wax banks

second-best since Cantor

Category: politick

How’d that work out for them, by the way?

I’m old enough to remember when a version of the ‘Great Replacement’ just-so story was published by two Democratic consultants to wide acclaim, in 2002, under the title The Emerging Democratic Majority. It forecast unbreakable control of government by Democrats in the coming decades due, in no small measure, to demographic determinism: women vote Dem, blacks and hispanics vote Dem, high-paid professionals (men and women of every colour, esp. the young) vote Dem, it’s just inevitable.

The book was wrong about many things, let’s not dwell on it.

The explicitly conspiracist ‘replacement’ myth that’s long been bandied about by antisemites, fascists, and sundry far-right imbeciles and racist dipshits — demographic revolution is being encouraged, funded, even legally mandated by the Radical Left in order to brown/queer our God-fearing nation and commit ‘white genocide’ — is too stupid and evil to consider. It’s incorrect, ‘white genocide’ is a concept with no analytical value, and people who make such accusations should be dismissed from adult conversation. But you can imagine sane intelligent people, particularly working-class white hyphenates (e.g. Italian-Americans), believing a related story: as America becomes a majority-minority country, hostility to some idea of ‘whiteness’ drives the promotion, by political and media figures, of a vision of America being morally improved by becoming ‘less white.’ Not less racist, not less hostile toward minorities, but ‘less white’ per se.

If you’re an American (or bourgeois cosmopolitan) reading this, you probably agree with both the demographic fact claim and the moral claim. You probably feel, too, that racist\^H\^H\^H\^H\^Hworking-class whites ‘have it coming’ in a sense, whatever exactly ‘it’ is, for reaping the benefits of racial/racist hegemony and not doing their part to Lift Up the less fortunate. (Let’s not quibble about the fact that the working class has spend decades under the boot-heel of the same elites now most loudly trumpeting the virtues of DEI, etc., nor ask how ‘fortunate’ working-class voters of any race have been over the last half-century; nor should we quibble about the sincerity of elite trumpeting. Mouths gonna open, teeth gonna grind.)

Which is to ask: what part of the non-conspiracist (consensus) ‘replacement’ story do you object to, if any? What part do you think the New York Times objects to?

If you think the Democratic Party — an actual elite conspiracy against the laity, like the Republican Party — actually ‘cares about immigrants’ (or racial/ethnic/sexual minorities or indeed anyone else) then you’re a sucker and a fool or worse. Elite Dems care about guarding their prerogatives, like Republicans; they do what Capital tells them. Indeed they are Capital. And because the Democrats have no idea how to appeal to actual humans, they fucking love the condescending idea that Democratic voters can be made…which is why Trump’s successful appeals to minority voters took Dem elites (and rubes) by surprise in 2016 and again in 2020. They desperately want the ’emerging Democratic majority’ replacement-theory to be true, so that they can keep fundraising without actually doing anything for voters.

The Republicans want it to be true for the same reason. Remember: the minority party gets rich too.

Remember too that if demographic shifts are emergent systemic phenomena and no one’s driving — if, in other words, the ‘browning’ of the West is a mundane fact — then Capital is already efficiently moving to exploit it, everyone who can read a graph has begun to ‘price it in,’ and all that’s left open is how human beings feel about it. Regardless of what you want this country to be like, regardless of how you feel about Western Cultural Heritage (tired, wired?) and the many matters of identity wrapped up in how you look or speak and who raised you or didn’t and where you grew up or were kept down and what the State is or isn’t and has probably never been, there’s this nagging question right here and now: Who’s telling you how to feel? Are you cool with that?

Mash those Like/Subscribe buttons and try not to let your suffering interrupt the show, please and thanks.

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Gonna fall.

The 18-year-old bastard who killed 10 people at a Tops in Buffalo was from Conklin NY.

His earliest memories may, in other words, include not one but two historic floods — in 2006 and 2011 — which displaced 20,000 people from his town and county. Floodwaters in Conklin eclipsed all previous records in both those floods. Hundreds of homes in the area were destroyed.

In 2019 the Army Corps of Engineers opted not to implement additional flood protections for the region. ‘Not worth it’ is the summary finding, in case you were wondering, though some may disagree:

Damage in Broome and Tioga counties [from the 2011 flooding alone] was pegged at $500 million, with damage to an estimated 7,000 structures, including crippling the major wastewater treatment plant in the region.

The existing flood protections had been sufficient prior to 2006, but the next two major floods exceeded the design spec. Surely you heard about this on the national news, right? Even Chuck Schumer made concerned gestures about it. The same thing happened in New Orleans and caused a major political crisis for then-president Bush; surely there must have been some national coverage of two enormously costly natural disasters displacing tens of thousands of rural residents and the government deciding that taking additional prevention/mitigation measures was a bad investment.

Right?

There is, as they say, nothing to be done. Some people are just born unlucky.

On climax (excerpt).

Note: This is excerpted from a work in progress. –wa.

To loosely borrow terms from molecular biology: the climax is the egophilic end of the story, its region of attraction and attachment to the sensemaking, sense-craving world of selves. But the body of the story is egophobic, deranging and repelling the unitary ego-self, asserting an alternate order in which we the audience become disordered, dissolve. ‘Lost in the story.’ We bind to the story at its premise (‘on entry’) and come undone, and are put back together when we leave at the end. Maybe that’s what endings are for. They feel great — like letting go of something you’ve clung tightly to, and feeling blood rush back into your hands.

Anticlimax leaves you with an otherworldly feeling, which — in the terms, not solely allegorical or metaphorical, of the present work — marks the presence of an actual other world. Storyworld is real, we can live whole lives there. Anticlimax and ambivalence and insinuation leave open connections between day and night, dream and waking. Sometimes you want that. Sometimes you need it.

Taxonomizing, categorizing, hierarchizing, contrast-heightening judgment marks and enforces that grey blurry border between this world and others. It pushes story-stuff back into its cage. The poet is ‘unacknowledged legislator’; the critic is the hanging judge impressing the law upon once-free subjects. Making the lawmaker’s aspiration into his fiefdom.

To look into the closed system of meaning which is the poetic text, the living community, the human life, and pronounce judgment from without — to demand that it be made legible, communicable, meaningful, climactic — is to cut away that aspect of it which most resembles your own life, all life. This is fear. It is to choose order over disorder and so welcome destruction. It is to refuse to see beauty in the strange; it is to look at the nonsensical world, the impossible universe, to look into infinity, and demand that it do the only thing it can’t, to make sense. To you. You of all people, you of all nations. This is fear and fuck that.

Criticism is possible — e.g. this book exists — but you have to go inside to know. You have to know in vivo. What can you say about music you can’t hear?

Airborne toxic nonevent.

Wrote this December 11, never figured out where to put it. So I’m putting it here, two weeks later.

One of the governing paradoxes of the Covid-19 era is that the arrival of the virus is one of the biggest, most consequential events of the last half-century — temporarily hobbling the world economy, completely altering the culture of ‘knowledge work’ throughout the western world, crippling entire municipalities, driving previously sane leaders to paranoid imbecility — yet most Americans are forced to experience plaguetime as an absence of action, a numbing estrangement from the essential ordinary: a seeming nonevent. Covid-19 has brought one anticlimax after another.

