Tenuous contact with reason

The list of “deserves more attention, shouldn’t get lost, etc.” things is always too long any more. If I were to propose one more item, it would be the alarming reports of delayed ballot delivery in multiple swing states. Or at at any rate, reports which seem like they should be setting off alarms, though so far they seem not to be.

Meanwhile, I’m struggling to maintain some distinction between what makes sense and what doesn’t, something which feels like it’s getting more needed and more difficult in the final stages of this quadrennial mass insanity we call a presidential election.

I don’t mean bullshit, in this case; that’s overwhelming as always, but selfish Republican senators like Susan Collins and John Cornyn e.g. are just lying and that’s terrible but also a constant.

On the other hand, I presume that Senator Chris Murphy meant well when he suggested that “because a statewide election in Texas is so expensive, the marginal value of every dollar donated is higher.” But I believe that is completely backward. Slightly less trivial, perhaps, Democrats as well as small-business advocates are now charging Republicans with doing harm by focusing on a Supreme Court appointment at the expense of relief legislation. That’s much the same argument that Republicans made in 2019—that Democrats were doing harm by focusing on impeachment instead of other “real” issues—and both instances seem dumb.

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Mid-October 2020

Mostly just assorted stray thoughts about the present phase of America’s long emergency.

At mid-October, we’re largely past the point where a lot of big narrative-shifting ratfuckery occurred in 2016. Russia’s hacked-email airlift to rescue Trump from his Access Hollywood vulgarity occurred Oct. 11. Jim Comey’s Clinton memo, which may have turned a teensy edge for Clinton into a teensy edge for Trump, was just days before the election. But that wasn’t a Republican hit job per se. That was to all appearances Comey trying to shore up some sort of independence brand image ahead of an inevitable Clinton presidency.

I trust nothing, at this point, but it seems at least possible that if Republicans had cards up their sleeves they would have played them by now. Particularly with massive early voting now into, what, its third week in some places?

Certainly Republicans have been trying, already. But multiple attempts to weaponize investigations-of-the-investigation into some sort of Biden-smearing narrative have proved unable to get around the complete absence of a there, there. The project to manufacture a Biden scandal has deteriorated into absolutely mental Rudy Giuliani haplessly trying to shop hacked emails about Hunter Biden, and succeeding in little more than making Joe Biden look like a caring parent.

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The long shadow of 1964

I have spent close to four years not only recording the major contemporary events of America’s political collapse, but fitting pieces into a backstory.

Major structural vulnerabilities were there since the ink dried on the Constitution, but the present collapse was really set in motion in the early 1960s.

If I had to choose three events for a summary, I would choose these:

Democratic president Lyndon Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act in 1964, setting off an enormous generation-long exodus of racists from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party.

The same year, according to Kevin Kruse, “NY Gov. Nelson Rockefeller tried to win the party back from ‘extremists’ but was heckled and harassed” at the national convention where moderate and liberal Republicans sought to “make a stand.” It proved to be a last stand.

In 1979, “evangelical leaders, at the behest of conservative activist Paul Weyrich, seized on abortion not for moral reasons, but as a rallying-cry to deny President Jimmy Carter a second term.”

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Compulsive Lying & the Republican Party

A Republican operative wrote a recent book about the party titled It Was All a Lie. I haven’t read the book, but that’s certainly an exemplary instance of “getting the headline right.”

Dishonesty almost seems like it’s an out-of-control compulsion for the Republican Party at this point, and this seems worth noting even if it may only be a footnote to the larger picture.

In the larger sense, the Republican Party committed itself to dishonesty decades ago, when a critical mass of influential figures decided that winning over majority support to their priorities was no longer a realistic prospect. David Frum has written that “If conservatives become convinced that they cannot win democratically, they will not abandon conservatism. They will reject democracy.” As democracy existed and was rather broadly popular, however, Republicans’ agenda first obliged them to reject honesty about said agenda.

They did that, and have reached a point where they have rigged so many systems of power in their favor that they have done little except abuse power for a dozen years, without any evident corrective which could force them to stop. Yet they continue attempting to sustain frauds which are almost like trying to conceal something behind a plate-glass wall.

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Living atop a powder keg

“The weather was indeed fine, but thinking men and women were aware that Europe lived on a powder keg, and had for years.” James Stokesbury wrote this about summer 1914, in the opening paragraphs of A Short History of World War I, which I have read over and over.

I think about this lately, as well as a few words about the eve of another even larger convulsion: commenting about their respective countries in The Wind Rises, Castorp speaks very plainly to Jiro: “Japan is going to blow up. Germany will also blow up.”

For all that I go on about this theme, it feels like one thing to perceive such a course and quite another to process it and adapt one’s thinking accordingly. I may be making some progress. It seems more immediately real that America is living on a powder keg, which we should expect to blow up.

