Molly Jong-Fast Fills Us in on The New Abnormal
We’re only halfway through 2022 and the United States has already seen nearly 300 mass shootings, the reversal of fundamental reproductive rights, and an unprecedented gridlock at almost all levels of the government. To cut through the bullshit, Interview’s editor-in-chief Mel Ottenberg sat down with Molly Jong-Fast, the culture writer and host of The Daily Beast podcast The New Abnormal, for a deep dive into American politics.
MEL OTTENBERG: Hi Molly! I’m glad to talk to you.
MOLLY JONG-FAST: Hi!
OTTENBERG: So, Molly Jong-Fast is–
JONG-FAST: I’m a contributing writer at The Atlantic. I write a newsletter called Wait, What? which you can subscribe to quite easily. I have a podcast called The New Abnormal, which is from The Daily Beast. And I’m a writer who writes about politics.
OTTENBERG: I don’t subscribe to this newsletter.
JONG-FAST: Oh, you should.
OTTENBERG: I discovered The New Abnormal in 2020 and what I really liked about it is: A, you have a really iconic voice and B, you don’t even ever try to disguise your disgust for this hell storm of America. I’m like, what the fuck, Molly? Look at these motherfuckers. The idea of taking rights away from women for non-humans that don’t exist–I still can’t fucking believe it. I don’t understand why it’s so Handmaid’s Tale? Why are they going so hard and is it a good idea on their part?
JONG-FAST: What happened, basically, was that the Democrats dropped the ball in the judiciary, and Mitch McConnell is very smart and organized. When Scalia died, instead of letting Obama fill that seat, he decided that he would keep it open and he would say, “Well, we control the Senate, we’re not going to let Obama fill that seat.”
OTTENBERG: I remember thinking at the time that Obama should’ve been like, “You guys, we cannot fucking move on until this motherfucker lets me fill my motherfucking seat because I’m the fucking president.”
JONG-FAST: I mean, he didn’t control the Senate. I’m not sure how he would’ve been able to do it, logistically. It’s easy to be mad at him. But he did a lot of good stuff.
OTTENBERG: Yes, he did! I’m way less mad at him than I am at other Democrats.
JONG-FAST: I think the big problem with Obama was that Democrats decided they had Obama so they didn’t need to worry about the state parties. And so, the state parties and the DNC really deteriorated.
OTTENBERG: Obama was not great on a state level.
JONG-FAST: Obama was a savior. He was so electable. Democrats didn’t have to do that ground work because they had this great candidate. Republicans don’t have these great charismatic candidates except for, honestly, Trump.
OTTENBERG: Trump to me is the most major person of our lifetime. I hate him, but he is the greatest at theater. Obama’s not the most major person of our lifetime. It’s Trump.
JONG-FAST: There could be worse coming down the pike. Trump was very charismatic, he galvanized the far right. He got the people who don’t vote to vote. I think a lesson for Democrats is that the Republicans did anything to please their far right base.
OTTENBERG: And Biden didn’t do shit. Let’s talk about abortion. This moment was coming and yet it’s here and I can’t believe it.
JONG-FAST: I had hoped that they could prevent them from filling Ruth Bader’s Ginsburg’s seat because it was during the middle of the election, but Democrats were not able to save the seat.
OTTENBERG: Republicans are much smarter and better at this flop era of America than Democrats are. Stall, stall, stall.
JONG-FAST: The problem is that Democrats play by the rules and Republicans make their own rules.
OTTENBERG: Don’t you think we need to start playing dirtier? Because my thing is…Biden. Yes, I understand that he ran on being across the aisle on stuff, but there was a civil war attempt. Don’t you think he should’ve just gotten rid of the filibuster then, so we could actually do shit? Remind the people what the filibuster is. It’s basically a way to make inaction in the Senate, right?
JONG-FAST: The filibuster says that the Senate needs 60 votes to pass something. Now, there’s a cutout for the filibuster for Supreme Court justices. Guess who did that?
JONG-FAST: Yeah. They were able to fill the seats without a filibuster-proof majority. Now, you would need 50 senators to do a cutout. We don’t have 50.
OTTENBERG: We should get rid of the filibuster. Is that a lost cause? Should everyone shut the fuck up about that? Figure out a better talking point?
