I Watched ‘Impeachment: American Crime Story’ — And This Is What I Learned
An in-depth analysis and opinion on the series about the famous and controversial affair between Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky.
« At the age of 22, I fell in love with my boss, and at the age of 24, I learned the consequences. » — this is how Monica Lewinsky describes her experience and the state affair her name became in January 1998, during her iconic and courageous TED talk entitled “The Price of Shame” in 2015. And I must say that I agree with her.
Like many people around the world, I watched the long-awaited third season of the anthology series ‘American Crime Story’, titled ‘Impeachment’ and about the very, very famous — and controversial — fatal affair between former President Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, and to say that I didn’t like it would be a big lie because I, in fact, absolutely loved it. I’m still trying to recover from it, to be quite honest, as the ride was so brutal and sensational.
This third season offers viewers a total — and brutal, because they, expecting to watch a simple TV show, find themselves embarked on a thrilling journey in which they have to try to hold on to every little thing to avoid falling — immersion in the 1990s and, especially, at the heart of the Clinton-Lewinsky affair. And what the show succeeds in doing perfectly, is that it shows us the White House in a very intimate way, because we venture behind its white walls, its interior is intimate, whereas in the majority of the series — and only series — of this period (1990s), the White House is shown as being the supreme place of democracy, there are constantly people moving around, bustling about. But here, that’s not the case. And that’s what, I think, is the monumental power of this show.
And the fact that Monica Lewinsky, herself, is the co-producer of the season makes it even more powerful and important — because it shows that she is finally taking her story into her own hands, telling her own side of the story, and is no longer ashamed more than 20 years after the events, even though she had to watch it with a therapist. George Sand has a beautiful quote that underlines all this : « Time does not numb great sorrows, but it dulls them. »
What’s fantastic and impressive about ‘Impeachment’, and I’ve said this before, is that it gives us a total immersion of what was going on behind the doors and walls of the White House — the Kathleen Willey-Bill Clinton affair is a perfect example. In doing so, it’s worth noting that Monica places the women who were tainted by the scandal and by the White House (the Clintons) in the foreground, and these women are numerous. It must be said that Americans are fond of this kind of affair — just like us, the prudish population of the other side of the Atlantic — , especially since the Watergate, no scandal of this kind has ever shaken and excited the entire nation so deeply — and they, to quote the French daily Marianne (author’s note : the article is in french), « verge on a stroke » when they learn that their « commander-in-chief is having an affair with a [former] student inside the Oval Office. »
The series teaches us that what happened between Monica and Bill was a simple torrid affair (in a way), a dangerous affair carried by the fatal naivety of the young woman, at the time. Because when you experience a relationship of this kind, you have to take into consideration the importance of not telling anyone — anyone at all. And with all this, we realize that Monica was the real and only protagonist of the scandal, and that Bill was, in the end, just a piece of furniture.
Now, can we say that Monica was used by the American power, by the White House ? Yes, I want to say, in the sense that she was used by Bill for his own pleasure. Of course, at that time, she showed enormous stupidity — he made her believe in a romance, in a fake love, he was just playing with her. I’m not portraying Monica Lewinsky as a total victim, no, especially as she never considered herself to be one, but tell me : if, one day, the most powerful man in the world takes an interest in you, shows you that he wants you, aren’t you going to start an affair with him straight away ? Be honest — because I’d be the first one to jump in, and I mean it.
The two-year spiral in which Monica and Bill were trapped was devastating because, as much as Bill was just having fun, Monica paid a heavy price — and not just for her immense naivety. What Bill did with Monica was an abuse of power. And as Newsweek’s Michael Isikoff so aptly put it, abuse of power, at that time, with Clinton, rhymes with sex — by taking advantage of the naivety of a 22-year-old intern, fresh out of college, he had sex. The plan goes like this :
Bill made the choice to get close to an intern who had — technically, at first, long before she started her internship — nothing to ask for except to do her internship quietly in her corner— he was reckless, it hurt Monica who got transferred to the Pentagon, Bill promised her she would return to the White House, Bill owed her a job, it never happened, her life was destroyed and it took her many, many years to rebuild herself— and Bill had the nerve (for lack of a better term) to get away with it, it was disastrous for Monica professionally, mentally and personally.
