Alexandra Petri

Washington, D.C.

Alexandra Petri is a Washington Post columnist offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day. She is the author of the essay collections "Nothing Is Wrong And Here Is Why" and "A Field Guide to Awkward Silences." She joined The Post as an intern in 2010, after graduating from Harvard College.

Sign up to receive Alexandra Petri's latest columns in your inbox as soon as they're published. Honors & Awards:
  • National Press Club Angele Gingras Award for Humor Writing 2016, Shorty Award 2016, Forbes 30 Under 30, Fifty Funniest People Right Now (Rolling Stone)
Recent Articles

ALEXANDRA PETRI COLUMN

Advance for release Wednesday, July 28, 2021, and thereafter

(For Petri clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

For Print Use Only.

By Alexandra Petri

WASHINGTON -- Let me see if I have this straight. I am just trying to organize all the things that I have been told, with a straight face, to believe about the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol. First, this was just a normal tour, full of people with a "jovial, friendly, earnest demeanor." These "very special" people arrived at the Capitol because the election had been stolen from them, but they meant no harm; the gallows they erected was just . . . well, we'll come back to that. These people were going to bring, they tweeted, the Calvary ("a public display of Christ's crucifixion, a central symbol of her Christian faith with her to the president's speech, a symbol of faith, love and peace"), not the cavalry. It was in this positive, uplifting spirit that a man went into House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office and left her the inoffensive note, "Hey Nancy, Bigo was here biatd," which wasn't ominous because it meant nothing at all.

But also, the events of Jan. 6 were all Nancy Pelosi's fault, because she denied the Capitol Police the support they needed, although they didn't need the support because it was good that the tourists were there having a pleasant, wonderful, jovial day (except for the antifa provocateurs, who weren't, but they were only visible to some people who were sufficiently pure in heart), and they barely had any weapons at all and meant no harm.

Do I have it right? It doesn't matter. The people saying this don't care. They are just saying these things to see how much we are willing to swallow.

The number of cartoonish things that we have been asked, with apparent seriousness, to believe about the events of Jan. 6 would be comical if we did not have to live here. There is a kind of bleak comedy in people demanding that you see something that is, quite plainly, not there. But not if people start actually seeing it.

Take Rep. Elise Stefanik's claims, at a press conference Tuesday morning, that Pelosi was to blame for the events of that day. Yes, of course. That's what it was. Nancy Pelosi sat cackling at her desk and observed that all her dominoes were in line, at long last. It was she who had made Donald Trump organize a "Stop the Steal" rally on the mall, knowing what would inevitably follow. And of course it was she who coordinated the men wandering the halls of the Capitol, calling "Nancy . . ." in a haunting sing-song.

What do they take us for?

What they are asking us to believe is palpably absurd. And that's the point.

At the very end of "The Taming of the Shrew," Petruchio has worn down Katherine to the point that he decides to have a little fun and start obliging her to state that she does not see what she sees. That's not the sun, he says; it's the moon. That's not the moon; it's the sun. What matters is not any particular of what he says is happening, merely that he has the power to compel her to deny the reality of what she sees. "Be it moon or sun, or what you please," Katherine says. ". . .But sun it is not, when you say it is not, and the moon changes even as your mind. What you will have it named, even that it is, and so it shall be so for Katherine."

The point is not that the Unified Trump GOP Canon for What Truly Happened on Jan. 6 is being continually and contradictorily rewritten. The point is not that what we are being told is absurd, inconsistent and downright goofy. The point is that the specifics don't matter; what matters is that we are being told, blatantly, repeatedly and without shame, that we simply did not see what we saw, and we are expected to go along with it. This is an exercise in power, to see how malleable our reality really is.

It is because of this that the Jan. 6 commission is so sadly necessary. We did see what we saw. It is too important to let that fact get drowned out.

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Follow Alexandra Petri on Twitter, @petridishes.

ALEXANDRA PETRI COLUMN

Advance for release Saturday, July 24, 2021, and thereafter

(For Petri clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

For Print Use Only.

By Alexandra Petri

WASHINGTON - If you have some information that you would like to keep absolutely secret, there are two ways you can go about it. The first way is to seal your lips, speak of it to no one and go to your grave carrying the information inside you.

The second is to call the FBI's hotline for information about Brett Kavanaugh. Tell it to them, urging that they look into it immediately and that no time be lost. The information will then be wrapped up as securely as a mermaid's voice, tossed into the bottom of a mine shaft and never spoken of again, except in passing in an oddly unapologetic letter two years later, when it is too late for it to be of any use.

It is reassuring to know that there are still some ways of keeping information hush-hush. With Google and Alexa (Amazon founder and spaceman Jeff Bezos also owns The Washington Post) always listening, and a plethora of smart devices hanging on your every word, you can sometimes feel that everything, everywhere, is seen by someone. But that isn't true! As long as you brought it to the attention of the FBI, any information you had about Brett Kavanaugh at the time of his nomination to the Supreme Court - whether it needed to be investigated further or not, whether you are a crank who just loves to call hotlines or someone who took great pains and enormous personal risk to place the call - is being kept absolutely safe somewhere in a lockbox at the very bottom of the ocean, guarded by a mean-looking fish with a lamp on its head.

Another reassuring thing about this incident is that I used to think I was the only person who would get an email in summer 2019 demanding an urgent response and then get so stressed out about it that two years would pass before I would issue a confusing note saying that what had gone wrong was vaguely the fault of something I had understood I had been instructed to do during the Obama administration.

