THIS time last year, I wrote about my longing for a better Malaysia, and how my utter belief that this was possible would always triumph over my many moments of despair. There was just too much good in this country for us to ever give up hope.
And this year, as we celebrate our 61st year of Merdeka, I am simply thrilled. Thrilled that what most people thought was impossible, became possible. Malaysia bucked the global trend and voted into power a reformist government, throwing out a kleptocratic government and a ruling party that had held uninterrupted power since independence in 1957.
The election of a reform-minded government that believes in an inclusive Malaysia and eschews the use of race and religion for political gain does not of course mean we are home free. It is important that we who voted for change remain vigilant that the Pakatan Harapan government delivers on its promises of transformation. And to do this transparently and in consultation with stakeholders.
Malaysia’s autocrat turned reformer: at 93 can he deliver?
Politicians and voters now realise the power of the ballot box. It cannot be business as usual, replacing one set of economic and political elites with another set whose priorities will be to divide the spoils of victory.
As we welcome the first Merdeka and Malaysia Day under this new Malaysia, I have many wishes for the kind of country I want to live in.
First, I wish to see our ministers summon the political will and courage, and build their knowledge and strategies on how to deliver their reform agenda. And not least, how to stand their ground and defend what is just and what is right, in the face of opposition. We in civil society are tired of seeing too many ministers over the decades retreating in the face of criticism from ideologues, instead of defending a principled position.
Many NGOs, activists, academics, professionals who have long been working on issues such as human rights, women’s rights, education reform, poverty eradication, and economic justice, stand ready to support this government with the kinds of data, analysis, policy instruments, arguments and strategies needed to deliver on the reform agenda and build public support for this urgent necessity for change.
We want to see this government succeed in making this country a just home for all. We pray this government does not squander that goodwill.
Second, I wish to live in a kinder, compassionate, more humane Malaysia. It pains me to see the frenzy of hate, attacks, violence, demonisation of the LGBTIQ community in the country. Why this obsession with another citizen’s sexual orientation and gender identity? The debate is not about same-sex marriage or even about the halal or haram of their sexuality. It is about the right of LGBTIQ people to freedom of movement, their right to work, to health and to live a life free from violence. Why should that be contentious? They are citizens of this country and entitled to the same fundamental rights that other citizens enjoy.
It is obvious that the issue has been whipped up as a political tactic to generate hate and fear, spearheaded by those opposed to the reform agenda of the new government. So they stir up controversies in order to rebuild lost ground. And politicians fearful of losing popular support cave in, so quickly, so easily, so thoughtlessly.
How could a small, oppressed, and discriminated community who actually live in fear on a daily basis, and who long to live in peace and dignity ever pose a threat to Malaysian society? How could an all-knowing compassionate God ever condone cruelty against his own creations just because they are different? So let’s be confident in our faith and believe that if God really wanted all of us to be the same, he would have done so.
Third, I wish to see an end to corruption that has been long fuelled by the intricate web of business and politics in this country. Professor Terrence Gomez’s just released research findings on Government in Business reveal a mind-boggling labyrinth of thousands of GLCs at federal and state levels, most of them unlisted and thus, unscrutinised. There are of course GLCs that are professionally run. But many also serve as tools of patronage and as vehicles to provide politicians with monthly directors’ fees to support their political ambition – at best.
At worst, official investigations and media revelations of outright corruption, criminal breach of trust, and asset stripping display a spectacle of unbelievable greed and betrayal of trust.
Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamed himself has called such GLCs “monsters” that have deviated from their original noble intention of helping the poor.
The Head of the Council of Eminent Persons, Tun Daim Zainuddin, has promised that this time the government wants to get it right in delivering its bumiputra empowerment policy.
We all wait with bated breath, for this country cannot endure, economically, politically and socially, yet more decades of affirmative action on the basis of race rather than need, and all the consequent distortions and abuses that had benefited the economic and political elites.
Fourth, I wish to live in a country where the political leaders and the citizens embrace our diversity as a source of strength, and not a threat. And to walk the talk. It is imperative that the new government sets the tone that it will not tolerate further manufacturing of a siege and crisis mentality among the Malays and supremacist speeches in the name of race and religion to incite hatred and fear of “others”.
This country was on the verge of implosion, and it was the wisdom of the rakyat that saved us, when with courage we voted into power a reformist party.
I was in Bangkok last week to give a talk on identity politics in South-East Asia together with speakers from Indonesia and Myanmar. They were depressed about the political developments in their countries, and my optimism on Malaysia was tempered by the reality that they too had earlier voted in reformist leaders who have now succumbed to the politics of race and religion in order to remain in power.
But I would like to believe that Malaysia is different as we have strong antecedent resources that will put us in good stead in moving forward on a reform agenda. Most importantly is the entrenched belief that this country cannot survive nor prosper without the three major races accepting each other and learning to give and take in sharing equitably the wealth of the nation. It can never be a winner take all game in Malaysia.
Second, we have a significant minority population. This means there is a limit to how far the majority group can use race and religion to serve the interest of the ruling elite, before paying a high political cost for its relentless transgressions, or complicity in its inaction and silence.
Third, while things are far from perfect, our long record of economic growth, poverty reduction, and strong state apparatus put us in good stead that a more open and robust democracy will not be destabilising, and can lead to a more inclusive Malaysia.
Moreover, a large educated Malaysian middle-class and a strong business community eschew any hint of violence or chaos or extremism, and there is a growing critical mass of voters, not least from among the young, who expect their freedoms and rights to be upheld.
And more than anything, the rakyat feel very precious about what we have achieved. As much as we are willing to give Pakatan Harapan the support it needs and the time, too, to deliver on its reform agenda, we have learnt from the mistakes made in the past. We are no longer willing to acquiesce in silence in the wrongdoings and abuses in powerful places, in return for stability and prosperity.
This is the new Malaysia where it will be tough love for all.
In the middle of the twentieth century, people feared that advances in computers and communications would lead to the type of centralized control depicted in George Orwell’s 1984. Today, billions of people have eagerly put Big Brother in their pockets.
CAMBRIDGE – It is frequently said that we are experiencing an information revolution. But what does that mean, and where is the revolution taking us?
Information revolutions are not new. In 1439, Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press launched the era of mass communication. Our current revolution, which began in Silicon Valley in the 1960s, is bound up with Moore’s Law: the number of transistors on a computer chip doubles every couple of years.
Information provides power, and more people have access to more information than ever before, for good and for ill. That power can be used not only by governments, but also by non-state actors ranging from large corporations and non-profit organizations to criminals, terrorists, and informal ad hoc groups.–Joseph S. Nye
By the beginning of the twenty-first century, computing power cost one-thousandth of what it did in the early 1970s. Now the Internet connects almost everything. In mid-1993, there were about 130 websites in the world; by 2000, that number had surpassed 15 million. Today, more than 3.5 billion people are online; experts project that, by 2020, the “Internet of Things” will connect 20 billion devices. Our information revolution is still in its infancy.
The key characteristic of the current revolution is not the speed of communications; instantaneous communication by telegraph dates back to the mid-nineteenth century. The crucial change is the enormous reduction in the cost of transmitting and storing information. If the price of an automobile had declined as rapidly as the price of computing power, one could buy a car today for the same price as a cheap lunch. When a technology’s price declines so rapidly, it becomes widely accessible, and barriers to entry fall. For all practical purposes, the amount of information that can be transmitted worldwide is virtually infinite.
The cost of information storage has also declined dramatically, enabling our current era of big data. Information that once would fill a warehouse now fits in your shirt pocket.
In the middle of the twentieth century, people feared that the computers and communications of the current information revolution would lead to the type of centralized control depicted in George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984. Big Brother would monitor us from a central computer, making individual autonomy meaningless.
Instead, as the cost of computing power has decreased and computers have shrunk to the size of smart phones, watches, and other portable devices, their decentralizing effects have complemented their centralizing effects, enabling peer-to-peer communication and mobilization of new groups. Yet, ironically, this technological trend has also decentralized surveillance: billions of people nowadays voluntarily carry a tracking device that continually violates their privacy as it searches for cell towers. We have put Big Brother in our pockets.
