‘Cultural genocide is merely a prelude to physical genocide’

Hi, world, welcome to Donald Trump’s fans:

After years of decline, the League has recently acquired a number of younger members, including Brad Griffin, a thirty-four-year-old who writes an influential blog under the name Hunter Wallace. Short and genial, he wore Top-Siders, khaki shorts, and a polo shirt. As we talked, Griffin’s eyes wandered to his two-year-old son, who was roaming nearby. Griffin told me that he embraced white nationalism after reading Patrick Buchanan’s “Death of the West,” which argued, in Griffin’s words, that “all of the European peoples were dying out, their birthrates were low, and you had mass immigration and multiculturalism.” Griffin once had high hopes for the Tea Party. “They channelled all that rage into electing an impressive number of Republicans in the South, but then all they did was try to cut rich Republicans’ taxes and make life easier for billionaires!” he said. “It was all hijacked, and a classic example of how these right-wing movements emerge, and they’re misdirected into supporting the status quo.”

Griffin had recently told his readers that his opinion of Donald Trump was “soaring.” He sees Trump’s surge as a “hostile takeover of the Republican Party. He’s blowing up their stage-managed dog-and-pony show.” Griffin is repelled by big-money politics, so I asked why he spoke highly of Trump. “He’s a billionaire, but all of these other little candidates are owned by their own little billionaires.” He mentioned Sheldon Adelson and the Koch brothers. “So I think Trump is independent.”

The longer I stayed, the more I sensed that my fellow-attendees occupied a parallel universe in which white Americans face imminent demise, the South is preparing to depart the United States, and Donald Trump is going to be President. When Hill took the stage, he told his compatriots that the recent lowering of the Confederate flag was just the beginning.

Evan Osnos will likely be accused of concentrating on the fringe, but the GOP candidates comprise the fringe. The contagion isn’t just Trump. He’s put the grinning idiot face to every suppressed racist and classist impulse in the minds of his colleagues; now the competition has to catch up to him saying ever more outrageous shit.

The Obama report card

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My readers know that praise for Barack Hussein Obama comes rarely and is often modulated by several factors, not least of which is my scorn for political reporters to cite “accomplishments” as if they were rice cakes: calorie-free, without nutritive value, substitutes for richer and unhealthier foods. Kevin Drum’s grocery list impressed me. I’m going to ignore Trans Pacific Partnership “fast track” legislation as an “accomplishment” — a concession to global market forces whose progressivism extends to gay rights and fair working conditions for women because it makes them better consumers and debtors.

1. Normalized relations with Cuba.

2. Signed a climate deal with China.

3. Issued new EPA ozone rules.

4. Successfully argued in favor of same-sex marriage before the Supreme Court.

5. Put in place economic sanctions on Russia that have Vladimir Putin reeling.

6. Pressured the FCC to approve net neutrality rules.

7. Issued new EPA coal regulations.

8. Issued an executive order on immigration.

9. Got fast track authority for TPP and seems poised to pass it.

10. Signed a nuclear deal with Iran and appears on track to get it passed.

11. Won yet another Supreme Court case keeping Obamacare intact.

12. Issued new rules that increase the number of “managers” who qualify for overtime pay.

13. Presided over the birth of twin giant panda babies at Washington, D.C.’s, National Zoo.

My interest in open relations with Cuba is pragmatic — I could care less (now). But at this point in history Obama’s done a measure of good, scouring Clintonism from executive orders and legislative accomplishments. Until the next Clinton.

‘You grow cold when you keep holding on’

Like I posted today, I liked Pitchfork’s best of the ’80s list. Not much metal, but who would’ve thought Rene & Angela would get an allusion or that Evelyn King would make it in (thanks, David Drake, Eric Harvey, Tim Finney, Meaghan Harvey, and others)? Much chatter about omissions. Instead, I assembled my own list which I’m calling “Bitchfork” for no other reason than because I’m tired and wanted a stupid pun. Some of the tunes aren’t on Spotify; you can find them on your own. Heavy on R&B and proto house, and Belinda Carlisle in there yelling at Andy Taylor’s guitar solo.

