When I refer to The Press, I mean David Fahrenthold. Robert Costa. Like that. Men and women who sift through public documents and interview Important People on the record, often embarrassing them. Chris Cillizza, Mark Halperin, and Chuck Todd are courtiers, not press. They whine the loudest because without access they have no MSNBC shows or, indeed, jobs that don’t involve selling fishing equipment at a Bass store. Josh Marshall:
Trump is the most unpopular incoming President in American history. We only have data on this going back a few decades. But there’s little reason to think any President in previous decades or centuries has been this unpopular. Indeed, he’s getting less popular as he approaches his inauguration. People need to have a bit more confidence in themselves, their values and their country. As soon as you realize that the Trump wants to profit from the presidency and that the Republicans are focused and helping him do so, all the questions become easier to answer and the path forward more clear. His threats against the press are the same. He’s threatening to take away things the press doesn’t truly need in order to instill a relationship of dominance.
There’s nothing more undignified and enervating than fretting about whether the President-Elect will brand real news ‘fake news’ or worrying whether his more authoritarian supporters can be convinced to believe – pleaded with, instructed to, prevailed upon – actual factual information. The answer to attacks on journalism is always more journalism.
Real journalism is dull, a continual frustration – and thrilling when the pieces come together. Sometimes it fails to produce the consequences we want: Fahrenthold’s stories on Donald Trump’s finances didn’t keep residents of west Pennsylvania from voting for him. But the information becomes part of the scrim.
TWenty-nine minutes ago, tonight’s episode of All In With Chris Hayes, which hosted a round table with Bernie Sanders and the confused, angry citizens of Kenosha, Wisconsin, allowed a couple of new Donald Trump supporters to admit that while they didn’t take seriously the President-Elect’s interest in a Muslim registry at least he was Starting a Dialogue. In the next four years we’re going to see many newspapers, eager for clicks, wanting to publish views heretofore considered disgusting under the carapace of Starting a Dialogue.
Today the L.A. Times’s public editor had to explain why her paper published letters defending the internment of Japanese citizens in World War II, known as Executive Order 9066 and signed by Franklin Delano Roosevelt and whose constitutionality the Supreme Court endorsed. Her colleagues resisted:
The Times’ Travel editor, Catharine Hamm, said she approved publication of the letters thinking that the writers’ views, although provocative, would be balanced by subsequent letters of response.
Hamm said that, in retrospect, that was not the right decision, because the views expressed in the letters did not lend themselves to reasoned discussion.
Maharaj made the same point in discussions with staff members disturbed by the letters, and in remarks to editors during The Times’ daily news meeting this morning.
“Letters in The Times are the opinions of the writers, and editors strive to include a range of voices. But the goal is to present readers with civil, intelligent, fact-based opinions that enlarge their understanding of the world,” Maharaj said. “These letters did not meet that standard.”
You don’t say. A paucity of civil, intelligent, fact-based opinions enlarging the understanding of the world is gonna be lacking the next four years. Acknowledging this drivel exists is not the same as granting it the space to rejuvenate in the sunlight of new “discussion.” This is the nadir of journalism as a public force.
When writers older than thirty speak of “nihilism” I reach for their hash pipe, but Jesse Singal’s New York article on chan culture tries to explain to New York readers how a culture of perpetual snark functions:
The outrage-mongers are motivated in part by the broader, deeply nihilistic ethos of chan culture. Channers, as a group, and long before the Chanterculture emerged in its present form, have always been in it for the lulz, for the satisfaction that comes from fucking with people in general, and more specifically from riling people up into states of outrage by being, well, outrageous. Naturally, anonymous online weirdos hoping to spark outrage and one-up each other’s attempts to do so frequently dabble in, if not embrace, racist and anti-Semitic imagery and language, regardless of what’s going on in the broader culture wars. It’s not an accident that 4chan’s harassment campaigns have, according to the researcher Whitney Phillips, disproportionately targeted women and people of color.
But the point is that there’s more — or less — going on here than “just” racism and misogyny. Underlying chan culture is a fundamental hostility to earnestness and offense that plays out in how its members interact with each other and with outsiders. To wit: If you, a channer, post a meme in which Homer and Lisa Simpson are concentration camp guards about to execute Jewish prisoners, and I respond by pointing out that that’s fucked up, I’m the chump for getting upset. Nothing really matters to the average channer, at least not online. Feeling like stuff matters, in fact, is one of the original sins of “normies,” the people who use the internet but don’t really understand what it’s for (chaos and lulz) the way channers do. Normies, unlike channers — or the identity channers like to embrace — have normal lives and jobs and girlfriends and so on. They’re the boring mainstream. Normies don’t get it, and that’s why they’re so easily upset all the time. Triggering normies is a fundamental good in the chanverse.
