What Happened

What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton

Hillary Rodham Clinton wrote What Happened following the 2016 Election. It is heartbreaking to relive the high of Hillary, a champion for many, becoming the first woman to secure a major party’s nomination for President of the United States and watching the electoral college elect a man who powered his campaign by tapping into the anger of many Americans who felt ignored by their government, people who I truly believe Hillary Rodham Clinton would have helped much more than Donald Trump.

In 2015, I volunteered for Hillary for the first time in Omaha, Nebraska at Sokol Auditorium. I was with her from the beginning of the first election I was eligible to vote in.

In 2016, I mailed my ballot from Buenos Aires, Argentina. Weeks later, I remember riding a bus home in the middle of the night across Buenos Aires, as the votes were still being counted. I had spent the evening in an American bar, where joy turned to tears. The next morning when I woke up, my host mother said, “I’m sorry, Emma,” on her way out the door. In grammar class later that morning, my profesora streamed a video of Hillary’s concession speech to a class of devastated American women. We talked little of grammar that day.

What Happened is about processing this day in 2016: what happened before, what happened after, and what will happen next.

I want to use this blog to share a few passages that resonated with me from this dense 500+ page book. HRC talks about being a woman in politics, being a mother, daughter, wife, and friend, the emails, the press, the Russians, the direction that the current president is leading the country, the election, and so much more. I will touch on moments of each main theme, but to really grasp what HRC shares, sit down with her and read What Happened. It is a long read, but it flows faster than anticipated.

Part One: Perseverance

Showing Up

Deep breath. Feel the air in my lungs. This is the right thing to do. The country needs to see that our democracy still works, no matter how painful this is. Breathe out. Scream later.

HRC, What Happened, pg. 3

What Happened begins in the moment that Hillary lost the election. I read this chapter on an airplane from Vienna to Madrid, wiping tears from my cheeks. It is still raw. It still feels like we were robbed. We all felt something on that day, no matter who we voted for or if we voted at all. Hillary made history, and I wanted to hear her memories of What Happened.

Grit and Gratitude

When Hillary made her concession speech, she wore purple: a “nod to bipartisanship.” She showed grace and gratitude and grit. Man, does she have grit.

Now, I know we have still not shattered that highest and hardest glass ceiling, but some day, someone will, and hopefully sooner than we might think right now. And to all the little girls who are watching this, never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams.

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Watch Hillary Rodham Clinton’s 2016 Concession Speech

What Happened explains the creation of this speech, and how Hillary mourned the loss following the election, taking many hikes near her home in New York, bringing us Hillary in the Wild.

Part Two: Competition

Part two processes the election from start to finish. Hillary explains how she made the decision to run, the beginning of the campaign, and a highly interesting “Day in the Life.”

Get Caught Trying

There are things I regret about the 2016 campaign, but the decision to run isn’t one of them.

I started this chapter with some lines from T.S. Eliot’s poem “East Coker” that I’ve always loved:

There is only the fight to recover what has been lost

And found and lost again and again: and now, under conditions

That seem unpropitious. But perhaps neither gain nor loss.

For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.

HRC, What Happened, pg. 56

A motto in the Rodham & Clinton household is to “get caught trying.”

Getting Started

HRC thought long and hard about running for President a second time. She explains the process of deciding. She consulted advisors, discussed with Bill at length, and was encouraged by Barack. Once it began, even her Chipotle order would make breaking news.

A Day in the Life

One of the most intriguing chapters of What Happened is “A Day in the Life.” To me, learning what Hillary chooses to eat, how she choose to dress or use make up is like a guide for all professional women.

One hot night in Omaha, Nebraska, I was consumed with the desire for an ice cream bar—the simple kind, just vanilla ice cream with a chocolate shell. Connolly called an advance staffer, who kindly picked some up from the drugstore and met us at the plane in our way out of town. We said thank you and devoured them before they could melt. 

HRC, What Happened, pg. 93

I appreciated the quick shoutout to Omaha and Hillary sharing her desire for ice cream. To me, this chapter was humanizing, getting to know a woman who is a giant and a champion through policy is one thing. But to know that she goes to Chipotle and craves ice cream, that’s the real stuff!

A huge part of Hillary’s daily life during the campaign was meeting the public. One of my favorite moments of the whole book was Hillary discussing the selfie.