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“Girlfrenzy” 1998

Nearly all of my most recent comic book purchase consists of female-led stories. This was by intent. I’m not entirely sure why or why now, but it was a conscious goal while making my selections, which is almost the only way this would happen; the great majority of comics including my own collection feature male characters. A little more variety seems all to the good.(1)

The majority of these female-led stories are from two DC… projects I guess we’ll call them, from 1998. This was not as much by intent, per se. But the “Girlfrenzy” and Tangent families offered known places to find a variety of complete-in-one-issue female-led stories, and the single examples of each which I owned already are satisfactory.(2) Plus, the dazzling cover design still feels remarkably fresh after 22 years.

I have already made comments on the individual comics in a previous post, but there are a few observations worth making about the whole assemblage.

First of all the fact that these projects existed at all, in 1998 no less, still seems a little astonishing. “Girlfrenzy” was an overt attempt to publish a family of female-led stories—something which as noted is rare enough in the world of comics publishing—and in the same year the Tangent project featured women in at least half of its lineup even though that was in no way required by the concept. Granted that both of these projects were also planned as one-offs and left that way, it’s still fascinating to me that someone greenlit even that much.

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Conceptual infrastructure failures

It’s possible for situation to be both terrible and ridiculous at once. This has indeed been the case almost constantly for America, for at least four years.

My awareness of this phenomenon, confronting us from almost every direction, has become overwhelming.

On one hand, things are absolutely abhorrent. Where to begin? The western U.S. is literally on fire, a pandemic has killed 200,000 Americans and climbing, and the president is an authoritarian raving monster who spends his time flying around the country for organized COVID-19 superspreader events, and encouraging Republicans’ frenzied effort to “get rid of the ballots” that might oblige them to cede power in any kind of functioning democracy; they’re clearly willing to destroy what remains of ours, and are preparing to install another radical partisan operative on the nation’s highest court.

Meanwhile everyone is screaming and e-mailing and deploying every cliché in the book—red alert, all hands on deck, etc.—and it feels equivalent to yelling “pull up, pull up!” when the plane’s engines have exploded and it’s in a tailspin trailing smoke and fire.

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Tangent, “Girlfrenzy” & other back issue reviews

I ordered myself some comic books on Labor Day, and two weeks later they finally arrived. None of the delay had to do with the postal service; I selected USPS shipping but Mile High Comics shipped my order FedEx anyway, after taking about 12 days to ship it at all. That said, despite the fact that the turnaround time seemed to approach that of mail order from the same retailer back in the days of catalogs (and MHC’s web site appears unchanged from the last time I purchased online from them years ago), I was satisfied overall. Good selection and fair prices count for much, whereas speed seems odd to worry about when I’m ordering books which in many cases are more than 20 years old.

Anyway, despite most of these books being big publisher products with prominent names, some certainly are approaching that category of “old and/or obscure comics” now. Let’s see how I made out for my $40.

“UEGO, take me back to 1998.” (No, seriously, please, take me back to 1998, I’m ready to go no need for my luggage pleeeeease.)

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Failed state, culture, civilization?

It feels like I am running out of genuinely new things to add about the corrosive storm engulfing us. Eric Sandy and I seem, largely independently, to be getting a stronger and stronger sense that “The brakes are cut, everybody. There is no exit ramp.”

At a guess, it seems to be staring us all in the face that the President of the United States already fully intends to pursue some kind of power play which might turn out like the beer hall putsch, or might turn out like the Reichstag fire, but is quite openly his intent.

But our systems don’t really seem to know how to handle that so mostly it’s all proceeding as it would anyway.

It’s better than nothing, certainly, that people like Greg Sargent and James Fallows have recently made clear, powerful statements that US journalism is still allowing Trump to exploit its failings as effectively as four years ago. But, realistically, the accuracy of the critique is, at this point, also a convincing argument against expecting that failure to change suddenly within the next couple of months.

I don’t think journalism is really unique in this regard, either. I’m reminded of Robert X. Cringely‘s proposal years ago that in a crisis, institutions do the same thing they do at other times, just more so.

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The Fog of War 2020

“What if Trump simply refused to concede no matter what” is not a new question. Experts and organizers have been chewing on that one for a while. But lately, it feels like more people are starting to digest it, as something not just hypothetical but entirely real.

Local blogger and alt-weekly veteran Eric Sandy advised weeks ago that “this is not an election campaign.” Then in the past few days, The Atlantic and Slate both published similar arguments that America is already outside of recognizable “politics.” Dahlia Lithwick was direct: “We have reached the point at which there is no reason to frame the 2020 elections in terms of ‘politics.’”

Also, Full Frontal reported last week that from each realistic scenario the Transition Integrity Project looked at, the result was chaos. “What we gotta do is win big” just didn’t appear relevant, and I have to agree that it may not be.

Other warning lights are flashing a similar color. So, huh.

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