clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

How Washington Post columnist Alexandra Petri finds humor in Trump’s chaotic White House

“You laugh, but then people’s lives are being destroyed.”

If you buy something from a Vox link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

US-Christmas-Trump Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images

Alexandra Petri has never been a surgeon — but as a political humor columnist in 2018, she thinks she knows how they think.

“I assume they’re constantly joking with one another to keep their spirits up,” Petri said on the latest episode of Recode Decode.

Petri writes satirical columns about the news, and particularly the Trump White House, for the Washington Post. Over the past year, she said, part of her job has been reminding people that America is swimming in a “weird cocktail of absurdity.”

“You laugh, but then people’s lives are being destroyed,” Petri said. “... You have to remember, this is wild! This is every day, but it’s still completely not a thing that should be happening.”

You can listen to Recode Decode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.

On the new podcast, Petri talked with Recode’s Kara Swisher and Chorus CEO Dick Costolo about how she finds her material (usually whatever makes her mad on Twitter), and how the politicians she mocks have responded to her work. She heard through the grapevine that former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich liked her 2017 column, “I am President Trump, and I think women are very special.”

“I think some people have senses of humor and other people become enraged,” Petri said. “It really varies by the person and the thing you’re writing about. People do take themselves very seriously and what they’re doing very seriously, but some people don’t take one of those things seriously.”

But just because Washington is absurd doesn’t mean Petri has no limits. She said she’s tried to avoid descending into jokes about people’s appearance, “because that’s such a Trump strategy.”

“On the one hand, some people’s exteriors and interiors match nicely,” Petri said. “But pointing that out when there’s so many other things they’re doing — [Steve Bannon’s] grandiose, ‘I’m a chess master playing on like 18 levels’ is funnier than ‘Oh, I’ve made some choices.’”

And she said there would still be plenty to joke about if Hillary Clinton were working from the Oval Office now.

“Can you imagine sitting through a Clinton administration?” Petri asked. “Half of the media would have been like, ‘We need to light her on fire now! Here’s a bucket of pitch.’”

“We would’ve been able to have comedic arguments about policy,” she added. “Which would have been nice, instead of jokes about ‘Oh! Nuclear war! Ha ha ha ... eh ...’”

If you like this show, you should also sample our other podcasts:

  • Recode Media with Peter Kafka features no-nonsense conversations with the smartest and most interesting people in the media world, with new episodes every Thursday. Use these links to subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.
  • Too Embarrassed to Ask, hosted by Kara Swisher and The Verge’s Lauren Goode, answers the tech questions sent in by our readers and listeners. You can hear new episodes every Friday on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.
  • And Recode Replay has all the audio from our live events, including the Code Conference, Code Media and the Code Commerce Series. Subscribe today on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.

If you like what we’re doing, please write a review on Apple Podcasts — and if you don’t, just tweet-strafe Kara.

This article originally appeared on

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for Vox Recommends

Get curated picks of the best Vox journalism to read, watch, and listen to every week, from our editors.