What Happened, by Hillary Rodham Clinton.
A few weeks ago, I joked that it's rare for a song to become more timely and relevant 18 months after writing it than it was when you actually wrote it – but that's exactly what happened with my song, Jefferson, which is about countries and historical figures with complicated legacies.
With all the drama going on right now with tearing down statues of Washington, Jefferson, and even Lincoln (!!!), this song felt strangely timely over the Fourth of July.
Just like every single chapter of Hillary Clinton's 2017 memoir, What Happened, has felt incredibly, weirdly timely.
This is partly due to a lucky combination of coincidence + slow reading. (I usually have a few books going at a time -- I've been working on Malcolm Gladwell's Talking to Strangers, Bill Bryson's The Body: A Guide for Occupants, Robin DiAngelo's White Fragility, Abigail Shrier's Irreversible Damage, and Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay's Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything about Race, Gender, and Identity—and Why This Harms Everybody.)
I happened to be reading the chapter about Bernie Sanders when the Bernie Bros were still publicly mourning the suspension of Bernie's 2020 campaign.
I happened to be reading about Hillary's "Alaska for America" plan, a universal basic income plan inspired by Peter Barnes' With Liberty and Dividends for All: How to Save Our Middle Class When Jobs Don't Pay Enough (which ended up getting cut because "we couldn’t make the numbers work. To provide a meaningful dividend each year to every citizen, you’d have to raise enormous sums of money, and that would either mean a lot of new taxes or cannibalizing other important programs")... right when everyone was excited about Andrew Yang's plan for a UBI.
I happened to be reading the chapter about the Democratic National Convention (the memory of which still makes me tear up, as I mentioned in Liberals Shouldn't Let Conservatives Own Patriotism)...
... the same week that trump was planning his gigantic Tulsa rally, despite spiking COVID-19 rates, and despite Tulsa being the site of the worst racial violence in U.S. history, on Juneteenth weekend. (It's still so crazy to me to contrast the hopeful, energetic, ecstatic, "Better Together" message of the Clinton campaign... with the fear-mongering, angry, hateful, accusatory tone and energy of the trump campaign.)
I happened to be reading the chapter about increasing polarization, social media echo chambers, bots, Russian propaganda, and Fake News the same day that I was literally called Hitler by an emotional, far-left regressive for saying "correlation is not causation"... and a "socialist libtard" by a literal neo-nazi because I said "American values" include the right to peaceful protest. (Earlier in the book, Hillary had discussed the challenges of publicly supporting President Obama, without looking like the "candidate of the status quo," especially when so many of her platforms were so forward-thinking and progressive... At this point in the book, she discussed the wild, hurtful, and completely untrue #FakeNews stories about her being a murderer, an ISIS founder, a satanist, and a child sex trafficker who operated out of the basement of a pizzeria.)
Most recently, I happened to be reading the chapter about Russian interference in the 2016 election the same day trump commuted Roger Stone's sentence.
All these coincidences made What Happened feel immersive, trippy, and relevant. I expect they will keep happening as I finish the last few chapters, as we are approaching the end of a huge election year.
But probably the most important (and most depressing) takeaway – for me, anyway – is the constant reminders that the things that feel so normal right now are not normal or acceptable.
It feels like Fake News has always been around. We've become desensitized to the idea of Russian interference. I even remember agreeing with some of the points in Morris Fiorina's Culture War? The Myth of a Polarized America... but now, it would be hard to argue away the growing divide.
But four years ago, this was all new.
It can feel so sad and hopeless to look back on what happened. It can feel so sad that moments like these:
Didn't make a difference in the election.
Despite winning the popular vote by almost 2.9 million votes, Putin got his puppet, and America sometimes feels like it's on the brink of an all-out culture war.
It feels hopeless... but Hillary writes that there are four steps we can take to push back.
1. Get to the bottom of what really happened in 2016.
Investigators and the press should keep digging. It is incredibly important for all Americans to know the truth about what the Russians did.
