(I forgot to mention this in the clip above, but here is the tweet that originally set me thinking about this.)
I think the trend towards fatalism in American art is problematic. Our stories about politics and entertainment are very dark.
— GothamGirlBlue (@GothamGirlBlue) July 2, 2017
Johnathan found himself feeling rather down. It was the zeitgeist; for everywhere there was corruption and vice. Decency, civility, industriousness and all the other virtues had gone out of the world. Decadence and rot, from the upper echelons of society down to Johnathan’s own place of business, had worked their worst.
And so as he walked through the dingy back-alleys to his gloomy little apartment, his mood was understandably grim. As he approached the stained white door, the faded American flag next to it caught the breeze and hit him in the face. He cursed and, in the imprudent fury that occasionally possesses a frustrated person, tore the banner, pole and all, from its fixture beside the door.
Grumbling profanities, he opened the door and went inside the dark apartment, flag and pole tucked under his arm. He set down his briefcase and entered his kitchen to make himself a meager dinner. The kitchen was dark; barely illuminated by the dim light that filtered through the window by the stove. He fumbled for the light switch and finally found it. But on turning on the light, he found he was not alone.
Seated at his kitchen table was a tall, olive-skinned woman, dressed in a style that Johnathan would have described as “Victorian”, though in fact that was not the correct period. She wore a full-length red and white striped dress, with a shiny blue caraco, with golden epaulettes at the shoulder.
After dropping the flag and recoiling in surprise, Johnathan managed to blurt out, “Who are you? What are you doing? I’ll call the police!”
The woman smiled slightly. “No need for that, my friend,” she said coolly. “Although I request that you pick up that lovely flag you have rather unceremoniously left lying on the floor.”
“What, this?” said Johnathan stupidly. “It’s old and faded. I may as well pitch it.”
“Please don’t,” said the woman, in a tone of annoyance that told Johnathan he had better pick up the flag already. Having done so, he returned to his line of questioning: “What are you doing in my apartment, ma’am?” he asked, and then added, “I did not invite you. Please leave before I call the police.”
“I have not, and will not, steal any of your belongings, nor harm you in any way.” she said calmly. “I only want to talk to you.”
“About what?” Johnathan said, with ill-concealed irritation. “I don’t even know who you are!”
“Columbia is my name,” she answered. “And I want to talk to you about America.”
“You want… what?” he said in confusion. “Well, I don’t know why you want to talk about that, but if you want to know what I think: America’s going to hell in a handbasket. It’s a disaster. The government is nothing but criminals and liars, out to make a buck.”
“Ah, but that is politics,” she replied. “That is not America.”
“Well, call it whatever you want, but the bottom line is nobody has a clue what they’re doing. They can’t hold anyone accountable, they can’t do their own jobs right–it’s chaos everywhere; people are out of work, they can’t afford decent food or a decent place to live, and criminals are all over the place–killing people, stealing stuff, and, and–and breaking into people’s houses in the middle of the night!” (He concluded this speech by pointing towards Columbia.)
“Can you really think of nothing good about the country?” she queried.
“Oh, it used to be better, back in the old days. People weren’t perfect, but at least they tried,” he muttered. “It was a great country once, but it’s all ruined because people are too stupid or too afraid to try to fix things anymore.”
“And what was it that made it great?” she asked.
He shook his head, “I… I don’t know. Do you think if I knew that I would be here?”
She folded her hands. “Let me tell you something about America: it does not have as much history as other parts of the world do. People who come here are looking to build something new–without all the baggage of the old world weighing them down.”
“Well, what of it?” said Johnathan. He tried to sound as disinterested as possible, and yet he found himself sitting down to listen to her all the same. “It’s all failed now, anyway.”
She replied crisply: “I believe it’s not about ‘success’ or ‘failure’–those are things that only apply in a contest with a clearly defined end. The beauty of creating something new is that it is a risk. You do not know how it will turn out–but there is courage in trying.”
“That is what really matters, you see,’ she continued. “When anything–a life, a country, anything–begins, there is no guarantee of ‘success’. And yet, if no one were ever willing to run that risk…”
She trailed off, and Johnathan now found himself mesmerized by her speech. He stared at her for a few moments. Her brown eyes had a strange calming effect upon him, and he felt like he was becoming hypnotized as he studied her dark, angular face.
