How did an extraordinarily well-qualified, experienced, and admired candidate — whose victory would have been as historic as Barack Obama’s — come to be seen as a tool of the establishment, a chronic liar, and a talentless politician?
That’s the question Pulitzer Prize-nominated author Susan Bordo, Ph.D., asked and answered in her new book, “The Destruction of Hillary Clinton” (Melville House Publishing, April 2017). Bordo, a media critic, cultural historian and feminist scholar, presents myriad reasons for Clinton’s shocking defeat. The biggest culprits included sexism, the right’s attacks on her, Russian interference in the election, and “media madness.”
Bordo told the Forward in an exclusive interview, “We’re inundated every day with sound bites — fragments of supposed breaking news. Anyone on Twitter or Facebook, or watching CNN, MSNBC or Fox News, saw this endless repetition of clickbait headlines. Phrases became stamped into brains: ‘Momentum for Bernie Sanders: Hillary Clinton likely to be charged with email crime.’”
The author also referred to “two immensely powerful assaults” on Clinton’s candidacy. One was FBI Director James Comey’s “inappropriate, inaccurate, and inflammatory interference in the general election.” Bordo was, of course, referring to Comey’s letter, made public 11 days before the election, stating that the FBI was opening a new investigation into recently discovered emails from Anthony Weiner’s laptop. By the time Comey issued his second letter to Congress, on November 6 stating that those emails did not change the FBI’s July decision that neither Clinton nor her team had committed any prosecutable offenses, it was too late.
The other huge offense, according to Bordo, happened much earlier, during the primaries. In February, we all saw Senator Bernie Sanders throw shade on Clinton, shouting to his growing millennial fan base that Clinton wasn’t a “true progressive.” He branded her “The Establishment.”
Bordo told me:
At first, I’d identified with Sanders. He and I have virtually the same background. He grew up in Brooklyn. I grew up in Newark, New Jersey. Both working class Jewish families, left-leaning, secular. He sounded like one of my relatives—kind of fun, a bit exotic. I think for many young people across the country, he was like a character from a situation comedy.
His appeal to the younger generation of voters seemed to be a combination of his grandpa persona and his socialist-sounding ideals. Bordo writes that Sanders became a bigger problem in May when he referred to Clinton as “the lesser of two evils.”
“People who think if Bernie had gotten the nomination he would have been able to defeat Trump, just don’t get it,” Bordo said. “Anti-Semitism, with the power of the GOP to use that in ways to alienate people from Sanders, was just lying in wait. You even saw it creep up for Clinton although she isn’t Jewish.”
That reminded me of the sickening Trump tweet with an image of Hillary Clinton surrounded by money, with its white lettering against a red Jewish star that read, “Most Corrupt Candidate Ever.” Millions of Clinton supporters, like myself, have been left mourning what could have been while having to listen to the deafening blame heaped onto Hillary: that she ran a weak campaign.
Bordo said, “All campaigns make mistakes. It’s as though the critics were blind to the enormous character assassination that was happening to Clinton on a daily basis. On the day after Donald Trump’s inauguration, millions gathered around the world to protest his policies. A newscaster asked, ‘Where was this energy before the election?’”
Clinton lost, Bordo said, “because of a slender but critical mass of voters” who decided late for Trump — after the second Comey announcement — or voted third party or didn’t vote at all. Most were “hardworking people with little time to research facts, and trusted the morning and evening news.” That segment included “white, middle-class, suburban women who’d seen Clinton caricatured as untrustworthy, a self-centered elitist who didn’t understand the problems of ordinary people,” as well as “rust-belt men who learned from fragmentary sound-bites that Clinton was a corporate shill who had proposed putting coalminers out of business—rather than an honest candidate describing an economic reality.”
For the many of us still shell-shocked by this unrecognizable America, Bordo’s book offers a clear analysis of how a candidate who received the overwhelming majority of the popular vote, did not win the presidency.
“Until Trump actually won,” said Bordo,
many young, straight, white women may have believed that the rights they had enjoyed all their lives were somehow secure. The election woke them up, and propelled them to become a part of the resistance that Blacks, immigrants, and LGBTQ citizens were already engaged in — because they always knew safety was an illusion. If that resistance remains as diverse and committed as those first post-inauguration protests it will change the landscape of American politics.
Perhaps change has come already — since election day, according to Emily’s List, close to 13,000 Democratic women are ready to run for office and 7,000 have signed up to help them win.
Dorri Olds is an award-winning writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times, Marie Claire, Woman’s Day and in several book anthologies. Olds is currently working on a memoir: “Running Amok: The Girl with 9 Lives.”