Chelsea Clinton on Sexism, Social Media and What’s at Risk Under Trump

Chelsea Clinton Power of Women NY
Marco Grob for Variety

Chelsea Clinton is about to tell you some things you may not know about her. In an interview with Variety, she lists the last great movie she saw (“Hidden Figures”), her most surprising job (an internship at a cattle ranch in 1999), and her favorite food growing up (cheddar cheese). But when asked to name one more secret, she pauses, stumped for a moment.

“I am not running for public office,” she finally says, with a smile.

Marco Grob for Variety

The declaration ends months of speculation in the press about her political prospects. Clinton, 37, isn’t following in the footsteps of her parents — Bill and Hillary, in case you’re from Neptune. But she’s still got a full plate as she fights for the causes that are important to her, including the Alliance for a Healthier Generation.

Clinton serves as the vice chair of the Clinton Foundation, the nonprofit that her father started in 2001 to encourage leadership and improve health conditions worldwide. She’s also an adjunct professor in public health at Columbia University. She’s an author (“It’s Your World: Get Informed, Get Inspired & Get Going”). She’s a staunch advocate for child-health issues, and she’s become a vocal opponent of Donald Trump’s policies, expressing her strong views daily on Twitter.

She’s also fostered ties to the entertainment industry. In 2014, she produced a documentary short, “Of Many,” about an imam and a rabbi who find friendship in New York City for the Tribeca Film Festival. That same year, as part of the foundation’s Too Small to Fail initiative, she met with showrunners from “Orange Is the New Black” and “Days of Our Lives,” among other series, to urge them to write characters that promote reading or singing to young children. “Chelsea was key to coming up with the idea,” says Maura Pally, the senior vice president of programs at the Clinton Foundation. “She helped us convene a group to galvanize the Hollywood community.”

Clinton spent much of last year on the campaign trial, stumping for her mom. But she’s now returned full-time to Manhattan, where she lives with her two young kids — Charlotte, 2, and Aidan, 10 months — and her husband, Marc Mezvinsky. She spoke to Variety about how she’s making her voice heard in 2017.

What message do you have for the 66 million people who voted for your mom?
Everything that took you to the polls that day, hopefully takes you to the streets, takes you to social media, takes you into conversations at work, at home, wherever you may be — to talk about what’s really at risk in this moment. Because I think everything is at risk. Our fundamental rights, our fundamental security, are at risk. If you also believe that, raise your voice and help others raise their voices. If we don’t, we’re going to have a country that doesn’t look like the country that we live in today. This is not the time to be silent or stay on the sidelines.

As someone who traveled across the country campaigning, were you surprised at the sexism that still exists?
I’m not surprised. I’m deeply saddened. I think it’s important for us to realize we can’t take progress for granted. Progress has to be continually defended as well as advanced. I think about this multiple times a day. It’s 2017, and we’re fighting again on fights that were settled a few years ago around gay rights, women’s reproductive health; fights to ensure we’re a country that’s always moving toward a more perfect union and not moving toward disunion, disunity, and segregation. We’re really in peril of moving backward. That’s not what I want for my children and their generation.

Given the current political climate, what do you see as your responsibilities? 
I think it’s a question all of us should be asking ourselves every day. I think being a citizen isn’t just what happens when there’s an election. For me, I’m deeply committed to the work of the foundation. I’m committed to my teaching at Columbia. I’m committed to raising my voice in opposition to and affirmation of, when I think it’s important to do so. We know the majority of our country doesn’t support what’s happening. We need to make it clear that we’re not the silent majority.

What’s the mission of the Clinton Foundation?
At its most distilled level, we try to make a positive, impactful, empowering difference in whatever ways we can. It’s the story of any of our programmatic work over time, whether we’re thinking about global health, climate change, the work we’ve done for women and girls. That will continue to be our story in the future. I’m really excited about the next chapter.

There’s been so much confusion as a result of the 2016 campaign.
The strangest part has been the cognitive dissonance that seems to exist between the perception around the foundation for people who don’t know our work, and the actual work. I wish that most of the coverage had been factual, and had paid attention to what GuideStar, Charity Watch, or our tax filings said. I hope now that we’re out of the political season, there will be more focus on the work.

Was it frustrating to see the foundation attacked?
Of course. The lies were absolutely frustrating because the facts didn’t seem sufficient to put them to rest. I think that was so odd about the whole experience — either the truth was insufficient or people just didn’t care. And, really, I am so grateful to everyone who works at the foundation, who just kept doing their work.

Where does your empowerment come from?
At the moment, I find empowerment, inspiration, and, in the best sense, obligation from my children. I didn’t know I could care any more intensely about all the things I already cared about until I became a mom and found out that I could.

What’s the best advice you ever received about balancing your career?
I think the best advice I ever received was from my mom. Maybe it isn’t so much advice, as just the example that she set for me growing up, where I certainly saw her work hard, but I never doubted I was the most important person in her life. She talked to me about what she was doing, how her work connected to our life. And so now, even though my kids are super young, I talk to them about the work I’m doing.

Teaching kids to eat right has been an important issue for you. What were your favorite foods growing up?
My parents did a frustratingly good job, particularly my mom, of ensuring I liked healthy food, because those were really the only foods they let me eat. I wasn’t allowed to have sugar cereal. We only had dessert on the weekends or special occasions. I also loved cheese, so the healthy foods I wasn’t maybe so thrilled about, my mother just melted cheese on top of broccoli until I learned to love broccoli.

How do you get your news?
My husband, Marc, and I still subscribe to old-fashioned newspapers. We get The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and the FT. I also read online. I listen to the BBC World Service every morning.

What about Facebook?
I do some Facebook. But I spend more time on Twitter.

There’s been so much attention recently to your Twitter feed.
I did hundreds of events last year, and hundreds of interviews. And throughout the campaign, when I was asked questions like, “What do you think we have to lose?” I would say, “Everything.” I don’t think my tone has changed or the substance of what I’m saying has changed. I’ve recognized, as a lot of people have, that Twitter is a vehicle for me to share my thoughts.

Do you still like action movies?
I love action movies. Of course I’m going to see “Furious 8.” I’ve already seen “Logan.” I love that Logan is being succeeded by a little girl.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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