“What Happened,” Hillary Clinton’s re-litigation of the 2016 presidential election is a fascinating travesty: an exercise in how badly someone might throw any semblance of self-awareness out the proverbial window. It’s a shocking exercise in dishonesty and self-pity, for which the former Senator from New York was reportedly paid almost fourteen million dollars in advance. If I could be paid even 1/100th of that to publicly reject all blame for my mistakes, I would be the happiest person on the planet.
Given the trauma that the election caused so many — along with that incurred from the resultant Trump presidency — there’s a certain cruelty to what Clinton is, here, doing. That she inflicts this cruelty alongside a litany of what might be called flat-out lies only intensifies just how despicable of a book this is. At the expense of those whose voices she failed to amplify, and whose concerns she failed to address, former Secretary of State Clinton, establishes a disingenuous narrative of her candidacy that seems desperate to affirm every criticism of her: that she is out-of-touch, unable to stand up for marginalized voices, and little more than performative in her compassion.
Clinton’s thesis, reduced to its barest essence, seems to be that mistakes were made…by everyone but candidate Clinton. While it would be unfair to say that many of the factors she cites—misogyny, the infamous Comey letter, a rejection of her platform by progressive voters, and media coverage that ranged from indifferent to dismissive of her—played no role in her loss, the fact that she seems so sincerely convinced she had no hand in her own defeat is disturbing, if not totally insulting.
This plays out most outrageously in her characterization of her critics to the left, whether it be Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders or the activists in the civil rights group Black Lives Matter (BLM). Drawing on anti-Semitic tropes, Clinton paints Sanders as a huckster, selling Americans a bale of false goods, masquerading as a man of the people while concealing his own wealth. At one point, she compares him to the psychotic hitcher in the bawdy comedy There’s Something About Mary, directed by the Farrelly Brothers. It’s unlikely that Clinton intends these accusations to be as mean-spirited as they are, but her inability to understand how dangerous and dishonest it is to level such baseless accusations (including the charge that Sanders somehow stole her infrastructure agenda, despite releasing his a year before hers), portraying a Jewish politician as some sort of shady snake in the grass should dispel any remaining belief in her intelligence or competence as a proponent of social justice.
Even more insulting is her portrayal of BLM as a collection of dullard idealists, incapable of formulating any meaningful plan for progress, or of comprehending the supposed power of her centrist ambitions of compromise with white supremacy. Her refusal to acknowledge, or even attempt to understand, the reservations People of Color might have with her record—whether it be the hawkishness that has led to countless civilian deaths in the Middle East, or her full-throated support of prison policies designed to disenfranchise Black communities under the guise of upholding “law and order—belies a fundamental disinterest with the progressivism she tried to pilfer from Sanders’ movement to win votes in the General, and proves (perhaps, once and for all) that Clinton’s feminism has always been terminally white, no more committed to meaningful change than the Lean In-style bullshit spouted by the likes of Sheryl Sandberg. All along, Clinton unintentionally declares, she has been less interested in empowering the oppressed than she has been in diversifying and tokenizing the armies of their oppressors.
Clinton, further, devotes almost no space to her infamous decision to ignore many of the mid-Western states in which she was defeated, instead choosing to remind readers over and over that she did indeed win the popular vote. Clinton seems wholly unconcerned with the fact that most of the people reading her book (unfortunate enough to spend the twenty-plus bucks it will cost them to secure this artifact of a dying centrist ideology) are well-informed of her popular victory, which seems strange considering how obviously this book is tailored to eyes of delusional and die-hard Clintonites. In fact, “What Happened” feels just as offensive to those Hillary fans as it does to the rest of us. Rather than offer even a smidgen of insight, she instead serves up a seven-course meal with not an ounce of nutrition. It appears, she assumes that her supporters are and should be more devoted to her cult of personality than they are to the sort of acumen that might prevent further conservative take-over of this country and, thus, further abuses against the people of which Hillary has always claimed she was a champion. This is the scariest aspect of “What Happened:” the embedded suggestion that nothing of the Democratic agenda or strategy should change. As she refuses to meaningfully engage with her progressive critics (instead, devoting energy to slandering “Bernie Bros,” while simultaneously using the sacrifices of progressives like Heather Heyer to promote her book tour), Clinton cements the weaknesses that enabled a Trump victory this past November. The overwhelmingly positive reception for this text among her most vocal supporters (such as Peter Daou, a Clinton fanatic who recently launched Verritt—a Pro-Clinton media site that fellates his idol to an almost comical degree, and which Hillary herself promoted via Twitter), should give anyone pause. That Amazon is allegedly deleting one-star user reviews of the book should turn the stomach. This indicates not that Clinton is providing meaningful political wisdom, but that whatever it is she reveals will be automatically received as such. It indicates that a large swath of Democrats are less interested in making the necessary changes that will help them advance what they claim is their agenda, and more interested in some sort of onanistic self-assurance that they were correct all along. This promises nothing but further defeat, especially as polls continue to illustrate a decline in Clinton’s popularity (she is now less popular than Trump, whose notorious lack of popularity is repeatedly cited as a milestone in public opinion of a president), and the increasing enthusiasm for the agenda that defined the Sanders campaign. Hell, even Kamala Harris (whose political sins are in very much the same vein as Clinton’s) has recently voiced her support for single-payer, Medicare-for-all, a proposal which Clinton’s book compares to offering everyone in America their very own pony. Someone should let Clinton know just how disgusting comparing a plan to ensure the health and dignity of the population to such a luxury is, but “What Happened” seems to roundly dispute that Clinton ever gave a shit about these things.
Despite her full-throated rejection of Trump’s agenda (Clinton even brags of how she bravely tweeted in support of the Women’s March!), “What Happened” offers little more truth than Trump’s media allies. It’s the same sort of self-promotion, the same re-writing of history, the same refusal to address critique, concern, or the pain of those who are most in need of protection from the cruel fires of bigotry and capital. I guess it’s foolish to hope that someone with Clinton’s record or demeanor would demonstrate a greater interest in the people whose protection she has tried to stake her reputation on than the reputation itself, but it’s still depressing to watch this person sacrifice the substance and soul of her supposed political agenda to rescue her credibility, and (despite her reputation as a canny pragmatist) ultimately lose both.
Unless you’re a Clintonite cultist, there’s little reason to slog through “What Happened.” Even if you are, you can probably save a few hours and five hundred-plus pages of effort by simply shooting yourself in the foot. It’s tempting to say there’s nothing at all to be learned from reading this masturbatory shit-show of a book—the only memoir to ever rival Mein Kampf in lack of perspective and sheer volume of dumb self-pity—but that’s probably not true. Reading “What Happened” can indeed teach you something.
Donald Trump is a worthless, bigoted, self-promotional, lying cancer of a man, but Hillary Clinton also deserved to lose.