Political Junk Mail: Tom Steyer’s Self-Aggrandizing Flyers


This is gravy time, folks. We have reached that sluggish state of Christmas post-mortem, the viscid spot on the calendar when the leftovers fossilize, the garbage collectors disappear, and no one can say what day it is. We are living out the climactic dyspepsia of the dying year, impatiently waiting for 2019 to give up the ghost and, with its final labored whimper, let us metamorphosize to 2020. As we brace for penetration of that psychic wall dividing the old year from the new, we close our eyes and hum our favorite lullaby: the vivacious melody of our new year’s resolutions. The cynical function of these hopeless resolutions is to reassure us that things will get better—and they do, for, from our comatose condition at the end of the year, things couldn’t possibly get any worse.

Don’t think I’m above this squalid custom: I haven’t shaved or sobered up since Friday afternoon, and I still have to read three more pages of the Book of Kings just to maintain my regimen. If 2020 is to be of benefit—to me or to anybody else—then we must begin the year by purging ourselves of this bile, this toxicity that reduces us to vegetative vestiges for the final week of December. This bile is both psychological and physical, the latter manifesting in the cruddy clutter we so cheerfully toss into bin, though usually not until two or three months into the year. I’m already making some progress, trashing a brittle ladle from twenty years ago and junk mail of more recent memory.

Aggressively though I fight to keep my name off of their multilayered mailing lists, the presidential candidates always find a way to stuff their fluff into my mailbox. Tom Steyer, who appears to have changed his name to Tom Democrat, has already sent me three flyers and counting, and we’re still six weeks away from the New Hampshire Primary. Steyer has been wasting paper on me since the September convention, when Michael Morrill, his majordomo, handed me his business card after I made it clear that I was uninterested in working for his campaign. Now I regret turning him down: I could have sabotaged him as best as I was able, though I might have felt the vaguest compunction for betraying a man whose business card was “labor donated”.


Reading “Mein Kampf”, Part IV: The Unaccountable Congress


When the Democrats obtained a modest majority in the House of Representatives fourteen months ago, Donald Trump received a multifaceted weapon in his ongoing battle for re-election: it is the weapon of ostensible impotence. No longer can the impatient conservatives and unaffiliated voters blame Trump, should he fail to accomplish anything legislatively, or even judicially; the president can point to his obstreperous opponents in Congress, the neoliberal contrarians who refuse to allow him to make progress. Such an excuse would be asinine, of course: twenty-four hours after voting to impeach Trump, the Democrat-jockeyed House voted in favor of his Mexican trade deal, so the spirit of cooperation appears to thrive in Washington, D.C.

Unfortunately, the bemused and distracted American consumers cannot perceive this substantive homogeneity, but apprehend only effervescent style—in politics as much as in any other realm. If they are guiltless in their gullibility, then the wrongdoer here is the mass media, which perpetuates the popular delusion of ideological diversity in Congress so as to sustain the political game. Every consumer of the American press is told one hundred times daily, by gussied-up millionaires sitting in spotless studios, that the gussied-up millionaires on Capitol Hill who place a D after their names have very different values from the gussied-up millionaires on Capitol Hill who sport an R in the same place. The illusory distinction transcends the plane of theoretical prejudice (“If they belong to Party X, then they must believe in Y!”) and permeates the prism of practical action: “If Event A occurred, then it must have been the result of the actions of Party X!

If, through some preternatural power, you have emerged from this diagram with your head intact, then perhaps you are wondering how, in the midst of such chaos, any powerful person can be ever be held to account. If so, then I congratulate you, for you have learned the game: accountability is impossible in this malicious morass. Such a dizzyingly dysfunctional system of design isn’t unique to the United States Congress; au contraire, Hitler faced the same structural nightmare in Germany a century ago.


Impeaching Hitler: A Ridiculous Episode

“Have we laid the soil for another Hitler?” Far from a forgettable and ludicrous inquiry, this may be the most pressing question of the modern neoliberal intelligentsia. The self-declared left-wing bourgeoisie believe, and just as likely hope, that they are living in a preternaturally consequential era; alas, if this is so, then there must be an uncommonly threatening villain for them to vanquish. Ours is a time of ressentiment, and we define our virtue not by our own values or accomplishments or strengths, but by the immoralities and failings and weaknesses of our adversaries—adversaries in the social, cultural, and political arenas. Ergo, the most incontestable testament to our greatness would be, not our own fulfilment of the second coming of Christ, but our opposition, however it’s defined, to the second coming of Hitler.

If the neoliberals do not play the part of Christ convincingly enough, then their failure is eclipsed by Trump’s successful mimicry of Hitler—and yet, like most of the political arguments proposed in the last four years, this comparison of Trump and Hitler fails to survive even the most cursory analysis. Trump is reminiscent, not of Hitler the man or politician, but Hitler the bogeyman, Hitler the transcendent urban legend. Everyone recognizes or perceives Hitler’s villainy, but worryingly few people take the time to comprehend his evil, to learn it or understand it; conversely, Trump’s moral failings are not exactly subtle, yet the great majority of American adults misunderstand the substance of his failings. In either instance, intellectual expression is reduced to “Mustached Man Bad” or “Orange Man Bad”, depending on the critic’s needs, interests, and agenda.

