I was thinking today about that time when Republicans were like, “Hey, you said Comey sucks liberals, so shut up!” Which was a weird thing to say considering that the liberal position was that Comey did indeed suck, but that Trump firing him in the middle of an investigation was wrong. It’s fair enough to ding a party for hating the filibuster in power but loving it in opposition as being hypocritical (though in this case both sides literally do do it), though this wasn’t even really hypocrisy, it was just something that could be sold to the rubes as hypocrisy and that was enough. This is a pretty common feature of Republican discourse, in which they find some quote or some old position some Democrat held and then use that as an excuse to just shut down the conversation. I’m sure many recall that after Antonin Scalia died, Mitch McConnell found a Chuck Schumer quote from 2007 that seemed to say what he wanted it to say, so that meant no new SCOTUS justice apparently until a Republican won. This tendency can’t be blamed on Trump exactly (though he does use it), but rather on the bad faith of the entire right toward the left. Even if Schumer hadn’t said anything (which would have been preferable as the Schumer quote was the sort of thing you want to leave as subtext), it’s not like McConnell would have just conceded the point. This is why Obama’s strategy of debating policy positions Republicans held until 5 minutes ago just didn’t work. You can’t have a debate when one side is not arguing in good faith.

I’ll admit that I’ve fully embraced fatalism when it comes to dealing with Republicans as partners in maintaining democracy. I don’t really see the case for doing otherwise, and it really must be exhausting for those who haven’t embraced this particular point of view. I understand why they haven’t, because the implications of such fatalism are radical. But increasingly I don’t think there’s any real alternative to radical change of some form or other. I don’t necessarily think violence and bloodshed are inevitable, but which form it takes is the only real debate left. The fever’s never going to break, folks.

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Pictured: recipients of more institutional representation than Californians, generally speaking.

I realize that the answer to this question is that “they’re white and rich,” but I really do wonder why farmers are generally so in favor of Republicans. It’s not as though they can yadda yadda away climate change because they cannot ignore its results directly–a realtor in Tulsa perhaps can but not someone who owns a farm and is very aware of the climate and dependent on it being a certain way to grow crops–and the downside to it is that their land eventually becomes infertile and they lose everything. Loss aversion is generally a very powerful psychological motivator. You’d think that this would trump the “gotta fuck over the hippies” impulse but apparently not. Also, not for nothing, cracking down on illegal immigration just means more expensive labor when it comes time to pick the crops. Like everyone else I’m mentally making the jerk-off hand signal when I read these articles about farmers going, “Well I voted for Trump but I didn’t think he’d actually crack down on immigration!” but it’s not like they’re forced to vote for him! At the very least you’d think the Republicans representing these areas would be more moderate on these specific issues among others but I see no real sign of that.

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I get why a lot of people thought Theresa May was a competent politician, superficially speaking. It’s the same reason why (in memory of Roger Moore) a lot of people thought The Spy Who Loved Me was one of the best Bond films, which it isn’t. It’s okay, but it just came at exactly the right time, hitting all the requisite points after a lot of bleh. May cut exactly the opposite profile of David Cameron (i.e. an all-style, little-substance press-hound) right after he imploded, so I can understand why people thought the opposite approach would get the opposite results. But having a different style doesn’t automatically mean that you’re competent. Still highly improbable that Corbyn wins, but these days you never know.

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Look, on some level whining about the one positive in an overwhelmingly terrible poll for Trump is sort of like Nixon being angry at only winning 49 states, but I’m doing it anyway. I feel like 2/3 of the nation seeing Trump as a strong person is likely correlated with why he won, but it really shows the limitations of a country that generally speaking more or less openly despises the arts, humanities and social sciences in that Americans often really do not understand how human beings work. Trump isn’t a strong person. His resistance to criticism and resilience in the face of setbacks aren’t the result of strong character, they’re the result of defense mechanisms that mask a shockingly huge mass of insecurity. This isn’t difficult to grasp from, say, his obsession with his electoral college win and inauguration crowd sizes, for starters. He’s not even very good at disguising this, as some people are at least in public. I thought all this was obvious with Dubya, who was admittedly at least a lot more stable than Trump. It’s amazing that it’s so far out there but hasn’t registered with the public, to such an extent that one has to wonder if the public is even capable of grasping even the most basic (i.e. oversimplified) concepts of psychology going back to Freud, aside from a half understanding of the Oedipal complex perhaps. Do they really not see a weak man obsessed with being seen as strong? Are their perceptive skills incapable of moving past the superficial? I truly cannot grasp it.

