What Happened

Hillary Rodham Clinton

WHAT HAPPENED

For the team who stood with me in 2016 and worked their hearts out for a better, stronger, fairer America. Being your candidate was one of the greatest honors of my life.

If you are tired, keep going.

If you are scared, keep going.

If you are hungry, keep going.

If you want to taste freedom, keep going.

—Harriet Tubman

Author’s Note

This is my story of what happened.

It’s the story of what I saw, felt, and thought during two of the most intense years I’ve ever experienced.

It’s the story of what led me to this crossroads of American history and how I kept going after a shocking defeat; how I reconnected with the things that matter most to me and began to look ahead with hope, instead of backward with regret.

It’s also the story of what happened to our country, why we’re so divided, and what we can do about it.

I don’t have all the answers, and this isn’t a comprehensive account of the 2016 race. That’s not for me to write—I have too little distance and too great a stake in it. Instead, this is my story. I want to pull back the curtain on an experience that was exhilarating, joyful, humbling, infuriating, and just plain baffling.

Writing this wasn’t easy. Every day that I was a candidate for President, I knew that millions of people were counting on me, and I couldn’t bear the idea of letting them down. But I did. I couldn’t get the job done, and I’ll have to live with that for the rest of my life.

In this book, I write about moments from the campaign that I wish I could go back and do over. If the Russians could hack my subconscious, they’d find a long list. I also capture some moments I want to remember forever, like when my tiny granddaughter raced into the room while I was practicing my convention speech, and what it was like hours later to step onstage to deliver that speech as the first woman ever nominated by a major political party for President of the United States.

I write about people who inspired me, from a minister in South Carolina who talked with me about love and kindness, to residents who banded together in a town poisoned by lead, to tireless campaign volunteers giving everything they had for a better future. And I share my thoughts on big challenges I’ve grappled with for decades that have taken on new urgency, such as the roles that gender, race, and class play in our politics and the importance of empathy in our national life.

I’ve tried to learn from my own mistakes. There are plenty, as you’ll see in this book, and they are mine and mine alone.

But that’s not the end of the story. We can’t understand what happened in 2016 without confronting the audacious information warfare waged from the Kremlin, the unprecedented intervention in our election by the director of the FBI, a political press that told voters that my emails were the most important story, and deep currents of anger and resentment flowing through our culture.

I know some people don’t want to hear about these things, especially from me. But we have to get this right. The lessons we draw from 2016 could help determine whether we can heal our democracy and protect it in the future, and whether we as citizens can begin to bridge our divides. I want my grandchildren and all future generations to know what really happened. We have a responsibility to history—and to a concerned world—to set the record straight.

I also share with you the painful days that followed the election. A lot of people have asked me, “How did you even get out of bed?” Reading the news every morning was like ripping off a scab. Each new revelation and outrage made it worse. It has been maddening to watch our country’s standing in the world plummet and to see Americans live in fear that their health care might be taken away so that the superrich can get a tax cut. There are times when all I want to do is scream into a pillow.

But slowly, on a personal level, it has gotten better—or at least less terrible. I did quite a bit of thinking and writing, some praying, some stewing, and, in time, a good deal of laughing. I went on a lot of long walks in the woods with my husband and our dogs, Tally and Maisie, who took all this much better than we did. I surrounded myself with friends and caught up on some of the shows that people have been telling me about for years, as well as a lot of HGTV. Best of all, I spent time with my wonderful grandchildren, making up for all the bedtime stories and songs in the bathtub I missed during my long months on the campaign trail. I believe this is what some call “self-care.” It turns out, it’s pretty great.

Now when people ask how I’m doing, I say that, as an American, I’m more worried than ever—but as a person, I’m doing okay.

This book is the story of that journey. Writing it has been cathartic. I got angry and sad all over again. At times, I’ve had to step away, lie down, close my eyes, and try to empty my mind. This book has been hard to write for another reason: I’ve lost count of the number of times that I’ve sat at my kitchen table working on these pages, been interrupted by a breaking news alert, hung my head and sighed, and then took out my red pen and started revising.

I’ve tried to make my peace with painful memories and recapture some of the fun that filled more days on the campaign than you might think. In the past, for reasons that I try to explain, I’ve often felt I had to be careful in public, like I was up on a wire without a net. Now I’m letting down my guard.

By the time I finished writing, I felt ready to face the future again. I hope that, by the final page, you’ll be right there with me.

I will always be grateful to have been the Democratic Party’s nominee and to have earned 65,844,610 votes from my fellow Americans. That number—more votes than any candidate for President has ever received, other than Barack Obama—is proof that the ugliness we faced in 2016 does not define our country.

I want to thank everyone who welcomed me into their homes, businesses, schools, and churches over those two long, crazy years; every little girl and boy who ran into my arms at full speed or high-fived me with all their might; and the long chain of brave, adventurous people, stretching back generations, whose love and strength made it possible for me to lead such a rewarding life in the country I love. Thanks to them, despite everything else, my heart is full.

I started this book with some words attributed to one of those pathbreakers, Harriet Tubman. Twenty years ago, I watched a group of children perform a play about her life at her former homestead in Auburn, New York. They were so excited about this courageous, determined woman who led slaves to freedom against all odds. Despite everything she faced, she never lost her faith in a simple but powerful motto: Keep going. That’s what we have to do now, too.

In 2016, the U.S. government announced that Harriet Tubman will become the face of the $20 bill. If you need proof that America can still get it right, there it is.

PERSEVERANCE

It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.

—A League of Their Own

Showing Up

That which does not kill us makes us stronger.

—Friedrich Nietzsche (and Kelly Clarkson)

Deep breath. Feel the air fill my lungs. This is the right thing to do. The country needs to see that our democracy still works, no matter how painful this is. Breathe out. Scream later.

I’m standing just inside the door at the top of the steps leading down to the inaugural platform, waiting for the announcer to call Bill and me to our seats. I’m imagining that I’m anywhere but here. Bali maybe? Bali would be good.

It’s tradition for Bill and me, as a former President and First Lady, to attend the swearing-in of the new President. I had struggled for weeks with whether or not to go. John Lewis wasn’t going. The civil rights hero and Congressman said that the President Elect was not legitimate because of the mounting evidence of Russian interference in the election. Other members of Congress were joining him in boycotting a President Elect they saw as divisive. A lot of my supporters and close friends urged me to stay home, too.

My friends understood how painful it would be to sit on the platform and watch Donald Trump sworn in as our next Commander in Chief. I had campaigned relentlessly to make sure that never happened. I was convinced he represented a clear and present danger to the country and the world. Now the worst had happened, and he was going to take the oath of offi ...

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