M'LORD

Nothing is more profoundly depressing to journalists, or anyone who writes for a living, than looking at the kind of shit The Market rewards and comparing it to one's own attempts to put something decent and useful out into the world. I imagine every fiction writer slaving away on what they believe is the very best novel they can produce feels a cold, bitter spite welling up inside of themselves every time they realize EL James and her "The vampire fucked the other vampire very erotically, with his erect vampire member" fanfic are worth a billion dollars.

There are a lot of bad opinion columnists in the world, but none as bad as Bari Weiss. The reason Bari Weiss infuriates writers so much is not simple jealousy – she writes for the New York Times and she's terrible! – because a lot of shitty writers have good, high-paying jobs for major media outlets. Half of her NYT colleagues could be described the same way. It is the fact that aside from having terrible opinions, her writing literally is indistinguishable from a college newspaper opinion writer. You could go to any campus in the United States, pluck out the eagerest sophomore from the Opinion page, and stick that person in the NYT and not miss a beat. Her writing is so thick with the tropes one thought were clever and edgy at age 20 that, unless you were an undergrad journalism major at some point, I'm not sure I can explain it to you.

This week her column for the Newspaper of Record, the hallowed Gray Lady, is literally "How I spent my summer vacation." Woman goes on vacation, comes back from vacation, writes a piece about how the place she went on vacation "has a lot to teach us."

I don't know about you, but the last time I wrote "What I did on my vacation" I was 10.

To be certain, all that differentiates Weiss from other bad writers like David Brooks, Bret Stephens, Megan McArdle, and the like is her total lack of polish and erudite "New York Timesy" writing skill. The others share her dumb, juvenile opinions but their employers pay them for their ability to write up dumb, juvenile opinions in an Ivy Leagueish, Upper Crust, Country Club sort of way. It's the George Will trick – they are paid to say things a certain audience wants to hear in a language and manner that allows them to consider it an intelligent, worldly point of view. They want someone to make the opinions sound respectable. Thoughtful, even.

That is the whole point of someone like David Brooks or Ross Douthat, or older, less relevant past stars of the printed word like Mr. Will or Peggy Noonan. They are to modern politics what courtiers were to the courts of European monarchs; they exist to flatter. To tell people of a certain worldview that said worldview is proper, correct, respectable, intelligent and – importantly – widely shared. Yes m'lord, you are most wise! The people certainly agree with you!

And I don't understand how Weiss fits into that world. She writes literally like a child. What is the audience for this? Tech Bros want to read Megan McArdle, not Tomi Lahren. Bankers want Ross Douthat, not Charlie Kirk. People of a certain level of wealth and cultural awareness / class want to feel smart, so I understand the lucrative market for writers who can tell them that the things they believe are good and correct and widely shared in a way that makes them feel smart. What they don't want is someone who failed to progress out of writerly adolescence making them feel like they're in high school listening to a moron soft-sell upper class authoritarianism.

I get the grift. But even in the context of the grift Bari Weiss makes no sense.

2018 LIEBERMAN AWARD WINNER: CHUCK SCHUMER

(Editor's note: The Lieberman Award is given annually to the worst example of a human being over a twelve month period. Click the tag at the end of the post to review past winners.)

medalOne of my goals with year-end stuff is to avoid low hanging fruit, choosing someone like Donald Trump (who, in an act bordering on prescience, I awarded the Lieberman back in 2015), Sarah Huckabee Sanders, or Dinesh D'Souza. It's so easy to make the case that such people are terrible that it doesn't even seem interesting or worthwhile to do. As a result, the Lieberman Award more often gravitates toward people like its namesake…sanctimonious Centrist Types who like to be lavished with Sunday talk show invites and talked about as a very important person in a town already crowded with big egos.

It was extremely tempting to give the award, for the first time ever, to a woman and choose Susan Collins, but in the end I could not think of a good reason to differentiate her from Jeff Flake, Ben Sasse, or any of the other "Gosh, I sure am disappointed in Trump but I intend to do nothing whatsoever about it and I'll vote in lockstep for everything he wants" types. It was equally tempting to pick Georgia governor-elect Brian Kemp for his egregious attempts (as Secretary of State) to game his own election. Knowing Georgia politics, though, he could have been the nicest, most honest guy on Earth and he would have won that race anyway, which renders all his chicanery somewhat pointless in practice.

Instead, I think it's time to talk about how utterly terrible Chuck Schumer is at his job, and what a shame that someone holding a Senate seat in a state Democrats can't conceivably lose – someone who could be an actual liberal pushing actual left policy ideas without being punished at the ballot box – is held until death by such a ineffectual, stuck-in-2002 guy like him.