The ostensible urgency of the question—“Is Trump the next Hitler?”—is reflected in the failure of refusal of every corporate journalist to ask it. The significance of the question cannot endure in the neoliberal imagination if it is asked, for then its comical irrationality would be exposed. There can be no mistake: Trump shares Hitler’s fetish for ethnic bigotry and extraterritorial military conquest, the former being a pseudointellectual justification for the latter. However, both of these diseased elements and goals are those of the American government in general, promoted and pursued long before Trump took the oath of office. Far from reintroducing an antiquated ideology to American government, Trump has removed the dazzling varnish from the executive chambers and betrayed its prejudicial philosophy.


In Absentia: Tulsi Gabbard and the Anti-Politician


It is as remarkable as it is wasteful, the creativity with which we demonize our political opponents. My neighbor, who intends to vote for Andrew Yang in February of next year, and who expresses his intention by planting the candidate’s banner in his front yard, is not only an irredeemable fool, but an active and bloodstained participant in the toppling of the Bolivian state. Yet, this shameful expenditure of energy is itself surpassed by the frantic haste with which we shift this designation, depending on our momentary need. In 2012, we reassured ourselves of our liberal virtue, ours and Obama’s, by envisioning the Republican Party as a cabal of decadent billionaires; in 2020, we will convince ourselves of our enduring moral superiority, ours and the Democratic Party nominee’s, by depicting the Republicans as a mob of toothless, impoverished hicks.

We cannot stop to note the incompatibility of these political ink blots, lest we shake our confidence in the simplicity of our institutional structure. Complexity begets questions, and questions are the seeds of uncertainty—and uncertainty is anathema to politics. Indeed, one negates the other: can you imagine anything more surreal than a politician who stands before a crowd and admits that he doesn’t have all the answers, that he hasn’t exhausted every single puzzle and has devised a simple solution to all? How could be a politician ever admit to doubt; are we supposed to believe he is a human? Should such a candidate appear, he would be no politician at all, but would have more in common with the intellectual.

On Wednesday, the anti-politician emerged. As the House of Corporate Representatives convened to vote to impeach President Trump, Tulsi Gabbard refused to join the asinine assembly. Because she saw no cause to celebrate this joust’s protracted, bitter, and unsatisfying climax, she cast a lone vote of “present” so as to deny, as much as she was able, credibility to the political pageant. Alas, she couldn’t deny the victors their spoils, as the Democrats compelled obedience among their ranks sufficient to achieve impeachment. Her defiance, no less substantive for being symbolic, has been received with opportunistic applause by the Right and inevitable bloodlust by the Left.


On this Day in Cinema: “Titanic” and Our Gluttonous Culture of Excess


Why does she hesitate before she kisses him? Leo was so cute before he got fat.

On December 19th, 1997, as twilight fell on the twentieth century, the American middle class—that lovely euphemism for “the bourgeoisie”—stood on the bow of their sumptuous vessel, sipped on priceless foreign spirits, and admired the abyss flowing before them. This limitless abyss, this magnum mysterium, was the inevitably prosperous future of their country: the American Empire would never diminish in reach or strength, but would and indeed could only grow. So firm was their faith in the surety and security of their ascendance—which they described as progress—that they never troubled themselves with questions about the operations of the ship on which they stood—and on which their buoyancy and momentum depended.

We won’t exhaust or immiserate ourselves by counting the baby boomers’ dumbfounding failings, but limit ourselves to their obscenely naïve and immutable confidence in the American economy’s infallibility. Even if they never wished to know why they were spoiled with riches all of their lives, surely they must have sensed it couldn’t last? Yet, my father was hardly the only American foolish enough to buy a house in 1999 with the expectation of selling it for three times’ its value in 2009. Such breathtaking ignorance of economic reality prevented him from anticipating, to say nothing of understanding, the great downward shift of the twenty-first century.

Of course, this childish superstition of insouciance betrays a mentality that is completely simplistic. The baby boomers, who have finally come to define and represent Americans generally, lack any coherent principles or values, other than their desperate desire for that which is thoughtless, bland, convenient, and garish. Only the most graceless and cloying will do, in life as well as art—hence their love of the cinema’s stentorian bombast. Within this medium of personal expression—which, for the boomers, is always emotional expression—they realized their own petty fantasies, fantasies depicting their compulsive search for the anodyne. They reached the apex of their sluggish pursuit in 1997, finding nirvana with the release of a film named Titanic.

