Hillary Rodham Clinton – What Happened


I first encountered Hillary Rodham Clinton in Berlin on November 9, 2009, as she gave an official speech as Secretary of State at the Brandenburg Gate during the twentieth anniversary celebrations of the fall of the Berlin Wall. In her speech, she talked about “people following their dreams and living out their potential as a result of the fall of the Wall.” I am one of those people. I wrote about the meaning of that day in one of my first blog posts. In fact, this event prompted the beginning of my blogging endeavors.

My second encounter with Hillary was at the Palais des Congrès de Montréal on March 18, 2014, just before she announced her presidential candidacy, but was already testing the political waters with her now famous “Dare to Compete!” speech. She talked about empowering women world-wide, and she moved me, and empowered me at a time in my life when I was struggling to finish my dissertation, uncoupling from an un-supportive partner, unable to find gainful employment, and accumulating massive debts for my education. She connected the dots for me and gave me a jolt of energy to “keep going!” when no one else was able to.

Fall of the Berlin Wall - 20th anniversary - Clinton

I was devastated when she lost the 2016 election. I watched all the disrespect, sexism, misogyny, and stupidity she had to put up with, and the subsequent unleashing of hate speech, hate crimes, hate legislation, white supremacy and neo-Nazism in the U.S. (and some incidents of that shit also in Canada). As a result, I began teaching critical media literacy, social justice and feminism, new media and technology courses, and became an activist and organizer.

When her new book, What Happened (2017), came out, I inhaled it. I bought both the audiobook (which she reads herself) and the hard copy. It is an incredible record of an incredible achievement, a highly sophisticated analysis of our media landscape and the social and political malaise in the U.S. This book deserves all the awards the book world has to offer. It is an inspiration for generations to come! Here are the best parts:


“If you are tired, keep going. If you are scared, keep going. If you are hungry, keep going. If you want to taste freedom, keep going.” (Harriet Tubman)

Author’s Note

p.xiv – In 2016, the US government announced that Harriet Tubman will become the face of the $20 bill. If you need proof that America can still get it right, there it is.

Grit and Gratitude

p.30 – I went back to things that have given me joy or solace in the past, such as Maya Angelou’s poetry: You may write me down in history / With your bitter, twisted lies, / You may trod me in the very dirt / But still, like dust, I rise… / You may shoot me with your words, / You may cut me with your eyes, / You may kill me with your hatefulness, / But still, like air, I’ll rise.

p.36 – “Do what you feel in your heart to be right – for you’ll be criticized anyway. You’ll be damned if you do and damned if you don’t.” (Eleanor Roosevelt)

Get Caught Trying

p.51 – I admired the likes of Diana Nyad, who at the age of sixty-four became the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage. When she finally emerged back in dry land, she offered three pieces of advice: Never ever give up. You’re never too old to chase your dreams. And even if something looks like a solitary sport, it’s a team effort. Words to live by!

p.54 – I love meeting people, listening, learning, building relationships, working on policy, and trying to help solve problems.

p.55 – One day I visited a school in New York with the tennis star Billie Jean King for an event promoting an HBO special about women in sports. Hanging above our heads was a big banner proclaiming the title of the film, Dare to Compete. Before my speech, the seventeen-year-old captain of the high school basketball team introduced me. Her name was Sofia Totti. As we shook hands, she bent down and whispered in my ear, “Dare to compete, Mrs. Clinton. Dare to compete.” Something just clicked. Something just clicked. For years, I had been telling young women to step up, participate, go for what you believe in. How could I not be willing to do the same? Fifteen years later, I was asking myself the same question.

p.56 – There are things I regret about the 2016 campaign, but the decision to run isn’t one of them.

T.S. Eliot poem “East Coker:” “For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.”

p.57 – My paraphrasing gave Eliot’s elegant English verse a Midwestern makeover: “There’s only the trying,” I told my classmates, “again and again and again; to win again what we’ve lost before.”

