This is what we do now

Originally published in WBUR’s Cognoscenti


We can start by thinking the worst of people, or we can start by thinking the best of people.

And our instincts, for most of this horrid campaign, have been to think the worst — to see a vote for the other side as a moral failing. My various feeds on Tuesday night, dominated by Northeastern urbanites and media types, were filled with disbelief at the voters who could see the totality of Donald Trump, over the course of 15 months, and still elect him the 45th president.

But if you’re going to ascribe the best motives, instead, to a good portion of Americans, you can think about the presidential election results this way: This race was less a measure of what people wanted than what they were willing to overlook.

Read the rest here


To all the nasty women

Originally published in WBUR’s Cognoscenti

hillary-nasty“Such a nasty woman.”

Toward the end of another long and painful debate, that line from Donald Trump made women sit up on edge, antennae raised. From the start, Trump has built his campaign on epithets and insults, most of them calculated for high entertainment value, like cutesy pet names for a pet you disrespect. “Lyin’ Ted.” “Little Marco.” “Crooked Hillary.”

But this comment felt different — not a winking, scripted pronouncement, but an aside he practically whispered into the microphone as Hillary Clinton spoke, like a secret message to those who understood his code. It was a sign of what happens when Trump is provoked: He reaches down into his id and pulls out something ugly.

And it was immediately taken, by women across America, as a badge of honor.

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The Shimmy


Originally published in WBUR’s Cognoscenti

In 2008, Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign was defined by a teary-eyedmoment in New Hampshire. This time around, it might be the shimmy.

When we look back on Monday night’s Trump-Clinton debate, that’s the image that’s going to stick: Clinton, having listened calmly to long and largely incoherent ramble from her opponent, finally got her turn to speak, and launched with a little involuntary “Whoo! OK!” and a shoulder shake.

Within nanoseconds, the video had been turned into countless GIFs. By morning, it was mocked on Breitbart, with the all-caps headline: “WATCH: HILLARY CLINTON SHIMMY AT PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE GOES ON A FEW SECONDS TOO LONG.”

Did it? Who cares? It was perhaps the first moment in the entire campaign when Clinton looked like she was actually enjoying herself. When she seemed to be thinking, “I’ve got this.”

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In the Boston Globe: The Toll of Duty


On May 25, just shy of 4 p.m., an e-mail showed up in the inbox of every Boston Police Department officer. The subject line was “A Message from the Police Commissioner — Peer Support.” It began with a cryptic reference to “several recent sudden deaths within our ranks. Members that we have lost too soon.”

Officers in the trenches knew precisely what that meant. In the past month, the close community of New England law enforcement had seen several suicides, in different jurisdictions, in quick succession. Official department announcements used euphemistic terms like “sudden passing,” but first responders knew better. They were attuned to clues that came over the scanners: the middle-aged man with the gunshot wound in the neighborhood filled with cops.

Over the past few months and years, police officers have become one of the most talked-about groups of American professionals, courted and cited by politicians, scrutinized for their culture and tactics, honored for their bravery. The public understands that police work is dangerous, subject at times to acute risk and life-altering decisions.

But there’s another persistent threat to the safety of police and first responders, many officers and academics say: their own mental health.

Read the rest of the article, originally published in the Boston Globe, here.


In Politico Magazine: Why my daughter isn’t excited about Hillary

The night Hillary Clinton accepted the Democratic nomination, as TV anchors gushed about the penultimate crack in the highest glass ceiling, I tried to lure my 12-year-old daughter into the living room. I wanted her to witness history. She wanted to play a quiz on her phone. So when I put her to bed, I gave her a personal history lesson.

Yes, I’d had plenty of career opportunities, and she would, too. But her grandmother, born in Hillary’s generation, had to fight to go to college, and her options afterward were limited to jobs considered suitable for a woman. Even for those of us who grew up with wider horizons, a female president often seemed like a fantasy, reserved for TV characters and aspirational Barbie dolls. And now, here on TV was an actual, live woman on the brink.

Clinton’s nomination, long coming as it was, still seemed to sock 40-something women like me with a wallop last week. I was a rarity among my peers in the 1980s, a latchkey kid with a working mom, so my thrill might have been especially acute. But it wasn’t just me: My social feeds are filled with attestations of tears and unexpectedly deep joy.

But to women younger than I am, to say nothing of girls my daughter’s age, the ramp-up to history has been decidedly ho-hum…and in what Gen Xers like me would recognize as a profound irony, enthusiasm for Hillary’s groundbreaking campaign has, in large part, been a casualty of empowerment culture itself.
Read the rest of the article, originally published in Politico, here:



In Cognoscenti: Our national Venn Diagram


We’ve seen mass shootings. We’ve seen terror attacks. We’ve seen hate crimes. Orlando is all of these: one giant Venn Diagram of woe. It’s amazing how many major themes of politics and culture are at play, how many agendas intersect.

But a tragedy can be an opportunity. In the heat of crisis, people come together. They embrace. They give blood. They hold vigils. They talk. They behave in character, and out of character: In between making racist statements about Muslims this week, Donald Trump managed to voice the most full-throated embrace of the LGBT community that we’ve heard from a Republican presidential candidate. It’s hard to know whom he swayed with either argument.

It’s also hard, in this age of Trump, to imagine much good coming from the swirl of rhetoric. But this is the moment to find common ground — and there’s plenty of opportunity, ample space in the intersecting center of our national Venn Diagram. So in the interest of solidarity, a backlash to polarization, an end to the gridlock that has eroded Americans’ confidence in their leaders, here is a proposed, bipartisan shortlist of things we should be able to agree on, post-Orlando:

Read the rest of the article, which originally appeared in Cognoscenti, here.


In the Boston Globe: RIP, old friend


IT WAS a Sony Dream Machine, model ICF-C120, purchased in the fall of 1990, when I was heading off to college. At the time, it was the latest in clock-radio technology: a white cube with digital numbers and analog FM/AM dials. It didn’t do the things future clock radios would do — play a CD, dock an iPod, connect to the cloud.

But it lasted, making its way through dorm rooms, apartments, and houses, surviving so many falls from the nightstand that, by the end, four pieces of duct tape held it together. And then, one day this winter, it took a final spill and its numbers disappeared. All that remained was a lonely green colon, flashing the absence of time.

What do you do when you suffer a loss in 2016? You post a requiem on Facebook. The outpouring surprised me. College friends waxed poetic about their own ’90s-era Dream Machines. A former coworker confessed that she’d retired hers prematurely and never figured out how to work the replacement. We might love the next big thing, but we still marvel at a household appliance that measures its lifespan in decades.

Read the rest of this piece, originally published in the Boston Globe, here.