Hillary Clinton’s memoir covering the historic 2016 US presidential elections is, of course, as uniquely polarizing as her person is. The book, as it has been said by many others, will change no one’s mind. And, while it’s impossible to know any intentions beyond those stated, changing minds seemed to no longer be on the agenda.
Instead, the memoir serves the intended purpose(s) of a memoir: an account of her personal experiences and what she took away from them.
The beginning dragged for me. There were many names, a lot of daily minutiae, and multiple anecdotes provided for amusement. All of this is typical of the genre but are also the primary reasons I rarely read memoir or biography. I know plenty of folks live for that sort of thing, but it’s just not my alley.
There are a lot of ways I don’t relate to Clinton at all: she’s from a different generation, she’s wealthy, she’s ambitious, and so on. All of those characteristics are at the forefront through the beginning of the book and continue on to a lesser extent as she describes the campaign. It becomes obvious that while she cares about everyday people, she has been so removed for so long that she doesn’t connect with their positions, especially in rural Appalachia.
(To be fair, hardly anyone not from Appalachia ever seems to understand the culture, no matter how you explain it. And I’ve tried.)
Another flaw in the book was repetition. Some topics, in part because they intersect with other topics, were repeated several times throughout. It seemed like, as complicated a thing as presidential campaigns are, there must be a way to better organize the information to cut out going over issues more than once.
What I really fancied about What Happened was the data. This may be where Clinton and I intersect, personality-wise. I have wild dreams, but I live for data, practicality, and concrete policy. The verifiable political intrigue and information about the state of the nation make for a very enjoyable ride through most of the text of the book. There is defensiveness here and there, but, for the most part, her experience is presented with very little emotional furor. It is, simply, in all its complexity, what happened, from her point of a view. It also lays out a map of where current and previous policy is failing and some practical solutions to obstacles many are facing.
It is obvious throughout the book that Clinton feels a deep level of guilt for losing, and the world that has come out of her loss. She also appears to worry that her loss will make it less appealing for women to run for high-ranking political offices. In listing the numerous factors that went into the loss, she ameliorates the sting of sexism’s role. Yes, female politicians are often the targets of misogyny, however, sexist attitudes can be surmounted. Heck, the other obstacles she faced on top of the both overt and covert sexism were nearly surmountable this time. So, as she states, there is hope for the glass ceiling between women and the US presidency being shattered in her lifetime. Don’t be discouraged. “Keep going.”