April 4, 2017
Exposing the myths and manipulations used against Hillary Clinton
by Susan Bordo
We are delighted today to be publishing 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.
You may already have heard some of the buzz generated by the excerpt printed in yesterday’s Guardian. Today, to celebrate publication, we offer this passage from the book’s introduction.
Today, with a twenty-four-hour news cycle that has gradually blurred the line between entertainment and information, it took only seventeen months—between the announcement of her candidacy in April of 2015 and the presidential election in November of 2016—for the accomplished and poised former secretary of state Hillary Clinton to be 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.”
Stepping back from the epithets and the scandal-mongering headlines, there is something mind boggling about the extreme contradictions between how millions of us view Hillary and the caricature that dominated the news during the election year.
Clinton’s nearly three million popular vote margin over Trump demonstrate that whatever “mistrust” had become attached to her, whatever electoral force was exerted by those who wanted to “lock her up,” there were powerful factors working in the opposite direction. Prior to running for president, she had a 66 percent approval rating. She ranked high (and still does) among the most admired women in the world. She was commended by politicians on both sides of the aisle for her ability to work with Republicans as well as members of her own party. Even one of her speeches—her famous Beijing “Women’s rights are human rights” speech—was ranked by American Rhetoric among the top one hundred American public speeches ever delivered.
The currently popular complaint against Clinton among Democrats is that she didn’t communicate an effective “message” to the battleground “rust belt” states that ultimately decided the election. In terms of electoral numbers, those states were indeed key. But just why Clinton lost them isn’t as clear as is now being presented. The emphasis on the demographics Clinton didn’t appeal to also elides the importance of those groups she did appeal to: those for whom the fragility of human rights, always a priority for Clinton, was recognized as a “message” still needing to be delivered — perhaps especially so with Trump as the alternative.
“I had watched her when she was first lady of Arkansas,” the late Maya Angelou told The Guardian. “I thought this white girl would come to Arkansas and play croquet on the lawn and throw tea parties. And she was just the opposite. She worked on public health and education… even prisons.” During the 2016 election cycle, the mothers of Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and Sandra Bland—who had lost children through police and other violence—found in Hillary a warm and fierce advocate, even before she announced her candidacy, and identified with Clinton’s ability to “take a licking and keep on ticking.”
Among some demographic groups—older blacks, for example—Hillary Clinton’s “historic unpopularity” was an out-and-out falsehood; she won the black vote by 88 percent. Important civil rights leaders such as John Lewis described their affection for her as that of a longstanding comrade-in-arms. “That determination and strength particularly has meaning to African American women,” said Sharon Reed, sixty, a community-college teacher from North Charleston, South Carolina. “Who has overcome more obstacles and darts and arrows than she has? And she’s still standing and she’s still strong.”
These black mothers disputed the idea that Clinton was using them for political purposes, citing Clinton’s long-standing work with Civil Rights activist and Children’s Defense Fund founder Marian Wright Edelman, as well as other black community leaders. “I really got the sense that she could really relate to us, as being mothers and women and daughters,” said Lucy McBath, whose teenage son, Jordan Davis, was shot and killed at a Jacksonville, Florida, gas station in 2012. Outreach director La Davia Drane described Clinton’s connection to mothers, particularly black mothers, as “a secret sauce, it’s a match made in heaven.”
“I feel a kinship to who she is. She knows and understands the battle that we fight every day,” said Ohio congresswoman Marcia Fudge. “She has a special place for us because she really gets it.” On election night, an estimated 94 percent of black women voted for Clinton.
Susan Bordo is a critic and cultural historian, and holds the Otis A. Singletary Chair in the Humanities at the University of Kentucky, where she teaches in the department of Gender and Women’s Studies. She has written many books, including The Creation of Anne Boleyn: A New Look at England’s Most Notorious Queen. Her latest is The Destruction of Hillary Clinton, recently published by Melville House.