I have a new thing up at Rolling Stone; the editor is getting more comfortable with me and is beginning to encourage me to be more of an asshole. I think the final product is better that way.
Lost in the drama of what is happening in south Texas and the President's predictably weird, tone deaf, self-congratulatory response to it is the fact that in the past 12 years the Gulf Coast has been hit by two "100 Year" storms and now a "500 Year" storm.
Those names are somewhat misleading, of course, because they are derived from the odds of a storm of that severity happening in any given year. So, a 100 Year storm is just an extrapolation of a storm that has a 1% chance of occurring each hurricane season. Something that has a 1% chance of happening could very well happen three times in twelve observations, but it certainly isn't likely. That said, even before 2005 these storms clearly were much more frequent than once every century. A more accurate way to describe them might be "More powerful than 99% of storms" or simply to update the odds to incorporate the last 100 years of data. It's likely that a more accurate term might be something like "Ten year storm," as that seems to reflect what we've experienced.
In other words, don't get too caught up on phrases like "100 year storm." It's inaccurate any way you look at it.
Instead, let's stop and consider the fact that warming and rising oceans are going to continue to increase the clip at which these storms strike the United States (and elsewhere, obviously). The Gulf Coast and Atlantic Coast are such densely populated areas that when these storms do hit, they will inevitably cause nearly catastrophic damage. Frankly it's amazing that the death toll in Texas is not higher, but even so it is clear that there will be billions upon billions of dollars in damage. ProPublica has a great rundown of just how vulnerable a low-lying city like New Orleans or Houston is to severe weather off the open ocean.
The stark reality is that it is probably too late for this or any other country to truly roll back the effects of human degradation of the environment. We are down to simply trying not to make it any worse than it already is. What is certain, though, is that the future of the Gulf Coast is not as promising as the numbers of Americans flocking to the Sun Belt since 1990s might suggest. Jack the temperatures up another degree or three, bring more frequent (and more severe) weather off the oceans, and let these unsustainably enormous populations continue to work away at the water resources of the area and it's going to add up to a nightmare for government at every level. The cost of a system to protect the Texas coast would no doubt be staggering and I have no doubt that the kind of statewide officials Texans elect will produce nothing but "Global warming is a hoax" rhetoric.
We have, in other words, unprecedented challenges coming our way at the exact point at which our elected officials have the least vision and foresight. Good luck.
The commenters on Facebook have spoken. I was on the fence about this one, but recent events suggest that it needs to happen. Here they are in the popular "big words on a shirt" format: the Gin and Tacos Get Mad Punch Nazis Be Free shirt.
As with previous shirt sales, this is a pre-order and you will receive your shirt in about four weeks. Please digest those words. Final design may vary slightly, as the graphic designer is still fiddling with it. Text and colors will not be changed. I am not an Amazon warehouse, but I do try my absolute best to get these out of the shipping box and into the mail for you as quickly as humanly possible.
For every shirt sold, I will donate $1 to the Southern Poverty Law Center. I'll post proof here and on Facebook once the print run is set, in case you're the skeptical type.
Canvas brand, screenprinted (no print on demand crap), no text on the reverse side, women's v-neck and men's/unisex crew neck available. Simple. Black. Bleak. Let everyone know how you feel. Let everyone know your favorite blog. Canvas sizing guides for unisex and women's v-neck shirts are here. The quality on these shirts has been great – they don't fall apart or fade after one wash.
Please note that all international orders, even in Friendly Canada, must choose the more expensive International Shipping option. Those rates have gotten pricey recently, and I apologize for that. But as much as I'd like to lose $15 on every one of these sold to a non-US customer, I can't.
Order soon, as once the pre-order period is over (end of this week, likely) the print run will be set and there won't be a shirt on the way for you! I order a few extra, but not many because I can't warehouse a bunch of unbought shirts. Thanks for understanding the limitations of this "operation."
(Ed note: I prepared this for a media outlet that deemed it Too Polemical for their tastes, hence the writing style is a little more formal than usual here.)
Before entering politics, it would be hard to imagine Donald Trump spending much time in places like Youngstown, OH or Huntington, WV. Now he can’t get enough of them.
The billionaire real estate magnate with a fondness for Manhattan, Las Vegas, and East Coast resorts suddenly finds himself more comfortable in Harrisburg. The more he struggles to succeed in Washington, the more he will rely on campaign-style “rallies” in places like this to boost his ego and gain a respite from the criticism that is part of life in the Beltway. Why? The Rust Belt has in endless supply the one resource most crucial to Trump’s base of popular support: anger.