Nearly a million Americans have died, with millions more dead worldwide (many uncounted). Yes, the dead have mostly been old or infirm — one hates to say ‘expendable,’ though you should understand that the Masters absolutely do talk that way. Yet where’s the event? Where’s the History we’re living through? The pandemic has manifested first as a rush of scary news stories, hysterical overreaction, and thereafter for nearly all people an endlessly protracted waiting for the other shoe to drop. Covid-19 is everywhere, most humans will end up contracting some variant of it, but as the second winter of plaguetime arrives in Cambridge what do we see? Masks, empty storefronts bought up by speculators. Shortened hours, canceled events. Immensely long lines for testing and vaccines, then behaviour largely unchanged except for its perceptible slump, its hopelessness. Children somehow adapting to a fatally broken school system’s pointless lessons taught in emotionally crippling circumstances. Reports of a Scary Omicron Variant and evidence that a slightly worse, lonelier life goes on.

Same shit jobs, new opportunistic restrictions. Same feckless local leaders, same interest groups, new justifications for old corruption.

And on the television, by which we mean Twitter and Facebook: EVERYTHING IS NEWLY HORRIBLE! THE BIDEN ADMINISTRATION FACES ITS TOUGHEST LEGISLATIVE CHALLENGE YET! NAZIS MARCH! SHELVES ARE BARE! CHINA SUBVERTS DEMOCRACY! NEW FORMS OF DISCRIMINATION ARE DISCOVERED DAILY! EVERYTHING OUT OF YOUR MOUTH IS A HATE CRIME! THE NEW IPHONE HAS A GREAT CAMERA! THE CLIMATE IS IN CRISIS AND DEMOCRACY IS IN CRISIS AND THE SCHOOLS ARE STILL IN CRISIS AND YOUR (tax-deductible annually recurring) DONATION WILL HELP US STAY ANGRY ABOUT IT!

Late capitalism has long been understood by people with expensive humanities degrees as the era of ‘permanent crisis’ — the neverending ‘Police Action,’ the manufactured consensus that a Strong Response Is Called For, the ever-looming Threat of Economic Something-or-Other which the state must take deadly unilateral action to Avert — but under the insectile sign of Covid-19 it’s felt like the Powers That Be aren’t even really trying anymore. This actually deadly pandemic immediately became flimsy pretense for every preplanned1 initiative to strip human beings of autonomy and dignity; the world has gotten much worse in familiar stupid ways.

I don’t even mean vaccines; as everyone numerate knows, the vaccines have worked shockingly well with almost no cost, and you’re a myopic fucking fool for complaining about them while taking your lifesaving MMR and Tdap and influenza and HPV and chickenpox shots entirely for granted.

Rather: work has lost its dignity, politics its veneer of comity; civic life has been wrested from the hands of citizens and given wholesale to international capital (effectively coterminous with government). Even the parking meters have been privatized. Trust in government has completely disappeared, as has even the aspiration to objective journalism, making it that much easier for billionaires and Capital consortia to buy up governments and journalists. HR departments2 have somehow replaced labour unions as Protectors in the eyes of infantile young employees who hate their jobs anyway. Cities have been sold wholesale to the same foreign kleptocrats whom the pious news media make a show of wanting out of ‘our’ elections. If you’ve read any halfway-sane criticism at all in the past 50 years, the only surprising thing is the speed with which the destruction of the modern world has been accomplished, not by Covid-19 but by the same vampires who’ve been sucking society’s blood all along.

Yet there’s been no event, no marker, no deadline. Throughout 2020 there was a sense, profitably encouraged by the ‘news’ media, that the coming election heralded some kind of Big Change, that things would start to improve thereafter. And of course they have, in ways directly pertaining to the pandemic itself: federal agencies are getting restocked with competent workers, international relations are being renormalized (to the extent possible during this extraordinary historical Asterisk) after the departure of the unprecedentedly incompetent Trump administration. But at a fundamental level, the 2020 election didn’t change much of anything, because the underlying dynamics that led to Trump’s catastrophic election haven’t changed — have in fact deepened and intensified. Workers are more alienated and downtrodden than they were five years ago, civic life is more tightly shut against ordinary people’s participation, real wages keep declining, labour power keeps shrinking, ‘social’ media networks are even more powerful and even more dangerous and demented. Journalists are worse at their jobs, houses are flimsier, movies and books are dumber, Epstein didn’t kill himself, nothing has been rethought or rebuilt at a structural level. American politics is somehow even more poisonous and dimwitted than it was when Trump ran, and as the Capitol insurrection has been revealed as an inside job, the Republican Party and its army of judicial saboteurs (starting with a stolen, corrupt, nakedly partisan Supreme Court) have taken every opportunity to accelerate the collapse of the national body — while the Democrats have happily folded in on themselves like a used napkin, entirely beholden to the whims of vicious imbeciles like Joe Manchin and pitifully grateful not to have to actually accomplish anything at all.

Which is to say: Capital has gone on doing what it’s always done, our complementary political parties have continued to be themselves, demographic shifts decades in the making have kept destabilizing existing societies in predictable ways. And the end of modern human life due to anthropogenic climate transformation has carried the fuck on killing us.

Out the window, the same evidence of thinning, hollowing out, slow exsanguination, casual betrayal, abandonment, surrender to entropy. The same atomization and rending of the social fabric, now with more explicit identitarianism but otherwise unchanged over decades. Here in the coffeeshop, only the masks and the sand in the hourglass meaningfully differentiate this world from that of five or ten years ago. The working class is still being ground to a paste; the middle class is still being medicated out of consciousness and guilted into compliance; the idiot rich still feast on everyone else. The planet is rapidly becoming uninhabitable by apes driving cars. Cambridge is still a better place to live than most other cities in the USA, but we’d rather be good guys than heroes — which is why the bad guys won ages ago.


  1. This is important, please tattoo this on the insides of your eyelids. Western capital-governments’ sickening opportunism in the face of Covid-19 DOES NOT MEAN that Covid-19 itself is some kind of ‘conspiracy’ or ‘hoax’ or even just ‘overblown.’ Millions of humans — of every age, in every nation it’s touched — are dead before their time because of this virus and the catastrophically bungled response to it, but the vaccines have worked; they’ve been shockingly safe and will save millions more down the line as the science behind them proves useful in other domains. Cranks claiming that vaccines are part of a ‘depopulation’ scheme can be disregarded because their silly claims have already been debunked; cranks claiming that Covid-19 ‘is just a flu’ should similarly be disregarded for the same reason. The fatal disruption of the USA medical system in 2020 really did happen, the Omicron variant really will similarly tax world hospital systems during the coming ‘third wave,’ and anti-vaccine hysteria should be treated with appropriate contempt. But none of this exculpates the cynics, sadists, and ordinary thieves who’ve used the pandemic as cover for their neverending predation. This essay is about our subjective experience of the pandemic, not epidemiology. 
  2. Every adult who is not thuddingly stupid understands that ‘Human Resources’ departments exist to protect the Money from the Workers; it’s interesting, by which we mean fucking nauseating, that so many 20/30somethings see ‘having my identity category be looked upon sympathetically by HR’ as the highest honour that can be accorded an employee rather than, I dunno, 401k matching or a sane workweek or just not having their real lives in the outside world held in obvious unrestrained contempt by the bosses. 

Sexual identity (politics).

