How to raise a Trump

Originally published in the Boston Globe.

If you’re obsessed with the news cycle and inclined toward anxiety, one way to get through this strange time in American history is to see it as just that: another chapter in a long national story, full of novelistic characters with rich back stories and complex motivations.

Peel away the politics and unfounded innuendo from “Fire and Fury,” Michael Wolff’s book about the first months of the Trump administration, and that’s what you get: a family saga about a colorful band of social climbing publicity hounds who never expected to actually be handed global power, and don’t really know what to do with it.

These same characters are the focus of “Born Trump,” the new family biography by Vanity Fair senior reporter Emily Jane Fox. But unlike “Fire and Fury,” this book is not concerned with policy positions, or really about government at all. It starts on the day of Trump’s inauguration, then promptly moves backward in time to become an encyclopedic retelling of pre-2016 Trump family drama (largely featuring the children, along with Jared Kushner), for those of us who weren’t following the New York gossip press for all of those decades.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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The actress who rethought gender in the workplace

MTM

Originally published in Politico Magazine

To understand the complex dynamics of gender and equality in the workplace, you could read academic treatises, review statistics, absorb a million think pieces in a million magazines.

Or you could watch the 49th episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

In The Good-Time News, which first aired in September 1972, Mary Richards—the only female associate producer in a Minneapolis TV newsroom—discovers that her male predecessor made $50 more per week than she is paid. Incensed, Mary storms into the office of her boss, Lou Grant, but suddenly loses her nerve. She fumbles through her complaint, finally spits it out, and finds Grant genuinely flummoxed by her anger. Why was this guy paid better than she? “Because he was a man,” Grant says, matter-of-factly.

Some women’s rights advocates have complained that Mary Richards, the working woman Moore played for seven influential seasons on CBS, was too passive and congenial to be a true feminist icon. But it was those contours of her personality—the authentic sense that she was grasping for the best way to assert herself in a man’s world—that made these scenes so meaningful. It’s easy to craft righteous speeches in your head or, these days, to pour out earnest, abstract diatribes on Twitter. It’s harder to navigate real-world relationships, to assert yourself in the thicket of power, hierarchy and respect. So it is in The Good-Time News: Grant’s sexism isn’t hostile so much as perfunctory. (“He had a family to support. You don’t,” is his further explanation of the pay disparity.) Richards truly likes him—and loves her job. Later in the episode, she is not afraid to contradict Grant in front of his boss. And in the end, out of respect, he gives her the raise.

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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.

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Why Matt Lauer’s firing feels different

Matt Lauer.jpg

Originally published in Politico Magazine

Even if you weren’t a faithful viewer of NBC’s “Today”—even if you were inclined to feel a little cynical about the whole morning TV enterprise—the news of Matt Lauer’s termination hit like an earthquake. It’s not just that another prominent media name wound up on the list of men behaving badly. It was this guy, who had come to symbolize morning TV for the past 20 years. This guy, reminding us that the friendly, dad-like figure onscreen at dawn was problematic, possibly sinister, impossibly flawed.

Lauer was fired on Tuesday over an allegation of sexual misconduct at NBC. Afterward, Variety published an account of several more accusations against Lauer, including that he gifted a sex toy to a colleague, and dropped his pants in front of another. It was a shock. Rumors had swirled around Lauer for years. His personal life was not spotless. But he’d endured as one of TV’s best-known, best-paid anchors, in part because his public persona was so intertwined with the gauzy mood of “Today.” NBC’s on-again, off-again ratings giant remains the apotheosis of the morning show, setting the tone for the genre across the TV dial long before Lauer occupied a seat on the couch. It was hard to imagine that the morning show’s host might be any less pleasant than his cheerful surroundings.

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Why won’t TV show people who aren’t rich?

The Middle

Originally published in Politico Magazine

This year marks the final season of what might be the most underappreciated sitcom on TV, ABC’s “The Middle.” It’s a single-camera show about an Indiana family—the title refers to its characters’ Middle-American, middle-class existence—and unlike the edgy comedies and tear-jerker dramas that dominate awards time, its humor is unapologetically middlebrow. But “The Middle” is charming, appealing and funny, in no small part because it has another distinction: It’s one of a precious few shows on TV today that focuses, consistently and honestly, on economic anxiety.

If there were ever a time to double down on stories of the American middle-class struggle, this is it. We’re in the midst of a new Gilded Age, with soaring inequality and stagnant wages—the phenomena that helped make Donald Trump president. We’re also enjoying a golden age of TV, with more networks and platforms creating more scripted shows than ever. Plenty of smart, acclaimed series have tackled complex social themes with sophistication and sensitivity—think “The Wire” for the urban drug war; “Mad Men” for gender; “Atlanta,” “Black-ish” and “Insecure” for race; “Master of None” for the Muslim-American experience. Even “Game of Thrones” teaches real-world lessons about politics and power. At its best, television holds up a mirror to society and helps us better understand who we are. So the dearth of shows that focus on financial insecurity feels especially glaring.

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The political power of outsider women

 

JackieKatz

Originally published in the Boston Globe Magazine

A YEAR AGO, Jackie Katz wouldn’t have called herself a political person. She voted. She followed the news. But the Wellesley High School history teacher, 34, says she “was one of those people who was disillusioned about politics. Because this system feels broken and corrupt.”

Then came November 8, 2016 — and Katz, flush with frustration at the results, found herself on an unlikely new trajectory. In January, she attended the Women’s March in Washington, D.C., then answered the call to action to meet in “huddles” with like-minded people, keeping the movement alive. And over the course of those meetings and venting sessions, she came to realize that the skills she had honed as a teacher, from speaking in public to encouraging civil debate, could make her a viable politician.

Now Katz is running as a Democrat for the Norfolk, Bristol, and Middlesex state Senate seat held by Republican Richard Ross, making the rounds of picnics and meetings when not working full time — all while pregnant with her first child. Politics still feels broken, she says, but “what this election triggered in me was ‘Well, you have to do something to change it.’ ”

The 2016 presidential race will go down in history for many things, and one of them is unfulfilled promise for women in politics. But in no small part because of Donald Trump’s surprising victory, 2017 and 2018 are shaping up as years to watch. A survey this year by American University, Loyola Marymount University, and Politico found that a quarter of Democratic women who are now considering running for office were directly motivated by Trump.

How many of those women will actually appear on a ballot, the report notes, is unclear. But frustration with Trump winds through the personal stories of many newcomer candidates in Massachusetts, seeking offices in bodies that range from the Boston City Council to the Legislature (which is 26 percent female, while women make up 51.5 percent of the state population) to Congress.

 

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