On the rope lines at rallies, I encountered a feature of modern campaigning that has become far more prevalent since 2008: the selfie. There is no stopping the selfie. This is how we now mark a moment together. And to be clear, if you see me in the world and want a selfie and I’m not on the phone or racing to get somewhere, I’ll be glad to take one with you. But I think selfies come at a cost, let’s talk instead! Do you have something to share? I want to hear it (provided it not deeply insulting—I have limits). I’d love to know your name and where you’re from and how things are going with you. That feels real to me. A selfie is so impersonal— although it does give your wrist a break from autographs, now obsolete. 

HRC, What Happened, pg. 96

I am guilty of asking the Clintons for selfies. First up is a photo of my selfie with Hillary in Omaha, NE while volunteering and the second is a selfie with Bill while volunteering for the campaign in Lincoln, NE.

It was such a great selfie that it even ended up on Politico!

Hillary, I would much rather sit down and talk with you, but time was limited and in the midst of a large crowd, I had to shoot my shot and grab a selfie!

Hillary says many times in her book that she has made her life more public than any other politician. She shares almost everything. You can read through her emails, tax returns, or books. However, this chapter goes further. During the intense months of campaigning, Hillary explains the demands upon her to travel, to look a certain way, and prep for debates against Donald Trump in a certain way.

The pressure you feel when you’re about to walk onstage is almost unbearable—almost, but not quite. You bear it by working hard to get ready. You beat it by having good people by your side. You beat it by not just hoping but knowing you can handle a lot, because you already have. 

At least that’s what always worked for me. 

HRC, What Happened, pg. 107

Part Three: Sisterhood

Sisterhood. The election revealed so many of the worst truths about sexism and misogyny in the United States. Hillary dives into what this meant for her as a politician and a human being. I see so much strength and beauty in being a woman, mother, daughter, friend, wife, and politician. I read about myself in these pages, my mother, my sister, my grandma. We are all in this together.

On Being a Woman in Politics

It is hard to be a woman.

You must think like a man,

Act like a lady,

Look like a young girl,

And work like a horse.

—A sign that hangs in HRC’s home

HRC, What Happened, pg. 108

In Fall 2017, my global studies capstone course focused on women in politics with professor Sonia Feigenbaum, UNL’s Senior International Officer and a French woman (want some examples of misogyny? look into French politics) who upon many occasions shared with the class that women face no disadvantages in politics.

Professor Feigenbaum’s class was outrageous and frustrating; however, because of Professor Feigenbaum’s inability to lead the class in a critical and necessary discussion, I took it upon myself to come prepared every single day with passages from the readings to combat my professor’s teachings and to challenge my peers in class, many of whom did not do the readings but wanted to share their opinions about the election or women in politics in ways that were problematic and not backed by data or scholars.

It is 2019. It is absolutely ridiculous to deny that women in politics face disadvantages that men in politics do not face. I will leave it at that and move on.

This chapter is dense, challenging, and riveting. I will share a few of my favorite passages from this section:

On family:

In my experience, the balancing act women in politics have to master is challenging at every level, but it gets worse the higher you rise.

If we’re too tough, we’re unlikable.

If we’re too soft, we’re not cut out for the big leagues.

If we work too hard, we’re neglecting our families.

If we put family first, we’re not serious about the work.

If we have a career but no children, there’s something wrong with us, and vice versa.

If we want to compete for a higher office, we’re too ambitious.

Can’t we just be happy with what we have? Can’t we leave the higher rungs on the ladder for men?

HRC, What Happened, pg. 119

On speaking publicly:

Even the simple act of a woman standing up and speaking to a crowd is relatively new. Think about it: we know of only a handful of speeches by women before the latter half of the twentieth century, and those tend to be by women in extreme and desperate situations. Joan of Arc said a lot of interesting things before they burned her at the stake.

HRC, What Happened, pg. 121

On having a woman’s voice:

I’m not sure how to solve all this. My gender is my gender. My voice is my voice. To quote Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins, the first woman to serve in the U.S. Cabinet, under FDR, “The accusation that I’m a woman is incontrovertible.” Other women will run for President, and they will be women, and they will have women’s voices. Maybe that will be less unusual by then. Maybe my campaign will have helped make it that way, and other women will have an easier time. I hope so.