The final straw was that Nancy Pelosi gets a lot of criticism from the left for being too centrist and an uninspiring, ineffectual leader. Some of that criticism has come from me. Yet Schumer is demonstrably much worse at his job, and he's not getting leadership challenges or an equal amount of bad press. It's patently false to say "Well nobody criticizes Schumer, only Pelosi!" because people (again, including me) shit on Chuckie all the time. But watching him sail through another confirmation while Pelosi received an actual challenge (albeit from the center, as if being TOO LIBERAL is her problem) clinched it.

Chuck Schumer is forever performing for an audience that, with the possible exception of the national media, does not exist: the person whose primary interest in politics is to see everyone play nice. Outcomes are irrelevant, so long as everyone is nice to one another while the sausage is being made.

OK, that person does exist. I've had the misfortune of attracting some of them on occasion – people whose politics are somehow simultaneously "Donald Trump is the greatest monster who ever lived" and "I value bipartisanship and decorum so Democrats should work together with the monster." I no longer try to make sense of it other than to assume that West Wing melted their brains.

For that small portion of the electorate, though, Schumer is a godsend. The man has literally no spine. He could get shot and his last words when the police asked who shot him would be "Both sides did it." He "both sides-ed" someone yelling at Mitch McConnell in a restaurant the same week a lunatic was mailing bombs – literal bombs – to prominent Democrats. In advance of the Kavanaugh hearings, he agreed to fast-track a dozen Republican judicial appointees ostensibly so Democratic Senate candidates could have more time to campaign.

In the eyes of Chuck Schumer, twelve hardcore Federalist Society conservatives on the court for life is a good trade-off for Claire McCaskill to get an extra week at home for her obviously doomed re-election bid. It's as though he sees his job as caving to Mitch McConnell in the hopes that if he does it enough times, the Senate GOP will eventually play nice in return. It's beyond naive and well into delusional.

When McConnell was the minority leader, he did every single dirty trick, procedural or otherwise, to delay, obstruct, and derail the majority. Schumer is of the breed of centrist yahoos who think that the most important thing to do is to play nice and then score nonexistent electoral points from pointing out that the GOP is not being nice in return. The end result – the one we've been living in for nearly three decades now – is that the Republicans get what they want when in power and Democrats never do. Air Bud dunks the ball over and over again while Coach Schumer points at the rule book and shouts "But a dog isn't allowed to play basketball!"

Chuck Schumer doesn't get this award because he's the worst person. He gets it because he is so completely useless. If he is your negotiator, you don't have a negotiator. You have a guy who comes back to tell you what the other side wants and explains why you need to give it to them.

No, it's not solely his fault. This is an institutional problem in the Democratic Party, which since Bill Clinton's departure has internalized losing and defines victory as getting anything slightly better than the very worst possible outcome. But the guy is in a leadership position and has been for a not-insignificant amount of time. What does he have to show for it? What have been Chuck Schumer's legislative accomplishments? What has he done to make his GOP counterpart so much as break a sweat to enact his own agenda?

And this is apparently the best leader the Senate Democrats are capable of imagining. They look at this guy and think, well this is the best we've got. It's not just a failure of politics; it's a failure of imagination. They've been without a leader for so long that none of them even recognizes that this isn't it.

IF YOU THINK THAT WAS BAD…

Even as we try to cheer ourselves up and enjoy the holiday season, one of the realities that has been lurking just beneath the surface throughout Trump's presidency is becoming clearer: As miserable as the first two years were by any conceivable measure, this has been the *good* part. We haven't even started the bad part yet.

Though the president's actions in no way contributed to it, the national economy maintained its pedestrian growth rate since the end of the Obama era. Employment has remained pretty high, with the important caveat that much of the job market consists of low wage, no benefit service industry type jobs and Gig Economy things like Uber driving taking people out of job-seeking. The stock market, for the rarefied slice of Americans who get to benefit from such things, has performed well. It's not an economic track record anyone should crow about (not that anything could stop Trump from credit-claiming) but it certainly hasn't been an unmitigated disaster. Remember the last year of W Bush and the first year of Obama? THAT was bad. This has been just kinda mediocre.

But as you no doubt have noticed, the inevitable "correction" of the stock market is well underway (and overdue). While the stock market is not the economy or vice-versa, bear markets like this historically are a reliable indicator of economic trouble ahead.

