In a better world, Hillary Rodham Clinton’s What Happened wouldn’t exist.
But that’s not a slight against her pensive, didactic new memoir. In Clinton’s journeyed, weathered, contemplative, but ultimately meditative and resilient book, Clinton doesn’t merely reflect on the calamitous events leading to Donald Trump’s U.S. presidency. It’s not a source of pity, nor is it a book on acceptance. Clinton is frustrated and unnerved, but she takes responsibility for her loss. She doesn’t try to blame anyone other than herself for what transpired on November 8th, 2016 — though that doesn’t stop her from casting blame on everyone from the media to the FBI to even, at times, Bernie Sanders.
Indeed, What Happened is filled with sorrow, self-reflection and resentment, though for understandable reasons. As detailed throughout her sixth book, Clinton explains what went wrong and how she was responsible and unresponsible for the electoral results. As one would expect, it wasn’t an overnight occurrence. Through a mixture of media bias, Russian interference, FBI tampering, social judgments and an inability to connect with select voters, namely those in middle America, Clinton lost the election. And, of course, those damn emails and their controversy certainly didn’t do any favors. Through her detailed (if certainly not unbiased) account, she guides us through it all, giving us a brief glimpse of clarity amid all the chaos that ensued in the year 2016.
It’s thorough, well-researched accountability. If you don’t harbor an endless stream of grudges against the former First Lady, you’ll likely sympathize with Clinton’s difficulties and frustrations. But at the same time, it’s definitely a book written by a politician. And I don’t necessarily mean that in a bad way. It’s clear that there was a team of former speechwriters, editors and various fact checkers leaning over Clinton’s shoulder, making sure everything and anything she wrote down came out exactly the way it should be. Many people claimed Clinton was “overcalculated” in her campaign. If you felt that was the case, well, you’ll likely lobby that complaint towards this book as well.
But even though What Happened doesn’t contain much in the way of honest surprises, save for the occasional curse word, it’s refreshing to hear Clinton bring sanity back. Much like it’s a relief to hear Obama speak with clarity and conviction during breaks in vacations, Clinton brings a pose, strength, restraint and self-composure that’s rare in a politician in 2017. And indeed, I’m not hiding my biases. Nor do I feel like I should. I voted for Clinton in the 2016 election. If given a chance to vote for her a second time, I’d do it again in a heartbeat. If it were up to me, Hillary Clinton would be our President.
That’s not possible, though, and to her credit, Clinton isn’t trying to live in the past. She accepts the gravity of the situation. Through this book, she doesn’t sulk but she persists. Through What Happened, she’s helping a new generation of leaders and developers – most especially women — find their voice and inspire them to raise hell. It’s inspiring. It’s assuring. It’s gratifying. And it’s exactly what you’d expect. But that’s to be expected.
What Happened is expected to be in the hands of Clinton’s supporters. Besides, there’s nothing here that would really interest anyone on the other side hoping to gather nasty dirt. Clinton’s approach is intentionally conversational, but she’s not giving any secrets. This book is not meant to be an exposé. To be blunt, she has had way too many of those. Instead, Clinton’s new book is an attempt to be at least a little honest with herself and her voters, a moment to break through the tides and try to speak from the heart. In that sense, it succeeds. It’s not revolutionary. It’s not likely to convince people to switch their parties. But through messages of contemplation, introspection and love, Clinton gets to the heart of what makes America tick. And she tries to bring back its former greatness.