In honor of—and as an antidote to—the inescapable coverage of our inescapable presidential election, here’s the latest political writing from n+1:
A Wedding from Hell by Dayna Tortorici
He emerged to the sound of swelling strings: two thumbs up. A closed-mouth smile, an open-mouthed smile, eyebrows wagging, voicelessly mouthing the words thank you—so much worse when not spoken aloud, somehow, less of a thank you than an I know. I knew what was coming, but the speech sounded different on live delivery. His promises? To end crime. To tell no lies. To provide fast relief, like a pack of Rolaids.
The Last Last Summer by Joshua Cohen
Rage has become the prime political motivator of the white electorate today—given that theirs is both the last generation able to remember any Ethnic White grandparents and the first generation whose standard of living has not appreciably improved upon their parents’. Trump’s supporters resent this so vociferously, it’s as if a birthright’s been revoked: this was not the country that “they,” meaning “their ancestors,” had been sold when they bought the boat-ticket over. This was not what being white was supposed to be like, scrapping for the same scarce jobs with diversity-hire blacks and Hispanics, and worse, refugee Middle Easterners. Feeling wronged, feeling disabused, they retreat into mendacity and yearning—though because they have no faith in an economy that’s betrayed them and have lost all belief in what their forebears called the American Dream, they yearn not for a better future, but a better past. This is what Trump means by promising to “Make America Great Again”: promising to return us to a time that never once existed.
Exceeded Expectations by Nausicaa Renner
Our expectations keep changing. They’re practically nonexistent. It’s not just that there is no one to compare Trump to—it’s that he himself is a moving, rubber target. This volatility means that we can’t even compare Trump to Trump. It is this changing baseline against which we judge Trump—his trollishness—that ends up fragmenting any collective feeling. He doesn’t just reject criticism, he refracts it. Throughout this election, many people have identified this and called Trump a narcissist or a sociopath. David Brooks has done it, I’ve done it—psychologizing is an inevitable reaction and a compelling practice. But we should focus less on diagnosing Trump and look more at ourselves: how living in the age of Trump affects our ability to respond to him and one another.
Women’s economic empowerment was at the heart of Hillary Clinton’s politics in the 1990s, and it has been at the heart of her message this year. But her call “to systematically and relentlessly pursue more economic opportunity” for women, as she put it in a speech at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation several years ago, has failed to move younger women, who voted overwhelmingly against her in the Democratic primaries. The belief that what’s best for the market is best for women, which has powered her political career for decades, has lost much of its force, and the promises of empowerment feminism have grown increasingly threadbare.
Built in the Cloud by Nikil Saval
My god, a union friend texted me from the audience. Being around these people really makes me scared that Trump will beat Hillary. We’re just so fucked. Trump is offering people a fight, we’re offering the chance to ‘rewrite the rules.’ Let’s get out in the street and start editing!! Maybe we can use Google docs . . .
The Golden Age by Mark Doten
I really need to thank the generals—can I take a moment to thank the generals? These generals we’ve got, they are amazing, and they’ve said to me, we’re so glad it’s you. In every single branch of the military we have, we have these generals, and what a job they are doing. What an amazing job. And what they’re saying to me is that this is a very small little bomb that’s being used over there, a small nuclear device, and what we’ve got, it’s so much bigger. You run down the line with what’s happening in these places around the world. These are almost all very small little bombs, and even the ones that are a little more serious, even those, ours are much, much bigger, so people can understand that we are in control of the situation, and we are going to have a very, very successful number of days.
Can I Be Honest? by Nikil Saval
One of the things the Clinton Democrats lorded over the Sanders supporters, and indeed over Trump, was their superior and more committed chauvinism. It was a sign of their adulthood, which they blared in alternately childlike and violent phraseology. America was already great, it was the greatest country on this planet. “This is the greatest nation on earth, a nation that so many are willing to die defending,” said Tammy Duckworth, an Illinois congresswoman and a candidate for Senate there. The Democrats would secure Israel’s future, they would destroy ISIS, they would honor and strengthen our commitment to our allies. But it would all be moral.
