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The Destruction of Hillary Clinton
19 April 2017
The 2016 US campaign year was a cracker. How did a foregone conclusion - the historic victory for an extraordinarily well-qualified, experienced and admired candidate against an opponent seen as not just unelectable but unfit for office – end so differently?
Dr Susan Bordo (a Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies) charts Hillary Clinton’s (pictured above) election destruction, unpacking the right-wing assault on Hillary and her reputation, the way she provoked the suspicion and indifference of a younger generation, and the unprecedented influence of the media.
Ruby spoke with Susan via email about the book (The Destruction of Hillary Clinton, Text, pictured above) its writing, and the fallout for women of the Trump victory.
What drove you to write The Destruction of Hillary Clinton?
I’ve always had an interest in how myths and stereotypes grow up around famous women—my last book was about Anne Boleyn, and the many false notions we have about her—and Hillary Clinton is perhaps the most glaring contemporary example. Here’s a woman who has been a dedicated public servant for decades, and certainly was the most experienced, qualified candidate we had in the 2016 election. She’s also a woman whose public image, since the very beginning of her public life, has been negatively shaped by her political enemies, by a harassing media, and by the legacy of centuries of sexist double-standards. The gap between the Hillary Clinton whose career I had followed for years and the caricature dominating the news was horrifying to me—especially after Donald Trump won the GOP nomination.
Despite the caricatures and witch-hunts, when I began to follow the campaigns with a possible book in mind, I expected a very different outcome to my story! But when things turned out the way that they did, I became even more determined to write about how and why such a disaster could happen. How had this “faux” Hillary come to dominate the minds of so many voters—so much so that she was defeated by a chronic liar, massive narcissist, and total incompetent! The mainstream media certainly wasn’t telling that story. So I had to.
What sort of hours did you have to work to get the book out in the time frame and how did you get/have all the information ready to go?
It was the most exhausting project I’ve ever worked on, and took every bit of emotional and physical energy I had. Of course, I’d been following Hillary for decades, and as a teacher of gender and women’s studies, I have a background of historical and cultural knowledge about the role that gender has played in history. So in a sense I’ve been researching this book for most of my life. And also, both during the 2008 primary and from the beginning of the 2016 election season, I’d been reading and collecting masses of articles, as well as following television coverage very closely. This is something the average 9 to 5 working person can’t do, of course—as a university professor, I’m privileged to actually be expected to spend a good deal of my time researching and writing - and it’s one of the reasons so many had gotten a skewed view of Hillary, relying on the “headline news” from morning and evening broadcasts. During the campaigns, I also began to write blogs, for my own website and for Huffington Post, and to “converse” with others regularly on Facebook. So when I finally sat down to put it all together, it was possible to actually write the book in several months—but only by making it the centre of my existence. But I was driven! So I begged the indulgence of family and students, and basically wrote non-stop from morning until night.
What are the major reasons for Hillary’s defeat in your view? In the grand scheme of things, Trump had a ‘few problems’ of his own yet he seemed to come out unscathed. Why do you think this is so?
It’s hard to summarise the reasons for Hillary’s defeat, as I view it as consisting of several different dimensions, from sexist double-standards to GOP scheming to generational factors that emerged during the primary, to media madness, and ultimately to a series of disastrous interventions via WikiLeaks and James Comey. All these factors contributed to a “narrative” about her—“untrustworthy,” “deceptive,” “lying,” even “criminal” - that was horrendously false but tremendously powerful.
As for Trump, all during the primary he had basically a free ride, because he wasn’t taken seriously by the media. They vastly underestimated the power of celebrity, which brought huge crowds to Trump’s rallies, just to see the master of the “Apprentice” and “Celebrity Apprentice” in person. They also underestimated how much bigotry, fear, and anger was bubbling under the surface of those crowds, ready to be galvanised by someone who, despite his vast wealth and celebrity, talked like a “regular guy”. Still, I believe that Hillary would have won had James Comey not revived the “email scandal” just 11 days before the election. The timing was perfect for Trump, as it was the same month that he had finally gotten in serious trouble over the “Access Hollywood” tapes and the women who began to come forward, accusing him of sexual groping, even assault. The entire country was horrified, other Republicans were jumping ship, and his numbers were shrinking. Then: the news of a fresh treasure-trove of emails, which ultimately turned out to amount to nothing, but diverted people from the “abusive Trump” story back to the “untrustrworthy Hillary story”. A fatal blow.