By any measure, places like upstate New York, the Ohio River Valley, central Illinois, and Michigan have been down for decades. In Huntington and Youngstown, for example, population has fallen in every census since 1950. The story of the decline of manufacturing and extractive industries like coal in these places is one Americans know by heart today.
What the Rust Belt offers Trump, then, is a segment of the population that has been on the brutal receiving end of every negative social and economic development since the early Seventies. It is a population that has been knocked down so many times and received so many unfulfilled promises from elected officials that logic and reason are no longer of much importance when evaluating politicians. As long as Trump gives voice to their passionate anger, they will be there to support him even as his actions in office do nothing to help the most downtrodden areas of the country (and, in some cases, actively worsen their problems).
As a lifelong Midwesterner with a firsthand opportunity to witness the struggles of some of these areas, none of the explanations for why Trump received so much support there are compelling. Racism, “economic anxiety,” distaste for Hillary Clinton, and susceptibility to false information distributed via social media are partial explanations at best. To understand why so much of Trump’s Rust Belt base will never turn on him requires understanding the sense of malaise, of giving up, of a step beyond hopelessness, that pervades places that have been sliding downhill without interruption for more than half a century.
The Rust Belt and Midwest more broadly speaking have experienced so much hardship and for so long that residents no longer care what policy prescriptions candidates promise; they firmly believe that nothing will work anyway. These voters are unlikely to care that Trump often flip-flops on issues, does things for which he vocally criticized Barack Obama, and fails to deliver on promises made during the campaign.
Similarly, pointing out that he has nothing but bile-laced Tweets to show for his first half-year in the White House is not persuasive. So long as he continues to give them a vicarious outlet for their anger toward convenient targets that are often blamed for the Rust Belt’s problems – urban elites, immigrants, gays and lesbians, the media, ivory tower academics, the Clintons, and so on – he serves a vital purpose for them.
It is not easy to watch one’s community slowly fall apart over decades due largely to forces beyond one’s control, nor is it easy to look to the future and see only the same downward trajectory regardless of endless (and ultimately fruitless) plans to “revitalize” the Huntingtons and Youngstowns of the United States. After five decades of bad news, Trump feels like a breath of fresh air. Rather than offering them economic or social policy proposals they have heard before and in which they have no more strength to believe, he offers them an opportunity to extend a middle finger to the established institutions of society and government. That is invaluable to people who have received nothing of value in exchange for their votes since the strong economic years of the post-War era.
The people of Huntington, WV are not dumb enough to believe that the Mexican gang MS-13 – the President’s new obsession – is responsible for the shuttered factories, soaring unemployment rate, stagnant wages, and addiction problems that plague their community. But when all of those problems exist for so long that they are viewed as simple facts of life no more controllable than the weather, venting anger at a sinister, foreign Other is cathartic if nothing else.
Trump is not dumb either. He knows that when his administration veers unsettlingly close to chaos, people in rural Ohio, upstate New York, central Pennsylvania, and other declining areas of the country will not judge him on the specifics. They don’t expect him to solve their problems because they have come to believe over time and from repeated experience that their underlying problems are unsolvable. They only want him to keep up the Trump Show, to get under the skin of the groups in society that they blame for their struggles, to rile the establishment even when doing so is pointless and unproductive.
Decline has been a part of life in the Rust Belt for so long that only the oldest residents can remember a time when it wasn’t the defining theme in the life of their communities. The oft-analyzed demographic that dominates these areas – whites with minimal education – does not truly believe that Donald Trump will solve their problems. They do believe that he will deliver the next best thing: an opportunity for revenge. If failure is seen as inevitable, then lashing out in anger at enemies, real or perceived, at least offers a sense of power and control that has been absent from these areas for two generations.
The more Trump struggles, the more he will turn to these places to boost his spirits. He and America’s downtrodden communities realize that they have a relationship of mutual dependence. Rust Belt voters finally feel like someone is on their side, and they are right. Against enemies real, imagined, or distorted, Trump and his most loyal voters will feel comforted that if nothing else, they are in the fight against the liberal media and MS-13 together.
I have a new thing up at The Week about Charlottesville and the myth of America "fixing" racism in the 1960s. This is not simply a theoretical exercise, because the belief that racism is pretty much a thing of the past (or "not what it used to be") was used by the Supreme Court in 2013 to cripple the Voting Rights Act. The quotes from the Chief Justice about how much things have changed have not aged well.
The short address about Afghanistan on Monday evening was among the least offensive speeches Trump has delivered. Not because he stuck to the script, but because literally any proposed "solution" to that ongoing conflict is approximately as stupid as any other.