Epistemic status: Thinking out loud, written months ago in what I can only assume was a real bad mood. I genuinely have no idea whether any of this holds up. I’ll note, though, that it’s the kind of old-fashioned blogpost I don’t write anymore, where I hit on a metaphor I like and try to pass it off as philosophy. Somebody give me tenure. –wa.

The funny thing about ‘I’m a sub’ — ‘I’m a queer nonbinary top’ — ‘I’m an asexual furry’ — is the way such declarations assume absolute fixity of sexual identity and ‘preference.’

Wait…fixity? Don’t you mean ‘fluidity,’ oldperson/fascist?

You’d think that, wouldn’t you.

Let’s talk about Magic: The Gathering for a second.

M:TG‘s best trick was to turn deckbuilding into a game activity, a subgame played away from the table. For millions of players over a quarter-century (though by no means all), creating a custom deck has been one of the most enjoyable aspects of M:TG play.

Deckbuilding is solitaire. It’s wonderful, but it’s purely self-centered. Indeed, deckbuilding-by-newsgroup is known as ‘theorycrafting,’ and is a hugely popular activity in the M:TG community — though ‘theorycrafting’ is an awfully elevated term for ‘talking about card combos with strangers.’

The ‘play of the hand,’ meanwhile, is all compromise and reaction and tactical maneuvering and plans not surviving contact with the enemy. What happens at the table is the game itself, and this is where ‘filthy casuals’ find their enjoyment — hence the increasing popularity of the grab’n’go fixed-deck distribution model, even for M:TG itself.

I’ll note here that the term ‘simultaneous solitaire’ is used derisively to talk about games where players choose strategies which are carried out by rote, independent of opponent interaction. Such plans are known as ‘degenerate strategies,’ and they’re major sources of the dreaded Negative Play Experience, because they take the play out of gameplay. They turn it into ‘a piece of business’ (cf. Rob Long’s magnificent book Conversations with my Agent).

For expert M:TG (or Pokémon TCG) players, at-the-table gameplay itself is fun — they wouldn’t stick around otherwise — but high-level play is in dispiritingly large measure a quest to create perfectly predictable decks, removing contingency and guaranteeing the execution of a set gameplan. That’s where the ‘customizable’ in ‘customizable card games’ (CCG) comes from — though note, too, that it used to stand for the more honestly nauseating ‘collectible’…

Now, sex, or rather politics:

Sexual identitarianism — e.g. my opening list of taxonomic declarations — is sold to westerners now as a form of freedom. (Never mind that freedom cannot be sold.) Declare your allegiance, align yourself with a group, know your place (and declare it in your Twitter bio), and We will back up your claim. If you like, We’ll even join in deriding those people so uncool that they don’t yet have a paraphilia. ‘Marginal’ identity is seen as a source of virtue — or rather pity, but only fascists split hairs — and crucially you can opt in to such identity by declaring a marginal sexual preference. (Insert dark joke about ‘predictable endpoint of neoliberalism’ here.)

Sexual identitarianism is deckbuilding — no, it’s theorycrafting, simultaneous solitaire. The (let’s dispense with pretense and just say ‘ideological’) purpose of saying ‘I’m an asexual furry’ isn’t to announce the kind of activities you like, it’s to create the conditions for enforceability, i.e. a justification for disconnecting from an uncomfortable situation. ‘Isn’t that a universal good?’ I suppose it would be, yes, if you assumed ‘uncomfortable’ meant ‘bad.’

The ‘play of the hand’ is where the action is, erotically speaking. The good part of sex is…sex, not theory. But sexual identitarianism’s core sleight-of-hand is to displace eroticism, which is all about bisociation and ambivalence and negotiation and suspense and longing (usually unfulfilled, in the aggregate) and vulnerability and story and posture and tension and fluidity and improvisation and performance and drama and imaginative freedom, in favour of what we might well call brand loyalty. In an identitarian-capitalist system, the outcome of the sexual/ludic/social interaction must be preordained, which means avoiding collective improvisation and negotiation to the extent possible, hence Tinder instead of clubbing and ‘I’m an XYZ’ instead of ‘Let’s find out.’ That’s the palliative point of such anxious preemptive categorization: to stave off unpalatable/unmarketable uncertainty in people accustomed to pleasure ‘on demand’ and by design, even if such preemption means chucking out the eroticism-baby with the uncertainty-bathwater.

Yes motherfucker, you just read the best metaphor in the history of metaphor.

(Hey did you know that collaborative board games — people against a rules-system, an AI, an no interpersonal competition to be found — are hugely popular nowadays? Indeed. I won’t say why.)

Deckbuilding is a fun solo activity but every ‘filthy casual’ — let’s dispense with pretense and just say ‘vanilla’ — knows that the play is the game.

Back to where we started: today’s declarations of sexual identity assume absolute fixity of those identities and of sexual ‘preference’… by which I mean they assume the displacement of sexual desire from the realm of imagination — ambivalence, negotiation, play — to the realm of taxonomy and strategy, the business plan, the knowable, the saleable, the prepackaged, the reassuring, the generic. They manifest an ideology that turns bodies into types, into data points. They’re boring, which is not unconnected to why they’re popular.

Yet you must be able to fuck as you please, obviously, as long as you’re not harming anyone, yourself included. And no one should have to hide (from) their healthy sexuality.

So…what?

The next bit’s the hard bit, so I’ll defer (avoid) it by ending here.

Melanial dispensationalism.

Idiots do you not understand that she does not care about any of this

The national ‘news’ media love to talk about Trump — he’s good for ratings, if nothing else.

Melania is Trump’s longest appendage: surgically attached to his genitals at enormous cost, with all the charisma of a hair plug. Melania ‘news’ stories excite gullible readers/viewers, hence this CNN headline: ‘Melania Trump departing White House with lowest favorability of her tenure.’ What a cute word, there: ‘tenure.’

Melania Trump’s ‘approval ratings’ don’t matter. She’s not doing ‘the job’ of First Lady — there isn’t one, really, especially when there’s no one coming to the White House due to plague, but she wouldn’t have done it if there were. The position is ceremonial and the Trump administration has starved all White House ceremony of dignity and meaning. Not by accident, either, though Trump can’t help himself — no, that was always part of the sales pitch. ‘They thought they were too good for us,’ says the man with a golden toilet. ‘Fuck them.’ The barbaric Capitol riot matched his sensibilities exactly, which is one reason he didn’t do anything to stop it: he liked seeing his betters, his moral superiors, afraid of him — and loves seeing poor (i.e. not-rich) people do what he tells them.

Melania Trump is a ‘glorified’ prostitute who married evil money and now has to raise an autistic son by herself in a setting she openly loathes and has helped poison. She deserves some bad things in this life but not this bad, and what difference does it make whether Panelist #281 ‘approves’ of her ‘performance’ as First Lady? Has she commissioned insufficiently cheery shoulder pads or fucked a poolboy or bodyguard who wasn’t woke enough? Did she pucker and scowl at an unflattering angle to the camera-eye? Does she call up Marla Maples on the people’s dime and ask what to buy her imbecilic husband for Father’s Day, only to hear cold laughter from the other end of the line? Does the FBI listen in? Do they laugh too?

Melania Trump doesn’t matter and her ‘approval rating’ matters even less. CNN is an entertainment company that sometimes accidentally spills some journalism on its bib. In two days, some fresh hell.

