From Anne Boleyn to Hillary Clinton: Gender, Politics, and Myth

To begin by being thoroughly “transparent,” I am one of those post-65-year-old women with a Hillary sign in my front yard. Or, to be more exact, who had a Hillary sign in her front yard. Two actually. They both were stolen and I don’t believe it was so the folks who stole them could put them in their own front yard. So I guess the more precise word is that they were confiscated.

I also have written a book, The Creation of Anne Boleyn, in which I argued that there are actually two Anne Boleyns. One is the complex, flesh-and-blood woman who made the fatal mistakes of not staying in her proper wifely place and then got on the wrong side of Thomas Cromwell. The other Anne is a nasty cartoon, concocted by her political enemies and passed down, through the centuries, via Catholic polemics, factually loose biographies, sensationalizing novels, films, and television. That Anne is an overly-ambitious, calculating, untrustworthy, cold-hearted schemer who, while perhaps not guilty of the exact crimes with which she was charged, got the fate she deserved. I call her “our default Anne“ because although there have certainly been more sympathetic versions of Anne over the centuries (which I detail in my book), ambitious, scheming Anne runs like a recurring pattern through the variations. Like Freddy Krueger in the “Nightmare on Elm Street” movies, our default Anne just will not die.

Here are two of the most recent versions, the first Philippa Gregory’s sister from hell as depicted in the film version of The Other Boleyn Girl and the second Hillary Mantel’s feral schemer as depicted in the BBC production of Wolf Hall:

There’s astonishingly little basis in fact for this nasty version of Anne. She is a fantasy creation that lives within a narrative, developed over time, that turned politically motivated lies into inflammatory gossip and alchemized that gossip into what we believe is fact. She lives both in historical accounts and in historical fiction, in movies and television series.

Where is the real Anne in all of this? Lost. And not merely because of all that Henry destroyed when she was executed, but because she has been supplanted by a cultural creation of tremendous potency.

This is the juncture at which I leap over five centuries of profound historical transformation—which I’m sure will enrage some historians. But such leaps can be instructive. Since the 2016 presidential primary began, I’ve been powerfully struck by how well the “two Annes” model can be applied to the case of Hillary Clinton. Of course the details are vastly different—although some imagery certainly remains the same But it’s the transformation—from flesh-and-blood woman to cultural caricature– that I want to emphasize. On the one hand, there’s the Hillary known to those who have actually met her, worked with her—and those, like me, who have watched her experience the same kinds of challenges that we, as women of the same generation were experiencing.

And then there’s the Hillary created by decades of political harassment, fear of female power, and aided and abetted by a greedy, clueless media ready to fit every bit of questionable speculation into a false but consumable narrative.

This Hillary is unrecognizable to me, and to be honest, it causes me nothing short of grief—I’m not exaggerating–to see how widely she is believed to be the real deal.

How does a flesh-and-blood woman come to be a cultural caricature? For both Anne and Hillary, the answer to that isn’t a simple one. It’s not just sexism. It’s not just politics. It’s not just the triumph of the consumable product over the complexities of the real. Rather, it’s the specific historical intersection of all of these.

In Anne’s case, religious politics—the Catholic/Reformist divide—and gender politics played a mutually supportive role. In this, a huge contribution—it really can’t be overstated—came from the Eustache Chapuys, ambassador of Emperor Charles V at the court of Henry VIII from 1529 through the sixteen tumultuous years that followed. Chapuys was not a historian, a profession that did not exist at the time. His official job was to report court goings-on to Spain and to skillfully adjudicate between Henry and Charles. But his personal mission was to protect Catherine of Aragon and the Catholic cause from the turmoil brought about by the King’s Great Matter and—as Chapuys saw it—the suspiciously “Frenchified” witch who had inspired the divorce proceedings and everything awful that Henry did thereafter: Anne Boleyn.

