Talking Trump, Russia and the wage gap with Fiona Hill.
By Político – Ketelyb Fossett
Oct 08, 2021
Fiona Hill was introduced to most Americans through her testimony in President Donald Trump’s impeachment hearings in late 2019. A former National Security Council official, that day she delivered a personal story of growing up in a working-class mining town in northeastern England and emigrating to the United States, all delivered in an accent that many Americans couldn’t quite place but would have marked her for class discrimination in her native country.
Her new book, There Is Nothing for You Here: Finding Opportunity in the 21st Century, only briefly touches on her White House experience and mostly focuses on the personal story that so many found compelling in her testimony. (Representative Jackie Speier asked Hill to confirm a story from her childhood during the question-and-answer portion: that a classmate had set her pigtails on fire when she was 11 during school, and Hill had extinguished the blaze and completed a test. It was true.) Still, there is enough space for a few revealing West Wing anecdotes, such as when the former president mistook her for a secretary and then-chief of staff Reince Priebus referred to her as “the Russia bitch.” In response to the book, Trump emailed an angry statement to supporters this week calling her “a Deep State stiff with a nice accent.”
Ultimately, the book goes beyond a memoir. Hill uses the story of her hometown and her journey to the White House to show not just that success was difficult for her, but that it should have been impossible. The more she describes her native mining town, the more it looks like deindustrialized centers in the American Midwest and coal towns in Appalachia. That’s the point: Hill is particularly interested in how a lack of opportunity, not just in the UK but also in the U.S. and Russia, creates the ideal circumstances for a dangerous brand of populist politics to thrive.
This conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Katelyn Fossett: What do you make of Trump’s recent comments about the Jan. 6 rioters? He said in a statement in September they were being unfairly persecuted by the Biden administration.
Fiona Hill: Well, this is also part of this myth-making, as we’re well aware: the perpetration of the Big Lie, and the turning of the people of Jan. 6 into martyrs and also trying to rewrite the historical record in real time. He is mulling again a return to what he sees more as a crown than the presidency in 2024.
I feel like we’re at a really critical and very dangerous inflection point in our society, and if Trump – this is not on an ideological basis, this is just purely on an observational basis based on the larger international historical context — if he makes a successful return to the presidency in 2024, democracy’s done. Because it will be on the back of a lie. A fiction. And I think we have to bear that in mind. And I was hoping that with the book, I might be able to reach out, because I’m not a partisan person, to people who care very much about the United States and about its democracy to really think about this long and hard.
I find it deeply disturbing that the number one identity that people put forward in polls now is whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican rather than an American or someone from a particular region. Even religious or ethnic/racial identifiers seem to be subsumed in this in some of the polling. And so, you know, those of us who are independent in mind and practice but politically engaged, where do we fit into all of this? We used to fit into America. I have a lot of friends who are immigrants like myself who have been here for a long time, who come from many, many different places – not all from Europe. And they say, “This is not the America I came to. This is not the America we chose to come to.” And they were deeply disturbed by this. But many people fled these kinds of authoritarian or autocratic regimes, which are highly personalized, deny social mobility and where you have kleptocratic cliques of cronies who are really trying to take charge of policy, and that’s what this [deep polarization] is about. This is not about ideology. It is a manipulation of particular social issues – abortion, immigration, all kinds of issues.
This America is looking dangerously like Russia – based on the divisions of Russia in the 1990s and then the Putin system that came out of that. China, Hungary, Venezuela – many of the countries that are expelling immigrants from the region. This is what we’re dealing with. In all of these places, all of these issues are being manipulated and people’s grievances are being whipped up.