Reggie Brown, the comedian yanked off the stage at the Republican Leadership Conference, gives me his take. (P.S. Republicans love him.)
The big news out of the RLC meeting in New Orleans last weekend didn't involve a candidate, but a president--or rather, a presidential impersonator named Reggie Brown whose comedy set poking fun at the Republican candidates and the president scandalized the organizers, who yanked Brown from the stage mid-set and later put out a statement slamming him for "racially insensitive jokes." It turns out Reggie Brown and I have a friend in common, and yesterday that friend put us in touch. We talked about how the RLC event looked from his vantage point--much different--and what the fallout has been. (Hint: Not too bad--he's got a bunch of new Republican bookings, including Fox News this weekend.) Here's a lightly edited transcript, along with video of his aborted RLC act and another one from his website that I like.
Was a Republican political conference different from the stuff you usually do?
I normally do corporate comedy, so I'll travel around and do everything from medical associations to lawyer groups, things of that nature. This was the first major political event I've ever been invited to, so I was real excited to get up and perform my material. I thought it was cool that a lot of the people in my act--the candidates--were going to be there. Because my latest material is based on the 2012 candidates, and for them to all be there, I thought it would be a great opportunity to make 'em laugh and poke a little fun at them. I thought that showed a lot for the Republican sense of humor.
Did the organizers give you any guidance about what type of humor they were looking for?
No, no guidance was given prior to the show. They booked me to come down based on my website and the links my manager forwarded them of my recent work. I was booked to do my routine.
What was your intention going in? Seemed like you tried to kind of hit every target, Democrat and Republican.
Oh yeah. Our show is designed to be fair and balanced. If we hit the Republicans we hit the Democrats, and then the Tea Party. We want to make it accessible to everyone, and let everyone have a good time.
So walk me through what happened out there on stage? What was your point of view?
So I came out and was going through my material. I was loving it, the audience was loving it--great energy. We're feeding off each other. And I started to get into my set about their candidates for 2012, and the Mitt Romney joke drew a lot of 'oohs' and 'aaahs,' but also a lot of applause and laughter. I delivered a couple more on Pawlenty and Gingrich, and then as I started into my Michele Bachmann joke and her PowerPoint slide came up on the screen, the music came up. I thought it was a technical error, because we do occasionally experience a glitch with the PowerPoint. Then the mike cut out, and the gentleman came on stage and told me my time was up.
Did they indicate that they were unhappy with your performance? What did he say?
No, not at all. He just came out and said, 'Sorry, your time's up.' I thanked the audience, went backstage, and a few of the organizers were saying, great job, very well done, we're all excited for you. I left the stage feeling like I'd done a great job. It was awesome, it was great.
Did you get to talk to any of the folks in the crowd afterward?
We went directly back to the hotel, my manager and me, and I got mobbed by the attendees. They were all saying, "Oh my god! Are you the Obama? Is that the Obama guy?" Because at this point I was in a t-shirt, shorts and flip-flops. They were like, "You were amazing! You were the best part of this conference. Why'd they pull you off?" People were upset that they didn't let me finish. They were just very complimentary. It was amazing. I had an 85-year-old woman tell me it was the funniest performance she'd every seen in her life and that she'd almost wet her pants. It was very well received and I really am sorry to my fans that I wasn't able to finish.
So at what point did you become aware that the organizers considered you a political problem?
When we got back to my hotel room, all these articles started popping up. The first few were saying "Obama impersonator mocks president at GOP function." Then a few started saying there was a controversy over racist jokes and things like that. So it was crazy to see the spin they started to put on it after I left--feeling I'd delivered a great performance, being told I did well. And then the eruption online.
They put out a statement condemning your afterward, right?
Yes, I met the guy before the show, too, and his wife, and he was all excited. He was like "This is great, I'm looking forward to seeing the show." Like most of the clients he was all happy, smiley, taking pictures together beforehand. Then afterward he started releasing these statements that weren't so positive, or accurate.
Anything in that act you regret?
No, I don't regret one joke. That's what I do. We spend a lot of time tailoring my material. I don't mean to offend anyone through my comedy. It is intellegent humor that's pretty much up to the minute on the political scene.
You don't consider that joke about Barney Frank's "soft backside" a little offensive?
No, that was just in reference to him sitting on his big behind while Freddie and Fannie collapsed. It wasn't really in reference to anything else.
Did you have any qualms about taking the gig? Are political crowds tougher than ordinary crowds?
It depends. A lot of it has to do with the energy, but this was a great audience. You have to be able to poke fun at yourself. It's amazing how things blew up. We've gotten like 500 emails, and news reports from as far away as Europe and South Africa. We already have a lot more bookings that have come in since then, and actually more on the Republican side than the Democratic side. I'll be on Mike Huckabee's Fox show on Saturday, in fact.