Frankie Goes to Hollywood – Two Tribes (Hibakusha Mix)
Frida – I Know There’s Something Going On
Patrick Cowley ft. Sylvester – Do You Wanna Funk
Swing Out Sister – Breakout
Rene & Angela – I’ll Be Good
Teena Marie – Square Biz
Debarge – All This Love
Yaz – Situation
Gang of Four – To Hell With Poverty
Anita Baker – Same Old Love (365 Days a Year)
Johnny Cougar – Hurts So Good
George Jones – He Stopped Loving Her Today
Belinda Carlisle – Mad About You
Visage – The Anvil
Rod Stewart – Young Turks
Merle Haggard – I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink
Sly Fox – Let’s Go All the Way
Freeez – I.O.U.
Stevie Wonder – Do I Do
Kon Kan – I Beg Your Pardon
Robert Palmer – Johnny and Mary
ABC – The Look of Love (Pt 1)
Expose – Let Me Be The One
Cameo – She’s Strange
Kid Creole and the Coconuts – Annie, I’m Not Your Daddy
Human League – Love Action (I Believe in Love)
The Real Roxanne – Roxanne’s on a Roll
Rosanne Cash – Hold On
Sinead O’Connor – Mandinka
K.T. Oslin – ’80s Ladies
Go-Betweens – Cattle and Cane
Jamie Principle – Waiting On My Angel
Loose Ends – Hangin’ on a String (Contemplatin’)
Rick James – Coldblooded
Colonel Abrams – Trapped
Dazz Band – Let It Whip
Dwight Yoakam – Guitars, Cadillacs
Frank Beverley & Maze – Too Many Games
Stevie Nicks – Stand Back
Jeffrey Osborne – Stay With Me Tonight
Level 42 – Something About You
English Beat – Save It For Later
Dan Hartman – I Can Dream About You
Peter Gabriel – Games Without Frontiers
Steve Arrington – Dancin’ in the Key of Life
Diana Ross – Swept Away
Robert Palmer – Johnny and Mary

‘A lot of head lice, a lot of scabies’

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As the Beltway punditocracy claws for smelling salts bemoaning the rise of Donald Trump, it’s worth reminding the people to whom they condescend and don’t give a shit about covering accurately about what Trump’s putative colleagues espouse. Dumb shit they’ve said abounds:

Texas Congressman Louie Gohmert proposed using troops and ships of war to stop an invasion of immigrant children, whom he described as a 28 Days Later-style menace. “We don’t even know all of the diseases, and how extensive the diseases are,” he said.

“A lot of head lice, a lot of scabies,” concurred another Texas congressman, Blake Farenthold.

“I’ll do anything short of shooting them,” promised Mo Brooks, a congressman from the enlightened state of Alabama.

Then there’s Iowa’s Steve King, who is unusually stupid even for a congressman. He not only believes a recent Supreme Court decision on gay marriage allows people to marry inanimate objects, but also believes the EPA may have intentionally spilled three million gallons of toxic waste into Colorado’s Animas river in order to get Superfund money.

Late last year, King asked people to “surround the president’s residence” in response to Barack Obama’s immigration policies. He talked about putting “boots on the ground” and said “everything is on the table” in the fight against immigrants.

So all of this was in the ether even before Donald Trump exploded into the headlines with his “They’re rapists” line, and before his lunatic, Game of Thrones idea to build a giant wall along the southern border. But when Trump surged in the polls on the back of this stuff, it caused virtually all of the candidates to escalate their anti-immigrant rhetoric.

For example, we just had Ben Carson – who seems on TV like a gentle, convivial doctor who’s just woken up from a nice nap – come out and suggest that he’s open to using drone strikes on U.S. soil against undocumented immigrants. Bobby Jindal recently came out and said mayors in the so-called “sanctuary cities” should be arrested when undocumented immigrants commit crimes. Scott Walker and Marco Rubio have both had to change their positions favoring paths to citizenship as a result of the new dynamic.

Meanwhile, Rick Santorum, polling at a brisk zero percent, joined Jindal and Lindsey Graham in jumping aboard with Trump’s insane plan to toss the 14th Amendment out the window and revoke the concept of birthright citizenship, thereby extending the war on immigrants not just to children, but babies.

Let me remind my GOP readers of what an Iowa broadcaster said about slavery not long ago. We’re no longer alluding to the lunatic fringe or brave white William F. Buckley, Jr. expelling the John Birch Society from conservative ranks.