There is no solution. Obama knew it, and the people with half a brain around Trump know it too. The options are (to coopt language from an equally long and lamentable conflict) to "Vietnamize" the problem, to do nothing, to bring everybody home, and to send more people over. Clearly the practical solution is to just pull the plug and bring everyone home. But since we can never admit a mistake or resist the pull of the sunk costs fallacy, that's politically infeasible even for a president who isn't a monster.
Vietnamize it? Give me a break. The Afghan government barely exercises any sovereignty in the country's urban centers. Go five miles outside the security perimeter established by the American military and that country is lawless. They have zero capacity, even after 15 years of throwing money and (military oriented) solutions at the problem. So (presumably Mattis) decides, what the hell let's send 10,000 more people there, or whatever. It's a token gesture likely to accomplish nothing in the short term and less than nothing in the long term.
This is why we were so vocal about the dumbass logic used to support intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan – because once you become embroiled in this kind of situation, it is next to impossible to get out. You become, as the trillion dollar military ours is, the main institution of power in an otherwise weak, ineffectual, corrupt, and impotent government. And a few years in you realize that no amount of treasure and patience and pleading is going to get this puppet government to do the things you believe it should be able to do, so the options are reduced to pulling out and watching the whole thing collapse Saigon '75 style or you do what we are doing right now which is to make an essentially eternal commitment to fighting a low level insurgency in a country you don't fully comprehend and in which you are distinctly unwanted.
The only thing that makes any sense is cutting bait, and the conflict has been back-burnered so completely with the American public that there will never be a critical mass of public opposition to force Congress and the Pentagon to pursue that course. The DoD found the perfect heat setting to maintain the war on a low simmer, barely noticeable except for the people who are directly being shattered by it. Maybe that's the lesson they learned from Vietnam – abolish the draft and keep the troop levels low enough that eventually people will just kinda forget about it.
If that was the plan, it worked.
Having the odds and ends of the Clurb Shirt second print run sitting around my room for most of the year, I've decided to do a super blowout $10 offer until the remaining shirts (about 15 total) are gone. Now's a great chance to grab one of these Hot Stunts for next to nothing!
Only some sizes are available. Women's sizes smaller than XL are sold out, and the popular Men's XL size is also gone. Everything else has at least one shirt available.
TREAT. YO. SELF.
I was waiting to see which one they would pick.
With Confederate monuments being taken down all around the South, northern cities are on the sidelines watching. There are no Confederate monuments here for obvious reasons. But since pulling down statues is obviously very Hot right now, I knew someone would pore over the list of Chicago monuments until we found one to pull down so we can be part of the fun too.
Don't get me wrong, I don't mean that a monument must be Confederate to be inappropriate. Plenty of monuments celebrating American military victories in Indian conflicts, for example, are prime candidates for removal. Columbus statues too. But it certainly feels like a bit of a reach for Chicago aldermen and activists to target a really obscure monument dedicated to Italo Balbo.
Balbo is a very minor figure in the history of aviation. When aviation was a subject of intense public fascination in the 1920s, Balbo was briefly a recognized figure in the US When Chicago hosted the World's Fair in 1933, almost every nation on the planet left the city with some kind of gift (a convenient way to avoid having to ship home part of its exhibition). Italy, which was of course led by Mussolini at the time, left a 2000 year-old Roman column atop a small pedestal, a combination historical artifact and monument. It was named after Balbo, probably because he was one of the few Italian "celebrities" known in the US at the time who was not on the outs with the Italian regime.
It's just a gift. "Thanks for the World's Fair hosting, brah." The city did nothing special to acquire or install it. It didn't ask for it or sponsor it. And most importantly, I'm pretty goddamn sure that literally no one has walked past it and thought "Oh my god why is that offensive monstrosity here." 99% of this city couldn't even tell you who Mussolini or Balbo are.
I have a feeling the monument will end up coming down, which honestly is fine with me as long as the 2000 year-old artifact is not destroyed as part of the process. Go ahead and put it in a museum. Fine. It does feel an awful lot like this is a solution in search of a problem, though. Balbo Drive being renamed makes sense, only because changing the name of streets to honor different people happens all the time. The street has no connection of any kind to Balbo, so it might as well or might as well not be named for him. The monument, though, was a gift from a country and until now it has entirely avoided any kind of notoriety.
If it makes people feel better it should be removed. The odd part about this is that for 80 years it hasn't made anyone feel anything, and suddenly it's a beacon radiating offense and the support of fascism. Confederate monuments exalt a very specific part of American history that is deeply horrible for a large part of the population. I suppose if America received a gift from Hitler it would have been taken down by now, and an argument can be made that Mussolini should be treated similarly. That's why ultimately I don't care if this comes down or is moved. It doesn't feel like a general community push for change, though, since it's only coming up now. It feels a lot like trying to hop on board with a trend that we as a city aren't really involved with. If this monument is actually offending people with its presence, why didn't we pull it down ten years ago? Go ahead and do it, but let's not kid ourselves about the motive and the timing.
