Why Hillary Is the Way She Is

Let’s get one thing straight about Hillary Clinton — she has been shaped and sculpted and pressured and forced into boxes for decades of national political attention. She is the product of thousands of meetings and focus groups and opinion polls and strategy sessions. Much of the changes she has made to herself (clouding, probably, her true self and producing the phoniness everyone hates about her) are the result of America’s profoundly sexist culture, especially when it comes to women in positions of power.

With the impending release of her book this week, everybody’s talking about why Hillary lost. Of course she’s reflective of a spinelessness among Democrats in the 21st century. No one’s debating that. Of course she’s blaming Bernie for her loss when any child looking at this chart understands what the bigger problem was. Of course she has cozied up to Wall Street and demonized black kids and taken some atrocious positions over the years. None of that is in dispute, but neither does it change the core tragedy at the heart of Hillary Clinton, Politician.

Just look at her name — when Bill Clinton first became governor of Arkansas in 1978, she was Hillary Rodham. She was independent and strong, working to improve the health care of rural folks in the state. But many voters thought she was too uppity. She didn’t act demure or shy, like most First Ladies. In 1980 Bill Clinton was defeated by Republican Frank D. White, in part because conservatives attacked Hillary. When Bill ran to reclaim the seat, Hillary started calling herself “Hillary Clinton” and occasionally “Mrs. Bill Clinton”. He won his re-election bid in 1982.

Thus it has been for everything Hillary has ever done in the public spotlight. When she became First Lady of the nation, she was attacked for not baking enough cookies. She was attacked for working to improve health care instead of smiling for the cameras. She was attacked for speaking up about women’s rights in Beijing. And nothing she ever did in response to her husband’s constant sexual depravity has ever been good enough for The American People.

The American People are not always well-informed. They often vote with their guts, and their guts wear glasses thick with hostility toward powerful women. The American People often have mommy issues and male privilege and Queen Bee mindsets that make them hostile toward any woman trying to ascend ladders, especially those related to political power. So when someone like Hillary tries to relate to The American People, she can’t simply act on instinct the way Donald Trump can. She has to do whatever she can to appease their bizarre expectations. Like Trump, she tried doing that when she first entered politics. She was shot down with violent intensity. So she started adjusting her behavior, and she’s never stopped.

I don’t love Hillary Clinton, and I don’t even like her very much. She has made an ocean of compromises to further her legal, economic, and political futures. However, I need the world to acknowledge the unique kinds of pressures she has faced for decades, and start changing the way we discuss and critique women in the political sphere. They face particular kinds of scrutiny and prejudice, and no story of their rise or fall is complete without an appreciation of those factors.

That is all.

The Didactic Interview: Sofia Ali-Khan

To confront the existential horror of President Trump, I’m joined by my longtime activist friend Sofia Ali-Khan. We discuss our lives as progressive rabble-rousers, educators, and Americans. We sort through the problems we face and some concrete steps for action. Let’s get to work, everybody!

Links to things we discussed:

Here’s the song at the end, “Simply Are” by Arto Lindsay:

10 Things Every American Should Do When a New President is Elected

1. Read the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Know what it says about the rights of every human being on the planet. Be prepared to stand up for your own rights, and be prepared to defend the rights of other humans.

2. Read the United States Constitution. Know what it says about the rights of every American citizen. Be prepared to stand up for your own rights, and be prepared to defend the rights of other Americans.

3. Build community. Wherever governments or other forces try to violate the rights of people, they have less success when people know each other. Meet your neighbors if you don’t already know them. Reach out to friends and family and reinforce networks of support.

4. Pick a specific movement for good and work with other people. I have been a member of Amnesty International for over 20 years, because I believe in its mission to protect the UDHR. Perhaps you’d like to work specifically to help children, or protect the rights of LGBTQ individuals, or stand up for religious freedom, or defend freedom of the press, or preserve the environment. Whatever issue is most important to you, be active and involved.

5. Stay focused on what people say and do. Avoid demonization and oversimplification. JaySmooth from the website IllDoctrine.com once made a very important video called How to Tell Someone They Sound Racist. If you’ve never seen it, please take three minutes and watch it right now.