Also, while on the subject of Trump, perhaps he should throw himself in jail as part of his war against leaks? This seems appropriate:

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A.O. Scott’s review of the latest Johnny Depp castle payment side obligation is pretty fantastic.

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My unverifiable theory about US involvement in the Middle East (a.k.a. the Global War on Terror) is that, at it’s core, it’s mainly a product by Baby Boomers for other Baby Boomers who want their own WWII-style conflict so as to measure up to their parents. Virtually all of the initial sales job–particularly for the Iraq War–emphasized this angle, full of inappropriate war analogies from “Axis of Evil” to “Islamofascism,” as well as the endless comparisons of Hussein to Hitler and all that. Circumstantially, you could also add in that the 1990s were when the WWII generation finally were eclipsed as the power generation and Republican foreign policy went from Brent Scowcroft to Bill Kristol and Democratic foreign policy went from Warren Christopher to Madeleine Albright (admittedly not exactly a typical Boomer but ultimately a hawk little different from Kristol and the lower ranks became Sam Powers and Susan Rices, etc.). In this view, 9/11 was less a cause than an excuse to finally abandon a peacetime footing. And obviously, the media helped a bit along the way, blowing “Black Hawk Down” from a misconceived but fairly limited blunder to the worstest decision of a commander in chief of all time, but sending thousands to their deaths after 9/11 meant that Dubya was a national hero for years.

Let’s just say that this theory holds up better than ever during the accidental Trump Presidency. Generally speaking, the only times that Trump has drawn largely favorable mentions from the mainstream media and (some) Democratic politicos have been either (a) when he’s bombing people or (b) when he’s speaking about things that indirectly involve bombing people. For reasons I can only speculate at, sucking up to the Saudis has been deemed as essential to winning this conflict, so he’s sucked up and gotten positive coverage. Anyone familiar with history knows the tell that conflicts sold as being “between good and evil” are usually anything but–WWI was often sold in such terms by all participants in it, ridiculous as that seems now–but this is how the current power generation likes to think of things, and Trump has told them what they want to hear. At any rate, it’s pretty ridiculous to pretend that the Saudis are anything but highly dubious allies–Stalin wasn’t a good man even though he was one of the “good guys” in WWII, but at least he didn’t fund anti-anti-Hitler organizers in other countries–and this is just about right:

The display the president put on in Riyadh is what happens when the U.S. makes keeping “no daylight” with its clients the top priority. Not only is there no criticism of the client’s behavior, no matter how deserved such criticism might be, but there is excessive fawning and stroking of the client’s ego that creates the false impression that we need them far more than they need us. This goes beyond being merely diplomatic and becomes groveling and begging for the client’s affection. No doubt this “reassures” our clients–that our leaders are easy to manipulate and only too willing to do whatever the clients want. No important U.S. interests are served by doing this. The only ones to benefit are the despots on the receiving end of U.S. backing, and even then they are being indulged in their worst and most ruinous habits.

Eventually someone will put an end to this amoral, pointless, deadly game. I unfortunately suspect it won’t be until the last of the Boomers finally shuffle off to their nursing homes.

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Kind of amazing that we went so long without a single fatality among actors who played James Bond. Unfortunately, it couldn’t last forever. Moore was far from the worst James Bond–he had a coherent take on the character, which not all of the actors who played him can say–though it didn’t help that most of his movies ranged from bad to merely average without much he could do to fix them. But Live And Let Die and For Your Eyes Only are both quite good series entries, and I particularly enjoy the latter. It’s one of the series’ periodic back-to-basics entries after going much too far, in this case after the utterly indefensible Moonraker, and while plotwise it doesn’t veer too far from the sorts of stories the series was doing at the time, there are some surprising and fantastic moments that elevate it (not to mention one of the more formidable female characters the film series ever created).

Also, I appreciated his genuinely hilarious and noble turn in the wretched comedy Boat Trip, a misguided bit of gay panic from height of the Dubya era. It almost becomes a parody of the gay panic it purveys, and in large part that’s because of Moore, who creates a likable, dignified character of the elderly gay man he’s playing. Doesn’t sound like much, but given the era and the material he’s working with, it’s a pretty impressive accomplishment. You can see how he elevates it really just in this clip.

