Nixon press secretary Ron Ziegler used to be the gold standard for political obfuscation, with his declaration (when he had to reverse previous insistence that no one in the White House was involved in the Watergate break-in “This is the operative statement. The others are inoperative.”
Trump, recognising that his Watergate reboot won’t pull in 21st-century viewers if they have to watch a “third-rate burglary” investigation playing out over 2 1/2 years, is ramping up the malfeasance (Russian espionage! billion-dollar bribes!) and the pace, while still hitting the classic Nixonian marks (asking the CIA to block an FBI investigation!) One place where they’ve been exceeding their originals is in the obfuscatory rhetoric. Following on Kellyanne Conway’s celebrated rechristening of lies as “alternative facts”, we have budget director Mike Mulvaney explaining why Trump’s explicit promise not to cut Medicaid was now being reversed. NY Times reporter John Harwood:
“Overridden”! Like a good reboot, it’s reminiscent of the Zieglerian original, yet somehow punchier, with a novel twist. (Tens of millions of poor people losing access to healthcare. Great cliffhanger!) The critics, though, might carp at them reaching for effect this way on their policy statements, where Nixon himself was pretty solid, leaving perhaps less headroom for further amplification when we get to the corruption charges.
Some are saying the show might not even be renewed for another season.
By the way, I’ve just read Evan Thomas’s biography Being Nixon. I’ve never had much patience for those who claim that Nixon got a raw deal over Watergate — the burglary and cover-up were just the most salient aspect of the presidential malfeasance and abuse of power — but I understand better why many people would have seen his fall as tragic. Great talents that could have served the country well, sadly bonded to a flawed personality that dragged himself and the country into a mire of recriminations.
Comparing Trump to Nixon is deeply unfair to Nixon.
When my daughter asked me recently, “What happens if Donald Trump wins?” I said I just couldn’t imagine it (even though, as I noted, I couldn’t see a good reason to think it extremely unlikely.) The mind recoils from such madness, though as I have also noted, Berlusconi is a good precedent, and it took nearly a decade to winkle him out of office. Berlusconi with nukes and the NSA.
But while I tried to find a reason for confidence, there was always a nagging voice telling me: People are going to want to see how this show ends. This was the voice of the Sanders supporter quoted in the NY Times back in June who said he would probably support Trump in the general election because Clinton would be boring:
A dark side of me wants to see what happens if Trump is in. There is going to be some kind of change, and even if it’s like a Nazi-type change, people are so drama-filled. They want to see stuff like that happen. It’s like reality TV. You don’t want to just see everybody be happy with each other. You want to see someone fighting somebody.
The showman Trump had set up an outrageous spectacle that ended on a cliffhanger. If you vote for Clinton, the Trump show gets cancelled, and you never get to see what would have happened.
That dark side won (though not a majority, apparently — now the Republicans will never agree to get rid of the electoral college). The Trump show has been renewed, and we’ll all be watching it — living it, really — for at least the next four years.
I was just reading this article about how the UK farming minister told the Guardian that British withdrawal from the EU, would be a godsend to the environment:
If we had more flexibility, we could focus our scientists’ energies on coming up with new, interesting ways to protect the environment…
“New and interesting” sounds good, but these hardly seem like essential criteria for environmental protection laws. “Safe” and “effective” seem more appropriate. I’m happy to leave it to Hollywood to entertain me, if EU environmental policy will just, you know, protect the environment.
An even more extreme example of the craving for politics to fill the boring spaces in an empty existence is this Bernie Sanders supporter who was quoted in a recent NY Times article:
Victor Vizcarra, 48, of Los Angeles, said he would much prefer Mr. Trump to Mrs. Clinton. Though he said he disagreed with some of Mr. Trump’s policies, he added that he had watched “The Apprentice” and expected that a Trump presidency would be more exciting than a “boring” Clinton administration.
