Amy Coney Barrett and the Feminist Contradiction

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I was on an airplane somewhere between Des Moines and Manchester when the Americans learned of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s demise. They had expected her death for the past two years, at least, and many of them privately hoped for it; certainly, the right-wing conservatives who voted for Donald Trump in the wake of Antonin Scalia’s death wanted to see the president put one of their preferred ideologues on the Supreme Court, but we ought not to forget the pessimists and nihilists who were looking forward to the political turmoil that would follow the news that Ginsburg was dead. They must be disappointed with the reaction hitherto, as we haven’t heard any of the caterwauling, nor have we witnessed any of the scuffling, that defined Brett Kavanaugh’s infamous appointment to the Court. On the contrary, the confirmation hearings for Amy Coney Barrett have been downright dull, laden in their sense of inevitability. Even the Democrat Senators, whose mawkish gestures in the Kavanaugh affair almost equaled the plangency of the protesters, seem to be struggling to stay awake as they ask Barrett the same pointless questions again and again.

Perhaps they exhausted themselves in their relentless attack on Kavanaugh, an assault that did not appeal to the public nearly as much as the corporate media would like us to believe. Joe Manchin, a Democrat Senator representing West Virginia, received permission from his party bosses to vote for Kavanaugh, as this was expected to benefit him in his re-election campaign—and so it did, as he defeated his opponent by the thinnest of margins. In other words, the political operatives in the Democratic Party believed, correctly, that voting for Kavanaugh was the “moderate” position, that the “moderate” or “centrist” position rejected the Democrats’ mass of allegations that Kavanaugh had raped dozens, if not hundreds, of women. That is a remarkable discordance for a political party that has claimed the exclusive right of representation, as well as the only right to speak, for every American woman.

The deliberate conflation of American women and the Democratic Party has been an effort several years in the making and accelerated quite conspicuously in the Trumpish Age. It failed to win the Democrats the presidency in 2016, and it did not prevent Kavanaugh from reaching the bench, but it did propel several congressional races in 2018, and it looks as though it will push Joe Biden into the White House in just a few weeks. Such should be enough—more than enough, really—to make us forget the surreal sight of women in the Democratic Party castigating Barrett for her refusal to adhere to “the feminist standard”. They have reached this conclusion because Barrett will support some future overturning of Roe v. Wade and thereby jeopardize the legality of elective abortion in the United States. Undeniably, this is blasphemous to modern feminists, but here we must pause, for we have ceased to speak of women and have begun to speak of feminism—and the distinction is as critical as the distinction between women and the Democratic Party.

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Traitors of Journalism: Suzie Dawson and the Market of Victimhood

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The inherent flaw of any presidential campaign lies in its conception of the prerequisites of human liberation. Invariably, these campaigns attempt to build from the top, to furnish an image, however crude, of the apex of human achievement. The elected president shall manifest this virtuous ideal, one to which the lowly remainder of humanity will humbly seek to adhere. The powerless peasants and commoners are to bask in the leader’s moral radiance and hope, through osmosis, to someday evolve . . . although, in every democratic society with which I am conversant, this day of graduation is perpetually postponed. We cannot trust “the people” with such immense responsibilities, we are told—and so we tell ourselves, overlooking the grotesque servility of our own relationship to our government. Such submission ironically facilitates a self-fulfilling prophecy whereby demagogues command the attention of the masses, manipulate them, exploit them, and drive them to disastrous ends. Until the people learn to trust themselves with knowledge, until they learn to arm themselves, until they agree to build an autarky of their own design—in short, until they learn to overcome the suicidal philosophy of their masters—they will continue to allow the tyrants to displace them.

Regrettably, this elitist strain of psychopathy pervades even those who purport to combat it. I have recently encountered a pitiable example in Suzie Dawson, a mendacious storyteller masquerading as a journalist, and a bully who has spent the last several years of her unhappy existence attempting to create a hierarchal system of political activism. One would think that the paradoxical nature of such a structure—a pecking order for those who are working to dismantle the concept of a pecking order—would have discouraged her from the onset, but just as the pharaohs could not foresee their own destruction, Dawson is ignorant of the instability of her own pyramid. She has developed an elaborate, arbitrary echelon for all who identify as activists, a rigid ranking at the top of which she has, quite predictably, placed herself. The inflamed jealousy with which she protects her castle in the sand is eclipsed only by her astonishing blindness to how foolish it is—but before we venture any further in a psychological portrait of this unfortunate creature, perhaps the reader, who likely does not know who she is, would appreciate a formal introduction.