Likewise, ubiquitous social media generate new transnational groups, but also create opportunities for manipulation by governments and others. Facebook connects more than two billion people, and, as Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential election showed, these connections and groups can be exploited for political ends. Europe has tried to establish rules for privacy protection with its new General Data Protection Regulation, but its success is still uncertain. In the meantime, China is combining surveillance with the development of social credit rankings that will restrict personal freedoms such as travel.
Information provides power, and more people have access to more information than ever before, for good and for ill. That power can be used not only by governments, but also by non-state actors ranging from large corporations and non-profit organizations to criminals, terrorists, and informal ad hoc groups.
This does not mean the end of the nation-state. Governments remain the most powerful actors on the global stage; but the stage has become more crowded, and many of the new players can compete effectively in the realm of soft power. A powerful navy is important in controlling sea-lanes; but it does not provide much help on the Internet. In nineteenth-century Europe, the mark of a great power was its ability to prevail in war, but, as the American analyst John Arquilla has pointed out, in today’s global information age, victory often depends not on whose army wins, but on whose story wins.
Public diplomacy and the power to attract and persuade become increasingly important, but public diplomacy is changing. Long gone are the days when foreign service officers carted film projectors to the hinterlands to show movies to isolated audiences, or people behind the Iron Curtain huddled over short-wave radios to listen to the BBC. Technological advances have led to an explosion of information, and that has produced a “paradox of plenty”: an abundance of information leads to scarcity of attention.
When people are overwhelmed by the volume of information confronting them, it is hard to know what to focus on. Attention, not information, becomes the scarce resource. The soft power of attraction becomes an even more vital power resource than in the past, but so does the hard, sharp power of information warfare. And as reputation becomes more vital, political struggles over the creation and destruction of credibility multiply. Information that appears to be propaganda may not only be scorned, but may also prove counterproductive if it undermines a country’s reputation for credibility.
During the Iraq War, for example, the treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay in a manner inconsistent with America’s declared values led to perceptions of hypocrisy that could not be reversed by broadcasting images of Muslims living well in America. Similarly, President Donald Trump’s tweets that prove to be demonstrably false undercut American credibility and reduce its soft power.
Public diplomacy and the power to attract and persuade become increasingly important, but public diplomacy is changing. Long gone are the days when foreign service officers carted film projectors to the hinterlands to show movies to isolated audiences, or people behind the Iron Curtain huddled over short-wave radios to listen to the BBC. Technological advances have led to an explosion of information, and that has produced a “paradox of plenty”: an abundance of information leads to scarcity of attention.–Joseph S. Nye
The effectiveness of public diplomacy is judged by the number of minds changed (as measured by interviews or polls), not dollars spent. It is interesting to note that polls and the Portland index of the Soft Power 30 show a decline in American soft power since the beginning of the Trump administration. Tweets can help to set the global agenda, but they do not produce soft power if they are not credible.
Now the rapidly advancing technology of artificial intelligence or machine learning is accelerating all of these processes. Robotic messages are often difficult to detect. But it remains to be seen whether credibility and a compelling narrative can be fully automated.
Joseph S. Nye, Jr., a former US assistant secretary of defense and chairman of the US National Intelligence Council, is University Professor at Harvard University. He is the author of Is the American Century Over?
...in Malaysia today there seems to be a renewed prejudice towards migrant communities, even those who have settled for generations and should no longer be considered anything other than part of Malaysian society. Instead of treating our fellow citizens as one of our own, there are efforts to ban Malay words from being used by non-Malays, as well as the unconstitutional suppression of rights of non-Malays to religious expression.–Zairil Khir Johari
Nearly 1,400 years ago, the Prophet Muhammad and his small band of followers left Mecca, where the fledgling Muslim community was increasingly persecuted and oppressed, for Yathrib (later renamed Medina), a city 320km to the north.
God Help Malaysia if these guys are our warriors inherited from the Najib Era
This journey has come to be known as the Hijrah, an epochal event that not only marks the beginning of the Muslim calendar, but also the consolidation of the first Muslim community. It was from the success of this migration that the small community was able to grow and blossom into what it is today – representatives of the world’s second largest and fastest-growing religion.
Taken literally, hijrah means migration, the physical movement of people from one place to another. But hijrah also carries a spiritual and existential meaning, connoting a search for something better – be it to further one’s career, to develop one’s talent, to seek a better life and, in some cases, even for something as basic as survival. In other words, hijrah can be taken to mean a journey towards betterment, whether personal or collective.
Hijrah is not a concept removed from our own society and civilisation. South-East Asia is a maritime region consisting of 25,000 islands and with a peninsula peppered by vast riverine networks, and so our forefathers were constantly on the move. If today’s world is said to be borderless in the metaphorical sense, the Malay Archipelago could be said to be one in the literal sense.
The Inclusive Malay World
The 1Malaysia Bugis Warrior
In fact, it would not be inaccurate to say that society back then had no historical need or cognisance of borders. This conclusion can be gleaned from studying the literary manuscripts of yore, such as Hikayat Hang Tuah, Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa, the Malay Annals and Misa Melayu, among others. There may have been a complex and mature network of international trade, and along with it constant interaction with sailors and merchants from all corners of the world, but nowhere in the writings is there a reference to the notion of orang asing, or foreigners – at least not in the way we understand it today.
Instead, the term used to describe migrants or people who had journeyed from other territories was orang dagang. While one may ascribe this expression to mean merchants, the classic texts actually use the term saudagar for that purpose. Thus, orang dagang refers not to transient traders, but travellers who, having settled in a new territory, assimilate themselves by contributing their work, energy and loyalty to the collective social and economic development of their new community. In short, migrants were very much embraced as part of society and not seen as outsiders or the proverbial “other”.
This concept has its modern parallel in what we would describe today as citizenship, albeit in a more progressive and encompassing way. A citizen after all is someone who, in addition to being an inhabitant of a particular state, is also a legally recognised member of that state and therefore subject to whatever incumbent rights, duties and obligations that are provided for. But as modern states did not exist then, recognition of the orang dagang was less legalistic and not so narrowly defined. Rather, they were simply accepted as productive members of the community.
Indeed, there were also no real political borders. While there did exist the concept of hamba raja, which refers to a ruler’s liege subjects, it was not a permanent relationship because people were free to shift their loyalties to another ruler, depending on where they happened to be. Kingdoms had no defined borders and a ruler’s territory only stretched as far as his influence.
Now, there was indeed a term used to describe outsiders, but it did not refer to foreign travellers or traders who offered their wares and services – these as we have established were the orang dagang. Instead, if we are to use Hikayat Hang Tuah as an example, the term orang luar is used in every instance to refer to invaders, namely the Portuguese who were also called the Ferringi. These orang luar were seen as arrogant and unwilling to honour local culture and customs. They were therefore cast in negative light, as the following excerpt shows:
“Seketika juga maka Feringgi itu pun habislah; yang ada hidup semuanya habis lari terbit keluar kota. Maka diturut bunuh oleh segala orang luar itu, habis mati semuanya Feringgi itu.” Hikayat Hang Tuah Tuah, 524:38
The passage above speaks of the defeat of the Ferringi (Portuguese), with survivors having fled the city of Malacca. The remaining orang luar (outsiders), who were the Portuguese, were then wiped out.
A Region of Migrants
It is also interesting to note that in the Malay language, people are central to the concept of territory. In fact, the Malay term for region or territory, i.e. rantau, includes elements of migration and mobility. When rantau is conjugated as a verb, merantau, it takes on the meaning of traveling. Hence, the word rantau refers to both geography and the movement of people – something that has no English equivalent.
Although the concept and practice of merantau is often said to be particular to the Minangkabau community of West Sumatra, in truth it was normal practice throughout the entire Malay Archipelago, as we have already explored through the etymology of the term orang dagang.