Reclaiming bodies: Straight Outta Compton

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There’s an ingratiating moment early in Straight Outta Compton: Dr Dre (Corey Hawkins) coaching and coaxing Eazy-E into rapping the first line of “Boyz-n-the-Hood” without sounding flat. He can’t hit the crucial line “Cruisin’ down tha street in my ’64.” It isn’t just that he didn’t write it — he doesn’t feel it, according to Dre. But behind the mixing board, protected by glass, Dre knows — that writer Ice Cube should be rapping, that Eazy’s talent is minimal. But Dre understands: Eazy is the group’s soul and patron, the one whose drug money paid for the sessions. In F. Gary Gray’s movie about the rise and dissolution of the group that, after Guns n Roses, most scared the hell out of white parents, Compton holds the young men together, even when drugs, women, success, and the usual “Behind the Music” tropes interfere. The closer it hews to the biopic tradition, the more Straight Outta Compton lets the energy of its opening scenes dissipate.

With Cube and Dre listed in the producer credits and Gray a veteran of Cube’s Friday movies, Straight Outta Compton has the cohesion of a pre-nup agreement. The three N.W.A. stars get the spotlight. Winners only, please. When Cube leaves after realizing he’s being screwed out of his proper due as songwriter and performer by manager Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti, playing his second despicable manager this summer), MC Ren (Aldis Hodge) assumes lyric responsibility on 1991’s EFIL4ZAGGIN and assures N.W.A.’s ignominious end. DJ Yella (Neil Brown, Jr.) utters a couple of ladykilling love-me-downs but is also ignored or overlooked. Gray’s direction thinks ambiguity’s for pussies. “I want the best for you,” Dre’s mom reminds him early in the picture. “I want the best for me too,” Dre snaps back. Dre’s first scene is an overhead shot of the young would-be producer lying on his back surrounded by Roy Ayers, Zapp, and Funkadelic LPs. Cube, grim with concentration, sits on a school bus with a composition notebook in which he writes — what else — lyrics. O’Shea Jackson, Jr., son of the real Cube, has a way of staring, mouth slightly agape, into a person’s face while in his head he’s rehearsing a series of zingers. The movie presents him as the careerist, hopping from solo albums to screenplays, a triumph of the will. If Straight Outta Compton has a villain, it’s Suge Knight, lord of Death Row Records, accompanied by sadists, bodyguards, sycophants, and killer dogs. Dre, now with a wife in tow, hooks up with Jimmy Iovine’s Interscope Records, thus finalizing the million-dollar marriage between the white-run entertainment complex and hip-hop; it was the nineties, era of unfathomable mergers during this apogee of neoliberalism. What are you gonna call this new label, Suge asks Dre when he wants out of his Death Row deal. The director cuts to a flattering close-up of Dre in a doorframe. “Aftermath.” Music surges.

Straight Outta Compton has too many exchanges like this. Except for the relaxed interplay between the guys before they record their 1988 breakthrough, Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff can’t write dialogue that doesn’t consist of an expository point. Huddled by the side of a rest stop after learning that Dre’s beloved younger brother’s been killed, Easy says in a group hug that they’ll always be family; it’s there to serve as a dumb ironic foreshadowing of the, uh, aftermath four years later. “We got Michel’le, the DOC, and Above the Law!” Easy barks in a reminder to the audience of the Reckless Records lineup. “Think about pistols, not pussy!” goes another line. “Ren is as good a writer as Cube, maybe better,” Heller assures Easy (I expected to hear the “Meanwhile, back at Easy-E’s mansion” voice-over from “Challenge of the Superfriends”). Then the movie succumbs to the usual second and third act trouble with such enterprises (here we go, another Easy pool party, the cameras hip to catch every butt and breast shot). The relationship between Easy and Heller suggests filial ties that the movie isn’t ready to explore. Puzzlingly, the script and Gray also can’t handle the shading required for presenting a reprobate with an ear for spotting talent (Bone Thugs-n-Harmony get a token reference, so check them off the list). Straight Outta Compton gives Easy the spotlight to illuminate his quick, tearful death from AIDS, which leads to quick, tearful reconciliations with Dre and Cube.