If you’ve seen The Tudors, you are familiar with the protector role that Chapuys played vis a vis Mary and Katherine.

But the series, like most historical accounts—in fictional accounts, he rarely even appears—vastly underplays the poisonous side of Chapuys,

That Chapuys hated Anne with venom that he did not even try to disguise, disgustedly referring to her in his official communications as “the concubine” and “that whore”—or, with polite disdain, “the Lady.” Elizabeth was “the little bastard.” And everything dishonorable in Henry’s behavior, including his shabby treatment of his daughter Mary (which actually persisted after Anne’s execution), was the fault of the concubine’s “perverse and malicious nature.” He was convinced—and convinced many others at court—that Anne was continually plotting to murder both Catherine and Mary (no evidence of either). And he even charged Anne with chief responsibility for spreading the heretical “scourge” of Lutheranism throughout England.

Anne was not a Lutheran. But his was a time of religious anarchy, and although clear-cut divisions between various sects were not yet established—in fact, the Protestant/Catholic divide was just forming itself—Anne clearly stood on the “evangelical” side of issues. In those days, that chiefly meant a belief that the word of God was to be found in the Bible, unmediated by the interpretations of Popes and priests. But direct, “personal” access to the Bible required, for all but the classically trained elite, that it be available to them in their own language. This was a cause Anne passionately supported. She was an avid reader of the radical religious works of the day (many of them banned from England and smuggled in for her), both in French and in England. She had Tyndale English-language New Testament (which was to become the basis for the King James Bible) read to her ladies at court. She introduced Henry both to Tyndale’s anti-papal “The Obedience of a Christian Man” and probably also Simon Fish’s “Supplication for the Beggars.” She also secured the appointment of several evangelical bishops and deans when Henry created the newly independent Church of England.

The promotion and protection of the cause of reform was an especially dangerous business for Anne to engage in, because it was such a divisive issue (to put it mildly) and men’s careers (and sometimes heads) would hang or fall depending on which side was winning. Anne’s took a risk in showing Tyndale and Fish to Henry, but it was one that initially paid off, as he immediately saw that they were on the side of Kings rather than Rome when it came to earthly authority. But even if Henry had no objection to Anne’s tutelage, others did, and their objections were a potent mix of misogyny and anti-Protestant fervor. Much of the gossip that circulated around court and through Europe came from the tongues (and pens) of those for whom to be anti-papal was to be pro-devil. “Lutheran” women in particular enraged Catholic dogmatists, who were quick to accuse them of witchcraft—an old charge against “talkative,” impertinent women which was particularly handy when the women were “heretics.”

Anne, both in personality and in being such a “player” in the cause of reform, was also defying the gender rules. Spontaneous and intense in an era when women were supposed to silently provide a pleasing backdrop for men’s adventures, had never “stayed in her place.” To begin with, she had supplanted a beloved queen—one who DID play by the gender rules. She was rumored to be “haughty” and suspiciously “French”–and even worse than that, a vocal, intellectual, “interfering” woman. Jane Seymour, when she entered the picture in 1536, was no less the “other woman” than Anne was (and probably more deserving of the charge of using her virginity as bait than Anne was), but her apparent docility miraculously spared her, when she became queen, from the antipathy that Anne inspired. Later historians would question just how docile Jane actually was. But in her own time she was constantly commended for her gentleness, compassion, and submissiveness, which she advertised in her own motto: “Bound to obey and serve.”

With Anne it was quite the opposite. Even those who shared her religious views, like Cromwell, had no scruples about spreading nasty rumors when it suited their purposes. For Anne’s reputation as a woman who simply would not behave as she should had created an atmosphere that did not incline men to be her protectors, but rather freed them to take the gloves off when fighting with her. And while her unwillingness to occupy her “proper place” was not in itself the cause of Cromwell’s turn against her, it certainly unleashed his ruthlessness, and insured his success in planning her downfall. “Had she been gracious and modest,” writes 19th century commentator James Froude, “she might have partially overcome the prejudice against her.”[11] “Gracious and modest” seem like laudable qualities. But what they meant in the context of the times and why Anne could never play the part is laid bare by David Loades: “Anne…could not pretend to be a fool or a nonentity, and the self-effacement customary in a royal consort did not suit her style at all…In many ways her sharpness of perception and readiness of wit made her more suitable for the council chamber than for the boudoir.”[12] But women did not then belong in the council chamber.

