Land of Distraction

Oprah, Pepe, and Neanderthals

It turns out that Oprah was the one we were waiting for.

A nation yearning for distraction, or at least something new to obsess about, was fed a two-hour interview with Harry and Meghan (last names not required) that gave us precisely what we needed: a drama-cum-controversy that rivets without terrifying.

Culture abhors a vacuum, and we seem to be flailing for something to fill the void created by the absence of the Orange Crises and their daily drumbeats of outrage and shock.

This one is perfect.

Even though Americans rejected the institution of the monarchy, we are fascinated by celebrity, and have had our own flings at dynasties. And here there is more than enough melodrama to go around: there will be fact-checks, the usual Hypocrisy Olympics, and we get to choose sides. Team Sussex vs. Team Cambridge.

We feel we know the narrative arc because we’ve seen the plot and the villains and the heroines all before. (Diana, The Sequel.)

Throw in a generous dollop of family dysfunction (Charles stopped taking Harry’s calls) and allegations of racism, and we have The Crown Seasons 7 thru Infinity.

One BBC editor tweeted: “Worst schism within the royal family since the Abdication (one which seems unlikely to be healed). And a set of allegations which cannot be swept away.”

Best of all: it’s somebody else’s country.

To be sure there are major issues at play, but they don’t pose an existential threat to us. This time, it is not our constitution that is under siege. It’s not our institutions crumbling before our eyes.

And that’s a relief, isn’t it?

We can care deeply about the story, but this is some other country’s history, and therefore entertaining without being exhausting. The best analogy is sports: we can be passionately engaged, precisely because the stakes are so low. However much we care about our favorite teams, it is not a matter of life and death. They provide a catharsis in a relatively safe place.

So it is with with the royals. Beautiful (and not so beautiful) famous rich people wrestling with the burdens of titles, castles, duties, race, family, and fashion.

But, ultimately SEP (Somebody Else’s Problem). Which makes it perfect.

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Speaking of distractions…

This weekend, we marked the 56th anniversary of Selma’s Bloody Sunday, the Senate passed a massive COVD relief package, the nation neared 100 million vaccinations, and NYT columnist Charles Blow opened a new front in the culture war by attacking Pepe Le Pew.

This, of course, came after a week in which we found ourselves embroiled in skirmishes over Neanderthals, Dr. Seuss, and (as God is my witness) Mr. Potato Head.

Our friend, Ben Jacobs, describes some of the recent controversies as examples of “derp” which is “a word coined by the creators of South Park that became used to describe the unbearable stupidity of political fights happening for their own sake.” The fake pearl clutching over President Biden’s use of the word Neanderthal is a perfect example. People pretended to be outraged, but nobody really was. It was all performative indignation.

Now we are moving on to Looney Tunes.

Blow and his supporters insist that the Pepe was a corrupting influence because of his aggressive approach to romance.

But I’m going out in a limb here: No little boy wanted to grow up to be Pepe. He is a French skunk. He smelled bad.

And he never got the girl.

To be sure, Blow is not the first person to point out Pepe’s problematic behavior. Dave Chappelle had a famous routine about him (and Oscar the Grouch.) But it was… funny.

Blow, on the other hand, is deadly serious. But here’s the good news. Outside of the wokest bubbles, most commenters seemed to get it.

Others pointed out that some SJWs don’t seem to understand arts, literature, or cartoons at all.

Exit take:

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Make sure you read this piece by Jonathan Chait:How Never Trumpers Are Becoming Pro-Democracy Republicans

One of the most predictable developments of the post-Trump era was that the small band of anti-Trump conservative intellectuals and Republican officials would quickly melt away. They had been repulsed by Donald Trump’s combination of grotesque character and ideological heterodoxy — opposing American alliances, free trade, and so on – but when given the chance to support Republicans who believed in traditional Reaganite principles and weren’t career criminals, politics would go back to normal and they would return to the fold.

Instead, something surprising has happened. Anti-Trump Republicans are refashioning their identity as pro-democracy conservatives….

The Bulwark, a magazine that has become a hub of anti-Trump conservatism, has crusaded in favor of protecting and expanding voting rights. Its editor, Jonathan Last, argues that Democrats should prioritize pro-democracy reforms:

Very good news on vaccines. Dr. Scott Gottlieb appeared on Face the Nation yesterday.

If you look at overall deaths, they are declining. But of the deaths that are occurring, thirteen percent right now are occurring in nursing homes. That's down from forty percent. And so that's a real significant indication that the overall vulnerability of the most vulnerable people, those who are succumbing to COVID, is starting to decline quite dramatically as we get more of them vaccinated. Right now, this week, we're probably going to hit about sixty percent of those-- excuse me, seventy percent of those above the age of seventy-five are going to be vaccinated, sixty percent of those above the age of sixty-five, fully almost twenty-five percent of adults are going to be vaccinated probably by the end of this week. So we're reducing the overall vulnerability of the population. And final point, I mean, some of the optimism is also being driven by growing science, suggesting that these vaccines, all the vaccines not only prevent COVID disease, prevent symptoms, but also prevent transmission. So they could have a dramatic effect on reducing the overall tenor of the epidemic.

The optimism is reflected in new polls.

[More] than two-thirds of Americans (68%) approve of Biden's approach to the pandemic -- a consistent result since he took office in January. At a moment of deep political polarization, his steady approval is also reinforced by positive marks from 35% of Republicans, 67% of independents and an overwhelming 98% of Democrats in the poll, which was conducted by Ipsos in partnership with ABC News using Ipsos' KnowledgePanel.

Not a parody.

 Attorneys for former President Donald Trump sent cease-and-desist letters Friday to three Republican organizations asking them to stop using the former president's name and likeness in fundraising appeals and merchandise, a Trump adviser said Saturday.

The letters were sent to the Republican National Committee, the National Republican Congressional Committee and the National Republican Senate Committee — arms of the party tasked with raising money and shaping messaging, among other things, for the midterm elections and beyond.

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Quick Hits

H.R. 1 for Dummies

In today’s Bulwark: Justin Florence and Rachel Homer provide a layman’s guide to the For the People Act.

Broadly speaking, H.R. 1 covers three major areas: voting and elections, campaign finance, and ethics.

First, it would:

  • reduce barriers that keep eligible citizens from registering to vote and then casting their vote;

  • set minimum, uniform standards for elections; and

  • provide funding to increase the security of our elections.

These reforms have a long record of bipartisan support and have already been implemented across many states.

Second, H.R. 1 would increase the transparency of spending on elections and campaign ads and strengthen protections against foreign interference in our campaigns.

Third is ethics: Requiring increased disclosure of lobbying activities, and putting into law ethical guidelines preventing conflicts of interest by staff, appointees, members of Congress, and even presidents.

Cheap Shots

Teach your children.

Not exactly a trophy himself.

The MAGA brain trust has some thoughts.