Amy Coney Barrett

I’m being deluged with “we must stop Trump from filling RBG’s seat” e-mails and messages, and they are not moving my dial at all. That shoe dropped back in 2016. It’s been obvious since Garland that McConnell would seat anyone a Republican nominated, even if they were nominated on January 15, 2021. I don’t care about Barrett, or what people who know her attest. She’s accepted the nomination from Trump some 40 days before the election; that tells me all I need to know. If I were a senator, I wouldn’t meet with her, I wouldn’t attend the hearings, and I wouldn’t cast a vote pro or con. She can’t be stopped, but she shouldn’t have a shred of bipartisan legitimacy. Let her win by 51-0.

What we are fighting for

I’ve stopped believing that anything I say or write about politics makes any kind of difference. Like religion, like conspiracism (which is religion at its most primitive and unformed), politics is driven by the emotions attendant on one’s feelings of power or powerlessness.

Trumpites fixate on his power because they know they have none. “Look at me,” he says. “I went to the best schools, have the best genes, the greatest mind, the most money, the hottest wives. I won the White House. I am immune to Covid. And all you have to do to participate in my greatness is love me unconditionally.” Deep down, they are nihilists; they know the world is on fire, that they and their children are doomed. But at least he makes their enemies suffer in the meantime.

Democrats believe they have power and agency and potentially a future, but only if they acknowledge the hard facts. “Look at him,” we say. “He is fat and stupid and a serial bankrupt, a lech, a liar, and a loser. We are in terrible shape as a nation. Thousands of us are dying.”

Trump gives his people a sugar high and we give them a cold bath.

“Those of us with money and security owe our good fortune to structural inequities that we wouldn’t tolerate for a moment if we weren’t their beneficiaries,” we say. “We have to make sacrifices. We have to pull together and put our shoulders to the wheel.” As Nietzsche said of the Christians, it’s a philosophy that could only appeal to a sucker or a slave. The only advantage to it is that it supposes a future that’s worth fighting for.

Fear

I’ve had cancer this year; I’ve lost a dear friend to suicide. More intimately than COVID-19 (which raged outside my Brooklyn window this spring, but not inside my house, thank God), it’s given me perspective on the plausibility of some worst-case scenarios. The worst can happen. It often does.

Anyway, I sent a donation to the Biden campaign yesterday, and this morning I got an email from his people asking me why I’d done it. “Fear,” I answered. Then they asked me if I want to give them money on a weekly basis. I almost answered yes.

Some more convention-inspired thoughts

If Trump is reelected, I don’t think the country will hold together for a minute; there will be general strikes and riots and it will look like Syria. If Biden is elected, the stock market bubble will burst as people realize that the bottom has genuinely and truly fallen out of the economy. The pandemic will eventually recede and the economy resurge, but not on anybody’s schedule. The challenges that we have to overcome–economic inequality, race, environmental degradation, climate change–won’t change, but the national context in which they are either addressed or exacerbated is completely up in the air.

Whether it’s Biden or Trump, in a few years American Exceptionalism will sound like as crazy a creed as QAnon.

The New York is Dead strain in punditry

This is a pretty good piece about the “New York is Dead” strain in Covid-19 punditry. The whole genre strikes me as unbearably classist and narcissistic, and I imagine it does to most people who don’t live in Manhattan, who bring home less than $200,000 per year, and who aren’t white (which is to say, about 99.9 per cent of the people in the US). The longest I ever lived in Manhattan was two months—my first five years here I was in Jersey City and then I moved to Brooklyn, where I stayed for 35 years. I was white and hence privileged, but I wasn’t entitled—I never saw the city as the romance-drenched backdrop for the movie I was starring in (as it was for Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra in the 1940s or Keanu Reeves in the John Wick movies today). It was where I worked, and a lot of it was always unaffordable, culturally other, or dangerous. Even then, most of Manhattan fit into the first category, while Jersey City fit into the second and third. Brooklyn only fit into the third, and in time that changed. Which is all a long-winded way of saying that the city doesn’t take its definition from me—it was here before I laid claim to it and it will be here long after I’m gone.

Great cities like London, New York, LA, Tokyo, Berlin, Paris, and Vienna are agglomerations of people and economic activities. They are growing hubs, so they support a lot of innovation, artistic and otherwise. Economically and situationally, the quality of life they offer changes. Diseases and economic downturns come and go, as do occupying armies and technological shifts that superannuate existing industries. If they are single-industry cities, those shifts can prove fatal. But if they’re ports, centers of different kinds of trade, of government, universities, and media; if they are magnets to internal and external immigrants, then they regenerate. They regenerate after fires, even after volcanoes blow up and kill all their inhabitants; certainly they regenerate after epidemics.

Most of those articles are so anecdotal and self-referential. Yes, certain numbers of mid-level financial people and lawyers may move ten miles to the east, west, north, or south of Manhattan, but in the scheme of things, what does that matter? The metro region has always been a more relevant economic unit than the over-priced neighborhoods of Manhattan. Anecdotally, I visited my lawyer sister at her second home in Long Island last week, where she’s been sheltering since this started. They don’t know when they’re going back to Manhattan but they have absolutely no intention of selling their apartment. She told me about friends and colleagues and friends’ and colleagues’ kids who have shifted to their second homes, but none of them were giving up their city houses. Who would they sell them to, even if they wanted to?

As for the creative people, they are going to have to come together somewhere, because even solitary creatives like novelists and poets and painters of still lifes crave company or work in academia or media to support themselves, and most collaborate. Odds are, they’ll congregate here.

