Day 151: Found Them

Day 145: Humans After Humanity

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?
-E.C. Fiori

Day 117: A Balancing Act

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.

-Jack Delaney

Day 104: Cormac McCarthy and A Nation of Peter Pans

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.

-Jack Delaney

Day 101: A Long Look in the Dark Mirror

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.

-Jack Delaney

Day 94: A Coronation Interrupted, A Hundred Days of Solitude, and The Celebrity Vote

        Ninety four days of a Trump presidency has had the expected effect. Staggering incompetence in every area, international and domestic faux pas at every turn. No nuclear war, which more and more is the yardstick for failure. Modern generations seem to have forgotten that fact that with thermonuclear war, we’re all in the trenches. Major population centers are exactly what they aim for.
        But I’d like to take a moment to return to the end of last year, when Trump won the election no one expected him to. In a way, Trump has never acted out of character. He has yet to “pivot” towards a more rational, “presidential” way of governing, instead being the brusque, uninformed cartoon we’ve known him as for decades. Campaign or President, that is the man.
        No, the person who failed was Hillary Clinton. My use of the word “failed” and not “lost” is crucial here, because I don’t think the 2016 election should have been a contest. This still isn’t a popular opinion among democrats, and I can’t figure out why. What has confirmed my suspicion is the book (first of a tidal wave I’m sure) from two Hillary Campaign staffers: Shattered.
        It is, of course, the story of a campaign going awry, complete with an increasingly tight circle of access to the queen herself, now confirming the “American Emperor” analogy as applicable on the right and left. There were loyalty tests, both for those in the campaign and in congress, and a hilarious amount of frustration at Bernie Sanders.
        What shocked me though, was the complete failure of Hillary to come up with a reason for running for president. It seems like the simplest undergraduate poly-sci major piece of advice to a candidate: “have a message”. Give people a reason to vote for you.
        And yet, this is exactly what “I’m with her” Hillary failed to do. It almost became a running joke inside the campaign, the best they were able to settle on being “It’s her turn!” When they spoke to democrats, they were pleased to find most of them agreed that Hillary wasn’t “evil”. Jesus. Trump was a godsend, allowing them to focus on his weekly scandals instead of addressing the fact that there was no reason for Hillary to be President.
        The real lesson of this election was the peril of a race between two celebrities. One a reality tv star, the other the most famous politician on the planet. Just as Trump’s celebrity fueled his rise and victory, it was Hillary’s celebrity in her own party that doomed her, the circle of advisers too tight, the alienation from the average American too great.
        If there is something that has irked me over these past 100 days, it’s the betrayal on the part of democrats in confronting Hillary’s persistent inability to be elected. Their failure is now ours. 1367 days to go.
-Jack Delaney

Day 77/78: The Myth of Me

Louis Hyman wrote an op-ed against saving America’s Main Street. Walmart is more efficient. Their low prices just by virtue of bulk buying power. He not only ignores their lower wages and reliance on part time to avoid benefits. His future is either as a remote receptionist probably part time working at minimum wage for a metropolitan office or hustling crafts online. A job is a job but neither is a secure future. The advantage of a remote receptionist is the business can avoid the salary requirements of a city resident while maintainig an office in the right address. The second is the digital hustle. I think more people digital hustle the digital hustle than any other good. Either way, they still serve the same urban elite masters.
The notion of replacing modern manufacturing with the virtual bazaar has become a new Horatio Algers myth. That everyone’s merit will shine a beacon of success if they spend enough time on the internet. Society has long assumed talent is cream but skill or even being skilled at promoting one’s skill is no guarantee. A lottery at best, putting all your eggs into the whims of the internet is dangerous. Hyman’s woods craftsmen would better talking to the shop owners of main street Echo Park and Bushwick who could showcase his wares to the well off audience, he would be stalking online. We’ve all been hawked snake oil from those on the other side of the rainbow. Does that mean that one shouldn’t try or internet infrastructure expanded? No, it means there are no small fixes for the end of an economic age. 
Hyman’s solution flaw like most progressive solutions is based on people other than the author making changes as the author has achieved cultural nirvana. I don’t think he understands main street as the average citizen does only has it is seen in liberal straw man scenarios. “It’s locally owned shops selling products to hardworking townspeople. It’s neighbors with dependable blue-collar jobs in auto plants and coal mines. It’s a feeling of community and of having control over your life.” The last sentence is true but the rest is disconnected. Would you rather enrich a spoiled heir or help your underwater neighbor? That’s the real choice between chain and local. Would you rather wealth stay in the region or go to tax breaks for out of state and increasingly country movie stars? How many years can you be told it will trickle down before you don’t believe? 
Main street isn’t just about shops. It is about having safe public spaces to congregate. A place a child can meet with friends without fear of being offered drugs or harmed into silence over witnessing crime. It is a place children want to return to after college and a way to stem brain drain. It isn’t trying to make Celebration, USA in every town or bringing back the 50’s. 
My great grandmother had to drown her cat as a child because of the depression. Her son had a dog that died of old age and his daughter paid 10k to save her dog from cancer. I’m pet free to avoid the fate of door #1. The contract of the New Deal is broken and Americans want to re-negotiate. 80 years ago, we were given economic freedom. Defending the system that stole it will only further our slide back to serfdom. We need futures not dependent on the fads of the wealthy. Coal might be dead but America isn’t.
-E.C. Fiori