The country, at that stage, had no consistent, rooseveltian voice of evernote calm or reason or empathy to make sense of the chaos. Instead, our Nurturer in Chief, because of his own actions as much as the subterfuge of his enemies, was a figurative absent father. As a society, we went through this together. And ever since, the scandal has had an epigenetic quality, as if our cultural dna has slowly been altered to ensure its longevity. If you can believe it, there has been at least one significant reference in the press to that unfortunate spell in our history every day for the past 20 years. The fog of 1998 has lodged in our consciousness for many reasons. The Clintons have remained pivotal political figures on the global stage. Their disparagement has been vigorously abetted by this vast right-wing conspiracy, as Hillary Clinton famously put. And the Clinton presidency segued into a bitter electoral deadlock: the contested Bush.
How, then, to get a handle, today, on what exactly happened back then? One useful viewpoint is that of cognitive linguist george lakoff. In his book moral Politics: What Conservatives Know That Liberals Dont, lakoff observes that the connective fiber of our country is often best represented through the metaphor of family:. G., our founding Fathers, Uncle sam, the concept of sending our sons and daughters to war. Lakoff goes on to argue that, for conservatives, the nation is conceptualized (implicitly and unconsciously) as a strict Father family report and, for liberals, as a nurturant Parent family. Addressing the scandal itself, he asserts that Clinton was widely perceived as the naughty child and that, in line with the filial metaphor, a family matter had turned into an affair of state. Thus, in many ways, the crack in the foundation of the presidency was also a crack in our foundation at home. Moreover, the nature of the violation—an extramarital relationship—struck at the heart of one of humanitys most complicated moral issues: infidelity. (Youll forgive me if I leave that topic right there.) The result, i believe, was that in 1998 the person to whom we would typically turn for reassurance and comfort during a national crisis was remote and unavailable.
There was a new commingling of traditional news, talk radio, tabloid television, and online rumor mills (fake news, anyone?). With the introduction of the world Wide web (in 1992-93) and two new cable news networks (Fox News and msnbc in 1996 the lines began to blur between fact and opinion, news and gossip, private lives and public shaming. The Internet had become such a propulsive force driving the flow of information that when the republican-led Judiciary committee of the house of Representatives decided to publish Ken Starrs commissions findings online—just two days after he had delivered them—it meant that (for me personally) every. Americans young and old, red and blue, watched day and night. We watched a beleaguered president and the embattled and often disenchanted members of his administration as they protected him. We watched a first Lady and First daughter move through the year with grit and grace. We watched a special prosecutor get pilloried (though some thought he deserved it). We watched an American family—my family—as a mother was forced to testify against her child and as a father was forced to take his daughter to be fingerprinted at the federal building. We watched the wholesale dissection of a young, unknown woman—me—who, due to legal quarantine, was unable to speak out on her own behalf.
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But as I find myself reflecting on what happened, ive also come to understand how my trauma has been, in a way, a microcosm of a larger, national one. Both clinically and observationally, something fundamental changed in our society in 1998, and it is changing again as we enter the second year of the Trump presidency in a world. The Starr investigation and the subsequent impeachment trial of Bill Clinton amounted to a crisis that Americans arguably endured collectively —some of us, obviously, more than others. It was a shambolic morass of a scandal that dragged on for 13 months, and many politicians and citizens became collateral damage—along with the nations capacity for mercy, measure, and perspective. Certainly, the events of that year did not constitute a war or a terrorist attack or a financial recession. They didnt constitute a natural catastrophe or a medical pandemic or what experts refer to as Big T traumas. But something had shifted nonetheless.
And even after the senate voted in 1999 to acquit President Clinton on two articles of impeachment, we could not escape the sense of upheaval and partisan division that lingered, settled in, and stayed. Maybe you remember or have heard stories about how the scandal saturated television and radio; newspapers, magazines, and the Internet; Saturday night live and the sunday-morning opinion programs; dinner-party conversation and watercooler discussions; late-night monologues and political talk shows ( definitely the talk shows). In The washington Post alone, there were 125 articles written about this crisis—in just the first 10 days. Many parents felt essay compelled to discuss sexual issues with their children earlier than they might have wanted. They had to explain why lying—even if the president did it—was not acceptable behavior. The press was navigating unexplored terrain, too. Anonymous get sources seemed to emerge almost daily with new (and often false or meaningless) revelations.
