Tom Brady, American Empire, and the Age of Piracy

pirate

We extort, we pilfer, we filch and sack

Drink up, me hearties, yo ho!

Maraud and embezzle and even hijack

Drink up, me hearties, yo ho!

On March 16th, as millions of citizens of the wealthiest nation in recorded history were prohibited by legal decree from going to work and earning a living, yet simultaneously compelled by the same force of law to meet all of their financial obligations, a man named Tom Brady was commanding his valet to prepare his Aston Martin for an early exit. As this vehicle, valued at $360,000, turned the corner and poured its headlights over Brady’s face, could the driver spy the indignation in his eyes? Brady was leaving the mansion—one of the mansions, excuse me—owned by Robert Kraft, a geriatric billionaire with a penchant for prostitution and an affectionate relationship with Donald Trump. For the last twenty years, Brady had been one of Kraft’s employees, collecting over $230 million in modest compensation to throw a football and wear the New England Patriots’ jerseys. However, when Kraft asked Brady to take $23 million to do it again for four months in the autumn of 2020, Brady blew a wet raspberry, rather than swallow the insult, and announced his resignation. He wouldn’t be treated like some powerless peasant, and Kraft really ought to have known better than to treat him as such: surely he couldn’t be so boorish as to expect Brady to break his back for peanuts?

Forty-eight hours later, as landlords and slumlords throughout the country were battling the federal government to retain their right to demand rent from the unemployed, Brady was grinning hungrily as he signed a much more respectable contract. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, owned by a group of stock and oil speculators with close ties to the Bush family, had agreed to pay Brady between $25 and $30 million to play football, minus those pesky state taxes that Kraft’s employees must pay in Massachusetts. As he signed his new agreement, Brady was wearing a Swiss watch decorated with elaborate military homage, and still available for sale at more than twelve grand. Perhaps he bought it to mark the occasion, or maybe even earlier, to celebrate the sale of his Los Angeles mansion, a transaction that netted Brady almost $30 million in profit. It’s unclear why he wanted to leave Los Angeles—or, for that matter, why he owns a separate home in Costa Rica—but he may have finally grown tired of the city’s homeless population, which threatens to exceed sixty thousand.

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System Update: Coronavirus Diary, Part IV

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You will excuse my reticence, but I have struggled for words these last several days. It is striking, frightening, and more than slightly humbling how this pandemic, though hardly unsurpassed in its lethality, has proven to be ineffable, if not unfathomable, to the American people. We mutter about a pause to our country, but this is not a pause: in my experience, we have paused only once, on the lifeless afternoon of September 11th. This is not a pause but a disassembling, a gruelingly sluggish march to our demise. Only the depraved and oblivious would fail to recognize the moribundity of this, to appreciate the funereal atmosphere pervading our inglorious landscape. We are compelled, in the absence of credible—albeit infantile—reassurance, to acknowledge our own weakness, and, what’s more, our own mortality. We have been stripped of our pride, our most malignant hubris, and in the absence of our formerly relentless confidence, we cannot speak realistically. We cannot speak at all.

Surely, we expected incredulous silence from the gullible bourgeoisie who placed their immovable faith in the invincibility of the American system. More surprising, and more telling, is the palpable anxiety among the skeptical and woke who anticipated the catastrophic breakdown of “the system” for years. Their collective inability to interpret this crisis, comprehend its catalysts, and portend its consequences is baffling: in February, they spoke with inflexible authority of the inevitable doom of our capitalistic structure, but in the time of the coronavirus, they are scratching their heads and strumming their lips. I number myself among the perplexed, for I have expressed my confusion, if only feigned confusion, far more frequently than I have voiced solemnity.

Maybe we thought it wouldn’t happen to us. We said, as did our preferred public intellectuals, that the American Empire wasn’t long for this world, that the cathedral would stand for another quarter-century, at the most. We acknowledged its impermanence, as well as the innumerable agonies that its collapse would connote, but the downfall remained at a distance, like the knowledge of our own personal death: we understand that we will someday die, but the knowledge doesn’t overwhelm us because, for the moment, it is abstract. Amusingly, it seems that we accept the inevitability of our own death far more easily than we could have ever accepted America’s eventual demise—and by extension, while those on their deathbed often achieve transcendent clarity, we scream in hopeless protest as we race ever nearer the American climax.

