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Hillary is Hermione


Sometime over the past few weeks, after the twentieth or twenty-first media expert complained about how careful and studied Hillary Clinton is, how she plans and researches everything, and she’s so boring compared to Trump’s constant impulsiveness, I started to think that Hillary is Hermione, from the Harry Potter books, all grown up.

I was a Hermione as a kid: the smartest girl in the class, asking for extra homework, and hated for it. We have a lot of nasty, derogatory terms for kids who study a lot: grind, swot, egghead, drudge, etc. My classmates wanted less homework and more recess. I found recess, and the freedom to make endless social mistakes, unbearable. Even J.K. Rowling, clearly a Hermione herself, did not believe the world was ready for a smart girl as a protagonist. She guessed, and she was right, that people would prefer to believe that Harry, a boy, and an average student who never tried very hard, was the ultimate hero.

Even when Bill Clinton told their love story, on Tuesday night at the Democratic National Convention, he focused on Hillary’s oversized glasses and too-big hair, her intelligence and her off putting attitude, instead of her beauty. He was the cool kid, and she was the swot. He didn’t want to work any harder than he had to, and she spent summers volunteering to help those less fortunate. He was more Ron Weasley than Harry Potter, the way he tells it, just without the red hair.

On Monday night, on The Late Show, Steven Colbert finally trotted out a cartoon version of Hillary Clinton to match the cartoon Trump he’s had on staff for months. And his team’s guiding principle in how to create that character seemed to be to assume that she was on the autism spectrum. They may have meant to say that she was two-faced and out of touch, but they managed to portray her as unable to read other people’s emotions, and robotic in her portrayal of her own emotions. It’s an interesting idea. Hillary clearly has had issues fitting in with her peers. She never quite gets the joke. She tries very hard to get social things right and always gets something wrong.

Bill Clinton could be forgiven for having affairs, but Hillary could not be forgiven for having thick ankles, or “cankles.” And then when she wore pants suits to cover those offending ankles, she was criticized for her outfits. She could never find the right hair-do to avoid criticism, or the right clothes, or the right words. And people wonder why she is so private. No, they call it secretive, not private. A man could be private and reserved, but Hillary is secretive and suspicious. A man who thinks he’s qualified to be president is called ambitious and confident. Hillary, for the sin of thinking that she can be a good president, is considered power hungry and out for herself.

Bill Clinton is Teflon. He has had real, proven, character issues and yet people still love him and believe in him. And yet all of his flaws and mistakes stick to Hillary like she’s fly paper. Instead of believing that Hillary loves her husband despite his flaws, people believe that she married him for political gain, and remains married to him for political gain, despite the fact that she would have actually gotten a lot more public praise for divorcing him instead of sticking with him through the Lewinsky scandal. And by the way, why do we call it the Monica Lewinsky scandal and not the Bill Clinton’s penis scandal?

My sense is that, with her awkward social skills, someone like Bill Clinton offers a relief. He does the reaching out. He teaches her how to fit in better; he helps her to relax. No wonder she chose Tim Kaine as a running mate – he does the exact same thing.         But if I had any doubts about Hillary Clinton’s heart, watching Chelsea Clinton’s speech on Thursday night at the Democratic National Convention squashed them. Chelsea loves her Mom, and she is, clearly, deeply loved by her mother.

The question is, can we as a country tolerate a president who is smarter than she is cool? Can we tolerate having a president who has to work at being socially confident? Because there’s no question that she will work her ass off to get things done, and that she has the brain power to do the job. But she’s not Obama, with his soaring rhetoric and self-confidence, and she’s not folksy like Bill or like George W. Bush. Hillary is more like the female version of George H.W. Bush: very serious, studied, hardworking and bright, stiff and careful.

Cricket and Butterfly have not been thrilled with all of the television coverage of the conventions, if only because it keeps them up too late at night. Though, Cricket seemed to be intrigued by Barack Obama’s speech on Wednesday night. She was certain she heard him say “go,” or “out,” or “pee.” She can pick these sounds out of any speech, or just imagine them. But he was talking during prime pee trip time, so that could explain her confusion. Butterfly slept through all of it. She has no interest in speeches or elections or conflict, unless the stress leads me into the kitchen for snacks, and then she’s wide awake and eager to participate. We all have our priorities.


“Did he say ‘pee’?”


Butterfly didn’t hear a thing.


Until there were snacks.