Suzie Dawson is a former YouTube commentator (a washed-up never-was, to borrow my preferred description of Alyssa Milano) who specialized in commentary on the work of Julian Assange and Edward Snowden. A native of New Zealand, she has lived in Moscow for some time now, hiding in plain sight from “western intelligence agents” who, she alleges, attempted to assassinate her—multiple times— by running her car off the road. Why these “western intelligence agents” selected such an impractical method of murder for a visibly unhealthy, over-the-hill bourgeois is beyond my ability to imagine, and even further beyond her ability to explain, never mind her ability to prove. For that matter, she cannot explain why the nefarious “western intelligence agents” despised her so passionately in the first place, save for her public defense of Assange and Snowden and, previously, her involvement in the Occupy Movement. In any event, she has been loafing around in Russia for a goodly while yet, beseeching the public to pay her bills while she petitions the government for asylum.

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Passive Evil: Tim Kaine and The Vice-Presidential Debate of 2016

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In my experience, it is usually my enemies, not my friends or even my mentors, who deserve credit for my political education. Political success, as it is defined in the United States, is a contradiction in terms, and so, we can learn only from the examples of scoundrels and failures—and in America, at least, the former outnumber the latter with ease. This is especially true of corruption, which has been punished only under exceptional circumstances, but which is rewarded almost as a matter of course. We the Americans perceive this all too simply, even if we don’t completely understand it, and it is our patience for this unsavory process, rather than our knowledge thereof, that the ruling class is trying with escalating recklessness in the Trumpish Age. Our best defense is to revisit the past and recognize the patterns of beguilement and graft, lest we fall victim to the cyclical scandal today, or even tomorrow.

Recall how unprepared, unwitting, and uninterested we were when Hillary Clinton introduced Tim Kaine as her vice-presidential nominee. Few of us care to remember where we were when the ill-fated oligarch made this rather unflattering announcement, but I know I was working, or wasting away, in a pub on an arid night in July when I saw Kaine’s name appear on three television screens simultaneously. I didn’t expect Clinton to select Bernie Sanders or some other obviously sensible choice, but Kaine puzzled me as an impractically insensible decision. I wasn’t sure I’d even heard of him before, but there he was, prepared to govern the United States if Clinton were to succumb to an unforgiving case of pneumonia. If it wasn’t unreal, then it was certainly unconvincing, and I wonder if I knew, along with an untold number of others, that Clinton doomed herself on July 22nd.

Long afterwards, on a very different day in a completely separate summer, I learned of Clinton’s sound reasoning. The day after the inauguration of President Obama, Kaine commenced his new role as the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, a position that, conveniently, did not interfere with his governorship of the Virginian Commonwealth. Perhaps even more conveniently, he shouldered no blame for the Democratic Party’s brutal failures in the midterms of 2010, or so Wikipedia informs us, citing a Mother Jones piece printed six years later. However, we can say in all sincerity that his suspect stewardship did not influence his decision to resign as chairman in the spring of 2011. On the contrary, Clinton beseeched him to step down and allow Debbie Wasserman Schultz, her political ally and erstwhile presidential campaign manager, to assume control. Schultz proved to be a most productive zealot, orchestrating a successful intraparty conspiracy to sabotage Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign and to tilt the field in Clinton’s favor. She yielded her post, not quite in disgrace, when Wikileaks exposed her handiwork, but Kaine was rewarded for his own participation with the ultimately frivolous vice-presidential nomination.

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“The Social Network” Ten Years Later

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Today is the tenth anniversary of the theatrical release of The Social Network, a movie that reflects the hubris, evanescence, and existential futility of the 2010s, perhaps more vividly and clearly than any other film produced in its wake. Such is not to say that the film articulates or even comprehends this singularly postmodern condition, and it may be anachronistic to suggest that it does: how could any person, even the most prescient intellectual, have foreseen the impending fragmentation of the American psyche in its particulars? Aaron Sorkin, who wrote the screenplay after spending several years producing propaganda for the Democratic Party, certainly understands the relationship of the media and the mind, but even he couldn’t have composed such an immaculate forecast, could he? As a sociological statement, is the movie only a beautiful error, or am I reluctant to acknowledge a more sinister, convoluted purpose?