It is yet to be seen, of course, whether they can be accepted in the oval office.

None of what I’ve said means that Anne was a feminist. That would be an anachronism—and not nearly as appropriate an anachronism in her case as in that of Marguerite de Navarre and others who openly championed for female equality. There’s no evidence that Anne felt similarly. But she had learned to value her body and her ideas, and ultimately recognized that there was something unsettling about this to Henry, understood that this played a role in her downfall. “I do not say I have always shown him that humility,” which she ought to have, she said at her trial, insistent even then on speaking what she believed.[16] Anne wasn’t a feminist. But she did step over the ever-moving line that marked the boundary of the comfort zone for men of her era—and possibly, women as well.

This would be a very long talk were I to continue to go into the details of Anne’s downfall and the political machinations that ultimately swallowed up the facts within a concocted narrative of treason and adultery that suited Cromwell and Henry’s purposes. What’s most striking about it, from the perspective of what’s going on today, is the enormous role that appearances—what journalists today call “optics”–played. That was how Cromwell developed his case, by working with statements and behavior that “didn’t look good,” parlaying them into a demand for investigation, then tirelessly searching (and in his case, probably employing a little physical pressure) until still more suspect “optics” emerged.

Ultimately, none of the charges against Anne could be proved, yet once enough information was accumulated to feed into the desired narrative—treasonous talk against the king, adulterous behavior, including incest–the impression of believability was created. The facts—dates that proved that Anne couldn’t have committed the crimes of which she was accused—were irrelevant. All that counted was the jury’s eagerness—in the case of a Tudor jury, mostly from fear of Henry–to embrace the narrative that her enemies were dedicated to promoting.

After her execution, Anne was gone. But the fictional temptress—what I’m calling “Our Default Anne”– was far from extinguished. Instead, she became embellished even more by Catholic polemicists such as Nicholas Sander, who added tons of salacious detail (e.g. Anne was the daughter of Henry VIII and her own mother!) and fantasies of physical deformity.

Then, when the first biographies began to be written, Chapuys’ lengthy, gossipy letters became a prime source. For narrative abhors a vacuum, and while the earliest historians and biographers were justifiably suspicious of the veracity of his reports, they also leaned on them to stich together a coherent story. Passed from one generation to another, Chapuys’ venomous portrait of Anne’s character and manipulation of Henry crept into later histories, biographies, novels, films, television, and what we might call “the popular imagination.” It was such a satisfying archetype, after all, made such a good story.

Our “default Anne” is the product of five centuries of fictionalizing. Today, with a 24 hour news cycle that has gradually blurred the line between entertainment and information, it doesn’t take centuries. Thus, in a far more compressed way, historically speaking, the real Hillary Clinton has been subjected to the same poisonous alchemy, bubbling over the last several decades, and ultimately resulting in “dishonest,” “untrustworthy,” “lying” Hillary—a thoroughly fictional caricature concocted by the GOP, mindlessly perpetuated by a headline-and-ratings seeking media, and now being swallowed by large numbers of American voters.

The stew of ingredients, as in Anne’s case, are complex, and I don’t have the space or time to go into them all here. Clearly, partisan politics have played a role, just as religious politics played a role for Anne. Clearly, too, as for Anne, sexist stereotypes and double-standards have powerfully insinuated their way into those politics, into the reporting of events, and into the mentality and attitudes of ordinary citizens. These are all painfully obvious to anyone who has followed the news coverage, and probably impossible to discredit for those in the audience who hold such views.