“But what’s the use of any of it now?” he asked, forcing himself back to reality. “There’s nothing new here–it’s old and rotten and falling apart!”
Columbia closed her eyes for a moment and smiled patiently, as though she had expected this from him. She opened her eyes, looked directly into his, and said: “And don’t you think that in the past, others have felt just as frustrated and lost as you do now?”
“Yes,” he admitted, after a pause.
“And what did they do?”
“They… created something new.” he answered quietly.
“That’s right,” she said with a satisfied nod. “They faced their challenges, assessed them, and overcame them through courage and ingenuity. That is America.”
The two of them sat in silence after that. Columbia leaned back in her chair and glanced around the room with an expression of mild interest. Johnathan simply stared at her, the strange feeling of hypnosis growing stronger all the time.
A loud bang from outside jolted him to his feet. For an instant, he thought it was a gunshot, but when he rushed to the window, he saw glittering white sparks in the air and realized it was a firework display.
“Look at that,” he said with a smile, as more bright showers of light exploded in the darkness overhead. “Columbia, come and see–”
He turned to beckon her to the window, but she was gone. The chair was empty. Johnathan looked around in confusion. He ran back through the kitchen and out the front door on to the porch, looking around for her as he went.
She was nowhere to be seen. Johnathan stood on the porch in a daze, listening to the crackle of the pyrotechnic display building to its climax.
He looked around and caught sight of the empty metal bracket beside the door. The flag and pole, he realized, were still under his arm. He hurriedly unfurled the flag and restored it to its place.
Before you do anything else, read this Andrew Sullivan column. It’s a few months old, but still incredibly relevant in many ways, and it’s worth your time to read the whole thing. Don’t worry; I’ll wait.
All done? Good.
The part I loved most was this:
“In America, as Charles Murray has shown in his extraordinary book, Coming Apart, the young and the smart and the talented — the people who would once have formed the core of these small towns — have long since fled to distant colleges and cities. They don’t come back. They would once have been the police chief or the town librarian or the school principal. They once helped make the town a well-run place with a clear identity, where the same families and networks lived together, died together, belonged together. These connections have attenuated … as economics supplants culture, as efficiency erases the individuality of inefficient places, as Amazon rips the heart out of shopping districts, as the smartphone removes us from physical space, and as many more immigrants and their culture alter the feel of a place in ways that disorient those with memories and loyalties.”
This is a highly significant point. On a superficial level it’s related to what I wrote about here–the fact that so many of America’s problems stem from the high concentration of young, talented, well-educated people in a few cities.
But there’s also a deeper significance to it–the Oswald Spengler quote I referenced here that “the landscape exercises a secret force upon the extinction of the old [culture] and the appearance of the new one,” applies.
Sorry to reference my own posts, but my point here is that Sullivan has very clearly articulated something I’ve subconsciously thought about but have never been able to express. It’s a fundamental change in the culture of the United States, and it’s something that needs to be understood to ensure a prosperous future for the nation.
We know that Russian Intelligence worked to increase Donald Trump’s election chances by spreading propaganda. And we now know that they also attempted to tamper with US voting systems. And we know that President Trump has long spoken approvingly of Russian President Vladimir Putin. And we know that Trump campaign personnel met with various Russian officials during the campaign.
All of this looks highly suspicious, and suggests that something was going on between Trump and Russia.
However, there is one thing about the “Russia colluded with the Trump campaign to steal the election” theory that doesn’t add up. Namely, if Russia was covertly influencing the election, why would they bother to tell the Trump campaign about it?
Think about it: there’s no reason for them to have any contact beyond perhaps an initial meeting to lay out the plan. Why keep having these meetings between Trump’s people and Russia’s people? All it did was increase the likelihood of the plot getting exposed.
This is actually the best argument the Trump people have in their favor, as far as I can see. If they were committing such a serious crime, why leave such incriminating evidence?
The “Trump’s campaign is innocent” scenario could be something like the following: sure, they met with Russian people, but it was nothing to do with election-hacking. Trump’s platform and Russia’s interests in promoting a new nationalistic world order just happened to align, and they were hashing out details of what they would do in the event that Trump won. Russia independently carried out their manipulation of the election without the knowledge of the Trump campaign.
