Hillary sounded good then, and as I listened to Hard Choices, I realized that nothing had changed. She was still smart, honest and caring. But now she had the knowledge and skills that made her sound indeed like a world leader. She dealt with the chapter on Libya and the attack in Benghazi with honesty and integrity, and provided detail that made the tragedy come alive. What had changed, tragically, was that all those years of lies and attacks had influenced my perception of her.
This presidential election has been, really, about two people whose personas have come from decades of media attention. For Donald Trump, it began with a very conscious effort to mold his public image. As told in some of the excellent biographies that have come out this year, notably, Trump Revealed, The Making of Donald Trump, and Never Enough, his need to break free of his father's more modest ambitions led him to set his sights on Manhattan real estate, and on becoming known around town: known as a lady's man, as someone who hung around in the most desirable establishments, with the most important people, and mostly, as a man of great wealth and power. With the aid of his father's money he got his foothold in Manhattan and obsessively pursued those goals. There was absolutely nothing Donald Trump would not do to promote his successes, even lie. Ghostwriter of The Art of The Deal Tony Schwartz claims he's never seen Trump pick up a book to read it, but he has "written" a dozen of them, all with co-authors. It wasn't until this presidential campaign that we saw a number of objective biographies hit the shelves.
On the other hand, hate books about Hillary have been a cottage industry for decades. She has not ever had the luxury of building a public image on her own terms. Hillary's public career began as Bill's wife, in Arkansas, where she immediately became ostracized for having a mind of her own and daring to speak it. From attempting to keep her family name of Rodham when she got married, to her independent work as an attorney, it seemed everything she did riled the people of Arkansas. And there were no worse critics than the women.
As First Lady, and with Bill's enthusiastic support, she continued to set goals that had been beyond former First Ladies. As the left-leaning wife of a centrist president, she was charged with developing a health care proposal and ended up getting battered with the full force of the animosity of the corporate fueled right-wing political machine. Misleading headlines and a $20 million dollar advertising campaign sponsored by the health insurance lobby fired up the public, and led to the death of badly needed health care reform.
Oh, and while she was First Lady, the press never met an issue that was too petty to critique: along with her name, there was her hairstyle, and of course, those pantsuits. Throughout her campaign for president, the press couldn't decide whether to ask her about her emails or go on about what she is wearing. They mock her laugh, then complain that she doesn't smile enough, and then Breitbart comes in and attributes evil connotations to her grin.
Especially interesting is that, for all the people who hate Hillary, the best you can get from them are vague but passionate claims that "She lies," or the one word "Benghazi." How about asking somebody what was in a single email that cost us so much in tax dollars and goodwill. And then contrast that to the criminal activity that has, is and will continue to go on during Trump's political life.
I would like to put this into a popular culture historical perspective.
Since he threw his silly hat in the ring, Donald Trump references seem to be everywhere. I was listening to a 1993 book by the wonderful travel writer Bill Bryson recently. There was something in his travels that he enjoyed so very much that he would "sell his grandmother to Donald Trump" in order to be able to take one home with him. Funny at the time, I guess.
And then there are the movies and television. I don't believe Trump has ever said no to a cameo. And of course, his celebrity coup was his role in The Apprentice, which I am proud to say I have never seen. But, as I said, you never know when he will pop up on the screen.
Because I do a lot of reading and writing about the horrific state of our country these days, my nightly movie watching has taken a radical turn into rather juvenile escapism.
A couple of days ago, the movie was Home Alone 2 (1992). Spoiler alert, Macaulay Culkin ends up in New York City. In the Park Plaza Hotel, he stops and asks Donald Trump where the lobby is.
The following night, for a change of pace, it was Hot Shots: Part Deux (1993). A very funny spoof of Rambo, with lots of other movies tossed in, and featuring Saddam Hussein. But for no apparent reason, during the big fight scene with hero Topper Harley and Saddam, the phone rings, Topper picks it up, listens, then says, "It's your wife, Hillary Rodham Hussein." Turns out that all the female characters had the middle name Rodham.
Two candidates for president, one with a nurtured public persona, the other carved over the years with rusty knives by politicians and media. Oh, and did I mention that one of them is a woman?
Samantha Bee, also a woman, and by the way, one who was passed over to replace Jon Stewart on The Daily Show, is burning up late night TV these days with her hysterically funny and passionate political diatribes. On her last episode before the election, she narrated a memorable history of Hillary Rodham Clinton that tells her story far better than I have.
I still wake up thinking about what we could have had. It happened this morning. But then I remember that, if Hillary was now president, congress would be preparing to investigate and impeach her for her imaginary crimes.
And even knowing that the hate machine would grind on, she was willing to step up and fight for us. And she still is.