Get me out of here!

This is an amazing moment from the G20–Trump abandoning the president of Argentina on stage, saying “Get me out of here.” Yes, he really is a dotard.

People who live on a diet of fiction expect life to follow its arc too–complications building to a climax and a resolution in which things tip one way or the other, to a sad or a happy conclusion. People who live on a diet of history and biography know that the arcs of lives and civilizations all tend to follow roughly the same trajectories–youthful struggles, brief maturities, followed by either an early death or a long decline.

I submit that we’ve been looking at the Trump presidency through the first instead of the second lens. And we need to recognize that we and not Trump are the protagonists of this narrative. Trump is a symptom of our civilizational decline. He is America’s having to get up and pee three and four times in the course of a night, forgetting the names of people we really should know, telling the same story over and over again, and waking up every morning with a back ache.

Mind you, I say that not as a pessimist, but as someone who believes that we can and will do better than we are, even if we’ve damn near killed the planet getting this far. I just don’t expect to live long enough to see a happy ending, never mind have it happen in the next week or month or year.

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The Medium is the Message

I didn’t know what “pride goeth before a fall” meant until I got proud and fell. I didn’t know what “the medium is the message” means, until I started getting so much of my news from social media.

This morning on Twitter, I saw shaky phone-video of a drunken Irish lawyer berating Indian flight attendants while claiming to “run” BDS. “See?” Tweeter after tweeter said. “BDS is a racist movement, and its ‘leader’ is not just a hypocrite but a slattern.” I can and will get this kind of anecdotal garbage from the real social world too, but Twitter amplifies it and scales it and repeats it as relentlessly as a North Korean re-education officer.

If you want to know what’s wrong with Facebook, just look at how it leverages its own worst tendencies to its advantage, enlisting the ADL to deflect criticisms of Zuckerberg and Sanders as antisemitic, while retaining the Republican oppo-research firm Definers to attack George Soros as the presiding spirit behind attacks on Facebook.

Academic theory about the soul-sapping power of cults and the virality of paranoid conspiracy theory turn on their ability to create epistemic bubbles. Cult leaders do it through isolation, rape, starvation, and brainwashing. Conspiracy theorists do it by redefining reality. That’s what Facebook and Twitter do too, by allowing their members to customize their news streams, but mostly by using big data analytics to feed them an experience that will keep them clicking (and thus target-able for advertising).

The Morning After

Trump is a vicious moron, but he has the invaluable property of being a strip of human litmus paper–put someone or something in his ambit and you find out who/what they really are. Jeff Flake: sanctimonious coward. Ted Cruz: spineless opportunist. Lindsey Graham: sycophantic opportunist. John Kelly: authoritarian racist. Crown Prince MBS: Murderous tyrant. Marco Rubio: Ridiculous Little Man. Jeb Bush: Effete Legacy. Or on the other hand, Barack Obama: Great-American-whose- fatal-flaw-was-his-over-estimation-of-his-enemies. James Comey: Flawed-and-bathetic-narcissist-but-a-genuine-patriot-who-is-trying-to-atone.

Dip the whole United States in the Trumpist cup and you realize, like Trump himself might put it, that “We’re not so nice. We kill a lot of people here too.” The voter suppression in Georgia and North Dakota that shocks people today–the only difference now is that it is controversial. Back in the good old days that we all long for, southern blacks only enjoyed the franchise when the federal government put a gun to state authorities’ heads. Native Americans weren’t fully enfranchised until 1924 (the Dawes Act gave some citizenship in 1887, provided they rejected their tribal affiliation) and their votes have been routinely suppressed ever since.

The kind of incendiary racism and know-nothingism that Trump and Fox News have been spouting these last two weeks–that Stacey Abrams, a Yale Law School graduate, minority leader in the state House, voting rights activist, and even a successful romance novelist, for Christ’s sake, is prima facie unqualified for the job she is running for; that hordes of brown-people-with-diseases are being paid by Jews to storm the border–are bedrock beliefs for a good third of the country AND THEY WERE THE CONSENSUS FOR A LOT MORE OF US FOR A LONG TIME BEFORE. “Don’t be a baby,” as Trump might say. “Didn’t you read THE NEW HATE?”

Never-Trump Republicans can belly up to the bar and wax nostalgic among themselves about the glory days when William Buckley purged the crazies from their party (something that never happened) and Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan personified all that was good and generous and prosperity-producing (they didn’t), but Democrats need to be more forward-thinking. Trump exposes the weaknesses of the old-line Democrats even more clearly than Bernie did.

I’m not blaming Hillary and Biden, or the Democrats who lost last night–far from it. In fact, I’m looking to some of them (Gillum, O’Rourke, Abrams) to lead us out of this wilderness. But I want to give Trump his due. By showing us how racist and oligarchic this country still is, by showing us how much more corrupt and rotten its economic systems are, how compromised and racist its criminal justice system, he has set a high bar before us. And after last night, we at least have a little bit of power, a foundation to work from.