It should come then as no surprise that the establishment of the famed Malacca Sultanate had its origins in the migration of asylum seekers. If we recall our history lessons, the founder of Malacca, Parameswara, was in fact an exiled prince of Palembang who after failing to establish a safe haven in Temasek (now known as Singapore) had no choice but to merantau further to finally settle in Malacca.
Learning from History
History is full of lessons for us to draw from. To be sure, circumstances then and now differ vastly, and the borderless societies that fabled characters such as Hang Tuah and Parameswara lived in have long been replaced by modern nation-states with clear borders and complex legal regimes.
However, by deconstructing some of these key concepts, we find that the ancient Malay world was in fact a very inclusive one – a far cry from the narrow and shallow narratives that pervade our country today. Migrants or orang dagang were welcomed and accepted, so long as they chose to contribute to the society. The only people who were considered to be real outsiders were aggressive invaders who sought to impose foreign values at gunpoint.
Gurney Drive, Penang, where pendatangs hang out
Unfortunately, in Malaysia today there seems to be a renewed prejudice towards migrant communities, even those who have settled for generations and should no longer be considered anything other than part of Malaysian society. Instead of treating our fellow citizens as one of our own, there are efforts to ban Malay words from being used by non-Malays, as well as the unconstitutional suppression of rights of non-Malays to religious expression.
It must be stressed that these bigoted actions are not only wrong but also antithetical to Malay culture. In fact, it goes against the very grain of Malay history, which paints the Malay world to be a migrant one, where even the Malay identity itself is a very fluid concept. According to great scholars of Malay studies such as Anthony Milner, Malayness is not defined so much by descent or bloodline than it is by culture and civilisation. In other words, Malayness is not an ethnicity but a culture, and a very liberal and accommodative one at that.
A Never-ending Journey for Improvement
In the year 622 AD, the original Muslims who followed the Prophet Muhammad on the Hijrah did so to seek greener pastures. They did so for their own survival, and for better opportunities. But the Hijrah did not end when they settled in Medina. In fact, it can be argued that it has not really ended – that it is a continuous journey, a migration in search of improvement, be it physical or spiritual.
And so the journey goes on for us here in Malaysia. In keeping with the traditions of our forefathers, we should continue to derive strength from the ever-evolving diversity of our society. This fact should be celebrated and not exploited as a cause for division. Whatever our roots, whether we have indigenous ancestry or whether we are descended from migrants or orang dagang, we are all Malaysians.
Zairil Khir Johari is Senior Fellow of Penang Institute.
President Donald Trump with his fawning Republican legislators celebrating the historic Tax Deal
One of the biggest beneficiaries of the massive, slapdash tax bill that President Trump and Republican lawmakers celebrated at the White House on Wednesday will be, wait for it . . . President Trump. What a coincidence!
The rest of Trump’s wealthy family will benefit lavishly as well, including his son-in-law and all-purpose adviser, Jared Kushner. And, of course, it’s not a coincidence at all. The chance that this President would preside over a revision of the tax code without lining his own pockets was zero. Anyone who believed Trump’s claim that the tax bill would “cost me a fortune” hasn’t been paying attention.
It is not possible to calculate precisely how much money the President will save, because he — unlike all other recent presidents — refuses to release his tax returns. But the figure is surely in the millions, assuming Trump is anywhere near as wealthy as he claims. His extended clan will have plenty of liquidity for Donald Jr. and Eric to jet off to Africa and kill more leopards and water buffaloes; for Jared and Ivanka to disappear on ski trips whenever they need to claim deniability regarding the latest administration outrage; and for the president himself to consume as many Big Macs, Filet-o-Fishes and chocolate shakes as his constitution can bear.
Trump says he is worth $10 billion; Forbes estimates his wealth at $3 billion, and some analysts think the true figure is lower. Any way you look at it, however, he’s a wealthy man — and the tax bill, which awaits only Trump’s signature to become law, is designed to make the very rich even richer.
Republicans celebrate tax wins as Trump fumes over FBI Russia probe
Like all 1-percenters, Trump will benefit from the lowering of the top tax rate from 39.6 percent to 37 percent. But that’s just for starters. As is always the case with the tax code, the devil is in the details.
Trump conducts his business affairs through hundreds of “pass-through” companies whose income is taxed at the personal rate, not the corporate rate. The House wanted to dramatically slash the pass-through rate across the board, but the Senate initially balked. At the last minute, however, the Senate wrote into the final bill a 20 percent deduction for pass-through income. If a taxpayer had, say, $100 million in pass-through earnings, he or she would be taxed on only $80 million; the rest would be tax-free.
t first, senators sought to limit this sweetheart deal to companies with large numbers of employees or high payrolls — unlike Trump’s pass-through businesses, which are mostly paper entities. But the final legislation gives the full deduction, regardless of the number of employees, to pass-through companies that own a lot of depreciable property, such as commercial real estate. Which just so happens to be the president’s livelihood.
It would be hard to craft a measure more tailor-made to enrich Trump and his family. If he wanted to avoid even the appearance of corruption, of course, Trump could decline to take this tax break or donate an equivalent amount to the treasury. Somehow I doubt either of those things will happen.
Trump also gets to continue using a frequently abused tax loophole called a “like-kind exchange.” Usually, if you sell a piece of property at a profit, that profit is considered income and is taxed. Creative accountants and tax lawyers came up with ways to structure sales so that they technically qualified as trades, meaning that as far as the IRS was concerned, there was no income to tax. This practice is now ending for all types of property — except real estate. Another coincidence, I’m sure.
Oh, and most businesses will be negatively affected by a measure capping the amount of interest expenses they can deduct — except real estate investors and hotel operators, which are explicitly exempted. If this were a movie, lobbyists and lawmakers would have hammered out this last provision in a back room at the Trump International Hotel.
On the flip side, Trump’s ability to deduct the state and local taxes he pays in New York would be drastically limited. But that is nothing compared to the likely upside.
Join me in a thought experiment. Imagine that the legislature of some other country — Brazil, say, or Mozambique, or Thailand — decided to rewrite the tax code, with no public hearings or expert testimony, in a way that benefited the rich overall, with maximum financial gain for businesses like that of the sitting head of gov ernment.
What would you say?I’m pretty sure you’d use the word corruption. And you would be right.
2017 was a horrible year for Singapore’s government — and for Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in particular.
It began with an open and vocal stoush with China. Late in 2016 the Chinese government confiscated millions of dollars’ worth of Singapore’s military hardware passing through the port of Hong Kong. The action was in part retaliation for Lee’s vocal endorsement of the US position on China’s militarisation of the South China Sea.
Singapore’s ongoing balancing act between China and the US will continue in 2018 with a new factor in play — it is Singapore’s turn as Chair of ASEAN. This position puts Lee on the front line of regional attention. Awkwardly for this balancing act, Lee’s first statement as incoming Chair was a declaration of hope that the United States would continue its engagement with ASEAN and the region.
Recovering lost ground in foreign policy might be a modest achievement. But domestically, the government is in a state of perpetual crisis management interspersed with misguided political judgements.
The first domestic crisis of 2017 erupted in June when Lee’s brother and sister, Lee Hsien Yang and Lee Wei Ling, turned to foreign media and social media to reveal ongoing legal disputes over their father’s will. The dispute was not over money but rather over control of the family home. Prime Minister Lee wants to turn it into a national monument to his father, but his siblings want to follow their father’s wishes by bulldozing it.
This family argument over inheritance became a national issue when the siblings accused Lee Hsien Loong of abusing his power as prime minister to build a family cult around his father’s name — all to bolster his own standing and to smooth the eventual rise to the prime ministership of his son, Li Hongyi. This unresolved dispute has damaged both the Lee brand and Li Hongyi’s prospects of entering politics.
A second major crisis erupted in October when the regular pattern of train breakdowns on the Mass Rapid Transport system escalated into a major episode — a pumping station in a tunnel failed during an ordinary storm causing an entire train line to be closed by flooding for 20 hours. The cause of the problem proved to be mundane — maintenance work had been neglected and work sheets falsified.
