In Our Post-Factual World, Kayfabe is King

by Carson Starkey

“By Any Means Necessary”

At some point in the not-so-distant future, The Nation of Domination will “interrupt” a Donald Trump rally/speech. They will appear suddenly in a doorway, bathed in spotlights, wielding baseball bats, chains, and tire irons. They will begin marching towards the main stage, advancing on scattered groups of terrified, hysterical, elderly white Fox News viewers to the sounds of NWA’s “Fuck Tha’ Police.” Images of Barack Obama transforming into Malcolm X will adorn the venue’s Jumbotrons.

Moments before The Nation can reach Trump’s podium to complete their attack on freedom and destroy America, Shawn Michaels, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Chuck Norris, and Hulk Hogan will emerge from behind a curtain on the stage. They will be armed with American flags and steel chairs emblazoned with “Made in America,” as well as the United Steelworkers logo. Their spotlights will be larger. They will be surrounded by pyrotechnics while Bruce Springsteen’s immortal “Born in the USA” seizes control of the sound system, drowning out the evil, morally deficient, food stamp-encouraging hippity hop jungle music of the savage, unpatriotic attackers. Michaels, Austin, Norris, and Hogan will dispatch every member of The Nation with a combination of their signature finishers, and blows leveled with their white nationalist accouterments.

After Hogan levels Farooq/Ron Simmons with a dose of freedom, “Barack Obama” (played by Jay Pharoah) and “Hillary Clinton” (played by Kate McKinnon) will descend from the rafters, screaming “DEATH TO AMERICA!” The Illegitimate Kenyan Pretender and the Chief Feminazi Conspirator of Benghazi will attempt to aid their subversive nonwhite comrades.

Before Obama Hussein and Jane Fonda Clinton can enslave Real America, “George W. Bush” (played by George W. Bush) and “Dick Cheney” (played by Dick Cheney) will emerge from a previously undetected space beneath the stage. Bush-Cheney will overwhelm Obama-Clinton with respect for traditional values, devotion to capitalism, and freedom. Bush and Cheney will incapacitate Obama with a double vertical suplex through a table. America’s greatest cowboy hat-bedecked duo will complete their triumph with a double powerbomb of Clinton from atop of the main stage, onto a conveniently placed stack of Rachel Maddow books.

America’s glorious heroes will embrace. The crowd will shriek “TRUMP, TRUMP, TRUMP!” Trump will raise his hands high in victory, humbled by the show of conservative solidarity, and ready to win a general election.

Get used to saying “President Trump,” an America without social insurance, and seeing a whole lot more of Vince McMahon for the next eight years.

Kleiner Mann Joe Blue Collar, Was Nun?: The Way Forward for Those Who Don’t Care About The Heritage Foundation’s Agenda

By Carson Starkey

Darren McCollester | Getty Images

Hans Fallada’s “Little Man, What Now?” was first published in 1932. Johannes Pinneberg, the protagonist, faces constant economic anxieties, petty humiliations, and social disillusionment in post-World War One Germany. He travels through a broad range of emotions, but most of all, he feels disconnected and abandoned…abandoned by faceless, uncaring “leaders.” As he sees it, somebody should be looking out for him. He doesn’t hold grandiose, sophisticated ideas about public policy, history, economics, or politics. He wants a steady job, a place to live free from his repulsive mother-in-law, affordable healthcare for his wife Emma, and food for his son Horst. He’s not angry about socialism, trade unionism, or fascism. He’s angry that self-declared “serious” people in government can’t or won’t protect him from avoidable misery. A fair number of scholars assert that the book acts a broad explanation for the future political success of fascism in Germany. Johannes Blue Collar wasn’t obsessed with waging expensive, seemingly endless warfare or subjugating everyone that disagreed with him politically. He just wanted to pay his bills and maintain some measure of human dignity. Of course that was true in 1932. It has been true throughout the course of human history. It’s true today. Which brings us to Joe Blue Collar in contemporary America and his broad interest in, if not sympathy with, Donald Trump.