Really dont care do u

Revisiting unpublished 2016 thoughts on Trump and the election.

On the eve of the 2016 election I wrote and didn’t publish a couple of essays on the campaign. I wrote this the week before the election:

As I’ve said and written over and over for the last year, Trump’s candidacy is an ongoing media phenomenon manifesting as a political event rather than a primarily political phenomenon, and the most worrying thing about his candidacy isn’t the old problem of ‘white nationalism’ but rather the more recent catastrophic devaluation of democracy and political participation. Bernie Sanders ran against politics-as-usual, but Trump has harnessed Americans’ disgust with politics of any sort — which is why Hillary Clinton, who was handed a Senate seat by the DNC (who promised that she would face no primary challenge in 2000) and is perceived by many to’ve been given the Secretary of State job as a résumé-booster, is in a sense the best possible opponent from Trump’s point of view, the living embodiment of D.C. insider political scheming. The straightforward corruption of the Democrats’ 2016 primary process is catnip not only for Republicans but for any voter who loathes what Trump refers to as a ‘rigged system,’ and confirms their sense that voting can’t fundamentally change anything. The fact that Trump is a pig-ignorant TV game-show host rather than a person with any knowledge of government or policy isn’t a weakness in his supporters’ minds; the whole point of voting for Trump is to reject the rapidly transforming cultural mainstream. The best possible inoculation against the dangerous ignorance of Trump and his hardcore supporters is more robust community ties and more open communication between individuals and groups across cultural/political/identitarian lines. But while fulfilling and healthy, that’s not as satisfying as the tribal combat which has powered the Trumpist movement.

Correct.

From the same essay:

Though I saw clearly the threat Trump posed to the conventional (not necessarily to say ‘mainstream’) candidates — who were forbidden by systemic norms from responding in kind to Trump’s stinging criticisms of their various hypocrisies and inadequacies, and who in any case were and remain every bit as corrupt and/or feckless as Trump said — I wrongly assumed that the GOP continued to have decisive influence over its own nomination process, and didn’t realize that the massive field of GOP wannabes would work so strongly in Trump’s favour, or that the loser candidates would commit so many unforced errors. Still, I think I got the big points right: Trump’s candidacy will shape not only the content but the form of future campaigns, and (as has been clear for a decade) the GOP’s tenuous political arrangement of kowtowing to multinational corporations while buying working-class votes with culture-warfare is no longer sustainable.

Partly correct. I’m ashamed to have fallen for the ‘Party decides’ determinist stuff that — what a coincidence — Nate Silver explicitly cited as the latest, and therefore most important, thing he’d read.

My last claim, about the GOP coalition no longer holding, might be wrong — it doesn’t take into account demographic/cultural realignment, and probably overestimates Democratic seriousness. And it failed to take into account the creeping authoritarian ideology of an ascendant hypercapitalist ‘Left’ that hates democratic compromise as much as the protofascists do. In other words: the post-Trump GOP coalition might itself be big enough without the GOP ceasing to be, as a national Party, straightforwardly evil. (I believe a sane conservatism is possible and indeed desirable, essential; the Republican Party simply isn’t that.)

From the same essay:

A lot’s been written since 2004 about the end of middle-class white Christian hegemony. The election of a black president and the full integration of women into the workforce have only sped up the transformation, as has the immiseration of millions by two decades of deepening corporatization and a decade of economic crisis, not to mention the rapid (and closely related) decline of Christianity as a political force after its last gasp under Bush. ‘White nationalism’ is in no small measure a rear-guard action against this transformation — and I use that violent/military metaphor quite deliberately, as people will die from what will be a generation-long conflict between cultural dead-enders and the rest of America. But the outcome is foreordained: an ideology that leaves its adherents less able to survive and thrive in the world as it merely is, must adapt or collapse, and the immovability of fundamentalists ends up rendering them immobile. Which, by the way, is why radical theocratic Islam is doomed in the long run: isolationism, which is baked into such stupid reactionary religious fundamentalisms, is unsustainable in the world as it is.

We’ll see. I’m unsure about that last sentence, indeed I wonder if I haven’t gotten it precisely backward: reactionary isolationism is more appealing than ever in This Of All Stupid Worlds. My guess, or bet, was that deepening interconnection would make fundamentalist isolation impossible despite its obvious attractiveness. The trouble is, I won’t know whether I’ve gotten that claim right for several decades. Let’s hope so — though there’ll be loads of bad news to come, either way.

Unfortunately, I also wrote this:

Clinton will win; I’ve assumed this since 2008 and have never doubted it.

The bothersome thing about this claim is that the first bit’s wrong but the self-reinforcing second bit’s true: I didn’t doubt Clinton would win, in no small part because I’d assumed it for so long. I believed the polls, and the poll-aggregators and ‘analysts,’ and massively overestimated the Clinton campaign’s competence even as I was appropriate distrustful of her/its motives and outlook.

Excerpt from an unpublished first-draft essay about Trump as a participatory media phenomenon

I wrote the following in April 2016. The third paragraph is missing a logical step: the Trump campaign was an effective critique of the political system, and supporting him was partly about hitting back at that system, analogous to (but also different from) supporting Sanders. Well, it is what it is.

Donald Trump is easy to make fun of: he’s a friendless gated-community xenophobe of George W Bush levels of rodentine intelligence, who looks to the ‘little guy’ for validation when none of his peers will take him seriously. He babbles like an aphasic TV pitchman, is fetishistically obsessed with his receding hairline, and (for flavour!) is running for president of the United States despite lacking even the most basic qualifications for the position. He’s such a bad candidate that even the dainty authoritarians at National Review had to repudiate him, not that there were any readers left to notice — so bad, so witless, so obviously without principle or percipience, that the priced-to-sell uplifted tortoise Mitch McConnell can’t imagine a way to work with him.

He will lose the general election. Serious People will act as if virtue has prevailed (though our new Madame President, waiting impatiently for Her Turn since 2008, will be a neoliberal wolf in bourgeois pseudoprogressive clothing with a dangerous sociopath for a First Lad). And On January 20th, hundreds of millions of voters will go right back to where they are now, with no prospect of economic betterment and no major party willing to take even the slightest risk to help them.

The popularity of Trump’s candidacy is easy to explain: in a time of massive and rapidly growing inequality, at an unstable moment of profitable secularization and viscerally exciting fundamentalist reaction, with the passing of simple white male hegemony (Obama’s presidency, Hamilton‘s Pulitzer), as gay couples marry and transgender Americans queue distressingly for the bathroom and Prince is celebrated as the modern Ellington, while mere human empathy is phased out through a mix of predatory corporatism and the extraordinary communications technologies those corporate predators sell us — in a world, by the way, where the first of hundreds of millions of victims of anthropogenic climate change have already begun dying, fortunately far from the TV cameras, and only a vanishingly small number of people have even the faintest idea why their ability to read this essay online has actual existing armageddon as its cost — it’s no surprise that a billionaire TV gameshow host with a private jet and a trophy wife and absolutely no scruples would do well. Trump candidly points out what’s wrong with Washington (money) and lets his supporters know they’re not alone in feeling like the country is moving away from them.

[‘…lets his supporters know’ should’ve been ‘makes his supporters feel.’ –wa.]

