"It's the Seinfeld election. It's really about nothing."
Revenge of the 90s
If all elections are about the future, why does this one come with so much baggage from our political and cultural past?
It was in the misfit decade of the ‘90s that both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton cemented their almost ubiquitous presence on the national stage. Trump, already a bold face name in New York real estate, left the Plaza Hotel behind for Hollywood. (Here he is on Letterman Show, here in Home Alone 2, and over here The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.) Hillary debuted as First Lady, but bet on her skills as a West Wing wonk for the prize assignment of reforming health care. Her penchant back then for secrecy, loyalty, and vast right wing conspiracies started the trail of scandal headlines—Travelgate, Whitewater, Filegate—that dog her today.
Our guest Maureen Dowd of the New York Times calls the 2016 election the “Seinfeld election.” ”It’s really about nothing,” she says. “Except the two most famous people on the planet that nobody really seems to know.”
So we’re looking back at the Seinfeld decade—that sunny time after the Cold War that ended abruptly with 9/11. The era of peace and prosperity. The heady days of business porn, corporate synergy, and the “personal brand.” The first digital decade, a drug decade in Pharmacy Nation (including Viagra, Prozac and Ritalin). The Third Wave Feminism decade, too.
The ‘90s live on, not only in our Truman Show-like obsession with Trump, or the persistence of Third Way politics, or normcore fashion trends, but also in wounds never healed from NAFTA, welfare reform, the 1994 crime bill, and finance deregulation. Maybe with these two candidates we’re trying to resolve the ‘90s: the racial violence, the feminist and gender identity questions, the inequality, the global war and domestic safety. Let’s party like it’s 1999 and get our heads around the origin story of Campaign 2016.
New York Times Op-ed columnist and author of The Year of Voting Dangerously: The Derangement of American Politics
Poet and contributing editor for Literary Hub
Ph.D student in Sociology & Social Policy at Harvard and editor for Current Affairs
author of Primary Colors
Martin Luther King, Jr. Scholar and visiting Assistant Professor at MIT
Nathan J. Robinson