Perhaps we are getting ahead of ourselves. We should try to remember, as best as we can in these amnesiac times, the atmosphere, mentality, and mood of the autumn of 2010. In that season, I was a recent high school graduate, possessed of a relentless dream of becoming a filmmaker, though I could not find or even imagine the means to realize this ambition. We might politely describe this condition as optimism, which the Americans of those days possessed in abundance: we, the liberal bourgeoisie, were still basking in the dull afterglow of the election of President Obama. We were grateful to have survived George W. Bush, and although we hadn’t been especially afraid of John McCain, we all believed we had dodged some kind of bullet in the elections of 2008. Admittedly, the transition to the nebulous greatness that Obama envisioned was taking longer than we expected, and in our listlessness, we might have developed minor anxiety, but for the most part, we were in good spirits, completely incognizant, if not exactly ignorant, of the impending calamity.

This is neither the time nor the place to attempt a comprehensive interpretation of the Obama years as a desperate exercise in staving off the inevitable collapse of the American Empire, but a palpable sense of insecurity is present in the cultural artifacts of that epoch. While not a fatalistic film, and while even less of a political film, The Social Network perceives the vacuity and hollow core of an immobile American society. Filming almost exclusively in the regal halls of Harvard or the pristine conference suites of law firms, the camera gazes about the set, expansive yet oddly claustrophobic, almost as if to ask: “What’s the point? What does it mean?” The American capitalists have pacified entire generations with the broken promise of ineffable wealth, but the millennials, like Nietzsche’s madman who declared “God is dead”, have weighed the offer and scoffed, “Gold is overrated.” It seems that the violent vacillations of neo-capitalism have inspired a conceptual skepticism of the principles of capitalism itself, a spiritual as well as a substantive critique.

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Mass Media Retrospective: The First Presidential Debate of 2016

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The tyrannical television will determine the outcome of this interminable presidential election, but for all of the awesome power it wields, it cannot convince a significant percentage of the American electorate to witness its presidential debates. Even in a time of ubiquitous unemployment, when a disturbingly large number of people really have nothing better to do than watch an allegedly “major television event”, still it proves an uncommonly arduous task to persuade them to sit on the couch and listen to two oligarchs mumble and mutter for a couple of hours. I lost the ability to tolerate it sober some time last year, but only when watching live television. I still have an honest interest in the televised debates of previous election cycles—the older, the better, but we are finally beginning to move far enough away from the psychological culture of 2016 that the televised debates of that period are gradually acquiring their own clarity. They are seeking out their place within a historical context.

Needless to say, we are not far enough removed to settle that context, but we are more than capable of overcoming the contemporary hysteria. In other words, we can recognize the election of Donald Trump as an inevitability, as a natural reflex performed by a moribund political body. For all of its visceral horror, perhaps even its unfathomability, there was simply no other plausible behavior for this body, at least not at that point in time. The political culture in the United States had undergone a decadent, maladaptive process across a span of several decades, at least, and has slowly effected the conditions under which the election of Trump is not a likely, but the likeliest, course of action. We do not travel by teleportation; we take an incalculable number of steps before we reach the end of our journey. The neoliberal media is in the business of scolding the public for its failure to turn left at the last minute, ignoring every move that was made previously and neglecting to notice that, in any case, we are still traveling on the same street.

We will leave them to scold Jill Stein and those who voted for her, and we will wish them luck in overcoming their unfortunate myopia. Our analytical work is more ambitious. While the bourgeois neoliberals prepare for tomorrow night’s debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden, dogmatic in their confidence that the fate of our species hangs in the balance, but never considering that the electorate have already made their choice, we will turn our attention to the first presidential debate of 2016, staged almost exactly four years ago. We remember almost nothing from that debate, save for one or two of Trump’s trademark ripostes, and we’ll remember little from tomorrow’s debate, as well. Nevertheless, the debate of yesteryear illustrates clearly the argument for Trump, one that ought to be of interest to the supposedly omniscient Democrats.

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