It is. Has been for ages. This is only news if you’ve deliberately insulated yourself from very obvious long-term trends, by (for instance) watching the costume dramedy called ‘TV news,’ in which actors portraying journalists nod ‘sagely’ while paid operatives yell non sequiturs and everyone involved pretends the boot on America’s throat isn’t theirs. Trump is running as a Republican because that’s where he’ll do well, but there’s nothing ‘conservative’ or indeed particularly Republican about his appeal to voters. Trump’s vibe, a mix of self-pitying authoritarianism and careful image control, is aimed at the gossip pages, which is to say ‘TV journalists’; he doesn’t talk policy because his campaign isn’t about policy at any level. He doesn’t need to ‘play politics’ to win the nomination because Americans don’t particularly care about politics (and care even less about governance) — we understand ‘Washington’ as a distant, abstract villain who pops up periodically on TV to twirl its moustache, deliver monologues about its big world-changing plans, and occasionally wage war on the darkies. (This is true even of ‘sophisticated’ types who only ever talk to a Trump supporter when he’s writing them a speeding ticket.) Trump’s appeal isn’t about governance, and it’s not really about politics. He’s the media figure, the character actor, that his media-obsessed supporters (and their better educated but otherwise essentially identical media-obsessed opponents) crave and indeed deserve.

Trump and the monstrously vapid Kardashian family are, to borrow a phrase, two cheeks of the same derriere.

As such, when it comes to Trump, it’s a mistake to look to politics for precedent and illumination. When you see craven veterans sucker-punching protesters at Trump rallies, you shouldn’t be thinking of the event as ‘political’ in the sense that you’re used to.

[I’ve cut some material that links this setup to the ostensible meat of the essay, which I’m not sharing.]


What is your involvement in politics and governance? Don’t answer glibly: think for a second, and sit with your answer. Be honest. No points for reading this essay, by the way.

How do you stay informed about politics? Do you read primary sources — laws, treaties, the actual words and written instruments of the people in power — or even aspirationally neutral journalism? Or (much more likely) do you rely mostly on ideologically friendly pundits and ‘news analysts’ (read: pundits) to digest your information for you? Do you vote in off-year elections? Are you annoyed by my use of the casually dismissive term ‘off-year’ in that sentence? Have you ever read the platform of a major political party — or a minor one? Do you attend or even pay attention to debates? When you watch a debate, do you go in rooting for one side and always come out confirmed in your belief that your side is right?

Do you know the names of your City Councillors? Do you know how your city’s budget has worked out over the last few years or decades? If your town does participatory budgeting, do you participate? Do you vote in school board elections? Have you ever written a letter to your representatives in congress? Have you ever demanded accountability for your political donations?

One of the reasons Donald Trump has locked up the Republican nomination is that, if we’re being honest, nearly every voting-age American’s answer to most of these questions is something along the lines of ‘I just can’t.’

[The next bit, about ‘turn up every four years to vote in elections where our votes don’t really matter, and can’t be bothered to vote in the ones where they really really do,’ has been cut because you get the point.]

Sigh

I give myself partial credit and am comfortable with that.

Doomed to repeat.

Sy Hersh’s 1983 account of Ford’s pardon of Nixon is essential reading, here in the middle of the Trumpist era.

Gerald Ford was a familiar, if not widely known, fixture in high-level Republican politics in October of 1973, when he was nominated to replace the disgraced Spiro T. Agnew as Richard Nixon’s Vice President. He had served in Congress since 1948, representing a heavily Republican district in Grand Rapids, Michigan. His conservatism on foreign-policy issues and his hard-line stance against communism won him an appointment in 1956 to the House Appropriations subcommittee that controlled CIA funding and monitored, to a limited degree, CIA activities abroad. In 1963, President Lyndon B. Johnson named Ford as one of two members of the House to serve on the Warren Commission, which investigated the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Ford was elected minority leader of the House the next year. During these years, Ford acquired a reputation as an amiable politician who followed his party’s dogma with enthusiasm but with no malice; Democrats perceived him as a nice guy.

Richard Nixon and his men had evidence that there was another side to Ford. “In my opinion, he was a tough guy who knew how to play the game,” Charles W. Colson, one of Nixon’s closest advisers on political matters, recalled in a recent interview. “Nixon knew that Ford was a team player and understood how to work with a wink and a nod.” Ford had led a much-criticized attempt in 1970 to impeach Justice William 0. Douglas of the Supreme Court. It was not a coincidence that Ford’s campaign against Douglas began in the weeks following the Senate’s rejection of Nixon’s second nominee for the Supreme Court. Nixon’s choices, Clement F. Haynsworth and G. Harrold Carswell, were the first presidential nominees to be rejected by the Senate since 1959. In the aftermath of the June 17, 1972, Watergate break-in, and before the November presidential elections, Ford was instrumental—at the urging of the White House—in disrupting an inquiry by the House Banking and Currency Committee, whose iconoclastic chairman, Wright Patman, a Democrat from Texas, was outspoken in his insistence that the financing of the break-in had its origins at the top of the Nixon Administration.

“Ford was the consummate politician,” says [Chuck] Colson, and was aware that the White House was always willing to repay its loyal helpers. Ford once approached Colson on behalf of Paul Hall, the president of the Seafarers International Union, who was indicted in 1970 with seven other senior union officials—none of whom was ever prosecuted—for making more than $750,000 in illegal campaign contributions between 1964 and 1968. The indictment charged that extortion was committed in raising the money from union members. Hall was a contributor to Ford’s campaign; more important, he had arranged for others to contribute, according to a Ford associate. He was, as Ford wrote in his 1979 memoir, A Time To Heal, a longtime personal friend. (There is no evidence that Hall, who died in 1980, asked Ford to approach the White House.) “The Justice Department is screwing Paul Hall,” Colson recalls Ford complaining. “You’ve got to take care of it.”

Charles Colson says that Nixon, in their private talks in the Oval Office, would literally “design” the sort of law practices he thought Colson and Connally should have after they retired from public life. (After Colson left the White House staff, in early 1973, Nixon urged him to bring his potential law clients to the Oval Office, so that they would be impressed by Colson’s close relationship with the President. Colson says that in one chat, Nixon complained about his years as Vice President under Dwight D. Eisenhower. “After eight years, Chuck, I left the White House with $38,000 in my savings account and a four-year-old Oldsmobile. Don’t you make that mistake.”)

In the second volume of his memoirs, Years of Upheaval, Henry Kissinger wrote of a meeting with Haig on August 2: “He told me that Nixon was digging in his heels [in terms of immediate resignation]; it might be necessary to put the 82nd Airborne Division around the White House to protect the President. This I said was nonsense; a Presidency could not be conducted from a White House ringed with bayonets. Haig said he agreed completely; as a military man it made him heartsick to think of the Army in that role; he simply wanted me to have a feel for the kinds of ideas being canvassed.”

On December 22, 1973, a few weeks after Gerald Ford’s swearing-in as Vice President, Richard Nixon held his annual ceremonial meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff. One member of the Joint Chiefs, a four-star officer, recalled in a recent interview that the President’s performance was bizarre and alarming. “He kept on referring to the fact that he may be the last hope, the eastern elite was out to get him. He kept saying, ‘This is our last and best hope. The last chance to resist the fascists [of the left].’ His words brought me straight up out of my chair. I felt the President, without the words having been said, was trying to sound us out to see if we would support him in some extra-constitutional action. He was trying to find out whether in a crunch there was support to keep him in power . . . .” The senior officer decided after the meeting, he recalled, that the other members of the Joint Chiefs did not seem to share his fears. He made it a point to discuss the meeting with James Schlesinger, the Rand Corporation economist and defense analyst, who had been named secretary of defense by Nixon in May of 1973, in the first Watergate-inspired Cabinet shake-up. Schlesinger had also been upset by Nixon’s language, but he was noncommittal.

