The Ghost of Hillary

Photo by Kyle Taylor | CC BY 2.0

The Ghost of Hillary Clinton still haunts the minds of many Americans. She is paraded around America like a fallen angel. A Washington Post article as recent as March 14th stated: “America Needs Hillary More Than Ever”. The investigation into Russia collusion drags on a year and a half after Donald Trump’s victory. Earlier this month Hillary was still making excuses for why she lost. The latest one: she had two-thirds of the GDP on her side: ““But what the map doesn’t show you is that I won the places that represent two-thirds of America’s gross domestic product. So I won the places that are optimistic, diverse, dynamic, moving forward”. Even Hillary is usually more skilled at hiding her class bias.

This was one of Hillary’s more telling quotes. She believes the rich are dynamic and forward thinking and that the poor are not. She believes that to be poor is to be backward and ignorant. She believes that only angry white dudes are poor and she doesn’t even give a thought to anyone else. She believes that the smart and worthy people are for her and that the losers are not. And of course she believes that there is something inherently wrong with an election that is decided by poor people. The rich are also according to Hillary, more “optimistic.” No shit. Who could possibly be “optimistic” about the state of America right now besides the rich?

To be fair, Hillary is not the only one obsessed with Hillary. Trump and Fox News spread mad and sexist conspiracies about her. And who could blame Hillary for being obsessed with herself? Imagine waking up tomorrow as Hillary Clinton. Could anything be stranger?!

I told myself that I wasn’t going to read What Happened. Despite my obsession with Hillary Clinton, even I had my fair share by the end of the 2016 election. Yet I almost tripped over it in the library, laying out on a cart, castaway, begging to be read. My first response was, as always with Hillary, “won’t you just go away?” But there was something that beckoned me back into her arms. Hillary, as captivating as she is awkward, wooed me back.

I am far from the only man obsessed with Hillary. But what kind of man am I? Am I the bitter Bernie Bro who pours minutely over each detail of the DNC’s corruption? Am I the deplorable Trumper who sees Hillary lurking behind every conspiracy of liberalism on Fox News? Or am I the sanctimonious liberal man who bends over backwards to prove that he is a feminist through his Hillary fetish? This kind of man is so acutely portrayed in Get Out. The liberal suburban Dad proudly tells the black man he is about to slice up that he “would have voted for Obama a third time.”

Yet I wonder if there is a fourth type of man obsessed with Hillary. Someone who finds the entire political scene so farcical that he can’t help but be drawn in by somebody who is so uniquely dishonest, entitled, and oblivious.

There was always a certain bond that I felt with Hillary’s mangled soul. She is just so out of touch with most people. She needed translators to relate to the everyday American, and her translators weren’t that good either. She couldn’t walk into a room, as her husband did, and adapt to the sheer absurdity of the human mind, let alone the American mind. If she did not find her own mind to be so far above what she couldn’t understand maybe she would have won. With that thought, I jumped in.

The book felt hectic, but not in the Virginia Woolf stream-of-consciousness sense. There is something quite dulling about all of Hillary’s anecdotes. She has been in the political machine for far too long. She seems to be frozen in platitudes of what should be. Her mind is not free, it is trapped inside someone who works too hard and feels too little. She feels the need to attack all dissenters. In the first few pages she gushes over her phone call from “George” (yes, George W. Bush). She seems to be just fine with anyone more rightwing than her, for it leaves her room to shimmy to their side, always the willing (and superior) partner in crimes against humanity. Anyone more left than Hillary must be crazy, for that side has already been taken up by Hers truly.

Before every chapter there is some sort of self-help quote from a famous person. Hillary has the blasphemy to begin the book with a quote from “super-predator” Harriet Tubman (she goes on to celebrate Harriet’s face on the 20$ bill. If Hillary ever had to touch a 20 she might not have been so complementary). Hillary’s book fits in with the therapy driven, pill popping self-love narratives that has ascendancy over liberal circles. Compassion for mental illness is important (although not for the mental illness that brings slavery to Haiti and Libya). But the overall craze with self-loving fits with the capitalist notion that mental health is indeed a problem to be blamed on the individual, and if only they could be a little more selfish they would be happier. This self-love narrative doesn’t acknowledge that the happiest regions in the world are the ones with the strongest communities and the least inequality.

