Alexandra Petri Is The Only Op-Ed Columnist America Needs Right Now

Alexandra Petri

Hamilton Nolan at Deadspin destroyed the entire New York Times opinion page this week after the paper published a limp musing by Frank Bruni on Trump’s well-done steaks. (“When did we turn into such food snobs here in America, land of the free and home of the Bloomin’ Onion?”) Nolan concludes that more than 80 percent of Times columnists aren’t equipped to properly respond to the sheer brokenness of America. I won’t quibble over who Nolan likes and dislikes, as this is not just a problem with the New York Times. I spend many mornings screaming at my radio while NPR tries to lull me back into business as usual with its warm and soothing commuter-friendly tones. I don’t want All Things Considered, I want Some Things Rejected Outright.

If mainstream media is, by definition, not up to the task of heightened alarm, who is left to give voice to our anger and frustration? The task usually falls to blogs like Deadspin and Jezebel—the reincarnation of Gawker in all but name—sites like Reductress and The Onion, and television hosts like Samantha Bee, John Oliver, and Trevor Noah. But the opinion pages have their own specialized form of satire, skewering the authority of the op-ed writer who, as Nolan writes, “has more job security than the Supreme Court.” And the best of them all is Alexandra Petri of the Washington Post.

Petri expertly expresses our fears and frustration from inside a mainstream news organization, which is important for our sanity. She’s consistently hilarious on deadline, and she says the things that we want the mainstream media to finally come out and say. Here she is on The Day Without a Woman:

In the middle of it, right in the middle, she vanished.

You were explaining something — just what eludes you now, but it must have been interesting, because for a split second your thoughts strayed from your audience — and when you looked back she was gone. You were delivering your brilliant lecture to no one.

You could not remember, later, if it was an explanation about how every woman you had ever dated had turned out to be crazy, or a detailed analysis of why no one could reasonably be hurt by a remark like the one you had just made, or a great insight that it turned out she had told you weeks earlier. But you know it was interesting, so interesting that you did not see her go, or how she went.

There’s a sense—unfair as it may be, since the paper is subsidized by Jeff Bezos—that the Washington Post is hungrier and feistier right now than the Times. But the Post also has the same institutional problem as the Times, NPR, and CNN: A still-burning desire to tell us everything’s going to be fine. The following headlines appeared on the Post’s homepage after Trump was introducing a grotesque plan to report crimes committed by immigrants:

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Petri’s satire gave us a much-needed corrective:

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We need more Petri in our crazy world; tell me where I can direct my subscription money to make that happen. Here’s a collection of her must-read columns, chosen by our Longreads editors:

1. “The Day They Disappeared (March, 2017)

Many things, I regret to say—indeed, a suspicious number of things—went on without a hitch for a brief time. Most movies lost only a scene or two and it was barely noticeable, although ticket sales plummeted. The Cabinet was almost entirely unaffected. Wall Street and Silicon Valley largely went about their business as if nothing had occurred.

Statehouses began to feel bereft without women to regulate, whether on the subject of what bathrooms they could use or where they could go for reproductive care. There were no organs to restrict that the legislators did not, themselves, possess. And what was the fun of putting limitations on those? They looked for consolation to those fetuses who for many years they had ranked as full persons, but, inexplicably, they were nowhere to be found.

You began to be concerned.

2. “This was Teleprompter Saruman, not Twitter Saruman (March, 2017)

“What was going on with his face? It looked melted.”

“I agree, Fodesinbeed. I found his face distracting. Palpatine needs to remember that holograms are a visual medium.”

“But on the whole, a rousing success.”

“Lots of applause lines. Thunderous applause, even. The kind of inspirational message that the galaxy needs right now. This is a man who wants to unite us.”

“He did, controversially, call the Jedi assassins and vow to hunt them down, but — on the whole, I thought he struck a good tone.”

3. “A Trump Christmas Carol (December, 2016)

Roy Cohn was dead, to begin with.

There will be nothing remarkable in the tale which I am about to relate unless you are entirely convinced of that.

And the door-knocker was a perfectly ordinary knocker. It was, indeed, not even the sort of knocker at which Donald Trump—of the counting house Trump & Trump—was accustomed to stare. Which made it all the more remarkable that on the night before Christmas, as he halted at the door of Mar-a-Lago, Trump discerned in this perfectly ordinary large knocker no knocker at all—but Roy Cohn’s face.

4.”The True, Correct Story of What Happened at Donald Trump’s Inauguration (January, 2017)

The crowd was magnificent and huge, bigger than any crowd had ever been before! It stretched all the way to the moon. The Pope, who was there, confirmed it.

“Thanks for being here, Pope,” Donald Trump told him.

“Are you kidding? You’re my best friend,” the Pope said. “I wouldn’t miss your big day for anything!” He gave Donald Trump a big high-five.

5. “Chris Christie’s Meatloaf Humiliations (February, 2017)

This week, in the White House, Donald Trump forced Chris Christie to eat meatloaf, even though Christie did not necessarily want the meatloaf.

There was a time when Christie was a man with autonomy and pride. There was a time when Trump was kind and his voice was soft and his words were inviting, and life was a Springsteen song and the song was exciting. There was a time, and then it all went wrong.

6. “The Great Trumpsby: The Lost Manuscript (October, 2016)

Curiosity was my motive as much as anything. I kept hearing the word “Trump” everywhere but the people at the party all had different ideas of what this Trump or Trumpsby might be.

“I hear he’s a type of steak,” one woman announced.

“I thought he was a failed airline,” said another.

“I thought he was a type of card.”

“I think he’s in pictures,” said yet a fourth.

See also: “My Fair Trump,” “The Picture of Donald Trump” and her book A Field Guide to Awkward Silences.