Some critics have pointed out (correctly) that the mystery of why Trump's approval rating is so high (that is, in the low 40s instead of like 15% where it logically should be) is better understood as: Why is his approval rating so *low* given the overall positive to decent economic indicators? And that's what I mean when I say the bad part is still to come. Trump has coasted on a lot of "Well, the economy's going up so who cares!" cynicism and callousness so far. As we have seen clearly, those white suburban middle class types will put up with just about anything is the 401(k) performs. When that support softens, what do you think Trump is going to do? If this is how he behaves now, how will he behave when his approval is in the 20s like fin de si├Ęcle GWB?

Authoritarians don't have any strategy for digging themselves out of a hole except to do everything they're doing, but harder. Changing course is not a thing they're emotionally capable of doing. Authoritarianism is an endless string of doubling-downs until they're removed from power.

Additionally, while I don't recommend hanging on the every turn of Mueller's investigation it appears (as anyone with half a brain predicted from the beginning) that the news will continue to get worse on that front. The mass exodus of cabinet and White House officials appears to be accelerating, which is a reliable sign that people who know something we don't know are starting to give Trump a wide berth.

The traditional authoritarian move when the walls close in is to start a war and double down on persecuting minority populations internally. The latter is bound to keep ratcheting up until Trump is gone; at this point my hope is simply that we can get to the endpoint without the former.

ALL GREEK

As the brief marketing campaign to make Tulsi Gabbard 2020 a thing flares up (but before it dies out in approximately a week) it's as good a time as any to talk about the most glaring weakness shared by all of the factions to the left of the Republican Party: foreign policy. Depending on where you're focusing the spotlight, the foreign policy across the left spectrum today is either nonexistent, totally incoherent, or coherent but terrible. Take your pick.

Broadly speaking, there are three very bad categories.

One, more popular among leftist-progressive types, is essentially a repackaged version of Gilded Age and Interwar isolationism. War is bad (which is true, but not a foreign policy). Any outcome that does not involve the United States engaging in military action is good (usually true, but not universally). Picking sides is bad, because without any real thought about what American goals are – Humanitarian? Strategic? Public relations? – everything gets reduced to Philosophy 101 guy-who-didn't-do-the-readings logic: Who's to say who's right here? There's also an alarming tendency for people of this mindset to be manipulated by obviously bad actors – Jill Stein and Glenn Greenwald and their "What's so bad about Russia Today? It's just like the BBC!" shtick, or Gabbard and her "I went and talked to Assad and he agrees with me" stunt. When no goal or policy beyond "Let's stay out of it" can be articulated, you make yourself pretty easy to manipulate.

The second, represented by center types like Biden or Hillary Clinton (and Bill for that matter), is basically neoconservatism. This strain is a remnant of Democrats old enough to remember the Carter-Mondale-Dukakis era in which Republicans seemed to score endless political points by accusing Democrats of being Weak. Weak on defense, Weak on crime, Weak on everything. So the reaction, spearheaded by Bill Clinton, was to go full hawk to preempt the right. Out-hawk the hawks; brilliant! This kind of "Who will be tougher on the Soviets," put-Dukakis-in-the-tank mindset is out of date by about 30 years and gives live ammunition to the cynical "There's no difference between the parties" worldview.

Finally, there is this younger (Beto, Booker, etc) set that seems not to want to talk about foreign policy at all. They believe, right or wrong, that voters want to hear about the $15 minimum wage or Medicare for All and since nobody cares about foreign policy anyway it is best dealt with as little effort or commitment as possible. Address it in platitudes, say some stuff nobody can really disagree with, praise The Troops, and be done with it. This of course leads to a status quo bias because candidates who don't care about foreign policy have a huge incentive simply to placate the power players and walk away. Kiss AIPAC's ass, promise the defense contractors that you won't mess with the Pentagon budget except around the edges, and say some generic "Let's be strong, also let's end the wars" kind of stuff that you have no intention of thinking about again after getting elected.

Those are three bad options. The first is basically Trumpism, with its underlying belief that authoritarians around the world really aren't so bad. The second is George W. Bush foreign policy, the whole "I voted for the Iraq War but I was also critical in some vague way that affected nothing." The third is effectively punting and admitting that the Pentagon and military-industrial complex can kind of do whatever they want as long as it happens in the background.

