Hillary Clinton: The GOP Keeps Playing to the ‘Racism and Sexism That Got Trump Elected’

Hillary Clinton: The GOP Keeps Playing to the ‘Racism and Sexism That Got Trump Elected’

Hillary Clinton: The GOP Keeps Playing to the ‘Racism and Sexism That Got Trump Elected’

Hillary Clinton takes questions on Trump, voter suppression, Russian interference, health care, the future of the Democratic Party, and more.


Meeting Hillary Clinton in 2017 is a mind-bending experience. You sit across from her and think: I am talking to the president. But, no. You’re not. Just last week, Late Night host Stephen Colbert finished a rollicking interview by saying, plaintively, “I wish you were our president.”

Clinton feels our pain, and our confusion—even the guilt of people who come up and tell her they didn’t vote for her, and they’re so sorry! She may not be our commander in chief (and Donald Trump’s schoolyard taunts with nuclear-armed North Korean leader Kim Jong-un remind us how tragic that is). But as the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee—the woman who won the popular vote by almost 3 million voters—confides during this interview, she’s become our “therapist in chief” on this book tour. It can get a little “draining” sometimes, she says. But after a good night’s sleep, she’s ready to go out and do it again.

Promoting What Happened, Clinton is hitting the big media spots. She did a hugely rated sit-down with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, had a great talk with The New Yorker’s David Remnick, and was interviewed on NPR’s Fresh Air. But she’s also getting off the beaten track. She’s talking to The Nation, for the first time; to the women who work at the millennial-oriented Mic, and to CNN analyst (and loyal 2016 Clinton surrogate) Bakari Sellars for the debut of his podcast. She actually seems like she’s having fun.

I caught up with Clinton at her midtown office in between book signings. We should get a few disclosures out of the way: My daughter worked for Clinton in five states last year (Clinton greeted me with “How’s Nora?”). I endorsed Clinton in January 2016, in the pages of The Nation, at least partly because of the media’s repeated certainty that nobody, nowhere, actually liked her; that her supporters were all Democratic Party hacks and cat ladies and people who didn’t know better. Over the years, I had come to really like her, actually, and I explained why. She tweeted her thanks to me, and that was the extent of the interaction we had during the long, hard campaign, despite what WikiLeaks seemed to say.

On Wednesday, I asked Clinton why she’s sure the Russians meddled in her campaign and whether the firestorm around her one-time use of the term “super-predator” might have hurt her with black millennials, whose turnout dipped in 2016. I watched her travel the country with the Mothers of the Movement, from Columbia, South Carolina to Brooklyn, New York, but the Young Folks of the Movement were not entirely along for the ride. We talked about the way the Trump campaign, and maybe Russia, made the most of both sides of that issue: playing up her “super-predator” remark, particularly with young black men, while at the same time hyping her support of Mothers of the Movement to white voters in an attempt to drive those voters away.

I pressed Clinton on her book’s admission that she learned from Senator Bernie Sanders’s primary challenge that Democrats had to offer “lofty goals that people can organize around and dream about [and] redouble our efforts to develop bold, creative ideas that offer broad based benefits for the whole country.” One of those ideas, she says, is for the federal government to guarantee a job to everyone, as technology advances continue to wipe out jobs. What about Medicare for All? You’ll have to read the interview.

We spent almost an hour together, until her staff moved her toward a waiting van to take her to Brooklyn for yes, another book signing. Just as we got in the elevator, she looked at her phone and whispered, “Wow. Oh wow.” She might have seen a Trump tweet declaring war on North Korea, although her face was softer than that. I asked her what she saw, and she handed me her phone. “It’s Michelle.” She’d just seen Michelle Obama’s Wednesday remarks about the election, in conversation with author Roxane Gay, for the first time. Here they are:

Any woman who voted against Hillary Clinton voted against their own voice in a way. To me, it doesn’t say as much about Hillary Clinton―and everybody’s trying to wonder. Well, what does it mean for Hillary?―No, no, no. What does it mean for us as women? That we look at those two candidates, as women, and many of us said, “That guy. He’s better for me. His voice is more true to me.” Well, to me that just says you don’t like your voice. You like the thing you’re told to like.

I widened my eyes at her—I had no words—and she shook her head. I’m not exactly sure what moved her—maybe someone else saying it, so she didn’t have to? Someone having her back? Then a Secret Service person opened a back door and moved her through it, and she was gone.

The conversation below has been edited for length and clarity.