HRC, What Happened, pg. 125

On professional success:

The more successful a man is, the more people like him. With women, it’s the exact opposite. The more professionally successful we are, the less people like us. Hearing it put that simply, with data behind it [see Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In: Women, Work, and Will to Lead], felt like a lightbulb turning on. Here was proof of something so many women have felt intuitively throughout our lives.

HRC, What Happened, pg. 125

On representation:

There’s yet another side to the matter of women in politics. It’s not just that politics can be rewarding for those women who choose to enter it. In the long run, it also makes our politics better for everyone. I believe this as strongly as I believe anything. We need our politics to resemble our people. When the people who run our cities, states, and country overwhelmingly look a certain way (say, white and male) and overwhelmingly have a shared background (wealthy, privileged) we end up with laws and policies that don’t come close to addressing the realities of Americans’ lives. And since that’s a basic requirement of government, it’s a pretty big thing to get wrong.

In other words, representation matters.

HRC, What Happened, pg. 141

Motherhood, Wifehood, Daughterhood, Sisterhood

I loved this chapter. I seek Hillary’s advice on each page as I look towards a career that is both challenging and fulfilling. I too hope to be a mother and a wife someday. Already, I am a daughter, granddaughter, and sister. These are cherished aspects of my identity, and they should be viewed as a strength to who I will become and what I will contribute as a professional.

On Motherhood:

For me, becoming a mother was a fulfillment of a long-held dream. I love children—love just sitting with them and being silly, love bringing smiles to their sweet faces. If you’re ever looking for me at a party, you’re likely to find me wherever the kids are. Before I even met my husband and thought about starting a family, I was a lawyer and advocate for children. When Bill and I learned that we were going to be parents, we were ecstatic. We jumped around our kitchen like we were kids ourselves.

HRC, What Happened, pg. 150

On Marriage:

I don’t want to be married just to be married. I can’t think of anything lonelier than spending the rest of my life with someone I can’t talk to, or worse, someone I can’t be silent with.

—Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

HRC, What Happened, pg. 159

On Bill:

On our first date, we went to the Yale University Art Gallery to see a Mark Rothko exhibit. The building was closed, but Bill talked our way in. We had the building entirely to ourselves. When I think about that afternoon—seeing the art, hearing the stillness all around us, giddy about this person whom I had just met but somehow knew would change my life—it still feels magical, and I feel happy and lucky all over again.

I still think he’s one of the most handsome men I’ve ever known.

I’m proud of him: proud of his vast intellect, his big heart, the contributions he has made to the world.

I love him with my whole here.

That’s more than enough to build a life on.

HRC, What Happened, pg. 161

Now that my big sister Annie is studying at Yale Law. The idea of Hillary studying there, falling in love, following her passions, it feels so personal. Because someday soon, my sister will be wearing the same academic robe, pursuing a similar path of social justice work, and carrying the friendships and relationships she makes in New Haven into her future with her. It’s tearjerking, folks.

On Parents:

In my experience, as people get older, either they start looking after their parents or their parents keep looking after them. My parents kept looking after me. When they visited, they fussed over me: Did I need a sweater? Was I hungry? I’m generally the one who looks after everyone else, so it was very sweet and rather amusing to have the roles reversed.

HRC, What Happened, pg. 164

I am lucky enough to have the most wonderful grandmother who cares for my mother, my sister and me even as she continues to grow older. She is our rock. My sister and I are also so incredibly lucky to have a mother that will forever be our champion. Reading about Hillary, as a mother and a daughter, reminds me so much of this amazing dynamic in my family, full of strong women who pursue education and justice always.

On Friendship Between Women:

In my experience, there’s a special strength at the heart of friendships between women. We get real with each other. We talk about raw and painful things. We admit to each other insecurities and fears that we sometimes don’t admit even to ourselves.

HRC, What Happened, pg. 168

To my Chi Omega sisters, the women I have met along the way from Fulbright Spain and UK, the women from my freshman year dorm, and all the others who have inspired me along the way. Forever and always, thank you for being real and loving me. I offer the same to you, always.

Turning Mourning into a Movement

This important chapter focuses on Hillary listening and supporting women who have lost children to gun violence. Hillary’s identity as a mother is so closely tied to this topic, following directly after a chapter focused on her identity as a woman.

Hillary is an advocate for gun control, and she uses this chapter to explain her stance on weapons. She also explains how the Republicans and NRA lied through their advertisements, “suggesting falsely that I [HRC] would have stopped law-abiding Americans from having guns” (HRC, What Happened, pg. 188).

