My least favorite genre of journalism is the retrospective "How did we miss this?" piece that comes after years of the profession sticking its head in the sand and refusing to see something inconvenient. The New York Times actually had the balls to print a headline like "The Rise of Right-Wing Extremism, and How We Missed It."

Who missed it? That's a serious question. Who makes up the demographic "Did not see a disturbing rise in explicitly racist and xenophobic politics" and where were these people during the eight years Obama was president? It seems unlikely that an even mildly observant person could have failed to notice that about 20% of the people in this country came psychologically unmoored over the idea of having a black president.

This is one of the fundamental flaws of centrism, with its obsession with Decorum and playing nice – people get chastised for trying to call problems what they are when they first appear. "It's rude and unproductive to call people you disagree with politically racists or Nazis, tut-tut!" Yes, well, these people are really racist and some of them are taking that to the logical extreme of becoming actual Nazis. Like, with swastikas and stuff.

No no, they're merely expressing economic anxiety. They're resorting to shocking imagery because they feel like their voices aren't being heard. They're just raising some valid questions about the "character" of the American population. One excuse, one downplaying, one euphemism after another.

We saw these Retrospectives in waves in 2005 and 2006 as the George Wills of the world wondered aloud How We Got Iraq So Wrong. Then, as now, the answer is very simple: You got it wrong because you willfully ignored all of the disconfirming evidence in order to reach your predetermined conclusion.

Add to that the seriously misplaced priorities of the establishment media, which values blaming nobody and everybody equally (Both sides are wrong!) over identifying problems and assigning responsibility even when it's patently obvious. The only way to miss right-wing extremism's rise is to operate your media outlet while more afraid of being chided by right-wingers than of totally missing a crucial story.

"We" is an ego-saving rhetorical device to lessen the embarrassment of having whiffed on something a blind man could have – and should have – seen coming. If they convince themselves that nobody could have foreseen it, it exculpates everyone. The rise of white nationalism becomes like the weather, a phenomenon nobody can do anything about and which can only be fully explained in hindsight.

We didn't miss it. You did.


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Women's shirt buyers, check the Canvas sizing guide. Bella/Canvas women's shirts run on the small side. (see Jersey and Rib sizing here)

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What is going on right now in Wisconsin (and Michigan, and in North Carolina after the 2016 Election) is the logical progression of the erosion of democratic norms that Newt Gingrich kicked off in 1994 and Mitch McConnell elevated to an art form. If you can't win, change the rules. The Democrats are not without blame, indirectly, since the strategy relies on the knowledge that the dopey-ass decorum addicts will always change the rules back (hamstringing themselves) when in power. It is a perfect example of the Republicans as Air Bud and the Democrats standing there futilely pointing at the rule book shouting "A DOG CAN'T PLAY BASKETBALL!" while Air Bud dunks on them over and over again.

But there's another, deeper component to the justifications the Wisconsin GOP is trying to lay out for its naked power grab. The briefest, yet totally accurate, summary is that rural Wisconsin voters are the ones who actually matter so they should get what they want. That's it. That's all it boils down to. Sure the Democrats won the statewide elections, but only because – seriously, this is the argument – people in Milwaukee and Madison voted for them.

The city people (wink!) don't count. They're not real. They exist and sure maybe even they have the right to vote, but they're fundamentally lesser. Their preferences are subordinate to the Real Wisconsinites. Like in the deep south after Reconstruction, Wisconsin's GOP sees its politics as a state with x population but only a small fraction of x that should rightly be making decisions and exercising rights for the whole.

This is the language of European far-right ethno-nationalist parties. We know we are not the majority, but we are the only people who matter.

That's where we are. I reiterate that there is no world in which this era of American politics has a happy ending.


The special post-election episode of Mass for Shut-ins is now available. Question Cathy and I devote the whole 'cast to mailbag questions about the midterms. Topics we cover include the national popular vote, ranked-choice voting, Beto-mania, the Democratic disadvantage for taking back the Senate, and the best ways to get involved and do something other than feel angry.

Minicast soon to follow! Also working hard at the moment on a Deadspin piece (NHL expansion to Seattle), a Baffler piece, and my first-ever non-academic article in real print – like, on paper! – for an upcoming Baffler. More posts here as soon as possible.


I've written many times over the years about the problems with The Intern Economy. Unpaid internships, which are especially rampant in fields like journalism and politics, are a class barrier that limits participation in a profession to young people who have external financial support. It doesn't say that explicitly, but we know exactly who can afford to live in very expensive cities (DC, Washington, London, LA, etc) for a year or two without getting paid.