Instead, I want to concentrate on the media, and what Daniel Boorstin, back in the sixties, called the “pseudo-event.” What is a pseudo-event? A pseudo-event is something that acquires its reality not because it is accurate, but because the media has reported it, repeated it, exaggerated it, re-played it, made an indelible mantra of it. In the process, like a piece of trashy gossip that has made the rounds of the high school cafeteria, the pseudo-event becomes stamped in viewers’ or readers’ mind as true. A classic early example is Richard Jewell, who was wrongly accused of being the pipe bomber at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996. All we heard about for weeks was the duct tape found under his bed. No real evidence against him existed and he was ultimately exonerated, but that duct tape was made into such a compelling detail that many people today still think he was the bomber.

Lots of things operate in this way: family anecdotes, celebrity reputations, historical myths. Nearly every audience at my Anne Boleyn talks, when I question them about what they know about Anne, shout out “She had six fingers!” Well, no, actually she didn’t. It’s a myth created by the Catholic propagandist Nicholas Sander, who never even saw Anne. But the myth has been repeated and recirculated for so long that it has achieved the status of “fact.” If you took a poll about it, most people would simply spit back the mythology. It’s really hard to dislodge or discredit a pseudo-event once people have become convinced of it.

Today, the pseudo-event rules the air-waves, especially on the rolling news channels where leaks, poll results, gaffes, and blunders are immediately turned into high-voltage headlines and endlessly repeated, organizing people’s perceptions into yet-to-be-analyzed “narratives” of dubious factual status. Hillary Clinton’s “trust problem,” to my mind, definitely falls in this category. The GOP may have originated it through their endless attacks, investigations, and hearings (just as Anne Boleyn’s political enemies originated the myths about her) but it took the media’s continual harping on Hillary’s “trust issues” to turn them into the (pseudo) realities that they are today. It’s been so easy: present every charge of the GOP as “breaking news,” report every new email find as a potential treasure trove of hidden secrets, remind viewers that “people don’t trust her” every chance you get, and of course by the time a pollster calls and asks, the “trust problem” shows up as a documented “fact.”

Consider the media’s handling FBI director James Comey’s report on the status of the investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email server. Comey’s report cleared Clinton of all criminal charges—which could have been the headline. But at the same time, venturing way beyond his responsibility here, he also provided a fresh piece of red meat to the GOP– publicly criticizing Clinton and the State Department for “extreme carelessness” in the handling of classified emails. I’m not going to try to convince you that this was an unfounded, covertly partisan attack—although that’s what I do believe. I would point out, however, that one of the things that’s been discovered through the endless investigation of “the email scandal” is that the system itself is messy and inconsistent: there no clear-cut “rules” governing communication between and among persons and agencies, continual changes in procedure and operating systems, different determinations of what is classified and what is not, and so on. The system is complex, ever changing, and hard to keep up with. And it’s not hard to see why mastering it would be difficult, particularly when earlier secretaries of state were dispensing advice as to how to avoid the complexities.

When Clinton first claimed on television that she had neither received or sent any classified emails on her private server, it wasn’t clear whether she was referring to her own assessment or some official stamp. But shortly after, she clarified that she had meant “emails marked as classified.” The clarification is crucial, because it’s through a system of headings that the state department operates. Of course, it’s always possible for one person (or agency) to deem something “classified” and another person (or agency) to disagree. Indeed, that often happens, as documents travel from agency to agency and their content gets reinterpreted. Classification is a moving machine, which stopped at Clinton’s desk marked in a certain way. She relied on those markings; how else could she — or anyone else in her position — operate?

