Impeachment: American Crime Story
We revisit former President Bill Clinton’s impeachment from the point of view of Monica Lewinsky (Beanie Feldstein of Booksmart). This Hulu mini-series begins with a naive twenty-two years old intern’s infatuation with a charismatic president.
There are more than several awful and illegal actions taken against Monica: interrogation in a hotel room by the FBI without legal counsel present; threats by Bill Clinton’s staff; media “slut-shaming” for her testimony–all make Impeachment a compelling narrative presenting facts and corrupt behavior not well-known .
Monica’s betrayal by Linda Tripp (an unrecognizable Sarah Paulson), a fellow employee she trusted, is the focus of the drama. There are a number of detailed scenes about the well-known recording of private telephone conversations between the two women. The fiftyish Linda Tripp, in spite of revealing lurid sexual details between Bill and Monica, maintains that her mission is to save Monica from a sexual predator and from humiliation. Linda denies any self-interest in a book deal she is discussing with a literary agent.
Ken Starr, Special Prosecutor, in alliance with a the vast right-wing conspiracy that sought to take down Clinton (Clive Owen), is seen in his “war room” with Ann Coulter, Brett Kavanaugh, and in communication with Matt Drudge of the Drudge Report (which later morphs into the Breitbart Report and Steve Bannon). They all willingly accept Lewinsky as collateral damage for going after Bill.
We also witness the collateral damage in a scene where Bill Clinton has to read about his affair online, along with the rest of the world. Daughter Chelsea is shown reading about her dad’s sexual proclivities while doing homework in Stanford University’s undergraduate library. Ann Coulter is gleeful with every revealing prurient detail. And Marcia Lewinsky (Mira Sorvino), Monica’s mother, warns her ex-husband (Monica’s dad), not to read it. Ken Starr has possibly overloaded the internet with release of his report for an avidly obsessed public thirsting for every detail, resulting in a country-wide internet crash.
Two months after Starr releases his report, the House Judiciary Committee uploads all of the Tripp audio tapes. Nevertheless, Hillary Clinton’s (Edie Falco) approval rating soars, Bill’s presidency holds on to popular support, and Monica receives America’s sympathies from some, but also shame and scorn from others. But the needle doesn’t budge on Linda Tripp, who faces prosecution for illegal wiretapping.
Throughout Impeachment Linda Tripp convinces herself that she is protecting Lewinsky, even though she is unable to see the wounds she is inflicting on her:
“I know it looks horrible. I know it looks like a betrayal — but she was his victim,” Linda Tripp adamantly claims during an interview. “I just wish that she could see that I saved her.”
Impeachment doesn’t update us on the Clintons, Lewinsky, Starr or any of the other main agents in this drama. However, as we fast forward to the #MeToo movement, there is a willingness to believe women’s testimony and understand what it costs for a woman to give her account of sexual assault. In Impeachment the national scandal of adultery in the Oval Office simply doesn’t register since the Trump era. The headlines of the ’90s and the Clintons almost seem quaint. The acts of the powerful perpetrated on the powerless never are.
I thought that this series was breathtaking in its depiction of women’s invisibility: Hillary, Monica, Linda Tripp and all the other women who suffer from feeling unseen and unheard. The pain still lingers–a definite motivation for Tripp who felt she had been overlooked for a deserved promotion, Monica for wanting her affection for Bill to be acknowledged by him and perhaps most of all, Hillary, for an unworthy alliance from which she could or would never extricate herself.