X Close

Hillary’s fantasy presidency Her new thriller reads like a consolation prize

Only women get credit for persisting (Scott Eisen/Getty Images)


October 21, 2021   4 mins

After her brutal loss to Donald Trump, and several years of keeping a comparatively low profile (including a period of weeks during which she lurked in the forests outside Chappaqua, New York, racking up rumored sightings like a sort of modern-day Bigfoot), Hillary Clinton is back: as a political thriller author.

State of Terror, co-written by Clinton with veteran thriller writer Louise Penny, represents a familiar sort of pivot for a politician who’s traded public service (and in this case, pantsuits) for the world of publishing. The story meanders through well-trodden territory — a sordid tale of corrupt bureaucrats, conniving conspiracists and an international terrorist plot to detonate dirty bombs on US soil — and features, as all books of this type do, a plucky heroine who is clearly a fantasy avatar for the author herself.

Blonde, Spanx-wearing, never afraid to get her nicely manicured hands dirty, Clinton’s Ellen Adams is a fiercely competent woman in a world of condescending (if not outright hostile) men; the book’s opening scene finds her arriving late and covered in mud to the President’s State of the Union address, where she sprints shoeless through the halls of the Capitol while her male Chief of Staff politely negs her appearance. (“With all due respect, Madam Secretary, you look like a hobo.”)

Apart from their entertainment factor — and State of Terror, while it won’t win any literary prizes, is a perfectly enjoyable entry into the genre of novels by former politicians — books like this tend to generate interest as a perceived window into the psyche of their authors. Given the opportunity to reimagine themselves in fiction, who do these political icons become? (Bill Clinton has taken his own turn at this in a pair of novels co-authored with James Patterson: his hero, Matthew Keating, is an ex-president and ex-soldier who is still so virile in his post-POTUS life that his hobby is challenging his secret service agents to shirtless canoe races — which, of course, he always wins.)

Clinton does show some restraint here: her protagonist is the Secretary of State to a former political rival, despite what was surely a tempting opportunity to fulfil the author’s thwarted presidential aspirations by putting her fictional avatar in the oval office. But she also doesn’t miss an opportunity to use her heroine as a mouthpiece for dire, hectoring rhetoric about the threat to the nation posed by a certain former president and his supporters. The terrorist plot at the centre of the book is basically a feverish progressive fantasy in which American citizens, including high-ranking military and government officials, are so backwards, so racist and so super mad about gay marriage and immigration that they’ve decided to stage a coup, kill millions of people, and annihilate three American cities with nuclear bombs.

In a press release accompanying the book, Louise Penny describes how she and Clinton came up with its storyline: “Before we started,” she says, “we talked about her time as Secretary of State. What was her worst nightmare? State of Terror is the answer.” This may be partially true — the possibility of nuclear weapons in terrorist hands surely terrifies anyone whose job is to keep the international peace — but it also elides the fact that State of Terror was clearly written with much more current concerns in mind. It was, after all, during Hillary Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State that the Benghazi attack by Islamic militants killed four American citizens — and yet we’re supposed to believe that what kept her up at night was fear of an attempted government coup by proto-MAGA chuds?

But this is the real form of wish fulfilment that Hillary Clinton’s pivot to fiction offers. Not an opportunity to recreate herself as a hero on the page, but a chance to occupy a particular role within American culture: that of the erudite elder statesman whose wisdom and experience transcends politics, who has earned a graceful retirement into book-writing or painting or winery-owning or whatever, but who may still have valuable things to say from time to time when it comes to matters of state.

What’s interesting is that this is a role usually reserved for people who’ve held our country’s highest office — and not, crucially, for those who wanted the job but didn’t get it.

And yet, awarding such status to Hillary Clinton is entirely in keeping with her broader role in the aftermath of the 2016 election, when the prevailing opinion in the media was that she’d been cruelly, maybe even illegitimately, robbed of the presidency. #NotMyPresident trended on Twitter. New York magazine reported that a group of “prominent computer scientists and election lawyers” were urging Clinton to challenge the election results, having found “persuasive evidence that results in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania may have been manipulated or hacked.” Millennial icon Lena Dunham described sobbing with denial after Clinton’s loss: “It’s her job.” Even nine months after Donald Trump was sworn into office, many members of the media — and even Clinton herself — were still openly suggesting that he might have colluded with Russia to steal the election.

Amid all this, something peculiar happened: in rejecting Donald Trump as our leader, Americans bestowed the status and dignity of the office on his opponent. Hillary Clinton wasn’t, and never will be, our president
 but look, she tried. Isn’t that good enough?

And with the publication of this book, it’s almost as if the last four years never happened, or at least happened differently. It’s not hard to imagine an alternate timeline in which Trump never won the election, in which Clinton’s political trajectory continued as intended, and in which her successful tenure as President was followed by a graceful transition into a new life as a writer of political thrillers. For those who wanted to see Clinton succeed on her chosen path, it’s enough to make the past four years seem like nothing more than a bad dream.

What is hard to imagine is that this would happen for anyone but Hillary Clinton. It’s particularly hard to imagine that a man would be granted a similar position of status and influence as a sort of consolation prize for losing an election. In a world where political power has always been held and aspired to largely by men, only women get credit for, nevertheless, persisting.

Hopefully, it won’t always be thus. But for now, in the absence of any actual woman presidents to occupy this role, all we can do is make an icon of the one who almost got there. Five years later, we’re #StillWithHer: the would-be shatterer of glass ceilings, the might-have-been Madam President. And while Hillary Clinton never did manage to succeed her husband in the country’s highest office, in the aftermath of her phantom presidency, she does in fact exceed him: her book, unlike his, is actually pretty good.