But the audience is alive to Straight Outta Compton as it wouldn’t be for a better movie. When cops pat down the group outside the studio, it’s the black cop whose face crinkles disgust at the thought that rap is music, and the audience hissed; when Heller berates the cops for harassing N.W.A. because they’re black, the audience whooped (Heller might be another predatory manager but the movie suggests he genuinely loved N.W.A’s music and has a faint grasp of the guys’ anger; that’s the empathy to which Eazy responds). We know what’s coming: back in the studio, Cube growls, “I got something.” An obvious scene, necessary in a picture this formulaic, but the facile suspense it generates is worth it when “Fuck Da Police” blasts from the speakers. Straight Outta Compton had been building to these seconds, this song, and what critics said sounded exploitative and fantastical in 1988 now howled with the force of twenty-six years of broken promises, of assumptions untested, of lives held cheaply.

In Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates writes of a moment in his development when “White America” ceased being an abstraction and turned into a “syndicate arrayed to protect its exclusive power to dominate and control our bodies.” Too young for N.W.A’s peak years but just in time for the Dre-produced singles, I preferred Michel’le’s “No More Lies” and “We’re All in the Same Gang.” Twenty-five years later the period condemnations of the music evaporate. Cube and Dre knew that however horrific the scenarios and crushing the beats N.W.A. attempted to reclaim control of their own bodies — a consequence which has led to accusations that they turned control into power and violence. What I see in Straight Outta Compton, though, are Hollywood conventions reclaiming their bodies.

‘Boys don’t sing Madonna’

Continuing my series of Stylus Magazine reposts before the site disappears, here’s an article that Wikipedia has excerpted several times, and one of the three or four I’m proudest of, one of the few times I interpolated autobiography for the purposes of an entry in The Diamond, our series dedicated to those albums that shipped ten million plus.

I’ll give the PMRC credit: listening to Madonna didn’t out me as gay; listening to Madonna made me gay. This despite the crapness of The Immaculate Collection and most of Like a Virgin, although these days I rep hard for “Stay.”

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Madonna – Like a Virgin/The Immaculate Collection
Oct. 23, 2007

Since my parents didn’t get cable until 1999 I never dismissed Madonna as a videos-yes-songs-meh Camille Paglia-promoted pleasure as lots of frivolous people did too long into her career. I knew her as a radio force. I first became aware of Madonna’s power to confound listeners on Memorial Day, 1985: driving home from the mall with my parents, my mom and five-year-old sister starting singing “Into The Groove” when it came on the radio. I didn’t sing—why should I? I was ten years old, already conscious of the fact that boys don’t duet with their parents; and, at any rate, I was a boy, and boys don’t sing Madonna.

Boys don’t sing Madonna. A month later my parents bought Adriana a tape copy of Like A Virgin and me, um, Wham!’s Make It Big. An act of madness—my parents thought that an album with two guys as macho as George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley was more appropriate for a boy. Since we didn’t have much money I was attracted to songs about money, and although we never traded notes, Adriana must have agreed. That summer “Material Girl” and “Everything She Wants” blasted from dueling boom boxes, which showed how smart we both were: who is the Material Girl if not the “you” in the Wham! song, indifferent to how hard George Michael works to get her money?

Boys don’t sing Madonna. Two years later, Licensed to Ill ruled our worlds. The guys’ worlds, that is. My seventh grade crush kept her cassette of True Blue in heavy rotation; the title song, she said, reminded her of what she felt for her best friend. At twelve years old, I imagined a link between “Open Your Heart” and “She’s Crafty” that would become as obvious to everyone else as it was to me. My musical segregation continued long past discovering Shadoe Stevens’ “American Top 40” the following year; students in a boys’ Catholic high school didn’t admit to loving “Like A Prayer,” even though it was exactly the kind of thing that boys Catholic high school students could understand. In an increasingly mechanized hit parade its wobbly lead vocal and guitar-bass-drums arrangement were curious choices, closer to what Guns N Roses were attempting and pitched at a similar level of operatic fervor. It was the most indescribably sexy thing I’d ever heard, filthy and gross from its synth bass to the singer’s decision to croon the line, “You are a muse to me” in a British accent. “Like A Prayer” was not the Incarnation; it was Pentecost, tongues of fire setting my heart aflame with imprecise longings, although when the tempest passed I was the only one left in the room. Tipper Gore was right: pop music is subversive, a terrible influence on youth. But I was still the only one in the room.