“A dark side of me wants to see what happens if Trump is in,” said Mr. Vizcarra, who works in information technology. “There is going to be some kind of change, and even if it’s like a Nazi-type change, people are so drama-filled. They want to see stuff like that happen. It’s like reality TV. You don’t want to just see everybody be happy with each other. You want to see someone fighting somebody.”
You can’t say he’s not going into it with his eyes open.
As usual, I blame Abbie Hoffman.
What is diagnosis worth, if there is no treatment? This is a perennial question in medical ethics. I recall a passage in Roy Porter’s history of medicine, The Greatest Benefit to Mankind, referring to the sardonic praise heaped upon the clinic in Vienna (I think it was), where the magisterial diagnoses were always “swiftly confirmed at the autopsy”.
An article in Salon recounts the revelation from autopsy that comedian Robin Williams was suffering from Lewy body dementia at the time of his recent suicide. The article quotes the programming director of the Lewy Body Dementia Association, saying “Though his death is terribly sad, it’s a good opportunity to inform people about this disease and the importance of early diagnosis.” I know this is the sort of thing that someone in her position is required to say, but given that there is no cure, and very little by way of effective treatment, I wonder what “importance of early diagnosis” she is referring to, and what she takes the relevance of this event in particular to be. That early diagnosis allows you to know what’s happening while you’re still fit enough to take your own life?
I was amused by the intimations that cropped up in reports on Brendan Eich’s dismissal as CEO of Mozilla that he had been (in the words of one comedian) “whacked by the gay mafia”. Now, the “X mafia” is a standard lazy joke, and the more nonviolent the image of the group whose mafia this is supposed to be the better the appeal to those whose livelihood depends on a steady stream of cheap laughs. But my first reaction was that for gay people to be accused of mafia tactics must be a marker of progress — people don’t like the mafia, but they respect its power! Surely the notion that gay people are too powerful would have been a difficult concept to formulate until very recently.
I was wrong, at least as regards the entertainment industry. In Terry Teachout’s fascinating new biography of Duke Ellington, Mercer Ellington is quoted as saying that his father was unconcerned about Billy Strayhorn’s homosexuality.
But Mercer also reports that Ellington believed in the existence of “a Faggot Mafia… He went on to recount how homosexuals hired their own kind whenever they could, and how, when they had achieved executive status, they maneuvred to keep straight guys out of the influential positions.”
I was struck by a comment in Kalefa Sanneh’s fascinating review of several new books on the economics of the entertainment industry. Discussing Anita Elberse’s book Blockbusters: Hit-making, Risk-taking, and the Big Business of Entertainment, and the argument that the obsession with finding isolated major hits rather than the profits to be made in the “Long Tail”, Sanneh writes
In the seventies and eighties the hit men worried mainly about each other, but the rise of digital delivery means that their modern-day successors must also contend with a more existential threat… Betting on blockbusters might be a defensive strategy: a way for established entertainment companies to stall the larger forces eroding their “channel power”, at least for a while. Unlike the old hit men, Elberse’s executives can’t assume that their industries will be around forever.
This got me to marvelling, once again, at how short a time forever is, in human experience. (This was a major theme of one of my small excursuses into academic literary criticism, the essay Kafka’s Geometry.) The “old hit men” are only 30 years or so in the past. I suppose “around forever” could mean here “around until the end of their careers”, and this would just about be right. But it seems logically inevitable that if workers toiling in the modern entertainment industry have reason to doubt that it will be around forever, then those of 30 years ago were simply deluded to think that their industry’s future was assured. It’s the same future. It makes as much sense as it would to explain ones teenage behaviour by saying, “Back then I was going to live forever.” You might say this, but only as a joke, or as an expression of amazement at your earlier delusion. (Speaking for myself, I was never immortal, and I doubt that anyone was. It looks to me as though teenagers may not care about the consequences of their actions, for reasons good and bad, and they may have difficulty inhibiting their impulses if they do care, but the research I am aware of does not suggest that they actually feel invulnerable.) (more…)