About every self-help quote has something to do with “it doesn’t matter if you lose, it matters that you keep going.” The first assumption here is that because Hillary lost, we all lost. Why again should we feel that Hillary Clinton’s loss was our loss? Wasn’t she the second most unpopular candidate ever? There is an assumption throughout the book that Hillary represented all that is good about the new liberal order. How many people is this order helping? And to the extent that it does work, can you name one way in which the Clintons have helped, rather than betrayed the very principles of a liberal society? The second assumption that Hillary makes is that nobody should look at the outcomes of an event that surprised them. Instead they should just double down on what they already thought. Hillary’s world is the entire world and no event—not even losing a Presidential election to Donald Trump?!!! should result in any sort of curiosity or reflection. The answer to all problems in America and in HillaryLand is work harder and don’t look anywhere you aren’t supposed to.

The other problem for the Clintons in this book is how much their brand is stuck in the 90s. They are a show about nothing without the humor or self-awareness. The 60s brought idealism through thriving social movements. Following their defeat it was cynicism and Nixon that rose from the ashes. Cynicism was then institutionalized through Reagan and the 80s with a full on embrace of individualism and neoliberalism. What followed was the Clintons, who rebranded the Democratic Party as a place for liberal individuals rather than collective society. Follow this with a win for the common man George W., a celebration of individual simpleness as collective identity. Hope for a smarter (but not a more collective) world came through Barack Obama, and predictably hope fell flat on its face despite Obama’s popularity. Hillary Clinton then tried to make a cheery reboot of her 90s family sitcom, but talking about nothing no longer was appealing. Talking about something, some doom for us all, was the pulse of the times and Donald Trump fit perfectly. Proud of lying, bullying and destruction, the end times had come for us. Born again Christians rejoice and free market liberals rebuke. Hillary still can’t believe Trump won but it was ultimately her ideology that won out. Rich individuals matter, society does not.

The Clintons are as sloppy as they are shameless. The fact that they thought they deserved another chance showed how much they took the American people, especially the left, for granted. To write a tale of victimhood assumes that none of us remembered the Clintons or if we did, that they deserved to get away with it. It is true that women and men are held to different standards in our society. But the complaint by Hillary is that she couldn’t get away with criminality, corruption and cruelty. How bold a claim it is to act like you deserve to get away with such things! Imagine even if a less prolific gangster, such as Al Capone, was half as indignant about his crimes! This is why What Happened, once you get past the ridiculousness of it, is a potentially engrossing read.

There was something strangely satisfying about Hillary bashing Bernie Sanders in this book. I am not sure which side of the Left brain it appealed to—that of masochism or that of martyrdom. There was just something so false and small about that old man. He at the end of the day got what he was looking for—a seat at the table of the Democratic Party.

As for Russia, everything got really personal in this book. it was like all of us were at the mercy of grudges between royal figures. Putin hates me, I hate Putin, let’s go to war and you can cheer for me! The media too has taken Putin’s “attack on American democracy” quite personally. It is after all, their democracy that Putin messed with. Only the American corporate media can decide what we think, no outside propaganda allowed! Hillary also throws in that America was doing better than any other major country.

Another favorite moment of the book was when an older woman dragged her younger daughter over to Hillary to confess that she didn’t vote. The younger woman bowed her head before the pulpit and apologized for her sin. Hillary complained about forgiving this woman, acting as if one “lazy millennial” had more to do with her own loss than she did. Want to know why younger people aren’t voting? This is why.

The first couple of chapters are rather slow as Hillary tries to pretend like she has a personal life and a soul. Hillary informs us that she asked her father if he would still love her even if she murdered someone. Maybe he should have said no….It gets even more tiresome when she raves about the Clinton Foundation. Then there are the details of her campaign staff and their analytics. I must admit that I skipped this part. Maybe Trump had spoiled me, but I wanted the dirt!

