This New American Life
I write this in a booth waiting for my current delivery order to be prepared in an empty restaurant that ten years ago would have been crowded. The music is a soft bossa nova and the kitchen while busy is careful to avoid clangs. The decor is standard a medium brown stain colors the wood and the carpet is green and clean. A mother and her retired son are the only other customers. She is dancing while waiting for the spring rolls to arrive. The owner hands me a thai tea on the house while I wait. I can’t help but worry for the fate of America. I can’t help but wonder where do we go from here.
The internet has redefined what and why we eat. It’s less about what we like and having haunts we return to but posting from the current trends to be considered a cool kid. Even those who do not post on social media still Google and Yelp their choices based on the impression that the best rated by those apps have more value experience wise for their dollars. The hive mind that is social media causes attention inequality and narrows culture especially food culture.
Speaking of the Hive Mind. What do we talk about when we say we shouldn’t give someone a platform. As in the current uproar over Megyn Kelly interviewing Alex Jones, a man who has been paid to spew filth since my childhood. He long ago built his alternative media platform and give a place for wayward views. He helped Trump win without a doubt and his org Infowars will have white house press credentials. He doesn’t need an interview on NBC but NBC and those who oppose his views do need these kinds of interviews. Darkness cannot be allowed to fester. Pre-internet denying mainstream outlets was a good way to slow repulsive thought but now mainstream media is one if the last shared spaces in American life and is more effective as a means of exposing.
The tendency of the internet to drive conformity from food and fashion trends to preventing public discourse is disconcerting to say the least. Humanity’s story is one driven by innovation through diversity not just the kind on a college application check box. How much have we lost? What will it take next?
We’ve been getting emails from loyal audience members asking why Radical Centrists has been so quiet over the past week. Surely the waterfall of Trump related news and fiascos of historic proportions is decent fodder for articles, no? Well intelligent reader, you’re right, but we here at Radical Centrists like to offer something of a unique perspective from the partisan back and forth. And frankly, there have been many fine think pieces about The Comey Affair, the Russia disclosure, the WannaCry pandemic, and Jeff Sessions single handedly refusing bi-partisan support for sentencing reform in the criminal justice system.
At long last though, I think there is an argument that should be much more out in the open among democrats- mostly, how to react during and after the fallout of The Comey Affair. The idea of impeachment isn’t over the horizon, but in plain view as Trump continues to stumble through interview and conflicting statements over his apparent obstruction of justice. So what now?
One camp believes that Democrats should be as obstructionist as possible, throwing sand in the gears of legislature until, for example, a special prosecutor is appointed- basically give Republicans a taste of what they did for the past 7 years with Obama. Hey, two can play at that game, and the stakes are a lot higher now. Obamacare didn’t lead to death panels, the great depression was averted, we got out of Iraq… it’s almost hard to remember now why Republicans hated Obama so much.
The other camp feels that we should rise above, and that impeachment is impossible without the cooperation of Republicans in the House and Senate. Remember- impeachment is a political decision, not a legal one (which is exactly what Nixon meant when he said “when the president does it, it’s not illegal”).
If you had asked me two weeks ago when we were talking about Republican legislative policy, I was firmly in the former camp. Healthcare and their insane “tax reforms” would throw millions even further into feudal serfdom, hoping our corporate castles will provide protection when the storm comes. Resistance means more than just bearing witness.
Now though, more and more republicans are starting to feel that Trump’s very existence is anathema to their agenda (which, of course, he is). What has changed is that business as usual in government now could very well lead to Trump’s removal. Before, business as usual hurts our countrymen. Now, it could bring down the American Caligula. We Centrists shouldn’t make the mistake of hindering that.
There is a very American fear I used to have. It’s embarrassingly selfish and naive to admit, but I always had the creeping suspicion that I would miss my generational moment. Decade by decade, there seem to be cultural hubs in America, where the groundswell of the next cultural wave begins, to roll out across the country, until another starts to build somewhere else.
I never really knew how famous authors, directors, and public intellectuals seemed to be present in these moments. What happened to those who spent the late fifties in Portland instead of New York? Or the sixties in St. Louis instead of San Francisco?