The Minister for Transport Khaw Boon Wan magnified the damage by unilaterally exonerating both the government and the senior management of Singapore Mass Rapid Transit Corporation. He was particularly singled out for exonerating its CEO Desmond Kuek, whom he thanked as a ‘volunteer’ — a role for which he is paid S$1.87 million (US$1.39 million) per year. Khaw went on to praise him for having his ‘heart in the right place’.
This episode of ordinary mismanagement was politically significant because it highlights an established pattern of widespread administrative failures and deteriorating government services under Lee’s watch. It also confirmed the perception that highly paid ‘establishment’ figures are protected from the consequences of their actions. Back in 2008 Lee offered similar protection to former deputy prime minister and minister for home affairs Wong Kan Seng when he let an alleged terrorist escape police custody. Wong retained his positions in Cabinet for another three years because Lee stated he had only made ‘an honest mistake’.
The government has also made several political missteps in 2017. Such missteps included Lee’s odd selection of topics for his National Day Rally Speech in August — a speech equivalent to the US State of the Union address. With Singapore facing challenges on many fronts — managing Xi Jinping and Donald Trump, the South China Sea, rising protectionism, trains, the economy and challenges to Singapore’s role as an air hub — he lectured the population on the dangers of diabetes, which seems to have left most people nonplussed.
Singaporeans had also been anxiously awaiting new developments on Lee’s successor since he announced in 2016 that he intended to step down as prime minister in 2020. In a country where both the populace and the markets expect long lead times for prime ministerial succession planning — generally a warning of five years or more is given — concern is starting to grow that no clear successor has either been named or emerged.
Perhaps Lee’s greatest misstep was his handling of the presidential election. The government’s preferred candidate for president was almost defeated in the 2011 elections by popular Chinese rival Tan Cheng Bock. Tan was planning to run again and so the government excluded him by restricting eligibility for election to ethnic Malays under the rather thin cover of enhancing multiracialism.
This was effective in removing any challenge from Tan, but left just one candidate in the race after two of the three Malay candidates were excluded on other grounds. The episode left a widespread impression that the constitution and the electoral rules are just the plaything of the government, and has done significant damage to both the standing of the presidential office and the government.
While Singapore’s government has made some positive steps in terms of foreign policy in 2017, its handling of domestic issues has been sub-par. It was a particularly messy year for a government that claims to be preparing for a generational handover in 2020, and it does not bode well for the longevity of the Lee Kuan Yew model of governance.
Michael D Barr is an Associate Professor of International Relations in the College of Business, Government and Law, Flinders University.
The cover of the magazine’s post-election issue, had Clinton won. “I felt that I had let everyone down,” she recalls. “Because I had.”–Illustration by Malika Favre
Hillary Rodham Clinton, who, as she puts it, won “more votes for President than any white man” in American history, is not the first candidate to capture the popular vote but lose the election. She is the fifth. The Founders, for varying reasons, distrusted popular democracy. Southerners were wary of a challenge to slavery; others feared the emergence of a national demagogue. The Electoral College, Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist Paper No. 68, would block the rise of a leader with “talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity.” An extra layer of electoral deliberation, he thought, would also insulate the American system from a hostile hack from abroad—“the desire in foreign powers to gain an improper ascendant in our councils.”
Andrew Jackson was the first to suffer this constitutionally enabled result of losing-while-winning, when he conceded the 1824 race to John Quincy Adams. Jackson, whose portrait now hangs in the Oval Office, charged that he had been undone by a rigged ballot. In 1888, Grover Cleveland lost in much the same manner to Benjamin Harrison, but then avenged his humbling four years later. Samuel Tilden fell to Rutherford B. Hayes, in 1876; and yet, after the baroque, months-long struggle inside the Electoral College, Tilden seemed almost relieved. Now, he said, “I can retire to private life with the consciousness that I shall receive from posterity the credit of having been elected to the highest position in the gift of the people, without any of the cares and responsibilities of the office.”
In the ballot of 2000, Albert Gore, Jr., Bill Clinton’s Vice-President for eight years, won half a million more votes than the governor of Texas, George W. Bush. After losing the final battle before the Supreme Court, Gore soon departed Washington to brood in Nashville. He grew a beard. He grew fat. He seemed, at first, quite lost. When I visited him there, a few years later, he said he would eventually get around to confronting that bitter experience, just not yet. He never fully did so, certainly not at book length. Instead, with time, he shaved his beard, traveled the world giving lectures and making a documentary about climate change, and, in 2007, shared the Nobel Peace Prize with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. He made a fortune as an Apple director, a Google adviser, and a venture-capital partner. He found his way. And whenever someone brought up the election of 2000 he always remembered to lighten matters, saying, “You win some, you lose some, and then there’s that little-known third category.”
For all of Hillary Clinton’s skills of survival, she will have a hard time finding a similar peace or place in public affairs. For one thing, Gore was in his early fifties when he lost. Clinton is sixty-nine. For another, the circumstances surrounding her defeat are immensely more disturbing. Clinton lost a race that few thought possible to lose. Her opponent was not Mitt Romney or John McCain or Marco Rubio but Donald J. Trump, a demonstrably crooked businessman and reality-television star, an unsavory, if shrewd, demagogue whose rhetoric and policy proposals had long flouted the constitutional norms of the United States.
She lost because of the tactical blunders of her campaign. She lost because she could never find a language, a thematic focus, or a campaigning persona that could convince enough struggling working Americans that she, and not a cartoonish plutocrat, was their champion. She lost because of the forces of racism, misogyny, and nativism that Trump expertly aroused. And she lost because of external forces (Vladimir Putin, Julian Assange, James Comey) that were beyond her control and are not yet fully understood.
“There are times when all I want to do is scream into a pillow,” Clinton admits in a raw memoir, both apologetic and apoplectic, called “What Happened.” Clinton describes the daily activity of working on the book with her collaborators, two former speechwriters and a researcher, as “cathartic.” They spent long sessions at her house talking through the details of the campaign, exchanging notes, suggestions, edits. But, as Clinton said when we met recently for a long conversation, the process of thinking about it all—Trump looming over her like a predator at the second debate, the incessant drumbeat of “e-mails, e-mails, e-mails,” awaking from a nap on Election Night and being told that Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and the election itself had all slipped away—was like willfully reënacting a hideous accident. “Literally, at times when I was writing it, I had to go lie down,” she said. “I just couldn’t bear to relive it.”
But, against the advice of some of those closest to her, she has relived it, for publication. Clinton’s memoir radiates with fury at the forces and the figures ranged against her, but it is also salted with self-searching, grief, bitterness, and fitful attempts to channel and contain that fury. At one point, she writes, “Breathe out. Scream later.” On the night of November 8th, Clinton expected to give a victory speech at the Javits Center, in Manhattan, as the first female President-elect. The stagecraft was in place: she would wear white—“the color of the suffragettes,” the fulfillment of Seneca Falls—and stand on a platform cut into the shape of the United States, under a vast glass ceiling. It was to be a triumph on a historic scale, an American breakthrough as consequential as Barack Obama’s Election Night speech in 2008, at Grant Park. Instead, the next morning, she wore purple, a symbol of the unity of red and blue states, and, before hundreds of shocked, weeping staffers, she made her way through a hastily drafted message of endurance and gratitude. Afterward, she and Bill Clinton climbed into their car and, as they were driven along the Hudson River, she was hollowed out, unable to speak, struggling to breathe: “At every step I felt that I had let everyone down. Because I had.”
When Clinton arrived home, she changed into yoga pants and a fleece and wandered outside. She lives on a cul-de-sac called Old House Lane, in Chappaqua, a wooded hamlet in Westchester County. The property is surrounded by a high white fence. Secret Service officers operate out of a red barn in the back yard. It was cold, rainy, quiet, and, she writes, “the question blaring in my head was, ‘How did this happen?’ ”
Before I went to see Clinton, I spoke with some of her top advisers in the campaign. Some still work with her; others stay in close touch, commiserating, exchanging links to stories about Trump-related outrages or malfeasances. They share a sense of colossal failure—of having failed Clinton, and, more, of having failed the country. They know that she, too, carries a sense of both victimhood and guilt. “There is an exponential quality to the pain she feels,” one of them told me. “It’s the pain of losing an election that you thought you were going to win. And it’s taken to the nth power. It’s squared by the fact that this is the second time she has fallen short, and cubed by the fact that the person who won is so deeply unworthy, in her view, and represents a mortal threat to American greatness. There is in her a depth of anguish about the outcome that there is no parallel for in modern memory.”