I suppose the Gamergate controversy shares traits with these people: young men using pseudonyms and garish kinds of bullying. The nature of the internet encourages this level of atomized behavior.
It started, as many things did, in the eighties. The Reagan administration’s Federal Communications Bureau opposed the Fairness Doctrine on First Amendment principles, an argument that I’d accept from any president other than Ronald Reagan. The rise of cable news cut into the Big Three’s advertising dollars and influence. Then Rush Limbaugh and FOX News showed the appetite for news that palliated the distemper among conservative media consumers. At the turn of the millennium Bernie Goldberg’s Bias was in the air a lot. With the internet and social media transforming the nature of curiosity itself, we found it harder work to read news that disrupted our ideological rhythms.
The results of this Gallup poll should shock CNN:
Americans’ trust and confidence in the mass media “to report the news fully, accurately and fairly” has dropped to its lowest level in Gallup polling history, with 32% saying they have a great deal or fair amount of trust in the media.
The divisive presidential election this year may be corroding Americans’ trust and confidence in the media, particularly among Republicans who may believe the “mainstream media” are too hyperfocused on every controversial statement or policy proposal from Trump while devoting far less attention to controversies surrounding the Clinton campaign. However, the slide in media trust has been happening for the past decade. Before 2004, it was common for a majority of Americans to profess at least some trust in the mass media, but since then, less than half of Americans feel that way. Now, only about a third of the U.S. has any trust in the Fourth Estate, a stunning development for an institution designed to inform the public.
Fifty years of Ed Murrow references and phrases like “the Fourth Estate” are exactly why Americans regard reporters as pompous asses – even the ones who don’t remember Peter Jennings.
In the last few days as Trump’s poll numbers have increased I’ve listened to talking heads lament how information isn’t getting through to the public. Promotion of the Trump Foundation and foreign entanglements stories begs to differ. Blame, if that’s the correct word, social media. If your Facebook feed includes Breitbart, Redstate, and World News Daily Report, these stories won’t show up.
The travails of plutocrats, the use of often expertly modulated acerbic prose to overcome reporting holes, and my own online reading idiosyncrasies prevented me from (fully) embracing Gawker. I’m learning today the extent to which it formed a considerable part of my friends’ sociopolitical selves as much as it fed the usual consumptive instincts. Some of these friends even work for Gawker.
But about those consumptive instincts. To assert that I didn’t visit Gawker’s home page is no kind of boast. No one visits home pages in 2016: we get referred to home pages through social media, Tumblr, and, quaintly, RSS feeds. And Gawker hastened this trend. My wondering why I didn’t read Gawker enough misses the point that, like Babyface and Balzac, its influence has been permeant enough to ignore. Along the way it published many things of note. I can read Rich Juzwiak’s adventures finding decent steak and blow jobs at Walt Disney World anytime, for example. Showing contempt for the way in which conventional journalism covered the mighty as if holding them with tongs, Gawker refused to consider discrete spheres for private and public life; because so much of what the mighty do affects the body politic, Gawker treated gossip and sexual banalities like Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein did bank deposit records. Of course there was danger, and in its lifespan it published appalling shit too. But our social media feeds look like Gawker’s home page, and maybe soon we won’t pay much attention to them either.
I’ve explained to friends and relatives who believe “reverse racism” (or “reverse homophobia,” “reverse sexism”) exists that it can’t happen because of the power dynamic on which exclusion relies. From James Baldwin’s 1972 essay “No Name in the Street”:
It must be remembered that in those great days I was considered to be an “integrationist” — this was never, quite, my own idea of myself — and Malcolm was considered to be a “racist in reverse.” This formulation, in terms of power — and power is the arena in which racism is acted out — means absolutely nothing: it may even be described as a cowardly formulation. The powerless, by definition, can never be “racists,” for they can never make the world pay for what they feel or fear except by the suicidal endeavor which makes them fanatics or revolutionaries, or both; whereas, those in power can be urbane and charming and invite you to those which they know they will never own. The powerless must do their own dirty work. The powerful have it done for them.