The 20th anniversary of my name becoming public for the first time. And the 20th anniversary of an annus horribilis that would almost end Clintons presidency, consume the nations attention, and alter the course of my life. Amid a phalanx of photographers, lewinsky heads to the federal building. By jeffrey markowitz/Sygma/Getty Images. If I have learned anything since then, it is that you cannot run away from who you are or from how youve been shaped by your experiences. Instead, you must integrate your past and present.
As Salman Rushdie observed after the fatwa was issued against him, Those who do not have power over the story that dominates their lives, power to retell it, rethink it, deconstruct it, joke about it, and change it as times change, truly are powerless, because. I have been working toward this realization for years. I have been trying to find that power—a particularly sisyphean task for a person who has been gaslighted. To be blunt, i was diagnosed several years ago with post-traumatic stress disorder, mainly from the ordeal of having been publicly outed and ostracized back then. My trauma expedition has been long, arduous, painful, and expensive. And its not over. (I like to joke that my tombstone will read, mutatis mutandis —with Changes being Made.) ive lived for so long in the house of Gaslight, clinging to my experiences as they unfolded in my 20s.
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And all because the man in the hat, standing in front of me, had decided that a using frightened young woman could be useful in his larger case against the president of the United States. Understandably, i was a bit thrown. (It was also confusing for me to see ken Starr as a human being. He was there, after all, with what appeared to be his family.) I finally gathered my wits about me—after an internal command of Get it together. Though I wish I had made different choices back essay then, i stammered, i wish that you and your office had made different choices, too. In hindsight, i later realized, i was paving the way for him to apologize. He merely said, with the same inscrutable smile, i know. It had been nearly 20 years since 1998. The next month would mark the 20th anniversary of the Starr investigation expanding to include.
Clinton on charges that would eventually include obstruction of justice and assignment lying under oath— lying about having maintained a long-term extramarital relationship with. Ken Starr asked me several times if I was doing. A stranger might have surmised from his tone that he had actually worried about me over the years. His demeanor, almost pastoral, was somewhere between avuncular and creepy. He kept touching my arm and elbow, which made me uncomfortable. I turned and introduced him to my family. Bizarre as it may sound, i felt determined, then and there, to remind him that, 20 years before, he and his team of prosecutors hadnt hounded and terrorized just me but also my family—threatening to prosecute my mom (if she didnt disclose the private confidences.
of personal-counseling work (both trauma-specific and spiritual) had led me to a place where i now embrace opportunities. At the same moment I stepped toward the man in the hat and began to ask, youre not.?, he stepped toward me with a warm, incongruous smile and said, let me introduce myself. An introduction was indeed necessary. This was, in fact, the first time i had met him. I found myself shaking his hand even as I struggled to decipher the warmth he evinced. After all, in 1998, this was the independent prosecutor who had investigated me, a former White house intern; the man whose staff, accompanied by a group. Agents (Starr himself was not there had hustled me into a hotel room near the pentagon and informed me that unless I cooperated with them I could face 27 years in prison. This was the man who had turned my 24-year-old life into a living hell in his effort to investigate and prosecute President Bill.
There had been carols. People had sung with abandon. In short, it was the a magical night. Amid the glow of candles and soft lighting, i strained to look again at the man in the hat. He was part of a small group that had just exited the main dining room. They were now gathering their belongings, likely vacating what was to be our table. And then it clicked.
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How do i know him? Where have i seen him? The man in the hat looked familiar, i thought, as I peered over at him a second time. It was Christmas eve 2017. My family and I were about to be seated at a quaint restaurant in Manhattans West Village. We had just come from. Gramercy park—on the one night each year when the exclusive park (accessible book only to nearby residents with special keys) opens its gates to outsiders.