What has been most intriguing, in my view anyway, about the rise of Trumpism (broad, detail-free populist declarations about making America great) are the reactions among Establishment or respectable conservatives. “Establishment conservatives” has come to mean Republican Party voters that favor millionaire welfare checks, eternal warfare with Muslims, and racial segregation without the burden of supporting a politically inexperienced, orange-skinned, toupee-adorned grifter who plies shoddy products at Macy’s. Now that Trump is going to be the Republican presidential nominee, respectable conservatives are melting down in highly public, Mel Gibson-esque spectacles that reveal the ugly yet honest ideological foundations of American conservatism. Respectable, establishment conservatives claim to care about intellectually serious matters like Supreme Court nominees, small government, or fiscal restraint…although no evidence exists to support the contention that those same conservatives have ever worried about such matters in the past three quarters of a century, unless we mean preserving low tax rates for rich people or criminalizing the existence of non-white people. No, what rankles self-proclaimed grown-up conservatives about Trump is that he’s giving away the inside game by verifying an uncomfortable suspicion that Heritage Foundation “scholars” have always attempted to suppress during campaigns. That is, most self-proclaimed conservative voters don’t care about the Ayn Rand agenda. While abolishing taxation, dissolving social insurance, and building Pax Americana are important causes to people who work at The Wall Street Journal, all that Jane or Joe Blue Collar care about relates to making financial ends meet. Which makes conservative aristocrats angry bordering on hysterical.

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The United Center Casts a Long, Uncomfortable Shadow Over Garfield Park and Lawndale: On the Road with Springsteen in Chicago, and the Price We Pay for “Our Most American City”

By Carson Starkey

Little girl down on the strand

With that pretty little baby in your hands

Do you remember the story of the promised land

How he crossed the desert sands

And could not enter the chosen land

On the banks of the river he stayed

To face the price you pay

I saw Ta-Nehisi Coates speak at Roosevelt University (my wife Suzie’s graduate school alma mater) on October 9th, 2014. He was on a tour of America’s campuses, promoting his spectacularly important article “The Case for Reparations” that appeared in the June 2014 edition of The Atlantic. His appearance in Chicago was significant because his article focuses on the long-term imposition of economic misery on the overwhelmingly black neighborhoods of the city’s west and south sides. He spent the first thirty minutes or so of his time at the podium summarizing America’s history of political/economic choices that encourage white people taking from black people (Social Security, the GI Bill, housing ordinances). He pointed out reparations, at least the version he proposed in the article, are not meant to address historically distant outcomes, but rather present day injustices. He explained that we don’t have to talk about individual payments to/legislative spending aimed at descendants of slaves based on outcomes that are hundreds of years old (other arguments for other occasions) because the nonwhite people that have suffered under systematic, legalized cheating are very much alive in parts of America (the people that he interviewed during his research who live in Chicago to this day). After a question-and-answer session during which white liberals delivered statements about themselves that lacked relevance, discernible points, or punctuation, most of all question marks, and consumed substantial amounts of time, Mr. Coates described Chicago in a way that I will carry with me forever. “When my European friends ask me about which cities they should visit when they come to this country, I tell them, don’t go to New York or Los Angeles. Go to Chicago. I say that because Chicago is our most American city, for all that entails, both good and bad.” Amen to that.

I was reminded of that moment, and its many layers of truth, when I made my first of three holy pilgrimages to The United Center on January 19th, 2016 to see Bruce Springsteen perform on the second night of “The River” tour. It was one of those moments, along with the time we spend surveying the demographics of Springsteen crowds, that makes/should make every Springsteen fan uncomfortable. Allow me to explain why that is the case. The United Center occupies its own patch of highly profitable real estate in the Near West Side, just slightly set apart from the West Loop, east of Garfield Park and Lawndale. While the United Center is one of America’s rare exceptions as sports stadiums go in that it owes its existence to private funding, the owners of the United Center (Chicago Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz and (Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf) fall firmly within the mainstream of the our nation’s mega-rich, as they derive astronomical financial benefits from property tax subsidies (“Nothing But Net Profit: Jerry Reinsdorf, Property Tax Relief, and Corporate School Reform on Chicago’s Near West Side,” January 2013).

If showering billionaires with welfare handouts doesn’t upset you, because that’s just the price of freedom or whatever the socially awkward, celibate, casually bigoted young National Review readers are claiming these days, you might choose to examine The United Center’s location in relation to the neighborhoods around it, specifically Garfield Park and Lawndale. Garfield Park and Lawndale, both overwhelmingly black, are often found among the top ten poorest, most violent neighborhoods in our nation. So of course their residents should be able to cast their gaze regularly upon an enormous monument to obscene, publicly subsidized excess, because they wouldn’t be able to put that same money to use in their neighborhoods, obviously. Because investing money in black people is always welfare fraud. Because white people need The United Center to be of top notch quality so that they can enjoy professional sports competitions and live music concerts…that most residents of Garfield Park and Lawndale can’t afford to attend. Because Chicago is “our most American city.”

