Hillary Clinton warned of the dangers of creeping authoritarianism, including an “all-out assault on truth,” mind control and “alternative facts” — and even dropped the word “impeachment” — in her most scorching critique of President Trump’s administration since he took office.
Clinton, who was the keynote speaker during a commencement address at Wellesley College, her alma mater, urged graduating students not to feel powerless and to speak out and encourage open and “fact-based” debate, which is “necessary for democracy to survive.”
“When people in power invent their own facts and attack those who question them, it can mark the beginning of the end of a free society,” Clinton said. “That is not hyperbole. It is what authoritarian regimes throughout history have done. They attempt to control reality, not just our laws and our rights and our budgets, but our thoughts and beliefs,” Clinton said.
If there was any doubt, the speech made clear that Clinton will return to public life as the kind of outspoken activist who attended Wellesley 48 years ago, as opposed to the guarded and carefully scripted presidential candidate of 2016. And she did it all without mentioning Trump’s name. Clinton recently formed a new political nonprofit group called Onward Together intended to counter Trump and his policies.
The speech took numerous swipes at the state of government, politics and civil discourse in the Trump era, including at a recently released Republican budget that included steep cuts to social safety net programs benefiting the poor, elderly and disabled. Clinton said the budget represents “unimaginable cruelty” and is “a con” because it uses accounting gimmicks. During recent testimony on Capitol Hill, White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney seemed to deny that the budget contained Medicaid cuts, even as those cuts number hundreds of millions of dollars.
“They don’t even try to hide it,” Clinton said. “It matters because if our leaders lie about the problems we face we’ll never solve them” and “it undermines confidence in government as a whole, which in turn breeds more cynicism and anger.”
Clinton began her rejoinder by drawing parallels between the current political environment and her first commencement address at Wellesley in 1969, when Richard Nixon was president.
It was delivered at a time when people “were furious about the past presidential election” and “a man whose presidency would eventually end in disgrace with impeachment for obstruction of justice” after he fired the person at the Department of Justice investigating him. Of course, Trump recently fired FBI director James Comey, who is investigating ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.
Speaking to the audience at the private women’s college, she also got in a few cracks about her failed presidential campaign during which Trump once called her a “nasty woman” during a debate.
“In the years to come there will be trolls galore, online and in person eager to tell you that you don’t have anything worthwhile to say or anything meaningful to contribute,” said Clinton. “They may even call you a nasty woman.”