Tina Brown on Post-Trump Fears and Why Hillary Lost

The former "Vanity Fair" editor and Women in the World Summit founder talks about her fears for the post-Trump media landscape, and the devastating electoral demise of Hillary Clinton.

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Dec 20 2016, 3:00pm

Photo courtesy of Women in the World

Tina Brown has seen five US presidents come and go in her time as an award-winning editor, journalist, author, and political commentator, but she's most worried about the one about to enter the White House in January.

As Donald Trump relentlessly criticizes everyone from trade union bosses, the Chinese government, and the media (including Vanity Fair, which she edited for almost a decade), Brown warns that freedom of the press and free speech are coming under unprecedented attack. "It's really alarming," she tells Broadly.

Now the founder and CEO of Women in the World Summit, a global conference on women's rights, she says that the political landscape has now changed beyond all recognition, including the "barrage of demonization" and misinformation that assailed Hillary Clinton during the campaign. (Full disclosure: I spoke at a Women in the World Summit panel in 2015, but was not paid for this.)

Brown actually advised Clinton not to run for president. In 2014, she wrote somewhat prophetically in the Daily Beast: "You are doomed to disappoint the people who elected you. You'll disappoint yourself. And that's only the tip of the iceberg of stress that awaits you."

I talked to Brown about Hillary's devastating election loss, why white women voted for the Donald, and how feminists can fight back against the Trump presidency.

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BROADLY: Now that we're a few weeks past the election results, how are you feeling about it?
Tina Brown: I feel worse every day. I think that the way that Trump is—even [as] the person, the individual—is an unsettling thing for the incoming president of the United States [to be]. It's one thing to express a political point of view... It's another thing to be attacking individuals like the head of the union of Carrier air conditioning [and] attacking the CEO of Boeing with a completely mistaken excess of how much Boeing had overcharged for the next Air Force On. This stuff is just bullying, and every time he tweets something, he lets an army of trolls get into the act.

We're approaching a time where people are very fearful about expressing their point of view. Nobody in business wants to see their stock price tank because the president just attacked you and told the world that your company is crap. Nobody wants a journalist to fear [for] their magazine [to be] so [attacked] by negative trolling that it actually affects business. It's the beginning of the end of free speech without having to do anything—people will start to self-censor because they don't want to be bullied.

Donald Trump on the campaign trail. Photo via Flickr user Gage Skidmore

As private citizens or as journalists, how do we fight against this kind of thing?
It's a perfect storm of disaster, because Trump's authoritarian bullying has collided at a moment when the press is very enfeebled by digital disruption. Reporters are being laid off every day from serious journalistic outlets and budgets are being cut because there is no business model for digital journalism. You have a very weak, enfeebled press colliding with a very authoritarian, bullying government with our president—and those two things are very very scary. I wouldn't be surprised that [if] there is no White House press corps. He's just going to keep circumventing the media with his own Twitter and YouTube for announcements. We won't have the opportunity to ask questions. I think people are asking that question of how to fight back right now, and that's the question no one yet has found an answer for.

Besides the attack on free speech, what in terms of women's rights are you most fearful for under a Trump presidency?
The thing I'm most fearful for is what's going to happen on the Supreme Court, because the Republicans held up the appointment of Merrick Garland, who was supposed to replace Scalia when he died. We have three other judges—two are in their 80s and one in the late 70s. If there are any health issues and they have to leave the court, we will get another appointment on the Supreme Court from Trump and we [will] have the end of abortion rights. We just saw last week in Ohio, a new rule passed [so] that it's illegal to have an abortion once the fetus has a heartbeat, which is six weeks. Women often don't even know they're pregnant at six weeks. So now it's going to be impossible to get an abortion in Ohio—this is the beginning of the end... These clinics not only supply abortions for women, but also pap smears and mammograms and overall women's health check ups. We now see very poor women having to travel 200 to 300 miles to get a health check up. That's out of the way, they won't! So their health will be seriously impaired and you have a desperately sad situation where women who are poor who have no means to check ups and health care. I mean, rich women can always get an abortion... That is not true for extremely poor women.


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Now that we know more about who actually voted for Trump, it seems a significant amount of white women voted for him. What do you make of that?
The idea that women somehow vote for and of themselves as women already is a fallacious concept—women are already stressed about what's happens to men as what happens to themselves. They think that Trump is an offensive guy, but if he brings back a job for their husband, father, son, or brother, they will vote for him. The problem of the Democrats is they tended to see women as a voting bloc instead of a voter that is just as concerned about jobs and the economy as their husbands were.

If Hillary could redo the campaign all over, is that what you would want her to change?
Bill Clinton saw it coming and he felt strongly that [the campaign] had it wrong. Bill Clinton did warn the campaign that they were not paying enough attention to that voting demographic. She lost in swing states in very small margins, and in the swing states it was like one country in each swing state—it was that close. They didn't spend enough time in those rural areas and they tended to think, wrongly, We'll get all the Blacks, Latinos and women. That's not what happened—they didn't. And millennials never really came out in big numbers like how they did for Bernie Sanders. When he dropped out, many millennials said they were just sitting this one out. They didn't go to Trump but they didn't go to her.

People are going to look back on it and think that what was done to [Hillary] was an absolute outrage.

These are all miscalculations, sadly, but let me also say that Hillary Clinton was subjected to a battery of assault that I don't think that any candidate has ever seen before. The years of denigration, the decades of demonization, and the way that fake news and misinformation about her was spread was unbelievable. Millions of people had ideas about her [that] were absolutely wrong. This is madness... I don't know how you fight that. It was this terrible misinformation campaign she was subjected to, and she really was battered. I don't think it's the mistake she personally made. I don't think any candidate could have fought that kind of barrage of demonization; it was very unsettling to see. People are going to look back on it and think that what was done to her was an absolute outrage.

Looking forward to the future, is there anything to be optimistic about?
The only thing to be optimistic about is that Democrats are going to have to regroup and get it right next time—reclaim the Senate in two years. They need to understand that they need to learn more about who their voter is. It's very much like Brexit; the Labour party voters have drifted to UKIP because they feel that the Labour party is out of touch with their own anxieties and fears. And it's the same thing with Democrats, they have become too elitist in their outlook and their detachment from their sense of the white voting class voter. They need to get their own constituencies back [or] they're going to be losing election after election.

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Do you think you will ever see a female president in your lifetime?
I think it's a real tragedy, what we've seen, and it's impossible to see who will rise up. The first president woman might be a Republican—Governor Nikki Haley, having made UN ambassador, is a very promising Republican candidate for president. I would like to see it happen, because I think for half the human race to never be represented as President is crazy... Doing [Women in the World Summit] for several years now, I've seen the rise of a global women's movement. There's no doubt to me that we have found [that women overseas] excite people more than American feminists. I think that what [needs to] happens right now is to re-radicalize American feminism in a new way. A lot of the millennials who felt that [Hillary] didn't speak for them have realized they are not happy with what they got now instead. That, in a sense, is going to make a much more vibrant new generation of feminism.