by Hillary Clinton, Simon & Schuster, 512pp, £20
This is an astonishing and disturbing book. Hillary Clinton writes persuasively of seeking “grace” after her defeat, and concluded her speeches throughout the 2016 campaign calling for “love and kindness”; but this book is unrelievedly ungracious.
She describes her opponent as “a clear and present danger to the country … an unqualified bully [whose] towering self-regard blotted out all hope of learning or growing … a charlatan … sexist, misogynist [who] appealed to the ugliest impulses of national character … is on the wrong side of justice, history, and basic human decency … hostile to civil rights and voting rights across the board, is for nuclear proliferation, against NATO, and for torturing prisoners … lacks character, values and experience [and] will be the most reckless president in American history, and put at risk our country’s national security and well-being”.
In sum, she declares Donald Trump to be “the least experienced, least knowledgeable, least competent president our country has ever had … who doesn’t think in terms of morality or human rights, he only thinks in terms of power and dominance. He dreams of Moscow on the Potomac.” She writes that Trump has “an affection for tyrants, hostility toward allies, and alleged financial ties to shady Russian actors”. He has “degraded national life” and “is a tumour on the American soul”.
There is nothing gracious or kind about these remarks. They are extremely nasty even by the knockabout standards of American elections, and the factual assertions are completely and demonstrably false, in poorer taste than Mr Trump at his (appalling) worst. Other narrowly defeated American presidential candidates have written thoughtful and civilised memoirs. Mrs Clinton is relentlessly partisan. Her opponents are always “the extreme right”, though Trump is in fact a centrist on most issues, well to the left of the Ted Cruz Republicans.
While Mrs Clinton does “accept responsibility” for her defeat, she blames it on everyone else. She says the former FBI director James Comey “shivved me three times”. There were two occasions when he exonerated her, though he made it clear she had lied to investigators (Martha Stewart was sent to prison for less), and on the other occasion, he said he was reopening the examination of her emails; but he swiftly closed the investigation. It was no business of a senior law enforcement official to make any of these announcements, and prosecution decisions don’t reside with him, but Comey is generally reckoned to have assisted Mrs Clinton’s candidacy.
Then there was the alleged misogyny of a large part of the American electorate, which did not prevent it from giving her more votes than Trump, albeit not as usefully distributed. Mrs Clinton is unable to explain how or why Trump won the votes of the majority of white women, but it cannot be because of misogyny. She complains about the electoral college system, but five previous presidents were elected with fewer votes than their chief opponent, because the United States is a federation where all the adhering states entered with the same level of jurisdictional sovereignty, regardless of population. All candidates in close races try to game the system – it’s the constitution of a federal country. (In a run-off, Trump would have won with the Libertarian vote.)
For Mrs Clinton, the supreme culprit is Russia, in collusion with Trump. The WikiLeaks releases were generally favourable to Mrs Clinton, though not to all of her advisers, and Trump had nothing to do with them.
The Russians spent a few thousand dollars on Facebook advertising that didn’t endorse a candidate – in an election where the two principal candidates spent $1.85 billion dollars – and all intelligence and investigative organisations agree that it did not influence the election outcome, even in very close states such as Michigan and Wisconsin.
But the most outrageous aspect of this book is that Mrs Clinton sets out to convict her opponent of a treasonable conspiracy with Russia on the basis of the now infamous Steele dossier, composed by a retired British spy, through intermediaries, from Kremlin low-lives who produced salacious falsehoods about Trump. The Clinton campaign paid $10 million (£7.5 million) for it and shopped it desperately around to the press, which, anti-Trump though it was, would not touch such unverifiable and extreme charges.
Mrs Clinton accuses the New York Times of publishing “one of the worst stories of the campaign when it wrote on October 31, 2016 that the FBI couldn’t find any connection between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign”. A whole year later, that remains the FBI view. The Clinton innuendos are the original “fake news”, and this book pushes a story the author knew to be false because she had commissioned and paid for the information. Clinton now refers to the Steele dossier as “campaign information”. (She even attaches some credence to its claim that Trump cavorted with prostitutes in a Moscow hotel room where the Obamas once slept.)
