The first sunny day of the year, I get a neighborhood of “turf ” (as the campaign calls it) closer to downtown—closer, specifically, to the Whole Foods—and the results speak for themselves. Door after door, Clinton, Clinton, Clinton. “I haven’t decided yet, but I’m leaning toward Hillary Clinton.” Do you want to discuss why? No, as the door slams in my face. Still, most of the houses are empty, or people don’t answer the door—somewhere around 80 percent.
The Intellectual Situation
In 2016, Twitter, like money, was speech. Trump capitalized on this dynamic better than his competitors: his tweets were the weirdest and the vilest, his Borscht Belt fascism a perfect fit for the medium. But all the candidates got in on gestural speech — I couldn’t open Facebook without seeing a post from Mic, or Uproxx, or Occupy Democrats, or some other part-time semiotic organization, analyzing the meaning and implications of Clinton’s A/B-tested not-quite-remarks.
Donald Trump is definitely not a politician. Nor, for that matter, is he a businessman — that would be Mike Bloomberg — and his claims to being one only obscure the class basis of his appeal. Trump is not a professional of any kind. He is a prince, closer in substance and style to the great hereditary inheritors of the past. This, far more than anything else, is what attracts his constituency, who, however inarticulate they may appear on cable news, believe intuitively that only someone inoculated against the entanglements of professional life can hope to carry their banner through the city with any effectiveness.
One of the more telling exchanges of the Democratic elections took place this past February, when Rachel Maddow, moderating the New Hampshire primary debate, asked Hillary Clinton to respond to Bernie Sanders’s charge that she was not a true progressive. Clinton answered that she was “a progressive who likes to get things done” — and accused Sanders of sitting out the past three decades of Democratic politics. “Every step along the way I have stood up and fought,” she said, “and have the scars to prove it.”
“You must promise me something before we start.”
“Certainly,” I said.
“You must promise me—that you will not spend the next eight weeks ranting at me about colonialism. Well, if you must, one week of ranting is fine. Maybe two. But after that I’m afraid you really will have to do some real work.”
Emily Doe’s account is like an episode of Law & Order: SVU with the victim’s face and body blurred out and her voice turned up. Given that she remembers nothing between midnight (when she wandered away from the party) and 4:15 AM (when she woke up at the hospital), she can’t tell us how the violation felt, which weirdly works in her favor: men rape women so often that rape stories start to feel plagiarized.
Fiction and Drama
Tristan held on to the bench with both hands as they jerked into reverse and pulled away from the dock. Treble Island had come and gone. The boat hit the waves harder without the weight of the other passengers, and he felt each wave as a blow to the stomach. From his stomach a bad feeling rose into his chest and spread across the tops of his shoulders like big hands pressing him down. He was soaring and drowning, or he was crying, that was it.
Once in a while, my parents allow some critically authorized highbrow “erotic” periodical like Eros or Evergreen to breach our doorway. But they draw the line at Playboy, in spite of its long, left-leaning pieces by and about important men like Vladimir Nabokov and James Baldwin. Mom and Dad aren’t prudes, they’re snobs. They consider comics, Mad magazine—even mysteries—degraded forms of literature. What would they think of Man to Man? I don’t have to ask.
While I worked, the owner of the cleaning company followed on my heels. “Good pour,” she said when I tipped the bucket of gray water into the toilet. As the day wore on, I’d catch sight of her standing at the periphery of whatever giant living space I was crouching in, peering around the doorframe while I stacked books. Later, while evacuating Cheerios from between the couch cushions, I saw her pick up the miniature rake in the family’s decorative tabletop Zen garden and carefully comb the sand with its tiny teeth.
You can’t ever really be ready for the class war, but much of the job of working-class strategy is to stage and escalate conflict at the most advantageous moments. So-called legacy unions represent living traditions with institutional memories of what worked and what didn’t against an individual boss, in a given industry, or among workers of particular types. It’s an error to perceive union defeat as evidence of some strategic mistake. American workers can do everything right and still lose.
New Russian Political Poets
What these poets have in common is a desire to address contemporary Russian realities, and to occupy, through the medium of poetry, a position that has been both the glory and the curse of Russian poetry for the past two hundred years. That is, to be something more than poets.
He’s still on top:
spinning out his dialectic
pillorying the fascists
demanding that his books also be burned on the square
and organizing an antibourgeois theater.
I see students, fire
people marching, fire
trembling, feeling, blind
invincible and kind, fire
“So you attempt to persuade the rapist not to rape you,” my analyst says.
I clarify: “I wasn’t trying to persuade him not to rape me. I was trying to persuade him not to kill me. I was offering rape in exchange for my life.”
End of session
you know how sometimes you want to write about the working class
you go to the factory district
but there is no working class
just a bunch of hipsters drinking coffee
Hello? Yeah, eight spots. I’ll do the cashing out tomorrow.
Two of the coats are rotten: give them to Zoya to sell.
What of it? Stolen coats are still clothing.
I can’t now. Tell Alik not
To fuck up the order. He’s got to feel it out.
No, don’t buy nutria. Later.
Dirty Pretty Things, Never Let Me Go, Under the Skin, and now The Lobster—British art-house cinema is obsessed with organ harvesting. Forcing people into strange rooms to rob them of their organs or, in the case of The Lobster, to recalibrate their organs and thereby change them into animals . . . I don’t think this is something preying on the minds of Americans. Our worries are more immediate. We’re more likely to be mowed down by an assault rifle in public than we are to have our organs harvested for use by the upper class or space aliens.
Unlike many journalists and historians who see the wars in the Middle East as a series of isolated conflicts that happen to have taken place in a single region over several decades, Andrew Bacevich, a career Army officer turned military historian and foreign policy critic, sees a sustained military campaign that began with Jimmy Carter and continues today. “From the end of World War II to 1980, virtually no American soldiers were killed in action while serving in [the Greater Middle East],” Bacevich writes. “Since 1990, virtually no American soldiers have been killed in action anywhere except the Greater Middle East.”
Like McCarthy and the New York Intellectuals of yore, Gary Indiana has acquired the status of a novelist-critic, gleeful in his evisceration of public morality and correction of popular taste. But they had an audience and a sense of ponderous grandeur: Indiana, condemned to a less “intellectual” time, mans his post at the margins. His great theme is solitude.
Dear Editors, George Blaustein promises us “religious stereotyping” and “conspiratorial thinking” in his remembrance of Antonin Scalia, and he does not fail. As an editor of First Things, I have joined in some of the conspiracies he describes, and as a dogmatic Catholic, I fulfill some of the stereotypes. From this position, I’ll offer two objections and one amen.