Which would be the way to do it, if you were running a remotely competent espionage operation. You don’t tell people stuff they don’t need to know, and from Russia’s perspective, the Trump campaign wouldn’t have needed to know that Russia was attempting to influence the election.
But this leads to the question: why did the Russians meet with them at all? Presumably, Russian officials knew about the plan, even if the Trump people didn’t. And they would therefore know how bad the meetings would look if word of the Russian interference ever came out.
This points strongly to the conclusion that the Russians suckered Trump, or at least Trump’s people. They knew it would make them look bad when these meetings came to light, and so would undermine the American people’s faith in the entire government and the electoral process.
If this is the case, Trump and his personnel, rather than being willing pawns of a Russian plot, are actually naïve victims who fell into a Russian trap.
Personally, I find it hard to imagine the people working for Trump were that unbelievably easy to trick. But it’s hard to see any other explanation.
Here’s a rarity for you, readers: I’m going to agree with Donald Trump about something. In February 2016, then-candidate Trump said “It takes guts to run for president.”
He’s right. In fact, it takes guts to run for anything these days; since every political contest is seen not only as having huge national implications, but as being the front line in the battle between Good and Evil. It tends to make people… passionate.
The Georgia 6th district election is the latest example. The most expensive Congressional election in history, it drew national attention. Trump tweeted his support for Republican Karen Handel before the election, and tweeted congratulations when she won.
Everyone viewed it as a proxy battle in the national contest between Trumpism and anti-Trumpism. Everyone, that is, except Rep. Handel and her Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff. They both tried to keep their campaigns focused on local issues.
The district is historically Republican, so it stands to reason that Handel’s strategy would be–no pun intended–conservative. But Ossoff, rather than shying away from the national fight, should have fully embraced it and positioned himself as the bold lone warrior–the last line of defense against tyranny.
Hyperbolic? A bit, sure. But in political campaigns as in military ones, “Fortune favors the bold”.
One reason Trump’s campaign did so well is that he was willing to take political risks and say shocking things that most politicians would never dare utter, but that riled his core supporters into a frenzy.
This strategy is, of course, risky. Trump alienated a lot of people–probably the majority of people, in fact–with his statements, but the people who liked them really, REALLY liked them.
Trump’s campaign created the following cycle, which it used continuously from its first day to its last:
- Trump says something outrageous
- Press and politicians react with horror
- Trump refuses to back down.
- This galvanizes Trump’s core supporters
This strategy made sense, because Trump was the underdog. When you are the underdog, you have to take big risks, because it’s the only way to change the calculus that has made you an underdog in the first place.
The central gamble of Trump’s campaign was that it was worth it to alienate moderates in order to get a really fired-up core of supporters. It worked. (Barely.)
Now: what did Ossoff do to try to whip his supporters into a frenzy? As near as I can tell, not much. I knew little about Ossoff except that he was the Democrat in Georgia who people thought might pull off an upset. That’s nice, and if I had lived there, I would have voted for him. But that’s it–there was nothing I heard about the man himself that made me think, “Ossoff is the only one who can save America!”
Ossoff portrayed himself as a generic, clean-cut Democrat. That would have worked if he’d been in a Democratic-leaning district. But as it was, he should have been more willing to embrace the theme that he was fighting to save the last bastion of freedom on Earth, rather than to make things more fair for the people in the 6th district.
People might say that I’m just Monday Morning Quarterbacking, and I guess that’s a valid criticism. But all we know for sure is that the Democrats lost an election they thought they could win. Again. Maybe my ideas on campaign strategy won’t work, but at this point its fair to say that what the Democrats have been doing isn’t working either.
You’re going along in life, a typical, liberaltarian American millennial, enjoying a materially comfortable life with your friends, who are of every gender, religion, race, sexual orientation and ethnic background. It all seems quite nice.
And then you come to find out that, all of sudden, the Presidency has fallen into the hands of a nasty, misogynistic liar who despises you and all your friends, and who means to ruin the culture you grew up in, all on the pretext of “bringing back the coal jobs”.
“Well, now, that’s quite the caterpillar in my buttermilk,” you say. “What manner of devilry hath wrought this state of affairs?”
For a detailed explanation, see here. But the short answer is, it’s a thing called the Electoral College.
“That’s about the meanest trick I ever heard of,” you cry. “Can’t the Congress do something about this horrible chicanery?”