Joan Walsh: Congratulations! You have the number-one-best-selling book in the country! And this confirms a law of nature: When you’re not running for something, you’re incredibly popular, and everybody wants to know what you think. Have you taken that fact in?

Hillary Clinton: I haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about it, but a couple of interviewers have now suggested it to me—you being one of them! I really think it’s about running for president. [She won two Senate races in New York.]

JW: Because it’s so big and iconic?

HC: Yes, and there are so many stereotypes about what a president looks like and how a president acts.

JW: But does the book’s popularity—with real people, not necessarily the media, which we’ll discuss later—take a little bit of the sting out of last November 8? Is it at all therapeutic for you?

HC: I’ll tell you what was therapeutic: Writing the book was the most therapeutic thing I could have done for myself. But now I feel like I’m the therapist in chief at some of these book signings and other events. So many crying people. So many heartfelt comments about what they feel, and about what they care about and are worried about. And it’s both very heartening, because people are still sorting it through and feeling deeply about what they want for the country. And it is just emotionally draining, because I see all this angst and pain that people are going through…

JW: I can’t imagine that part…

HC: It’s hard. It’s hard. But at the same time, it’s something that I have now come to expect and am ready for more than I was.

JW: From what I’ve seen of you, on the trail—ha, it’s not the trail, it’s… the tour?—you put yourself out there…

HC: Yes. And if you’re somebody who gets a lot of energy from the crowd, you’re constantly taking it. You can come out of a day of long events energized and ready to go to the next one. If you’re someone who feels, as I often do, a sense of responsibility to help and give, you can come out drained. It’s almost physiological, can I say that?

JW: Sure!

HC: Some folks are great at refilling their tanks, and others—and I’m in this group—are constantly emptying it. So you need a good night’s sleep, and then you get up and do it again.

JW: So the first excerpts from the book were supposedly the juiciest—I’m a wonk, so I don’t agree that’s true—but one of them was your audience quiz: “What should I have done when Donald Trump stalked me?” You laid out your thinking, and you explained why you were restrained. But I saw so many reporters and pundits, including some who’ve been super-critical of you, say you should have said: Back off, creep! They were so sure that candor would have worked for you. I wasn’t so sure.

HC: I wanted the reader to know that this is the kind of thought process you go through in a situation like that. My only other comparable situation was in a debate in Buffalo, when I was running for Senate, and my opponent…

JW: Rick Lazio…

HC: Rick Lazio left his podium and came over with this paper that was about campaign finance, and he invaded my space, and I did not react. I kept my calm and my composure…

JW: And that worked…

HC: Well, the immediate reaction, if you go back and read the coverage, from male reporters, was, “Wow, do you see what he did? Did he go over there? He dominated!”

JW: Really? They thought it was great?

HC: Yes. And within 24 hours, women were like, “Wow, did you see that? That was unbelievable what he did. We can’t even think about how terrible and invasive that was!” So it was certainly to my benefit. So when we practiced, which we did of course, we practiced Trump stalking me. We practiced Trump trying to grab me for a hug…

JW: …a kiss!

HC: All of that stuff! And my conclusion was: It’s a very tough line to walk. To be indignant without being too angry and opening yourself up to the charge that you can’t take it. And that’s the worst thing you fear, as a woman running for president: “You’re not tough enough, you’re not this enough”… whatever. And I concluded that it wasn’t a smart thing to do.

But having practiced it was not the same thing as having it happen in real time, which was so disconcerting…

JW: So many women, including myself, couldn’t sleep that night. It was so…

HC: Smarmy…

JW: I find it hard to believe, but I do know that some folks on both the left and the right don’t accept reports that Russia interfered in the election, or that the Trump campaign coordinated in some ways. If you were trying to convince somebody, one on one, what are the things that you’d point to, as the most solid proof?

HC: Well, I would start with the intelligence community, both under Obama and Trump. What possible ulterior motive would they have to tell the country—finally—that there was a systematic interference by Russia into our election? Nobody I know has a good answer to that.

JW: Well, there are people who have a deep distrust of the so-called deep state…

HC: I’m not saying everything the intelligence agencies say is true—it’s not.

JW: Yes, your State Department and the CIA had some issues, I recall…

HC: I had run-ins with them when I was secretary of state, I had arguments in the Situation Room with the CIA—but they were based on the best information that we both had. Now we’ve got a situation where independent experts have said: They hacked [campaign manager John] Podesta; they hacked the DNC; they used Facebook—they used rubles, for heaven’s sakes!—to pay for ads that they posted. We now know that you had Russians pretending to be Americans leading demonstrations against me… against Muslims…

The accumulation of evidence that the Russians targeted our election—some of it we now know from open sources. Some of it we know from leaked documents—the first we knew that they were hacking election systems was that leak from the NSA [to The Intercept]. The young woman is being prosecuted. I don’t see how any fair-minded person can look at the accumulation of evidence.