It takes a while to get going. The book is filled with pop culture references and cute anecdotes that are dated, overused and uninspiring. Hillary desperately shoves her humanity on top of us and it is hard to believe it. There are so many quaint stories that happen to “ordinary” people in this book. Including to Hillary herself. What she ate, what she wore, who she went on a walk with. Lots of “jokes” and “moments” that helped to get her through the day. Aren’t these things that come naturally to human beings? Do they have to be so forced?

I came to the next chapter: “A Day In The Life”. Get me out of here! Finally, the section on “Sisterhood”. I can’t believe I am saying this, but I miss Elitist Hillary! Everyday Hillary is way too folksy. There are three chapters devoted to “Sisterhood”. In Hillary’s world there are two sides: those who are with men and those who are with Her. Hillary, Establishment Democrats and even Establishment Republicans are on the side of women. Anyone outside of this establishment—whether they be Trump voters (in Hillary’s mind, poor people, evil men and acquiescent women) or Bernie voters (idealistic privileged men) are the enemy of Hillary, and therefore the enemy of women.

What is truly odd about Hillary is that she sees feminism in the establishment and sexism as an outside force that come from the unenlightened masses. This is consistent with her aggressive use of the police state and military-industrial complex. She views these patriarchal forms of control as civilizing forces for predatory men and their victims. What war does to women is irrelevant. What prison does to women is irrelevant. What cutting welfare does to women is irrelevant. What widening inequality does to women is irrelevant. Distrust the masses and trust the powerful is Hillary’s mantra.

There may also be truth in that Hillary’s strategy of lying, stealing, and yes, even marrying, to the top of our capitalist patriarchal society produced better results for her. As sad as this may be, such a strategy of global pillage should be denounced as not worth whatever Hillary thinks she symbolizes. Hillary’s book did feature some nice statements on women’s leadership, and hopefully it encourages more women to get involved in politics. Having no believes other than narcissism though, Hillary again stuck to empty and vague maxims in this section.

I had to stop. I was going mad. This was such a long road and it meant nothing. The lies weren’t even interesting anymore. She wasn’t trying to convince me, she was trying to fatigue me. I knew slightly more fruitful ground was ahead. I wanted to see her rail against Russia and Bernie. The index indicated her “Grievances” would go on for several hundred pages. I wanted to see the “real” Hillary. I wanted to see her express her real believes and real emotions. But I had to skim, and soon after I had to close the book. I saw my life ticking away as I became increasingly engrossed by the petty grievances of one of the most sinister people in the world. I was, if anything, more confused now than I had ever been. But far too worn down to keep going. I anticipated reading the whole book but I could barely get through the first couple chapters. This was a painful, painful read. Don’t try it. If you think you want to read this book, just run away.

This book is awful. Not especially because of the politics it embraces, which are obviously horrendous. Rather it is the attitude of a politician so distant from reality, so distant from what it means to be alive, that she has to construct it entirely from her partner’s notes. She says she doesn’t want to be like Ms. Havisham from Great Expectations but this is exactly who she is. She is a ghost, stuck in a moment in time, unable to make any sense of it. 70 years of denying the existence of a world with struggle and dignity has left her incapable of accepting reality. She hires advisors to give excuses, she hires writers to construct a life, and she hires think tanks to run the government.

For Hillary the world will go on through the ever improving free market, where all victories are natural and all losses are inexplicable. It is from America, the most rude and selfish place in the world, where democracy shines. As for the people, they just haven’t quite caught up to this hip lady with the pantsuits and techies. Have these Trump people even been to Chipotle, she wonders.

What is this world? Who are you, Hillary Clinton? Even the way she explained yoga was so exhausting. She acted like it was some slick American innovation that was best applied for the overbooked. I don’t know, gosh, who cares. But there was just something so frustrating about Hillary’s zombie-like quest in this book. Eat the enemy. Learn human. Using google translate.