All told, the gun lobby spent more than $30 million supporting Trump… About two-thirds of that money paid for more than ten thousand negative ads attacking me in battleground states.

I’m sure that some of my fellow Democrats will look at this high-priced onslaught and conclude, as many have in the past, that standing up to the NRA just isn’t worth it. Some may put gun safety on the chopping block alongside reproductive rights as “negotiable,” so as not to distract from populist economics. Who knows—the same might happen to criminal justice reform and racial justice more broadly. That would be a terrible mistake.

HRC, What Happened, pg. 188

This chapter names the Mothers of the Movement as one of the most powerful voices for gun reform. The mothers of unarmed seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin shot while headed to the store to buy Skittles, Jordan Davis who was listening to music too loud and too “thug” according to the white man who shot and killed him, twelve-year-old Tamir Rice shot while playing with a toy gun in a park, Eric Garner choked to death by an officer for selling cigarettes on the street, fifteen-year-old honor student Hadiya Pendleton shot while walking through a park, unarmed Dontre Hamilton shot more than a dozen times by police in a public park after falling asleep on a bench, these mothers joined together and chose to campaign for Hillary.

It should be viewed as nothing less than a tragedy to have a leader of the United States supporting the NRA, while gun violence continues to kill the children of our country, predominately affecting racial minorities.

Idealism and Realism

The single quote that resonated most with me from this book, as I prepare myself for a career in policy and public service, follows. This is what it is all about. This is our duty.

Service is the rent we pay for living.

It is the very purpose of life, and not something you do in your spare time.

—Marian Wright Edelman

HRC, What Happened, pg. 194

Marian is the founder of the Children’s Defense Fund and Hillary’s first boss.

Change Makers

Through “Change Makers,” Hillary explains her history of social justice work, dominated by defending children.

I continue to believe that a society should be judged by how we treat the most vulnerable among us, especially children, and that the measure of our success should be how many kids climb out of poverty, get a good education, and receive the love and support they deserve.

HRC, What Happened, pg. 208

In the hardest moments following the election, Hillary leaned on her old Boss Marian Wright Edelman of the Children’s Defense Fund. The same quote that begins this part of the book, is applied directly back at Hillary. “For decades, I’d heard Marian say, ‘Service is the rent we pay for living.’ Well I decided, you don’t get to stop paying rent just because things don’t go your way” (HRC, What Happened, pg. 215).

Sweating the Details

“Sweating the Details” dives into Hillary’s policy stances that were largely overshadowed during the election by news coverage of her emails. National Security, the role of government, healthcare, technology, jobs, jobs, oh and more about jobs being the focal point of this chapter.

Making History

Hillary Rodham Clinton is the first woman to ever be nominated as a major party’s candidate for President of the United States. Let that sink in.

Looking out into that arena full of cheers and banners and music, with thousands of excited people and millions more at home, was one of the proudest and most overwhelming moments of my life.

“Standing here as my mother’s daughter, and my daughter’s mother, I’m so happy this day has come,” I said. “Happy for grandmothers and little girls and everyone in between. Happy for boys and men, too—because when any barrier falls in America, for anyone, it clears the way for everyone. When there are no ceilings, the sky’s the limit.”

HRC [at the DNC], What Happened, pg. 257


The campaign was an uphill battle for Hillary Clinton and all democrats. Here, in “Frustration,” she explains it all.

Country Roads

The coal miners of Appalachia and their families are a group of people who Hillary desperately wanted to help, with new infrastructure, broadband, healthcare…

Trump offered hollow solutions to Coal Country and continues pursuing policies that harm low income American citizens in need of healthcare and union protections. Regardless, Trump tapped into feelings of anger, resentment, depression, and despair to win the votes of these people who often feel forgotten by the leaders of the U.S.

Hillary spent a lot of time sitting down to speak with coal miners, understanding their frustrations and listening to what they have to say. One miner discussed companies trying to take away health benefits that have been promised for decades:

“People need to worry about one another,” he [a retired miner from West Virginia] told me. “We are our brother’s keeper, and we need to worry about other people [losing health benefits promised by mining companies]. Me, personally, I have faith; I know God is going to get us through it. But we need to be worrying about our brother.”

HRC, What Happened, pg. 286

Hillary had a comprehensive, million dollar plan to bring jobs and new life to this part of the United States. It is disheartening to learn that these voters feel forgotten. Hopefully in the future, they can see a leader who supports equality, leads with compassion, AND brings new opportunity to Coal Country as their champion.