Perhaps it’s a symptom of getting older, but I don’t really have that fear anymore. I was re-reading “No Country for Old Men” by Cormac McCarthy last night (written off by a lot of fans as “movie fodder”, which I think is a shame because it is actually very experimental compared to his work both before and after).
In it the protagonist, Sheriff Bell, has small first person passages scattered throughout the book, reflecting on the state of the world he lives in. One quote in particular has stuck with me, and I’ve started to believe it’s connected to that old fear:
“Young people anymore they seem to have a hard time growin up. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s just that you don’t grow up any faster than you have to.” (pg. 159)
I think this is especially applicable with my generation, “the millennials.” It’s hard to interact with any of them and not feel like we live in a nation of Peter Pans. As if a stubborn refusal to grow up will somehow keep looming, ice-age sized economic problems at bay. Part of the difficulty in any kind of massive movement based on these problems is that the young of the falling middle class are still able to leech off of those who have profited from it in the past. Young men and women can still lean on ever weakening family bonds for financial support.
And it’s okay right now. It seems like there is a lot of individual freedom- people can make money streaming video games, or blogging from vans, or go to grad school. But a decade from now, the national anxiety will really reach a fever pitch.
There will be a large movement, and I think it will spring from the millennial generation, when it finally sets in that things will not get better. When opportunities for job security turn out not to exist. When healthcare becomes an issue as we age. When the generation after us comes into the workforce, and we realize that there is no upward mobility anymore. The little projects and Netflix shows and cultural wars we busy ourselves will, with harsh suddenty, not matter.
I’ve started to believe that our reaction to that fact will be our lasting legacy- our cultural movement. It isn’t that we don’t have a place at the table: it’s that we are lead into a room where others are wildly hacking at the table so they can get a piece, and even as we get our hands on an axe or hammer, the top is gone, the legs are long pulled away, and all thats left are screws and dust and the echoes of labored breathing, cursing us for fools for being late to the party.
It has been 101 days since Donald Trump took office. And yet, as I read the expected deluge of think pieces and listicles, I can’t help but feel contempt for them as well. It’s as though Donald Trump presents such a comically large target, that liberals will fail to learn why they lost the government and presidency.
Take Bill Maher. I was watching a segment focusing on 100 days of Trump, and he had a long bit about Trump supporters. Pointing to the “statistic” that all trump supporters are still satisfied with Trump, he made the “humorous” argument that facts will never change a Trump voter’s mind. That for the great unenlightened masses it’s all about the “gut feeling of change”.
What followed was one of the ugliest comedy segments I’ve seen in a long time, with Bill Maher putting on a southern accent and making redneck jokes. First, it is guilty of the cardinal sin of comedy: being unfunny. It did, however, have the added benefit of making me think. There was a time, until fairly recently, that the media kowtowed to Middle America. The lowest common denominator, culturally speaking, that would offend only the least sensible.
I think two things have changed in the information age. One is the mass devaluation of media that comes with its easy accessibility. The second is, in an ever more competitive market, one must up the ante sensationally.
So if we look at these two changes together, it equals exponentially more media exposure for the average viewer, and increasingly insulting coverage for those in rural America.
What would you do if every time you turned on the television you were represented as a criminal and thug? You’d be furious, just as African Americans rightly were, and still are, for shows like “cops”.
Now let’s say an economic recession has wiped out jobs, the market is transforming in ways no one seems to understand except that every industry you could work in is dead, and every time you turn on the television, you’re portrayed as either a rapist or an idiot.
I’d vote Trump too. Fuck um.
These are our countrymen, and Bill Maher gets to lob lazy jokes from his studio castle and get paid an outrageous sum to be the definition of a pseudo intellectual. If liberals don’t take a long hard look into the dark mirror, and have the grace to see the world of insult and fear so many of their own are relegated to, than liberals will be exposed as little more than a blue baseball cap opposite the antagonistic red.
Today’s rant is brought to you by the letter “C” for craven and the number 5.
As mass media institutions struggle to remain in the digital world, we are bombarded with “think pieces” on how each institution is more important than ever. Yet between these articles, they promote snake oil like the current trend of celebrity master classes.