Boys still don’t sing Madonna. Visit a karaoke bar. Imitate the glide from low-sung husk to full-throated belt on “Open Your Heart.” You can’t. I’ve tried, and been booed. The prom ballad “Crazy For You” is a triumph because no singer has essayed a vocal performance so indifferent to its own nakedness, to its indecision; she can’t decide whether to croon or growl, sometimes, as in the “slowly now we begin to move” section, in the same bar. She’s so overcome with desire that she doesn’t care how embarrassing she sounds. Proms may be fantasies, but the emotions they enact aren’t. If not quite Carrie and the pig blood, they’re vastating experiences for those who don’t belong there, whose longings threaten to destroy this most ritualistic of adolescent courtship rites. At its core, “Crazy For You” is a song about loneliness; she’s dancing with the guy she loves, but he can’t match her love, and they both know it. We know it when, as the song starts to fade, Madonna mutters the three-word title without affect, sounding much older than she did ten seconds ago. It’s one of the most subversive moments in any Madonna song, indeed the best proof of her unwavering faith in a Catholic god, and no one’s noticed it. She understands the absurdity of loving someone who keeps mum.

The only sign of intelligence shown by the Matthew Modine-Linda Fiorentino romance Vision Quest is the way in which Madonna’s appearance during the crucial slow dancing scene between the lovely couple serves as a proxy for the audience. With her jelly bracelets, skirt, bad makeup, and teased hair, she’s the only normal person in the room—would you rather talk to a track star and Linda Fiorentino? Since I haven’t seen the film since 1994, I can’t remember if “Gambler” follows “Crazy For You”; I like to remember it this way. Best described as disco-punk, Flashdance edition, it’s the most aggressive track of Madonna’s career, never collected despite being a Top Five hit in England (more on The Immaculate Collection‘s sins later). The music is keyed to her vocals—insistent, strident, hip-thrusting; she slurs the line “You’re just jealous ‘cuz you can’t be me” like it’s a shot of Rumplemints; meanwhile Animotion synths blow up her skirt. “Gambler” is the only possible response to a slow dance in which you were left as unfulfilled as you were five minutes earlier. It deserves immortality beside “Into The Groove,” which itself is as much wish-fulfillment as “Crazy For You” (the Pet Shop Boys’ “Domino Dancing” was the last great song about Puerto Rican boys). The only mystery: why it’s the last self-written Madonna single to date. She says she got too lazy to write songs without help, which I hope is a true story.

This is why I’ve never forgiven Madonna for the voice and locution lessons. The transformation reminds me of that horrifying scene at the end of The Breakfast Club when Ally Sheedy is made up to look like Molly Ringwald. Lots of critics think something similar occurred when Madonna followed her eponymous debut with Like A Virgin, helmed by Nile Rodgers with all the fixin’s—too calculated next to the “raw passion” of the debut. This is nonsense; it misses how Madonna conflated notions of spontaneity and calculation (one of its producers worked with Roberta Flack). Rodgers is the ideal collaborator: this was the last time he recorded a contemporary Chic record. “Like A Virgin” is practically a Chic track, what with bassist Bernard Edwards and drummer Tony Thompson on-the-one as usual. Five years earlier, Diana Ross complained that Rodgers-Edwards treated her like a session singer on the only solo studio album for which she’ll be remembered; Madonna may lack Ross’ poise, but she’s incapable of subsuming her personality, for better or worse. A cover of Rose Royce’s “Love Don’t Leave Here Anymore,” Like A Virgin‘s one outright disaster, is the sort of anonymous showtune, requiring floodlights and hand gestures, that she handled with considerable finesse ten years later, when the inevitability of the gesture mitigated its ghastliness. Chalk it up as a sop to the detractors who think she was Eva Peron.

Fans keep The Immaculate Collection around the house because of its peerless sequencing and punchy remastering; but as a compilation it’s a botch. The remixed versions of “Like a Prayer” and “Express Yourself” aren’t even the best ones extant. More importantly, Madonna had had so many Top Tens in so few years that TIC actually ignores several essential to understanding her complete mastery of the pop single as a medium for self-expression and conduit for our emotions. Like A Virgin‘s Top Five absentees “Dress You Up” and “Angel” do a better job than the two big singles of delineating the boundaries of Madonna’s determined shallowness, an act that confounds Philistines today and made the appreciation of her musical skills a lot harder than it took these critics to dismiss Cyndi Lauper as the real charlatan. “Angel” is a particular stunner, certainly the apex of Rodgers’ post-Chic skills. Note the ear-catching opening: pizzicato Rodgers guitar, canned Madonna laughter, doomy keyboard; it’s surprisingly moody for so giddy a lyric, until Maddie dips in and out of her lower register, only to explode in the “I can see it in your e-e-e-eyye-e-s” lyric that she no doubt lifted from PiL’s “Death Disco”—a title whose implications, by the way, Madonna understood better than any disco practitioner in history (1992’s Erotica could have been titled Death Disco).