As a general (but not absolute) rule, I don't write letters of recommendation for unpaid internships. More than a few people have criticized me for that over the years. Before I go on, let me point out that in the worst case for the student I simply get the department chair or another senior faculty member to write a letter. So it's not like the students are being turned out into the cold streets to die of exposure on my account.

I know it's an irritating stand to take. But think about it this way.

Suppose a student came asking for a recommendation for the Jordan Peterson Men's Rights and Eugenics Fellowship for Pale Young Virgin Boys. Or the Sons of the Confederacy Definitely Not Just for White People Scholarship. Or the Bob Jones University Gay Bashing and Fly Fishing Camp. What are my ethical obligation in that case?

Aside from the fact that nothing in any faculty contract obligates a faculty member to write a recommendation letter for any student, I'd venture that instead of being criticized for declining to write it I'd be subject to some form of public dragging if I did sign off on these examples. If any opportunity requiring a faculty recommendation was implicitly limited to only men, only white people, etc or was for an explicitly immoral purpose, no one would seriously question my refusal to provide a letter with the exception of aggrieved right wingers (Charlie Kirk would be en route to campus in a heartbeat, Ben Shapiro in tow).

It has never been clear to me why in terms of discrimination, diversity, and representation so many academics can see clearly things like race, gender, or sexual orientation while class apparently just isn't a thing. If a particular opportunity for professional entry / advancement is open only to people who cross a parental income threshold, it's not open to everyone. I won't call it "discriminatory" because throwing words like that around too often cheapens them, but it's certainly not something that gives every interested student a legitimate chance to get it.

We covered some of this same ground in last week's Lena Dunham post, and those points hold here. Unpaid internships are how you get entire professions lacking any meaningful diversity, drawn from the same elevated socioeconomic bubble, and full of assumptions that fail to hold for anyone who doesn't get a big external boost at crucial times in their lives.

I understand that a one-man crusade does nothing to solve the problem and ultimately, as an academic advisor, students get whatever they need to pursue whatever opportunity they want. If I don't want to write a letter I explain why and get them a better letter from senior faculty (nobody cares about the recommendation of a no-name assistant professor anyway). It's my way of trying to draw attention to how utterly unequal this system is in ways that would be readily apparent throughout my profession if, instead of class and wealth, we were talking about gender or race.


Based on a gross mischaracterization of statements he made in support of a single-state solution for Israel and Palestine, knives are coming out for Temple professor Marc Lamont Hill. After being fired from CNN, Hill seemed willing to accept responsibility for his role in the reaction; like most of us most of the time, in hindsight there are always better ways we can express ourselves. At the same time, Haaretz notes that Hill is being subsumed by the reality that in the U.S. there seem to be distinct rules for discussing Israel-Palestine that vary considerably from how any other international conflict is handled.

Now Temple is trying to fire him, with the chair of the university's board taking the highly unusual (and inappropriate) step of leading a kind of public charge against Hill.

My question is not how best to litigate whether his comments were Right or Wrong, Offensive or Not Offensive. Rather, where are all the valiant defenders of Campus Free Speech? Invite some hack like Charles Murray to campus to hawks rebranded eugenics – or some pandering shithead with no academic credentials like Ben Shapiro or Milo to yell inflammatory shock-jock nonsense in front of an audience – and we end up subjected to a week full of nothing but Hot Takes about campus liberal snowflakes. Bari Weiss and Jordan Peterson and Charlie Kirk are suddenly on every talk show bemoaning the "crisis" of free speech on campus.

Isn't this, like, an actual example of a free speech issue on campus? If what these people really care about is the core concept of free expression itself, in a content-neutral way, then they should all be foaming at the mouth to speak up in defense of Marc Lamont Hill. As they frame it in defense of others, he should get to say whatever he wants and he shouldn't be sanctioned just because he said something controversial.

Far from defending his previously very important Free Speech rights, right-wing mega-hacks like Seth Mandel are busy engaged in grossly misleading characterizations of what was said and falling back on a very old, extremely tired "You criticized Israel so you hate Jews" fallacy to inflame sentiment against Hill. Which is pretty weird given that as recently as a week ago all of the writers and media figures in that circle were entering their second year of whining about voices being silenced (overlooking the irony of delivering that message in highly visible media outlets and on shows that continually invite them on to share their views).

