How Trump inspired ‘Roseanne’

Roseanne

Originally published in Politico Magazine.

In the first episode of “Roseanne,” the ’90s sitcom that launches a revival run on ABC on Tuesday, we learn that Roseanne Conner and her sister Jackie haven’t spoken in a year, on account of the 2016 election. Roseanne, played by the outspoken comedian Roseanne Barr, voted for Donald Trump. Jackie, played by Laurie Metcalf, did not. “Not only did she vote for the worst person on Earth,” Roseanne says, “but she was a real jerk about it, too.” Jackie shows up at the house wearing a pink pussy hat and a “Nasty Woman” T-shirt. After a tense dinner, the sisters shout and parry; Roseanne explains her vote—“He talked about jobs, Jackie. He said he’d shape things up”—and Jackie tells Roseanne what she was really thinking on Election Day, and whom she really voted for. No one switches sides, but they declare a truce and return to their default relationship, loving but comically strained.

It’s the most overtly political exchange in the episode, and in the nine-episode season overall, says executive producer Bruce Helford. But the way he describes it, it’s also a metaphor for the series and its overarching goals. Barr herself is a vocal Trump supporter, and has talked about how meaningful it felt to place one of TV’s quintessential working-class families in Year Two of the Trump administration. So I asked Helford, who also worked on the original show, about the producers’ intention. Was it to appeal to Trump voters, who might finally see themselves in sympathetic TV characters? To explain the Trump-voter mind-set to coastal elites? To bridge the gap between two sides?

Helford responded by talking about conversations. As ever-present as politics might be in people’s lives today, he notes, we often avoid tough discussions, in real life, with people on the opposite side.

“There are lots of families that are divided. It’s like a civil war,” Helford says, recounting some of his own family gatherings, where people steered away from political topics because they knew things would get too heated or cruel. “What’s really important to ‘Roseanne,’ and for all of us, is to put the whole discourse out in the open,” he says. “We’re hoping we can bring a kind of dialogue back.”

Read the rest here.

 

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Why isn’t Hillary Clinton moving on?

Hillary Politico

Originally published in Politico Magazine.

It’s tough to lose an election for student council, let alone for president. So it made sense that, after November 2016, Hillary Clinton would have spent some time wallowing in the past, howling at the universe with a side of Chardonnay. That’s the frame of mind she described in What Happened, her post-campaign memoir that came out in September, which was more of an angry play-by-play of how she was wronged than a clear-headed self-assessment of the race. Now, five months after the book came out, 15 months after the election, Clinton’s been spotted promoting family friend Lanny Davis’ new book, The Unmaking of the President 2016: How FBI Director James Comey Cost Hillary Clinton the Presidency.

We just passed Groundhog Day on the calendar, but it feels like we’re still living it; we can’t break free from the gnashing and rehashing of the 2016 election. It’s not just the Mueller probe and legitimate questions about Russian influence. It’s the emotional notes of triumph and defeat. President Donald Trump hasn’t dropped the subject, which is as perplexing as anything else Trump has done. But Clinton hasn’t dropped it, either. And at this point, she should.

Read the rest here.

Doritos and a Lady-Friendly Future

Doritos

Originally published in WBUR’s Cognoscenti.

Don’t talk to me right now. I am sad, in the way that only a hormonal woman can be sad, about the fact that Doritos won’t be coming out with a line of “lady-friendly” junk food.

Word of that glorious product spread like wildfire after Indra Nooyi, the (female) CEO of Doritos’ parent company, went on a podcast and describedsome market research that yielded important insights into the feminine mind: Women don’t want to chew too loudly, they don’t want to lick powdered fake-cheese residue from their fingertips, and they want a bag of snacks they can fit into their purse.

Has Nooyi seen a normal woman’s purse? Mine is so large that it could hold a party-size bag of Doritos, a two-liter bottle of soda, and a roast chicken, though it would take me 15 minutes to root around and find them.

Read the rest here.

Dogless and disheartened

dogperson.jpg

Originally published in the Boston Globe Magazine

Several years ago my husband and I did something singularly unwise: Promised our kids, via some combination of Santa Claus and the ancient Hanukkah miracle, that we would acquire a dog in the coming calendar year.

