Another president who was winning

Another president who was winning

Think this past year was a train wreck for a certain U.S. president? By any measure, the first year of Andrew Jackson’s administration was every bit as embarrassing.

“His most trusted advisors were bitterly divided; the whole government stood at a standstill. But after reviewing all of the evidence, exploring all of the charges, and hearing the testimony of witnesses, the president announced the conclusion that he hoped would place the ship of state back on course: Peggy Eaton, the wife of Secretary of War John Eaton, was ‘as chaste as a virgin.’”

Defending the honor of his war secretary’s sexually notorious wife actually ate up two years of Jackson’s presidency. The backstory is dense — here’s a pretty decent summary, though Daniel Walker Howe’s writeup in his 2009 Pulitzer Prize-winning book What Hath God Wrought is better and more entertaining.

All you really need to know are the parallels to now.

You had a president peddling laughable falsehoods, angrily doubling down when challenged. You had Washington society and the press eating it up. You had a nation distracted from the nation’s business.

So what happened next? Um, the president won.

Everyone who refused to uphold Peggy Eaton’s virtue was sent packing — even Andrew Jackson Donelson, the Jared Kushner of his day. Jackson went on to win re-election, and his heavy-handed, divisive mode of governing continued to shape American politics until the Civil War.

Is the Oval Office portrait starting to make more sense now?

Oval Office - Andrew Jackson portrait

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The force behind ‘Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’

“I knew Joan Rivers, and while Midge is said to be based on her, I don’t see that as working,” writes Susan Silver, a comedy writer from the Norman Lear-MTM sitcom era, about the historical inspiration for the lead character in Amazon’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”

The show, which we’re enjoying hugely, just picked up a couple of Golden Globes — worthless trophies in my view, but Amazon is now making the show available to non-Prime members, so that’s a win.

“The series tells the story of a 1950’s housewife who wants to break into standup comedy when the world is neither ready for nor interested in what women have to say. Yet the series, despite its supposed progressiveness, portrays its Jewish subjects as unflattering stereotypes. ... ‘The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’ risks doing a disservice to the history of Jewish comedy.”

Maybe it’s because I grew up listening to records of Allan Sherman, but since when have Jewish comedians been shy about milking Jewish stereotypes for laughs?

Whether or not you liked Rivers’ brand of comedy — I never did — she’s a pivotal figure in mainstream culture’s acceptance of politically incorrect speech and the weaponization of comedy.

Last Girl Before Freeway book cover - Joan Rivers I just finished Leslie Bennetts’ terrific 2016 biography of Joan Rivers, Last Girl Before Freeway. Bennetts does a truly admirable job in peeling back the layers of Rivers’ onstage persona and her equally-well-cultivated backstage image to get to “the real Joan” — a generous, insecure, status-conscious, don’t-give-a-damn watershed figure in American entertainment history.

Through interviews with dozens of her intimates, as well as friends, other comics, admirers, and critics, Bennetts takes the full measure of Rivers as a trailblazer among female comedians, from her early struggles to get respect to her mean-girl turn in the early 1980s to her reinvention after her Fox talk show bombed and her private and professional worlds collapsed.

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Is DACA the new Japanese internment?

“Japanese internment was initiated by the California farm lobby,” writes Dr. Sarah Taber, a food scientist in the aquaponics industry. “Japanese farmers’ success came from having tight management skills, and that threatened their white neighbors. White farmers had a choice: level up their game, or play dirty.”

The head of the Salinas Valley vegetable growers’ association actually said, “We’re charged with wanting to get rid of the Japs for selfish reasons. We might as well be honest. We do.”

Taber believes there are farm interests today that covet the wealth created by new immigrants and are pressuring Congress to throw DACA-eligible immigrants out of the country. And she reminds us what happened last time: “Once internment started, food shortages quickly followed.”

Read her whole amazing Twitter thread (h/t @mharvey816)

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‘Barely a footnote’

“The reckoning with integration that began after World War II in the United States certainly found a voice in King, but, as you point out, it was realized in dozens of other less conspicuous places and in less dramatic scenarios across the nation,” writes my old newspaper colleague Paul Wenske.

Rev. Nelson Trout “I recall as a kid in Torrance, Calif., in the 1950s my father causing a mild stir, covered by the local newspapers, when he began sharing pulpits with Rev. Nelson Trout, a black Lutheran minister from Alabama who led an African-American congregation in south-central L.A.

“Not until years later did I grasp the real intent of this scriptural conspiracy between my dad and Rev. Trout to confront the conscience of the church. Rev. Trout later became the first African-American bishop in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, a synod founded by Germans and Scandinavians.

“This one small evolution that took place among two congregations on the West Coast barely rates a footnote in the history of the civil rights movement, but is no less illustrative of a seismic change taking place across America.”

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Picks to click

“The Force” (streaming at; might be re-airing on your PBS station). "The Oakland, California, Police Department has a long history of betraying the trust of many, if not most, of the citizens it is sworn to serve. During the filming of ‘The Force,’ the OPD once again betrayed that trust in such an awful way, you might ask yourself why anyone would live in Oakland.” (My full review.)

“Two Towns of Jasper” (streaming at through Jan. 31). “A white minister walks through the town’s largest cemetery and realizes, to his astonishment, that it’s segregated! The demarcation line is a fence running the length of the graveyard. He calls up some African-American ministers, and soon the fence comes down. What is much harder to bring down is the invisible fence that blinds white residents of Jasper from seeing the very different reality of black lives.” (My full review.)

“Casting JonBenet” (Netflix). “At its core, ‘Casting JonBenet’ is about the need people have to attach themselves to stories they passionately believe to be true — even when they are demonstrably false. It’s about the power of ‘alternative facts’ when people merge them with their own emotionally charged personal narratives. It’s also a really unusual and entertaining film.” (My full review.)

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