As I mentioned two paragraphs ago, most Springsteen fans have to confront at least one other unsettling experience when they attend his live performances-the demographics of their fellow travelers. After we finished our meals in the West Loop, strong recommendation for Kaiser Tiger, we hiked to our gate and stood among the trembling faithful (trembling from a mixture of blistering wind and joyful anticipation). Nothing but smiling white people, as far as they eye could behold. Some were talking about how many Springsteen live performances they’ve seen, which one woman in her early sixties estimated to be around twenty-plus. Some were talking about the urgent need, as this was early in the current tour, for Springsteen to add more dates in Europe because, in the words of an Englishwoman, she wanted “more than anything in the world,” and would “pay any amount of money to hear ‘Born in the USA’ live in London.” Whatever they were talking about, everyone was talking about spending substantial amounts of money, and everyone was white. I won’t insult your intelligence by claiming that I refused to buy merchandise because my baseball hat, t-shirt, and poster (all made in America) are intensely cool. But the truth is that I was uneasy with the fact my musical hero, our most vocally left-wing rock n’roll star national treasure, draws a fan base of such minimal diversity. There is no pithy segue or smooth transition for this conclusion. Just discomfort.

We found our seats. I wasn’t entirely certain about how I would respond to “The River.” It’s never been my favorite album. Prior to this tour, I have always been loyal to “Born in the USA,” “Born to Run,” “The Seeger Sessions,” and “Wrecking Ball,” in that order. Although the more I read about this tour, the more I found that E Street Band members all say that “The River” is their favorite album because it replicates the live concert experience with the greatest authenticity (“Bruce Springsteen’s ‘The River’: Steve Van Zandt Looks Back,” Rolling Stone, February 11th, 2016, and “Max Weinberg on ‘River’ Tour: What He Learned From Bruce Springsteen,” Rolling Stone, February 9th, 2016).

Suzie and I shrieked along to the first five songs (“Meet Me In The City,” “The Ties That Bind,” “Sherry Darling,” “Jackson Cage,” and “Two Hearts,”), standing and dancing in place with total disregard for rhythm or talent. I won’t spend much time explaining Springsteen’s material that deals with fast cars, attractive women, and weekend road trips because there’s no need to do so. These are the songs that everyone can agree upon for any occasion. If you seek bipartisanship/the spirit of compromise anywhere in America, in any form, put members of different communities, or different political views in a sedan and play “Pink Cadillac.” You will have earned a genuine respite from the crushing sadness of ideological rancor that afflicts our society.

We sat down, as standard stadium rock concert etiquette dictates when ballads are playing, for “Independence Day,” which is the definitive father-son airing of grievances-irreconcilable differences among generations anthem of contemporary Western society. Bruce graced us with one of his famous monologues before he started the song, which captured the attention of every person in the building with the collectively somber reverence usually reserved for presidential speechmaking prior to a major war. The signature “Springsteen: Just the Stories” moment set me up for what followed, undoubtedly because I was swept away with overwhelming joy when he started speaking. Those that know me complain, frequently, that I rely on humor far too often to draw attention, deflect sadness, or derail conversation that I find less than compelling, but I swear on my devotion to collective bargaining, that after the first verse, I was sobbing hysterically. Not quiet sniffles followed by watery eyes that went unnoticed. Choking, gasping, uncontrolled spasms of weeping, chest heaving, cascading streams of tears, cheeks glistening, without a shred of self-awareness. Totally out of nowhere. Suzie didn’t know what to do. Nearby spectators must have thought that I was having a nervous breakdown. I would have assured them, no, not the case at all fellow Americana enthusiasts. Just a supernova of emotional clarity, human compassion, and self-reflection. Every petty, savage, low-stakes argument that I ever had with my father came flooding back…battles over car repairs, the 2000 presidential election, Paul Wellstone, my younger brother, my return from the Iraq War…I was vowing to do better, because I couldn’t imagine feeling this way ever again. I don’t remember when, or at what point in the song exactly, I stopped crying. Not terribly important. What I do remember is feeling exhausted…six songs into the show. That can be problematic if the specific performer you’re seeing is famous for consistently delivering three to four hour marathon concerts.

