The election of the 45th US president had hardly been decided before politicians and pundits began blaming Hillary Clinton for Donald Trump's victory. "What was missing in Hillary?" MSNBC’s Chris Mathews asks. "Where did she go wrong?" "Overconfidence," says one panelist. "The people wanted change," says another. "They weren’t inspired." More than a few believe that "she didn’t speak to the working class and their concerns."
Michael Moore, the filmmaker and activist who supported Bernie Sanders in the primary and came out late in the day for Hillary in the general, declares that she would have won the election if only she had told the press "I feel like crap" when she had pneumonia. Bernie would have done that, he says, and the boys all nod and smile. "If only they would have shown her more human side," Moore says.
The day before, I watched Sanders himself smile with unabashed, almost infantile delight when CNN’s Wolf Blitzer asked if he ever wondered if things would have turned out differently if he had been the nominee. "What good does that do now?" Sanders bellowed, a bit too emphatically; the implication that it would have done some good then is unmistakable. Earlier, I read an opinion piece that summed it up this way: "She couldn’t escape being the wrong candidate for the political moment."
No. Sorry, but that doesn't do it. Doesn’t come close to doing it. Hillary wasn’t the "wrong candidate." She was made "wrong" — by Bernie (not because he ran against her, but because of how he represented her to the young people who idolized him); by FBI director James Comey (who made a nation forget about the 12 women Trump violated to concentrate again on an utterly unfounded email "scandal"); by the ever-relentless persecution of the GOP (who have always hated her, for her "liberalism" and her feminism); and perhaps most of all by the media (who for years have resented Hillary for not submitting to them, and, in their pursuit of hot headlines, turned a human woman into a fictional character: untrustworthy, dishonest, hubristic). She was made "wrong" by conscious strategists, by those who bought the insanity of a Trump/Hillary equivalence of evil, and by those who purchased their own purity of "protest" at the price of the country.
I have written a book, "The Creation of Anne Boleyn", in which I argued that there are actually two Anne Boleyns. One is the complex, flesh-and-blood woman who made the fatal mistakes of not staying in her proper wifely place and then getting on the wrong side of Thomas Cromwell. The other Anne is a nasty caricature concocted by her political enemies and passed down through the centuries via Catholic polemics, factually loose biographies, sensationalizing novels, films and television. That Anne is an overly-ambitious, calculating, untrustworthy schemer who, while not always represented as guilty of adultery and treason (the crimes for which she was falsely charged), nonetheless got the fate she deserved. I call her "our default Anne" because although there have certainly been more sympathetic versions of Anne over the centuries (which I detail in my book), ambitious, scheming Anne runs like a recurring pattern through the variations. Like Freddy Krueger in the "Nightmare on Elm Street" movies, our default Anne just will not die.
A fictional character invented by the Republicans
There’s astonishingly little basis in fact for this nasty version of Anne. She is a fantasy creation that lives within a narrative developed over time, one that turned politically motivated lies into inflammatory gossip and alchemized that gossip into what we believe to be fact.
Today, with a 24 hour news cycle that has gradually blurred the line between entertainment and information, it doesn’t take centuries. Thus, in a much more compressed timeframe, the real Hillary Clinton has been subjected to the same poisonous alchemy, bubbling over the last several decades, and ultimately resulting in "dishonest," "untrustworthy," "lying" Hillary — a thoroughly fictional caricature concocted by the GOP, mindlessly perpetuated by a headline-and-ratings seeking media, and swallowed, with disastrous results, by large numbers of American voters. It’s not just sexism that created her. It’s not just politics. It’s not just the triumph of the consumable product over the complexities of the real. Rather, it’s the specific historical intersection of all of these.