Whether those minorities resent or even hate you is another matter — and closer to the truth. I think of Baldwin again. If you live in the ghetto, you have to leave at some point and see whites; if you don’t live in the ghetto, you never have to see blacks.
Revisiting after Prince’s death Eric Henderson and Sal Cinquemani’s 2013 list of Madonna’s best album tracks led me back to 1989’s co-write/co-production “Love Song,” which in turn reminded me of what I already knew: boy, Madonna has more essential album tracks than her singles reputation suggests, and they proliferated after 1989.
To note those tracks is difficult at first: the eponymous debut kept “Think About Me” and “I Know It” to itself yet I heard the former often in early ’85 when public ardor matched her chart ambitions (Jellybean’s Madonna-written “Sidewalk Talk” got Miami airplay much earlier than its Hot 100 chart peak, for instance). But if I concede that Like a Virgin is her weakest long player, then I have to explain what “Stay” is doing on my list and I don’t feel like it; like all her Stephen Bray collaborations from this period its joi de vivre justifies itself (you can do what you like with “Shoo-Be-Doo”). Plus — it’s got firework effects! Even greater is “Over and Over,” whose symmetrical title emphasizes the will to power inseparable from physical and even spiritual attraction that was Madonna’s contribution to the language of pop semiotics. Plus — it’s got the best wordless hook of her career, rendered even more thundering in its You Can Dance remix version.
Matters were still simple for True Blue and Who’s That Girl; not much unreleased shit. Two of my closest junior high girl friends adored “Jimmy Jimmy,” while “The Look of Love” was a British top ten but a nothing here beyond the playground; I included it because it’s the period’s most poignant ballad, showcasing the best of co-writer Patrick Leonard’s atmospheric keyboards and in “All the books I’ve read, and the things I know/Never taught me to laugh, never taught to let go” some of Madonna’s best ah-bitter-fame lyrics.
Finally, let me point out “Supernatural,” a Like a Prayer outtake with fabulous self-harmonizing and sharp drumming that shows what a roll she and Leonard were on in 1989.
1. Words (Erotica)
2. Bye Bye Baby (Erotica)
3. Over and Over (Like a Virgin)
4. Let It Will Be (Confessions on a Dance Floor)
5. Where’s The Party (True Blue and You Can Dance)
6. Stay (Like a Virgin)
7. Love Tried to Welcome Me (Bedtime Stories)
8. He’s a Man (I’m Breathless)
9. In This Life (Erotica)
10. Forbidden Love (Confessions on a Dance Floor)
11. Gone (Music)
12. Love Song (Like a Prayer)
13. Sky Fits Heaven (Ray of Light)
14. Thief of Hearts (Erotica)
15. Till Death Do us Part (Like a Prayer)
16. I’d Rather Be Your Lover (Bedtime Stories)
17. Impressive Instant (Music)
18. Forbidden Love (Bedtime Stories)
19. Swim (Ray of Light)
20. Gang Bang (MDNA)
21. Nothing Fails (American Life)
22. Think About Me (Madonna)
23. Thief of Hearts (Erotica)
Facts are facts: “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” remains a horror, and among the examples of malfeasance perpetuated by Forrest Gump in the mid nineties was insisting that this #2 hit is representative of Bob Dylan. Representative of his playfulness? You bet. Of his way with horns? Sure. Of his ability to laugh mid sentence and keep truckin’? Of course. But the results are at best a whirring trifle. Blonde on Blonde has other songs I don’t like. “Pledging My Time” is twelve-bar blues filler. “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” can’t sustain its eleven-minute length; when I played my Columbia House copy in 1994 I’d fast forward through it. Without Hargus “Pig” Robbins’s piano I find it hard to remember a note of “Temporary Like Achilles.” Looking at what I’d cut reduces the album to my least favorite released between The Times They Are A-Changin’ and New Morning.
