Hillary Clinton recently penned an afterword for the paperback release of her 2017 bestseller What Happened and the adaptation was published by The Atlantic.
In the essay, Clinton writes of a “democracy in crisis,” outlining the ways she believes the Trump administration is threatening America’s system of government while describing the best means for Americans to combat his authoritarian tendencies. “In the roughly 21 months since he took the oath of office, Trump has sunk far below the already-low bar he set for himself in his ugly campaign,” she writes before referencing the border crisis, the administration’s response to Hurricane Maria and Trump’s repeated denial of Russian influence in the 2016 election. “I don’t use the word crisis lightly,” she continues. “There are no tanks in the streets. The administration’s malevolence may be constrained on some fronts — for now — by its incompetence. But our democratic institutions and traditions are under siege. We need to do everything we can to fight back. There’s not a moment to lose.”
Clinton elaborated by dividing Trump’s assault on democracy into five categories: his disrespect for the rule of law, the threats on the legitimacy of elections, his war on truth and reason, his rampant corruption and the way he had undermined national unity. “No one likes to be torn apart in the press — I certainly don’t — but when you’re a public official, it comes with the job,” she writes of his war on truth. “You get criticized a lot. You learn to take it. You push back and make your case, but you don’t fight back by abusing your power or denigrating the entire enterprise of a free press.”
The essay is peppered with references to the early stages of American history, with Clinton quoting Abraham Lincoln and a host of other national leaders. She writes about how John Adams defined a republic as “a government of laws, and not of men,” and that Trump violates the Founding Fathers belief that a leader who does not respect the law is a tyrant. When Thomas Jefferson lost to Adams in the contentious 1800 president election, Clinton notes, he preached unity, not division in his concession speech. A quarter century earlier, he wrote in the Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal and “endowed by their Creator with the same inalienable rights,” a belief to which Trump clearly does not subscribe. Clinton points out his denial of the death toll in Puerto Rico, his antipathy toward NFL players protesting police brutality and his “very fine people” comment regarding the white nationalists marching in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017. “None of this is a mark of authenticity or a refreshing break from political correctness,” she writes regarding Trump’s racist comments. “Hate speech isn’t ‘telling it like it is.’ It’s just hate.”
This toxic political climate created by the Republican party — largely by way of a “small group of right-wing billionaires … who spent a lot of time and money building an alternative reality where science is denied, lies masquerade as truth and paranoia flourishes” — is now a clear and present danger to American democracy, Clinton writes. She argues that to combat it Americans need, first and foremost, to voice their opposition at the polls this November. If they are able to win a majority in the House, Democrats will then need to “do some serious housecleaning” and remedy the vulnerabilities in government exposed by Trump. She writes that presidential candidates should be forced to release their tax returns, that the protections of the Voting Rights Act should be restored and, not surprisingly, that the Electoral College should be abolished. “After Watergate, Congress passed a whole slew of reforms in response to Richard Nixon’s abuses of power,” she wrote. “After Trump, we’re going to need a similar process.”
Clinton closes the essay by bringing her argument back around to the Founding Fathers. Self-government is an ongoing experiment, and democracy is something that should never be taken for granted, she writes. It’s something every generation must fight to protect and “the time has come again” for its defenders to do all they can to preserve it. To illustrate this duty, Clinton references how Benjamin Franklin responded to a question about whether America was a republican or a monarchy after the Constitutional Convention. “A republic,” he said, “if you can keep it.”