On Tuesday, October 24th, Hillary Clinton came to the University of Michigan’s Hill Auditorium to promote her book, What Happened. As Clinton took the stage in a boot after breaking her toe, she was met with loud cheers from the packed audience. She took a seat in front of a display of her books and across from Anne Curzan, a professor in the Department of English Language and Literature. Not surprisingly, Clinton got right to it. She acknowledged that the outcome of the 2016 presidential election in Michigan was not what she and her team had hoped or worked for. Even so, she urged the audience not to despair and explained that, although there is a lot of work to be done, continuing efforts are just as critical as ever.
Clinton then dove into a short speech emphasizing the four most important points of her book. The first was acceptance, the fact that everyone gets knocked down, but what is important is how a person recovers. She described her efforts to cope with the loss, including having her “fair share of Chardonnay,” but rather than emphasize how she was doing personally, Clinton focused on her feelings as an American citizen. She promised to channel her frustrations into action and asked the audience to join her in this process. “The future depends on it,” she stated.
Clinton’s second point focused on combatting the endemic misogyny in politics and explained that “the only way to get sexism out of politics is to get more women into politics,” quoting some research detailing how deeply rooted misogyny is in our government and shared her hope that women of all ages will read her book and feel encouraged to get involved.
Clinton’s third point was something “very close to [her] heart.” She paused to emphasize her point and announced that there is no such thing as an alternative fact. Clinton stressed the importance of holding the media and our political leaders to a standard of accuracy and explained that in order to function in society, it is essential that we stand up for facts and evidence, that we demand proof and come to decisions rooted in reason.
Clinton’s fourth point received the most attention as she repeatedly emphasized the gravity of the Russian involvement in the 2016 election, explaining in detail how Russia used stolen emails and false or misleading propaganda, among other things, to sway the minds of voters leading up to the election. She went on to say that Michigan and Wisconsin were explicitly targeted with this kind of propaganda through various social media sites. Clinton was clear that this foreign interference is still happening and warned the audience to prepare for what is still to come. She urged everybody to note the severity of the situation, clarifying that no other foreign power has attacked the US with so little consequences. “This is a new kind of cold war and it’s just getting started,” she said.
Finally, before jumping into an interview with Curzan, Clinton reminded the audience how important it is to vote in every election. She reassured the crowd that she personally was doing okay, but she cannot just “move on” as so much still needs to be done. She promised the crowd that she wasn’t going anywhere, “except right in the middle of the debate.”
The interview lasted a little over an hour and focused on questions that allowed Clinton to further develop the arguments made in her book. She also spoke about her writing process and noted how much she learned, primarily where the campaign went wrong and just how big of an influence Russia’s interference turned out to be. Rather than address the affirmative mistakes that her campaign made, Clinton focused on how outside elements changed the course of the election, like James Comey’s announcement on October 28th last year and the use of false news stories.
Clinton concluded with an amusing anecdote about her grandchildren, reminding the crowd that even in hard times, it’s important to find a way to smile. Even though her descriptions of the new reality of cyber warfare and the frustrations of dealing with misogyny in politics were grim, she still managed in her indomitable way to convey a sense that not all is lost. Perhaps it’s her own success story, rooted in her ability to persevere in the face of criticism from all angles that makes her so inspirational. Although Clinton has made many mistakes in her career, no one can deny her sheer force of will, hard work, and strength. As she left Hill Auditorium to a standing ovation, the rest of us were left with something to smile about.