January 9, 2018
Out today in paperback: The Destruction of Hillary Clinton, by Susan Bordo
by Melville House
We are delighted today to be celebrating the paperback release of Susan Bordo’s The Destruction of Hillary Clinton — an unsparing look at the complex of forces that attacked Hillary Clinton throughout the election, from both the right and the left.
How can the accusations have stuck to someone with so a distinguished past as a successful organizer, attorney, first lady, senator, and secretary of state? Bordo has not forgotten Clinton’s many achievements, nor the years of struggle that put the feminist banner in Clinton’s hands as she rapped upon that highest glass ceiling.
As we approach the 365th day of the Trump presidency, it’s more urgent than ever to understand the forces that brought us where we are. Today, to celebrate the paperback, we offer this passage, lightly adapted from the book’s introduction.
When this book was first published, some of Hillary Clinton’s most ardent supporters were indignant at the title. “What do you mean? Hillary Clinton wasn’t destroyed!” they protested. No, I explained, the title does not refer to the destruction of Hillary the flesh-and-blood person — a woman who by all accounts is as resilient as they come. Nor does the title refer to the electoral shortfall that cost her the presidency.
So why “destruction”?
The result of the election of 2016 cannot be described in such mundane terms as “loss” or “defeat” — terms that suggest the culmination of a conventional contest. No, this was an election in which not only the conventions of fairness but reality itself were put to the test — and failed. It was an election in which consumable narrative and faux “scandal” replaced fact, caricature replaced biography, and tribal attachments and irrational biases took precedence over experience, policy, and accomplishment. Nothing new? Politics as usual? I don’t think so. Yes, these ingredients have always been a part of politics. But in 2016 they were so unrestrained—and we now know by external as well as domestic forces—that they amounted to what was less like a contest and more an all-out assault on the character and candidacy of Hillary Clinton.
Bill Clinton, in his speech at the Democratic National Convention, described the “real” Hillary and another “made-up” one. Though I wouldn’t use exactly those words, the juxtaposition is familiar to me, as my last book was about another flesh-and-blood woman who was replaced by a fiction. Her name was Anne Boleyn, and we know her in two different modes. One Anne Boleyn is the complex, good-and-bad Anne, second wife of Henry VIII, who made the fatal mistake of not staying in her proper wifely place and then getting on the wrong side of Thomas Cromwell; the other Anne Boleyn is a nasty caricature concocted by her political enemies and passed down through centuries via Catholic polemics, factually loose biographies, and sensationalizing novels, films, and television programs. That Anne is an overly ambitious, calculating, untrustworthy schemer who, while not always represented as guilty of adultery and treason (the crimes for which she was falsely charged), nonetheless got the fate she deserved. There’s astonishingly little factual basis for this nasty version of Anne. She is a fantasy creation that lives within a narrative developed over time, one that turned politically motivated lies into inflammatory gossip and alchemized that gossip into what we now believe to be fact.
Today, with a twenty-four-hour news cycle that has gradually blurred the line between entertainment and information, it didn’t take centuries for the real Hillary Clinton to be subjected to the same kind of poisonous alchemy. In a mere seventeen months, between the announcement of her candidacy in April of 2015 and the presidential election in November of 2016, the accomplished and poised former secretary of state Hillary Clinton turned into someone—or something—hardly recognizable. The features of this fictional creation, recycled over and over in newspaper articles and television reports, became familiar. Hillary was “flawed.” “Untrustworthy.” An uninspiring orator. Evasive. Not “available” enough to the media or “the people.” “She thinks she’s above the law.” “She’s in the pocket of Wall Street.” “She thinks she’s better than us.” “Others would be in jail for the crimes she has committed.” Or, perhaps most frequently, “There’s just something about her I don’t like.” Even favorable op-eds and endorsements invariably qualified their praise of Hillary’s qualifications with a nod to her imperfections as a candidate, and the “problems she had brought on herself.”
That “Hillary had no one but herself to blame” was a theme that immediately surfaced post-election and has continued, unabated, through Clinton’s temporary time off after the election, her re-emergence as a public presence, and the publication of her own memoir and assessment of the election (which I discuss in the Afterword to this book).
Between Bernie Sanders and the GOP witch-hunters, Hillary was blamed for every national disaster from racialized incarceration to the deaths of American diplomats during the raid on Benghazi. She was accused of having extraordinary powers that “enabled” her husband’s infidelity, influenced Wall Street through the spell of a few polite remarks in public speeches, and put an entire nation in danger by “recklessly” handling classified material (that had not, in fact, been marked as classified). Her vote alone, apparently, was responsible for the war in Iraq. She even had her own “familiar”—her husband—with whom she frequently merged, shape-shifting into a slithery, elusive man-woman called “The Clintons.” This mythological creature lives by “rules of its own,” and lines its pockets with the lucre amassed through a supposed “charity” foundation.
Oh, yes, and as secretary of state she had a private email server in her basement. Basement? Private? What else might have been going on there? A child pornography ring? Feminist covens? Animal sacrifice?