Lily Herman is a New York-based writer and editor. All opinions are her own.
In case you somehow missed the news, former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton is coming out with a book this Tuesday titled What Happened, a memoir explaining her thoughts on the 2016 election, from the primary through that fated night in November when Donald Trump took home the W and became president of the United States. (In fact, Refinery29 has an exclusive interview with Clinton, if you’re interested in hearing more about what’s in the book itself.)
Unsurprisingly, quite a few people are more than a little unhappy that Clinton is publishing a book, but on top of the expected vitriol from Republicans and Bernie Bros, regular ol’ party Democrats who supported Clinton during the election are even seething about it. “Maybe at the worst possible time, as we are fighting some of the most high-stakes policy and institutional battles we may ever see, at a time when we’re trying to bring the party together so we can all move the party forward — stronger, stronger together,” Democratic Representative Jared Huffman told Politico.
On top of the timing argument, there are other complaints from top Democrats about Clinton looking backward instead of forward, playing the blame game while not shouldering any of that blame herself, making this about her versus former primary opponent Bernie Sanders, and just generally not shutting up when they want her to. There are other concerns from the Left about how Clinton’s book will affect Trump’s base; what kind of response will it generate?
There’s a lot to unpack there. But let’s talk about why it’s perfectly OK for Hillary Clinton to write this book now and why it won’t create the big divisions the Democrats think it will.
1. Hillary Clinton may have lost the election, but she was the first woman to receive the presidential nomination from a major American political party ever. Regardless of your views on Clinton, that’s a huge story, not to mention a historic one. Moreover, Clinton’s loss wasn’t typical; it was one of the biggest upsets in recent election history, probably only tied with the absurdity that ensued in 2000. It was stunning and complex, to the point where no one entirely agrees on what happened or which factors contributed most to that loss. So why is everyone under the goddamn sun allowed to weigh in on why Clinton lost except Clinton herself?
2. Here’s a fun fact: Clinton’s presidential primary challenger Bernie Sanders has published two books in the past nine months, and he lost the race to the presidency a lot sooner than Hillary Clinton did. In fact, after dragging out the primary despite knowing he was losing and giving a lukewarm endorsement to Clinton after she cinched the nomination, Sanders came out with Our Revolution, which was published only one week after the 2016 election, and Bernie Sanders Guide to Political Revolution, which hit shelves only a few weeks ago in late August. “But he’s trying to move the party forward!” one might say. But who gave Sanders that right to define how the party moves forward? And who’s to say Hillary Clinton’s book can’t do that for her millions of supporters?
While it’s a pretty hyperbolic to say all 65 million people who voted for Clinton are ardent supporters (at least a few were Never Trumpers, for instance), it’s incorrect to say that no one in the country actually looks up to Hillary Clinton. There are, in fact, plenty of people (specifically women) who liked and continue to like her, and if her book inspires them in a way Sanders’ books aimed to inspire his supporters, what’s wrong with that? As numerous pundits have mentioned over the past nine months, different messaging works for different people. Clinton loyalists are no different, and pretending they don’t exist is a huge mistake.
3. The timing of this book isn’t all that bad. If there was ever a time for Clinton to mobilize her supporters, sometime before an election year is a good one. The 2018 midterms are over a year away, and the 2020 presidential election is another three years from now. I’d rather she get this out of her system and reinvigorate her followers now than waiting until the day before the Americans cast their votes for president to dredge up the 2016 election.
Besides, Americans have famously short attention spans, and the pace of the Trump era makes a single week feel like a century; do we really believe Hillary Clinton’s book will dwarf whatever Trump and his band of awful movie villain-esque sidekicks do for the next several years? That’s giving Hillary Clinton and her writing ability a lot of credit.
4. When it comes to Trump’s base, how could Clinton’s book really change how Trump supporters already feel about her or Democrats? Also, Donald Trump throws Clinton into the news cycle even when she’s just hiking around her dear woods in Chappaqua, New York. Have those efforts led to any new mass mobilization from his supporters almost a year after his election? Why would this book be any different? Different polls suggest that strong support of Trump has steadily shrunk while disapproval has risen tremendously; once again, that’d be pretty damn miraculous if a single 512-page book completely flipped those trends.
5. Most importantly, on the laundry list of things Democrats should be losing sleep over, Hillary Clinton’s book should be pretty much dead last. For those who haven’t been paying attention, the Democratic Party is a hot mess right now, and it has been for quite some time. It’s lost over 1,000 seats in legislatures nationwide since 2009, now controlling only 42 percent of the country’s legislative seats. In July, party leadership rolled out a tepid, ill-received “Better Deal” platform that neither strengthened the confidence of the party’s base nor convinced independents or Republicans to jump ship and go blue. Democrats only further exacerbated relations with their base (i.e. women, specifically women of color) when they proclaimed that they would no longer consider abortion a “litmus test” for accepting candidates into the party’s fold. To be frank, the party doesn’t need Hillary Clinton’s book to completely mess things up; Democrats are doing a great job of that on their own. As Roxane Gay tweeted, if an entire party, political ideology, or politician can be undone by a single book that’s most likely going to rehash old arguments that people have already heard (albeit in a feistier manner), that says more about the party, ideology, or politician than it does the book or its author.
The fact is, none of the leaked book passages released online show any new information about Clinton’s views. We already know she partially blamed Sanders for failing to galvanize his progressive supporters around her candidacy post-nomination, and we already know she finds Donald Trump to be an extraordinarily disgusting creep. Given how much talk there is about how polarized the American electorate as a whole already is, is there anyone who’s going to suddenly change their political views over Clinton’s joke likening Sanders’ stances to a six-minute abs advertisement? If there is, I’d love to meet ‘em.
Overall, I hate to break it to Democrats, but I doubt Clinton’s book is going to turn into the juicy multi-year scandal they’re pretending it will. There’s no doubt Hillary Clinton’s in a weird spot; recent polling shows that Americans don’t really know what they want her to do or what it even means for her “help the party.” So instead of freaking out about the book’s contents itself, maybe Democrats should dig into those questions and come up with actual solutions. But one thing’s for sure: Telling Clinton supporters they shouldn’t be excited for this book or that no good can come from Clinton’s work isn’t going to help Democrats achieve their goal of unifying the party.
And hey, 512 pages is a lot of writing. Who knows? Maybe a couple of those will have some words of wisdom the party can use.