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Mugged By Demagoguery
Trump and Vivek are ridiculous. They are also dangerous.
Good show last night with Mona and Bill. You can watch the video here or catch the podcast version here. (But only for members of Bulwark+. For a limited time get a 30 day free trial to see if Bulwark+ is right for you.)
1. Blue Steel
Oh come on, how can we not make this joke:
But that’s the last joke I’ll make. Because this mugshot is as serious as a heart attack.
Let’s talk about it.
First, I suspect that he workshopped this photo and we should admit that his efforts paid off.
Compare Trump to the other 11 mopes so far:
Some of these people look befuddled. Or pathetic. Or like ghosts. Or, in one case, absolutely like a serial killer.
But Trump’s mugshot is excellent. I would guess that he had a duplicate setup to run tests on. His makeup is exactly suited to the light and camera. His hair is teased differently than normal to provide some overhang. The jaw-jut and downward tilt of the head hide his jowls. Combine those affects with his slight turn to the left (notice that his is the only photo in which you cannot clearly see both ears) and it gives his pose a vague sense of motion, as though he is moving forward, towards the camera and into a glorious future filled with retribution, perfect phone calls, and #winning.
He took a low point in American history and turned it into an iconic triumph because he understands media and is biologically incapable of feeling shame.
Those powers make him a host unto himself and this mugshot is a warning to all of us.
We underestimate Trump at our peril.
It does not matter how buffoonish he is.
Or that he is four-times indicted.
Or that he’s an obese old man who dyes his hair strawberry blonde.
Or that he can’t speak in coherent sentences.
Or that his views on serious matters are foolish, cruel, or both.
None of that matters because Donald Trump is a demagogue and an unusually skillful one.
The demagogue is a character who repeats in human history and history shows that he can’t be reasoned with, or appeased, or co-opted. He must be defeated, over and over, until the people who follow him give up on illiberalism and return to civilized society.
Trump’s mugshot should remind us how high the stakes are and how formidable his threat is.
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Josh Barro has an amusing riff on Vivek:
Vivek was two years behind me, and I didn’t know him, which is a little strange given that we were both college Republicans and we were both obnoxious little shits. As I have watched his presidential campaign proceed, I have worried a little that my animus towards him — the strong desire I feel to punch him in his stupid fucking face — had to do with my own baggage from late adolescence; that when I watched him, I saw bits of my obnoxious teenage self that I have worked very hard to bury, and that my visceral revulsion was really more about me than it was about him.
But last night’s debate — in which I watched several former governors react to Vivek on a debate stage in the same way that I do in my living room — disabused me of this notion. Me wanting to punch someone in the face might be a ‘me’ problem. But if Mike Pence, Chris Christie, Nikki Haley and I all want to punch the same person in the face? That surely has to be a him problem. . . .
Vivek flouts the norms of presidential campaigning in a way that allows him to be superbly confident while also completely full of crap — not coincidentally, a trait traditionally associated with section guy. I don’t mean that other political candidates always tell the truth — they don’t. I mean only that a politician ordinarily feels that his or her statements need to be linked, in some way, to an ideological agenda he or she wishes to pursue, and to a set of actions he or she would undertake if they actually win office.
For example, most political candidates would not find it possible to propose to hand portions of Ukraine to Russia in exchange for Vladimir Putin agreeing to “exit his military partnership with China.” After all, what would that even mean? Is Putin going to make a pinky-swear? This is a ridiculous and unworkable one-weird-trick strategy — even from the perspective of a normal isolationist who might still think Ukraine is not worth spending money on — that’s barely worthy of bong-fueled 3 a.m. dorm room commentary. Ron DeSantis would be too embarrassed to say he’d make that deal. But Vivek goes ahead and says shit like this anyway with absolute confidence, adding that this stuff really isn’t so complicated and the old farts around him don’t get it because they’re stupid and/or corrupt. And then the audience eats it up. He has no business being there, he lies brazenly, and he gets rewarded for it.
Read the whole thing. I have two thoughts.
(1) Why didn’t the Fox moderators ask Vivek for specifics on his wildass proposals?
In addition to the Putin-China nonsense, Vivek said he would cut the federal workforce by 75 percent. How would that work? The federal government employs about 2.8 million people.
