John McCain’s triumphal return to DC and impassioned Senatorial plea for mature legislating is being played as a study of contrasts in Trump’s Washington. Most coverage has treated it as a clash between two poles of the Republican party: the craven, heartless dealmaking and win-seeking of Trump and McConnell, vs. the impassioned heroism of McCain. Except it’s not a study in contrasts at all. John McCain and Donald Trump are the same basic person and the same basic politician, except one has a slightly better developed dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and also does a better job of listening to his lawyers and his PR handlers. It’s not a clash of extremes, it’s an apocalypse of narcissists.
Recently, I stumbled across Hunter S. Thompson’s obituary for Richard Nixon, originally published in Rolling Stone on June 16, 1994. It’s worth reading in its entirety, but I just have to pull out and share some of my favorite parts of it. It is also speaks hauntingly to the moment we find ourselves in today. Trump’s not Nixon, but oh man, does Trump ever rhyme with Nixon.
Thompson had a way with words. His journalistic ethics, which eschewed the standards of “Objective Journalism” (he liked to capitalize it for Maximum Impact) as false and misleading and embraced the use of the first person as critical to truth-telling, freed him up to say what he really thought about public figures like Nixon. But his approach to journalism wouldn’t have been nearly as effective without his unbelievable skill at invective. Read more
Today was a day of almost comic-book level evil, and do you want to know what didn’t make it any easier to take? All of my blue-state friends using their social media feeds to exhort anyone that they know who might happen to have a Republican representative in Congress to please please please be sure to call their representative. As someone who lives in a sort of medium-geranium-red Congressional district, with a representative that switched his vote from ‘no’ to ‘yes’ as the bill got worse, they were talking to me. I get that on a day like today you probably feel a little bit helpless since your representative understands the basic human value of healthcare already, but do you want to know why this was unhelpful and also kind of annoying? Read more
After news broke today of the latest Sean Spicer “gaffe” regarding Hitler supposedly not having used chemical weapons, I am ready to call it. I hereby declare Mackintosh’s Law*:
Any time a member of the Trump Administration opens their mouth on the subject of the Holocaust … really, any time he or she (mostly he) even thinks about the Holocaust … they are about the step into the middle of a self-created ahistorical and antisemitic political shitstorm.
*Actually, let’s called it First Mackintosh’s Law. I reserve the right to declare more “laws” in the future. Mike Godwin was really onto something. Declaring “laws” is super fun. Watch this space.
Donald Trump is many things, most of them terrible. (Seriously, has there ever been a human being with fewer redeeming qualities? And I’m someone who is usually pretty pollyannaish about seeing the best in people.) One of his prominent characteristics is deep and profound incompetence. The man has basically fucked up everything he has ever touched. His business ventures are a mess, which have only ever been saved by lucky intervention. He has no attention span, can’t see a project through to completion, and does not appear to learn from his mistakes. His real estate empire is a cobbled-together mess, glued together with tax dodges, shady dealings, and multiple bankruptcies. His branding business is small-time and absurd. The one thing he has proved good at in the twenty-first century, bullying people on TV, has crumbled to dust as networks and sponsors have run screaming. He has left a trail of failed marriages and hollow interpersonal relationships behind him, and his children (at least those who have taken a public role in the past few years) seem as empty and miserable as he is. In his perpetually infantile self-involvement, he has developed a reverse Midas touch. Everything he touches turns reliably to shit. (The fact that he has gotten as far as he has, anyway, is a testament to the overwhelming power of dynastic, inherited wealth in the United States.) Read more
Today is a tough day. I am stunned, sad, and scared. Stunned because I didn’t see this coming; I thought we were better than this. Sad because today is terrible and destructive and needs to be mourned (Mozart: Requiem is on heavy rotation today). And scared because I really don’t know what come next. Thinking back to the 2000 election, I remember being stunned, sad, and scared, but it was a different kind of fear. Back then I was scared because I knew exactly what George W. Bush would do as President, and it terrified me. This is different, because I have no idea what Trump will do as President. So I decided to write out my fears on the theory that naming the monster under the bed makes it less scary. Read more
Lots and lots of friends and acquaintances have been sharing and celebrating Louis CK’s endorsement of Hillary Clinton on Conan last night. While I agree with CK’s fundamental endorsement … Clinton should be president, and she should be president because of her own unique and exceptional qualification, not just because she isn’t Donald Trump. On that front, CK and I could not agree more. I just wish he could have made his endorsement without falling back on the old, tired, worn-out “bumbling-dad” cliche that has been a staple of commercial culture since the 1940s, and which has dominated pop cultural portrayals of fatherhood since the 1980s. It’s so, so tiresome. Read more
This week, a weirdly fresh scab was ripped off an old wound by a class project undertaken by one of my colleagues in sociology. In his political sociology course, Eric Bonds charged his students with undertaking “a community involvement project that would help them develop democracy skills and not simply vote in an election and then tune out.” The project that his class undertook was a petition and presentation to the Fredericksburg City Council arguing that they city should rename Jefferson Davis Highway (US Route 1) within the city limits. At the Tuesday evening meeting, the class made its presentation to council. Despite my irrational hope that somehow Fredericksburg wouldn’t be Fredericksburg on Tuesday evening, the proposal was roundly criticized and then summarily ignored. Members of the public who rose to comment were critical of the proposal on the grounds that “chang[ing[ the highway’s name … would ‘erase’ a piece of the city’s history.” Not only would City Council not entertain the petition, a motion to create a task force to study the issue couldn’t even get a second. In other words, Fredericksburg is still Fredericksburg. Read more
A recurring concern of this blog is Fredericksburg’s problems with affordable housing, and particularly how the civic culture of our small city shapes its openness to broadly diverse residents. Since I last addressed the subject last winter, little has changed; indeed, the city has recently recommended rejection of a new downtown development that would add 110 units of relatively affordable housing (the key term here being “relatively”).* In this morning’s Free Lance-Star, I found a lovely piece by Lindley Estes about the fate of the Fredericksburg Trailer Park and its residents, which speaks directly to the real and immediate human costs of Fredericksburg’s affordability crisis. Read more
I have been fascinated by the debates raging about Donald Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns, and the related debates about the size of his fortune and the source of his wealth. The consensus seems to be that he is refusing to release financial information because it will show that he isn’t nearly as rich as he says he is. While it’s absolutely entertaining to watch Trump writhe as the gossamer threads of his “success” are blown away by gale-force media scrutiny, I was particularly struck by John Cassidy’s reporting on the specific sources of Trump’s wealth in The New Yorker. It turns out that (unlike Romney in 2012) much to Trump’s wealth is derived from old-fashioned, boring, concrete real estate, rather than modern, sexy, ephemeral market capitalizations. As Cassidy points out, “Trump certainly owns some very valuable properties, most of which are in New York City.” It struck me that Trump’s fortune comes from what is perhaps the second-oldest form of American fortune-building: owning a piece of Manhattan Island. While it’s not quite as old and venerable of an American wealth-building tradition as owning enslaved people and forcing them to grow tobacco for export, it’s pretty close. It places Trump’s fortune in a long and “illustrious” tradition of great American fortunes, along with the Beekmans, the Schermerhorns, the Astors, and many others. Those previous owners of bits and pieces of Manhattan Island inspired Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence; too bad this one seems to be operating as The Destroyer of American Political Innocence.