In the nearly fifty years since, it’s become a mantra for me and our family that, win or lose, it’s important to “get caught trying.” Whether you’re trying to win an election or pass a piece of legislation that will help millions of people, build a friendship or save a marriage, you’re never guaranteed success. But you are bound to try. Again and again and again.


A Day in the Life

p.84 – Philippe Reines, my long-time advisor, calls it the “Panda Principle.” Pandas just live their lives. They eat bamboo. They play with their kids. But for some reason, people love watching pandas, hoping for something – anything – to happen. When that one baby panda sneezed, the video became a viral sensation. Under Philippe’s theory, I’m like a panda. A lot of people just want to see how I live. And I do love spending time with my family and getting some sun, just like a panda – and while I’m not into bamboo, I like to eat. I get it. We want to know our leaders, and part of that is hearing about Ronald Reagan’s jelly bean habit and Madeleine Albright’s pin collection.

6am: I wake up, sometimes hitting the snooze button to steal a few more minutes. Snoozing leaves you more tired – there are studies on this – but in that moment, it seems like such a great idea.

p.85 – There are stacks of books on our bedside tables that we are reading or hoping to read soon. For years, we’ve been keeping careful track of everything we read. Plus, Bill being Bill, he has a rating system. The best books get three stars.

On Being a Woman in Politics

p.112 – I was born right when everything was changing for women.

p.113 – Families were changing. Jobs were changing. Laws were changing. Views about women that had governed our lives for millennia were changing – finally! I came along at just the right moment, like a surfer catching the perfect wave. Everything I am, everything I’ve done, so much of what I stand for flows from that happy accident of fate.

I was one of just 27 women out of 235 students in my class at Yale Law School. The first woman partner at the oldest law firm in Arkansas. The first woman to chair the national board of the Legal Services Corporation. The person who declared on the world stage that “human rights are women’s rights are human rights.” The first First Lady to be elected to public office. The first woman Senator from New York. In fact, for a few weeks, I was both. By a quirk of the calendar, I was sworn in before Bill left office.

p.114 – This has to be said: sexism and misogyny played a role in the 2016 presidential election. Exhibit A is that the flagrantly sexist candidate won. A whole lot of people listened to the tape of him bragging about sexually assaulting women, shrugged, and said, “He still gets my vote.”

p.115 – Sexism is all the big and little ways that society draws a box around women and says, “You stay in there.” Don’t complain because nice girls don’t do that. Don’t try to be something women shouldn’t be. Don’t wear that, don’t go there, don’t think that, don’t earn too much. It’s not right somehow, we can’t explain why, stop asking.

p.121 – Historically, women haven’t been the ones writing the laws or leading the armies and natives. We’re not the ones up there behind the podium, rallying crowds, uniting the country. It’s men who lead. It’s men who speak. It’s men who represent us to the world and even to ourselves.

p.139 – Something I wish every man across America understood how much fear accompanies women throughout our lives. So many of us have been threatened or harmed. So many of us have helped friends recover from a traumatic incident. It’s difficult to convey what all this violence does to us. It adds up in our hearts and our nervous systems.

p.141 – Early on the morning of November 9, when it came time to decide on what I’d say in my concession speech, I remembered those words. Inspired by them, I wrote these: “To all the little girls who are watching this, never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams.”

p.142-43 – When Chelsea was a little girl, I saw the power of representation through a new lens. I watched her leaf though the pages of her children’s books, searching intently for the girl characters. Now little girls have a new group of fictional heroines to look up to, including Wonder Woman and General Leia (she got a promotion from Princess). Slowly but surely, Hollywood is moving in the right direction.

p.143 – To this day, even knowing how things turned out, the memories of all those proud and excited girls – and the thought of the women they will become – means more to me than I can express.

p.144 – There’s another moment I want to note that a lot of people missed when it happened but which I will never forget. A few days before election night 2016, Beyoncé and Jay-Z performed at a rally for me in Cleveland. Beyoncé took the microphone. “I want my daughter to grow up seeing a woman lead our country and know that her possibilities are limitless,” she said. “We have to think about the future of our daughters, our sons, and vote for someone who cares for them as much as we do. And that is why I’m with her.” And then, that infamous 1992 quote appeared in giant block letters on a huge screen behind her. “I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was pursue my profession.” Something that had been controversial was being reclaimed as a message of independence and strength – just like I had meant it to be all those years ago! – right before my eyes. Thanks, Beyoncé.

