This Gen X writer, who is mistrustful of technology, appreciates the former Secretary of State’s reasoning for the email debacle. But she also knows what’s really behind this invasion of privacy.
First, a confession: I watch Fox News—partly for entertainment purposes, and partly because I heed the Godfather philosophy, “Keep your friends close, keep your enemies closer.” Yesterday morning, as I tuned in, I listened to sneers of disbelief as Hillary Clinton explained why she used her private email account while Secretary of State. And I’ll admit, her explanation for using one account for her official email correspondence felt thin. To invoke “convenience” seemed, well, too convenient to persuade. But I didn’t think she was lying. Why?
Because I get why she would think this. I’m young enough to be her daughter but don’t carry a cell phone. I’ve never used an app. And, I can barely abide one email account, let alone manage two. The only reason I have email at all is because it is impossible to be a productive white-collar worker and not use some version of it, and it is irrational to refuse employment on the grounds that “I don’t like email.” Yet my computers have not only spontaneously gone up in flames and melted down from the inside, but chunks of my emails have evaporated from the Cloud and disappeared from servers. I am neither secretary of State nor is my alter ego “Lois Lerner.” These things happen because technology is not infallible. The great mystery is why so many people refuse to believe it.
Faith in technology is the constant, unspoken refrain underlying all the critiques about Hillary’s emails. She should have trusted the government servers and of course she should have juggled multiple email accounts because everybody does and everybody gets hacked too but that has nothing to do with weak firewalls or underfunded IT departments but with nefarious cybercriminals who are smarter than everyone except Bill Gates who is the Overlord secretly running the world. Yup.
I can’t be an apostate, because I never believed in technology in the first place. I’m a Gen X-er, the last generation that did not come of age with laptops and cell phones as a fact of everyday life, and I remain deeply uncomfortable with technological systems in general. For me, Facebook was “the facebook,” a printed booklet with thumbnail photos of all the students at my boarding school. I wrote my college papers on an electric typewriter and refused to get an email account until I was forced to sign up in grad school, where I used Pine and wrote my dissertation with WordStar, transcribing work I’d perversely written out longhand. In short, I’m old enough to remember a personal life before social media ate privacy.
Nowadays, that belief in “private life”—hah!—marks you as an epistemological anachronism. In other words, to even claim that some things are not meant for public consumption immediately identifies you as a crabby old fart. Hillary Rodham Clinton is 67 years old, making her the oldest of the Boomers (1946 to 1964). I’m pretty sure she has even less confidence in technology than I do, and her belief that some correspondence pertains to her personal life and therefore is none of our goddam business—oh, dear—will not appease a media circus whose goddess, Kim Kardashian, has decreed privacy obsolete.
Albeit for totally different reasons, I admire (even if don’t necessarily like) Hillary and Kim. It is not easy being a public female, even less to remain successful over a sustained period of time. But Kim’s remarkable willingness to dissolve the line between personal and public life, breaking pretty much every taboo that would make an ordinary (and therefore non-famous) person blush with shame, has set the bar for all public figures, politicians included, to do the same and put their bathroom routines on Instagram, lest they be accused of hiding something.
And so we get those who can’t shake the feeling that Hillary’s dangerously deceptive by nature. A Scorpio of a certain age, Hillary has one device, one email account, one child, and one husband she has stuck by through thick and thin. If marriage is a social institution governed by a matrix of legalities and therefore its existence is a matter of public record, a few marrieds over 40 also understand that the specific dynamics of the relationship between you and your beloved inhabits a realm called personal. In some corners of the lived American experience, there is still a space that can be violated. That quaint, anti-modern space is called “emotional.” Some stubborn humans still choose to hold their feelings close and don’t wear them on their sleeves. That doesn’t make them deceitful. It identifies them as being part of a different generation whose values are quite possibly incomprehensible to humans raised by the Disney Channel.
Professional women learn to mask their feelings lest they be accused of being too unstable to lead. Because Colin Powell has gone on record as saying that he, as Secretary of State, used private email for his official government correspondence yet nobody seems to care; and presumptive presidential candidate Jeb Bush not only used a personal email account while governor of Florida, removed his personal messages before turning them over without bothering to mention it, but then had the balls to tweet that “Unclassified @HillaryClinton emails should be released,” it’s fairly obvious that the outraged yapping about Hillary’s refusal to turn over every single one of her emails is politically motivated with more than a whiff of misogyny.
And if Hillary’s explanation for her email habits seemed thin, the same came be said regarding the starting objections themselves. At least one commentator regarding this flap has mentioned “her famous Blackberry,” making the kerfuffle over her emails reads like a meta-commentary of the Tumblr meme, “Texts from Hillary,” instead of her service as Madam Secretary. Back in 2012, the meme went viral by playing with the cultural assumptions regarding the capacity of a middle-aged woman to run the world from her Blackberry. Photographed in the interior of an airplane, she was shown wearing sunglasses hiding her eyes, her face expressionless as she glances at her phone. I didn’t see a woman watching cat videos or reading texts from Important People. I saw a woman swearing silently to herself, Goddamn thing is frozen again, before going back to the mounds of old-fashioned printed reading piled up in front of her.
Hillary didn’t grow up with a Blackberry in her hand, but she’s still a political animal who concedes to email as part of her job … unlike Senator Lindsay Graham who says he has never sent an email in his life. It is unclear if he knows technology is a thing, but the fact he feels qualified to question Hillary’s email practices is as farcical as SNL’s Kate McKinnon’s sketch portraying Hillary Clinton responding to the email controversy last weekend. “Those emails are clean as a whistle,” McKinnon/Clinton promised. “This is not how Hillary Clinton goes down. I mean, what did you think my emails said? ‘Hi, it’s Hillary. I really screwed up on Benghazi today’”?
Ironically, the best response to all of this also appeared on one of the captions to “Texts from Hillary.” It is, simply, “WTF?”
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