Anyone who insists Trump was an unprecedented break with tradition is a child. The stupidest criminal President ever is just a criminal President, and we’ve had a few of those.

And don’t let anyone launder Nixon’s reputation in your hearing — or George W Bush’s, while we’re at it. We were right to condemn Bush as a corrupt warmongering imbecile, and our parents and grandparents were right to condemn Nixon as a corrupt warmongering snake.

On choosing to vote for Trump.

Epistemic status note: I can’t be bothered to look any of this up. I’m just ranting.

I voted for Biden/Harris — crucially, I voted against Trump with a song in my heart — and unexpectedly wept during their first big post-victory speeches in Wilmington. Harris’s speech was excellent, Biden’s was adequate; both gave me hope, which has been in short supply.

Donald Trump is a vicious incompetent criminal quisling who has been incalculably harmful to the world and is directly responsible for tens of thousands of Covid-19 deaths, with many more to come.

Biden will be an ordinary mainstream Democrat in the Clinton(s)/Obama mode: a centrist neoliberal who panders to ‘progressives’ without being one.

I believe it’s important to understand why people voted for Trump in 2016 and 2020.

Our mixed feelings

The first and most important step to understanding Trump-voter behaviour — for me and (I’m willing to bet), with small variations, for every Biden voter under the age of 50ish — is this:

I voted for Warren in the primary, supported Biden in the general with mixed feelings, expect to disagree with many of Biden’s policy preferences, and frankly don’t think he will be anything but a competent caretaker president, hamstrung by inevitable Republican subversion led by Mitch McConnell, while Kamala Harris prepares to run in 2024.

I also cannot imagine failing to support Biden in the general election, am truly glad that I did so, look forward to his administration, and (as I mentioned above) felt a rush of such intense joyful relief when he and Kamala Harris came out to acknowledge their victory a couple of evenings after the polls closed.

In other words, I am conscious of a complex mix of feelings:

  • intellectual disagreement with every wing of the Democratic Party
  • visceral hatred of the ‘New Democrats’ who came into power with Bill Clinton
  • hatred, too, of the fundamentally antidemocratic late-capitalist identitarianism that Biden has shown nonzero willingness to pander to
  • awareness of Biden’s mixed record in the Senate
  • awareness of Biden’s mixed record as VP
  • personal affection and sympathy for Biden-from-afar as an authentically practicing Catholic grandfather who seems implausibly genuine in both his love of family and his (American liberal) faith
  • desperate desire for a return of bipartisan cooperation in the name of shared national interest
  • utter lack of faith in the degraded, cancerous national Republican Party’s intentions
  • utter lack of faith in the degraded, bumbling national Democratic Party’s competence
  • a deep belief in the scientific method, rational inquiry, learned disputation, and dialectical thinking and cooperation, all of which the Trump administration and its enablers reject out of hand
  • horror — though not surprise — at the GOP’s eager embrace of Trump’s criminality, venality, and ‘light treason’
  • a deep abiding hatred of the hypercapitalist villains who continue to poison every aspect of American life
  • total alienation from the thoroughly corrupt D.C. government
  • total sympathy for the civil servants who somehow keep the wheels turning
  • an intense, ugly, frankly unwelcome desire to see the forces of reaction, bigotry, and resentment not just defeated but beaten down for what they continue to do to this country and this world
  • creeping fear that the ongoing climate catastrophe makes all of this both more pressing and ultimately irrelevant

This list is not comprehensive.

(I also feel, but want to mark separately, a deep ambivalence about Harris, an extraordinarily impressive but machine-approved political maneuverer who’s shown both principled seriousness and worrisome incompetence in her political career, whom I expect to run again in 2024 and have a hard time beating a Republican woman.)

In summary, I voted for Biden, but I voted against Trump just as much, and while I’m happy to participate in his victory — and even happier to live in an America that turned out in record numbers to repudiate the imbecilic anti-American criminal Trump, even while maintaining a predictable split in terms of party-line voting — I’m not under any illusion that he’ll be great. He’s a Democrat, for Christ’s sake; they’re a mess.

An imaginative exercise

If you’re a Trump voter, I’d encourage you to make a similar inventory of your responses and motivations re: Biden/Harris and Trump/Pence — and, while I’ve got your attention, to read about other countries’ responses to Covid-19. (Trump really has catastrophically fucked it up in every possible way.)

But if you’re reading this then you’re probably not a Trump voter. In that case, think this through with me:

Biden voters can acknowledge, amongst ourselves, that ‘our guy’ was a limited, imperfect, compromise candidate in 2020 — it’s not as if any but a tiny handful of Americans voted for him in Democratic Party primaries in 2008, when he was comparatively spry! — and still back him with an eagerness bordering on the unseemly in a 2020 election. We’re going to tell and our kids for the rest of our lives that we did the right thing, that Trump was a world-historical threat to democracy, that Biden differed in kind from Trump, that ‘decency prevailed’ and so forth.

We believe these things because doing so feels better than the alternative, and because we’ve been told to, by NPR or The Economist or a professor we happen to like or a handful of Twitter nonentities retweeting one another’s ‘takes.’

Let’s be frank, we’re all friends here: you don’t read position papers or policy briefs or even entire NYT articles, do you. You don’t read scientific papers before developing Feelings about them, of course (maybe an occasional abstract/conclusion survey and a quick look at the graphs, if you have an advanced degree). And you ‘don’t watch TV news’ either, right? Because that’s for losers and you’re not one. Needless to say, you eagerly watch hours and hours and fucking hours of stupid context-free video clips of TV news, drink them up like wine knowing exactly how they’ll make you feel. Indeed their predictability is the reason you watch them.

Plus the occasional John Oliver episode, even though it’s those same video clips plus jokes. Because he’s funny and because the English accent gives you the vicarious thrill of standing juuuuust a bit outside The System.

You came by your political beliefs secondhand, almost certainly, like I did. And our political beliefs differ not because one or both of us bravely pursued a path of intellectual independence, but because different options caught our eyes at the ideological buffet and we invested emotional and maybe even intellectual energy in affiliating ourselves with them.

If you’re less than 50ish years old you probably ‘hate-read’ and ‘doomscroll’ and I’m happy to bet that you ‘support’ organizations whose beliefs and political/cultural positions you can’t name and would be horrified to discover — leaving aside the Democratic Party itself…

…but THEY are much worse

There is a ‘They,’ everyone has a ‘They’ and ‘Them,’ and what makes them Them instead of Us is that They are fucking terrible dupes and/or complicit, corrupt, sellouts and opportunists, compromisers and fantasists, intellectually or physically lazy, emotionally stunted, less (or worse-) educated, resentful, hateful, bad — and y’know, We might be imperfect but we are Trying and Hopeful and In Progress and really Engaged and Community-Minded and Good and Thoughtful and we Do the Homework and really we’re here to Support One Another and blah blah blah stop lying.

