Fear and loathing in Washington DC as 'Trumporrhoea' takes hold

A strange new condition seems to be afflicting many of her journalist friends in Washington DC, says Lissa Muscatine, Hillary Clinton's long-time friend, former aide and chief speech writer.

"One friend's doctor jokingly called it Trumporrhoea - they [the reporters] are all exhausted, coming down with insomnia, gastrointestinal disorders, these physiological reactions - it's not just the one thing that happens in a day, it's five things a day, every time you look up there is another controversy or tweet that has gone out, some other insult or some other regulation that's been overturned - it's hard for people in other countries to fully grasp just how insane it is."

Muscatine, 62, is a core member of what's known in the United States as "Hillaryland'', a term originally coined to describe the dedicated group of women staffers who moved into the White House with Hillary after husband Bill first won the presidency.

It will also be the title of Muscatine's recently commissioned first book, news of which broke in the US this week.

Her publishers are promising it will be "the 25-year journey of Hillary and her closest advisers at the intersection of politics and gender dynamics".

Clinton was a type of First Lady America had never seen before, says Muscatine, who's visiting Melbourne and Sydney as a guest of Rhodes Scholarships Australia to mark the 40th anniversary of women becoming eligible for the renowned academic award.

Muscatine herself was in that first intake of female Rhodes scholars in 1977, later becoming a Washington-based journalist before applying to Bill Clinton's speechwriter for a job in 1992.

She started off writing for both Clintons before swinging in behind Hillary full-time.

"We were an unprecedented group of women in that White House," she recalls. "She was the first First Lady to have her own full office in the West Wing, to have a staff as large and policy-oriented as hers."

Muscatine has walked alongside Clinton for much of the 25 years since, collaborating on her 2003 memoir, writing speeches for her when she became secretary of state under Barack Obama, and becoming senior adviser on her unsuccessful and bitterly fought bid to win the 2008 Democratic Presidential nomination.

As Clinton's primary speechwriter, she experienced a kind of "mind meld: you really do have to have an intuitive sense of the person's voice...how she thought, how she would make a case."

The loss to Trump in 2016 was personally devastating, says Muscatine.

"For me, it was the worst political event of my lifetime," she says.

"Its just kind of disgraceful that somebody could assume the presidency with so little regard for our foundational democratic institutions, or the constitutional requirements of the office he holds as well as the offices around him, the separation of powers, the role of the press, the role of the intelligence community, the role of the judiciary. And he has done absolutely nothing to heal this immense and raw divide that opened up in our country, a divide he played on by sowing fear in people of other people."

Like her former boss, Muscatine has felt the hot breath of far-right conspiracy theorists breathing down her neck, courtesy of the bizarre saga that became known as pizzagate.

Fuelled by social media and pushed along by the likes of pugilistic far-right radio host Alex Jones, rumours started circulating that Clinton and her associates had been involved in a murderous child sex ring, supposedly operating from underground chambers beneath a pizza joint in Washington DC called Comet Ping Pong.

Muscatine and her husband, former Washington Post journalist Bradley Graham, got drawn into the chaos by virtue of co-owning a famous Washington cultural landmark, a bookstore called Politics and Prose, which was on the same block as Comet Ping Pong.

When a gunman showed up one day to "free the children" supposedly held captive beneath the restaurant and nearby stores, "the whole block went into meltdown", she says.

"There were SWAT teams rushing down the sidewalk, it was really unnerving.

"I personally got trolled, 'how many children have you and Hillary raped today', that kind of thing. We had to take extra security precautions, meet with the chief of police, the FBI and others."

The silver lining has been how strongly their local community has since mobilised in support of the bookstore and other shops along the strip. Politics and Prose has become a kind of resistance headquarters, she says, hosting among other events a series of "teach-ins" on issues like migrants' rights, women's rights and climate change, modelled on the famous civil rights teach-in movement of the 1960s.

"Since the election, we have never felt that our mission is as important as it is now" Muscatine says.

Clinton has taken the 2016 defeat in her stride, better than many of her close supporters, according to her former staffer.

"But then she has always been this extraordinarily resilient person, who has this capacity to power through and move on."

"Could she have run a better race? Yes, no doubt about it. Did she misread the electorate in certain important ways? Yes. But Trump turned out to be a perfect vessel for this very fervent nationalist angry feeling that's overtaken a certain segment of our country ... Everybody misread these populist, nationalist fear-filled movements that have been taking place around the world. And our country was no exception."

Even after many years of close association, Muscatine continues to be fascinated by Clinton, whom she describes as a "kaleidoscope of a person".

"Like all great and compelling people, she is not easy to label," Muscatine says. "It's a disservice to women who are smart, strong, ambitious and brilliant to oversimplify them."

This story Fear and loathing in Washington DC as 'Trumporrhoea' takes hold first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.