Hillary and Chelsea

Motherhood, Wifehood, Daughterhood, Sisterhood

p.147 – I don’t know what it’s like for other women, but growing up, I didn’t think that much about my gender except when it was front and center. Like in eighth grade, when I wrote to NASA to say that I dreamt of becoming an astronaut, and someone there wrote back: Sorry, little girl, we don’t accept women into the space program. Or when the boy who beat me in a student government race in high school told me I was really stupid of I thought a girl could be elected President of the school. Or when I heard from Wellesley College: I was in. On these occasions, I felt my gender powerfully. But most of the time, I was just a kid, a student, a reader, a fan, a friend. The fact that I was female was secondary; sometimes it practically slipped my mind. Other women may have had different experiences, but that’s how it was for me.

p.154 – Chelsea travelled far and wide campaigning for me, and she did it with Aidan, whom she was still nursing. It’s like that line from the late Ann Richards, the Governor of Texas: “Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, just backward and in high heels.” Chelsea did everything an energetic campaign surrogate would do, just with a tiny baby attached to her and all the gear that he required.

p.157 – The writer Katha Pollitt has observed how even the most egalitarian relationships can contort under the strain of child rearing, and all of a sudden, the mom is expected to do everything, while the dad pitches in here and there. She calls it becoming “gender Republicans” – a nifty phrase, is perhaps a little unfair to all the feminist Republicans out there, who really do exist.

p.164 – But I know other people whose parents had cruel childhoods and who internalized that cruelty and dished it out to their own kids later. That’s how abuse gets passed on through the generations. That’s probably what happened with my grandmother, in fact. My mom single-handedly stopped that cycle dead in its tracks.

Turning Mourning into a Movement

p.172 – “To console does not mean to take away the pain but rather to be there and say, ‘You are not alone, I am with you. Together we can carry the burden. Don’t be afraid. I am here.’ That is consolation. We all need to give it all well as to receive it.” (Henri Nouwen)

Change Makers

p.194 – “Service is the rent we pay for living. It is the very purpose of life, and not something you do in your spare time.” (Marian Wright Edelman)


Sweating the Details

p.220 – After the election, a report from Professor Thomas Patterson at Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy explained how damaging the pursuit of false equivalency can be. “If everything and everyone are portrayed negatively, there’s a leveling effect that opens the door to charlatans,” it said. “The press historically has helped citizens recognize the difference between the earnest politician and the pretender. Today’s news coverage blurs the distinction.”

p.227 – No matter how bold and progressive my policy proposals were – and they were significantly bolder and more progressive than anything President Obama or I had proposed in 2008 – Bernie would come out with something even bigger, loftier, and leftier, regardless of whether it was realistic or not. That left me to play the unenviable role of spoilsport schoolmarm, pointing out that there was no way Bernie could keep his promises or deliver real results.