Satire, sarcasm, and (at least attempts at) social commentary in art are so familiar to us today that it is difficult to remember that there is a time at which it was new and unfamiliar. This is one reason why really old attempts at comedy and satire seem startlingly unfunny to modern audiences. The legendary British architect Sir John Vanbrugh, for example, rose to fame not by drawing buildings but by writing the comedy play The Relapse. It featured characters with names like "Sir John Brute" and "Lord Foppington," in addition to a lecherous character named, I shit you not, "Fondlewife." It feels like being hit over the head with a blunt instrument to read it today. But in 1696, when audiences would have very little exposure to any attempts at satire or social criticism, it came across as not only the peak of cleverness but also as a breath of fresh air.
Molière's Tartuffe (1664) is among the more popular examples of this generation of totally ham-fisted satires today, and at least people who consider themselves kinda fans of theater or the classics have probably seen or read it. Tartuffe is a hypocrite, a faux-pious, thieving, wife-stealing fraud whose charms, long story short, lead to an important and successful but dim-witted gentleman named Orgon falling under his spell. No amount of evidence from his children or friends (who see through Tartuffe easily) can convince Orgon that not only is Tartuffe a piece of crap but that, specifically, he is trying very hard to bone Orgon's wife Elmire. In what feels like it might be a climactic scene, Orgon's son tricks Tartuffe into confessing his love ("love") for Elmire. Yet instead of casting Tartuffe, who pitifully and quite insincerely weeps over his own sinfulness, out of the house, Orgon responds by disowning his son and making Tartuffe the beneficiary of his will. You know. Because it is easier to believe that his son and the evidence right before his eyes are lying than to admit that he was wrong all along about Tartuffe.
It isn't until later, when Orgon is hiding under a table upon which Tartuffe mounts and nearly penetrates his wife, that Orgon finally sees the light. And for brevity I won't even get into the second half "box of blackmail letters about traitors" subplot, but let's just say there's an angle that works there too.
We have been playing a very tiresome and disingenuous game for over a year now with the "moderates" in the Republican Party about Trump. They have stuck their head in the sands and plugged their ears and averted their eyes as every obvious red flag was presented for their consideration repeatedly. Hey, this guy is a sociopath. Hey, this guy is a white supremacist. Hey, I know you and I don't agree about a lot of policy things but I would like to think we at least agree that a president who openly wants to be a dictator and who wants nothing more than constant adulation is a bad thing. Hey, I know you really want that 4% tax cut but maybe electing this lunatic is too high a price to pay. Look at all these things he says. Look at all the evidence. Please, just think about this for a moment.
What we got was every excuse on Earth in repetitious quantity. He doesn't mean what he says, he's just trying to get attention. He only says that to shock you. He's a smart man, look at how rich he is. This is just the campaign, he'll behave differently once he's president. Congress will control him. He's not really like that. It'll be fine. It'll be fine. It'll be fine.
The one positive to come out of the last five deeply alarming days for this country is that there is no longer any cover left for conservatives who want to insist that they are Republicans but you know, reasonable ones, not one of those loony Trump people. As we have transitioned from "It's not fair to smear the alt-right as Nazis" to "OK I guess they are actually Nazis after all" so too have we transitioned from pretending that Trump is somehow unserious or ambivalent about his statements of support for them. As hard as it is to believe that adult human beings saw him retweet white supremacists during the campaign convinced themselves that this did not mean he was a white supremacist, those people exist. Maybe they're dumb, maybe they're intelligent people who fooled themselves. I don't know. But we're done with that now. The president says and tweets white supremacist stuff because he believes white supremacist stuff. He calls torch-waving Nazis wearing swastikas and chanting "Jews will not replace us" "fine people" because he doesn't see anything wrong with their viewpoint. It's what he thinks. Period. It isn't a game or an act or a publicity stunt. This is who he is.
The question is, what now? Conservatives who have spent all this time defending and making excuses for him have a choice. You can pull a Bill Kristol and try to salvage some shred of dignity by throwing in the towel and going the "This Nazi is destroying the party I love" route. Or you can continue to support and provide cover for an actual white supremacist, a course of action that does not prove but at least really really strongly suggests that you are, if not a white supremacist yourself, more than willing to let a white supremacist run the country if you think it will benefit you somehow. But the third option of sticking your head in the sand and pretending he's not really a racist or there is no PROOF he's a racist is no longer available to you. This weekend took that away. Unlike what happened in Charlottesville, this really is an issue with two sides now, and the side you choose is going to say a lot about you.