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If you’re like me, you’re probably tired of hearing comparisons of Donald Trump to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Aside from some similarities in worldview, Putin’s understanding of and experience with government, as well as his understanding of power, make him quite unlike the former reality television host. Still, I do believe in being part of the solution when I can, so here I go. People, if you want to compare Trump to Russian autocrats, there are some additional, and better, choices:

  1. Emperor Peter III (1762) – Peter was the grandson of Peter The Great who passed up the Swedish throne to rule Russia, even though he identified most strongly with his Holstein German heritage. Due to miserable childhood experiences, Peter became an actively indifferent student and was considered shockingly ignorant, even by the proudly anti-intellectual Empress Elizabeth. A reasonably proper comparison would be that Trump was the Peter to George W. Bush’s Elizabeth, though Elizabeth was amazing in many other ways (such as the extraordinary collections of jewelry and ornate carriages that you can go see in Moscow’s Armory Museum). Once he finally ascended to the Russian throne, Peter proceeded to piss off just about every pillar of Russian society before starting a pointless war that was perceived as being more about defending his holdings in the Duchy of Holstein than the Russian Empire. (Remember how Trump’s Muslim ban ignored all the countries with whom he did business?) He was deposed by his estranged wife Catherine, later known as The Great, who had him executed shortly afterward. The film The Scarlet Empress depicts him memorably as a disgusting monster, though Bob Massie’s book portrays him as more a tragic, sad figure. Who says they can’t both be right? Trump is arguably both.
  2. Emperor Paul I (1796 – 1801) – Paul followed Catherine the Great and his main legacy was making it so that women could no longer ascend to the Russian Throne. That’s pretty much it. Specifically, he made the monarch’s firstborn son the automatic heir to the throne, which he did mainly because of the poisonous relationship he had with his mother, who kept him in suspense about his status for quite some time. But you can also see this as a blow for men’s rights and an angry resentment at the preponderance of female monarchs during the 18th century of Russia. The contemporary version of Steve Bannon no doubt approved. Also, Paul was stupid as well, didn’t understand politics or power, and only lasted five years in office.
  3. Emperor Alexander I (1801 – 1825) – Alexander I, the liberator of Europe? Again, none of these parallels are exact. But yes, Alexander I goes on this list for a single reason: he was a pretend reformist who was actually a total reactionary. Much like how Trump talked about “draining the swamp” and opposing draconian spending cuts, Alexander promised new liberties to the long-oppressed Russian people that he never delivered on. He’s best known for the Napoleonic Wars, which ended with the Russian Army chasing Napoleon all the way to Paris. This allowed the mainly peasant soldiers as well as the more well-to-do officers to see what life in Europe was like at the time, something that Alexander really didn’t want them to see. He spent the last of decade of his life trying desperately to crush the movement he’d inadvertently created, which would later become known as the Decembrists and came damn close to derailing the crowning of Alexander’s reactionary successor. Ultimately, Alexander sort of clueless and self-defeating, not unlike Trump. But it’s the totally cynical posturing as a champion of the people that most closely resembles Trump.
  4. Emperor Nicolas I (1825 – 1855) – This is Alexander’s reactionary successor. Nicolas was sort of the prototypical Russian autocrat, who over his decades-long reign clamped down on even the meager liberties afforded to Russians, including throwing Fyodor Dostoevsky in prison. Nicolas was quite Trumpian in personality, a proudly uncultured man who was singularly obsessed with military power. He starved funding for just about everything else and made military worship central to every holiday celebration. Nicolas also felt that Russia’s having saved Europe from Napoleon gave him license to stick his nose into just about every conflict going on there, to the endless irritation of the other European powers. The irony is that the army Nicolas loved so much led to his downfall: in spite of lavish funding the military fell far behind other nations’ capabilities during his reign (as it turns out, military strength doesn’t exist in a void, and sealing Russia off from Europe’s dangerous liberalism also meant sealing it off from its scientific advancement), so when he instigated the Crimean War, his army was torn to pieces. This led to Nicolas falling to pieces himself, ending with a hilariously wimpy (but successful) suicide by means of wearing a wet blanket outside in the middle of the Russian Winter, by which he contracted pneumonia as he’d planned. What a punchline to the grim joke of his reign! But a warning to people of isolationist/nationalist/militarist tendencies.