By the way, Butterfly, if she had a chance would be a loyal Hufflepuff, through and through, and Cricket would feel comfortable in Ravenclaw, because she’s very bright, but not especially brave. I’d like to believe that I could be in Gryffindor, like Hermione, and like Hillary, being brave even when it’s the hardest thing to do.

I’m working on it.


Loyal Butterfly likes to keep Platypus company when he’s on edge.


“I do have claws, Mommy. You will see them very soon.”

The Sweet Relief of Jon Stewart


This has been a rough year for me. Just when Donald Trump took over my television set last summer, Jon Stewart left The Daily Show for parts unknown (or to help his wife rescue animals on their family farm, whatever). I’ve tried to take comfort in Samantha Bee (Full Frontal), Larry Wilmore (The Nightly Show), and Trevor Noah (The Daily Show). I’ve come the closest to finding sustenance with the one-two punch of Rachel Maddow’s comprehensive historical take on the news on MSNBC, and Steven Colbert’s giddy musical review of the news on The Late Show. But no one filled that Jon Stewart void.


Butterfly sought comfort from Duckie.


Cricket went for the food.

I’ve watched this year as the Republicans moved from disbelief, to disgust, to acceptance, to an embrace of the post-factual Trumpian world view that we witnessed at the Republican National Convention this past week. Jon Stewart showed up Monday night on The Late Show, as promised, but only to do spit takes and reintroduce Colbert’s alter ego from The Colbert Report. It was not enough.

I watched this week as the media refused to blame Melania Trump for plagiarizing Michelle Obama’s 2008 speech, as if she is a child. But, she speaks, what, five languages, became successful on her own long before meeting Trump, and is, in fact, a forty-six year old adult woman. If Michelle Obama had been caught plagiarizing, would her speechwriter have been blamed? Or would we assume that she is an intelligent human being who can tell the difference between her own words and someone else’s? I wonder if the media think that Melania is a moron because she was a professional model, or because she’s a non-native English speaker, or if it’s because she chose to marry Donald Trump, and they assume that any truly intelligent woman would know better.

Then I watched the media fawn over Trump’s odd waxwork children, none of whom seem to be able to breathe outside of Trump’s sphere. All three of the older children work for their father, and Tiffany seems to be on her way into the organization too, now that she has been indoctrinated and proven her loyalty. How many families do you know where all of the children go into the family business, and no one goes off in another direction? Is it not allowed in this family?

But I almost lost my mind when, after Ivanka gave a lovely speech on Thursday night, seemingly advocating for Hillary Clinton’s and Bernie Sanders’ policies and pretending that her father is just a lovely man, Trump came out and patted her butt with both hands. That just broke me.

People have been joking about his inappropriately sexual relationship with Ivanka for a long time, ever since some disturbing pictures surfaced of her as a very young model sitting in seductive poses on her father’s lap. Trevor Noah on The Daily Show, has been making jokes all year about Trump wanting to have sex with Ivanka. There are interview clips where he talks about her sexy body, and how he would date her if she weren’t his daughter. Ivanka sits there awkwardly in these interviews, as if she isn’t taking it seriously and is just embarrassed by the silly things her father says. I took her lead and didn’t take it very seriously, either. I thought the jokes were in bad taste, actually, and that the things Trump said were just more evidence of his “word salad” problem. But when, on National television, in front of the world, in response to the air kisses she gave him from what looked like a foot away, he grabbed her ass, it all came together. This is an incest family.

In her speech, Ivanka presented her idealized father – who bears very little similarity to her actual father – and she made it clear that she advocates political beliefs that are not in concert with the Republican Party. Either she is delusional about who her father is (which would be a sign of a deeply dissociative state, common among incest survivors), and/or, she was giving a public, lady-like fuck you to that man.

People have talked about how Trump is a dictator and a narcissist and a sociopath, but all week the media have been saying that he can’t be such a bad guy with such wonderful children. Ivanka is his “closest ally and confidant,” and she is the “princess,” (according to one of her brothers), and she is going to be the “real first lady.” But Trump reminded her, in front of everyone, that he can do whatever he wants to her and no one will stop him. He owns her.

How is this man being lauded and supported by a political party that supposedly believes in Christian values? I can’t imagine what kind of moral convolutions Paul Ryan (Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives) must be going through to make this seem okay.

