The Arts and Politics | Bill Clinton

Show up. Two simple words with a powerful message were the crux during A Conversation with Bill Clinton at the Auditorium Theatre this past week.

The 42nd president visited Chicago on his book tour promoting The President Is Missing, a novel co-authored with renowned thriller writer James Patterson. Amid discussions of current events and achievements, Bob Barnett moderatored a wonderful evening filled with themes revolving around the necessity for respect and understanding.

The President Is Missing confronts a threat so huge that it jeopardizes not just Pennsylvania Avenue and Wall Street, but all of America. Uncertainty and fear grip the nation. There are whispers of cyberterror and espionage and a traitor in the Cabinet. Even the President himself becomes a suspect, and then he disappears from public view . . . Set over the course of three days, The President Is Missing sheds a stunning light upon the inner workings and vulnerabilities of our nation.

“Sometimes fiction is more accurate than what’s going on,” stated Clinton. This poignant sentence hits home for many bookworms, like myself, who see themes and symbolism from our own world mimicking the worlds of the page. James Patterson is a world’s bestselling author, known for many endearing fictional characters and series. Patterson no doubt uses careful syntax and plot to intertwine details on political attributes and information that only a former Commander-in-Chief could know.

Literature as a platform or response in politics has been used for years from our nation’s founding and back to Machiavelli's The Prince. This refreshing novel not only entertains, but raises issues and brings social awareness without missing a beat. The novel contains the inclusion of working women driving leadership roles. It is these small stylized choices that are charged with the blatant current condition regarding the role of women and female identifying voices around the country. There are women in powerful roles, but also, it brings to light perhaps the idea behind the culture with the MeToo movement calling for an end to sexual violence and Time’s Up demanding an end to sexual harassment. The decision to include strong female characters, in particular a leading character, is dynamic and compelling. Clinton goes on to explain his favorite character to develop was the antagonist due to their fierce complexity. The antagonist’s childhood is reflected in the decisions made and ultimately drives the story’s course. The ripple effect, the law of action/reaction, or whatever you want to call it; this instructive character is an example that humanity is needed when interacting with one another.

Throughout the evening, President Clinton and Mr. Barnett discussed the process and search the project entailed. Clinton stressed the main goal for both Patterson and himself was to come together to tell a tale that is realistic and rewarding. The admiration and respect Clinton has for Patterson is evident and their collaboration illustrates the arts being utilized to inform and reflect upon the society we live in today. In fact, President George W. Bush published a collection of oil paintings and stories about military veterans entitled Portraits of Courage: A Commander in Chief's Tribute to America's Warriors. A post-presidency past-time became an endearing hommage and voice to those who served our country.

As moderator, Barnett balanced well illustrating the key drawing points in the new book, while maintaining a politically charged and passionate atmosphere. Clinton’s key points included the reliance on technology with the easily potential abuse, cyber security and moreover the role of being president. He stressed that being president is a JOB, first and foremost. Being criticized is part of the job and you only should be angry on behalf of the American people. Clinton explains how everyone is faced with hard decisions to make; the president just is under a microscope when he makes them. Further, Clinton expands on the idea that the president has to do three things: do what he promises to do, deal with the incoming fire, and look around the corner. It’s a past, present and future position that requires careful attention and commitment.

Obviously a major focus was on foreign policy, relationships and border control. How does one balance the political and the right thing? Simply put “good policy”. Shifting into the extremely poignant border control and Trump’s Family Separation Policy that headlined this past week and finally hit a head. “Between October 1, 2017 and May 31, 2018, at least 2,700 children have been split from their parents. 1,995 of them were separated over the last six weeks of that window — April 18 to May 31 — indicating that at present, an average of 45 children are being taken from their parents each day” writes Dara Lind for Today June 27th, 2018, a federal judge orders reunification of parents and children, end to most family separations at the border according to CNN. Clinton did not hold back in expressing child separation is just plain immoral. “It’s not required by law. It’s just wrong… Children should NOT be bargaining chips”. Deeping the connection further between fiction and reality, Clinton stressed how the novel highlights how diversity has extreme benefits. Diverse groups of people far out perform and make more progress than homogeneous groups.

In closing, moderator Bob Burnett read a quote from the book.

“Our democracy cannot survive its current downward drift into tribalism, extremism, and seething resentment. Today it’s “us versus them” in America. Politics is little more than blood sport. As a result, our willingness to believe the worst about everyone outside our own bubble is growing, and our ability to solve problems and seize opportunities is shrinking. We have to do better. We have honest differences. We need vigorous debates. Healthy skepticism is good. It saves us from being too naive or too cynical. But it is impossible to preserve democracy when the well of trust runs completely dry.”

Yet, how do we move forward when the well of trust runs completely dry? Clinton stressed what we need to do as a country in today’s turbulent climate is to ask for transparency from our government and for politicians need to see each other as people again. Show up. Not only in the voter’s booths at midterm elections and the like, but moreover as individuals that care about showing one another respect. This book stands as an enthralling example of where we are currently in America’s history and the utterly shocking realizations that we need to do more. We as a people need to be more. Respect everyone, find the truth, build humanity, and show up.

The President is Missing is currently available on Amazon, Audible, Barnes & Noble, Target, and more. To order or learn more, please visit
To learn more about James Patterson, please visit
To learn more about Bill Clinton, please visit


Mary Crylen is a photographer and writer based in Chicago. She is an alum of Southern Illinois University of Carbondale with dual degrees in English and Photography. She possesses a sincere passion for the arts and believes zeal shows through work. Follow her on Twitter!