And through the series, we realize — and this is frightening — that the “relationship” between Bill and Monica — filled with manipulation, fake promises, lies, distrust — was unhealthy.
Bill is not the least bit ashamed of his behaviour — and not just for the Lewinsky affair — the number of women, young waitresses, staffers and others he (surely) had to grope over the years must be significant. Even Nixon, to quote Ann Coulter in the show, was ashamed of the Watergate scandal. The position of President, in those days, commanded respect, value, and principles. Clinton, through these affairs, has sullied it, and this may indicate that any loony, corrupt, or clown can push through the doors of the White House. Few people deserve to enter it, to reside there, let alone occupy the Oval Office — when Bill Clinton entered it, he asked the first vulnerable girl to, excuse me but that’s the truth, suck his dick : this is a testament to 1) the kind of person he is, 2) how undignified he is, unlike his predecessors.
And to top it all off, the guarantor of the American institutions, in 1998, dared to lie under oath and got away with it — I’m telling you : the Rule of law, from that moment on, is a thing of the past.
During his presidency, Bill Clinton liked to present himself as a defender of women, of their rights and their values — but what he did to Monica Lewinsky, Paula Jones and Juanita Broaddrick (to name but a few) proves the exact opposite. The Clintons destroy anyone who might damage their reputation and themselves. And that is a fact to be noted.
But apart from Bill Clinton, Monica Lewinsky was also used by Linda Tripp. This ex-White House staffer, offended by being dismissed from it, made the 22-year-old intern her ultimate instrument of revenge, to the point of contributing to her downfall. Linda, to quote the French daily Marianne once again, embodies « the dark side of the self-proclaimed ‘greatest democracy in the world’, ready to deviate from its principles to satisfy its resentments. »
She made Monica believe that she was her friend, that she could trust her to have her in her pocket and manipulate her, in a way, she used her out of pure selfishness. And she knew, from the moment she started recording Monica without her knowledge, that by doing what she was doing, it was not going to end well, in any way — perhaps she didn’t imagine that it was going to result in a proper state affair ? I can’t answer that. But what is certain is that the real villain in this whole story is Linda Tripp — even though Bill got off without any (real) trouble and Monica showed, once again, terrible naivety and stupidity.
Yes, she thought Linda was her friend and that she could trust her, tell her everything as friends who share their life’s problems. But in everything, there are things that cannot be said and must be kept to oneself — in this case, her dangerous affair with the President. You don’t tell anyone about this kind of thing, you never know what people are capable of and even those who are close to you.
In the end, can we say that the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal is bigger than the Watergate scandal ? I don’t know, I don’t think so — but I would say it’s on the same level. This story, which is full of sex, lies and betrayal, has been perfectly condensed and told in only 10 episodes by Ryan Murphy and Monica Lewinsky.
The work that has been done is simply phenomenal and I greatly admire the actors’ performance, who were great and who perfectly knew how to captivate the viewers in their roles : I’m thinking, especially, of Clive Owen as Bill Clinton, Edie Falco as Hillary Clinton, Beanie Feldstein as Monica, or — and this is my favourite — Elizabeth Reaser (yes, yes : Esmee from Twilight!) as Kathleen Willey.
Episode 7’s title, « The Assassination of Monica Lewinsky », is aptly named, as she was, in fact, the victim of an assassination. I greatly admire the woman for what she has become and I’m not at all ashamed to say that she is one of the women I most admire in the world and would like to be. There are, of course, books I would like to read and documentaries I would like to watch about the scandal, and I’m sure I’m not the only one — but what we can do now is leave the woman alone and admire her for the way she has stood up and not given up.