No, they can’t. Because the problem with the Electoral College is directly tied to the problem with Congress: apportionment of seats has caused both to favor one party. They have systematically designed the system to work for very specific voting blocs.
“Well, none of this sounds like it would stand up in a court of law,” you reply (rather exasperatedly). “I believe I’m going to fight this all the way!”
Good luck with that. Because the outfit running Congress has also stacked the Court in their favor, even violating the spirit of the Constitution to do so. So, even if you somehow get your case to the Supreme Court, don’t count on winning it.
“Has the world gone mad?” you ask in frustration. “I was raised to believe that liberal values had won out all across the developed world, and that racism, misogyny and robber barons were all relics of a bygone era.”
Yes–we were all told that. But as it turns out, liberalism only really controlled one branch of government–the so-called “fourth estate”. And that doesn’t get you as much you might think.
“It all sounds hopeless when you put it like that! They control all the levers of power; and all we have are our social media accounts and some safety pins. What can we do to dig ourselves out of this?”
“Yes,” you exclaim, filled at once with gallant liberal élan. “Let’s go for that!”
–but the problem with that is that to redraw the districts, you need to have political power, and to gain political power…
“…you need to redraw the districts,” you finish, in a defeated monotone, realizing the depth of our plight. “Then it really is impossible, isn’t it?”
No. It’s not impossible.
“Really?” Your ears perk up at this. “I thought you were just now trying to convince me that it was.”
No, no–we just need to think outside the box, that’s all. After all, what are Congressional districts? Are they, once drawn by a given party, henceforth and forevermore ordained to be in favor of that party even unto eternity?
“That’s a pretty highfalutin way of putting it,” you answer, a bit annoyed. “But even so, I can tell you that the answer’s ‘no’.”
Right! Congressional districts are just lines on a map. So just because they are drawn around a specific area…
“…doesn’t mean that the people living in that area have to stay there forever!” you say slowly.
Correct again! You are a sharp one, you know that?
(“Why, thank you,” you reply.)
Here, look at this map of the margins of victory by county in the 2016 Presidential election. Look at all those giant blue columns towering over everything.
“Great Scott! Look at all those surplus blue votes in California!”
I know, right? So my thought is: what if we simply transferred some of those extra blue votes into the red areas?
“You mean… people living in liberal cities should move out into the hinterlands, and cancel out all the redistricting and apportionment shenanigans?”
You ask this cautiously, because you are understandably skeptical that such a crazy idea could ever work. After all, isn’t it awfully difficult for people living in the city to just pack up and move out into the countryside? How will they get jobs and housing?
Good question. Maybe just moving to smaller cities would do the trick, though. Even the cities in the heartland have some liberal enclaves. The local politicians there may be sympathetic to bringing in more liberals. That seems like a promising place to start.
“Look,” you say, striking a more realistic tone. “This all sounds great on paper, but do you really think it can happen? Can we really save America just by moving to different cities?”
Maybe. I’m not saying it’s guaranteed. And certain… interested parties are already passing laws to make it difficult to vote for people who have just moved to a new state. So, it’s by no means a sure thing.
But, at the same time… can you think of a better plan?
What I expected to happen in the 2016 election was that Clinton would win, but Trump would do better than most people expected, and it would scare the political establishment into making some concessions to the nationalist movement that had propelled Trump to the nomination.
My assumption was that it would be similar to what happened in the 1990s when Ross Perot ran a highly successful campaign based on reducing the budget deficit. He didn’t win, but his support was sufficient to convince both parties they needed to balance the budget. (At least for a while.)
I figured that the Republicans and Democrats would realize they had to do something to appease the fury Trump had awakened.
Looking back, I think this might have been a better outcome for the nationalist faction than the Trump victory has been.
“Over the past 48 hours, the outsider politician who pledged to upend Washington has:
— Abandoned his vow to label China a currency manipulator.
— Rethought his hands-off assessment of the Syrian conflict — and ordered a missile attack.
— Turned his warm approach toward Vladimir Putin decidedly chilly and declared U.S.-Russia relations “may be at an all-time low.”
— Decided NATO isn’t actually obsolete, as he had claimed.
— Realized the U.S. Export-Import Bank is worth keeping around.”
In the aftermath of Bannon’s fall from… well, not “grace” exactly, but you know what I mean–Trump has abandoned many of the nationalist ideas he campaigned on.