I pulled myself together, and was composed for most of the remaining songs. I strained muscles in my back, shoulders, ribs, neck, and stomach singing along to “Ramrod” and “Cadillac Ranch” because they are my favorite tracks from the album, and because I live under the comical delusion that my Springsteen impression gets magically better for those particular songs. I thought that I would be okay until at least the fan favorite portion of the show (greatest hits that he plays after he completes “The River” album in its entirety) until we reached “The Price You Pay.” Easy to pin down the reason for this meltdown in retrospect. Story of working class misery, same style as “The Promised Land,” he even uses the phrase in the song. Important note-I always cry while screaming along to “The Promised Land.” One of my top five favorite Springsteen songs. So…maybe I was consumed with sadness about America’s vast economic inequality. Maybe I was thinking about Chicago’s ugly contradictions. Maybe I had other, more subtle, below the surface, selfish reasons for that outburst of tears. All I know is that I “felt” everything, deeply, maximally, and with unbridled severity.

Bruce finished “The River,” and moved on to the fan favorite portion, which is synonymous with “Born to Run” and “Thunder Road,” those marquee climaxes of any Springsteen live performance. Before he reached those two most cherished icons, he threw in “The Rising.” All of the Millenials stood and wailed in unison, as we time traveled back to the heady, exuberant summer days of 2008, when we knocked doors for Senator Barry Obama, when The Boss traveled with Senator Barry, rallying stadiums full of liberals, when Senator Barry himself explained his reason for wanting to reside in the White House (“Because I can’t be Bruce Springsteen,” “Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel Form Supergroup for Obama in NYC,” Rolling Stone, October 17th, 2008), and we shook the pillars of American society with our illustrious optimism born from disgust with Iraq and overt Bush administration criminality. I had to stop smiling like a lunatic, and take stock of it all. Damn Bruce…why does everything have to be so “real” with you?

I was fine during “Born to Run.” No tsunami of emotions. Again, I can’t explain it. I know that it’s supposed to be every Springsteen fan’s favorite song according to the standard music critic/journalist narrative. Sang every word, loved it, but nothing compares to “Thunder Road.” I stood, sang, cried, swayed, hugged, and felt my knees buckle numerous times. There is no drug, prescription or illicit, no artificial substance in the universe that can replicate how I feel when I’m singing that Springsteen song.

After three hours and twenty minutes of crowd surfing, mad dashes between stages, and ZERO set breaks because anything less than one hundred percent effort is for America-hating subversives, it was over. Bruce and the E Street Band stepped away from their instruments, bowed, and walked backstage. We had just “seen the heart-stopping, pants-dropping, hard-rocking, earth-quaking, booty-shaking, Viagra-taking, love-making, legendary E STREET BAND!” That’s Springsteen’s bit at the end of every performance…basically an homage to James Brown, although most reasonably informed fans know that a majority of Springsteen’s live act is an homage to James Brown. Another examination for another day, valued readers, no doubt.

I was disappointed that he didn’t play “Glory Days” or “Born in The USA,” (bucket list goals) but such is the reality of “The River” tour. Too many songs, not enough time in an evening to hit everything before municipal police forces shut down operations, although I would argue that all Springsteen concerts should be legally required to run five hours, minimum. The more complicated problem, as far as seeing those two particular songs, is that The Boss tends to reserve them for his European shows, where the audiences sing with evangelical fervor when they have opportunities to appropriate American cultural experiences. To paraphrase the colonel from “Full Metal Jacket,” inside every European, there is a Bruce Springsteen fan trying to claim American citizenship. I’m not exaggerating when I say that contemporary industrialized society sometimes can’t handle the length and ferocity of live Springsteen performances (“Bruce Springsteen’s Microphone Switched Off at Hyde Park Gig,” The Guardian, July 14th, 2012).

We left The United Center, fatigued, satisfied with our artistic sensibilities, pleased with our intellectual superiority, and filled with security in our status as comfortable white people.Many thanks to Allan Branstiter for allowing public use of that copyrighted term.

We still had to face a world in which a war with Iran (2018, ask Troy Olson) looks inevitable, where The United Center mocks the poverty of Garfield Park and Lawndale with total impunity, and where millionaire welfare checks constitute wise investments but social insurance for working people means big government waste in the language of “respectable” (code for always wrong about outcomes) political/policy discourse. Bruce Springsteen’s concert didn’t and couldn’t solve our problems, and as he would be quick to point out, only we could do that by voting, fundraising, and persuading our fellow citizens. We didn’t have comforting answers, but we had the power of rock n’roll. That would have to suffice as we navigated the perils of “our most American city” in the New Gilded Age.