Nothing worth doing has ever been easy.

Election Day

Somewhere in FIRE AND FURY, Michael Wolff described the 2016 election as a “rent in the space-time continuum.” For left-leaning political obsessives, that’s precisely what the last two years have felt like–a ghastly singularity in which the rules of physics are suspended, up is down, time runs backwards, etc. For millenialist evangelical types, I imagine it’s felt much the same, only in a good way–a foretaste of Jesus coming to restore the rightful rule of white men over women and the lesser races, and to punish the Jews and heretics.

And so I’m off to vote. Tonight, we’ll find out if Trump was a fluke or a harbinger.

It’s a big moment–like sitting outside the doctor’s office, waiting to hear the results of the biopsy.

Hoofbeats

I was listening to the BBC in the car yesterday. One of their reporters had penetrated the depths of Yahoo land to talk to American citizens about the election. “Of course I’m voting,” one said. “I’m terrified of the violence.” I was so relieved. “The Democrats are just out of control,” he continued. “Yelling at politicians in restaurants.” The BBC guy was as taken aback as I was. “But what about the pipe bombs sent to Democrats, the shootings in Kentucky and Pittsburgh?” “Oh, Trump has nothing to do with any of that. How could he? But I am terrified of this caravan. They’re breaking our laws. It’s an invasion, and Trump is calling out the military to stop it.”

I keep thinking that we’re all being gas lighted–that the news media is so afraid of being caught flatfooted like they were two years ago that they’re leaning all the way in the opposite direction. Trump isn’t the moronic would-be fascist racist that he seems; Tuesday will erase the worst of the last two years. But of course we’re not and he is and it won’t, no matter how well it goes.

When I was little, my mother used to tell me how her mother listened in terror for the hoof beats of the Cossacks’ horses at night. It sounded like a fairy tale to me.

Race killings, would-be assassins, and the largest anti-Semitic massacre in US history

Hate murders in Kentucky and Pittsburgh, and mail bombs to Trump’s adversaries. Ten days till the mid-terms and Trump is determined to make the election about foreign vermin and rootless cosmopolitans. It can happen here. It is happening here. No, Trump isn’t Hitler–he’s a two-bit hustler with a rotting brain. But he is taking us down a path that we would recognize immediately if it was happening somewhere else.

Ridiculously, I have been taking some of this week’s events personally, as in, why did I bother to write all those words about right wing populism for all of the difference they made? And was I too easy on America’s right wing political class? I argued that while they were cynically using age-old hate tropes to energize voters, what they really cared about was keeping the rich rich. Now I’m not so sure. I really do think the Trump core is white supremacist–and by “core” I don’t mean those blue collar guys in diners (though lots of them are too), but Federalist Society-approved judges, Congress-people, TV propagandists, think-tank presidents, political consultants, and an embarrassing number of professional writers.

While Bowers brought home how virulent anti-Semitism still is in some of the cesspits of the US–and how commonplace its vilest tropes are on Fox News and in Trump’s twitterstream–I don’t think it’s healthy or reasonable to make this weekend’s events about “the Jews.” They’re about hate and xenophobia writ large, and they have less-than-nothing to do with Israel’s ghastly politics. Jews should be championing the rights of refugees everywhere, whether they are Central Americans or Palestinians.

At the same time, I’m pretty sure that if Trump switched out his economic policies for Bernie’s tomorrow, most of his followers wouldn’t notice the difference, as long as he kept that same note of contempt in his voice and continued to ridicule and deride the elites, “foreigners,” and people of color. What matters to them is his us-against-them mentality.

I don’t see anyone restoring a sense of comity to this broken country. Countries do heal from civil wars, but one side has to lose first.

Deja Vu All Over Again

I’m so afraid we’re living through October, 2016 again: the favorable but wavering Democratic polls, the hope that our national nightmare will soon be over, the fear that it will never end.

It’s amazing how quickly the Saudis have eclipsed the Kavanaugh hearings in the headlines–and how absolutely catastrophic both stories would have been to a less catastrophic administration. It beggars the mind that the Trump and Kushner tax evasion revelations and the terrifying global warming report barely stayed in the news for more than a day. By election eve, who knows what we’ll be talking about? If Trump and company have their way, the Democrat penchant for lawlessness and violence and the white male apocalypse.

The big lesson that I take from the last two years is that we were never as united or forward-looking a country as forward-looking people liked to think. White high school graduates were united, no doubt, but mostly in their disdain for non-white men and women and progressives of all colors. Victories were won, of course. But Trump has exposed a racist/obscurantist/authoritarian bedrock to the American polity that me and most others of my ilk had convinced ourselves was much more crumbly than it is–and that is certain to outlast Trump and Trumpism.

That whole “we” thing has turned out to be a hallucination.