Jeet Heer

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We’re doomed, Bill Kristol writes on Twitter, if Trump and Pence are all we have to offer. He was talking about the GOP, but the same might be said of the whole of America. This Administration has done permanent damage to the office of the Presidency, moving it into aberrant territory no matter how much we try to not allow its kleptocratic, sociopathic and autocratic nature be normalized. The power of the position allows it to define an awful lot. 

It has taken the Republican’s Constitution-defying rejection of Merrick Garland (orchestrated by McConnell but also supported by that great patriot McCain) to the nth degree. And it may only get worse. Newt Gingrich is now questioning whether Robert Mueller can really be true and impartial, a hilarious statement from that famously immoral, profiteering gasbag. It seems a trial balloon aimed at the eventual firing of the Special Prosecutor (and one that was echoed by Trump’s spelling-challenged lawyer). If that occurs, there should be no faith that Congress will act to protect us. The party is a now a safe distance beyond complicit.

Taking things a few paces deeper into Twilight Zone territory was today’s bizarre meeting in which Trump assembled cabinet members to rain down praise upon him, like Billy Mumy’s evil child demanding people think only “good thoughts” or they’ll wind up jack-in-the-boxes in the cornfield. Reince Priebus, an ambitious man with no shame, said “we thank you for the opportunity and blessing to serve your agenda.” Somebody better get a saddle ready because a horse may soon be joining the Senate.

It wasn’t too long ago–four years to be precise–when perfectly bright and well–intentioned person like Bill Gates was decrying that the American President didn’t have more sway over the country. “Some days I wish we had a system like the U.K.,” he said, “where the party in power could do a lot and you know, you’d see how it went and then fine you could un-elect them.” He was speaking of President Obama, of course, and the problem with having such a deeply decent person like 44 in the Oval Office is it can make it difficult to envision about worst-case scenarios.

Two excerpts follow: One from Kristol in the Weekly Standard about the tidal wave of youth that may wipe out the GOP in coming elections, which is hopeful in believing we’ll continue to be free and democratic and not a dictatorship or interrupted by Civil War 2.0. The other by Jeet Heer of the New Republic looks at Trump as a capo with nuclear capabilities trying to run Washington the way Gotti ran Queens.


From Kristol:

Lost in the back and forth—and especially in the efforts to be somewhat reassuring—was the most notable finding in the poll. It had to do with age. Donald Trump’s job approval/disapproval was 40 percent, 54 percent among Americans 65 and over; it was an almost identical 39 percent, 55 percent among 50-64 year olds; it was slightly worse at 35 percent, 55 percent among those 35 to 49 years old; and among Americans 18 to 34, Donald Trump’s job approval was 19 percent approve, 67 percent disapprove, an amazing -48 percent.

Now we are not knee-jerk respecters of youth. We give no greater weight to the opinions of the young than to those of the old. In fact, we’re inclined to give them less, as the young lack experience, and experience is a great teacher. We would even go so far as to say that the overvaluation of the sentiments of the young may be one of the curses of our age.

On the other hand, one would have to be blind not to see the political risk for Republicans and conservatives in these numbers. First impressions matter. Most people don’t change their political views radically from the ones they first hold. For young Americans today, Donald Trump is the face of Republicanism and conservatism.

They don’t like that face. And the danger, of course, is that they’ll decide their judgment of Trump should carry over to the Republican party that nominated him and the conservative movement that mostly supports him. If he is indeed permitted to embody the party and the movement without challenge, the fortunes of both will be at the mercy of President Trump’s own fortunes.•


From Heer:

The mafia analogies aren’t just casual gibes, but speak to something fundamental in Trump’s background and character. In his younger days, Trump was mentored by Roy Cohn, a mob lawyer, and he consorted with criminals, notably convicted felon Felix Sater. Trump’s record shows “repeated social and business dealings with mobsters, swindlers, and other crooks,” David Cay Johnston, who has extensively investigated Trump’s mafia tieswrote in Politico last year, and “Trump’s career has benefited from a decades-long and largely successful effort to limit and deflect law enforcement investigations into his dealings with top mobsters, organized crime associates, labor fixers, corrupt union leaders, con artists and even a one-time drug trafficker whom Trump retained as the head of his personal helicopter service.”