Let’s hope that Bruce Springsteen and Ta-Nehisi Coates hold a joint event together at some point. The combined fan bases interacting with each other would be worth any price of admission. All proceeds would go to worthy liberal charities. #LeftyLifeGoals #GreatestLiveEventEver

Marco Rubio’s Public Statement on Suspending His Presidential Campaign

By Carson Starkey, Chief Speechwriter for Senator Marco Rubio

Good evening,

I am here tonight to announce that I am suspending my presidential campaign effective immediately. Pause for widespread, slowly cascading applause. After many hours of consultation with Chamber of Commerce lobbyists, American Enterprise Institute board members, Heritage Foundation scholars, Fox News producers, The Honorable Rush Limbaugh, assorted campaign staffers, and family members, I have come to the conclusion that my long-term political career can no longer sustain further damage that stems from exchanging mediocre insults with a man who sells ties at Macy’s. Gaze intently at attractive audience member. In order to ensure that Americans enjoy the benefits of living without social insurance and a protracted, bloody, expensive war with Iran, I am urging every principled conservative to unite behind future President Donald Trump. Dramatic pause, project moderate self-importance. Please disregard every previous public statement that I have made prior to this moment that portrayed Mr. Trump in a negative light. Execute facial expression to convey seriousness. Which I know will not be a matter of controversy, and that brings me to my next expression of gratitude. Hand gesture followed by emotional connection. I want to thank my fellow citizens for not having any interest in cursory fact checking, or even using Google. Continue transmission. This broad phenomenon is responsible for my relatively easy political career, really the careers of most Republican elected officials if we’re being truthful, up to this moment, and it will be the most obvious reason for Mr. Trump’s eventual victory in the general election. Convey somber body language.

I want to assure everybody that, even though I am leaving the campaign trail temporarily, I am doing well, financially and psychologically. Allow three to five seconds for audience laughter. I have secured employment with eight think tanks, three cable news networks, five law firms, and nine investment banks. Bask in self-evident brilliance. Despite the fact that I am totally lacking in marketable skills, and have zero interest in any work that does not involve me reading prearranged cue cards, I am confident that I will be able to amass an enormous personal fortune in the near future while performing “work” of negligible socioeconomic utility. Raise arm to chest level, implement finger point at family member.

I want to thank everyone affiliated with my campaign, especially my super PAC donors-my apology for squandering vast sums of your money on such a monstrously pointless endeavor-and the people who invested so many hundreds of hours trying to reprogram my debate responses, which, much like my hair products, will only improve with time. Pause again for audience laughter, expression of satisfaction. I look forward to returning to Florida, and defeating many more hopelessly incompetent Democrats in statewide elections. Hearty chuckle, engage light-hearted scan of audience front row. Thank you all for coming. Brief pause to heighten anticipation. I’ll be back in 2020 to claim my rightful place in the White House. Rouse audience to moderate excitement. May God bless you, and may God continue to bless America. All systems engage charm, firm wave of right hand, end transmission.

A Joyful, Tear-Soaked, Sacred Journey: Traveling Across The Promised Land in Search of Springsteen and Working On a Dream of Political Inspiration

By Carson Starkey

Bruce Springsteen is the greatest live musical performer of our time, and he is probably (according to experts like Carson Starkey) the greatest live performer in the history of popular music. Other experts (those associated with the above mentioned Carson Starkey) will go so far as to say that Bruce Springsteen is also the greatest songwriter in the history of popular music, better than Paul Simon and Bob Dylan because his music has remained more socially relevant. Feel free to claim that lots of other individuals or bands held the live performer crown prior to Springsteen hitting his stride of widespread public notoriety in the mid-1970s. James Brown, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Aretha Franklin, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, Chuck Berry, or Little Richard in the formative years of rock n’roll/soul/R and B…or David Bowie, Jim Morrison/The Doors, Queen, Michael Jackson, or Van Morrison in the fully professionalized era of popular music post-1970s…all reasonable counter suggestions. You might assert that Beyonce, The Black Keys, Taylor Swift, Prince, Dave Grohl/The Foo Fighters, Muse, Kendrick Lamar, Kanye West, or Katy Perry are the most magnificent to see live in our contemporary era of music. This list isn’t exhaustive, and all I’m shooting for here is generalized fairness and broad consideration for alternatives. I concede simply that many great live performers have come before Springsteen, many have risen during his career, and many more will come after him.