Lots of men admit to singing along to Madonna now. They were boys when “Live To Tell” hit Number One in early 1986. Despite many later triumphs, this set of lyrics remain her best, matched by co-writer Patrick Leonard’s sophisticated chord changes (relisten to the “If I ran away, I wouldn’t have the strength to go very far” bit) and a vocal that seethes with a lifetime’s worth of hurts which she nevertheless refuses to share. Still, who doubted in 1986 that she wouldn’t live to tell—that she would live long enough to sing it onstage while strapped to a giant cross? We’re all older, and more ridiculous, haunted by memories of proms past

Singles 8/20

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With two songs in the Billboard Hot 100 top ten including a #1, The Weeknd finally realizes the success that cognoscenti predicted when he was mewling in the outer reaches of electrospace in 2011. Daryl Hall was the last pop star whose appeal depended on being so deliberate an asshole as Abel Tesfaye, but he was rarely self-pitying about it, and when he was the music pushed him into frantic corners (“Family Man”). How you respond to “The Hills” depends on how a sampled scream and tea kettle whistle works on the nerves. Even then, “The Hills” is a better piece of songcraft than Lukas Graham’s “Strip No More,” officially the lowest ranking song in a Singles Jukebox history that goes back to the Stylus days ten years ago. Hear if I’m wrong.

Click on links for full reviews.

Wonder Girls – I Feel You (7)
Jason Isbell – Something More Than Free (6)
Nervo ft. Kylie Minogue, Jake Shears & Nile Rodgers – The Other Boys (5)
Fantine ft. Wyclef Jean & El Cata – What a Day (5)
Austin Mahone – Dirty Work (5)
New Order – Restless (4)
The Weeknd – The Hills (4)
Leikeli47 – Fuck the Summer Up (4)
John Newman – Come and Get It (3)
Imran Khan – Imaginary (3)
Zac Brown Band – Loving You Easy (3)
Lil Wayne ft. Charlie Puth – Nothing But Trouble (3)
Lukas Graham – Strip No More (1)

The ebb of mainstream conservatism

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Norm Ornstein explains why the usual dismissals regarding fools like Donald Trump won’t work:

A part of my skepticism flows from my decades inside the belly of the congressional beast. I have seen the Republican Party go from being a center-right party, with a solid minority of true centrists, to a right-right party, with a dwindling share of center-rightists, to a right-radical party, with no centrists in the House and a handful in the Senate. There is a party center that two decades ago would have been considered the bedrock right, and a new right that is off the old charts. And I have seen a GOP Congress in which the establishment, itself very conservative, has lost the battle to co-opt the Tea Party radicals, and itself has been largely co-opted or, at minimum, cowed by them.

As the congressional party has transformed, so has the activist component of the party outside Washington. In state legislatures, state party apparatuses, and state party platforms, there are regular statements or positions that make the most extreme lawmakers in Washington seem mild.

Egged on by talk radio, cable news, right-wing blogs, and social media, the activist voters who make up the primary and caucus electorates have become angrier and angrier, not just at the Kenyan Socialist president but also at their own leaders. Promised that Obamacare would be repealed, the government would be radically reduced, immigration would be halted, and illegals punished, they see themselves as euchred and scorned by politicians of all stripes, especially on their own side of the aisle.

Of course, this phenomenon is not new in 2015. It was there in 1964, building over decades in which insurgent conservative forces led by Robert Taft were repeatedly thwarted by moderates like Tom Dewey and Wendell Wilkie, until they prevailed behind the banner of Barry Goldwater. It was present in 1976, when insurgent conservative Ronald Reagan almost knocked off Gerald Ford before prevailing in 1980 (and then governing more as a pragmatist than an ideologue). It built to 1994, when Newt Gingrich led a huge class of insurgents to victory in mid-term elections, but then they had to accept pragmatist-establishment leader Bob Dole as their presidential candidate in 1996. And while John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012 were establishment figures, each had to veer sharply to the radical right side to win nominations; McCain, facing a possible revolt at his nominating convention if he went with his first choice for running mate, Joe Lieberman, instead bowed to the new right and picked Sarah Palin.