JONG-FAST: Here’s the thing, if you got two more Democrats elected, then you could get rid of the filibuster. Theoretically we have 50, but we have [Joe] Manchin and [Kyrsten] Sinema, who suck. If you want to have filibuster reform, you need 52 senators. The House is much harder.
OTTENBERG: Do you feel that Biden should have come in and put Manchin and Sinema on the proverbial spike of shame? You’re not Democrats, you’re the enemies of Democrats. I know I sound like a fucking troll. I’m just learning from the playbook of Trump and what works. Why didn’t he make them the enemy of the American people to fucking get shit done? We have saving to do. How do we pressure our side, who are flopping, to do shit?
JONG-FAST: In my mind, it would be deliverables. $35 insulin. No one should die because they can’t afford insulin.That seems like a no-brainer to me. I would make a rule that members of Congress can’t trade stocks. The Biden administration did a very good job of educating the people on some of the stuff they did. For example, there was a lot of really progressive, amazing legislation they passed like the Child Tax Credit, which brought something like 40% of children out of poverty. It expired because Republicans don’t give a shit. I think some of it is a failure of narrative on the part of the Democrats. Biden is coming in at one of the worst times in American history. The country is as divided as ever. There’s war. Look, I’m not a defender of the status quo at all. I really wish he had done more on abortion. But when you look at other countries, every country is struggling with inflation.
OTTENBERG: And that’s not part of the narrative. Biden just bends over and takes it so much. Yell that inflation is a worldwide problem!
JONG-FAST: That is the media narrative. He doesn’t control the media.
OTTENBERG: I get that, but I also think the next big winner needs to look at the genius of Trump and the genius of McConnell and the evil of them and be like, cool, that works. Let’s flip it and reverse it.
JONG-FAST: If I were working for the Biden administration—which I am very much not—I would say, “Look, we see what Republicans are doing at the state level. They’ve taken away the right to choose, which is wildly popular in America. You may not like us, but the other choice is much, much worse.” Then, Biden should say, “These are the things that I need. If you give me 10 senators, I would make the Child Tax Credit permanent. I would make sure Medicare expansion happens in red states.” People want healthcare. They love Obamacare. They want children out of poverty. They want lower gas prices. I would ask Republicans how are they going to lower gas prices? Because I’m curious.The thing is, gas prices come from OPEC and other gas consortiums. Would Trump make some sleazy deal with Saudi Arabia which would get them to lower gas prices? I would expand the court. At the very least, I would say we have to have term limits for these people.
OTTENBERG: Ruth Bader Ginsburg…as amazing and iconic as she is, she should’ve left during the Obama years. You can’t live forever, right?
JONG-FAST: I hesitate to re-litigate Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
OTTENBERG: Okay. Cassidy Hutchinson. The thing about Cassidy is she’s a diehard Trump fan who saw what happened and was like, “I just have to tell the truth.” That’s what I get from her.
JONG-FAST: She’s very upstanding and moral. She’s the only person who’s been brave enough to come forward. She’s a 25-year-old woman who I’m sure they treated terribly. There are a lot of people who saw a lot who are refusing to testify. Maybe because they’re cowards. Maybe because they’re involved. It’s hard to say.
OTTENBERG: Should I believe the narrative that Republican tides are turning?
JONG-FAST: I would hope that the tides are turning, It’s too early to tell. They’re going to spend their time trying to discredit Cassidy, which is really too bad.
OTTENBERG: She’s good, though. I really believe her.
JONG-FAST: I do, too.
OTTENBERG: How much longer do you think this bombshell shit is going to go on? Do you think it’s too soon enough to tell if Trump’s over or not?
JONG-FAST: Even if Trump is over, I think DeSantis is pretty scary.
OTTENBERG: DeSantis is over there being like, hey, I hate gay people. I hate Black people. I hate women. And they love it. Right?
JONG-FAST: They like him because he’s all about the culture wars. That base likes to fight about history. They like to fight about education. They like to fight about women’s rights. DeSantis is very smart about getting that base riled up. I don’t think he’s so charismatic. He’s a lot smarter than Trump.