Trump as Messiah

Greg Sargent does a good job of summarizing the most Trumpolotrous moments of the convention, which seems from the coverage this morning to have been a festival of cultism. I was only able to watch about a minute and a half of it before I had to turn off the TV (the coffee shop lady who prayed to Jesus and got PPP from Trump, but who feared that Joe Biden would destroy all that she, he, and Jesus had worked for).

I guess that’s what it feels like for normal, everyday Americans, when forced to watch “radical liberal” shows like Anderson Cooper 360, see football players kneeling, or hear Anthony Fauci pouring cold water on Donald Trump’s latest medical insight.

All Trump’s brand needs to do next is the impossible

Since Trump failed in real estate, casinos, sports, and airlines, he’s built a successful second career as a brander. The brand he flogs is his persona–brash, brilliant, scrappy, over-sexed, and authentic in a cheesy, inauthentic way–and it has worked well enough when it’s slapped on gold-plated hotels and condos, golf resorts, clothes, steaks, vodka, even real estate seminars. It worked for a fantastical TV show about business success, and it opened up some really profitable money-laundering opportunities. It worked for a political campaign in which his supposed street smarts prevailed over the cluelessness and malice of the elites. It even seems to be working for a deranged death cult, in which he heroically but secretly battles the latter-day Elders of Zion–a vast secret society of child-molesting Jeffrey Epsteins who control everything except Trump and the Q believers.

If Trump’s brand was faced with a global pandemic, you know what it would do? It would prove itself smarter than the doctors, more efficient than the politicians, more caring than the blood-sucking fat cats who seek to profit off it. It would do the impossible, curing it at a stroke, just like it built the ice skating rink, just like it crushed the Clintons and sent Obama back to Africa in shame.

This is Trump’s challenge over the next 70 days: to hew to his brand proposition with absolute discipline. But this time, he actually has to DO something, because he already occupies the most powerful office in the world. Announcing that he can cure the virus, restore the economy, and put black people back in their places isn’t enough: he actually has to do so.

From the producers of The Apprentice

The New York Times reports that Trump’s convention is coming into shape, shepherded into production by a team from The Apprentice.

Conventions bore me, whether they are live or virtual, Democratic or Republican. I didn’t watch much of the Democratic production in real time, though I did catch Brayden Harrington and Jacqueline Brittany, who I thought were awesome. Biden was pretty good too.

The Republican event will also feature real people, including the kid who sneered at the Native American and that attractive couple who defended their St. Louis mansion from protestors with automatic weapons. Trump will give a major speech every night, supported by his kids and spouse, along with Larry Kudlow, Rudolph Giuliani, Kelly Ann Conway, and other rarely-seen figures. There will be a Democrats-for-Trump feature too, though the participants have yet to be announced. I predict that Trump will campaign against Kamala Harris and the media rather than Biden, and that his theme will likely be the booming economy, a Covid response that is the envy of the world, Mid East peace, America’s rising stature in the world, how he has done more for black people than any president since Lincoln, and how those same black people are plotting to murder us in our sleep.

It all sounds like a train wreck to me, but what do I know? I’m sure Republicans will say they loved every second of it, whether they tune in or not. And whatever polling bounce he gets will be trumpeted loudly.

Light or Darkness?

Biden made the conflict and the stakes perfectly clear: light versus darkness, love versus hate, hope versus fear. And he put himself and America on the side of light: “there has never been anything we have been unable to accomplish when we do it together.”

Trump’s reaction is similarly clarifying: Biden attacked and lied about America and Americans, delivering a message of despair. We are enjoying “the most successful period of time in the history of our country from every standard.” Anyone who believes that America or Americans could do better should not just be shamed, but crushed.

If there is any suspense leading up to Trump’s moment next week, it’s not what new face he will present to the world, or what new tactics he will unleash. We know him well enough by now to know that there will be no surprises. He will cast Biden as a senile crook, Harris as a ravening witch, an avatar of the African/Asiatic hordes who eat white babies. “They are coming for you.”

The question that keeps me up at night is which vision reflects this country the best. Do more than half of us even want to work together to improve things? Or do more than half of us believe that things are as good as we should ever hope–that the only injustices that need to be corrected are those visited against Trump?

Who Are they Messaging?

Who is Trump targeting with this ad? I can’t imagine him picking off many black votes from Biden, especially while he’s got his “suburban housewife” campaign underway–but I could see how some of those suburban housewives might feel reassured that Biden is just as racist as they are and vote for him instead of Trump.

I’m seeing a lot of “Harris isn’t really black” messages from Republicans too, in part because she’s partly South Asian, in part because one of her Jamaican ancestors is said to have been a slave owner. Again, wouldn’t that reassure rather than frighten wavering Trump voters, at least that substantial majority of them who have issues with authentically black black people (whatever in the world that is supposed to mean)? And don’t most African Americans have slave owning ancestors?

My guess is that these ads are designed solely to depress Democratic turnout. Between that, bankrupting the post office, closing polling stations in cities, preemptively disqualifying the few mail-in ballots that make it through the gauntlet, and energizing his Second Amendment/born-again/biker/boat-parading core, he hopes to squeak through with a popular minority again.

But then what? So he can continue to preside over a prostrate economy, an uncontained plague, and massive civic breakdown? So he can become even more of a spectacle than he already is, as his dementia progresses, state-level investigations and prosecutions multiply, and the climate and Covid crises intensify?

Honestly, I don’t know why either of these men would want to be president. But I must say, I feel a lot better about Biden than I did a day ago.