Much like the boomers themselves, Titanic is an embodiment of indulgence and surfeit, a ponderous creature, a monster of girth. We remember this film for its size, whether it be the extraordinary running time (or length), the broad cinematographic scope (or width), or the famously bloated budget, which set a record that stood until Hollywood learned to waste the same amount of money making cartoons.


Vox’s Shameless About-Face on the DNC Debate


Talk about yellow journalism.

Contrary to popular (and comforting) belief, the American corporate media hasn’t succumbed to propagandistic influence and forsaken its objectivity in the Trumpish Age. Merely, it has peddled a cruder and coarser blend of propaganda than it preferred formerly: the modern concoction, while probably safer than its predecessor for its strikingly blatant toxicity, has proven to be too bland for those of us who still remember our taste. The good news (and the unsettling precedent set) for the mountebanks of misinformation is that a sizeable portion of the public cannot think for themselves, and in their intellectual dependence, they surrender all too willingly to the compulsive flow of the mainstream.

Somewhere in the shallowest swamps of the cesspool, we will find the belligerent gatekeepers of Vox, a marketing company that decided only recently to masquerade as a progressive thinktank. It presents cursory, sophomoric blogging as if it were principled, scholarly research, but not even the slick production values and cultural omnipresence can conceal the oppressive corporate influence; or, perhaps more accurately, the authoritarian corporate control. Vox, which should not be mistaken for the exceptional satirist of the same name, is the public relations arm of the neoliberal lobby, a pseudointellectual symposium presented as a populist (and progressive) publication.

I have written about this corrupted organization before, identifying Aaron Rupar as a prostitute for the Democratic National Committee. For those outside the know, Rupar reassured his slow-witted readers that there was nothing suspicious, nothing even slightly puzzling at all, behind the DNC’s restrictive mechanisms whereby multiple presidential candidates, including those of incontestable cultural relevance, were excluded from several televised debates. He insisted that the criteria were beyond reproach, and he sullied Tulsi Gabbard, a Polynesian veteran and congresswoman, for her audacious suggestion that perhaps the field had been slightly tilted.

Well, fast-forward from the dog days of August to the Christmas holiday, and Vox has instructed one of its staff to explain why, this time around, the DNC’s criteria whereby candidates appear in televised debates are demonstrably unjust—not because the criteria exclude Gabbard, but because the criteria reserve no space for Cory Booker. Yes, boys and girls, you understood what you read: the executives at Vox argue—in earnest—that the DNC has overstepped its boundaries, not by its unpatriotic disrespect of Gabbard, not by its impractical hostility to Marianne Williamson, nor by its documented conspiracy against Bernie Sanders, but by its refusal to accommodate Senator Cory Booker in one of its many televised debates.


The Humiliating Infantilism of Adulting


A woman teaches adults how to fry an egg. The man in the center background is obviously looking at her pants, not at her pan.

Can anyone identify the target audience for the Union Leader, New Hampshire’s most superfluous newspaper? Once proudly offering intellectual refuge to the state’s many racists and stockbrokers, now it can only whimper in its joyless support for Governor Sununu, George Will, and the rest of the castrated neocons who stand in token opposition to the Trump Administration. You know you have surpassed your own irrevocable irrelevance when Mallard Fillmore is your gutsiest pundit. If you think it can’t possibly be that bad, then consider this: on Sunday, the Union Leader published an obscenely uncritical, unironic piece on the grotesque, dangerous, and unmistakably leftist phenomenon of “adulting”.

Much to my chagrin, I did not have to update my spellcheck system to accommodate this word, for Microsoft has already added it to its dictionary. For those who are blessedly outside the know, the Leader explains that “adulting is a term often used by millennials and Gen Z’ers for completing everyday adult tasks like paying bills or cooking their own dinner.” The most illiterate generation of the last century has also produced the most prolific wordsmiths, who have devised a term for the basic competence expected of people who are not committed to institutions. The Union Leader goes on to observe that “colleges and universities across the country are offering classes to help students to help master basic life skills.”

[Hold up. Let me get this straight: we have identified a need for “classes to help students to help master basic life skills” at the university level? Implying that there was a shortage of students who had learned to “master basic life skills” at the university level? I thought the university was a place of exceptionality, of preternatural skill, of uncommon success!]

Well, if Seth Abramson can find work there, then clearly they don’t have very exacting standards. But more to the point is the contradiction you observe: as our children stand before the threshold of adulthood, we tell them they are exceptional and gifted, yet they cannot demonstrate their ability to function. As the article in the Union Leader explains, these courses on “adulting” do not cover any extraordinary abilities; instead, and it is worth repeating, they cover “everyday adult tasks like paying bills or cooking [dinner]”. If you are old enough to be enrolled at a university, then how is it possible that you don’t know how to pay your own bills or cook your own dinner? With respect to my readers, who may expect me to indulge in stylistic flourish, I confess that I am struggling to gussy up my horror in purple frippery. The simplicity disdains every convolution.