OTTENBERG: Yeah, he’s good.
JONG-FAST: And he’s a lot more capable than Trump. One of the things that Trump does is he makes a lot of errors, which has probably saved democracy.
OTTENBERG: DeSantis taking on Disney, which is so insane and stupid, and kind of working, scares me because it’s like, that psychotic big dick energy seems to be getting you what you want.
JONG-FAST: Yeah, but I don’t know that he’s good at winning elections.
OTTENBERG: Do you think that those Secret Service guys will talk? Because I think that could end Trump forever.
JONG-FAST: The Secret Service guys tend to be pretty conservative.
OTTENBERG: I saw last night on MSNBC that they’re willing to talk.
JONG-FAST: Look, if they talk under oath and they’re trustworthy, then great.
OTTENBERG: What do you think is going on with our presidential election on the Democratic side? Again, I’m just like, “What the fuck? Biden ’24?”
JONG-FAST: Conservatives would like you to focus on Biden and whether he’s going to run in 2024, but what matters right now is the midterms. I mean, I don’t know what Biden is going to do. I don’t know what Trump is going to do. I don’t know what any of us are going to do. In my mind, it seems like a mistake to focus on Biden right now.
OTTENBERG: Being a Democrat is so fucking confusing in 2022.
JONG-FAST: There are a lot of Democrats. Some of them believe in some stuff. Some of them believe in other stuff. Whereas with Republicans, it’s a much smaller group but they are much more focused and much more obsessed with keeping power. I think it’s okay to have some feelings of anxiety about it all, but I wouldn’t throw the baby out with the bath water. Democrats are motivated and they’re enraged. I think that’s a very good place to be going into the midterms.
OTTENBERG: I don’t want to give anyone any money until I understand what I want them to do with that money besides save America. Because it doesn’t feel to me like she’s going to get saved, but you’re helping me.
JONG-FAST: Pick a House race. Pick a candidate you like. Watch them. See what they’re spending their money on. Pick a Senate race. Tell your candidates what you want.
OTTENBERG: We all want so many different things that we’re not going to get anything. Because we’re all obsessed with identity politics and-
JONG-FAST: Conservatives love to say that Democrats are obsessed with identity politics. I ignore the conservative talking points. Identity politics? They are taking rights away from women.
OTTENBERG: They’re taking women’s identities
JONG-FAST: We want people to have rights. They don’t.
OTTENBERG: Fuck. What else? Trump. Thomas. Is anything going on there? I mean, Ginni [Thomas] is fucked up, dude. [Clarence] Thomas is evil, but this Ginni shit—she tried to overthrow the US government. What is this Clarence doing there? Are they going to make this motherfucker pack his bags?
JONG-FAST: I hope they’ll have her testify. I think they eventually will. I think that this will be a huge headache for them. It’s worth trying to impeach him because there’s clearly a lot there.
OTTENBERG: Okay, wait. Fuck. I have one more question that my friend was like, “You’ve got to ask her.” `
OTTENBERG: So, Ron DeSantis is backing the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. Do you think that that’s going to work and spread like the disease of Trump? I don’t even know which is scarier, that we’re going to take away gay marriage and gay rights, or that we’re going to be like, “This is a Christian nation.” Who’s that lady with the gun restaurant?
JONG-FAST: Oh, Lauren Boebert.
OTTENBERG: I’m sick of this separation of church and state mumbo jumbo. Like, what?
JONG-FAST: Yeah. Lauren Boebert isn’t very smart.
OTTENBERG: Can we get rid of her?
JONG-FAST: She’s running [for congress in Colorado] right now. It’s a pretty competitive race. If you want to donate to her Democratic challenger, you can absolutely do that.
OTTENBERG: I hate her. I’m going to donate to her opponent. Is there anything you’re excited about that you’re working on?
JONG-FAST: I’m really enjoying the newsletter and people are really liking it. I wrote one this week called “Roe Rage.”
OTTENBERG: Yes. We got to this conversation because I texted you about “Roe Rage.” I feel like you have some faith in the future, Molly.
JONG-FAST: I do. I have faith in the future.
OTTENBERG: You believe in the future.
JONG-FAST: I do. And the younger generation is really great. They’ll save us all.