We're The Problem

post-ish mortem


There is a reasonable feeling among rural, blue collar Americans (who are far more likely to join the army than their white collar brethren) that Joe Biden is just another neoliberal, armchair war-hawk with disastrous judgement. The contempt that many Biden voters have for Trump voters is absurd, considering that (in many cases) a vote for Trump is a vote against endless, off-the-books wars; corrosive globalization; and an endemic, blind expertism—think lockdowns—which hurt some people and places far more than others.


Biden, with the help of the highly corporate DNC, took down a populist in the primary and then again in the general. Is this cause for celebration—or is celebration the symptom of a profound failure of imagination? 


Out-of-date theories are not in principle unscientific because they have been discarded. —Thomas Kuhn

If you put down the zesty Trader Joe’s snacks and stopped refreshing 538 for even a second, you might have noticed that polls have been wrong for two consecutive media cycles. Why? I suspect that a profound disjunction has opened up between public and private belief. Trumpism has been widely conflated—perversely and absurdly—with the 20th century's worst political crimes. If expressing a preference is associated with world-historical evil, and good for a public shaming, people won’t accurately express their real opinions. It’s not particularly hard to figure out.


My belief assumed a form that it commonly assumes among the educated people of our time. This belief was expressed by the word "progress." At the time it seemed to me that this word had meaning. —Tolstoy

There was something frighteningly empty about walking around the city last night to take in the ‘celebration.’ I saw Zoomers with a wicked cross-fade, dancing and singing “Party in the USA”; Boomer dads in convertibles drove around yelling “Fuck Trump” with Biden signs on their bumpers; bike protestors got a few seconds of acclaim before diners returned to their expensive ravioli. The village smelled like weed and stale beer. Everyone had a cheap slogan on their tongue (whichever slogan was most convenient). Everyone performed ‘fun’ decently well. Clearly, the Invisible Committee For Public Safety had decided that you can’t get the ‘ro during politically correct rallies (just like June). It was so generous of them.


There is something really interesting about the “Fuck Trump” people (the way homophobes with homoerotic longings are interesting); there’s a fascinating conflictedness and lack of self-awareness. You sense that all these people want to do is attend a MAGA rally and wave something and shout things. They aren’t any better than the people they deplore—that’s for certain. They might be worse, but, at least for right now, you can’t tell them that (or they’ll cancel your ass). They have a great brand (progressive)—so why would they want anything more? What good is integrity when you have institutional and cultural power?


Reactionaries and radicals battling it out for the right to create a world no one wants to live in: that’s what it feels like more and more. 


In a way, what’s happening to our common culture mirrors what has happened to humanities departments over the past few decades: everything we naturally like gets replaced with the artificial and theoretically sanctioned junk we’re told we have to prefer. Great books and great men are quickly becoming historical artifacts. 


In our own cultural petri dish, we’re selecting for two kinds of people: those who are prone to panic and those who are good at creating it. 


Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of everyone of its members. Society is a joint-stock company, in which the members agree, for the better securing of his bread to each shareholder, to surrender the liberty and culture of the eater. The virtue in most request is conformity. —Emerson

Speaking from experience, the techno-decadence of big blue state cities (New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco to cite the top tier) tends to produce in its denizen-adherents nothing more or less than an anxious numbness—a nervous and faded splendor which maintains itself through neurotic self-justification and expensive self-advertising. With its hands on the media throttle, white collar urban ‘progressives’ found in the election of Donald Trump—a man indifferent to the new modes and codes of political correctness—a convenient excuse for their own misery. For people who imagine that their lives are a long string of cozy Noah Baumbach movie moments, the Trump years were an unwanted reminder that their own way of life is not only not universal, but dependent on a highly artificial and rigorous set of norms and regulations—which outsiders are prone to reject.

For this reason, Trump’s rust-and-rural populism—clearly continuous with the 19th century tradition of Jackson and William Jennings Bryant (with all its strengths, blindspots, and tragic flaws)—had to be transformed, through a series of semi-sophisticated media-sanctioned sophistries, into a dangerous case of The Fascism. Four years later—even after experience has clearly demonstrated that we are not living in a fascist state—many media sophists, and ordinary good-hearted ‘liberals’ actually insist that, in effect, a dictatorship has justbeen toppled.

But I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that the same coterie of professional TV wonks which incorrectly predicted mass graves in the spring and raised hell about opening schools this fall cannot see this year’s election as anything other than an existential choice between good and evil. But, then again, why should they change their paranoid style? Everybody’s ratings are up.


The Zoloft Blues Ballad (a fragment)

When Orange Bad Man is gone, 

And the ‘Ro is faded…

Who will tell us why we’re here?

Who will tell us what to fear?