FBI director James Comey, however, mentioned none of this when he claimed that Clinton, contrary to her statements to the public, had received 110 classified emails (out of 30,000 the FBI had recovered.) Please note: the emails he referred to had no “classified” headers when Clinton received them. Yet the GOP and the media jumped all over what they saw as confirmation that Clinton had lied. Without allowing themselves a moment to examine Comey’s words with care or question any contradictions or missteps the FBI director had made, MSNBC commentators Andrea Mitchell and Michael Steele immediately began to weave his report into their favored narrative of Clintonian “untrustworthiness.”

The evening commentators followed their lead. “It’s a complete political indictment of her conduct,” declared Kristen Welker. “A direct disputation of the stories she’s been telling.” (Chris Cillizza) Demonstrates that “trust and honesty continue to dog the Clinton campaign” (Chuck Todd). By the time Joe, Mika, and Nicole Wallace got in on it in the morning, it had become, predictably, a tale of bald-faced deception on Clinton’s part. The show began with artfully arranged side-by-side clips contrasting Clinton’s statements with Coney’s “assessments.” Guests who tried to caution against too-quick conclusions, like Steve Ratner and Howard Dean, were interrupted and talked over. Nothing was allowed to interfere with the “untrustworthy Clinton” thread, into which the tarmac meeting and even President Obama were dragged. “Why did she lie?” asked Joe, simulating curiosity (but fooling no-one) “We can only assume,” said Wallace, “that it was a lie” when Clinton said the emails were unclassified. And so on.

Having branded Clinton a liar, the commentators seemed to miss the part in the subsequent hearing where Elijah Cummings, pressing Comey, got him to admit that only three of those 110 emails had any kind of markings on them at all. Those three, moreover, were marked (mistakenly, as it later turned out) only “internally,” with tiny letter symbols pertaining to specific sentences within the emails. 

So: None of the 30,000 was clearly designated in a header as “classified” or “confidential.”  NONE. Just as Clinton had said.

Where, then, was Clinton’s “lie”? In fact, Clinton didn’t lie; Comey did (or, to be generous, sidestepped the truth.) Ultimately, this was revealed. In his earlier statements, Comey (a Republican) had dismissed the importance of the lack of headers, claiming that the emails contained “subject matter” that “any reasonable person should have known… had no place in an unclassified system.” But in the congressional hearing that followed his public announcement, Comey, questioned by Congressman Matt Cartwright, was forced to admit that markings were precisely at issue, exonerating Hillary not only from any crime but also from the charge of lying:

As it later turned out, after he was questioned by the Senate, there was actually nothing careless about her handling of classified material, as none of the emails she had sent or received had been properly marked as classified. Which was just as Clinton had said, and as Comey later admitted, was standard operating procedure according to the State Department Handbook.

The appropriate “header,” far from being insignificant, turns out to be required of all classified documents. Which of course makes sense. How could any system of classification operate without such headings? Would it not be chaos? 

Ellen Tauscher, who served as an Under Secretary in the State Department until 2012, objecting strongly to Chuck Todd’s characterization of the marking issue as “a technicality,” made this clear. The separation of emails into classified and unclassified piles and marked accordingly with the appropriate header — prior to Clinton receiving any of them — was taken with utmost seriousness and done very rigorously. Indeed, there is no other valid means of identifying a classified document. 

For any viewers relying on cable “news” — MSNBC as well as Fox — these exonerating exchanges never happened. But then, we know the press doesn’t like Hillary, largely because she avoids talking to them, having been burned badly from the early days of Bill’s presidency, when her spontaneity and forthrightness was rewarded by misogynist gasps over her ambition to actually contribute to the work of government. Note what a production they made over her reluctance to give press conferences! When she began to have them, however, they totally swamped what she had to say with endless coverage of her pneumonia and what might be missing from her health record.

Is Hillary actually untrustworthy? The fact-checkerss say, unequivocally, no –indeed, she turns out to be the most truthful of all the candidates, even better, than Bernie Sanders’, someone whom the press has never trashed for lying. As for Trump, fahget about it: “If deception were a sport,” writes Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times, “Trump would be an Olympic gold medalist; Clinton would be an honorable mention at her local Y.”