It's almost too easy to point out the hypocrisy among the "zomg free speech on campus" grifters. We know they don't actually give a shit about Free Speech; they simply want their own worldview given legitimacy that it does not deserve on its merits. They say "Campuses should consider all ideas" but they mean "Invite more right wing hacks to campus so it will seem like they have legitimate ideas worth discussing." It's plenty obvious. Regardless, it's still shocking to see them show their proverbial asses so blatantly with Hill. You'd think that people with even a shred of integrity could offer a feeble "I disagree but defend his right to say it" defense. The next one of these truth warriors to speak up will be the first.


The cycle of Trump-related allegation and disclosure is so predictable as to be tedious at this point.

Start by loudly (and unconvincingly, of course) arguing for an extended period of time that you absolutely did not do what you've been accused of doing. After a few weeks, soften it up by suggesting that maybe someone else might have done it – certainly not you though – and if that was the case you had no idea, none at all, that it was being done by someone else.

What? Irrefutable evidence? OK well yeah it turns out I did it, I knew all along. In fact the whole idea was mine and it was directed personally from minute one.

But it's not even illegal! I did it because why wouldn't I do it? Everyone does it. It's not illegal at all to do it. Just because there are laws against something doesn't make it illegal if it's a thing everybody does all the time.

Fucking tiresome.


I don't care about Lena Dunham. I certainly was not in the intended audience for her most popular show, "Girls", and her political opinions are as valuable to me as any other celebrity's. I do think, however, that the phenomenon of Lena Dunham says a lot about the fundamental problems with media in the 21st Century.

Dunking on Dunham is too easy at this point, which is why Allison Davis's new profile of Dunham is palatable reading. She makes an effort to avoid taking the easy route and just bashing the hell out of an easy target, yet she does not avoid giving criticism (listing in excruciating long-form detail all the "whoopsies" the famously clueless and tone-deaf Dunham has had to apologize for) where due. The short version of the piece: Lena Dunham's life seems incredibly sad and it's not entirely clear why anyone, even a New York Social Scene oriented publication, is still talking to or about her.

What is so interesting to me is that Dunham's rise via "Girls" was largely due to the similarity between her and many of the journalists who adored her show when it came out. As products of the same Prep-and-Boarding school East Coast elite club, it was a happy coincidence that the kind of bourgeois, privileged navel-gazing that "Girls" engaged in was highly relatable to the kind of people who were Culture Journalists in the aughts. As journalism stopped paying (except in "exposure") it became a hobby career for the financially independent twenty-somethings, fresh out of Columbia or Smith, who fancied themselves tastemakers.

Because more than enough rich young adults with trust funds were eager to write for Vogue and Rolling Stone and the like, culture journalism led the way in transitioning from professional, paid journalists to a mob of interns and $100-per freelance contributors. Why pay someone when hundreds of 22-26 year olds with good writing skills, fresh out of college, will do it just for the bragging rights?

And so the small, non-diverse, insular group of people that wrote about things like hip new HBO series became the exact demographic that "Girls" would really speak to. It was a show for people, largely but not exclusively women, who could really identify with characters whose biggest problem in life was not liking any of the people they dated. Yes, the show covered issues deeper than that but it is hard to ignore the extent to which it was written by, aimed at, and depicted very privileged twentysomethings with no financial concerns.

And who could appreciate such a show except people who came from the same world, the people who live horrendously expensive lifestyles in Brooklyn and the lower East Side despite having no discernible source of income? It was the perfect overlap. Dunham probably never intended to do so, but she created the perfect show for people like herself…just as those people were becoming the dominant and sometimes only voices in journalism about the media and entertainment.

That, to me, is vastly more interesting to talk about than the endless string of Own Goals and foot-shootings that seem to be Dunham's entire career these days. Nobody associates her name with any specific piece of work anymore; she has become simply a punchline for a certain kind of clueless ex-Prep School trust fund white girl. In Davis's piece, she describes herself as exactly that. I take it as a positive that whereas those qualities were seen as assets a decade ago, today the mass audience looks at it more critically and less favorably.


Today only – get yourself or the ones you love the greatest gift of all: the fancy new Gin and Tacos t-shirt at many percents off.

$20 for all sizes and styles (plus shipping, US only). These were pricey to make so this won't last long. Full details on sizing and other specs can be found here.

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I have a new thing at The Nation about the need for the new Democratic House to do whatever they can to fix the 2020 Census. Trump and his Commerce Department appointees have done what they can to manipulate it, and the consequences of a botched Census will last well beyond a Trump presidency.

No idea whether this is even on the radar of anyone in the leadership, but it should be.