I’ve often thought that even if I supported nationalist policies, Trump is one of the last people I would want advancing the cause. As I wrote back in October:
Trump himself, the de facto nationalist candidate, has even less interest in the merits of globalism vs. nationalism. His decision to promote nationalist policies is purely pragmatic. He adopted it when he discovered it would enable him to win the Republican nomination. I think that the only reason he won’t abandon it now is because, for a host of reasons, only ardent nationalists will support him at this point. If he drops nationalism, he is left with nothing.
Well, things have changed since then. Now, instead of nothing, Trump’s potential reward for abandoning nationalism is the adulation of the Washington establishment, the political press, and most of the government.
Also, it means he gets to put the most powerful military on earth to work destroying stuff on his command.
Given this, combined with everything we know about Trump’s personality, it’s easy to see why Trump now refuses to, as the expression goes, “dance with the one that brought him”.
I was right there with you, watching that disaster unfold on the Rachel Maddow show last night. Not to brag, but I had a sneaking suspicion it wasn’t going to live up to the hype even before the show started:
— Berthold Gambrel (@BertholdGambrel) March 14, 2017
In general, if something is truly-earth shattering news, they will tell you about it right away, not tease it out with a countdown clock. That’s why election night coverage isn’t: “You’ll be shocked when you see who won the Presidency! Details at 11.”
David Cay Johnston, the journalist who says he received the tax forms in the mail, allowed that it was possible that Trump himself might have leaked them. However, the fact that Trump has tweeted angrily about it afterwards has led people to think that he probably didn’t leak them after all:
Does anybody really believe that a reporter, who nobody ever heard of, “went to his mailbox” and found my tax returns? @NBCNews FAKE NEWS!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 15, 2017
People, in my opinion, are way too gullible. The wording of Trump’s tweet is highly suspicious. For one thing, he phrases it in the form of a question–he doesn’t say it didn’t happen; he just asks if people believe it.
Now, I admit: I myself am a bit skeptical of Johnston’s story. He says he got a package in the mail that contained these tax returns. Apparently, he doesn’t know who sent it to him or how they obtained it. Which would raise questions as to its veracity, except that the White House almost immediately verified it last night!
Either Johnston is an idiot who didn’t think it was worth looking into why he got the President’s tax returns in the mail–very unlikely, since he’s a Pulitzer-winning journalist–or he’s lying to protect a source.
So, Trump (a) knew immediately that it really was his 2005 1040 form and (b) questioned Johnston’s story as to how he got it. This strongly suggests that Trump knows perfectly well how Johnston got it–which in turn suggests that some agent acting on orders from Trump gave it to him.
As Johnston himself admitted, the tax forms are actually favorable to Trump. They prove he did pay taxes for at least that one year, and show little evidence of nefarious dealings.
The end result is that Rachel Maddow got humiliated. (I’m sorry; I usually like Maddow’s work a lot, but she really screwed up here.) More importantly, though, Trump can now use this episode as an excuse to brush off all further questions about his taxes. Journalists won’t ask about it because they don’t want to screw up like Maddow did.
And what’s worse is that if anyone does somehow get hold of more of his taxes, people will be less inclined to pay attention to it. “It’s another publicity stunt,” they’ll say.
It’s true: I’ve always found the whole Trump-won’t-release-his-taxes story to be a bit overhyped. Yes, it was bad and a violation of historical precedent that he didn’t release them. But, on the list of “things that are bad and violate historical precedent” that Trump has done, it’s far from the worst.
And then there’s fact that there can’t be anything that damning in them. They are taxes. They go to the Federal government. Logically, Trump is not going to put down anything illegal that he might be doing in his taxes.
As a thought experiment, let’s say the absolute worst conspiracy theories about Trump are true, and he’s actually colluding with the Russian government. He’s not going to put that in his taxes. There is no box that asks “Are you a spy for Russia?” on tax forms.
Furthermore, any circumstantial evidence that would suggest illegal activity by Trump, he would also not put in his taxes. If someone is already willing to commit crimes, he’s not going to hesitate to commit tax fraud to cover them up.
I’m not saying Trump has done any of this, but even if he has, there won’t be hard evidence of it in his taxes. At best, there might be circumstantial evidence, which Trump can dismiss with a simple “FAKE NEWS. Sad!” tweet.