Now you can argue: How much influence did it actually have? I would argue it had considerable influence. It influenced voters. It influenced the information that many voters received. It influenced the environment in which the election is taking place. So I’m gonna wait and see what the final…

JW: I saw my friend Chris Hayes trying to get you to use the word “collusion” regarding the Trump campaign…

HC: [Laughs] You can add up communication, coordination, and contact—a lot of C-words—and you can make a serious case. The other point I would make is: Even if you have doubts about whether or not the Trump campaign and their allies were deeply involved, you really shouldn’t have doubts that the Russians were involved. Now, whether they had help… we don’t know. They had so much Facebook information, and they used it not just to influence voters but to suppress voters. It’s an ongoing threat—I don’t just think it was about me. This is about sowing doubt about our electoral system.

JW: Your book—or at least the excerpts—got a lot of attention for that one joke you made about Bernie Sanders and the pony, which made me laugh, at least. Some pundits claimed that you were very critical of Bernie, which I didn’t think was true, having read the whole 400-plus pages. In fact, in my review in The Nation, I wrote about a section that got no attention, I just want you to read part of it:

Bernie proved again that it’s important to set lofty goals that people can organize around and dream about, even if it takes generations to achieve them…. Democrats should redouble our efforts to develop bold, creative ideas that offer broad based benefits for the whole country.

I know you considered Alaska for America, a take on Alaska’s program that creates a universal basic income for every resident, based on their sharing in the state’s resources. But you didn’t go with it. What are the big creative ideas you think Dems should now promote?

HC: Well, universal healthcare coverage. There are several ways of getting there. That doesn’t mean we know the right way, or the politically acceptable way of getting there. I think guaranteeing job opportunities for all. That’s gonna be the most difficult thing we’ve gotta deal with, because further automation, artificial intelligence… we are just not going to have enough jobs for all people who want a job. Driverless cars, trucks—that sounds exciting, but what’s gonna happen to truck drivers, cab drivers, Uber drivers, everybody else? These are questions that we have to show we understand and care about answering for people. I was prepared to have a big debate about that.

JW: And what about Medicare for All?

HC: Medicare right now is a great program that works for people above 65, many of whom have additional insurance.

JW: So… even Medicare is not exactly single payer?

HC: It itself is, but for the over-65, a very big percentage does not just rely on that. They have some private insurance too. Then you have more than 50 percent of people who get their health insurance from their employers. I saw a fascinating comparison recently, a chart of different countries, some have single payer, or they have multiple payers, but they all get to higher quality care than we do. So there are a lot of models out there. My goal—my banner—is quality, affordable health care for all. That’s where I’m taking my stand, and I’m going to be a responsible, passionate advocate in that debate.

JW: Your position during the campaign was that people could buy into Medicare at 55…

HC: We’d start at 60, then go down to 55. We would have a public option in every state, maybe a potential for Medicaid buy-in. What I don’t want is for people to discount how hard it was to get the Affordable Care Act passed—of course it was a compromise! That’s how change happens. But look at what we accomplished—we were at 90 percent [health-insurance] coverage. Getting to 100 percent is 10 percent; that’s a lot easier than going from zero to 100. I want us to protect the Affordable Care Act, and that requires everybody on the Democratic side being united and vigilant and to say, “You’re not gonna take it away!”

JW: Today, Graham-Cassidy is dead. But you don’t seem to think this fight is over?

HC: No, I never feel like it’s over, because the other side never quits, Joan, the other side never quits. That’s one of my long, hard-learned lessons—the right never quits. We get, you know, celebratory, excited about a candidate, we feel good about what happened today—and we don’t understand the need for sustainable opposition.

JW: You faced a lot of criticism for your support of the ’94 crime bill—even though Joe Biden wrote it and Bernie Sanders voted for it, you didn’t have a vote. And you got a lot of heat for the one time you used the term “super-predator” in a speech, back in I think it was 1996, for which you apologized. Now that you’ve seen reports that the Russians actually used that word, super-predator, in ads…

HC: Now we know the Russians also bought ads to support Sanders and Stein! You know, I always thought there was a deliberate, intentional misinterpretation of what my whole speech said, where I went after gangs, a lot of the gangs that were terrifying whole communities and engaging in horrific behavior. And it wasn’t all one race, or all one area, it was a real problem coming out of the ’80s…anyone who lived in New York, in any big city…

JW: I lived in Oakland…

HC: Yes, Oakland. This was a real problem. And so we saw what was a manufactured attack. We did our best to point out that it was clearly not what it was being painted as, and over and over we said, “Yeah, people voted for this, but I didn’t; I was talking about the threats that caused them to vote for it.” But we know a lot more now about how it was being manipulated.