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Lockdown Eve: Coronavirus Diary, Part III

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This was a bad time to begin a remodeling project.

The people of New Hampshire will remember Monday, the sixteenth of March, as the transcendent date of the pandemic. Nothing changed until Tuesday, the day on which gatherings in restaurants and pubs were formally abolished, but Governor Sununu’s announced decision of this abolition on the day before effected a conspicuous atmospheric shift in the Granite State. Our collective gloom, so carefully suppressed in the winter months, finally breached our miens and spread so that it may become omnipresent and undeniable. Everyone understood that something was coming, and while it would probably prove to be insignificant, it was something over which we had no control. It was the absence of agency that troubled us, even if it didn’t frighten us, exactly, and even if it prohibited some luxurious activities only: no one likes to be told what to do, especially by legal compulsion. The denial of choice was especially foreign to New Hampshirites, who pride themselves, probably undeservedly so, on the philosophy of “live free or die”, and who, by the last tone of midnight on Monday, would find themselves living unfree, and still may they die.

In my opinion, fear of the coronavirus remains respectably low in New Hampshire, but even if one doesn’t fear the disease, one is confronted relentlessly with reminders of its menace. Unlike all of the other biological bogeymen of the twenty-first century, such as Ebola or swine flu, public policy has changed considerably in response to the coronavirus. Even if your own habits and lifestyle are unaffected by the mandated closures of certain businesses, your awareness of this mandate makes the disease tangible in a way that the others were not. Surely you have walked within the grocery store and gazed upon the ravaged shelves, if only for the novelty of it all? Failing all else, you must have noticed the diminished traffic on the road, an involuntary quietude that has developed because of this illness. We don’t have the option of ignoring this episode, even if we turn off our televisions and shut down our smartphones. This time around, the panic hasn’t been brought to our door; the state has compelled us to let it in.

With the preliminary steps towards a lockdown pending, the only responsible action to take, so it seemed, was to stock up on supplies. As mentioned in the previous entry, our consumerist system does not permit comprehensive planning, for any truly effective plan must account for the end of the system itself. The best, or the worst, that one can do within these parameters is to “panic buy”, to hurriedly purchase enough supplies to last one for a couple of months, at the absolute most. This embarrassing exercise, already taken up with violent flamboyance in most of the major cities, seeks salvation through the hopeless system even while acknowledging its impending demise. While this is normally a harmless, if unnecessary, measure, the tangible terror in the midst of the coronavirus has caught like a bushfire, sweeping through shops and purging them of bash tissue, disinfectants, paper towels, and the like. Confronting a surreal shortage of supplies, the American people, who have made gluttony an art form over the years, are suddenly living in the land of not-so-plenty. If the distinctly American brand of capitalism was ever truly alive, it died on Monday afternoon when President Trump, the apostle of the free market, took to Twitter to beg Americans to restrain their spending habits and to stop buying in bulk.

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Down Goes the Grocery: Coronavirus Diary, Part II

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I used to be terrified of grocery stores. Nine years ago, when I suffered my first mental breakdown, I came to recognize the grocery store as the ultimate symbol of human failing. I didn’t understand how human beings could pride themselves on their self-proclaimed independence at the same time that they were completely dependent on third-party vendors for their quintessential sustenance. If they couldn’t grow or hunt their own food, then they were effectively helpless and infantile, yet at no point did they exhibit any humbled awareness of the precarious nature of their own situation. It was all so terribly distasteful, not to mention recklessly irresponsible: what could they possibly do if the market system on which they relied were to suddenly self-destruct?

After nine long years of speculation, I finally received a preliminary, unflattering answer on Friday night. Thitherto, I had done my best to disregard the hysterical anticipation of the coronavirus, and because I completed my weekly grocery shopping on the Sunday before, I hadn’t even been inside a store in days. I was woefully unprepared for a phone call from an anonymous associate who told me of an impending announcement from the Pentagon, one which would expand and intensify the panic that was already pervading the larger provinces. “Get a month’s worth of groceries, and get them fast,” she said, “because there won’t be anything left on the shelves tomorrow night.”