The pull of centrism no longer works in 2015, thanks to Reagan, Buchanan, Forbes, Cain, et. al.

Carly Rae Jepsen’s pop smarts

Carly Rae Jepsen – Emotion

“But whatever lessons we learn from E•MO•TION—for example, that this palette of ’80s synth sounds and Madonna hat-tips will probably endure for eternity—we don’t learn much about Jepsen,” a critic wrote. Well, on this album I learned that her friend’s sick of hearing about Jepsen’s boy problems (“I know that she’s right/And I should not be offended/That I know what it looks like/From the outside”); that the boy with the flashy smile is as empty as Los Angeles itself; that she’s a woman who hurls herself into situations but reflects on consequences before they happen. Jepsen’s scratchy timbre is key (“Women are told to scour their speech for every stray “sorry” or “I feel like” or “just,” to spend an amount of energy on regulating their speaking voice previously reserved for opera singers, all in the name of displaying mandatory hyperconfidence,” Katherine St. Asaph observed). The titles of these songs, by the way, are “Boy Problems” and “L.A. Hallucinations,” which are as specific as she and her collaborators can craft them. Song for song Emotion is weaker than Kiss, but the sonics and programming are impressive – the best I’ve heard on a pop album in 2015. The beats snowball to heady effect (“Making the Most of the Night” belongs in the category of tunes to blast when getting ready to go out) or disappear beneath sequencers that keep the top line from hitting the expected climax (“Warm Blood”). Whether Shellback, Dev Hynes, Ariel Rechtshaid, or Vampire Weekend’s Rostam Batmanglij get the credit, Emotion sounds all of a piece. They rise together. They also sink together, as the mush of “All That” demonstrates. But the sentiments are her own, and if they get her the second hit denied her since “Call Me Maybe” showed up at faculty convocations around the country, good for her.

The long decline of Jimmy Carter

To hear Jimmy Carter mentioned in exile Cuban-American circles is to partake of a loathing so visceral that it shocks the conscience. Welcoming thousands of their relatives and friends during the Mariel boat lift fades from the memory. Jimmy Carter was a worse president than Richard Nixon. When pressed, the aggrieved will stammer “the hostages” and — this line provokes deep smirks from people who take pleasure in never showing surprise about anything — “wearing a cardigan in the White House.” Ronald Reagan wore French cuffs and tailor made suits while signing a budget that cut school lunch programs. He dressed with impeccable taste when he ordered his NSC to keep the Contras together body and soul. His hair was a wonder when he almost succeeded in fooling the American public he thought was as credulous and malleable as he that he knew nothing about the sale of TOW missiles to Iran, a cake and Bible free of charge.

Jimmy Carter wasn’t a good president. A forerunner of the technocratic New South and neoliberal Democrat of whom we’d see much of in later years, he presaged the transformation of the Democratic Party into an irritable hydra of competing loyalties. Despite the estimable introduction of human rights into foreign policy and a renewed interest in alternative energy, he was the most conservative Democratic candidate for president since John W. Davis. Even Caspar Weinberger was impressed with the administration’s defense spending in 1981. And the party loathed him for turning his electors into what they already were. Walter Karp’s Indispensable Enemies traces how the GOP and the Democrats, the latter with congressional supermajorities, colluded in eroding support for the first insurgent candidate to win the presidency this century. Charles Pierce:

In the existential crisis of his presidency, Carter made two mistakes: first, he listened to that old vampire, Henry Kissinger, and allowed the deposed Shah of Iran into this country for medical treatment, and second, he launched the ill-fated rescue mission instead of pursuing the patient strategy of squeezing the Iranian economy until it screamed. Other than that, he embargoed their oil and he froze their American assets. Whether or not you believe that William Casey was engaged in monkey-mischief during the 1980 presidential campaign – and I do – there seems little doubt that the Iranians released the hostages when Reagan was sworn in not because they were terrified of the man who would: a) unfreeze their assets; b) leave 243 Marines unprotected and cause them to be slaughtered by Iranian-backed terrorists, and, c) ultimately sell the mullahs some missiles, but rather as a final flip-off to Carter, whom they genuinely hated. Who was the tough guy there? Reagan’s myth has been built on the reputation of a better man, who now fights for his life.

