American Politics

Coronavirus and Chronopolitics

Coronavirus and Chronopolitics

What matters now is the balance of authority in everyday life—between young and old, worker and boss

Social distancing is an unquestionable necessity and act of solidarity, demanding our fullest commitment. Still, more than submission is needed now. Unemployment is spiraling rapidly, but the displaced—especially the young—can be enlisted through public spending and planning to take on the creation of emergency housing friendly to social distancing and quarantine; cleaning and sanitizing public facilities, most of all transit systems, groceries, pharmacies, and health care institutions; tending to the children of the frontline workers.

“Chinese Virus,” World Market

“Chinese Virus,” World Market

The best safeguard against the novel coronavirus is the ability to voluntarily withdraw oneself from capitalism

What all these stories have in common is how unremarkable they are: this is contemporary global interchange at its most prosaic. Travel to and from countless other cities across Asia and Europe for business meetings and tourism follows a very similar pattern. Whereas the SARS outbreak was blamed on the peculiar, outlandish diets of the Cantonese people and then traveled through the elite cosmopolitan links between major Asian cities, the so-called “Wuhan virus” points to the utterly mundane way that countless nodal points around the world, including “second-tier” Chinese cities, are interwoven more tightly than ever across global circuits of commerce, education, and tourism.

Smeeze into Your Elbow!

Smeeze into Your Elbow!

I fear that we’re about to see a sharp decline in the number of TikTok videos being made by hospital employees

Once the euphoria of cancelled classes faded (and it faded extremely quickly), TikTok turned to the horror of being stuck with parents indefinitely, unable to see friends or talk to on-campus therapists, getting sent home early from expensive study abroad programs, and paying an in-person tuition rate for online classes—which, students and professors agree, will be a shitshow.

Bring in the Boss

Bring in the Boss

You keep the boss in the back of your mind at all times, don’t you?

In an unwittingly communal effort to highlight the surging popularity of socialism, Warren and Biden and Pete and everyone except Bernie already declared they were not socialists. So how, then, can we be sure that this is a Mike 2020 hat? How does he stand out in a field crowded with centrists and center-leftists? Well, just like with a North Face down jacket—which, incidentally, would also go great with this cap—the branding is on the back. Weirdly, you would only get the message after the hat wearer had passed you by on the street. Is the hat meant to evoke l’esprit de l’escalier?

Pollito, Chicken; Gallina, Hen

Pollito, Chicken; Gallina, Hen

American Dirt in Mexico

Notice how the register of the prose, with its figures and rates, evokes the rhetoric of nonfiction. The use of general, declarative sentences about Mexico, in particular, makes me think of what my journalism professors used to call the nut-graf—the paragraph in the article where the journalist briefly pauses her account of the news to establish, in the most efficient way possible, the context for the events on which she is reporting. The result is that Cummins’s book often slips into didacticism.

Where’s the Savior?

Where’s the Savior?

Bloomberg and Trump: alike in dignity and almost everything else

The agita over whether it’s accurate or impolite to call Bloomberg “racist” or to suggest that he “hates” poor people is irrelevant. It matters not one whit what’s inside Mike’s heart, or if he even has one, since his actions have always already been right in front of our faces. The “context” for the Stop and Frisk and redlining clips is the fact that Mike Bloomberg spent over a decade presiding over a gargantuan machine for oppressing people of color, the poor, and poor people of color most of all—a total, merciless system for violating their bodies, controlling their lives, and driving them from their homes and communities.

Rise of the Blur

Rise of the Blur

A specter is haunting photojournalism—an actual, visible specter

Because detective shows and soap operas use this blurry-foreground move so regularly, its sudden ubiquity in the news represents a significant shift in register, or even genre, for journalism. Photojournalism has for decades restricted itself to a stark framing of visual facts, never wishing to compromise its evidentiary role in the narration for a more theatrical one. The best news photos deftly capture the drama with a shutter click, but that is also the abiding rule: it either happens in that click, or it doesn’t make it to print.

The Custom of the Capitol

The Custom of the Capitol

This is what democracy looks like?

The buildings are enormous, the bridges are like Rome’s. I was told that DC was modeled after the gardens at Versailles. But unlike the European cities it emulates, there are no layers of history here—just that horrible orangey beige stone. I went to see a touring band play, and the lead singer said, “I forgot where we are.” To have history, you can’t simply have monuments; you also need a population to prop them up. Here, that natural accumulation is stunted, the city’s grandiosity hollow.

Smorgasbords Don’t Have Bottoms

Publishing in the 2010s

No one wakes up in the morning hoping to be as vapid as possible. But eventually you internalize the squeeze. Everyone down the chain adjusts their individual decisions to the whim of the retailer, or to their best guess at the whim of the retailer. If it’s Barnes & Noble, you may hear that a cover doesn’t work, that the store won’t carry the title unless you change it. If it’s Amazon, you may not hear anything at all. You go back and adjust your list of wildly optimistic comparative titles — it’s The Big Short, but . . . for meteorology!

Professional-Managerial Chasm

Professional-Managerial Chasm

A sociological designation turned into an epithet and hurled like a missile

In the early years of the 20th century, the professions emerged in their modern forms, establishing uniform standards of practice and conduct in all these fields. The new professionals were in general politically progressive, seeing their purpose as the renovation of American democracy and the modernization of conditions of work and life, in keeping with the momentous social and technological changes that had remade the world. Early on, they tended to imagine themselves as the antagonists of capitalists, not workers—or at least as brokers between the two. Social control, the production of rationalized plebeian behavior, was necessary for democracy to function, and might even gradually transform into socialism—the apotheosis of the principle of social rationality.

Predatory Inclusion

Predatory Inclusion

Placing homeownership at the heart of the nation’s low-income housing policies ceded outsize influence and control to the real estate industry over dwellings intended to serve a disproportionately African American market. Real estate’s wealth was largely generated through racial discrimination. Its profitability was contingent on “best practices” that actively encouraged racial segregation, and the public policies that grew from the partnership between property assessors, brokers, bankers, and federal policymakers reflected the logic of the housing market.