Kat Rosenfield is an UnHerd columnist and co-host of the Feminine Chaos podcast. Her latest novel is You Must Remember This.

katrosenfield

Join the discussion


Join like minded readers that support our journalism by becoming a paid subscriber


To join the discussion in the comments, become a paid subscriber.

Join like minded readers that support our journalism, read unlimited articles and enjoy other subscriber-only benefits.

Subscribe
Subscribe
Notify of
guest

21 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Chris Mochan
Chris Mochan
2 years ago

Even nine months after Donald Trump was sworn into office, many members of the media — and even Clinton herself — were still openly suggesting that he might have colluded with Russia to steal the election.

Four years and one presidential election later, we’re now expected to believe US elections are incorruptible and any word to the contrary is nothing short of sedition.

Hersch Schneider
Hersch Schneider
2 years ago

I can’t wait to not buy this book

Terry Needham
Terry Needham
2 years ago

I find 21C politics remarkably simple. Hilary Clinton is just a seedy old woman, Joe Biden is a fake oirishman and Boris Johnson is insane. You “herd” it here first.

Richard Parker
Richard Parker
2 years ago

The protagonist surely can’t be an avatar for the author in this case… I mean, Mrs Clinton was never known for getting her hands dirty.
And that’s not misogyny, by the way, it’s just personal distaste.

Andrew Lale
Andrew Lale
2 years ago
Reply to  Richard Parker

Really? How many of the Clinton’s problematic enemies killed themselves in highly suspicious circs? That doesn’t happen without direction and authorisation.

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Lale

If you’re going to state this I think you need to point to some credible evidence as this is an implied accusation.

G A
G A
2 years ago

Just lol if you don’t believe the Clintons are the foremost political assassins operating today.

James Joyce
James Joyce
2 years ago

What utter tosh! Who is this author? Is she American? No insight whatsoever into the US!
….Americans bestowed the status and dignity of the office on his opponent…..
I’m a Yank and I didn’t do this, nor do I know anyone who did. Yes, the Deep State (a real thing) did resist Trump with all of its might, but not because of Crooked Hillary.
Crooked Hillary was simply another corrupt politician on the make. OK, she was a brilliant commodities trader (Gee, wonder how that happened….), but she also failed the Washington DC bar exam (the exam aspiring lawyers must pass state by state), which limited her immediate options and perhaps influenced her decision to bring her legal talents to….Arkansas? It’s not completely shameful to fail a bar exam (I passed three hard ones, first time), but Crooked Hillary never went back and passed. Is this the level of intelligence and resiliency that the American people want/ed in a president, or, irony of irony, Supreme Court justice?
Crooked Hillary is a terrible person and was a terrible candidate. She violated norms in questioning the validity of the 2016 election, so Trump wasn’t the first, though in 2020, there are arguments that the election was not free and fair (for example, my vote from abroad did not count), and the constant media attacks on truth, i.e. Hunter Biden laptop.
Crooked Hillary is simply irrelevant, as is her book. Let’s hope she crawls back under a rock where she belongs, never to be heard from again.

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
2 years ago
Reply to  James Joyce

I could be wrong, but I think that she is American. Unless that was a rhetorical question, in which case ignore this post.

James Joyce
James Joyce
2 years ago

Nah, it seems so. She’s not worth digging into that much but something suggested she was American. Still doesn’t understand America, though….

aaron david
aaron david
2 years ago

Whatever passes for good in this volume is because HRC didn’t write it. Oh, she may have had some input into the storyline, but Louis Penny is the real pen.
HRC is and was an awful candidate, much like Kamala Harris is. And she might get in via the same method as Selina Myers. But not because anyone likes her as presidential material.

Ed Cameron
Ed Cameron
2 years ago

Pretty good? Not a risk I’m prepared to take.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago

Who has the appetite to read this book?

Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
2 years ago

Hillary believed her own publicity so much that I think she actually thinks she had some divine destiny snatched away from her by Satan or something. I think Trump is something of a narcissist but at least he’s a relatively smart one. Hillary is so vile she made Trump look good. At least he never slagged off Democrat VOTERS just swampy Democrat politicians.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
2 years ago

I still am traumatized by Sara Palin losing as VP, to Biden! in 2008. What a opportunity USA missed there, a sad tale we all know by history.

Geraldine Ferraro also deserves a mention here…

But Sarah Palin – I really hope Trump takes her for his running mate in 2024, and so she gets her well deserved place in the White House.

MAGA Trump/Palin, 2024!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Mikey Mike
Mikey Mike
2 years ago

It is delightful fiction indeed to imagine a woman of such modest intellectual gifts and political talent defeating the the giant straw man, thwarting the imaginary white supremacist coup, and then quietly hanging up her pant suit. I can see her playing bridge with other retired sociopaths.

Last edited 2 years ago by Mikey Mike
Mikey Mike
Mikey Mike
2 years ago
Reply to  Mikey Mike

Maybe there’s a bridge group for people who passed the Arkansas Bar exam on their second try!

Tom Watson
Tom Watson
2 years ago

“In a world where political power has always been held and aspired to largely by men, only women get credit for, nevertheless, persisting.”
Interesting insight. Two sides to every coin!

AC Harper
AC Harper
2 years ago

Deplorable.

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
2 years ago
Reply to  AC Harper

What’s “deplorable” the book or the article? The next question is why?

Dustshoe Richinrut
Dustshoe Richinrut
2 years ago

Jazzy stuff. Is there any sax in it?