AF: Not according to what I believe in my heart. Let’s remember how many more people voted for Secretary Clinton than for Trump. Our American experiment has always been about striving to be a more perfect union. In the deepest part of me, I believe that the people who turned out to vote for Trump, even those who marched on Charlottesville with Nazi signs, those people’s smallest selves are being called upon. We’re not doing our work to call on their better selves. We have to reup our agreements with each other about who we choose to be.
PG: Is it a kind of gift to see how deeply divided we are? As a first step to addressing it?
AF: Look, I’m a storyteller. I believe in the power of stories to change hearts and minds. There’s a certain story that’s dominating and winning now: We’re a divided country. I don’t know that that’s necessarily true. As human beings, we have more in common with Trump voters, even with Nazis in Charlottesville, than what divides us. Sure, there’s fear; there’s pain; there’s loss. But we also have a human story that connects us, a truth that we’re ignoring.
HC: We have not yet developed a modern, future-oriented narrative. And because we haven’t, people who were shaken and hurt by the financial crisis of 2008 and 2009 are seeing the world as a zero-sum game: “If that woman, that immigrant, that Muslim, that African-American, if they get ahead, that’s coming from me.” We haven’t done what we need to do to create an alternative narrative. I tried to with my platform of “Stronger Together” — because I believe it.
The real job killer in America is automation, robotics, artificial intelligence. You’re not going to lose because your neighbor’s child gets a chance to go to college. You’re not going to lose because a hard-working immigrant family starts a small business. That’s good for you! We never made that case. And the message from Trump was a retrograde message of nostalgia: “We can go back to the way things were. You don’t have to compete with a woman for a job. Or with a striving young immigrant.” It’s a falsehood that gave some comfort to people and gave them permission to scapegoat others.
PG: You write that when people are mad, they want to vent. And they want a candidate who vents, not a 10-point plan to fix things.
HC: You put your finger on one of my challenges. I understood that people were upset. They hadn’t fully recovered from the financial crisis. But I believed there would come a time in the campaign when people would say: “O.K., what are you going to do for me?” But there was so much anger, and not just from the candidate — from Fox News, Breitbart, the Russians who were stealing information and weaponizing it, making stuff up, putting it into Facebook posts.
There was a well-coordinated campaign to fuel anger. That’s not how I’m made. I wasn’t going to try to compete with that level of vitriol. Remember, Trump was provoking violence at his rallies. I kept thinking: “People are going to be shocked by this.” But it had the feel of a Roman circus. “Show me a bigger lion!” But despite my efforts to break through and put forward the plans I had, I never figured out how to contend with the anger or overcome it.
PG: Another criticism of your campaign is that you relied too heavily on identity politics, to the exclusion of an economic message. But thinking about what you just said, it was the opposite: Trump relied on identity.
HC: That’s right. There was a big debate after the election as to why Trump got those 77,000 votes he needed to win the Electoral College. And the initial take by commentators was that it was all economics. But that doesn’t stand up. In exit polls, people who said that economics was the No. 1 issue on their minds voted for me. And in the book, I rely on more research that’s been done since the election. The best indicator of whether someone voted for Trump were attitudes about race, immigration, sexism, L.G.B.T. issues and the like.
PG: One thing that strikes me is that those issues — race, sex, religion — aren’t merely political issues. They have a moral component.
HC: The larger point is that we need both economic justice and social justice. I’m not prepared to throw anyone under the bus because they’re standing up for their human rights. We now know much more about what motivated voters, but we shouldn’t be surprised. Trump started his campaign accusing Mexicans of being rapists. It was irresponsible, terrible rhetoric. I called him out immediately and continued to call him out. I got to “Stronger Together” because I believe it. A community in which people are embraced and respected is the goal for America. But what we are seeing with this president is a theory of politics that divides and focuses on a small but stalwart base of voters who agree with his bigotry and paranoia. He’s not even trying to be the president of all Americans.
AF: Something else on “Stronger Together”: One of the reasons I am so in awe of the organizers of the Women’s March is that they were able to bring together so many people, across so many issues. Because we’re either going to lose separately, or we’re going to win together. If I only stand up and fight when DACA is threatened, or when the trans community is threatened, or when Black Lives Matters is threatened, that’s not a winning strategy. We can’t win that way.
PG: Is there a terrible irony in protest movements? Some folks seem to feel a lot more excited by resisting than they do by the ordinary business of registering and voting.
HC: We need both. We need people to stand up and mobilize for causes like the 800,000 DACA recipients who are under threat of being deported from the only country they know and love. And we need to understand that the best way to protect them, and everything else we hold dear, is by registering and voting. But you’re absolutely right. A lot of people, particularly young people, don’t feel that voting is important to them. That’s been a problem for a long time; that’s not a recent challenge. It’s why I’m working with groups that aim to register voters and recruit candidates. If we turn out voters who share our values, we will win in the midterm elections of 2018; we will win in 2020. And if we don’t, the other side gets their way, and we’ve seen how pernicious that is.
PG: As we speak, you’re days away from launching your new book. I’ve read the whole thing, not just the snippets that leaked. I found it human and vulnerable, not a blame fest. But the coverage has been angry. Are you nervous, or are you thinking about the 63 million voters who are ——
HC: You mean the 65.8 million voters?
PG: Say it again?
HC (laughing): 65.8! Am I nervous? No.
Haters are going to hate, but I’m determined to tell my truth and throw it to the future. The reason it’s important for my fellow Americans to pay attention is because what happened to me can happen again. It can undermine our democracy.
PG: Your plan, America?
AF: To become the biggest, best, badass version of myself possible to honor the lives of women like Hillary Clinton, like Gloria Steinem, like Ruth Bader Ginsburg. To honor the sacrifices they made so women in my generation will have more access.
PG: So, neither of you plans to “shut up and go away already,” as requested by several media outlets?
HC: You are right about that, Philip!
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