Saturday, January 23, 2016


Although I suppose I read a lot more non-fiction than most people do, my usual intake is about 50-50 between fiction and non-fiction. And I don't really make distinctions between "popular" or "unknown" writers as a barometer of what's "good" or not; if it's good it's good. So I've been a huge fan of Stephen King's writing for most of my life, since probably about seventh grade, 1980 or so.

One of my favorite short stories of King's is Survivor Type, a perverse little number about a drug-smuggling surgeon who survives a plane crash and finds himself marooned on a remote Pacific atoll with nothing more than his wits, his surgical tools, and some heroin. Because it is Stephen King, you expect the natural goo and gore of a man slowly devouring himself, piece by piece, going mad the entire time.

What might be less expected, but is barely subtextualized, is how the demented drug-smuggling doctor tries to convince himself throughout, first as he amputates and eats a foot, then the other foot, working his way up each leg until he's eaten everything below the waist, that he will pull through this, that he can survive, that as bad as it gets, it is still worth surviving, that if a ship somehow came out of the horizon and pulled this raving half-man aboard, he could still rehabilitate himself and move on with the rest of his life.

Which brings us to the much-publicized anti-Trump manifesto released by National Review the other day. It's almost too sad and pathetic to watch, this marooned half-man thinking that there is some deus ex machina out there providentially about to restore his loss.

The cliché of this election, especially on the Republican side, is one of the "establishment" pitted against the people. This is proving to be more accurate than anyone could have guessed. What opinion rags such as National Review and Weekly Standard and that sort represent is the last of the old guard, people who understood Conservatism as a principled ideology with a history and tradition of ideas, from Locke and Bentham and Burke on through Goldwater and Reagan. Whatever one might think of the specificities of those ideas and/or men, the fact is that there were historical touchstones that supporters and opponents alike could at least give reference to, and know where they might stand.

Those days are over -- there is a large and angry swath of people who are socially conservative but economically liberal (whether they realize it or not, they are not opposed to free money, they are opposed to free money for people other than themselves, a vital distinction), and they have hitched their wagon to Donald Trump. He shamelessly vocalizes the nonsense rattling around in their heads, dares people to oppose him, returns the slightest slights with verbal roundhouses, spouts the most ridiculous things and defies people to call him on his bullshit. It's Two Minutes of Hate on an endless loop.

What the establishment wing of the GOP, the money men and their wingnuts-welfare propaganda sheets and on-air dipshit commentariat, don't seem to get is that these unwashed bozos who are openly defying them are their own creation. As Matt Taibbi points out, this is the natural consequence of thirty-some years of enabling the basest impulses of the evangelical base, and then burning them at every turn. See, when you promise people that you will overturn Roe v. Wade, prevent gay marriage, and give them better jobs so they have more money, you eventually have to come through on at least one of those things.

People like David Brooks and Rich Lowry have literally spent their entire adult lives shamelessly poaching serious utilitarian and conservative thinkers from two centuries ago to promote the worst sort of political boobery. Only a bought-and-paid-for cynic could draw even a crooked line from Locke or Bentham to a fucking halfwit like George W. Bush, yet that's exactly what Bobo and Lowry and the rest of them did as a vocation.

So now they're finally realizing that they've just been talking to each other this entire time, and they really don't know what to do. They seriously figured that because they pimped for Fredo and his fucking war, and those things came true, that they possessed Influence over the impressionable electorate. It turns out that they were just telling morons what they needed to hear at the time, that their imaginary grievances had legitimacy, that Someone Would Do Something About It.

This is what Trump is selling them -- hell, giving them by the truckload. Like rodents in a Skinner box, it makes sense that they'll hit that rage button as long as it keeps releasing the sweet, addictive endorphins. The establishment spent a lot of time and column inches empowering these maroons, and now they want to hew to principles. Tough shit, Hopalong.

It no longer matters what Trump does or says, especially when it comes to empirical things like facts. He has been refreshingly fact-free since day one, and it hasn't mattered to his flock. His biggest endorsements have come from a coked-up grifter, a convicted rapist, and the descendants of John Wayne (read the comments in that last one if you need any further evidence that humanity is doomed). He literally just said a few hours ago at a rally that he "could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and [he] wouldn't lose any voters" and he's probably right. He's been retweeting things from a neo-Nazi who has a cartoon portraying a Hitlerian Trump pushing Bernie Sanders into a gas chamber, and it probably won't affect his poll ratings.

It makes sense that it would confound people who don't swim in such circles, but it seems also to confound the Lowrys and Bobos of the conservatard punditocracy, which is baffling. Again, these guys have spent their adult lives corralling these rubes for their own purposes, penning condescending missives from on high, thinking that it mattered, thinking that the occasional visit to a Red Lobster in Pennsylvania counted as GETTING TO KNOW THEM. The hard-working salt of the earth with REAL 'MURKIN VALYEWS, not that anyone from National Review would stoop to talk to any of these mooks, outside of handing them loaded questions in a focus group.

Well, I hate to be the one to break it to David and Rich and the rest of the Bowery Beltway, but the majority of Trump's supporters do not care about conservatism in an ideological sense, but only in the sense that they are united in their hatred of Hillary Clinton. The paid corporate thinkers correctly recognize that they are angry, but they don't realize the other critical dimensions to that demographic.

