What Happened, Hillary Rodham Clinton’s exposition on the election cycle of 2016 proves her to be a great political thinker. That she’ll not also be a great political leader is the result of many things, and she willingly takes personal responsibility where it is due.
However, all of the complex components of the situation from media coverage to campaign miscalculations, to FBI investigations and political rivals are covered herein. Clinton includes detailed discussions and defense of policy decisions. To support her positions, she references many studies done during and after Election Day. This is a political history and memoir that makes me wonder (again) what historians in the next century will say about our recent collective experience.
The obvious intensity of Clinton’s feelings don’t cloud the narrative, but stand to enhance it and give evidence of her humanity. It feels like a healthy venting of emotion, with some moments of humor to balance the evident bitterness and frustration at choices made or not made.
When Clinton talks about the reasons she ran for president, and the vitriolic misogyny she encountered, I remembered what a President is supposed to focus on. Not Twitter, cronyism, and golf, but all people’s actual standard of living, safety, and opportunity. Clinton hammers home over and over the level of qualifications she would have brought to the job.
“Also, I didn’t want people to see me as the “woman candidate,” which I find limiting, but rather as the best candidate whose experience as a woman in a male-dominated culture made her sharper, tougher, and more competent.”
While she covers her frustrations with Bernie Sanders and the third-party candidates, this isn’t the bulk of her reasoning. Instead, a larger percentage of the explanation lies in the media’s coverage of “those damn emails,” to quote Sanders. Step by excruciating step, Clinton walks through the preponderance of news coverage the emails received in comparison to her policies, plans, and even Trump’s scandalous gaffes. (“According to Harvard’s Shorenstein Center, over the entire election, negative reports about [Clinton] swamped positive coverage by 62 percent to 38 percent.”) She covers Comey and his decisions to announce with the timing he chose. If you were hidden under a rock during 2016, this part of the book would fill you in quite well on what you missed.
Clinton also analyzes the likely but still unproven interference from the Russian government. She explains some elements of cyber warfare, but if you’d like a more complete discussion of this I’d refer you to Dark Territory: The Secret History of Cyber War by Fred Kaplan. Of course, this continues to be a developing story. What’s interesting is Clinton’s take on Vladimir Putin, since she met and negotiated with him during her time as Secretary of State.
As you would expect, there are plenty of incredulous observations of 45 and the state of his administration. She says right there in black and white the same things we Democrats are thinking. And then Clinton goes on the assess what the Party needs to do to rebound, resist, and survive. It’s one woman’s opinion, and a topic of much dissent among politically-minded liberals.
Also, what Clinton book would be complete without copious quotes from books? If we had any doubt she and former President Clinton were well-read, this lays that to rest. Time magazine compiled a helpful list.
For me, What Happened was five hundred plus pages of emotion, professorial analysis, and rehashing. It was enlightening, painful, and depressing. In some ways it was like talking with that friend who just can’t let a dramatic incident go. Many times, I wished that I was reading it with knowledge of the final resolution of, for example, the Russia investigation. But nonetheless, if you are interested in the political landscape of today’s United States this is a must-read and well worth the time.