Tuesday, April 10, 2018

The Men Who Run Things: Phallic Culture, Phallic Politics, Phallic Religion, and the Price We All Pay

Charlie Jane Anders, All the Birds in the Sky (NY: Tor Books, 2016), p. 229.

Cohen was the president*’s designated hitter, his bully with a briefcase and a line of bullshit straight out of a cheap mob movie. McKay Coppins of Buzzfeed hipped us to Cohen in 2015. 
"I'm warning you, tread very fucking lightly. Because what I'm going to do to you is going to be fucking disgusting. You understand me?"
As Mr. Spade was known to say, and as we are known to quote him: the cheaper the crook, the gaudier the patter. 
The FBI doesn't raid the offices of high-end lawyers unless they are absolutely sure about what they're looking for, and absolutely sure they’re inbounds, too. Attorney-client privilege is a serious business, and that’s a good thing. It’s pretty plain that this is a serious turn in Robert Mueller’s investigation. It’s also pretty plain that his investigation is going everywhere it can possibly go.

Bentonville, Arkansas, 27 February 2016 (John Bazemore/AP)

We must not let ourselves forget who put him in the White House.

Also for the scrapbook: this morning's top front-page headline and photo at Huffington Post:

I'd like to suggest that we view this photo as a snapshot of the men in whose hands the American people (white U.S. Christians leading the way) have chosen to place the future of the world (straight white men, our eyes should remind our brains as we gaze at the picture, men full of anger and hubris, ill-informed men, men fatally addicted to "solutions" to complex problems that are all about showing phallic prowess over those defined as weaker and lesser).

This is not, to say the least, a prescription for a bright future for anyone's world, including the world of those who see the man in the center of this photo as Jesus incarnate.

Monday's FBI raids on Michael Cohen's Trump Tower office, his hotel room, and his home all provided a proper dose of comeuppance to a man more accustomed to screaming threats, shit-tier legal theorizing, and putting his strip-mall law degree to work in service of Donald Trump. 
Cohen, far from being the super lawyer to a billionaire real estate tycoon, really only has one important job: covering up Trump's alleged dalliances. It was Cohen batting cleanup, dealing with an army of models, escorts, Mistresses (large "M" and small "m"), actresses, porn stars, models, Real Dolls, fangirls, groupies, and random topiary at Mar-a-Delicto with a wall of nondisclosure agreements. Master of the NDA, Cohen thought attorney-client privilege would protect him. 
He forgot he had a fool for a client. Trump couldn't shut his mouth on Air Force One last week. . . . 
Suddenly, Michael Cohen, the bag-walking, dick-swinging swagger-monkey wannabe thug attorney and consigliere for Donald Trump’s far-flung penile enterprises is scared. If Cohen had a lump of coal in his ass the moment those search warrants arrived, he could have popped out a diamond. He realizes how deep this hole can become if he doesn't roll over. He doesn't have the resources to defend himself, and Trump isn't exactly known for paying his bills in the first place. Cohen is scared, and he's not alone.

In politics, everyone is pretty well convinced that they’ve won before a single exchange has been made. So, the whole liberal idea, where we treat everything like a debate, is doomed to failure. 
What is to be done? 
I would suggest mockery. Endless, ceaseless mockery. Complete and utter derision.
It is a strategy often employed by conservatives about the most serious issues in the world. They have reduced climate change, which is about the earth itself heating and the oceans rising up to the point they will swallow cities, into a punchline. You can almost hear the smirk on conservative’s faces when they speak about climate change. 
So, give them a taste of their own medicine. 
It helps that the underpinnings of the conservative movement trend towards the ridiculous.