  5. Emperor Alexander III (1881 – 1894) – Alexander III was not supposed to be Tsar. His older brother, a cultured and intelligent young man, was supposed to do it instead. But he died, so Alexander wound up getting the job instead, in spite of a blockheadedness similar to Peter III’s in many ways. (Radzinsky’s book on Alexander II tells a story in which the elder Alexander is implored to disinherit his middle son on account of his ignorance and instead make his youngest son, Vladimir, his heir. Vladimir was pretty undistinguished and average but nowhere near as hopeless as his brother. Alexander was too grief-stricken to consider it.) At any rate, Alexander III is probably the answer to the question, “What single person made the revolution possible?” A reactionary nationalist and bigot, Alexander picked up where grandpa Nicolas left off and began a “tough” policy against dissidents and revolutionaries, which mainly involved hanging them a lot. One of these was a provincial university student named Alexander Ulyanov whose brother Vladimir wound up being sort of a big deal revolutionary as a result, though not until he adopted the pseudonym Lenin. Alexander was an avid conspiracist who underwrote the notorious “Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” the loathsome Bible of anti-Semitism for many decades to come. He also undid the admirable steps that Alexander II made toward integrating Jews into Russian society on an equal footing, and instead put them into pogroms. Bereft of a way to succeed in mainstream society, many Jews (like Trotsky) chose violent rebellion against the state, which would no doubt happen again if the Trump/Bannon/Sessions dream of Muslim camps came to pass. Though the biggest difference between Alexander and Trump is that Alexander wasn’t much of a hawk and was, in fact, known as “The Peacemaker” because of his (fairly atypical for a Russian monarch) desire to live at peace with his neighbors. Admittedly he was busy enough warring with his own people, initially with those aforementioned groups but increasingly with the working classes at large, whose poverty and miserable conditions facilitated the spread of socialism. But he’d die before the true consequences of his reign could be seen.
  6. Emperor Nicolas II (1894 – 1917) – Nicolas is the best-known Tsar outside of Russia for a lot of reasons, and in terms of personality, he could not have been more different from Trump. Nicolas was known for an unfailing courtliness, exemplary manners, and a brooding, introspective nature, which is pretty much the opposite of Trump’s brash, volcanic personality. But aside from that, the similarities are stunning. Nicolas was also not a very smart man – there’s a (possibly apocryphal) story I’ve read in several places to the effect that Alexander III was going to teach his son everything he knew about governing when young Nicolas turned 30, so that he could live some semblance of a life and gain experience before taking on the burdens of rule. Then Alexander died when Nicolas was 27. Who knows if it’s true, but it does illustrate the major truth about Nicolas, which is that he had no idea what he was doing. Nicolas took power in a challenging, polarized environment, in which industrialization had created new working classes and rural Russia was failing due to the Tsarist government’s inability to enact land reform, while old pillars like the Russian Orthodox Church were falling apart due to corruption. Socialism was on the rise everywhere, propelled as a way of socking it to disliked, uncaring elites. It may have been impossible for even the greatest statesman to have figured out these problems. Nicolas was not a great statesman. He mostly neglected all of these problems and frustrated attempts to deal with them, preferring to spend most of his time doing busywork instead: presiding over peasant disputes, planning elaborate balls, doing low-level clerical work that he pretended was what kept Russia going. Not all that unlike Trump taking credit for a few hundred jobs not being sent overseas while spacing out in briefings. The true Trumpian core of Nicolas, though, was in his obsession his own personal power and with how he was seen. Nicolas put all his faith in the mythical union of Tsar and people, a pillar of autocratic belief. He saw the divisiveness as being led by agitators and not the true sentiment of the Russian people, and was persuaded by his advisers to launch a war against the Japanese to restore the old unity. Nicolas wasn’t an exceptionally bigoted man for his time and place (this was not a high bar), but due to a bad experience as a young man he hated the Japanese and his racist advisers convinced him that the war against those backward Asiatics could be easily won. It wasn’t. The tragicomic high of the Russo-Japanese war was when the Russian fleet sailed halfway around the world to fight the Japanese Navy, and after months of sailing all the Russian ships were sunk as soon as they arrived, at the Battle of Tsushima. What’s more, Nicolas himself was almost tossed from power in the near-revolution that followed, and only survived by swallowing the bitter pill of a constitution that he felt was a personal humiliation. After this, Nicolas went years between public appearances, so worried was he–not just about assassination attempts, but about protests and other public signs of discontent with him. He couldn’t stand evidence that he wasn’t loved. Sound like anyone you know? So he went back to his busywork. You’d think after this, Nicolas would be wary of war, and of all people in Europe he would know just how bad modern warfare could be. But then he was a prime instigator of World War I! He learned absolutely nothing from the Japan experience and not only repeated the disastrous mistakes of that conflict, but also made a bunch of new ones, such as putting his bonkers wife Alix in charge of running the state (who essentially made Grigory Rasputin her chief of staff). This is an astounding level of world-historic derp. Terrifyingly, though, of all the Russian autocrats, he may well be the most Trumpian, ignorant, incapable of mentally grasping the details, incapable of learning from his mistakes, trigger-happy. Let’s hope it turns out better for us than it did for the Russians.
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