Just to clear this up, I'd seen some of your earlier clips and interview on YouTube and you didn't strike me as someone who has any animosity toward President Obama.
Not at all, I love our president. He has changed my life in ways I wouldn't have imagined. I have the best job in the world, I'm able to use my striking physical resemblance to him and my talents to develop this character that the world has been very receptive to. He's given me the opportunity to--and this may sound cheezy--but to live out my dreams. And it's been awesome. I love it.
You mentioned they yanked you before your Michele Bachmann joke. Want to finish your act for me? What was the joke?
[Speaking in the voice of Obama] What can I say about Michele Bachmann that she hasn't already said about herself? Now, last week she called me a one-term president. Uhh, now look. I may be a one-term president, but that's better than your former leader, George W. Bush, who was a one-syllable president.
Long after research contradicts common medical practices, patients continue to demand them and physicians continue to deliver. The result is an epidemic of unnecessary and unhelpful treatments.
First, listen to the story with the happy ending: At 61, the executive was in excellent health. His blood pressure was a bit high, but everything else looked good, and he exercised regularly. Then he had a scare. He went for a brisk post-lunch walk on a cool winter day, and his chest began to hurt. Back inside his office, he sat down, and the pain disappeared as quickly as it had come.
That night, he thought more about it: middle-aged man, high blood pressure, stressful job, chest discomfort. The next day, he went to a local emergency department. Doctors determined that the man had not suffered a heart attack and that the electrical activity of his heart was completely normal. All signs suggested that the executive had stable angina—chest pain that occurs when the heart muscle is getting less blood-borne oxygen than it needs, often because an artery is partially blocked.
Two historians weigh in on how to understand the new administration, press relations, and this moment in political time.
The election of Donald Trump, and the early days of his presidency, have driven many Americans to rummage through history in search of context and understanding. Trump himself has been compared to historical figures ranging from Ronald Reagan to Henry Ford, and from Andrew Jackson to Benito Mussolini. His steps have been condemned as unprecedented by his critics, and praised as historic by his supporters.
To place contemporary events in perspective, we turned to a pair of historians of the United States. Julian Zelizer is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. He is the author, most recently, of The Fierce Urgency of Now: Lyndon Johnson, Congress, and the Battle for the Great Society. Morton Keller is a professor emeritus of history at Brandeis University. He has written or edited more than 15 books, including Obama’s Time: A History. They’ll be exchanging views periodically on how to understand Trump, his presidency, and this moment in political time. —Yoni Appelbaum
In late 2015, in the Chilean desert, astronomers pointed a telescope at a faint, nearby star known as ared dwarf. Amid the star’s dim infrared glow, they spotted periodic dips, a telltale sign that something was passing in front of it, blocking its light every so often. Last summer, the astronomers concluded the mysterious dimming came from three Earth-sized planets—and that they were orbiting in the star’s temperate zone, where temperatures are not too hot, and not too cold, but just right for liquid water, and maybe even life.
This was an important find. Scientists for years had focused on stars like our sun in their search for potentially habitable planets outside our solar system. Red dwarfs, smaller and cooler than the sun, were thought to create inhospitable conditions. They’re also harder to see, detectable by infrared rather than visible light. But the astronomers aimed hundreds of hours worth of observations at this dwarf, known as TRAPPIST-1 anyway, using ground-based telescopes around the world and NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope.
A $100 million gangster epic starring Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci has become too risky a proposition for major studios.
Martin Scorsese’s next project, The Irishman, is as close as you can get to a box-office guarantee for the famed director. It’s a gangster film based on a best-selling book about a mob hitman who claimed to have a part in the legendary disappearance of the union boss Jimmy Hoffa. Robert De Niro is attached to play the hitman, Al Pacino will star as Hoffa, and Scorsese favorites Joe Pesci and Harvey Keitel are also on board. After Scorsese branched into more esoteric territory this year with Silence, a meditative exploration of faith and Catholicism, The Irishman sounds like a highly bankable project—the kind studios love. And yet, the film is going to Netflix, which will bankroll its $100 million budget and distribute it around the world on the company’s streaming service.
Neither truck drivers nor bankers would put up with a system like the one that influences medical residents’ schedules.
The path to becoming a doctor is notoriously difficult. Following pre-med studies and four years of medical school, freshly minted M.D.s must spend anywhere from three to seven years (depending on their chosen specialty) training as “residents” at an established teaching hospital. Medical residencies are institutional apprenticeships—and are therefore structured to serve the dual, often dueling, aims of training the profession’s next generation and minding the hospital’s labor needs.
