Role Reversal

‘Brain Sex With Hillary Clinton’

The former senator and secretary of state led a panel discussion of women journalists reporting from countries led by strong men with crazy ideas. She knew just what to ask.

Nicholas Hunt

NEW YORK—When Hillary Clinton closed a lively panel of women journalists covering authoritarian regimes in Russia, China, Turkey, and Georgia at the ninth annual Women in the World Summit in New York, Tina Brown, the event founder, summed it up with a new career suggestion for the former presidential candidate. “That was amazing, like brain sex. You’ve found your next career, Hillary,” she said, suggesting Clinton host a television talk show. “Brain Sex with Hillary Clinton.”

It was a rare treat to see Clinton on the other side of microphone, asking tough questions and leading a super smart discussion about a topic she clearly knows all too well: how to deal with egomaniacal men. She kept her own opinions largely to herself save a few well-timed comments and choice digs that drew raucous applause.

“If I were in a position to be concerned about Russia,” she said and paused when segueing between legendary Russian journalist Yevgenia Albats and BBC’s former China editor Carrie Gracie.

Instead of basking in the spotlight, Clinton guided a conversation she did not dominate. Each of the highly informed women offered her praise, calling her Madam Secretary, and making sure everyone in the crowd knew they wished she was the American president.

Ece Temelkuran, a journalist and author from Turkey, was the first to say exactly what seemed to be on Clinton’s mind. When asked about how Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was able to transform Turkey, she warned that her country used to be “normal” like the United States, too.

“There is a pattern, and now the U.S. is experiencing this pattern. In the U.S., people like to think they have a strong establishment, and that the mature democracy in this country will protect them from the madman tactics of Mr. Trump,” she said. “We thought that too. Fifteen years ago Turkey was a normal country. It all changed not only because of one man but because everyone was silent while that one man destroyed democracy.”

She went on to warn that Trump, like Erdoğan, may be creating a global safety net for increasingly authoritarian ideas. “Leaders are building safety nets for themselves. Trump, in a clumsy way, has started to build his safety net,” she said. “He didn’t just go to Saudi Arabia to do the crazy dance with the sword, he was building his safety net.”

Clinton’s subtle Cheshire cat smile was her only reply.

When Clinton asked Tamara Chergoleishvili, a reporter from Georgia, to talk about what life is like in her country, she explained how Russian President Vladimir Putin has made life nearly unbearable since Russia’s partial invasion of that country since 2008. “As we sit here, an ominous threat is still there,” she said, referring to Putin. “Putin is using useful idiots. He is using macho culture.”

Clinton then added her own summary before quickly moving back to the role of the moderator. “One of the things we know is how Putin has mixed authoritarianism with corruption,” she said, sounding slightly wishful that she was talking to a larger audience than those gathered in the conference hall. “Very selective specific corruption to keep a group of oligarchs in line and on his side.”

Clinton then turned to Carrie Gracie, who led BBC’s China coverage for the better part of the last 30 years, to discuss censorship by the state. “Elite politics can be a dangerous game,” Gracie said, explaining how Xi Jinping has been in a silent rise to authoratism for years. “Obviously Putin could cause a lot of trouble,” she said. “But do we not think China could also cause a lot of trouble?”

The hour-long conversation touched on a variety of topics about these strong men regimes that all sounded slightly familiar here. Gracie suggested that if the West wants to regain its power against Russia and China they might “show, not tell” that the West does it better.

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To that, Clinton couldn’t help herself. “Well, we do have an election in November this year,” she said. “There are lessons we can all take away. When you are confronting the potential loss of the values you care about: your freedom, your equality. Do not be quiet. Do not stop talking. Do not stop voting. Do not give in to those whose views are opposite of yours. Keep the conversation going to make sure strong men don’t send us back. We’re not going.”