Suddenly, malaise crept up on me, and for the first time this year, I perceived a credible urgency. When the media swelled, overflowed, and burst with sensationalist stories of coronavirus, I scoffed and shook my head, as did the majority of Americans, I suspect. By now, you have probably seen the chronicle of apocalyptic menaces in the twenty-first century, including but certainly not limited to anthrax, West Nile virus, SARS, bird flu, swine flu, Ebola, and Zika, all of which failed to live up to the nihilistic hype. Coronavirus disease 2019 poses a comparably negligible biological threat, but an intense overreaction, be it public or private, to this pathogen could wreak destructive havoc, the least of which may be a raid upon the grocery stores. Ergo, I decided to venture into the night and collect what I could before the coming of the mob.

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State Media: Cultural Outreach with Buttigieg and Warren

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“Does Joe Biden have dementia?” This has become the quintessential question of the Democratic Party’s presidential primary season. We have ceased to ask ourselves, “Who is the best candidate?” or even, “What makes an ideal candidate?” Instead, we are wondering, in absolute sincerity, if the presumptive nominee is medically capable of performing tasks that are much less demanding than conscious governance of the American Empire. It is an existentially embarrassing reflection of our political system’s incorrigible dysfunction, but it is not a guarantee that Biden’s bid for the White House will fail. He still has a perfectly credible chance because he has spent the last fifty-two years of his life proving his commitment and obedience to the maintenance of the Washington machine, a contraption of such nightmarish convolution that it cannot possibly be altered or improved, but must and will eventually be replaced. Perhaps it was not an ominous warning, but a simple remark of demonstrable fact, when he told an audience of millionaires last summer that, should he become the president, “Nothing fundamentally will change … I need you very badly.”

Unfortunately, exposing himself as an effective mechanism of the political-industrial complex is only part of the challenge. He must also convince the electorate, comprised largely of peasants and the bourgeoisie who will eventually take their place, that he commiserates with them. That is rather difficult for Biden, whose insipid style and plodding approach are sadly incompatible with the wild and frantic postmodernism of the Trumpish Age. We should not use postmodern as a pejorative or exclusionary word: we are all impacted psychologically by the eruption of the Internet, we are all growing hostile and desperate as the Empire wobbles, and we all recognize, if only subconsciously and imperfectly, that we crossed the point of no return somewhere in our journey hitherto. It was the same point at which Biden became an anachronism, not because his policies contrast with the establishment’s, but because he can’t distinguish himself as the establishment receives a fresh coat of paint.

Nobody is drawn to Biden’s dull, dreary colors, none but the outgoing generation of baby boomers. Notorious for their passivity, creative bankruptcy, and unconscious apathy, baby boomers are the grotesque embodiment of the status quo, resenting nothing with greater ferocity of suspicion than serious solutions. Possessing none of these, Biden has made an indelible impression on the group most frightened of the coronavirus, yet the same inefficacy and weakness of heart have made him a laughingstock among the millennials supposedly spreading the disease. It is this, the palpability of the generational divide, rather than the rumors of Biden’s degenerative neurological condition, that poses the most serious threat to the Democratic Party’s presidential campaign. As a result, the Democratic National Committee is calling on favors from its loyal associates in the entertainment industry as part of a desperate effort to convince the fertile to vote for the flaccid.

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Bloodbath to Come: Coronavirus Disease Diary, Part I

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On Tuesday afternoon, the Chinese government announced that it had seemingly halted the spread of coronavirus disease 2019 within its own borders following a weeks-long execution of draconian measures. Unfortunately, this report was discarded almost before it was even published, for myriad reasons: firstly, there are no circumstances under which the American corporate media will credit the Chinese state with anything, lest the former interrupt its own relentless barrage of propaganda against the latter; secondly, and as Damian Wilson noted in an op-ed for RT, it couldn’t have been disseminated without incidentally exposing the Italian government’s astonishing incompetence in controlling its own outbreak; and thirdly, it would compromise the sensationalist coverage of the disease’s spread in the United States. We cannot sell this panic effectively if we depict the Chinese people returning to business as usual.