How to manage this tension between “education and service” is a perennial question of residency training, according to Janis Orlowski, the chief health-care officer of the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). Orlowski says that the amount of menial labor residents are required to perform, known in the profession as “scut work,” has decreased "tremendously" since she was a resident in the 1980s. But she acknowledges that even "institutions that are committed to education … constantly struggle with this,” trying to stay on the right side of the boundary between training and taking advantage of residents.
“The question confronting us as a nation is as consequential as any we have faced since the late 1940s,” a group of Republican and Democratic experts write.
Ben Rhodes, one of Barack Obama’s top advisers, once dismissed the American foreign-policy establishment—those ex-government officials and think-tank scholars and journalists in Washington, D.C. who advocate for a particular vision of assertive U.S. leadership in the world—as the “Blob.” Donald Trump had harsher words. As a presidential candidate, he vowed never to take advice on international affairs from “those who have perfect resumes but very little to brag about except responsibility for a long history of failed policies and continued losses at war.” Both men pointed to one of the Beltway establishment’s more glaring errors: support for the war in Iraq.
Now the Blob is fighting back. The “establishment” has been unfairly “kicked around,” said Robert Kagan, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and former official in the Reagan administration. As World War II gave way to the Cold War, President Harry Truman and his secretary of state, Dean Acheson, “invented a foreign policy and sold it successfully to the American people. That’s what containment was and that’s what the Truman Doctrine was. … That was the foreign-policy establishment.” During that period, the U.S. government also helped create a system for restoring order to a world riven by war and economic crisis. That system, which evolved over the course of the Cold War and post-Cold War period, includes an open international economy; U.S. military and diplomatic alliances in Asia, Europe, and the Middle East; and liberal rules and institutions (human rights, the United Nations, and so on).
Plagues, revolutions, massive wars, collapsed states—these are what reliably reduce economic disparities.
Calls to make America great again hark back to a time when income inequality receded even as the economy boomed and the middle class expanded. Yet it is all too easy to forget just how deeply this newfound equality was rooted in the cataclysm of the world wars.
The pressures of total war became a uniquely powerful catalyst of equalizing reform, spurring unionization, extensions of voting rights, and the creation of the welfare state. During and after wartime, aggressive government intervention in the private sector and disruptions to capital holdings wiped out upper-class wealth and funneled resources to workers; even in countries that escaped physical devastation and crippling inflation, marginal tax rates surged upward. Concentrated for the most part between 1914 and 1945, this “Great Compression” (as economists call it) of inequality took several more decades to fully run its course across the developed world until the 1970s and 1980s, when it stalled and began to go into reverse.
You can tell a lot about a person from how they react to something.
That’s why Facebook’s various “Like” buttons are so powerful. Clicking a reaction icon isn’t just a way to register an emotional response, it’s also a way for Facebook to refine its sense of who you are. So when you “Love” a photo of a friend’s baby, and click “Angry” on an article about the New England Patriots winning the Super Bowl, you’re training Facebook to see you a certain way: You are a person who seems to love babies and hate Tom Brady.
The more you click, the more sophisticated Facebook’s idea of who you are becomes. (Remember: Although the reaction choices seem limited now—Like, Love, Haha, Wow, Sad, or Angry—up until around this time last year, there was only a “Like” button.)
Rod Dreher makes a powerful argument for communal religious life in his book, The Benedict Option. But he has not wrestled with how to live side by side with people unlike him.
Donald Trump was elected president with the help of 81 percent of white evangelical voters. Mike Pence, the champion of Indiana’s controversial 2015 religious-freedom law, is his deputy. Neil Gorsuch, a judge deeply sympathetic to religious litigants, will likely be appointed to the Supreme Court. And Republicans hold both chambers of Congress and statehouses across the country. Right now, conservative Christians enjoy more influence on American politics than they have in decades.
And yet, Rod Dreher is terrified.
“Don’t be fooled,” he tells fellow Christians in his new book, The Benedict Option. “The upset presidential victory of Donald Trump has at best given us a bit more time to prepare for the inevitable.”
The preconditions are present in the U.S. today. Here’s the playbook Donald Trump could use to set the country down a path toward illiberalism.
It’s 2021, and President Donald Trump will shortly be sworn in for his second term. The 45th president has visibly aged over the past four years. He rests heavily on his daughter Ivanka’s arm during his infrequent public appearances.
Fortunately for him, he did not need to campaign hard for reelection. His has been a popular presidency: Big tax cuts, big spending, and big deficits have worked their familiar expansive magic. Wages have grown strongly in the Trump years, especially for men without a college degree, even if rising inflation is beginning to bite into the gains. The president’s supporters credit his restrictive immigration policies and his TrumpWorks infrastructure program.
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