of context. The comment was “We’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business”, but Clinton defends this by saying her full comment was in response to a question about how she would win support from working-class whites who typically vote Republican. The actual comment was, “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” (p. 264). This misconstrued comment arched the backs of Republican voters in West Virginia who indeed are coal miners.
As a response, Clinton wanted to address them directly and against the advice of her campaign, traveled to Mingo County, West Virginia which Clinton labeled as “Ground Zero for the coal crisis.” Deep in a Republican held county, Clinton believed she could mend some of the hearts of these angry coal miners. Clinton asserts in this chapter that she has always been a friend of West Virginians and coal miners in general; again, trying to further broaden her appeal to the American voter. According to Clinton, “When I launched my campaign for President… I specifically mentioned Coal Country and the need to help distressed communities…no other candidate came close to this level of attention to the real challenges facing coal communities” (p. 269-270). When we analyze these couple of quotes more in depth, a deeper political motive emerges.
Throughout some parts of America, the consensus exists that Democrats represent the political ideals of latte sipping, coastal hipsters. This has been somewhat of a knock not just on Hillary Clinton, but on the DNC overall. In this “Frustration” chapter, Hillary challenges this outlook by saying “I’m a candidate for all Americans… I’ve been the candidate looking out for coal country since day 1.” The fact that the people in Mingo county wanted nothing to do with Clinton probably accentuates this theme of “Frustration” on her part. As Clinton claims, “I knew I wouldn’t get a warm welcome in West Virginia. That was the point of my visit, after all. But this level of anger took me aback” (p. 273). The visit to Mingo county to attempt to appeal to white coal mining Republicans reverberates back to her desire to be admired by ALL of America. A consistent knock on her campaign post-election was that she didn’t address these voters.
Hillary’s response to this assertion comes in this book, and specifically in this chapter, where she essentially says, “Hey, see what I did for these people? I’ve been talking about bringing opportunity to these areas for years. You can’t hold that against me.” This is just another example of the sad, desperate and unsettled portrait that Clinton paints of herself in this book.
In reality, Mingo county was not the focal point of Clinton’s campaign. The campaign slogan “I’m With Her” does not scream “I support coal miners!” Hillary may have had coal miner’s interest somewhere in her heart, but at the foreground her platform was a blend of the continuation of Obama administration policies and of the Democratic Socialism advertised in the campaign of Senator Bernie Sanders. Hillary Clinton lost the election, plain and simple. One crucial goal in this book was to illustrate how she has moved on from her dramatic political upset, but the fact that she wrote “What Happened” in the first place only means that her heart’s stuck in 2016.
-- Will Hayes, OnTheIssues analyst, Feb. 2018
Looking for the George W. Bush book of the same name?
|OnTheIssues.org excerpts: (click on issues for details)|
UPDATED BOOK REVIEW by OnTheIssues.org: (post-Mueller Report, April 2019)
In the final chapters of her September 2017 book, Hillary Clinton details Russian interference in the 2016 election, and comes to all of the same conclusions as the April 2019 Mueller Report. Hillary accomplished this task 19 months earlier than the formal investigation, by using Obama administration documents and sources (the FBI had already started what became the Mueller Report while Obama was president), and by interviewing her own personal contacts (some of whom overlapped with Mueller's interviews). The conclusions in common (with variations noted) include:
So why have we waited to take action, since we knew all of the major facts of Russian interference in the 2016 election by mid-2017? Well, other countries didn't wait. Hillary cites in detail how European countries acted immediately to protect their electoral integrity, in the face of the same Russian interference. Applying the lessons of the American 2016 election, France tightened the rules for their May 2017 election and successfully faced down a Russian cyber-attack against the campaign of Emmanuel Macron (now the president of France) where the Russians favored the right-wing nationalist Marine Le Pen. Holland, in their 2017 election, faced so much Russian interference in favor of right-wing nationalists, that they shut down electronic voting entirely, Hillary writes.
What, then, would Hillary recommend in 2019, post-Mueller report? She is unambiguous on that issue, saying in the 2017 book that it's a "false choice" for Congress to choose between a Russia investigation instead of focusing on domestic and economic issues. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has, since the release of the Mueller Report, ordered that House Democrats must focus on domestic and economic issues instead of initiating impeachment. Hillary says that Congress can "walk and chew gum at the same time" and should do both.
Even if the Russia investigation doesn't lead to impeachment, Hillary's book has concrete recommendations that Congress could implement, outside of impeachment. Hillary's four recommendations would limit Russia's influence on future elections:
What about that Ukraine issue? Hillary calls Trump "the perfect Trojan Horse for Putin," and details the Ukraine story since most Americans are unaware of Russia's primary incentive to favor Trump over Hillary. Russia invaded an area in the Ukraine called Crimea, in 2014, and then annexed it (making it part of Russia permanently); they also invaded eastern Ukraine, which is still an ongoing military operation. That's the U.S. equivalent of taking Hawaii (Crimea and Hawaii both have strategically important naval bases); and then invading a piece of northern California too. Hillary describes how Russia pretended that they had not invaded, claiming that it was all indigenous pro-Russian uprisings, via those same propaganda machines – resulting in what Hillary described as "little green men" (Russian soldiers in Russian uniform who were, according to the Russians, not in the Ukraine). Had Hillary won, the U.S. would have opposed Russia's annexation of Crimea and generally would have taken the much harder line against Putin which Hillary recommended as Secretary of State. Trump, in contrast, promised to talk with Putin, and has met with Putin, uncritically, several times since taking office in 2017.
And what about answering the question posed in the title of the book? To the question "What Happened?" Hillary answers, "Comey and the Russians." On Russian interference, the Mueller Report provides ample substantiation – but Mueller doesn't address anything to do with Comey. Hillary does. FBI Director Jim Comey released a letter on Oct. 28, 2016, ten days before the election, asserting that the FBI would re-open the investigation of Hillary's personal email server. Trump and his allies used that letter as the basis for millions of dollars of advertising to amplify the "#CrookedHillary" theme. Russia's propaganda campaign laid the groundwork to distrust the media and distrust her, which culminated in a collapse of trust after Oct. 28, which Hillary calls "the Comey effect." Hillary provides lots of evidence that "had the election been held on Oct. 27," she would have won. But after the Oct. 28 letter, there was no time to recuperate before the election, even after Comey rescinded the letter a week later. In other words, to answer "What Happened?": Russia built a framework of chaotic disinformation, and the FBI played right into their game, and hence Trump won.
This book was a #1 bestseller for the final months of 2017 – including a book tour by Hillary through December 2017. But by the time the Mueller Report was released, in April 2019, Hillary's book had fallen to below the 10,000th most popular non-fiction book. Given her conclusions relevant to the Mueller Report, this book should be revived and re-read in the new post-Mueller context.
-- Jesse Gordon, editor-in-chief, jesse@OnTheIssues.org, May 2019
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Page last edited: Feb 26, 2019