It was perhaps inevitable that Trump would run into conflict with the likes of Comey, Bharara, and Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates (whom Trump also fired, after she refused to defend his executive order banning people from seven Muslim-majority countries). Trump supporters might dismiss these figures as Washington insiders—inhabitants of “the swamp”—but they are more accurately seen as representatives of the legal and administrative state. They are all experts in the law and bureaucracy; they know the rules, understand why the rules exist, and enforce them. In other words, they are the polar opposite of Trump, an anti-professional to whom laws were meant to be broken.

But the mafia shouldn’t be seen as the antithesis of government, and rather as an alternative apparatus. The mafia tends to thrive when the administrative state is weak or corrupt, and thus unable to protect and provide for its citizens. Trump’s message as an outsider candidate was that normal politicians were unable to protect ordinary Americans, in part because they were too hamstrung by laws and regulations. Like a mafia don, Trump promised he’d deliver for the people, even if it meant breaking the rules (as when he boasted he’d break the Geneva convention to fight terrorism).•

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The opening of “Divine Inspiration,” Jeet Heer’s new article in The Walrus about the religious underpinnings of Marshall McLuhan’s vision:

“APPROPRIATELY ENOUGH, a century after his birth in 1911, Marshall McLuhan has found a second life on the Internet. YouTube and other sites are a rich repository of McLuhan interviews, revealing that the late media sage still has the power to provoke and infuriate. Connoisseurs of Canadian television should track down a 1968 episode of a CBC program called The Summer Way, a highbrow cultural and political show that once featured a half-hour debate about technology between McLuhan and the novelist Norman Mailer.

Both freewheeling public intellectuals with a penchant for making wild statements, Mailer and McLuhan were well matched mentally, yet they displayed an appropriate stylistic contrast. Earthy, squat, and pugnacious, Mailer possessed all the hot qualities McLuhan attributed to print culture. Meanwhile, McLuhan adopted the cerebral and cavalier cool approach he credited to successful television politicians like John F. Kennedy and Pierre Trudeau, who responded to attacks with insouciant indifference.

Early on in the program, McLuhan and Mailer tackle the largest possible issue, the fate of nature:

McLuhan: We live in a time when we have put a man-made satellite environment around the planet. The planet is no longer nature. It’s no longer the external world. It’s now the content of an artwork. Nature has ceased to exist.

Mailer: Well, I think you’re anticipating a century, perhaps.

McLuhan: But when you put a man-made environment around the planet, you have in a sense abolished nature. Nature from now on has to be programmed.

Mailer: Marshall, I think you’re begging a few tremendously serious questions. One of them is that we have not yet put a man-made environment around this planet, totally. We have not abolished nature yet. We may be in the process of abolishing nature forever.

McLuhan: The environment is not visible. It’s information. It’s electronic.

Mailer: Well, nonetheless, nature still exhibits manifestations which defy all methods of collecting information and data. For example, an earthquake may occur, or a tidal wave may come in, or a hurricane may strike. And the information will lag critically behind our ability to control it.

McLuhan: The experience of that event, that disaster, is felt everywhere at once, under a single dateline.

Mailer: But that’s not the same thing as controlling nature, dominating nature, or superseding nature. It’s far from that. Nature still does exist as a protagonist on this planet.

McLuhan: Oh, yes, but it’s like our Victorian mechanical environment. It’s a rear-view mirror image. Every age creates as a utopian image a nostalgic rear-view mirror image of itself, which puts it thoroughly out of touch with the present. The present is the enemy.”

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The full ’68 McLuhan-Mailer debate the article references:

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"The Cardboard Valise," by Ben Katchor.

In the Los Angeles Review of Books, Jeet Heer explores a new book by the excellent graphic-comics artist Ben Katchor. The first paragraph of the review sums up the lineage of Katchor’s work perfectly:

“Ben Katchor is the Joseph Mitchell of contemporary comics. Mitchell, along with his close friend A.J. Liebling, was a pivotal early New Yorker reporter who famously made a speciality of describing the peripheral rascals, layabouts, and oddballs of the Big Apple, ranging from the denizens of McSorley’s saloon to Joe Gould, the often homeless bohemian who claimed to be working on an ‘Oral History of the Contemporary World.’ With their cockeyed street-level view of New York and propensity for profiling loopy souls, Mitchell’s works were important precursors to the early Katchor who, throughout the 1980s and 1990s, meticulously chronicled the wanderings of ‘Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer’ in the pages of the New York Press (and, later, syndicated in alternative weeklies across the country). The Knipl strips were mournfully muted surveys of a New York where you could still feel the ghostly presence of the older city described by Mitchell in the 1930s and 1940s. “

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Ben Katchor’s 2002 TED Talk:

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