One of the current beloved Hucksters is Robert Kiyosaki who wrote “Rich Dad, Poor Dad”. One of his big supporters is Trump himself. Kiyosaki’s claim that laziness and self-doubt are the cause of all failure is ridiculous. Especially in our world of princelings. I bring up Kiyosaki because my grandfather became enamored with the drivel in his retirement. He bought everything and would lose everything in the recession. My grandfather was never lazy. His first act created marvelous engineering designs. My mother chose Boston for college when visiting him as he upgraded Boston’s subways. If you rode on the orange line this morning, its thanks to him. Many of the planes, jets, and copters the troops trust to deliver them to and from their work bringing freedom to this day came from his mind as well. The hard truth no one wants to print is no one sells wealth. There are lessons to be learned but knowledge is the only certain result. There are and never have been gurus.
By publishing pieces like this one in Variety today, the media bows down to more than market forces. Any valuable information in these 8 hour seminars/courses have been published and published again. One can get it for free in the library. It won’t take you over the rainbow but it’ll give you the frame work to build a rocket as much as any course can. Yet rather than assist the reader and their audience in avoiding the traps of the world, the media aides the hucksters. Imagine if Trump had no coverage in ’15. He was a fringe candidate who said anything for coverage and got covered like his words were meant for anything other than attention. Now he lives in the White House.
This outcome shows the futility of media institutions trying to maintain the same level of power over society. The game has changed. One of the strangest staples of modern journalism is the Twitter roundup. Some staffer finds 10-20 celebrity tweets within 20 minutes of a trending news story and posts it as what people are saying. Anyone who wanted those celebs’ thoughts could and would have seen them. Cher and Patton Oswalt make every list regardless of subject matter. If knowing where to find authentic info is the challenge of our age the media does the audience a disservice by only showing them what they want. Even when limited to industry experts, a list of tweets is at best a repost. Instead of instant reaction, the goal should be informed responses and debate. Why not interview those who tweeted best and expand the audience’s understanding? I suspect these institutions are too far gone to recover. Vultures cannot chose after all.
A lifetime ago, Jack Delaney recounted to me the exchange in writing of Fitzgerald and Hemingway regarding the rich. Fitzgerald wrote “the rich are different than you and me” and Hemingway responded in Snows “they have more money”. Fitzgerald in “The Rich Boy” said more than that line. His observation is true today, the minds of the rich work differently. As do the middle class (each chamber its own variation) and the poor. I am reminded of this each morning and evening while I read the New York Times.
Especially this evening reading Kyle DeNuccio’s essay on his gap year. It wouldn’t be unseemly to question why the NYTimes is in the business of publishing personal essays. It is a vapid bit of fluff from the child of a man who earns 1.3 million a year. His struggles are none. He overcomes the challenge of going to an overpriced liberal arts university for free by simply completing the required work and now thanks to the NY Times can call himself an author. He proposes that the government should loan kids more money they have to pay back so they can understand the value of a dollar not understanding that they already do. Kids on loans can tell you how much each class session costs them and must wring the last penny’s worth out of each of them.
I don’t just mean to knock on that one ridiculous essay but shine a light on something ignored by the media: Class. We talk about poverty and falling wages but we don’t talk about how more and more young stars and behind the camera talent are children or friend’s children of those that came before. Our media is frightened by the intellectual and cultural diversity of Americans. They certainly didn’t champion “Hell or High Water” as awards worthy as “Moonlight” even though “Hell or High Water” actually addressed the world it was set in. Give them degrees is the new Let Them Eat Cake because in the rich liberal view if you fail with a degree, you are without merit. Or that many crowdfunded project succeed not because of the internet but the social layer the creator was born too. Yet we hail the successes as pure merit.
The media endears itself to the rich who in turn keep the institutions afloat as they drift into irrelevance to most of society. Not that journalism is irrelevant but the churn that surrounds it. The essays of luxury both belittle the plight of the people in this economic era but belittle them by ignoring their existence. One can not walk away thinking the Times cares more about the rich. No one can look at the rise of alternative media and not see that besides alternative facts, the focus is on what is left off the Grey Lady and the other mass media icons. Whether it is DIY tutorials or comparisons between bargain brands, the articles address the needs of the community not just those in the penthouse.
In the online age, there is no excuse for mass media to be so class focused. There is infinite room in cyberspace. Perhaps, it is time for the rich to not be heralded as the only worthy lifestyle.