It seemed a simple task: Rescue dogs were all the rage, so we’d find a sad, furry friend in need of a home. But we had conditions, which became complications. We needed a dog who was hypoallergenic (for my benefit), didn’t require too much exercise (modest-sized yard), and was small (little house, a son who was skittish about big dogs). What followed was many months of hope and disappointment.

We started off strong, when my husband spotted Maurice, a 3-year-old Yorkie, on a breed-specific rescue website attached to the interspecies meat market that is Petfinder.com. Maurice was living in Massachusetts with a foster family. I want to say he wore an ascot around his neck in his glamour shot, but I might be remembering wrong.

Read the rest here.

Oh, the places you’ll go when you’re blinded by politics

Melania books

Originally published in WBUR’s Cognoscenti

By now, you’ve likely heard about the Cambridge school librarian and her open letter to Melania Trump. The First Lady had committed the act of sending the school 10 free Dr. Seuss books, in honor of National Read a Book Day. The librarian published a blog post rejecting the gift — it should go to needier schools, she wrote — and trashing Dr. Seuss for good measure, on the grounds of being “a tired and worn ambassador for children’s literature” who is also “a bit of a cliché,” and … wait for it … “steeped in racist propaganda.”

It’s such luscious Cantabridgian self-parody that picking it apart feels almost too easy. As most preschoolers are taught, the proper response, when presented with a gift you don’t want, is “thank you,” with no further commentary. And dismissing Dr. Seuss’s entire body of work as racist? “The Sneetches,” published in 1961, is the foundational text for teaching the perils of prejudice. (If you don’t believe me, ask Barack Obama.)

The Cambridge schools have already taken care of scolding the librarian. Now, we’re left to consider the sadder part of this story: why it’s so easy, these days, for smart people to lose all sense of perspective. Because this librarian is hardly alone. In an age of outrage, tribal warfare, and proudly-proclaimed resistance, we’ve lost something big: The ability to call them as we see them.

Read the rest here.

‘What Happened’? A better question might be: Why write it?

Originally published in the Boston Globe.

One of the enduring critiques of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign was her failure to explain her vision in a cogent, compelling way — to give a reason “why,” beyond a justified feeling that she wanted the job, and could do it well.

This was partly cliché, another piece of the campaign narrative, but it was also true. Even Clinton acknowledges it in her new campaign memoir, “What Happened.” And the same complaint could be made of the book itself: What was the purpose of writing it, beyond the obvious answer of “because people will buy it”?

If you are looking for juicy insider gossip and a scathing assessment of missteps, this is not your book. If you’re looking for a fresh and clear-eyed manifesto about the Democratic Party’s failings, this is also not your book. These books have been written by others, and more will be.

This book offers something else. After the election, you may have been cornered by a relative or stranger or friend, and forced to listen to a detailed political manifesto, a rant at the universe, happy or sad. “What Happened” is that experience — Hillary cornering you in a coffee shop, replaying the game tape, and explaining why she was right.

Read the rest here.

Talking points — and the president we need

Originally published in WBUR’s Cognoscenti

Maybe this is what happens when we elect a president who doesn’t sound like a politician.

Remember that one huge element of Donald Trump’s appeal, back in the 2016 campaign, was his language: The fact that he didn’t use the measured, circumspect tones we’ve come to expect from American politics. The familiar dances around controversial issues. The consultant-grade boilerplate language, designed not to offend.

Trump was designed to offend. That’s how he built himself up from a real estate mogul’s son to a tabloid mainstay and, later, a reality TV star. He learned what he learned and applied it to politics. And for many of his fans — well beyond his birther micro-base — his coarse speech throughout the campaign wasn’t a bug; it was a feature.

As Trump batted at the power structure and insulted everyone in his path, he became an irresistible mainstay of cable TV, winning millions of dollars in free advertising. But his rhetoric also separated him from the pack. For some, like the people marching with tiki torches in Charlottesville last weekend, it was a racist dog whistle. For others, it proved he wasn’t one of those inauthentic, practiced politicians, the products of a Washington establishment that much of the electorate had been conditioned to hate.

Read the rest here.