JW: Do you look at the reported decline in turnout among black millennials—and I’ve looked at it, it’s real—and worry that had an impact? I registered voters in Greensboro, North Carolina, and I had the hardest time with young black men. They’d say, “Ah, voting makes no difference.” I do think there was something lost in your connection with some black millennials.

HC: Let me say this: The best analysis that I’ve seen comes from folks who tried to dig into this after the election. I think the fact that President Obama wasn’t on the ballot was not just a disappointment, it was a real end point for a lot of people. I saw some focus groups after the election where young black men were asked why they hadn’t voted, and they said, “Well, I voted for Obama, and my life didn’t change. So why should I expect anybody else to change my life?” So it was a combination of great pride in him, and I’m sure if he’d been on the ballot, more of them would have turned out. But a lot of them didn’t feel like it made much of a difference.

Also, I think it’s really important not to miss the role of voter suppression. We have a hard time sorting out who didn’t vote because they didn’t want to vote, from who couldn’t vote.

JW: Like in Milwaukee…

HC: Yes, like Ari Berman’s recent piece covering that new study—that’s the second big study that has shown thousands of people were turned away from voting there. Now, if they were turned away in Milwaukee, I think most of them would have voted for me. If they were turned away in Madison, I think a significant percentage, most would have voted for me. So I think it’s harder to sort this out than just to say they didn’t see any difference. Some were disappointed, but some were stopped. How you distinguish between them matters. Because, just like the Russians believe they succeeded, the Republicans now believe suppression worked.

In Wisconsin, if you were covering Russ Feingold, his numbers were great, my numbers were great. Then all of the sudden we get to the end, and he loses by a bigger margin than I do? None of it makes sense, Joan. But suppression is key. And Republicans are determined to do more of it. And it’s primarily aimed at African Americans and young people. Now, in Texas, it’s also aimed at Hispanics, because if Hispanics voted in Texas the way Latinos do in California, Texas would be on its way to being blue, maybe already there. And now they’ve got this phony commission on voter fraud that Kris Kobach is running. They’re gonna keep doing it. It makes our jobs much harder…

JW: When you see the growing activism of NFL, NBA, even some MLB players protesting police violence, when you look at the work of Black Lives Matter—there’s an incredible, encouraging surge of activism. But Republicans use that against Democrats, too. A guy like Steve Bannon looks at all of it and says, “Oh boy, please keep that race stuff up, it helps us!”

HC: They clearly believe that. Bannon believes it, that whole team believes it. And here’s what they are counting on. They are counting on keeping their base inflamed until 2018. And they’re counting on suppression. I mean, they’re not going to stop LeBron James from voting. But they’re gonna stop a lot of young black people, and older black people, from voting. Trump has two overriding objectives right now: keep his base inflamed and keep his Republican Congress in line. And how do you keep the first? It’s all the red meat and all the dog whistles. How do you keep the second, by scaring them that they’ll be primaried from the right…

JW: …like we just saw in Alabama.

HC: Right. And if you look at Trump’s speech in Alabama, he was coerced into going to support Strange, but he says, “If Moore wins, I’m fine with that.” So you know, he doesn’t know much about the world, but he knows this: He is counting on being able to save the House by inflaming his base, suppressing our voters, and backing candidates who appeal to that base. This is part of the larger disruption/destruction agenda they are promoting. People should not be in any way lulled. They have big plans to make the party more captive to big donors like the Mercers and the Kochs, to give even bigger tax breaks that will hurt the middle class—they’ll really end up being the victims of it. They will play to the combination of racism and sexism that got Trump elected. In the book I think I make a pretty good case that it was cultural anxiety that drove a lot of these voters. So Democrats have to be about economic justice, and they have to be about social justice. I disagree with anyone who says we have to jettison one for the other.

JW: I wake up every morning, pretty happy, and then think: “Oh shit, Donald Trump is president.” And it’s a terrible feeling. Does that still happen to you?

HC: [Laughs.] No, I wake up and think: OK, what’s he gonna do today, and what are we gonna do to try to beat him, and take back the Congress in 2018? That’s my goal.

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