In his tenth decade, Carter will succumb to the same disease that killed his siblings and mother. The interview included in the last link shows a man whose concentration and crispness would be remarkable in any age, and I saw it in evidence a few weeks ago when he decried the oligarchy — his term — that rules the United States. His hectoring Christian side has its advantages. When he has something to say, he says it (he does not look much fun to be around, but Herbert Hoover, fellow engineer by training, wasn’t Chuckles either). Ronald Reagan didn’t depose Daniel Ortega: Carter did after monitoring an election in which Ortega decisively lost; Carter had no trouble telling him he had to go (losing an election’s not the end of the world, Carter reportedly told him). Presidents keep their distance as if he were himself a cancer (that he loathes both 41 and 43 is obvious). I still don’t cop to every allegiance and utterance he’s made; the media is as enamored with the Carter-as-beneficent-ex-president myth as it is with JFK and Reagan. But when he goes to meet the maker he knows exists, Jimmy Carter can claim he saved more people from hunger and homelessness than any Cold War president. All the best, Jimmy.

‘Well, what’s wrong with slavery?’

Iowa-radio-host-Jan-Mickelson-YouTube

An Iowan radio host has what Oliver North would call a neat idea: let’s set a deadline and if all illegal immigrants aren’t out of his state, then those people become the property of Iowa. Jan Mickelson is not using a metaphor. He is not, like his beloved Jesus Christ of Nazareth, speaking in parables. A caller removes any ambiguity:

MICKELSON: No, just read the Constitution, Fred. What does the Constitution say about slavery?

CALLER: Well didn’t we fix that in about 1865?

MICKELSON: Yeah we sure did and I’m willing to live with their fix. What does the 13th Amendment say?

CALLER: Well you know I don’t have my Constitution in front of me and you know like I say, it sounds like a clever idea and maybe you can make it – put it in action, but I think the fall out would be so significant. And I, you know —

MICKELSON: What would be the nature of the fall out?

CALLER: Well I think everybody would believe it sounds like slavery?

MICKELSON: Well, what’s wrong with slavery?

CALLER: Well we know what’s wrong with slavery.

MICKELSON: Well apparently we don’t because when we allow millions of people to come into the country who aren’t here legally and people who are here are indentured to those people to pay their bills, their education of their kids, pay for their food, their food stamps, their medical bills, in some cases even subsidize their housing, and somehow the people who own the country, who pay the bills, pay the taxes, they get indentured to the new people who are not even supposed to be here. Isn’t that a lot like slavery?

CALLER: Well you know, you’re singing my song; we’re all slaves today the way the government is growing

At the end, Mickelson said, “You think I’m just pulling your leg. I am not.” And I know he is not because Scott Walker, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal, among others, have hung out on his radio show kissing the asses of imbeciles and mouth breathers who think that under the Affordable Care Act we Americans are slaves anyway.

Hiding brutality ‘under a halo of pretty words’

Corey Robin, author of The Conservative Mind, looks through a card catalog and finds the kind of historical analogy that will drive the Republicans who aren’t in a stupor into apoplexy. Robert Brasillach, novelist and Vichy regime apologist, said the following about Jews in the 1940s:

I am an anti-Semite, history has taught me the horrors of the Jewish dictatorship, but that families have so often been separated, children cast aside, deportations organized that could only have been legitimate if they hadn’t had as their goal—hidden from us—death, pure and simple, strikes me, and has always struck me, as unacceptable. This is not how we’ll solve the Jewish problem.

This causes Robin to throw up his hands:

Most ideological justifications of brutality do their work by hiding the brutality under a halo of pretty words. What’s odd about family values fascism is that the halo reveals the brutality. By deporting children along with their parents, you not only keep families together, but you also get rid of more undesirables. It’s a twofer!

My five conservative readers will balk at the analogy, and, yeah, we should weight allusions to the Final Solution; but when a portion of the GOP baits poor white people whose incomes haven’t risen in thirty years thanks to bipartisan commitments to killing the middle class, it’s natural to parse the consequences.

Another point. Cliven Bundy types shiver under the bed with elephant guns awaiting federal confiscation of their land. What else would this zealous persecution of illegal immigrants and their legal children be but a grotesque expansion of the surveillance state? I’ll wait for an answer.