Does the FBI also have undiagnosed anxiety that is impairing its daily functioning? It shouldn't; it is a government agency. Maybe it was trying to do some sort of a fun time capsule thing? Saving all the messages it received for us as a nation to open years from now can give us something to look forward to after a Supreme Court with Kavanaugh on it rules on Roe v. Wade!

When Napoleon received mail labeled urgent, it is said he would leave it in a pile, wait three weeks and then see whether it was still urgent. The FBI has not only seized this apocryphal approach but vastly improved upon it. After all, as the FBI explained, when it comes to vetting candidates for lifetime office, it doesn't work for the American people, but for the current administration, or the Requesting Entity, which I have to imagine based on what it sounds like is a crystalline being that floats in space and destroys all approaching ships.

In cases like this, I have learned, the FBI is an I.S.P. (investigative service provider), and it is providing a B.I. (background investigation) only as much as the Requesting Entity wants it to in accordance with an Obama-era M.O.U. (memorandum of understanding)! This adds up, it seems, to a bunch of B.S. (bureaucratic stupendousness).

"The FBI does not have authority under the MOU to unilaterally conduct further investigative activity absent instructions from the requesting entity," the letter said, "nor does the FBI have authority to amend the MOU." Well, all right, then! If the current administration has no follow-up questions - unsurprisingly, the Trump administration had no follow-up questions about Brett Kavanaugh - then the FBI would not presume to have any follow-up questions! It is nice to know that this is how things work, in the sense that it is nice to know you have a tumor; it is good information to have, so that you can make an effort to change the situation.

That, to me, seems like the thing to do with urgent, unpleasant information: learn it, and do something about it. But maybe the way the FBI went about Kavanaugh's background investigation is better: simply ignore that information, because you were asked to. Put that unpleasant fact in a deep hole and bury it until it goes away - or becomes too late to do anything about it at all.

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Follow Alexandra Petri on Twitter, @petridishes.

ALEXANDRA PETRI COLUMN

Advance for release Friday, July 23, 2021, and thereafter

(For Petri clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

For Print Use Only.

By Alexandra Petri

WASHINGTON -- How right, how right Leader Kevin McCarthy was to accuse Nancy Pelosi of playing politics with the Jan. 6 commission! That is the last thing we need in this commission: a one-sided, negative attitude toward the events of Jan. 6.

Suppose Rep. Jim Jordan did possibly strategize with President Donald Trump about how to overturn the election, and suppose Rep. Jim Banks did say, "Speaker Pelosi created the committee solely to malign conservatives & justify the Left's authoritarian agenda" -- all the more reason to have them closely in the fold on the commission! How do we expect to hear both sides with a commission comprising solely people who think the insurrection was a bad thing?

Why, as currently constituted, the commission will discover only negative things about the storming of the Capitol on Jan. 6 that had members of Congress cowering for their lives in the face of an unhinged mob. The members are probably just going to look into all the so-called horrors that occurred and try to find ways of preventing the events of Jan. 6 from happening again -- a pathetic, narrow-minded view, when a good, well-rounded commission would consider whether they maybe should happen again, and how to encourage them.

Trying to include Jordan on the commission was a step in the right direction, certainly, but not far enough. A better commission would include, at minimum, the QAnon Shaman, as well as that man who burst into Pelosi's office and left her an enraged, misspelled note. This commission will hear testimony of Eugene Goodman's heroism, the quick thinking that left him facing a mob alone. But a truly balanced commission would consider how scary it was for the mob, as well!

This will be closer to getting a real picture of all the parts of Jan. 6 that otherwise might have been overlooked. On the one hand, many of those who were there that day going about their jobs are still rattled and scarred. But on the other hand, people took a lot of great selfies. Not to mention all the free redecorating that occurred! These facts would have gotten lost in all this needless denunciation.

How can we possibly move on when we focus solely on holding the rioters accountable and spare no thought for the millions of voters whose careless casting of their ballots for Joe Biden created this mess? How can America possibly heal if we insist on seeing only the bad side of an attempt to stop the peaceful functioning of our democracy and threaten the entire legislative branch, and not also the nifty things about it, such as how creative the headgear was and how many of the insurrectionists have mothers who love them? Or how good it would be if Donald Trump were still president, and what a coward Mike Pence was, say. I bet the commission will not even spare a single second to ponder whether everyone who was wounded, traumatized or killed might not have been overreacting?

I am just devastated to find that we are going to have a body that will take such a one-sided, limited view of an event that, for all we know, might have been a good thing. How political! How small-minded, how parochial! Truly, they are letting the country down.

That is why I am so relieved the House Republicans will be opening their own investigation into the events of Jan. 6. How good it will be to hear both sides.

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Follow Alexandra Petri on Twitter, @petridishes.

About
Alexandra Petri is a Washington Post columnist offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day. She is the author of the essay collections "Nothing Is Wrong And Here Is Why" and "A Field Guide to Awkward Silences." She joined The Post as an intern in 2010, after graduating from Harvard College.

Sign up to receive Alexandra Petri's latest columns in your inbox as soon as they're published.
Books
  • A Field Guide To Awkward Silences
  • Nothing Is Wrong And Here IS Why
Awards
  • National Press Club Angele Gingras Award for Humor Writing 2016, Shorty Award 2016, Forbes 30 Under 30, Fifty Funniest People Right Now (Rolling Stone)
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