Those Damn Emails

The emails. A lot of this book explains the emails and how they distracted from the policies that Hillary wanted to put into place to help working Americans. There is a lot to unpack in this chapter, but I will simply leave it at this:

As hard as it is to believe or explain, my emails were the story of 2016. It didn’t matter that the State Department Inspector General said there were no laws or regulations prohibiting the use of personal email for official business. It didn’t matter that the FBI found no reasonable legal grounds to bring any case.

HRC, What Happened, pg. 322

But her emails!

–the internet, 2017

HRC, What Happened, pg. 322

Trolls, Bots, Fake News, and Real Russians

This whole part of the book focused on “frustrations” is difficult to read. Partially because I have seen so much of it before in news headlines, but also because it is dense, detailed, and reveals significant dangers to democracy.

I know some will dismiss everything in this chapter [Trolls, Bots, Fake News, and Real Russians] as me trying to shift blame for my loss in 2016. That’s wrong. This is about the future. In the nineteenth century, nations bought two kinds of wars: on land and at sea. In the twentieth century, that expanded to the skies. In the twenty-first century, wars will increasingly be fought in cyberspace.

HRC, What Happened, pg. 374

This story is still unfolding, with much more to come. But it is absolutely clear that Russian interference had an effect on the election.

Election Night

In three words I can sum up everything

I’ve learned about life: it goes on.

—Robert Frost

HRC, What Happened, pg. 376


This chapter explains the why of Hillary’s loss. There are many factors, but one had the most detrimental effect in the final days of the election. Voter suppression, bigotry, economic anxiety, Russia all had an effect, but the straw that broke the camel’s back? Comey’s letter the Sunday before the election worrying voters that the investigation into Hillary’s emails would continue.

Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s former campaign manager, credited Comey’s letter with reversing his candidate’s fortunes. “With eleven days to go in this election cycle something amazing happened,” he said. In his new book, Devil’s Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Storming of the Presidency, Bloomberg News reporter Joshua Green reveals that the Trump campaign’s data scientists thought the effect of Comey’s letter was “pivotal.” In an internal memo written five days before Election Day, they reported seeing “declining support for Clinton, shifting in favor of Mr. Trump” and predicted, “This may have a fundamental impact on the results.” Sadly, they were right.

Silver, whose model had been more conservative than most throughout the race, concluded, “Clinton would almost certainly be President-Elect if the election had been held on Oct. 27 (the day before the Comey letter).” Professor Sam Wang, who runs the Princeton Election Consortium, called Comey’s letter “a critical factor in the home stretch” and found a 4-point swing.

HRC, What Happened, pg. 404


The final part of What Happened is about what comes next. Rising after a fall.

If our expectations—if our fondest prayers and dreams are not realized—then we should all bear in mind that the greatest glory of living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time you fall.

—Nelson Mandela

HRC, What Happened, pg. 426

Love and Kindness

Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind.

—Henry James

HRC, What Happened, pg. 428

As we move forward as a country, we need more love and kindness. Hillary carefully brought this into her campaign: love trumps hate.

From a speech in San Francisco:

“I know it’s not usual for somebody running for President to say what we need more of in this country is love and kindness. But that’s exactly what we need.”

HRC, What Happened, pg. 441

Onward Together

The final section of this book is a call to keep working for progress, together. Hillary shares a wonderfully powerful African proverb:

“If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

If ever there was a moment to channel that spirit, it’s now. We have a long road ahead, and we’ll only get there together.

HRC, What Happened, pg. 455

Emma’s Take

Hillary Rodham Clinton is my champion regardless of the election results. I aspire to serve my community and country as graciously and passionately as she has and continues to do. As I prepare myself to begin studying for a new career this fall, I will remember that service must always be an essential aspect of my work.

I see so much strength and beauty in Hillary as a mother, daughter, and leader. Her family reminds me of my own, even her mother’s slogan rings true with that of my own mother.

“There aren’t quitters in our family.”

–Dorothy Howell Rodham, HRC’s Mother

HRC, What Happened, pg. 456

“You can cry but you can’t quit.”

–Amy Himes, My Mother

I am inspired to be greater because women like Hillary have come before me and put large cracks in the glass ceiling. One day soon, we will get there, and the ceiling will fall.

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