A couple of weeks ago Biden quoted Obama’s ‘not Red states and Blue states but the United States’ line and its purpose was to trigger your memory of feeling really good when you heard Barack Obama say it in 2004 (or on Youtube in 2016 or whatever). Crucially, you probably didn’t believe Biden but wanted to — if you’re anything like me, and you are (only less good-looking and impressive), you’re keenly aware of massive cultural and political divisions in this country and you’re never quite sure, from day to day, how the similarity/difference balance will work out in a given interaction, on a given issue, under a given circumstance. But because you’re not completely stupid and evil you understand that it’s important to both acknowledge our similarities and attend to our differences, i.e. to participate in a shared struggle and understand that we share a destiny even with those we think of as our opposites. Not just in the grave, but before then, right here on the rapidly sickening earth.

Apply the Golden Rule: do unto others as you’d have them do unto you.

What do you suppose the experience of voting for Trump was like?

Fools, liars, and us

What was Trump, to his voters in 2015-16? Different.

Different from Hillary Clinton — because she married power, and resents her ostensible allies while holding her ideological opponents in humourless contempt; plus her husband’s a sex criminal and the Clinton Foundation is a ‘charitable concern’ run by rich jet-setters so only a sucker would give it or them the benefit of the doubt.

Different from Jeb Bush — because he’s a Bush and nothing more.

Different from Obama — because Obama campaigned on his opposition to Middle Eastern wars he then escalated and widened, and was The Kind of Person who tells coal miners (my neighbours, my friends, my dad) to ‘retrain’ for new jobs instead of ever being able to relax a fucking day in their lives, and because he came to work in custom-fitted suits but actually expected voters to believe he ‘cared about (some of) the poor,’ and because he gave money to Wall Street criminals hand over fist and then didn’t prosecute a motherfucking one of them. Because he is the definition of hypocrisy, and if you’re open to his self-justifications then why wouldn’t you give the benefit of the doubt to the self-justifications of a man like Trump, who ‘earned’ ‘billions’?

Trump was different because he wasn’t a politician (all politicians are bad), and because he told the truth about things that everyone knows (e.g. militarist USA foreign policy is, among other things, the biggest moneymaking scam in the history of the world). He was different because he didn’t recite lines, he’d spit freestyle; even Obama’s stump speech was canned, y’know. He was funny (and remained so in 2020, when talking to friendly/captive audiences) — and sometimes ‘funny’ is mean, get over it.1

Trump was different because he didn’t pander; some people he was gonna help, some people he intended to fuck over, and you knew who they were. For once, what you knew to be true and what They were telling you were the same. And as a bonus, you could convince yourself it was He and not They. No invisible forces, no invisible hand.

Trump is obviously a grifter, but Americans love grifters, as long as they’re soaking off the right people. And Trump would tell you exactly who he was going to go after! He donates to both parties because the game is rigged in favour of the rich! He knows how to play political games because he’s part of the unindicted-criminal cohort that owns the politicians! He is exactly as corrupt as every other asshole in his gated tax(-avoidance) bracket, and for once you didn’t have to lie about it! He said that shit on television!! Trump is obviously a liar, but Americans love liars, because they tend to reveal certain truths along the way too…

You ‘know’ that all politicians lie. They avoid, they evade, they elide, they shade, they talk openly with megadonors (think of Hillary Clinton’s extraordinarily lucrative Wall Street talks; think of the fact that all her friends give the same talks) and with contemptuous false sincerity tell everyone else what they want/need to hear.

Trump voters ‘know’ these same things. They watch their ‘viral’ video clips, you watch yours; they read their pundits, you read yours; they recite their stupid transparently nonsensical ideological mantras, you recite yours. They hold The System in the same contempt you do — moreso, in many cases, for complex reasons. And in the end, they vote for the party and the figurehead that they feel affirm their deeply personal private cluster of tribal beliefs/practices, just like you do.

I grew up an hour south of Buffalo; to give you a sense of its rural character, The Buffalo News was our ‘local’ paper. The Southern Tier is deep in the Republican part of NYS — there aren’t enough folks out there for their votes to matter in a statewide election, but maddeningly they continue to exist. It’s a nice place to grow up, assuming you’re not from one of the many families who slipped into penury as the Rust Belt rusted. It’s the kind of place whose young people either stick around to get buried next to their grandparents, or leave early and never ever come back.

A Trump voter in my village looks at the News, or more likely USA Today (or The Today Show, frankly), and sees coastal-elite cultural consensus, bipartisan financial predation, climate inaction coupled with scolding rhetoric, the steady collapse of American Christianity,2 a wholesale rejection of liberal norms like guaranteed freedom of speech, a thriving financial sector just a decade out from unprosecuted crimes that nearly shattered the entire global economy…a shitshow, in other words, presided over by the Ruling Party.

A Trump voter in my village looks at Trump and recognizes him — from a TV game show — and looks at Clinton, or Biden, and recognizes them from the nakedly false world of onscreen political news.

Trump’s a self-dealing criminal who ‘tells it like it is’ and the Democrats, as most Democrats will tell you, are ‘Good People’ who lie to your face about their agenda. (After all, ‘everyone knows’ Obamacare was both an insurance-industry giveaway and a statist power grab, and where did you have to go to hear the truth about that…?)

And if you’re the average American, if you have a typical education and typical viewing/reading habits, then you have no media access to an honest accounting of the truth of things — except your intuition. Y’know, that gut that pig-ignorant but expensively educated 20somethings make fun of you for trusting.

The ideological machine considers you deplorable, frankly. The machine hates you and it’ll never stop until there’s no more blood to drain. But Trump doesn’t hate you — he hates Them.

Now vote.

On protest

For right-wingers and millions of others, Trump ran in 2015-16 as a protest candidate. This is hard for lefties to understand, because in standard terms he had no business being on the debate stage. But be honest: what qualifies you to get up there? What the hell was Jeb Bush doing running for president? (Remember ‘Please clap’?) Ted Cruz daily betrays the legal profession and is only loyal to his own self-interest; Marco Rubio has literally no principles or ideas, not one. Rand Paul’s allowed to run on behalf of glibertarian nuts, Carly fucking Fiorina is allowed up there if she can find the debate venue — even Mike Huckabee is allowed to pretend to be a thoughtful adult for as long as he can manage the charade. Trump absolutely belonged onstage in that crowd of buffoons and grifters…

…and what set him apart was, he told the truth about their game. It’s rigged in favour of (transnational) capital; it’s played for real in private rooms offscreen; it’s ultimately built on elite conspiracy. Ted Cruz doesn’t care about your job, Jeb Bush doesn’t ‘feel your pain.’

Trump doesn’t either! To be clear: Trump is the most nakedly hateful president since Reagan.

But remember the Lucky Strike scene in Mad Men? Don Draper pitches an ad campaign to a cigarette maker:

DON: This is the greatest advertising opportunity since the invention of cereal. We have six identical companies with six identical products… We can say anything we want. How do you make your cigarettes?

GARNER: We breed insect-resistant tobacco seeds, plant ‘em in the North Carolina sunshine, grow it, cut it, cure it, toast it, treat it–

DON: There you go. (He writes on the board: ‘LUCKY STRIKE — IT’S TOASTED’)

GARNER JR: But everybody else’s tobacco is toasted.