How many jobs in the military will he cut? In VA hospitals? In the administration of Social Security and Medicare? What happens to the labor market and the economy if 2.1 million Americans become unemployed overnight?
Shouldn’t Fox viewers have known how Vivek proposes to handle all of this?
Brett Baier and Martha MacCallum were absolute jokes—parody versions of the most uncharitable liberal caricatures of Fox talking heads.
(2) I kind of wish America’s elite liberal institutions would be elite liberal institutions, because they seem to spend a lot of time helping bad actors thrive. Harvard and Yale, to take two examples, have a lot to answer for. (Vivek and DeSantis and J.D. Vance and Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz and so many of the worst people in public life these days.)
The other day the New York Times published Ann Coulter—who once called for the bombing of the New York Times!
I suspect that our elite liberal institutions on balance give us the worst of both worlds: intellectually stultifying, yet lacking the courage of their convictions.
3. Baseball Tragedy
The debate wasn’t the worst thing to happen to America on Wednesday night:
In the first inning of the first game of the Angels’ doubleheader on Wednesday, Shohei Ohtani was dealing and donging, and all was right with his two-way world. Starting on the mound for the first time in two weeks, Ohtani induced a weak groundout from Reds leadoff man TJ Friedl, then struck out two rookie sensations swinging, as Matt McLain and Elly De La Cruz succumbed to splitters and handed Ohtani his 166th and 167th Ks of the season, respectively. In the batter’s box in the bottom of the frame, Ohtani launched a 115.7-mile-per-hour, 442-foot homer, his 44th of the season, which put him back in sole possession of the major league lead. It was the sort of sports miracle Ohtani has performed so routinely that it’s gotten tempting to take it for granted—ho-hum, more pretty pitches, more majestic drives. It was also, we know now, the last time we’ll see such two-way wonders this season, and potentially for a lot longer.
Ohtani topped out at 94 mph in the top of the first, with the 68-mph curveball he threw to De La Cruz representing his slowest pitch of the season, save for one stumble-slowed delivery in April. That was kind of concerning, but Ohtani is known for conserving speed at times, and perhaps he was ramping up after skipping a start due to arm fatigue—the latest in a series of seemingly minor physical complaints he’s transcended this season, including cramping, a cracked fingernail, and a blister.
In the second inning, though, disaster struck. Ohtani walked Cincinnati’s Spencer Steer, throwing mostly off-speed stuff and a single four-seamer clocked at 92.2. He got Joey Votto to pop out on a first-pitch sweeper. Then, he called out the trainer and exited the game. “Arm fatigue,” the Angels said, but Ohtani didn’t stay in as the designated hitter, as he typically does when he’s forced to stop pitching. Later, the word came that he was having tests done because his arm didn’t feel right. And although he did DH in the second game, going 1-for-5 with a double, it didn’t come as a complete surprise when the dreaded results of those tests were announced: Ohtani has a torn ulnar collateral ligament and won’t pitch for at least the rest of the season. The greatest Sho on earth is over, at least for now.
As Ohtani stood at second base after his hustle double in Wednesday’s second game, the Reds’ all-rookie infield was drawn to the sport’s center of gravity. Noelvi Marte, one of baseball’s top prospects, bowed to Ohtani, and Marte, McLain, De La Cruz, and Christian Encarnacion-Strand clustered around him like autograph-collecting kids. Somehow, Ohtani smiled and laughed, even though he was in on his UCL’s sad secret. De La Cruz—himself an athletic outlier and the author of jaw-dropping feats of strength and speed—tapped Ohtani’s arm, as if to confirm he’s flesh and blood. Ohtani is a mere mortal just like the rest of us, which is the best and worst thing about him: the best because our shared humanity makes what he does so special, and the worst because he’s sometimes subject to our limitations too.
Ohtani has already done enough to win the MVP award. Even if he doesn’t play another inning this year. But we—and by “we” I mean everyone on the planet—are being robbed of seeing something so special that before Ohtani it never even occurred to anyone that it could be done: He was going to win the Cy Young and set the home run record in a single season.
But even in our disappointment, baseball teaches us. To appreciate what we get; to be stoic in the face of disappointment; and to go back to the ballpark tomorrow.
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