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What Happened at Hillary Clinton’s Chicago Stop for What Happened

Our takeaways from the former presidential candidate’s Auditorium Theatre book tour stop

Hillary Clinton: unleashed?   Photo: Chris Walker/Chicago Tribune

Hillary Clinton addressed a crowd of almost 4,000 at Roosevelt University’s ornate Auditorium Theatre on Monday night. There to promote her new book What Happened—a nod to the question that still baffles many Americans—she began by addressing critics who wondered why the book needed to be written in the first place.

“I know there are people who think, OK, the election’s over, let’s move on,” said the 2016 Democratic presidential candidate and suburban Chicago native. “I’m here to tell you we cannot just move on because the lessons we draw from 2016 can help determine whether we can protect ourselves—whether we can protect democracy around the world… We can’t just pretend that it was one time and it’s never going to happen again.”

Clinton’s warning about the democracy’s fragility largely set the tone for the rest of the evening, despite the fact that the book tour has been billed as a sort of coming out party for her new, relatable persona. “In the past, I often felt like I had to be careful in public,” the former Secretary of State told the crowd. “Well, those days are over.”

She answered a number of lighter audience questions—relayed by the night’s moderator, Wild author Cheryl Strayed—like, “What will you be for Halloween?” (answer: “The President”), and “Why are you such a queen?” (answer: “That is the furthest from reality description”). She also recommended mystery novels and “alternate nostril breathing”—a yoga technique that was the subject of much snark after the book’s release in September—as stress relief techniques.

But the truth is that the Clinton who appeared last night hardly seemed carefree. Again and again, she drew the conversation back to the dire situation she believes the country is in and reminded the audience that “the forces at work” during the last election—Russian interference in U.S. politics, sexism and misogyny, and “alternative facts”—remain salient.

Those in attendance, the vast majority of whom were women, paid $90 or more to attend the talk, which fell just a little over a week before the anniversary of election night.

As for her plans after the book tour? “I’m not going anywhere except right into the middle of the debate about the future,” she assured the crowd.

Below, a few takeaways from her talk.

On what she called “the information warfare waged by the Kremlin”

“What we’ve learned about Russian interference in the election is more than alarming. It is a clear and present danger… The Russians are still playing on everything they can to turn Americans against each other.”

On the irony of the first major female presidential candidate running against Trump

“When I ran in 2008, there were very overt, sexist attacks on me in the campaign and people in the media said really clearly sexist comments,” she recalled. “I really thought that by 2016 we’d have worked a lot of that out of our system… I also didn’t think I’d run against someone who was exhibit A for…” (audience laughter) “I mean you couldn’t make this stuff up.”

“In his third debate, pulling out the ‘nasty woman’ comment against me, he knew what he was doing. He knew exactly what he was doing,” she said of her opponent. "He knew there was a real receptive audience for that kind of language and treatment toward women.”

On why she felt she had to write What Happened

“You want to know what you’re thinking and one of the ways you do that is by actually writing it down. So after the election, I did feel like, ‘how did this happen?’ ‘What could I have done?’” she said. “I also realized that there were forces at work that I just had to try to untangle.”

On controlling the spread of Russian-influenced social media content

“Russian-directed [Facebook concent was] seen by 126 million Americans … That’s nearly as many as people who voted,” she explained. “We need more people pressing the tech companies to become real guardians at the gate to prevent the kind of propaganda that influenced voters in this election.”

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