In the first months after Trump’s victory, Clinton kept mainly out of the public eye. She didn’t want to hear the theories about why her campaign had given America a Trump Presidency; she could not handle easily the gestures of sympathy. She listened with a tight, patient smile as people recommended Xanax and gave her the names of their marvellous therapists. Friends always hastened to praise Clinton for her determination to “keep going,” but they uniformly described her now as angry, confused, bitter, and sad. How did she get from day to day? “Chardonnay helped,” she told me. (It’s become a stock line for her book tour.) She also practiced a form of yoga that involves “alternate-nostril breathing.” That someone might leap on her prescription of white wine and yoga as a parody of blue-state self-care is, in her post-candidate life, irrelevant.
Clinton spent a lot of time around the house. She read Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels of friendship, becoming, and abandonment. She returned to the work of Henri Nouwen, a Dutch-born priest and theologian who wrote about his struggles with depression, spirituality, and loneliness. She consumed mystery novels: Louise Penny, Donna Leon, Charles Todd. She went to her granddaughter’s dance recital. She watched old episodes of “The Good Wife” and “Madam Secretary,” even if that seemed a little on the nose. She teared up watching Kate McKinnon on “Saturday Night Live” singing Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” (“I did my best, it wasn’t much . . .”) She went through scores of articles about Russian meddling, offshore “content farms,” Trump-family misadventures. “At times,” she writes, “I felt like C.I.A. agent Carrie Mathison on the TV show Homeland, desperately trying to get her arms around a sinister conspiracy and appearing more than a little frantic in the process.” She also spent time thinking about what she might do in the future, “so that the rest of my life wouldn’t be spent like Miss Havisham from Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations, rattling around my house obsessing over what might have been.” She has yet to settle on anything concrete, save for the conviction that she will never run for office again.
In her concession speech, Clinton had, like Gore before her, gestured to the need for national unity. She mouthed the requisite words of conciliation. (“Donald Trump is going to be our President. We owe him an open mind and the chance to lead. Our constitutional democracy enshrines the peaceful transfer of power.”) But as I sat down with her in a bare conference room in her office on West Forty-fifth Street—a room so drained of decoration that it seemed like a stage set for a production of “Endgame”—she made it plain that, after eight months of Trump’s Presidency, she was through with political politesse. Although her press person had told me that Clinton did not want to be photographed—she writes a long passage in the book about the trials of daily sessions with hairdressers and makeup artists, and all that is required of women in public office to achieve the gloss expected of them—she entered the room looking much as she had throughout the campaign. Still, there was a heaviness to her manner, a kind of grim determination to get a message across, one last time.
“I think the President and his Administration pose a clear and present danger to our democracy,” she said. “I hoped, back on the day after that election, that I wouldn’t be sitting here, all these months later, feeling compelled to say that with a sense of urgency. But I am, and I do.”
Trump, Clinton went on, “is immature, with poor impulse control; unqualified for the position that he holds; reactive, not proactive; not strategic, either at home or on the world stage. And I think he is unpredictable, which, at the end of the description one can give of him, makes him dangerous. The latest incident with North Korea? Going after our ally, South Korea, while North Korea is threatening the region, threatening us? Going after China, which we need, whether we like it or not, to help us try to resolve the aggressive behavior of Kim Jong Un? It puts a smile on Kim’s face. Just like him going after NATO and the Atlantic alliance puts a smile on Putin’s face. He admires authoritarians. In fact, before this crisis with North Korea, he was praising Kim Jong Un. He clearly has a bromance toward Putin, whom he lauds as a great leader. He’s being played by the Putins and the Kim Jong Uns of the world. I’m not even sure he’s aware of that. Because he has such a limited understanding of the world. Everything is in relation to how it makes him feel. And therefore he has little objective distance, which a leader must have. Making decisions in the Oval Office requires a level of dispassionate, reasoned analysis. We’ve seen no evidence he’s capable of that.”
Diplomacy in the Trump Administration, Clinton said, has become the work of generals, particularly James Mattis, who is “both Secretary of Defense and Secretary of State, as far as I can tell.” She didn’t speak critically of Rex Tillerson, but the former Secretary of State said, “There are no diplomats at home. There are no China experts. I don’t know who is left in the government at any level of experience and seniority who could be brought into the kind of diplomatic effort that I would advocate for. You should have an envoy that carries the imprimatur of the President in Korea right now, shuttling between Tokyo and Seoul and Beijing, and trying to figure out what is the best way forward here.”
In all, with Putin behaving like “a Bond villain,” the country on alert against a nuclear North Korea, and the Oval Office occupied by a reality-TV personality, Clinton seemed to feel that a line had been crossed; the country had fallen into a perilous state of unreality.
“It’s like a bad movie,” she said. “You can’t believe anybody would ever green-light it, and all of a sudden it happens.”
“What Happened” was a No. 1 best-seller on Amazon well before its publication, on September 12. This is not surprising. Of the more than sixty-five million people who voted for Clinton, and who now feel miserable about the Trump Presidency, not a few want to hear from her again, and gain some consolation from her story, if only to speculate about a through-the-looking-glass world in which she is in the White House, Merrick Garland is on the Supreme Court, and Trump is ranting about “illegals” in a studio at Fox News. Clinton’s previous books—“It Takes a Village,” “Dear Socks, Dear Buddy,” “Living History,” “Hard Choices”—were more brand burnishment than human expression; they were performances of virtue or anecdotal enumerations of her travels and accomplishments before an upcoming campaign, everything rendered in cautious, sometimes disingenuous, market-tested prose. Such books belong to a well-established tradition. “Living History,” published during her first term in the U.S. Senate, is an evasive, soft-focus memoir. It attempts, for example, to portray her father—a frustrated, angry, and often frightening man—as an ultimately lovable curmudgeon. “Hard Choices,” her chronicle of her years at the State Department, possesses all the flavor and the nutritional value of a breakfast bowl of packing peanuts and warm water.
“What Happened,” though hardly an Augustinian confession, is much closer to the bone than anything Clinton has ever published. She knows that the voice of the vanquished isn’t always welcome, but she remains defiant: “There were plenty of people hoping that I, too, would just disappear,” she acknowledges. “But here I am.”
The wounds that the new book opens are not just Clinton’s. A few nights before meeting with her, I was at dinner with a political professional who worked on her 2008 campaign. I mentioned that I was going to interview Clinton, and sought his advice about what I should ask. He put down his fork and scowled. “Ask her why she blew the biggest slam dunk in the history of fucking American politics!” he said. A few diners at adjacent tables looked up. “Oh, and ask her if she is going to donate the millions of dollars she’s gonna make on this book to charity. Ask her: Why should you profit from this disaster?” There was more of this.
On the day I was to see Clinton, I read an article in Politico headlined “Democrats Dread Hillary’s Book Tour.” Unnamed “alums” from her Brooklyn campaign headquarters told the reporters that the promotion of “What Happened” was “the final torture.” Others joked about how many stops she’d make in Wisconsin in her campaign to sell books. A top Democratic donor said that Clinton “should just zip it, but she’s not going to.” Senator Claire McCaskill, a Democrat from Missouri, was asked about the book; she replied, “Beg your pardon?,” and walked away. Her colleague from Oregon, Ron Wyden, said, “I’ve always been a looking-forward kind of guy. I think I’ll leave it at that.”