Hmmm…. wonder where the “American People” got the idea that Clinton can’t be trusted?  Could it be that the media’s continual reporting of Clinton’s “honesty problem,” the constant attention to her so-called “trust issues” has had some influence over how people answer those poll questions?

 Maybe the “optics” of “trust” are like the duct tape under Richard Jewell’s bed, or the “massive looting” that took place during Hurricane Katrina. The “American People” viewed them as facts, too. And when they were disproved, the retractions didn’t make the headlines. Wonder why not?

No, I don’t think it’s a conspiracy; I think the reporters are doing what they think is their “job.” So did Chapuys. But the reporter’s notion of what their “job” is has changed. For instance, for the first time (in my memory of elections, at any rate), reporters are trading almost exclusively in “perception” and “optics” rather than fact.

For example, take Hillary’s recent “health scare” (as the press put it—although neither Hillary herself or her doctors were scared.) Hillary got pneumonia. Like many women, she pushed on despite her doctor’s advice. Then, after she nearly fainted—something that has happened to others standing in the hot sun at long political events–she committed the unpardonable sin of disappearing from the media’s sight for 90 minutes, while she sought calm and cool—and water—in her daughter Chelsea’s apartment. Where was she? What was she hiding? When an video surfaced showing her unsteadily entering her van, supported by the secret service, and the news of her pneumonia was released, reporters were convinced she had been deliberating concealing her illness, revealing it only when she was “caught in the act” of fainting. Hillary’s explanation—which made a lot of sense to me—was that she didn’t announce her illness because she thought she could just push on through, no big deal. And as it turned out John Kerry and others had also suffered pneumonia without announcing it to the world. But for Hillary, the “optics” were suspect. The media played and replayed the visual of her knees buckling—over and over—while the pundits claimed, disingenuously and as they often do, that she had “brought trust problems on herself” by “covering up” her illness.

The problem with this emphasis on appearance and perception is not just that it sidesteps questions of fact but that when repeated enough (as with Anne Boleyn’s sixth finger) it creates illusions of fact that stick, even when disputed. Case in point: the August 30 New York Times editorial, recommending that the Clinton Foundation be shut down immediately. It’s a prime example of how the pseudo-issue of Clinton’s “trust problem” is perpetuated through the authority of “optics” rather than facts. And it happens entirely in the first two paragraphs:

Not so far. The Times’ answer to the question as to whether this “batch” “proves” that “Big-money donors…got special favors from Mrs. Clinton” is–note carefully–“Not so far.”  A simple “No” would have proved sufficient, and would be completely factual. But the Times couldn’t resist adding that loaded, suggestive “so far,” implying that perhaps–indeed, perhaps likely–something suspect will show up later. There’s no reason to suspect this, as nothing has yet shown up of significance. It’s pure insinuation.

Having established (again, through insinuation) that “special favors” may yet be discovered, the Times can then go on to speak as though their own speculation has the weight of proven fact. “That the question arises yet again points to a need…..” The grammar of this makes it sound as though the question of special favors arose by itself, crystallizing out of thin air, when in fact, it’s the Times itself that is raising the question! It’s the Times, not the “question” that is doing the “pointing” here.

This is just one example–and of only two paragraphs. The fact is that the media coverage of Hillary has been a massive heap of “optics”, insinuations, “perceptions” taken as fact, and pseudo-events. It’s no shocker, then, If your memory goes back only as far as last year’s primaries, your brain has probably been saturated with the notion that Hillary Clinton is a bald-faced liar, unworthy of the trust of the American people. We hear it virtually every day, not only from her political enemies, but from news commentators on every channel, who simply cannot resist raising the issue of Hillary’s “untrustworthiness” no-matter how irrelevant it is to the main story they are reporting. We hear it in casual comments and jokes told by neighbors, as if it were an accepted scientific fact that needs no proof. We see its influence on her approval numbers in the polls. “Hillary the liar”—it’s become her “brand” as surely as Anne Boleyn the scheming temptress became her brand.