6. Learn how to be angry for a long time. As I wrote in my book MindWipe:

It’s absolutely essential for people (especially young people) who fight the power to learn how to be angry for a long time. Otherwise the rage and fury will clot your blood and clog your pores. No one will protect you from the exhaustion and emotional toll these struggles will take; you must protect yourself. And in my experience, bitterness and bile are supreme enemies against which you must be vigilant. Nothing will make you burn out more quickly than succumbing to the belief that there’s no point.

The chapter “How to Be Angry for a Long Time” is on the Medium website. Please have a look.

7. Take care of yourself. Eat well, drink water, breathe deeply, and exercise. Watch funny movies and play fun games. Garden, take walks, or do whatever makes you feel good. Resist the temptation to escape into clouds of oblivion or bottles of despair.

8. Made good art. As Neil Gaiman said: “Life is sometimes hard. Things go wrong, in life and in love and in business and in friendship and in health and in all the other ways that life can go wrong. And when things get tough, this is what you should do: Make good art.” Read the comic from Zen Pencils.

9. Find a book about history and read it. I recommend Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States or perhaps East Timor: Genocide in Paradise by Matthew Jardine. Learn about those people and organizations who have resisted violence and oppression in other places and times.

10. Educate others. If you are unhappy with the result of an election, you must know and/or believe things that other people do know know or understand. Use this opportunity to share important facts and perspectives with which others may be unaware. Stay focused on specific things that people can investigate for themselves. Find common ground where possible and challenge everyone to be their best selves.

On the Prospect of a President Trump

It’s 9:46 PM Central Time and the New York Times just called Ohio for Trump. Things do not look good.

If you voted for Trump because you’re angry about how the economy isn’t helping millions of Americans, I’m with you. We can work together.

If you voted for Trump because you hate the corrupt political machine, I’m with you. We can work together.

If you voted for Trump because you’re fed up with people not recognizing the anger and rage in your community, I’m with you. We can work together.

Let’s find some common ground and fight for a better world.

If you voted for Trump because you hate people whose skin is different, or who speak a different language, or worship a different god, then you can go to hell. I want nothing to do with you. You are everything that is wrong with our country. Please pay close attention to how that hatred causes pain and suffering in the years to come, and change your ways.

Your hatred is never going to make your life better. It will only feed the egos of demagogues and monsters who seek to keep you separated from those with whom you have so much in common.

Everyone makes mistakes. We must learn from them. If you voted for Trump for the right reasons, please pay attention to how little your life actually improves under a Trump presidency.

And for everyone who did not vote Trump — keep your heads up. The people on East Timor never gave up. Harriet Tubman never gave up. Harvey Milk never gave up. They all faced much more terrible conditions than we face. A luta continua, fight the power, keep on keeping on.

Resistance is fertile.

Taibbi: The Divide

Matt Taibbi’s new book The Divide is superb. Everyone needs to read it right away. He oscillates from heartbreaking descriptions of people arrested for “blocking pedestrian traffic” (these arrests are purely done to meet police quotas) and enraging explanations of white-collar criminal activity that’s never investigated, let alone punished.

What emerges is a devastating critique of dysfunctional American injustice, especially for those on the top and bottom of our economic system. Toward the end he explains beautifully:

This goes far beyond the oft-quoted liberal cliché about how we now have “two Americas”, one for the rich and one for the poor, with different sets of laws and different levels of punishment (or more to the point, nonpunishment) for each. The rich have always gotten breaks and the poor have always had to swim upstream. The new truth is infinitely darker and more twisted.

The new truth is a sci-fi movie, a dystopia. And in this sci-fi world the issues aren’t justice and injustice, but biology and mortality. We have a giant, meat-grinding bureaucracy that literally alters the physical makeup of its citizens, systematically grinding down the losers in a smaller, meeker, lower race of animal while aggrandizing the winners, making them bigger than life, impervious, super-people.

Again, the poor have always faced the sharp end of the stick. And the rich have always fought ferociously to protect their privilege, not just in America but everywhere.

What’s different now is that these quaint old inequities have become internalized in that “second government” — a vast system of increasingly unmangeable bureaucracies, spanning both the public and private sectors. These inscrutable, irrational structures, crisscrossing back and forth between the worlds of debt and banking and law enforcement, are growing up organically around the pounding twin impulses that drive modern America: burning hatred of all losers and the poor, and breathless, abject worship of the rich, even the talentless and undeserving rich.