I have no answers. If I did I certainly wouldn't give them away for free. The situation seems to boil down to whether the center, liberals, and the far left collectively or individually decide this is important enough to devote time and energy to. Quite a few far-left Bernard Brother types have been writing about this actively since 2016, but it doesn't gain much traction. The mainstream Democratic Party seems content to pull an Obama and basically promise to do what neocons propose but, uh, you know, do it better or nicer or smarter or something. And the young progressive-adjacent mainstream types do not appear to care at all, which I can't imagine working out well in the long run. Because when they achieve some kind of position of power and there's no coherent policy, they will default to "Find some Generals who seem like they know what they're doing and delegate everything."

A good place to start might be to think about what underlying values and principles – big picture stuff – should be at the heart of America's interactions with the rest of the world. What is it we want? What are we trying to do? Those are questions that the left largely has ignored since the end of the Cold War. While the Beto generation is right to point out that the average voter does not care much (and is appallingly uninformed about) foreign policy, that doesn't mean political leaders can share the same attitude.

Collectively the left can advance some pretty compelling domestic policy ideas that appeal strongly to most Americans. But it's time to admit – as the 2020 potential candidates demonstrate all too well – that foreign policy has withered on the vine and become a black hole.

EVALUATION CONUNDRUM

It is widely recognized in academia that teaching evaluations are dumb. Let me qualify that: it is widely recognized by anyone who has bothered to look in even the most casual way at the research on teaching evaluations. If you are too lazy to Google the overwhelming evidence, I am not going to bore myself providing links to each individual piece of evidence pointing to the same conclusion.

Briefly, there is a strong bias built in based on student expectations (what they expect from you based on their other courses, the "Well my other professors do _____" problem), biases (women and people of color get evaluated differently and generally in much more critical ways), grading (magically we become better professors when we're giving higher grades!), and really basic transfer-of-affect type stuff (students are more favorable if you give them cookies or some other kind of treat like extra credit or, as one former colleague famously did, announcing that the final exam was canceled immediately before handing out evaluation forms).

No matter how the questions are worded, what evals end up measuring is some nebulous combination of Likeability factors rather than learning. We might like the students to state objectively whether they had a good learning experience but ultimately they end up telling us whether they Liked the professor and Liked the class.

Anyone who fails to recognize the above at this point is ignorant – possibly by design – of the evidence, dumb, or a university administrator.

OK, so starting from the agreement that evaluations are, if not total garbage at least unacceptably noisy, the question that nobody seems prepared to answer is: What do we use to replace them? "It's the best of a bunch of bad options" is not a good defense of anything, yet that's exactly where we are. There are broadly three alternatives:

1. Not having any sort of metric or evaluation for teaching in higher education. This would not only do a disservice to students – simply starting from the assumption that everyone is teaching well simply by being hired to teach – but it would screw faculty by eliminating any mechanism for rewarding good teaching in tenure and promotion. If there is no metric to show I'm a bad teacher, there's also no metric to demonstrate that I'm a good one. And so research and "service" become the sole determinants of T&P. Hard pass.

2. "Outcomes-based" evaluation, or the kind of stuff they do in K-12. Administrators could determine our teaching effectiveness by looking at how well students do grade-wise. This is transparently ridiculous since we control the assignment of grades in our own courses. If I am told "Lower grades mean you're bad a teaching" then obviously everyone's getting an A. If some examination from outside the course is going to be used, then I'm spending all my time "Teaching to the Test" which is exactly what's happening in K-12. We know this doesn't work.

3. Some kind of peer evaluation. Terrifyingly, I've actually heard some people suggest this. So your senior, tenured colleagues watch you teach and determine whether you're a good teacher or not. Yeah great what could go wrong? This either puts junior faculty fully at the mercy of one or more senior colleagues who could range from "Brilliant academic" to "Bitter, hate-filled deadwood Associate" or it creates some kind of self-certification system wherein faculty take turns declaring one another Outstanding Teachers.

It's not that I see any merits worth defending in student evaluations of teaching. The bigger issue, instead, is that no viable alternative exists. I'm all for doing away with student evals. Really. Cancel them tomorrow. The worrisome thing is that the things they will be replaced with have the potential to do all the things that are bad about student evals, but worse.

Sure, let's try some subjective, "holistic" approach to evaluating classroom performance. It won't take long to reveal how vulnerable that system will be to interpersonal grudges and biases. Oh, the Dean doesn't like you? Your senior colleague was opposed to hiring you because he wanted a different candidate? Awesome. Those people now get to decide whether you're a good teacher. I'm sure they'll be fair and objective.

WHO IS 'WE'?

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.

CHEESY ETHNOSTATE

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.

DRAW THE LINE

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.

TO THE RAMPARTS!

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 LENA DUNHAM PROBLEM

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.