It has also come to light since the publication of this book that, according to the former Democratic Party chairwoman Donna Brazile, Mrs Clinton rigged a number of primaries in her struggle with Senator Bernie Sanders for the Democratic nomination and may have violated the Federal Election Campaign Act.
The author is a relentless partisan: Republicans are under-educated pessimists – “the deplorables”, as she called them last year. Ronald Reagan “sapped the spirit of the country”, even though he restored the country’s confidence. He also led the greatest economic boom in modern US history and won the Cold War, but she doesn’t mention that. To her, Eisenhower scarcely existed and Nixon was a criminal (there is still no evidence that he personally was).
The Russian canard was devised quickly as an unembarrassing explanation for why Clinton lost an election that was generally thought to be unlosable, including by the candidate herself. There was never any truth to any of her excuses. This was the woman who claimed to have been under sniper fire at Sarajevo airport, when news film showed she was greeted by little girls with flowers and an official guard, and who told New Zealanders her parents named her after Sir Edmund Hillary when he conquered Mount Everest, though this occurred four years after she was christened. The public didn’t trust her (she blames the “viciousness of the Republican smear merchants”) and she had no grasp of the proportions of public anger.
She still doesn’t understand that Trump won because the previous 20 years of government had been utterly and bipartisanly incompetent in the White House and Congress. Clinton, George W Bush and Obama produced the housing bubble and the Great Recession; endless and fruitless wars in the Middle East costing five trillion dollars as well as scores of thousands of American casualties and an immense humanitarian tragedy; mountainous budgetary, current account and trade deficits; economic stagnation; and, under Obama, serious increases in poverty and violence, a shrinking workforce and a foreign policy of telling America’s allies and enemies to swap their roles and places. (Clinton proudly claims that the surrender to Iran’s nuclear military ambitions avoided an arms race in the Middle East.)
She dismisses Whitewater (which ultimately led to the impeachment of her husband), Travelgate (she fired the White House travel office and replaced it with cronies), the Benghazi tragedy (where the American ambassador to Libya was murdered by terrorists and she and Obama pretended that it was mob anger provoked by an anti-Islamic video produced by a private American citizen), and claims that the email controversy “amounted to precisely nothing”.
She does not mention her speech of apology to the world’s Muslims, a toe-curling embarrassment to the entire Western world, or her inability to utter or write the words “Islamic terrorism”. Nor does she mention the very disconcerting pay-to-play activities of the Clinton Foundation, including the payment or pledge to it by interested parties of $145 million; nor that the Russians gave Bill Clinton a $500,000 speaking fee at a time when Secretary of State Clinton’s agreement was required to approve a sale of US uranium assets to Russian interests.
Mrs Clinton believes she is a sincere Christian, though she makes it clear that the purpose of being a communicant in a church should be to turn that church into an agency for leftward political action: what she calls “progressive reform”. She appears to believe that the state has a practically unlimited right and duty to correct meritocratic as well as inherited or exploitative imbalances, and that the Democratic Party must be a secular church militant where those who oppose abortions (about half the American public) are, along with many other large groups, unwelcome. All politics is a constant process of “reform” where, miraculously, the majority gain at the expense of the more accomplished minority. This isn’t really Christianity or democracy; it easily slips into rank acquisition of votes with the money of part of the electorate in a cynical and corrupt manner.
Hillary Clinton convicts herself of such attitudes with this astonishing pastiche of rage, affected humility, idealism, myth-making and constant belligerence. In comparison, Donald Trump is a wholesome, if voluminous, character.
Conrad Black is the author of Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom, Richard M Nixon: A Life in Full and Flight of the Eagle: The Grand Strategies That Brought America from Colonial Dependence to World Leadership
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