New Yorker editor David Remnick spoke with Hillary Clinton for a wide-ranging profile in the magazine’s September 25th issue. Remnick interviewed Clinton and other players — both off-the-record and on — on the occasion of the publication of What Happened, her memoir of winning the popular vote but losing the more crucial electoral one to a crass, bigoted reality TV star.
Remnick considers the role the media might have played in this debacle by frequently, unfairly, painting Clinton in a harsh light. It’s nothing new, he acknowledges, pointing to a similar discussion in a 1996 profile in his own magazine:
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?
He hadn’t rehearsed much. He had watched Trump on TV with the sound off, hunting for tics and physical cues (Baldwin still does this, recently adding Trump’s habitual neck stretch to his repertoire), but mostly he’d just hoped lightning would strike. Now he stood in the shadows, terrified that he didn’t have it—he worried out loud that he didn’t have it—trying to remind himself that, if nothing else, he needed to look as though he were “trying to suck the wallpaper off the wall.” That “nasty scar” of a mouth was Baldwin’s only certainty: “a puckering butthole,” he calls it, dropping into his Trump voice to describe his vision of it. Then he heard Michael Che, playing debate moderator Lester Holt, summon him to the stage: “He’s the man to blame for the bottom half of all his kids’ faces. It’s Republican nominee Donald Trump.”
Baldwin walked out onto the stage and, as if by dark magic, there he was: not Trump, exactly, but some nightmarish goof on Trump, a distillation of everything gross about him, boiled clean of any remnant that could be mistaken for competence or redemption. Unlike Fey’s pitch-perfect echo of Palin, Baldwin’s Trump isn’t an impersonation. He saves his more accurate work for Tony Bennett, for Robert De Niro, for Al Pacino—for men he loves and admires. Those are mischiefs, born of appreciation. His Trump is mimicry, born of disgust. Even after so many successful appearances—even after his and Trump’s visages have become so closely associated that a newspaper in the Dominican Republic ran a photograph of his Trump instead of the real one—Baldwin can still seem as though he doesn’t have the stomach to inhabit Trump fully. “Push, push, push,” he says in his makeup chair, his lips once again threatening to burst from his distorted face. “It’s exhausting. I’m hoping I can come up with someone else I can imitate. Pence?” In the meantime, he will keep his Trump at a remove, almost like an abstract painting, not of Trump the man but of Trump’s withered soul.
It is difficult to define Rebecca Solnit. Is she an historian, a cultural theorist, a journalist, an activist? She cites reserved intellectuals like John Berger and Lawrence Weschler as influences, and she is also on the front lines of protest: she was an outspoken proponent of Occupy Wall Street; she was in Standing Rock, at the Dakota Access Pipeline, where protestors recently gained an unexpected victory; and she co-founded the Stop Trump project, which ideologically resists the U.S. President-Elect while uncovering the potential malfeasance that led to his election in the first place.
Born in Connecticut and educated at San Francisco State University and U.C. Berkeley, the 55-year-old has been an independent writer living in northern California since 1988. She’s authored seventeen books, ranging in topic from art to politics to geography to community to feminism. She won the Lannan Literary Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and she’s currently a contributing editor at Harper’s, where she writes the bimonthly Easy Chair column.
Her essay “Hope in the Dark,” which she gave away as a free ebook after Trump was elected, was written twelve years ago as an instructive piece on what went wrong with the Iraq War protests. Its relevance resurged after Trump was elected.
I spoke with Solnit about reclaiming the notion that political protest works, understanding the role of hope, the lessons of Hilary Clinton’s defeat, not ceding resistance, and whether Trump was even elected president at all.