I did not watch the seventy-five minute speech Donald Trump went on to give at the Republican convention that night. I took the dogs out for as long a walk as possible, checked Facebook and Twitter, and then twiddled my thumbs waiting for the after shows to offer some perspective. Alex Wagner, a guest on The Daily Show, commented on the “inappropriate touching.” Larry Wilmore talked about his discomfort in finding that, for one strange moment, he found himself, eek, agreeing with Ted Cruz (“Vote your conscience.”). And then, finally, Steven Colbert came on, live, after Midnight. He looked like he’d slept in his iridescent blue suit, but he was still awake and giddy and dancing, which gave me some energy and some hope.


“Did Donald Trump pee here?”

And then, Jon Stewart popped up from under the desk, and gave me the rant I’d been waiting a year for. There’s something about his mix of outrage and earnestness and humor that digs deep into my sternum and makes room for me to breathe again. I have missed him more than I ever thought possible. I have needed his no-bullshit voice all year long and it was such a relief to breathe deeply again. But it’s not enough. It was over too soon.

I know that animal rescue is important, and I understand that Jon Stewart’s kids need his attention, and that the daily grind of the show was getting to be too much for him. But I need rescuing too, Jon. Please, come back soon!


Cricket & Butterfly waiting for Mommy

Cricket and Butterfly are waiting.

Color War

When I went to sleepaway camp as a kid (for five summers, eight weeks at a time) the worst thing that I had to endure was color war. Each bunk, and each age group in the entire camp, was split down the middle. Even the counselors in my own bunk could be on the opposing team. We were either white or blue, and almost all of the competitions that made up the war were fought against the kids we saw every day. There were swim competitions and foot races and trivia contests and ultimate Frisbee. We had to learn songs to cheer for our side, and wear t-shirts with our team colors. And at the end of the war there was a huge tug of war with the whole camp pulling on one or the other side of the rope.

I’m not sure what the purpose of color war was meant to be, maybe a team building exercise, or a chance to compete at the activities we’d just been doing carelessly each day before that, but the unintended consequence, or at least I hope it was unintended, was that we got to feel what it would be like to have to fight with our friends and neighbors, and it was awful.

By my last summer, I actively campaigned against not only my own involvement in color war, but its existence altogether. At thirteen, I could finally articulate the pain in the fact that my counselor, my mommy-substitute for two months, would be actively rooting against me for at least 24 hours. It was shattering.

It would be like splitting my family in half, with Grandma and Butterfly on one team and Cricket and I on the other, and every meal we ate, every TV show we watched, would be a battleground. Cricket would lose her mind.



This is what I’ve been thinking about lately, with the American presidential election in its long swing through hell. There are two teams, that’s it, and it’s a fight to the death to see who gets to represent each team, even if no one, really, can represent 50% of the country to anyone’s satisfaction.

In a multiparty system like Britain’s parliamentary system, smaller parties can win seats in the parliament and have influence in governing. A party that wins 20% of the votes in a multi-party system, will get 20% of the seats in the legislature, and a voice in parliament. In a two party system like we have in the United States, we can still have third parties, and have had many of them, but they rarely gain traction. Why? Because in winner-takes-all elections, the 20% a third party may be able to muster doesn’t win them any power. This is why Bernie Sanders is running as a Democrat, despite being an Independent, as well as a Democratic Socialist.

Americans seem to be comfortable with our two party split, our black and white dichotomies, not to put too fine a point on it. There are many people who’d like to make the next division Christian versus Moslem, as if everyone in the world is either one or the other. But that assumes that all Christians are one, and all Moslems are one, and that everyone else doesn’t exist. That’s what you have to do to create this two team system. You have to whitewash, or blackwash, everything.

The dichotomy between Republican and Democrat has never been more extreme in my lifetime than it is right now. During the Bill Clinton era, the constant complaint was that both parties were so centrist that choosing one over the other was just about brand loyalty and nothing deeper than that. Today, it’s a deep divide.

I think I’d be more comfortable with proportional representation, just because it fits my world view better. Let me fight with the people I’m actually in disagreement with, instead of a whole team of people who have to be loyal to each other no matter what they actually believe in.

Except, at least with the two party system, Trump has to won a majority (or if there’s a third party candidate by November, a plurality) of the votes in order to get into power. In a multiparty system he could win just 20% of the vote and at least have some power – and I would have to deal with that. Though it’s hard to imagine someone like Trump being interested in that kind of power. He’s an all or nothing kind of guy.