Where was I? Where had Hillary taken me? Life began slipping away, I was trapped within a white picket fence. I would be driving a mini van to see small children play soccer games. I would engage in humanitarian projects to remind myself the world was there. I would be happily married—somehow both owning and respecting my wife and 3 children. I would be endlessly busy, stressed, and exhausted. Occasionally I would take a moment to say “isn’t life just great.” I would have a few cute quirks that we could all laugh about, as I was a character in this act too. I would be the uncivilized man needing to be civilized, and no matter how far I might stray, they would assure me “you’ll come back” and indeed, I would. I saw each benchmark of a successful life pass by, and each time, I would tell myself “life was not wasted.” I would lose touch with all those but the most persistent, not really liking any of my friends, but liking to gossip about them. I would turn on CNN, listen to the experts, vote for a centrist Democrat who talked about getting along, donate to the charity of my choice, scold somebody, but no one in particular, feel good about myself, become utterly bored, pick up another hobby that did nothing for anybody, I would become stressed, I would go to Starbucks, I would figure out the best ways to “manage” such a balanced life between work and family and projects, and I would do my best to civilize the world in my image. I would grow more conservative with age, more cross with those younger than me, more trusting in authority, and more cynical about government. I would one day get cancer, be covered by ObamaCare, thank God for the Democrats, beat it once, have a small thought that my whole life was a sham, but soon go back to routine. I would then one day die, in the middle of the night, and those of my creed would regard me as a “good man” and a “happy man” and I would be buried next to my loving wife, who was really the pillar of the family, and the mystery would remain, how on earth did Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton?

By the end of the book I scratched my head and concluded that none of it really mattered. The whole event of the 2016 election and its dramatic reveal through this book seemed to just be based in petty details, meanness and elitism. Naturally, Donald Trump, the most petty, the most mean and the most elite of the crop won the cake. Actually, Hillary Clinton, losing the 2016 election is the most decent thing you have ever done.

What began a couple hours ago as intrigue ended in a woozy haze. I wasn’t asking What Happened I was asking What Just Happened? This was a tedious expedition. I was hoping for Desperate Housewives but I got Gone Girl meets Gilmore Girls. This was a brutal cocktail of sensationalized victimhood and mind numbing anecdotes. There were some slightly more wild sucker punches in the later chapters but I couldn’t appreciate many of them. As bad as Hillary is at being a politician, she is much worse at being a human being.

Naturally I had to turn to Russian born singer Regina Spektor and her song “Ghost Of Corporate Future” to get my sanity back. She sings over an overflowing piano rhythm:

And people make you nervous
You’d think the world was ending
And everybody’s features have somehow started blending
And everything is plastic
And everyone’s sarcastic
And all your food is frozen
It needs to be defrosted
You’d think the world was ending
You’d think the world was ending
You’d think the world was ending right now

Hillary is indeed the ghost of a corporate future. When she was running for President it was very reasonable to ask: is she alive? She is so cynical, so fake, and so out of touch. She has built her fences and her causes and has hid behind them.

Now she is a different sort of ghost. She remains stuck in a moment in time. We are reminded of her far too often. When she lost we lost “democracy” and gained “fascism.” Hillary’s death was the death of America. The greatest country on earth had fallen. Hillary haunts our imaginations. She deludes our memory. What would have happened if she had won?

Look no further than this quote about nuclear weapons during the Presidential debate: “The bottom line on nuclear weapons is: when the President gives the order it must be followed….that’s why ten people who have had that awesome responsibility have come out and said they would not trust Donald Trump with the nuclear codes.”

A person so distant from reality naturally lives in deep paranoia. Hillary is deeply fearful of the poor, blacks, young women, and foreign foes. When she said that a nuclear order “must be obeyed” she was implying that she was entitled to give such an order. She was right to criticize Donald Trump’s judgement but may I ask when is the right time to blow up the entire world? One who is level headed about such a possibility is much more frightening than a madman like Trump.

As Secretary of State Hillary was reckless. Given the current climate in Syria (no thanks to her nemesis Vladimir), what would a no-fly zone have meant? What would it have mattered to Hillary? If she didn’t understand Wisconsin, what makes us think she would have understood Syria? A hot nuclear war would have been one way to defrost Hillary’s frozen food and warm her cold hands. We all may have been ghosts of Hillary’s corporate future if the White Pantsuit had descended upon us. Now that she can’t take our bodies, she settles for our souls.


Nick Pemberton writes and works from Saint Paul, Minnesota. He loves to receive feedback at