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.

Photos: AP/Photofest.

Guest List
Kurt Anderson
Novelist and host of the public radio program, Studio 360
Adam Fitzgerald
Poet and contributing editor for Literary Hub
Nathan J. Robinson
Ph.D student in Sociology & Social Policy at Harvard and editor for Current Affairs
Joe Klein
author of Primary Colors
Kishonna Gray
Martin Luther King, Jr. Scholar and visiting Assistant Professor at MIT

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  • Pete Crangle

    Looking forward to this discussion. Many iconic moments … the dawn of citizen journalism

    Los Angeles Police giving Rodney King an excessive beatdown

    Oklahoma City Bombing Live Coverage

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    Not in the bubble: Brooksley Born and the OTC derivatives market

    The skin of the bubble cocoon: The Committee To Save The World

  • Total Recall comes back…

    Dowd made Hillary sound sympathetic because she has the character flaw of not owning up right away. Who does that? Except that the flaw is an extremely dangerous flaw in a powerful leader.

    Brovo Joe Klein ! Down with the pessimists, right?
    Hillary, not as the next Bill, as the next Ronald.

    The rest of the guests were excellent in counterpoint.

    In a NYT AUG. 2, 2013 review, David Kirby used the
    word horizontal to describe Adam Fitzgerald’s ‘Late Parade’.

    Indeed… But you do not come back

  • Potter

    It’s a nerve-wracking time. It should not be a close election.We have come to such a point that it does not seem that either candidate will be able to govern. But if Trump wins we will not be able to go about our business and ignore the results. It’s true the past got us here; I am not sure it was from as close as the 90’s but the 90’s were a good place to start.

    I remember Bloom’s book: The Closing of the American Mind”. It was criticized mercilessly in the late 80’s.

    The most depressing point in this ROS show is that we have come to such a deep divide here.
    Many are not open to the truth even about vital matters to their own lives: climate change, globalization. The surprise of Trump is proof of our lack of awareness about the level of discontent. The demagogue that promises to bring back the good old days of coal mining and manufacturing, steel to Pittsburgh: the good old days. Trump is the savior who will shake things up. What we need is sobriety, a that Hillary Clinton cannot bring about.

    Roger Cohen had an article in the NYTimes worth reading:We Need Somebody Spectacular.

  • Pat Crowley

    When people like Joe Klein says things like “the Democratic Party had moved to the left as far as the Republican’s have moved to the right” it is so patently untrue that it fits the 90’s narrative about creating your own facts perfectly.

    PS. Your old show once looked at the 90’s as a time of peace: I remember one caller taking your guest to task for having it backwards.