They are proudly uninformed, in that they do not trust "conventional" news sources (anything that doesn't affirm their assumptions); they are mean, in that they'll gladly burn their country down if it fucks over a few freeloading immigrants; they are willfully stupid, in that they literally do not think they need to learn anything about anything.

In this, they are the ideological heirs of none other than George W. Bush, who also acted as if there was nothing new to learn about anything, that he'd rather fuck over the world than work with others, that the dipshit base was always there waiting to be milked for all they were worth.

There is some humor to be found in all this, as Jeb(!) Bush decided to run an ad featuring his mother expressing support for her son. Way to go out on a limb there, Junior. Trump correctly pounced all over this, as John Ellis has already had at least one family confab to tell him What To Do About That Mean Bully, and still hasn't figured it out.

Consider this for a second:  John Ellis Bush, scion of a notorious political dynasty and noted beneficiary of Lucky Sperm, after earlier disavowing that he's nothing more than a legacy pledge, decides that the best way to be competitive in an early primary state is to run an ad featuring his mommy saying nice things about him. Shit, why not get your dad and brother in on it as well? More to the point, after the beating Bush has taken (giggity) from Trump already, how does Bush not get that Trump will jump all over that? The man's currency has been smackdown and belittlement, right from the start.

John Ellis Bush is the quintessential establishment Republican, born and bred to the extent that he is unable to consider any other perspective. David Brooks and Rich Lowry and Bill Kristol and the rest of them, as Inner Party apparatchiks, have made careers out of promoting purely establishment views, to the extent that they too have no concept of other perspectives.

The political system is commonly understood as a noble if messy process by which The People in their infinite wisdom soberly assess the issues and candidates, and render their studied opinion. The system, such as it is, merely facilitates and validates their careful considerations. Yay democracy!

The reality, of course, is that the owners of the system determine who gets to play, just like a professional sports team -- millionaires playing on a field owned by billionaires, with countless ordinary rubes in the stands, with their signs and face paint and comically large picket fence sections, thinking they have some sort of effect on the outcome. The corporate media -- coincidentally owned and operated by the very same megacorps who send many times more lobbyists to Capitol Hill than there are lawmakers -- do what they are trained to do, which is to convince the good citizens that they agree with the owners.

This corruption is pervasive, right down to how words are defined. For example, a person who contributes to a political candidate, whether that contribution is five dollars or fifty thousand, is called a donor. Now, "donating" literally means giving, in the sense that the giver neither expects nor demands any sort of reward or favor in return. The Koch brothers have infamously promised to spend somewhere near a billion dollars on a portfolio of candidates in the 2016 election.

Does it really need to be said that anyone who spends more than, say, a thousand bucks or so on a candidate is not a donor, but an investor?

It has been a tradition of sorts that politicians use these scrivening, sinecured minions to advertise their corporate overlords' vision of "stability," which really means predictability. Politician X can be counted on, the way an investor counts on a municipal bond, to endorse and enact policies that will enrich the shareholders' portfolio by a guaranteed yield. Trump presents the same problem that Palin did -- what things he has proposed are either completely ludicrous or unconstitutional.

Nothing he says makes any practical sense if you stop to think about any of it -- we're not going to get into a trade war with China when they're about to be the largest economy in the world and we have a $400bn trade deficit with them, and we're not going to make Mexico pay for a 2,000-mile vanity wall when the largest American companies do most of their manufacturing there (when they're not doing it in China). It's all bullshit, but the problem is, no one is sure if Trump knows it or not, or what his endgame is.

Trump understands like few others how chaos can be a ladder, and more importantly, how to climb it. If any random person from one of his audiences was hanging out in front of one of Trump's buildings, he'd have security move them along. His Manhattan "apartment" looks like Versailles, gaudy and vulgar, a trailer-park asshole's idea of splendor. Yet he's somehow convinced these window-licking rubes that he's one of them, that he's ever had a day in his life where he could even comprehend the concerns they have daily.

To an entire industry that depends on predictability, this is the worst thing imaginable. The system has been structured by its owners to put people in place who will provide a known return on investment. Trump's rise has been attributed in part as a response to "political correctness," which may serve as a superficial diagnosis. The deeper root of it is that the owner class finally got too greedy, they wanted it all.

Thinking about this weekend's NFL conference championships and predictions, I was struck by a parallel with political predictions, at least in my own anecdotal case, but probably for most would-be prognosticators as well. Football for me is very much like politics, in that despite having never been a participant beyond the most basic amateur level, I know a great deal about it. I know the history, the strategies, the players, the owners. No one has a perfect track record at predictions, but I know enough to have a pretty solid percentage. We have no effect on the outcome, but it's fun and interesting to speculate on it regardless.

In the meantime, it's entertaining to watch the party structure turn so much on itself. They are trying to convince themselves to live with Ted Cruz, even though in less than a full term, Cruz has already become reviled by his fellow senators. The 2008 drama between the Obamanauts and the Hillary PUMAs will be nothing compared to the showdown we're in for, as the party tears itself apart over their impossible Trump-Cruz dilemma -- and ultimately settles on Marco Rubio as their least awful option. The real question is how much it affects them down-ticket. Getcha popcorn.

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