Nevertheless, those of us who read this report went to bed on Tuesday night in a state of uncommon optimism, hopeful that the media would abandon this subject soon, possibly within the next couple of weeks, but certainly by the end of the month. We were sadly mistaken, in large part because we foolishly assumed the American outbreak would adhere to the trajectory of the Chinese. This was impossible because, whereas the Chinese government responded from the beginning, the American government twiddled its thumbs before finally taking some form of action, the details of which are said to be disclosed by the end of the day. Most of the debate among the bourgeoisie has centered on the hardline restrictions adopted by the Chinese government (and, later, the Italian government), as many people would prefer to allow the disease to run its course. However, medical efficacy is not the focus of our present discussion; our initial observation is that, by taking the latter approach before switching to the former only recently, sloppily, and desperately, the American government has welcomed the worst of both worlds.

As of this writing, the United States is entering a phase of informal, partial, and therefore laughably ineffective lockdown. The government and the corporate media are discouraging us against leaving our homes, even to visit our neighbors, which might be the most unnecessary advice ever offered to a nation that is already crumbling through social estrangement and personal fragmentation. If it isn’t safe to cross the hall of your apartment building, then it is downright suicidal to attend one of those notorious “gatherings of large numbers of people”. People have this obstinate habit of going places and performing activities, which puts them at preternatural risk of contracting coronavirus disease 2019. Yesterday, the paroled felon who makes your coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts had a clean bill of health, but how do you know he didn’t contract coronavirus disease 2019 this morning when that vaguely foreign-looking guy handed him a five-dollar bill? How can you be sure the prostitute you’ll hire in Manchester tonight didn’t recently return from a European cruise? These are serious questions we should all ask ourselves, but just to be safe, the federal government will answer them for us.

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Joe Biden and the Politics of Extortion

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In the Trumpish Age, agitprop is probably just as important as—and exponentially more dangerous than—traditional propaganda. Fox News, and the Republican Party’s pseudointellectual apologists on talk radio, remind conservative voters twenty-four hours daily that their values, as meaningful as they are undefined, are under constant threat by a nefarious assemblage of cosmopolitans. Meanwhile, the omnipresent neoliberal media depicts a nation in crisis, melting amidst the apocalyptic flames fanned by the orange-peeled trickster in the White House. We won’t find a substantive difference between them, even in their interpretations of the conclusion to the controversy du jour: whatever transpires, Trump is still the President of the United States. The conservatives respond by sighing in relief; the neoliberals by grinding their teeth in disappointment.

Why have the latter ever been disappointed, even surprised, by Trump’s resilience? The Trumpish Age has been a regrettably humorless montage of boring, manufactured scandals, any one of which could have been exposed at the onset by an objective, if cursory, assessment of the available facts. Nobody who was reasonably informed about the Ukrainian affair would have suspected, even for a moment, that the Senate would vote to remove Trump from office, yet the neoliberal breadth of the corporate media saw his conviction as an inevitability. If you consumed only this particularly hollow brand of news, and if you were exposed to no other serious perspective, then of course you were astonished when the Republicans exonerated Trump. You were let down and saddened—but why? Because the corporate media (mis)led you to believe that your dream—the renunciation and abolishment of Trump—was finally about to be realized. You were deceived, deliberately so, and it is only a matter of time before you are corralled onto the roller coaster again.

The momentary rise and breakneck demise of Bernie Sanders may have been another ride. Sanders was denied the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination in 2016, his campaign sabotaged by a gang of hustlers installed in the Democratic National Committee by Sanders’s primary competitor, Hillary Clinton. We will never know if Sanders would have won a fair contest, but we do know he was ready to emerge from the present primary process with the lion’s share of delegates, albeit not an insurmountable majority. Had this come to pass, still the DNC would have had an opportunity to overpower Sanders by consolidating all of the other candidates’ delegates within one campaign; in fact, Sanders’s competitors confessed to approve such a strategy at the end of the last televised debate.

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