Saturday, July 23, 2016


Future generations (assuming there are any, after a nuclear code-bearing Trump hits the scene) will surely ask of our era: when was the final threshold moment? When would it still have been possible for someone to stop it, before it was too late? There is a plausible case to be made that by the time the G.O.P. delegates arrived on the convention floor in Cleveland, that point had already long since passed.  Still, one feels that even last week, even at the final hour, Ryan, McConnell, Priebus or someone could have done something -- could have resigned, could have renounced the party, could have founded a splinter outfit.

Instead, they chose the Hindenburg solution. In outright cravenness, in defense of their own measly slice of power, they signed over the deed of their own party to someone who openly and unapologetically mines the darkest seams of American history -- anti-Semitism, racism, isolationism, xenophobia. Last week's convention thus had the operatic feel of a Don Juan's finale, with the party of Lincoln being dragged off to the underworld at the closing curtain. A friend with whom I was watching Thursday's performance could only breathe an "Oh my god" at the sight of Donald Trump's red and crumpled face on the jumbo-tron flanked by rows of flags. This was the dystopian satire of one or two years ago -- the hyperbolic prediction people once laughingly might have made as a way to riff on America's perilous obsessions with celebrity and national chauvinism -- except now animated into life. In fact, there is an episode of This American Life from 2014 in which host Jonathan Goldstein actually jokes, when speaking of time travel: 

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Richard Beck's "We Believe the Children" (2015): A Review

You who give to the outlaw that calm and graceful look
That damns the crowd around the scaffold
-- Baudelaire, "The Litanies of Satan"

For a large portion of the 1980s and into the early '90s, large segments of the American public, the mass media, educated opinion, law enforcement, the federal government, and the psychiatric and social work professional communities became convinced -- or at least very actively entertained the suspicion -- that there was a vast network of Satanic cults and sexual exploitation rings engaging in the systematic and nationwide ritual abuse of children. This abuse was supposed to take such extreme forms as child pornography, rape, murder, and cannibalism, and all of it was ostensibly transpiring behind the innocuous-seeming parti-colored doors of America's preschools and day care centers. 

The idea seems laughable and distant to us now -- as unrecognizable a way of viewing the world as the tales of capitalist spies and saboteurs who haunt the court reports of Moscow's show trials (Though it is not in fact ancient history, even for the relatively young -- the notorious McMartin preschool trial wrapped up a few days after I was born). One could only expect a book on the subject appearing in 2015, therefore, to be a sort of updated "Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds" -- a satisfying narrative of the eventual triumph of reason, which leaves us peering down from the safety of our modern moment with the assurance that, whatever horrors we are reading about in the past, cooler heads did eventually prevail.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Questions about Köln

The utterly ghastly events last night in Nice are now the fourth or fifth mass killing to dominate the headlines in as many weeks or fewer. They join a growing backlog in one's mind of things about which one should feel as a human being, but which one does not have time to get ahold of before the next atrocity overwhelms it -- Dallas, Baton Rouge, and Minnesota last week; the "forgotten" -- not to Iraqis -- bombings in Baghdad, Istanbul the week before; Orlando just before that -- each event in fact having its own miserable etiology and narrative, yet cumulatively adding up to a single inward chasm of panic. "This changes everything," we think. "This is now the world we live in." One feels these things partly out of empathic pain with the victims for whom this really has changed everything. One feels them too because they illustrate the fact so horrifically that the only real "security" one has to rely on is trust in one's fellow human beings. The only thing that stops truck drivers from mounting the pavement on a daily basis to deliberately crush crowds of parents and children is that every day, these drivers choose not to do so. And it is profoundly frightening to be reminded that this trust is never perfect, that it is always partly taken on faith.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Brexit, Part II

More than once on this blog it has taken me until near the end of writing some particularly long-winded and cantankerous diatribe before I stumbled upon the one thing that I actually wanted to say at the start. And then there I am, dismayed to find that I have already reached the limits of my time and energy for the day and have only just got to the heart of it. Typically this happens because, through the cataloguing of what begin as largely unbidden thoughts, I discern through the passing forms some underlying unity of thought. It is a process so disconcertingly like grappling with the products of another mind that I cheer: ah, so that's what I was trying to say! -- which rather makes one wonder, with Hopkins, "Cheer whom though? […] Me? […] O which one? is it each one?"

To come to the point, it seems that in regard to my Brexit post earlier this week, I was really contending throughout with a single sub-genre of the growing literature of post-Brexit shock and awe reaction -- perhaps we can call it, following Joan Didion in "Slouching Toward Bethlehem"-- and at the risk of sounding derisive -- the "they're-trying-to-tell-us-something approach." What she had in mind in context was the typical journalistic response of well-meaning East Coast periodicals to the "hippie" phenomenon of Haight-Ashberry -- the kind which insisted upon seeing in this San Fransico drug and party scene, with its minimal-to-vanishing political content, a great collective disavowal of the "consumer culture," post-war "conformity" and "alienation," and the like buzzwords of then-modish discourse. We may perhaps expand the term, however, to take in that whole genre of social criticism in which writers and journalists -- who are in fact utterly remote from the phenomena they describe -- insist upon reading their own anxieties and beliefs into cultural and political movements that in fact articulate very different concerns.