Good TV by Dayna Tortorici
As Ted Cruz spoke, I refreshed Twitter and found my feed, like the room, was silent. His was the first real speech, structured and snark-proofed, and as he talked about cops and children and life in the womb, I felt tremendous relief that this man had been deprived of the Presidency by someone so much stupider. A script-on-parchment image of the Constitution, or maybe the Declaration of Independence, was projected behind him, signaling his seriousness as a patriarch, and people cheered him, loved him, until the moment came when he should have said Trump’s name. He didn’t. People began to grumble, then to boo, shouting and mouthing “EN-DORSE TRUMP!” as Cruz delivered the rest. The man who had spent the past few minutes celebrating freedom to vigorous applause was now exercising his, alone. Small, isolated, unloved on the stage, he was perhaps the only Republican present to understand that your right to your freedom doesn’t protect you from other people’s desire to beat you up.
If Donald Trump proved seductive even to sophisticated connoisseurs of DC bullshit, he was irresistible for lesser pundits and reporters. This election season, campaign journalism finally got the election it wanted: cataclysmic yet contentless, dense but personality driven. We had been trending toward overcoverage for years, but if Wolf Blitzer’s aggressive vapidity was a worst-case scenario in 2012, or 2008, this time it seemed almost sane.
The Turning of Backs by Nikil Saval
When Bill called Hillary the “greatest change maker I know,” the signs made for the occasion went up on cue, and the gassy phrase brought back the ’90s to me in a flood, calling forth all that other Clinton-era phraseology, like synergy and symbolic analysts and sunset jobs. (Cannily, Bill skirted Hillary’s record on trade in the Senate.) No other political figure, no other family, has held such sway over the country. To think of all the Hollywood films and TV shows in which were not-so-secretly about Bill Clinton: Dave, The American President, Primary Colors, possibly Independence Day, certainly Wag the Dog, and definitely The West Wing. The Obamas may possess envy-inducing perfection, but the Clintons—“in good times and bad, through joy and heartbreak”—have become inescapably the ruling family, as central to the American imaginary as the Nehru-Gandhis to India.
Donald Trump is definitely not a politician. Nor, for that matter, is he a businessman—that would be Mike Bloomberg—and his claims to being one only obscure the class basis of his appeal. Trump is not a professional of any kind. He is a prince, closer in substance and style to the great hereditary inheritors of the past. This, far more than anything else, is what attracts his constituency, who, however inarticulate they may appear on cable news, believe intuitively that only someone inoculated against the entanglements of professional life can hope to carry their banner through the city with any effectiveness. This is also why any and all attempts to damage Trump by recourse to professional language—citing, say, his hypocrisy, his declaring one thing at his rallies and muttering another, sotto voce, to the Times—will only entrench the affection of his supporters. They prefer the sting to the wax.
Trump and the Republicans by Daniel Schlozman
Since the 1980s, the Republicans have moved steadily rightwards, especially in Congress. As relative moderates in the party feared primary challenges from enforcers in the Ted Cruz vein, they became ever less willing to compromise. Yet even as compromise grew rarer, the core elements in the party remained: it is elite-led and growth-oriented, and its racism has largely stayed coded. Trump disrupts each element, reimagining ’70s-era backlash politics for a meme-friendly, Islamophobic age.
It seems implausible, entire blocks voting for this weirdo. I can barely believe it, and it occurs to me that I’ve been thinking of my support for Sanders as a private obsession, a strange fascination unconnected to the preferences and actions of most people. Even the millions of votes cast for him so far seem spectral to me, mere data, unrelated to everyday life. Yet here were strangers who seemed to believe more or less the same insane things I believe, things I usually have trouble uttering, let alone defending, in polite company. The high this gives me is inspiring, and for the first time I begin to fantasize, blithely, about what it would be like for Bernie Sanders, self-described democratic socialist, to become President.