Before publication day, a passage from the book leaked in which Clinton criticizes Bernie Sanders for giving Trump an opening by slashing away at her integrity during the primary campaign. When he was asked about the book by Stephen Colbert, on “The Late Show,” Sanders, who wrote of his own experiences in the 2016 race in a book he published last November, did not miss his cue. “Look, Secretary Clinton ran against the most unpopular candidate in the history of this country and she lost. She’s upset about that and I understand that,” he said. “But our job now is not to go backwards, it is to go forwards. . . . I think it’s a little bit silly to keep talkin’ about 2016.” The bitterness of that primary race will not soon fade. Sanders saw Clinton as a clueless, corrupt, temporizing, buckraking member of the neoliberal élite; she saw him as unserious about the details of policy, reckless, self-righteous, swept up in his own sense of ideological purity, and “not a Democrat.”
Even some of the people closest to Clinton are wary of the book and the inevitable blowback it will invite. “If she carried a cross and were bleeding on the street, that would not be enough apology for some people,” one adviser told me. According to a recent NBC News poll, Clinton’s favorability rating is now at thirty per cent, the nadir of her public life. This is not a country that countenances losers, it seems, no matter what the popular vote, no matter how badly the rules have been broken, no matter how pernicious the victor. To type “Hillary Clinton” and watch Twitter light up in an efflorescence of insult and wild accusation is an alarming experience. She has been a target of unholy abuse from the start. In 1980, her husband lost the Arkansas governorship after his first term in part because, many voters said, she had the temerity to go by Hillary Rodham. (She soon added Clinton.) Once the Clintons were in the White House, everyone from Rush Limbaugh to Pat Robertson, from Christopher Hitchens to the editorial writers of the Wall Street Journal, accused her of heinous crimes: drug running, financial fraud, shadowy doings around the death of Vince Foster. Trump was able to revive many of those old tropes and, through his speeches and tweets and the amplifying force of his incessantly televised rallies, once more cast Clinton as Lady Macbeth.
When I told Clinton that I had looked her up that morning on Twitter, she smiled knowingly and said, “A dangerous thing to do!” She knew all too well what was there, and it wasn’t merely the usual filth about her appearance or her marriage. It was the kind of material that allowed men like Trump, Michael Flynn, and Chris Christie to get in front of roaring crowds and inspire chants of “Lock her up!”
I’ve thought a lot about this,” Clinton told me. “And for whatever combination of reasons—some I think I understand, and others I don’t—I am viewed as a threat to powerful forces on both the right and the left. I am still one of the favorite subjects for Fox TV. With the return of [Steve] Bannon to Breitbart, we’ll see him utilizing that publication. It’s because I do speak out, and I do stand up. Sometimes, you know, what I say is not fully appreciated for years, to be honest. At least, it seems to me that way. But I’m going to continue to speak out. And on the left—there is a real manipulation of the left. In addition to those who are calling me names, we know that Russia has really targeted, through their trolls and bots, a lot of accounts—a lot of Twitter accounts, Facebook accounts, of people on the left—feeding them a steady diet of nonsense.”
Such talk was not a matter of wishful conspiracy thinking. Scott Shane, of the Times, recently published an article in which he, with the help of the cybersecurity firm FireEye, detailed the Russian efforts against Clinton in the campaign, far beyond the hack of the Democratic National Committee and John Podesta’s e-mail accounts. Shane reported that a “cyberarmy” of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of bloggers and bots with fake American identities spread disinformation about Clinton on various platforms, including Facebook and Twitter.
These tactics, Clinton told me, were “right out of the playbook of Putin and one of the generals whom he listens to, who talked about the kind of war planning and preparation that Russia needed to be engaged in. It was no longer just large, conventional forces and nuclear warheads—it was also cyberwar, covert and semi-covert, even overt, as we saw in Ukraine. This attack on our electoral system was at least publicly encouraged by Trump and his campaign. I hope the investigation in the Congress and by [Robert] Mueller, as well, will give us more information and understanding of what else they really did to us. It’s not going away.”
I asked Clinton if she thought Trump or his campaign colluded with the Russians. “I don’t want to overstate what we already know publicly, but I think the compilation of coincidence adds up to something more than public support,” she said, referring to Trump’s refusal to criticize Putin (“Why should I tell Putin what to do?”) and his encouragement of Julian Assange (“I love WikiLeaks!”).
She went on, “The latest disclosure by Facebook about the targeting of attack ads, negative stories, dovetails with my concern that there had to be some information provided to the Russians by someone as to how best to weaponize the information that they stole, first from the Democratic Committee, then from John Podesta. And the refusal of the Trump Administration officials, both current and former, to admit to their involvements with Russians raises a lot of unanswered questions.” Putin’s motives, she said, went well beyond destabilizing a particular campaign. “Putin wants to undermine democracy, to undermine the Atlantic alliance, to undermine the E.U., to undermine NATO, and to resurrect Russian influence as much as possible beyond the borders,” she said. “So the stakes are huge here.”
If, as Clinton told me, the Russians had deployed a “new form of warfare” to upend American democratic processes, what should President Obama have done in the closing act of the campaign? At a summit in China, Obama told Putin to back off from any election tampering, and he talked about the issue at a press conference. But he did not raise the stakes. Figuring that Clinton would win, Obama was wary of being seen as tipping the election to her and confirming Trump’s constant assertions that the vote was rigged against him. When the C.I.A. first told Obama, in August, that the Russians had been meddling in the Presidential race, the agency shared the information with the Gang of Eight—the congressional leadership and the chairs and the ranking members of the intelligence committees. The Administration asked for a bipartisan statement of warning. Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader, adamantly refused, muffling for weeks any sense of national alarm.
“I feel we sort of choked,” one senior Obama Administration official told the Washington Post. Another former Administration official said that national-security people were feeling, “Wow, did we mishandle this.” Clinton, in her book, gingerly “wonders” what the effect might have been had Obama gone on national television in the fall of 2016 “warning that our democracy was under attack.” I asked her whether Obama had failed—whether the issue should have been treated less as a narrowcasted political problem and more as a grave national-security threat.
“Well, I think that I’m very understanding of the position he found himself in,” she said. “Because I’ve been in that Situation Room, I know how hard these calls can be. And I believe that they struggled with this, and they were facing some pretty difficult headwinds.” She was less restrained in her description of the Senate Majority Leader’s behavior. “Mitch McConnell, in what I think of as a not only unpatriotic but despicable act of partisan politics, made it clear that if the Obama Administration spoke publicly about what they knew, he would accuse them of partisan politics, of trying to tip the balance toward me,” she said. “McConnell basically threatened the White House, and I know that was on the President’s mind. It was a predicament for him.” She also lambasted James Comey, the former F.B.I. director, who “refused to publicly acknowledge that there was an investigation, and, with the height of irony, said, ‘Well, you can’t do that so close to the election.’ ” (Comey told the Senate Judiciary Committee that the investigation had not progressed to the point where disclosure would have been appropriate.)
All the same, I asked, did President Obama blow it? Clinton paused, and spoke very carefully: “I would have, in retrospect now, wished that he had said something, because I think the American people deserved to know.”
In “What Happened,” Clinton, by way of demanding national resolve against a Russian threat, quotes a maxim attributed to Vladimir Lenin: “You take a bayonet and you push. If you hit mush, you keep going; if you hit steel, you stop.”
“Were we mush?” I asked about the Obama Administration’s response.
Now she did not hesitate. “I think we were mushy,” she said. “Partly because we couldn’t believe it. Richard Clarke, who is one of our nation’s experts on terrorism, has written a book about Cassandras,” unheeded predictors of calamity. “And there was a collective Cassandra out there—my campaign was part of that—saying, ‘The Russians are in our electoral system, the Russians are weaponizing information, look at it!’ And everybody in the press basically thought we were overstating, exaggerating, making it up. And Comey wouldn’t confirm an investigation, so there was nothing to hold on to. And I think that the point Clarke makes is when you have an initial occurrence that has never happened before, some people might see it and try to warn about it, but most people would find it unlikely, impossible. And what I fear is we still haven’t gotten to the bottom of what the Russians did.”