Yet! It’s still a doozy. Just when I imagined clickbait-obsessed editors would have to offer pencil shavings and organ grinders on the fiftieth anniversary of its release, Rob Sheffield forced me today to think about the Smokey Robinson influence; the singer-songewriter-producer whom Dylan, perhaps apocryphally, praised as America’s greatest poet is all over the sound of “Just Like a Woman.” Sheffield unearths the lineage between it and “The Tracks of My Tears”; I hear “The Love I Saw in You Was Just a Mirage,” recorded a year later: a lovesick ballad in which Smokey can’t resist leavening his scorn with a melody that conveys his determination to believe in the mirage anyway. His high tenor gives him the mien of a chastened seraph. Straw men who dismiss Dylan’s own melodic facility get fooled by the tug of his vocal, reluctant to leave a syllable unyanked until he can invest it with an ironist’s skepticism and a troubadour’s submission. More than twenty years later, thanks in part to repeated viewings of Annie Hall, “Just Like a Woman” still unnerves me; I’m not sure sometimes Dylan gets away with what I claim he does. To my ears he mastered this venomous admixture on 1974’s Planet Waves and 1975’s Blood on the Tracks. The two most Smokey-drenched tracks, as Sheffield argues, are “”Most Likely You Go Your Way and I’ll Go Mine” and “I Want You,” the latter drunk on couplets, with Al Kooper’s organ the moonshine; the former a lurching beast with a surly guitar line, even angrier when The Band put eight years of experience into it.
But when I remember to play Blonde on Blonde I go to “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again,” a train going round the bend whose passengers include Shakespeare with his pointed shoes and bells, Mona with her sage advice about railroad men drinking your blood like wine, sociopathic Grandpa buried in the rocks after shooting up Main Street, and other products of Dylan’s addled brain, reeling from wine and rocks and god knows what else. With Ken Buttrey’s assured fills and more chirping Kooper organ, “Stuck Inside…” is Dylan’s happiest song; the song is in the middle of discovering itself, of sorting itself out. As gruesome as despair is to sustain, joy is hardest.
A time will soon come when our descendants will look at writers like Ross Douthat like the speaker in Shelley’s “Ozymandias” staring at ruins. Here’s another meteor slamming into Pangaea:
With Marco Rubio’s grudging, painful statement this week that he intends to support “the nominee” (for many Republicans, He Who Must Not Be Named), and with Paul Ryan possibly contemplating assimilation, it’s a good time to take one last look back at what I got wrong — oh, so very wrong — about the Republican Party’s leadership in the age of Donald Trump.
You and I both know this look won’t be the last. Five months and several thousand words await, not to mention the inevitable post mortem on November 9.
Before Trump’s emergence, the Republican elite was in the midst of a long-running civil war, pitting the much-hated “establishment” against the much-feared “base,” the center-right against the Tea Party, the official party leadership against a congeries of activists, media personalities and up-and-coming right-wing politicians.
The scare quotes give the game away. The “establishment” vaporized on January 20, 2009 when a black Democrat called Barack Hussein Obama put his hand on the Bible, looked Chief Justice John Roberts in the eye, and delivering the oath of office (and causing Roberts to himself fumble the words of the oath). The vapors faded when several months later a congressman named Patrick Wilson called the president of the United States a liar on national television.
But beneath the noise of battle, the establishment’s leaders and the base’s tribunes were often in near-agreement on policy (or, in some cases, on the absence thereof). The establishment wanted a more cosmopolitan and compromise-oriented party and the base a more socially conservative and combative one.
The first sentence – yep. The second – well, if you consider cutting taxes for the rich and stepping away from Mitt Romney and Bob Dole’s health plans and example of being compromise-oriented, I’ll order a round of Cosmopolitans.
Then the person whom Lord Dothan calls The Great Exposer complicated this game of bridge.
Beyond confusion and incompetence, though, there was also flirtation, normalization and finally acceptance, as a wide array of figures whose own commitments seemed incompatible with Trumpism decided that he was worth defending and eventually supporting.
Hell, no legislator wants to pass up an invitation to Sunday brunch at Cokie’s or lukewarm coffee on Chuck Todd’s show. Besides, legislators need to send their kids to private school too. They remember how good they had it in, oh, 2005.
Of course many converts to Trumpism were motivated simply by expediency, ambition, power worship.
“Many” = “all.” “Simply” = “inevitably.”
But many were clearly motivated by grudges and fears instilled by the party’s civil war, and by a sense that even though Trump might represent a grave threat to their vision of Republicanism, it would still be better to serve under his rule for a season than to risk putting their hated intraparty rivals in the catbird seat.
Now I’ve reached the diseased heart of the column. After digging a chasm as deep as a puddle between himself and the participants in his invented civil war, Douthat hints at how he’ll write the terms of his own surrender.
For those of us who have long been frustrated precisely by the smallness of those differences, the narrowness of the G.O.P. policy debate, it’s a particularly staggering result:
Sez the man who ten days ago explained how he and everyone else, including libs, want a king for president. Sez the man who wondered why gays have to be so goddamn pushy to churchgoers.