She suggests complementing the special counsel investigation (which ended in March 2019) with an independent commission with subpoena power (subpoenas were a hot topic during the Dec. 2019-Feb. 2020 impeachment hearings, during which the Senate voted against allowing them) like the one that investigated 9/11. It should provide a full public accounting of the attack against our country and make recommendations to improve security going forward.
2. Get serious about cyber warfare.
Government and the private sector need to work together and make a significant investment in protecting our networks and national infrastructure. The private sector needs to see this as an "urgent imperative, because government can't do it alone."
Furthermore, military and intelligence agencies need to accelerate the development of our own offensive cyber and information warfare capabilities, so we're ready to respond in kind. She notes that we don't currently have any kind of deterrent the way we do with conventional and nuclear conflicts, so Russia and other actors believe they can "operate in a gray zone between peace and war, stealing our secrets, disrupting our elections, manipulating our politics, and harassing our citizens and businesses without facing serious repercussions." (On the topic of nuclear conflicts, we are just weeks away from the 75th anniversary of Hiroshima; William J. Perry, former US Secretary of Defense and author of The Button: The New Nuclear Arms Race and Presidential Power from Truman to Trump, is cool with scrapping certain nuclear programs, like ICBMs, but also emphasizes the need to develop our cyber and information warfare capabilities.)
She calls for a new doctrine that states that a cyber attack on our vital national infrastructure will be treated as an act of war and met with a proportionate response.
3. Get tough with Putin.
"It was gratifying to see Emmanuel Macron condemn Russian interference and propaganda while standing next to Putin at a press conference in Paris. If the French can do it, surely our own leaders can."
Congress has been working to ratchet up sanctions against Russia, despite trump's reluctance. Clinton notes that former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in 2017, "“Let me just state: I’m appalled by what the Russians did, and we ought to find a way, ultimately, to punish it."
Hillary writes, "The Obama administration proved with crippling sanctions against Iran that this kind of pressure can force our adversaries to change course. Russia is a much bigger and more powerful nation, but we have a lot of tools at our disposal, and even Putin is vulnerable to pressure. We also should strengthen NATO, help our allies reduce their dependence on Russian energy supplies (a key source of leverage for Putin), and arm the Ukrainian government so it can resist Moscow's aggression."
4. Beat back the assault on truth and reason here at home, and rebuild trust in our institutions.
Our tech companies have begun developing tools and practices to decrease the volume of fake news, but Hillary suggests they could do more. "Facebook is now the largest news platform in the world, and with great power comes great responsibility."
She also calls on mainstream media to do more fact checking and hold liars more accountable, and recalls how eagerly so many journalists repeated whatever Wikileaks dished out – without any regard for the truth.
She calls on Republicans to grow spines and stop enabling trump. "If they don't step up, our democracy will pay the price." (Thank you, Mitt Romney, Lisa Murkowski, and other Republican governors, senators, and representatives who have denounced this man.)
And she calls on us, the American people, to stay informed and make good decisions "with rigorous reasoning and real deliberation... Choose [who you vote for] wisely and don't fall for scams." She wants us to break out of our echo chambers and engage with people who disagree with us – she even dares us to "change your mind from time to time."
This is something I've made an active effort to do for some time, now... but I've got to say. It's getting less and less appealing as people get more and more hostile, crazy, and emotional. Books like The Coddling of the American Mind and Cynical Theories give me hope about potential pushback against far left crazies... But I'm not convinced there is going to be similar pushback against the far right crazies – not after Fox News and conservative media spent so much time and money trying to undermine mainstream media and journalistic standards. But – maybe?
Anyway, long story short, now it the trippiest, coolest time you could possibly read What Happened. I've enjoyed the candid and darkly funny account of some strange and unfortunate realities... but it definitely tugs at the heartstrings.
About the Author
Eva is a content specialist with a passion for play, travel... and a little bit of girl power. Read more >
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