How does the result of the election affect you as a woman living in Trump America?
It’s depressing and frightening, on so many levels. Just focusing on the “as a woman” part (which is of course, just one piece—although a crucial one—of the assault on human rights and basic humanity that’s occurring), my greatest concern is for my 18 year-old-daughter and what kind of health care and reproductive control she will have available to her. There’s no justice or equality of any sort possible—racial and economic justice included, which some Democrats seem to forget, too - unless those are protected.
Where do you see Trump in 4 years’ time and Hillary? How do you see her loss being a positive for her?
Our country is so unhinged right now, it’s impossible to predict what’s in store for Trump or our future in general. As for Hillary, we already have begun to see her relax and speak her mind more freely than she has been permitted in decades. Despite the title of my book (which is about an election, not a life) she is far from destroyed—and right now, I’m just happy to see her “coming out of the woods,” free of the burden of the constant harassment she’s been dealing with for so long.
What does Hillary's loss mean for women in public and private life?
I actually think it may be galvanising. Under Obama, who is just about the least sexist POTUS we have ever had, we—mostly, the younger women among us—had become a little too relaxed about things, and didn’t realize how fragile the rights we had fought for are. Too many young women believed the gender wars had been won, and feminism was superfluous. But the enormous, breathtakingly diverse rallies we saw the day after Trump’s inauguration signalled to me that many had “woken up”. I think we’re going to see a lot of younger women (and feminist-friendly men) running for local offices and congress—and that’s a great benefit of what otherwise has been a disaster.
Who is Hillary’s greatest ally?
Despite the character-assassination she faced almost daily, and the reputation for being one of the two “most unpopular candidates in history,” Hillary got three million popular votes more than Trump, and it’s really only by virtue of our weird electoral college imbalances that she lost the election. She won 88 percent of the African-American vote—which alone would have taken her over the top if electors had been distributed in a less racially-biased fashion. She has a huge following of devoted admirers, who truly love her and take every opportunity they can to smash through the misogynist mythology. I’d say that we are her greatest allies (although I’m sure on a personal level, Bill and Chelsea count more!)
Do men – the most entitled members of society - really want to relinquish their position and power to create gender equality?
I tend to avoid generalising about men, but rather to speak about pernicious ideas about gender that, while perhaps most prevalent among men, are unfortunately held by many women, too. As a teacher, I’ve gotten to know lots of young men who look at women very differently than, say, my generation, who grew up in a culture in which men were boss of everything except the kitchen. Today there are plenty of men who don’t see equality as “relinquishing” anything, and at the same time there are women who have deep biases and resentments of women—like Hillary—who seem “too ambitious” or “too feminist”. Of course, if you are asking this question about the men currently in power, that’s another story!
Have you met Hillary and if so is she what we see?
I haven’t met her, but hope to now that the book has become such a cultural flash-point.
Did you send a copy of the book to Hillary and what, if any, were her comments?
One of the women attending the “Women in the World Conference” last week emailed me to say Hillary was reading the book. Just that information was a thrill! (The 8th annual “Women in the World Summit”, in association with The New York Times, was held from April 5-7, 2017 at the David H. Koch Theatre at Lincoln Centre in New York City. Hillary Clinton attended, interviewed for the first time since her 2016 electoral defeat. See here.)
About Susan Bordo
Dr Susan Bordo (above) holds the Otis A. Singletary Chair in the Humanities at the University of Kentucky, where she is a professor of Gender and Women’s Studies. She is an author of a number of seminal books on feminist theory, including the Pulitzer Prize-nominated Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture and the Body, The Male Body: A New Look at Men in Public and Private and The Creation of Anne Boleyn: A New Look at England’s Most Notorious Queen.
The Destruction of Hillary Clinton: Susan Bordo; Text Publishing (2017), rrp AUD$29.99; e-book also available, here.