It wasn’t always. It may come as a surprise to some that despite a lifelong career of public service, scrutiny, and pseudo-scandals, “Hillary the liar” only began to exist after she announced her run for the 2016 presidency. Prior to that she had a 66% approval rating, and the “liar” was virtually uniformly trusted by colleagues on both sides of the aisle and considered one of the most admired women in the world. In fact, when Hillary is actually serving our country—as senator, as secretary of state, and even as first lady (when she wasn’t making provocative comments about cookies and tea)—her approvals ratings have been sky-high.

It’s only when she is “leaning in,” as Sheryl Sanborn has put it—when she is seeking to move beyond what many still believe is a woman’s “proper place”–that her numbers start to fall.

Hillary’s gender crimes, as for Anne Boleyn, may be as significant as partisan politics in creating our ideas about who she is. These go back to her time as first lady, perhaps even before. She wanted an office in the West Wing! She tried to put through a plan for universal health care! She only had one child! She sneered (or so we were led to believe) at those who stayed home to bake cookies and serve tea.

She didn’t seem to care enough about fashion. Unlike her more feminine predecessors Jackie Kennedy and Nancy Reagan, she didn’t know what to do with her hair. These transgressions made her “The Lady Macbeth of Arkansas”, “The Yuppie Wife From Hell”; a New York Post cartoon pictured Bill Clinton as a marionette, with a ferocious Hillary pulling the strings. And, like Anne Boleyn and the witches of fairytales, her appearance was mocked, her flaws exaggerated to the point of deformity. For a time during Bill’s presidency, her husband’s bad behavior won her some sympathy, and her productive but low-key (Carl Bernstein called it “deferential”) performance as a senator earned her praise. But then she began to “lean in” again. When she was a candidate for the Democratic nomination in 2008, the witch imagery was startling. A “hellish housewife” (as Leon Wieseltier called her), “”satan” (Don Imus): “Mommie Dearest,” “the debate dominatrix” and “Mistress Hillary “ (Maureen Dowd.) And it wasn’t just the right wing. Chris Matthews (who in 2016 has thankfully changed his tune) saw her as a creature from the bowels of hell: “witchy” and a “she-devil.”

In 2016, those images persist.

But the most damage has been done by the narrative of “Hillary the Liar.” In part here, the GOP has taken advantage of the conflation of wife and husband: Bill lied—famously and floridly, if in a lawyerly fashion—about his sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky. And that mythical half-man, half-woman beast—“The Clintons” as though they were one person—is such a convenient monster to attack. Bernie Sanders deserves some blame, too. Although never calling Hillary a “liar,” he failed to correct the growing perception among his supporters that being “establishment” was equivalent to being “bought” and “paid for” by Wall Street; it was a short step from there to cries of “corruption”, “cover-up” and “criminal!” And then, too, “Hillary the liar” has kept alive everything the media needs to keep viewers watching: the sense that there is a genuine “horse race” to breathlessly follow, the possibility that more news about her deceptions could break at any time, and an easily digestible, scandalous capsule of characters—“the most unpopular, least trusted candidates in history”– to refer to in their ongoing soap opera/reality show version of the election. At the same time, “Lying Hillary” reassures them that they are offering “balanced” coverage between Trump and Clinton—a paradigm that’s becoming more absurd all the time.

History has a lot to teach us. After Anne Boleyn was executed, many who had judged her guilty began to fret and regret their decision, suspecting the charges were trumped up by Anne’s political enemies. But it was too late — her lifeless head and torso were already stuffed into a chest and spirited away.

And the people? They were left with a fickle, narcissistic, unstable ruler whom no one felt safe with anymore.

But that’s for a different talk.