Another benefit of the two party system is that outliers like the Ku Klux Klan, who may still be a presence in certain states, cannot elbow their way into either of the big parties and get to power in the country overall. But, maybe that’s also part of the problem – most of the country had no idea these outliers were there. We didn’t know that there were going to be so many Trump supporters bubbling up, because until they reached a critical mass they were invisible in our winner-takes-all system.

But, I like the idea that in a family, even if there are certain people with more power, the minority voices – like Cricket’s and Butterfly’s – still get heard and still have a vote. They may not have the final vote, or the most heavily weighted vote, but they still count in the delegate math. Maybe Butterfly would be in the “food, glorious food” party, advocating for extra meals and extra treats. And Cricket would be in the “I want to play” party, advocating for extra outings and more interactive time with her people. They could work together on certain tasks, helping each other reach their goals, as long as they are both satisfied by the outcome. And on other issues they wouldn’t work together, but might find common cause with Grandma (“let’s go to the beach”), or with me (“snacks in front of the TV would be nice”). It’s a more flexible system, and allows people to be more honest about their beliefs and motivations.


“Grandma! It’s time for gardening!”


45 - and salty

“Grandma, aren’t you thirsty?”



American Politics


Cricket would make a wonderful politician, in the current mold. She has tons to say and repeats it all day long with the same passion and outrage. I’d love to be able to harness that power for good, but she would like to use it to outlaw grooming and vet visits. No more bath time! Stay away from my eye goop! She would wear a Bernie for President Sticker, if he promised her she’d never again have to get her poopy butt washed.


“Help me, Bernie!”

Cricket’s only difficulty would be the length of the run up to the presidential elections in the United States. Her ideas of argument and persuasion are much faster. You make your spiel, and you get a no. You up the ante, you bark, cry, sing, bite, and you get a no again. You give it one more shot, but that’s it. You need your damn rest.






“That was exhausting.”

Watching the news recently, I’ve been wishing, often out loud and using bad words, that our country invested more time and energy in educating us in our history and our form of participatory democracy. My mother used to talk about taking civics class in high school, rather than social studies, and I never realized that she meant something completely different than the vague pass over American history that I’d been given.

Donald Trump says he loves the poorly educated – but why are there any poorly educated people in a country that supposedly has a free public education system through the secondary level? How can he be so glib about the failure of American education?

I resent that it took an endless run of young black men being shot by police for me to even hear about the modern history of black lives in America. Why weren’t lynchings in the South and Red Lining in the North part of my basic education? It’s not like I was protected from images of graphic violence in school – we studied the Old Testament in yeshiva every single day, for God’s sake! I was supposed to be okay with learning about rape and incest and beheadings and whole towns being shmiced by god, but I couldn’t be told about horrors that happened in my own country, in my own century?

We haven’t invested enough time in reinvestigating our history and coming up with ways to improve our democracy. Just imagine what we could accomplish as a society if we were already steeped in our full history before we even entered college. Imagine how many ideas our kids could generate for how to make our country a better place?

It also wouldn’t hurt to throw in a few lessons in empathy, here and there.

I think it’s interesting that so many presidents have pets, often dogs, and even the Clinton cat, way back when, but political candidates do not bring their dogs along with them on the road, or put them in commercials. Obama even had to wait until he was in the white house before he could get his daughters the puppy they’d been begging for. Would Jeb Bush have had better luck on the campaign trail if he’d, say, brought a chocolate lab up on to the stage with him? Maybe if Donald Trump had to carry a long-haired white cat in his arms, people would be able to see him more clearly for what he is.


(not my picture)

Butterfly would not make a good politician, because she wouldn’t last two seconds on the debate stage. As soon as the screaming and insults started, she would scamper off to hide behind a curtain. Like me.


“Is it over yet?”

The current election cycle reminds me of when we used to play Dodge Ball in elementary school. The whole class, boys and girls, would be split into two teams and given red kick-balls to throw at the other team. Some kids really seemed to enjoy taking aim at their classmates and hitting them with as much force as possible. They don’t allow this game at most elementary schools anymore, because it is too brutal, and too mean. But it would fit right in at the Republican presidential debates.

I still feel intimidated by people who are certain that they know what’s best. I am overwhelmed by the amount of confidence politicians must have, to talk constantly to crowds and reporters and believe that what they are saying is all useful and good. My social anxiety, though it is much better than it used to be, will never be down at politician levels.

And I have to wonder if just a little bit of self-doubt might be a good thing in a leader; just a little bit of room to question the heinous things that might come out of your mouth. Even Cricket knows when she’s gone too far.