What happened in the presidential election of 2016? We got hit by an asteroid, is what. The worst possible thing happened — the blackest of black swan events, history took a wrong turn, and we will be paying for it for a long time.
Now, what can Hillary Clinton meaningfully add to that? Yes, Republicans hated her, it’s true, for a list of reasons ranging from tactical to misogynist to delusional. Many Democrats didn’t like her much either, for reasons ranging from genuine policy disagreement to tactics to getting the vapors because she wasn’t likable enough. Some of the coverage she got was ridiculously unfair, and yes, there were some nefarious outside actors. But the people who did like her, at least in the comparison shopping on offer, went out and elected her by a few million votes. That those weren’t enough was because of archaic rules and some bad timing. Had the election been held a few weeks earlier, she would be president, and we’d be spared this book.
But here we are, and the book isn’t going to help anything. It’s not going to change the outcome, it’s not going to change any minds, and it isn’t adding much substantial to the known facts or their interpretation. It will only reinforce people’s impression of Clinton as excessively self-absorbed. What would benefit Clinton more would be to skip this step of self-healing and get back to work on the issues she said she cared so much about. We’d be better off, too.
If you want to read her side of things, be my guest and read the book. If you want to read the progressive critique, Thomas Frank has a robust one here.
For my own part, while I have some sympathy for Frank’s critique, I’m not so sure it’s that simple. The progressive agenda has always been a tricky sell in the United States, and the Democrats have been wrestling with that problem in a variety of disappointing ways since the steam went out of the New Deal consensus in the 1970s. There are some significant darker impulses at work in this country, and in 2016, a shameless, unprincipled huckster managed to catch an improbable peak of an ill-timed wave and ride it into the White House. Don’t forget that even he was surprised at the outcome.
We know what happened. The worst possible combination of forces has injected a poison into the veins of American government. It feels good to some in the same way that the first dose of opioids feels good, and it will have the same sorry trajectory.
The question should not be: “What happened?” It’s: “What do we do now?”