It is possible that a dishonorable, cowardly, unprincipled course will yield the result that many in both G.O.P. factions clearly crave: Trump defeated in the general election, his ideas left without a champion, and then a reversion to the party’s status quo ante, to the comforts of a tactically narrow “wacko birds versus RINOs” family feud.
But then again it’s possible that the establishment and the Tea Party are more like Byzantium and Sassanid Persia in the seventh century A.D., and Trumpism is the Arab-Muslim invasion that put an end to their long-running rivalry, destroyed the Sassanid Dynasty outright, and ushered in a very different age.
George Will is the only conservative columnist allowed to make inapposite historical and literary allusions, buddy!
Now that we’re set, here’s my paper topic for EMP Pop Conference 2016:
“Downtown Life: The Urban Voices of Daryl Hall”
“Rich Girl” created the stereotype Daryl Hall would coast on in the ’80s: a sleek panther sheathed in Armani, out for kicks. The Rich Girl—c’est Daryl. Then he collaborated with Robert Fripp on metronomic beats, anarchy in the Bowery, and fractured boogie. A fallow commercial period followed, unbroken until “Kiss on My List”—their second No. 1, not long after Reagan’s inauguration. The Daryl Hall Story in the ’80s is also New York’s under Ed Koch: bust to boom, boho chic to yuppie isolation.
Philly soul clichés told only one story—a familiar one. For Hall, finding a voice meant figuring out his relationship to Philadelphia soul roots and the new sounds coming out of the Lower East Side. In 1979 he and Oates shimmied to the beat of Manhattan with a failed disco-lite crossover. On the appropriately titled Voices, Hall & Oates left tradition behind with an aggressive synthesis of new wave and R&B. But working with Arthur Baker to build that NYC electro groove resulted in Hall’s best work. Crucial to the Hall M.O. as freelancer for INXS and Diana Ross was injecting the shows of tread soul that he eschewed in his own work.
Eventually, Hall’s smugness did him in. In 1988’s “Downtown Life,” Hall wrote about “Velvet Lou,” a neighbor, now walking a dog in Jersey. “Yuppies in black with the white collar crime/They scared away the local color,” he sings over syndrums and MIDI, a student of Black music who can’t see past his exoticist clichés. The suggestion? Hall kept his street cred, Lou Reed didn’t.
Nonetheless, through assists, collaborations, and a shrewd eye on the marketplace, Daryl Hall kept his—to quote one of his songs—head above water, syncopating his artistic identity to the beat of the city.
When I wonder, as I do when reheating black beans, “Why is Chris Matthews allowed on TV without a tuxedo and Paula Abdul judging his singing?” I realize why. Here’s what he said this afternoon in an interview with the grateful to be alive Hillary Clinton:
Look, the history of the Democratic party—your party, not Bernie Sanders. He’s not a Democrat—your party has produced the New Deal, the progressive income tax came from the Democrats, Social Security, the greatest anti-poverty program, came from Roosevelt, health-care and civil rights, and all these good things, and in every case, you had to battle Republicans against it to the last person. It’s always been a tough fight. You need 60 votes in the Senate, and you need 218 in the House. And if you don’t have them nothing gets done. Can the Bernie people be taught—not him, he can’t be taught—can the kids behind him be told that this is how it works in our system? You can call for a revolution but it ain’t gonna happen. There isn’t going to be a revolution. There’s gonna be an election and an inauguration and then there’s going to be a Congress sitting next to you that you have to deal with. Revolution sounds like a pass. You don’t have to have logic any more. We’re going to have a revolution and pay for anything.
The answer? “The Democratic oligarchs need a Third Way hack whose apprenticeship with Tip O’Neill can remind viewers of the permanent government in Washington that wants nothing done that isn’t bipartisan.” The gall of Matthews to patronize Sanders and his followers. Sanders has served in the Senate longer than Hillary Clinton. Sanders has been in elected office as long as O’Neill. I’m sure he needs no reminders of the magic numbers.
Looking fondly at her husband off camera, who nodded sagely and thickly with corners of his mouth curved downwards, Clinton recited twaddle along the lines of “We’ve got to get back to the middle.”
But return to Matthews:
Your party, not Bernie Sanders’.
Remember that sentence. He and his allies on the Hill and Wall Street are going to stop these revolutionaries in jeans from taking back what’s theirs.