Jake Sullivan, my top policy advisor, told me it reminded him of a scene from the 1998 movie There’s Something About Mary. A deranged Hitchhiker says he’s come up with a brilliant plan. Instead of the famous “eight-minute abs” exercise routine, he’s going to market “seven-minute abs.” it’s the same, just quicker. Then the driver, played by Ben Stiller, says, “Well, why not sic-minute abs?” That’s what it was like in policy debates with Bernie. We would propose a bold infrastructure investment plan or an ambitious new apprenticeship program for young people, and then Bernie would announce basically the same thing, but bigger. On issue after issue, it was like he kept proposing four-minute abs, or even no-minute abs. Magic abs!

p.229 – But Bernie isn’t a Democrat – that’s not a smear, that’s what he says. He didn’t get into the race to make sure a Democrat won the White House, he got in to disrupt the Democratic Party. He was right the Democrats needed to strengthen our focus on working families and that there’s always a danger of spending too much time courting donors because of our insane campaign finance system. He also engaged a lot of young people in the political process for the first time, which is extremely important. But I think he was fundamentally wrong about the Democratic Party – the party that brought us Social Security under Roosevelt; Medicare and Medicaid under Johnson; peace between Israel and Egypt under Carter; broad-based prosperity and a balanced budget under Clinton; and rescued the auto industry, passed health care reform, and imposed tough new rules on Wall Street under Obama. I am proud to be a Democrat and I wish Bernie were, too.


Making History

p.256 – I watched backstage as Chelsea gave a perfect introduction that brought me to tears. “My parents raised me to know how lucky I was that I never had to worry about food on the table,” she said. “I never had to worry about a good school to go to. That I never had to worry about a safe neighborhood to play in, and they taught me to care about what happens in our world and to do whatever I could to change what frustrated me, what felt wrong. They taught me that’s the responsibility that comes with being smiled on my fate.”

p.257 – “Standing here as my mother’s daughter, and my daughter’s mother, I’m so happy this day has come,” I said. “Happy for grandmothers and little girls and everyone in between. Happy for boys and men, too – because when any barrier falls in America, for anyone, it clears the way for everyone. When there are no ceilings, the sky’s the limit.”

p.259 – Charlotte Woodward was more than ninety years old when she finally gained the right to vote, but she got there. My mother had just been born and lived long enough to vote for her daughter to be President. I plan to live long enough to see a woman win.


Trolls, Bots, Fake News, and Real Russians

p.326 – Many Americans had lost faith in the institutions that previous generations relied on for objective information, including government, academia, and the press, leaving them vulnerable to a sophisticated misinformation campaign. There are many reasons why this happened, but one is that a small group of right-wing billionaires – people like the Mercer family and Charles and David Koch – recognized long ago that, as Stephen Colbert once spent a lot of time and money building an alternative reality.

p.365 – There has been a concerted effort to discredit mainstream sources of information, create an echo chamber to amplify fringe conspiracy theories, and undermine Americans’ grasp of objective truth. The McClatchy news service says federal investigators are looking into whether there were direct links between the Russian propaganda war and right-wing organizations such as Breitbart and InfoWars. But even if no direct ties ever come to light, we need to understand how the right-wing war on truth opened the door to the Russian attack.

p.366 – Charlie Sykes quoted Garry Kasparov, the Russian chess grandmaster and Putin opponent who said, “The point of modern propaganda isn’t only to misinform or push an agenda. It is to exhaust your critical thinking, to annihilate truth.”

Election Night

p.388 – I was determined that my young staff and supporters now become discouraged. “This loss hurts,” I would tell them. “But please, please never stop believing that fighting for what’s right is worth it. It is always worth it.”

p.389 – And I could say to all the little girls out there, with every ounce of conviction in my body: “Never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world.”


p.398 – When people are angry and looking for someone to blame, they don’t want to hear your ten-point plan to create jobs and raise wages. They want you to be angry, too.

p.404 – Before October 28, there was every reason to believe this strategy would work. Voters thought Trump was unqualified and temperamentally unfit. They worried he might blunder into a war. And they thought I was steady, qualified, and safe. Comey’s letter turned that picture upside down. Now voters were worried my presidency would be dogged by more investigations, maybe even impeachment.

Onward Together

p.464 – “What do we do now?” I said. There was only one answer: “Keep going.”


This entry was posted in Books, Cultural politics, Feminisms, Inspiration, Politics and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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