American Politics

Carbonated

Carbonated

William T. Vollmann confronts climate change

Carbon Ideologies does not appear to aspire to readability. The primer’s level of technical detail simply doesn’t justify the hemorrhaging of readers it will unquestionably induce. It should have been published online, along with the notes. The section on Fukushima makes a certain amount of chronological sense (the disaster occurred in 2011, as Vollmann was embarking on the project), but from a conceptual and narrative point of view it is misplaced. For one thing, this leg of the project doesn’t fit neatly under the heading of a “carbon ideology.” The argument seems to be that, once we have come to terms with the damage we are doing to the atmosphere with our overuse of carbon fuels, we will move onto newfangled forms of energy that are equally destructive, albeit in different ways. But then why not include all this at the end, as a disconcerting epilogue?

Engulfed

Engulfed

Apologizing loudly is expected to serve as a substitute for meaningful change.

It’s worth pausing at the sheer strangeness of this moment. In the weeks since Khashoggi’s murder, the speed and the intensity of the renunciations have been as striking as the renunciations themselves. The institutions that have benefited from Gulf money and funneled Gulf-friendly perspectives to the American public have been vocal in their outrage. This spectacle has to be seen as a form of institutional self-flagellation. But it’s hard not to read these gestures as shallow and perfunctory, performed with the knowledge that the news cycle will move on quickly, which in fact it has.

Perpetual Fear

Perpetual Fear

I don’t like the electric lock on the door to our shul.

My shul is in Philadelphia, directly across the state from Pittsburgh, where eleven Jews were murdered in October at the Tree of Life Synagogue by an anti-Semite with an AR-15. To have been young and Jewish in this country in the ’80s and ’90s was to have lived in a subconscious state of fear. That was my idiosyncratic experience, anyway—unconscious, inarticulable fear, the product of knowing enough of the “never again” canon, of a Jewish education that emphasized Elie Wiesel and Primo Levi and Deborah Lipstadt, Schindler’s List and Shoah and Night and Fog. In the ’60s and ’70s, the facts of the Shoah were being recovered. No one needed to be reminded not to forget while actively endeavoring to remember.

Make Ford Great Again

Make Ford Great Again

For now, yesterday is where the money is.

Blunt and regressive, Ford’s new TV commercials make do without jingles or CEOs, opting instead for Breaking Bad’s scary-manly-paternal (don’t forget Malcolm in the Middle) Bryan Cranston. Dressed in Steve Jobs gear, Cranston is on the verge of delivering a “Future Talk” when he shakes it off at the last minute: “The future wasn’t made in a keynote speech,” he declares. (Presumably this includes Jim Hackett’s keynote speech about Ford’s future.) Next he’s in an easy chair aboard Air Force One: “A presidential speech did not land us on the moon.” Cut to men with pocket protectors sweating over the Apollo Lunar Lander. “Millions of man hours did.”

The Political Theology of Trump

The Political Theology of Trump

What looks like hypocrisy is the surest possible evidence that God is in control

Only a pagan ruler who knows nothing of the God of Israel—and who was in fact just as happy to finance the building of pagan abominations as part of a general policy of restoring the local religious observances his predecessors had uprooted—can restore the righteous remnant to the Promised Land. Why not raise up a Jewish military hero to repeat the gesture of Moses and demand that the Persians let his people go? Why not have the mighty emperor convert to Judaism and decide to rebuild the Temple as an act of praise to God? The answer is that humans still have too much opportunity to take credit for the outcome, whereas the use of an ignorant, pagan ruler makes the divine agency unmistakable from the Israelite perspective. How could it be more clear that God is really controlling events when his purpose is fulfilled without the involvement of any conscious human intention?

Getting Past 270

Getting Past 270

On Jon Favreau’s The Wilderness

If The Wilderness doesn’t ultimately sugarcoat where the Democratic Party finds itself, neither is there a sense of truly deep foreboding. We live in a 50-50 country, the show argues, and we can win elections in that country and make it not quite a 50-50 country anymore, and so overcome the limits in the Madisonian system. But partisan control is what ultimately matters. Unsurprisingly for an Obama alum, Favreau steers clear of vast arenas in the American state that are supposedly apolitical, from the Federal Reserve to the FBI and the CIA and the NSA to, critically, the Supreme Court. Donald Trump has no interest in leaving them as separate citadels of neutral competence. Democrats should think hard about what it would mean to go beyond the platitude about letting the professionals do their work, and formulate a vision to expand the ambit of popular control.

Grief Network

Grief Network

“Do you want to turn your notifications off?” Twitter asked. No. I went to work at 9 AM and told my boss it was very important that I stay online.

Most people I knew didn’t say anything. I got some texts from friends and acquaintances, some to say I did a good thing, most to ask if I was OK. A few days after our tweets first hit, I was messaging a friend and asked him if he’d seen them. He had not. “Not to be not-all-men . . .” he texted, “but not all men.” Another friend messaged me on Facebook to ask how things were. “Your Twitter has been a little dark lately,” she said.

It’s Already Here

It’s Already Here

Left-wing climate realism and the Trump climate change memo

The period of world history since the 1980s has been the most extractive in human history. Nearly 56 percent of all atmospheric carbon since the dawn of the industrial revolution has been produced in these past four decades. The crisis of the Anthropocene is not a story about individual consumption choices, or one about technology per se.

Postcards from DC

Postcards from DC

Bird-dogging against Kavanaugh

We are instructed to cheer those opposing Kavanaugh and to confront the people on his side as well as those in the weasel category, “undecided,” as if Flake, Collins, Manchin et al have been scripted by a Magic 8-Ball to say, “Answer hazy, ask again later.” I will see Cruz, who has the painted-on hair of a ventriloquist’s dummy, surrounded by what look like armed guards. I will not see Flake, who is in hiding, as is Collins.

A Trained Pigeon

A Trained Pigeon

Are these dark times, or are they unconscionably stupid times?

And most bizarre, I think—the moment I will not be able to forget, so utterly sincere and consistent and emotional did it seem, the emotional peak of his long, rambling statement—was when Kavanaugh told us the single thing he loves doing most in the world. Not the law (though this is the job he’s interviewing for). Not parenting (though he is a sentimentalist of kids and parents, or perhaps of himself-as-a-kid-and-parent). It was coaching youth athletics. “I love coaching more than anything I’ve ever done in my whole life.” Then a pause, and the explosion. “But thanks to what some of you on this side of the committee have unleashed, I may never be able to coach again.”

Dupe Throat

Dupe Throat

Bob Woodward’s self-parody

At the center of this universe sits Trump, like the Blind Idiot God Azathoth in H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos. If the self-serving narratives of personal accomplishment Woodward’s principals relate are dubious, their descriptions of Trump are not. He is impetuous and erratic, vulgar and incurious. A font of abuse, he showers invective on those around him.