DON: No, everybody else’s tobacco is poisonous. Lucky Strike is toasted.

Trump told the truth about the losers first; after that, anything they said about him was sour grapes: mere political speech.

And of course, anything the Democrats said about Trump was that too. Admit it, the Party only took notice of him because of his political influence — everything else he’s ever done, every evil he’s perpetrated, every crime he’s committed was fine (was Someone Else’s Problem) until he got in Hillary Clinton’s way.

Trump is a drug-addled, unprecedentedly ignorant, unashamedly racist piece of shit. He was a rapist, a money launderer, and a thief long before he entered the race in 2015 (with no intention of winning) — indeed, long before his ‘birther’ horseshit, which came as naturally to him as breathing.

But the President isn’t a person, he’s a symbol. And to his supporters, Trump symbolizes something wholly different from any of the meanings the mainstream media have attached to him.

On winning

The Republican Party and Democratic Party differ essentially at the cultural level. The Democrats embody the belief that how you play — the meaning of victory, if you luck into it — is more important than whether you win.

Republicans like winning.

Republican voters love beating Democrats. Why do they vote for policies that punish them, over and over and over? Because they win. Because winning feels good right now — so good that you might think it’s a kind of universal Good in itself. You could start to think that. You could get behind a man, even a liar and a thief, who seems to be selling the platonic ideal of Winning.

Democratic voters are told by their Party, over and over again, that each small victory, each compromise measure, means a Bright Future. But victory is now. You win or lose now, and if you win a competition then someone else loses, and if you lie about who loses then you’re a piece of shit.

You might argue that the Democrats are the Party of emancipation and so it’ll always be that way. But you’d be a sucker.

Mitch McConnell won’t live to see the fruits of his labours and doesn’t mind. McConnell is rotten to the core, one of the worst living Americans. His support of Donald Trump, a man he obviously loathes, demonstrates McConnell’s fundamental, pathological emptiness. He’s a quisling and collaborator and in a just world (borrowing a phrase from Malcolm Tucker) he’d be hounded to an assisted suicide.

What Mitch McConnell wants is to win (on behalf of Power). And he does, over and over, because unlike the Democrats he chooses victory over ‘honour’ every time, without exception. Which is why his wife has a Cabinet job that Trump oddly hasn’t fired her from.

(McConnell’s in a ‘mixed marriage,’ did you know?)

Nationally, the Democrats are punished by the vicious antidemocratic politics of the American republic, but because they chase the same (antidemocratic) money as the Republicans, it’s not as if they can push for fundamental change. But they wouldn’t anyway.

Next

Biden has won as expected, but McConnell — an enemy of American democracy and a threat to the Republic — controls the Senate. Trump gained ground among voters whose support Democrats took for granted. Biden will have to govern a nation half-full of Republicans, just like Obama and Bush and Trump. It’s going to be a bad time for everyone.

Trump himself is both stupid and evil, but it does no good to pretend that only stupidity and evil explain Americans’ support for Trump. The Republican Party is flirting with fascism, yet it doesn’t have to sell fascism to its voters — it just has to seem preferable to the alternative at election time.

The Democrats make that easier than it should be. Theirs is the saner political party, in most ways, but they don’t ‘deserve’ to win. What a grotesque idea.

The Democrats should be trying to win over everyone. ‘Undecided’ voters are rare at election time, but 6-12 months from now there will be millions of them again. And it’s not like there’s any mystery to it! Helping working people without explicitly demonizing them for being The Wrong Kind of Working People is not actually difficult. Fighting for climate justice plays well if you make it about working people’s job- and food-security rather than ‘Prius owners pretending to be scientists, scolding vo-tech rubes in Carhartts.’ If Democratic policies are good, tell the truth about them; if not, get better policies, i.e. serve better masters. Every American hates this System that’s very obviously aligned against people in favour of transnational capital; abjure the easy money and do the right fucking thing!

The Democrats won’t, of course. The money’s too good. They’re a center-right party that caters to ‘progressives’ on a made-for-TV subset of cultural issues and tramples on workers whenever Capital says to.

People voted for Trump because they preferred Trump to the Democrats and the Republicans, and after four years of malign incompetence and decent stock market performance, he got more votes than any candidate in history (except Joe Biden).

It’s a problem. Today’s Republican Party is a problem. The only workable short- to medium-term solution is a better, more honest Democratic Party.

I’m not holding my breath.


  1. Trump is seen as an unfunny bully by the national ‘news’ media and his ideological opponents, while his supporters see him as a funny bully — discomfort and unfamiliarity make him brittle, because he’s a cowardly narcissist, and nothing is more unfamiliar and uncomfortable for him than having to answer substantive questions about policy from ‘political’ ‘journalists.’ (I use scare quotes because TV interviewers barely qualify as either.) This is why it’s so dangerous that mainstream news outlets endlessly recycle the same couple of clips from every Trump media appearance, helping convince lazy liberal/progressive viewers that there’s no way a sane person could ‘fall for’ Trump’s routine. Millions of people love it because it’s good entertainment. Evil? Stupid? Yes. But good entertainment. 
  2. You’re probably rooting for Christianity to go away, since you’re reading my blog, but you should remember that the disintegration of the central ordering principle of a society is a terrible thing — no matter what’s on its other side. 

Broadcast conspiracism.

If you’re being shown it, it’s probably not that important.

They don’t televise the backroom deals by which Supreme Court justices are selected — only the pageant-hearings which introduce them to the public.

They don’t televise the legal challenges to ballot-stuffing and -closing and -rejecting, only the pundit-morons and ‘journo’ cosplayers in the ‘news’ rooms opining about what they can’t see and don’t understand anyway.

They don’t televise Lebron James’s contract negotiations and private foregone-conclusion maneuvers, only ‘The Decision,’ at which time the public is permitted to learn about the billions of dollars being moved around.

They don’t televise the university board meetings at which lunatic Covid-19 policies are set by innumerate corporatists — only the keggers at which the consequences of those policies rain down on the easiest of targets, teenage boys and girls, literally some of the least insightful and self-preserving humans on the planet. Easy targets.

They don’t televise the White House discussions at which Osama bin Laden’s location is known at a moment when assassination is politically inadvisable.

They don’t televise Mark Zuckerberg selling ads to the Trump campaign at reduced rates to make sure your grandmother keeps clicking.


When it’s more profitable to expose it than to keep it secret, they show it to you.


On Election Day we’ll be presented with an absolute torrent of bullshit in the guise of ‘journalism.’ Its purpose, deep down, will be to obscure the true nature and location of power. Once you know the trick, you might still be impressed or grateful or even awed, but you’ll never be afraid. They need us afraid.

They need us afraid of the unknown — otherwise we might support the abolition of the 18th-century relic known as the Electoral College.

They need us afraid of one another — otherwise we might discover class solidarity.

They need us afraid of meaningful autonomy — otherwise we might not consent to corporate serfdom.

Our government — by which I mean the System of gov’t and financial interests that holds the whip — moves to regulate (and ban outright) pleasure it can’t control, organization it can’t infiltrate, communication it can’t surveil. Both major political parties eagerly take part, and handsomely reward their collaborators while moving to marginalize and exile meaningful opponents. Power serves power. It’s always been this way.

Meanwhile the planet burns, and drowns, and suffocates.