"At the end it was just me sitting there staring at the television thinking, 'Holy sh*t. What just happened?'" Real Housewives of New York City star Carole Radziwill says of the election night party she threw back in November. She had dubbed it a "celebration party," but, as we all know, the outcome of the night wasn't what was expected.
Radziwill's party, and her obsession with the election leading up to it, is featured on the current season of RHONY, which premiered April 5. The series filmed in the fall when people were referring to 2016 as a "dumpster fire" with increasing frequency. And while you were talking about how there was no way Donald Trump would ever become president, Radziwill was doing the exact same thing — just in conversations with Bethenny Frankel while cameras were pointed at her.
"Three weeks before the election we started filming," Radziwill tells me at Bustle's New York office about two and a half months after the inauguration that made "President Trump" a very real term. "It was really the only thing I wanted to talk about."
The first episode of the series' ninth season shows just that. While Luann de Lesseps is seen talking about her wedding and Sonja Morgan is shown reminiscing about her "escapades" back in the day, the scene in which Radziwill is most heavily featured shows her talking Frankel's ear off about her confidence that Hillary Clinton will win "in a landslide" because Trump is a "buffoon." It's a conversation that would be a funny look back at the mess that was 2016 — you know, if things had gone the other way and 2017 hadn't become even more of a mess — but now is just an uncomfortably familiar reminder of the confidence millions of Americans maybe shouldn't have had.
"I thought, like most of the country, if not the world, that there's no way that we could elect this man who seemed very clearly unfit for the job — and it was debatable whether he even really wanted the job," she says now. "I thought, I'm talking about this and it's going to kind of be irrelevant because six months from now the country is going to have moved on. We'll be in a better place."
And while it wasn't the type of conversation that you normally hear on Real Housewives, Radziwill still kept talking and the network was understanding.
"I'm sure Bravo would have liked nothing more than for me to come into every situation and talk about the guest list at Luann's wedding or who Ramona was dating or my boyfriend. But I wasn't talking about that and they said, 'OK. This is reality and this is what you're talking about.'"
It's the reality for many of us. While the election is over now and Trump has been in office for nearly 100 days, there's no doubt that political talk is now an everyday occurrence for many Americans for whom that didn't use to be the case. And that can come with the side effect of strained relationships with friends and family — or, for reality stars like Radziwill, it can come with more drama for your show where strained relationships are the basis of everything.
"It was really the first time on the show that I came with a really distinct point of view about something that I knew a lot about that the other women didn't know that much about," Radziwill, who was a journalist with ABC News for years (and has the Emmys to prove it), says of bringing politics to Housewives. "So there was a little bit a drama insofar as they didn't want to listen to it."
She continues, "There was a little bit of an affectation, a little bit of pretending that they knew as much as I did about the election. And, of course, they didn't. But they just didn't want to say, 'Well tell me about that. Why do you think that?'"
There's a difference between the way the post-election tension is affecting non-reality TV stars and the Housewives — Radziwill arguing with Ramona Singer about who knows more about politics isn't the same as someone cutting a pro-Trump family member out of their life, for instance — but when it comes down to it, the fact that a major storyline on Real Housewives is about drama stemming from the election shows how pervasive politics has become. Reality TV is often used as a form of escapism; in 2017 that's not a given.
Radziwill does feel hopeful about the future; although she's still very clearly baffled that Trump was elected. After joking "I don't know, Xanax?" as a suggestion for how to stay sane in 2017, Radziwill says, "You know what keeps you sane is being informed, getting information, getting information from credible news sources, and staying politically active."
She continues, "It's our civic duty to be invested in our political process and I think in the last decade or so we've gotten really lazy, so I thank Donald Trump for that. I thank him for creating what has become an explosion of democracy which we have not seen since the '60s."
And, I guess, in this strange, strange time, Real Housewives fans also have him to thank for bringing a new and, six months ago, very unexpected storyline to their favorite show. As Radziwill puts it, "Not even Housewives can measure up to what’s happening in Washington."