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Opinion R. Eric Thomas, the man who gave us ‘Auntie Maxine,’ is the escape from politics that you need right now

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) speaks as R. Eric Thomas, right, listens during an event at Busboys & Poets in Washington on April 14. (April Reign/Courtesy of R. Eric Thomas)

“I write my column every day and I don’t go into it thinking, like, ‘Girl, the kids are gonna eat this up.’ ”

Two days before President Trump’s inauguration, R. Eric Thomas penned “Congresswoman Maxine Waters will read you now.” The epic dissection of the California congresswoman’s 21-second press conference where she thundered that now-former FBI director James Comey “has no credibility.” The one where Thomas dubbed her “that auntie who got rich selling Avon and doesn’t really like your father.” The one that made him an instant must-read for those of us who want a little down-home humor with the laugh-to-keep-from-crying reality of politics. He is the escape from politics that you need right now. 


For more conversations like this, subscribe to “Cape UP” on Apple Podcasts or Stitcher.

“I was like Dorothy just landed in Oz, not even red shoes on, just stunned, shewk” Thomas told me during the latest episode of “Cape Up,” which was recorded in New York. And if you’re a faithful reader of Thomas’s work you know that “shewk” is one of his go-to words. When French President Emmanuel Macron released his “portrait officiel” in June, Thomas wrote the dreamy photo “will have you le shewk.”

R. Eric Thomas, the political columnist who loves Rep. Maxine Waters and Idris Elba equally

“It’s basically ‘shook,’ the regular spelling. But it’s sort of like ‘stunned.’ … It’s basically any person who’s clutching their pearls, can’t handle it,” Thomas, a playwright and engaging storyteller, explained when I asked him to define the colloquialism for the uninitiated. “And it’s a fantastic shorthand for, ‘Girl, I can’t even’ because I can’t always say, ‘Girl, I can’t even.’ Word economy is important.”

Listen to the podcast to hear Thomas discuss former president Barack Obama, whom in the Trump administration he’d like to meet (“Jeff Sessions? For what? Honey, no.”) and why his parents sign their postcards “Cliff and Claire,” as in “the Huxtables,” and once sent him one with a one-sentence message: “Spending your inheritance!”

‘I love being called Auntie Maxine.’

“We grew up working class. My mother has a doctorate in education … but she took 16 years off to raise my brothers and me. And my father worked three jobs to keep us all afloat and keep my brothers and me in school. He would get up at five in the morning and deliver newspapers,” Thomas said. “It’s a reminder of like, ‘Look how far we’ve come.’ ”

“Cape Up” is Jonathan’s weekly podcast talking to key figures behind the news and our culture. Subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher or wherever else you listen to podcasts.