Yesterday, in a thread commenting on the FBI raid on Michael Cohen's offices, Oliver Willis provided a brilliant demonstration of the mocking of the right he proposes in the statement above. The following is the first tweet in a thread I highly recommend that you read to its end — Mother Pence giggling in her belly as her husband chides her for stirring too much sugar into her tea while all this chaos is going down; Jared sloughing the dead skin from his father-in-law's back as he bathes him; Joe Biden trying to break into a "Girl. Girl. Girl." conversation between Hillary, Oprah, and Michelle:

And speaking of brilliant mockery, don't miss Nick056's incisive takedown of Jack Shafer's recent snit fit about the firing of Kevin Williamson by The Atlantic, after it "came to light" that Williamson had called for any and all women who have abortions to be hanged, and had mocked transgender people. Nick is writing at Lawyers, Guns, and Money: as he notes, Shafer man-crushes on Williamson, describing him as a "feral conservative" who embodies the manly man values of working-class men — the white kind of said American men who stand in as a cipher for Angry Economically Disaffected Voter (Effete, Intersectionally Fixated) Democrats Need to Hear.

Williamson is an "ogre" who relishes "strong meat," brims with "cold, unbound logic," knocks back manly men drinks with 20% alcohol while sissy types limit themselves to 7%." He's "cruel" — and that's a good thing. He "swaggers." He drops bombs where a sling-shot would suffice. Nick's take on all this "ogregasmic" Jack Shafer prose about Kevin Williamson:

In case we didn’t get it already, Williamson's writing is muscular, logical, high-alcohol, fearless, and therefore, manly. Super, super manly. Only the kind of swaggering manliness you get when you internalize the wisdom of [checks notes] Mike Kinsley. Even though Shafer doesn’t AGREE with ANYTHING he writes, he likes his beefy, thick prose.

And, as he concludes, the American political commentariat is chock-full of this testosterone-laden swagger, and that's why someone of the ilk of Kevin Williamson had an open door at the "liberal-centrist" Atlantic — until enough people made enough noise about what everyone knew he had said and thought before he was hired, and The Atlantic dropped him like a hot potato.

And about all that (very very faux) white working-class "economic rage" that supposedly yielded the moral monstrosity's occupation of the White House: here's Erin Keane's insightful commentary in "Roseanne," the Rust Belt and the dangers of the single story": 

Barr herself told a room full of TV critics back in January, "I've always attempted to portray a realistic portrait of the American people and of working-class people. And in fact it was working-class people who elected Trump." In fact it wasn't, but Barr — who is in many ways Exhibit A, as a Trump supporter who paid $1.78 million for a macadamia farm in Hawaii — is hardly alone in believing in this wildly persistent myth.

Line the preceding two pieces of commentary up with Jamelle Bouie "Democrats Shouldn't Give in to White Racism," writing in response to a recent James Traub essay in The Atlantic, and you have a very neat mini-essay on something that's very awry in much of the so-called "liberal-centrist" political culture of the U.S. today — something that laid the pavement for the moral monstrosity to walk into the White House: Jamelle Bouie writes, 

Traub depicts whites outside the South as largely innocent actors pushing back against liberal overreach. But the segregation that made busing necessary—which he attributes to blacks and whites simply "liv[ing] far apart"—was built just decades earlier by white bankers, realtors, and homeowners, who enforced rigid racial lines with every tool at their disposal, backed by local, state, and often federal authorities. 
None of this is apparent in the piece. Indeed, the argument depends on not having a sense of the depth of commitment to white racial dominance among many white Americans, a commitment so deep that the decades after the 1960s would see millions of whites abandon cities and other public spaces rather than back or accept integration. To counsel sympathy for this commitment and behavior, as Traub does, is to acquiesce to dynamics of racism that entrench disadvantage, increase inequality, and weaken the movements that aim to ameliorate both.

"Caring for migrants and the poor is as holy a pursuit as opposing abortion, Pope Francis declared in a major document issued by the Vatican on Monday morning. . . . 
As he put it elsewhere in the document, "Seeing and acting with mercy: That is holiness."

That this even has to be said, as if it's a new insight to impress on Christians, is remarkable. That these words are being greeted with howls of outrage online, in "Christian" statements that the pope is evil and is a heretic revising 2,000 years of Catholic tradition and teaching, is even more astonishing.

What do those howls of outrage and cries tsay about the people issuing them? What do they say about the sick, perverted thing that many American Christians have made of Christianity?

Mobile, Alabama, August 2015 (Mark Wallheiser/Getty)

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