Surprisingly, Clinton and her advisers believe that the most dramatic day of the campaign, October 7, the day of the “Access Hollywood” tape, was a disaster for them. Early that day, the director of National Intelligence and the Secretary of Homeland Security released a statement concluding that the Russians had been attempting to interfere in the U.S. election process. But when, shortly afterward, the Washington Post released the tape—in which Donald Trump describes how he grabs women by the genitals and moves on them “like a bitch”—the D.H.S. statement was eclipsed. “My heart sank,” Jennifer Palmieri, a top Clinton adviser, recalled. “My first reaction was ‘No! Focus on the intelligence statement!’ The ‘Access Hollywood’ tape was not good for Trump, obviously, but it was more likely to hurt him with the people who were already against him. His supporters had made their peace with his awful behavior.”
That evening, a third media vortex formed, as Julian Assange went to work. WikiLeaks began to dole out a new tranche of stolen e-mails. “It seemed clear to us that the Russians were again being guided by our politics,” Clinton said. “Someone was offering very astute political advice about how to weaponize information, how to convey it, how to use the existing Russian outlets, like RT or Sputnik, how to use existing American vehicles, like Facebook.”
Clinton has little doubt that Assange was working with the Russians. “I think he is part nihilist, part anarchist, part exhibitionist, part opportunist, who is either actually on the payroll of the Kremlin or in some way supporting their propaganda objectives, because of his resentment toward the United States, toward Europe,” she said. “He’s like a lot of the voices that we’re hearing now, which are expressing appreciation for the macho authoritarianism of a Putin. And they claim to be acting in furtherance of transparency, except they never go after the Kremlin or people on that side of the political ledger.” She said she put Assange and Edward Snowden, who leaked extensive details of N.S.A. surveillance programs, “in the same bucket—they both end up serving the strategic goals of Putin.” She said that, despite Snowden’s insistence that he remains an independent actor, it was “no accident he ended up in Moscow.”
In assessing all the reasons she was defeated last November, Clinton believes that the critical factor was not her failures of tactics or rhetoric, not her misreading of the national Zeitgeist, not her inability to put her e-mail-server blunder to rest, and not even the manipulations of foreign cyberwarriors. The critical factor, in her view, was “the Comey letter”—James Comey’s announcement, eleven days before the election, that the F.B.I. had, in the course of a criminal investigation of the former congressman Anthony Weiner, discovered a cache of e-mails from her that required further study. This revived the e-mail issue that had plagued the campaign from the day in March, 2015, when the Times broke the story that Clinton, while Secretary of State, had maintained a private server and merged her personal and professional accounts. The polling expert Nate Silver concluded, “Clinton would almost certainly be President-Elect if the election had been held on October 27,” the day before Comey released his letter. Silver’s analysis was that Comey’s announcement led to a three-point plunge for Clinton, reducing her chances of winning from eighty-one per cent to sixty-five. Moreover, Silver said, had it not been for the Comey letter and the WikiLeaks publication of stolen e-mails, Clinton would have taken Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Florida. In the end, she lost Florida by 1.2 points, and the others by less than a point
Clinton talked about the spike in Google searches about WikiLeaks which had been spurred by the Comey letter—particularly in Pennsylvania, “where maybe Obama had squeaked out a win in a town or a county.” “That’s when the bottom fell out,” she said. “Particularly with women in the suburbs of Philadelphia and elsewhere, who thought, Well, that’s it, I wanted to vote for her, I was fighting with my husband, with my son, with my employer, and I told them I was going to vote for her, but they’re right, she’s going to jail, we’re gonna lock her up, I can’t vote for her.”
Time and investigation will tell whether Donald Trump or his surrogates colluded in any foreign interference in the election; what is entirely clear is that he was, with his penchant for exploiting an enemy’s weakness, eager to add weight to the heavy baggage that Clinton, after thirty-five years in public life, carried into the campaign. Trump, who lives in gilded penthouses and palaces, who flies in planes and helicopters emblazoned with his name, who does business with mobsters, campaigned in 2016 by saying that he spoke for the working man, that he alone heard them and felt their anger, and by branding Hillary Clinton an “élitist,” out of touch with her country. The irony is as easy as it is enormous, and yet Clinton made it possible. She practically kicked off her campaign by telling Diane Sawyer that the reason she and her husband cashed in on the lecture circuit on such an epic scale was that, when they left the White House, in 2001, they were “dead broke.” As earnestly as she has worked on behalf of women, the disadvantaged, and many other constituencies, Clinton does not, for many people, radiate a sense of empathy. A resident of a bubble of power since her days in the Arkansas governor’s mansion, she makes it hard even for many supporters to imagine that her feet ever touch the ground. In “What Happened,” she describes how, when considering whether to run again in 2016, she had to consider all her negatives—“Clinton fatigue,” the dynastic question, her age, the accumulated distrust between her and the press—and then says that she completed the deliberative process by going to stay with Oscar and Annette de la Renta at Casa de Campo, their retreat in the Dominican Republic. “We swam, we ate good food, and thought about the future. By the time we got back, I was ready to run.” This is perhaps not a universally relatable anecdote. Nor did she see much wrong with giving twenty-odd million dollars’ worth of speeches, including to Goldman Sachs and other financial institutions, conceding only that it was, in hindsight, bad “optics.” (“I didn’t think many Americans would believe that I’d sell a lifetime of principle and advocacy for any price,” she writes. “That’s on me.”)
In 2012, Obama won over many working-class voters in the Midwest and elsewhere by reminding them that he had saved the automobile industry and, through strokes broad and subtle, by painting Mitt Romney as the heartless boss who would have handed out the pink slips. Despite Trump’s wealth and his televised role as a big shot who took glee in firing people, “Hillary somehow got portrayed the way Romney did,” a close adviser to Clinton told me. “Those people felt she was against them. It was super gendered and classist. It’s hugely complicated, but she was the uppity woman. . . . Both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump drove the message that ‘she looks down on you.’ The ‘deplorable’ thing was awful, but she was losing those people hard by then.”
Clinton’s relation to the press has always been vexed. In the book, Clinton singles out the Times for hammering away at her e-mail issue in a way that she says overwhelmed any negative coverage of Trump. “The Times covered her like she was a Mafia figure,” one adviser said.
This dynamic has a long history. It was the Times that, during the 1992 Presidential campaign, initially broached the Whitewater story—a saga of relatively modest indiscretions and misdeeds. In the White House, the Clintons responded to further inquiries with defensiveness and stubborn resistance, which reinforced suspicion in the press, and the cycle led to conspiracy thinking all around. This cycle of mutual mistrust has continued on and off since then. It was not long before reporters, many of them broadly sympathetic to left-of-center politics, came to view the Clintons with weary skepticism. For other pundits, Hillary Clinton, in particular, came off as sanctimonious, with her New Age homilies about “the politics of meaning.” The Clintons, in turn, came to see the press as the enemy.
In 1993, I was invited to a White House dinner for about fifty people. The Clintons evidently wanted to reëstablish some rapport with the press. I was seated next to Hillary. For much of the dinner, she complained about “Saint Hillary,” a caustic profile, by Michael Kelly, published in the Times Magazine. Kelly saw Clinton as a self-righteous First Lady who thought she could help concoct a “unified-field theory of life” that encompassed the social gospel of the nineteenth century, the “temperance-minded Methodism” of the twentieth century, the liberation theology of the sixties and seventies, and “the pacifistic and multiculturally correct religious left of today.” Kelly sternly concluded that Clinton “clearly wants power” and had “amassed more of it than any First Lady since Eleanor Roosevelt.”
From those days onward, Clinton has known that she inspired hostility. Twenty-one years ago, in an article for this magazine called “Hating Hillary,” by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., she admitted, “I apparently remind some people of their mother-in-law or their boss, or something.” In the same piece, Arianna Huffington remarks on Clinton’s “self-righteousness,” Peggy Noonan on her “apple-cheeked certitude.” Gates observed that Clinton was widely perceived as Mrs. Jellyby, the character in Charles Dickens’s “Bleak House” who is as “intent on improving humanity as she is cavalier toward actual human beings . . . the zealous reformer with a heart as big as all Antarctica.”
Such ingrained habits of media antagonism proved to be another factor that allowed Trump, the biggest liar in the history of Presidential politics, to be seen by tens of millions of people as a figure of rude authenticity, their champion. In Clinton’s view, she could never win with people who had been trained to regard her as a high-minded phony. Her wariness and evasions drained their sympathy; her strained attempts to win people back too often fell flat. Why couldn’t she be admired for her intelligence, her competence, her experience?
In “What Happened,” she voices her sense of exasperation:
I’ll bet you know more about my private life than you do about some of your closest friends. You’ve read my e-mails, for heaven’s sake. What more do you need? What could I do to be “more real”? Dance on a table? Swear a blue streak? Break down sobbing? That’s not me. And if I had done any of those things, what would have happened? I’d have been ripped to pieces.
She acknowledges that her caution had sometimes made her seem guarded (and “prompted the question, ‘What is she hiding?’ ”), but she notes that many men in politics, though far less scrutinized, aren’t asked to “open up, reveal themselves, prove that they’re real.”
Clinton has come to believe that there is an overriding reason that she has aroused such resentment: her gender. In the book, she points out that both Bill Clinton, as the fatherless son from “a town called Hope,” and Barack Obama, as the son of a Kenyan father and a white idealist, had capsule life stories that helped them reach voters. Clinton was the first woman to have a serious chance to win the Presidency, but “I was unlikely to be seen as a transformative, revolutionary figure. I had been on the national stage too long for that and my temperament was too even-keeled.”
When I asked about this, I pointed out that her popularity was always high when she ran something—when she was Secretary of State, her approval rating was nearly seventy per cent—but suffered when she ran for things.
“I was running something in service to someone else,” she told me. “A man. Who I was honored to serve. And so I knew that if I did get into the Presidential race again I would face what women face when you are not serving someone, but you are seeking power yourself.”
Clinton said that she has learned from life, as well as from studies and from conversations with the likes of Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook, that “the more successful a man becomes, the more likable he becomes; the more professionally successful a woman becomes, the less likable she becomes.” Her situation, she said, “was Clinton-specific, plus sexism and misogyny.”
But why, when half the voters are female, should gender prove an even greater barrier in American electoral politics than race? I mentioned other countries that have female heads of state, including Great Britain and Germany.
“I think part of it is our system,” she said. “And we don’t yet have that audience. I hope it will change, especially for young women. We have a Presidential system. We have one person—head of state, head of government. Most of the places you mention have a different head of state, to carry on all of the symbolic continuity, whether it’s the crown or the nation, and the head of government is charged with the responsibility of being a political leader. . . . Parliamentary systems, historically, have proven more open to women. And why would that be? Because you have a party apparatus to support you. You can build relationships and a good sense of competence with your fellow party members. And they can see how effective you are and elect you leader. But you only have to run in your constituency, which is a much smaller and more defined—and, in many ways, open—opportunity to build personal relationships with those who are in your constituency. You know, when I ran for the Senate the first time, here in New York, I won, I think, fifteen counties. Next time I ran, I won all but three.” Close: all but four. “Because I could build that personal relationship, I could produce results, I could demonstrate that I was fighting for the people of New York.”
It’s true that, throughout the campaign, Clinton was described—by Trump, by his surrogates, and by countless people on social media—in the ugliest terms: weak, sickly, a criminal, physically repellent. Clinton, in her book, tells of how, during the second debate, just two days after the “grab ’em by the pussy” tape, she wanted to wheel around at Trump, who was “breathing down my neck,” and say, “Back up, you creep, get away from me, I know you love to intimidate women but you can’t intimidate me, so back up.” Instead, she bit her tongue and kept going.
She castigates Trump for inflaming and giving “permission” to misogynists and racists. “Those attitudes have never gone away,” she told me. “But we had successfully—and this is part of the role of civilization—we had rendered them unacceptable: being an overt racist, being an overt misogynist, saying the terrible things that Trump said about immigrants or Muslims. All of that was not political correctness. It was respect. It was tolerance. It was acceptance. But there was a growing resentment, anger, that came to full flower in this election. . . . The Internet has given voice to, and a home for, so many more people. And so with Trump to light the match, from the first day of his campaign to the last, there was a sense of acceptance, liberation, empowerment for these forces.”
Did Clinton stand by her campaign line that a substantial number of Trump’s voters were “deplorables”? She shifted quickly from self-reflection to attack mode.
“I think Trump has behaved in a deplorable manner, both during his campaign and as President,” she said. “I think he has given permission to others to engage in deplorable behavior, as we did see in Charlottesville and elsewhere. So I don’t take back the description that I made of him and a number of his core supporters.”
In conversation and in the book, Clinton’s pain is manifest. When it comes to feminism and her role in the women’s movement, she says, she never figured out “how to tell the story right.” And the country, she believes, is not ready to hear it. Or, at least, not from her. “That’s not who we are,” she writes. “Not yet.”
Elsewhere in the book, she writes, “As the campaign went on, polls showed that a significant number of Americans questioned my authenticity and trustworthiness. A lot of people said they just didn’t like me. I write that matter-of-factly, but believe me, it’s devastating. Some of this is a direct result of my actions: I’ve made mistakes, been defensive about them, stubbornly resisted apologizing. But so have most men in politics. (In fact, one of them just became President with a strategy of ‘never apologize when you’re wrong, just attack harder.’)”
The women in her circle of friends and advisers are particularly outraged by the way that Trump was able to win so many votes among working-class white women. “Trump was, like, I am going to paint a picture of her as someone who will come steal your children and take your guns,” one said. “The million-dollar question will be: What will happen when it isn’t Hillary Clinton, when it’s another woman? For now, neither women nor men trust the ambition of women.”
A few hours after our conversation, I went uptown to Riverside Church, where Clinton was scheduled to hold a public conversation with Bill Shillady, a Methodist minister and a family friend who during the campaign had e-mailed Clinton hundreds of morning devotionals—Bible passages with accompanying short sermons—and who had helped officiate at Chelsea Clinton’s wedding, in 2010, to Marc Mezvinsky. Now he was publishing those devotionals as a book called “Strong for a Moment Like This.”
Clinton was doing Shillady a kindness, but even in this she couldn’t catch a break. The day before the event, the publisher, Abingdon Press, announced that it was withdrawing the book because it was filled with passages plagiarized from other pastors and sources. Shillady issued an apology, but, naturally, Clinton took the hit in the press. In her fashion, Clinton soldiered through, holding the conversation with another Methodist minister, Ginger Gaines-Cirelli.
The pews were filled with New Yorkers, a majority of them women, who had come to hear Clinton, to shower her with praise, to soothe her and themselves. In the introduction, Amy Butler, the senior minister at Riverside and a friend of Clinton’s, referred to the Trump Administration as a source of anguish and confusion, and everyone nodded solemnly. One got the sense that there would be hundreds of such events in the coming years for Hillary Clinton, and one wondered if they would do anything to ease the sense of failure, the anger at all the forces she could not begin to control. “We praise God for who you are,” a bishop said from the podium. “And most of all, Sister Hillary, we love you.”
Clinton was greeted with a long ovation, which she met with her signature slow head-nodding and an expression at once pleased and pained. She talked about her Methodist church in Illinois, her youth minister, Don Jones, and her trip to Orchestra Hall, in downtown Chicago, to hear Martin Luther King, Jr., deliver one of his most famous sermons, “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution.” Asked how she was managing, she made her joke about drinking “my fair share of Chardonnay.” She quoted from Galatians: “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” Her message was endurance, which has always been her watchword. And she made it plain what the election had unleashed.
“Where does that cruelty, that mean-spiritedness, come from?” she said. “It’s not from Christianity. It’s not from people of faith.” This was another source of confusion for her: the evangelical vote went not to the devout Methodist but, rather, to the guy who referred to “Two Corinthians.”
Again, the applause came, but it seemed not to lighten her at all. After the event was over, after the last handshakes, after the last selfie, Clinton climbed in the back seat of her car, the Secret Service all around, and headed back to her white house in the woods. ♦