My point is that nobody except Bruce Springsteen, past or present, sprints across stages for 3 to 4 hours unencumbered by set/encore breaks, crowd surfs, takes spontaneous fan requests for both covers or her/his songs, dances with fans onstage, sings songs with massive word counts and elaborate verses at maximum intensity, delivers aggressively political speeches during shows, campaigns for presidential candidates, and always (if he chooses to do so) draws six digit crowds…all at the age of sixty-six. Springsteen bestrides the planet, unrivaled as the last great Titan of rock, drenched in cartoonish, hyperbolic, genuine, patriotic, masculine magnificence. There may be a better live performer than Bruce Springsteen in the same way that advanced extraterrestrial life forms may inhabit other parts of the universe. We lack evidence to substantiate both theories.

I’m obligated to explain why Springsteen fans harbor such deep, quasi-religious passion for the Bard of Asbury Park. The technical elements of breathtaking live music are important, but ask the legions of Boss enthusiasts about what motivates them to shriek along to “Thunder Road” between uncontrollable fits of sobbing, and they will tell you that they feel immeasurable political connections to the music. At a time in our country when both major parties cater exclusively to wealthy kleptocrats, it’s only natural that Jane and John Stagnant Wages feel compelled to express their love for a musician that speaks to their pains, hopes, and dreams.

I realize that I’m not the first person in human history to write about the mystical, healing powers of The Great American Road Trip, or the first person in human history to discover the music of Bruce Springsteen. I feel compelled to write about my recent three city expedition (Chicago, Minneapolis-Saint Paul, and Milwaukee) following Springsteen’s current tour (“The River”) because we live in a time of profound cynicism about what’s possible, socioeconomically, politically, and culturally. I want to contribute to a reversal of that immense sadness. I don’t have all of the answers about how to feel better regarding the future, and I won’t claim that any musician has those answers in this piece. Instead, I will assert here that if you want to start feeling better, or at least less crushed by pessimism, about what we can achieve as a society, the music of Bruce Springsteen is a worthwhile vessel for getting started on any journey towards productive, realistic optimism…but only after you transition through a spectrum of powerful, unsettling emotions.

I’ll get around to discussing the more complex reactions to the Springsteen road trip experience in the next three parts of this series, but I want to leave you with a sentiment that I believe captures what Bruce Springsteen wants for his fans, and for Americans writ large, when they listen to his lyrics. He wants you to be as emotionally invested in the political process as you are in live music. He wants you to make political choices with the same sense of dire seriousness as you make choices about concert tickets. Think about that the next time you’re screaming along to “The Promised Land” with tears streaming down you cheeks and all four windows rolled down. I’ll see you again soon, traveling on the road with greatness, searching for The Promised Land, and feeling everything with the utmost ferocity. If anybody needs to reach me, I’ll be listening to “Darkness on the Edge of Town” in its entirety, gazing at a sunset, and consuming a union-made beer.


The dogs on main street howl,
’cause they understand,
If I could take one moment into my hands
Mister, I ain’t a boy, no, I’m a man,
And I believe in a promised land!



Missing the Crazy Forest for the Tree with a Silly Hair Piece and Orange Skin

by Carson Starkey

Treme you want to talk about a trombone

So you want to talk about “reasonable” alternatives to Donald Trump, who is an existential fascist evil without parallel, anywhere in American history? Maybe we should talk about a trombone first.

Let us read from The Gospel of David Simon, his letter to New Orleans, “Treme,” Season 1, Episode 5, as we examine our collective responsibility to one another in times of confusion. Toni Bernette (Melissa Leo) is a standard left-of-center respectable criminal defense attorney in post-Katrina New Orleans, seeking to retrieve a trombone that New Orleans police officers stole from her client Antoine Batiste (Wendell Pierce) after they smacked him around and arrested him (wildly overreacted with unnecessary violence) for disorderly conduct. She is delivering a morality lecture to chronically disappointed Lieutenant Terry Colson (David Morse) about the injustice. She finishes her complaint by pointing out that the purloined musical instrument is an instructive microcosm for below-average public services in New Orleans (#NiceThings #CantHaveEm). Lieutenant Colson responds by pointing out that the police officers are competing against widespread financial hardships, missing family members, and a wave of resurgent crime now that cleanup has begun in earnest. “We’re overwhelmed and underfunded. The crime is coming back and we’re not ready. But you wanna talk about a trombone…”

America is mired in stagnant wages, and has been since 1973 (and feel free to Google that whenever you want, because the Economic Policy Institute and the Center for Economic Policy both have nothing but time on their hands). We are burdened with the entirely unnecessary and avoidable debt, somewhere in the range of four to six trillion dollars worth (again, feel free to Google Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes), derived from two catastrophically stupid, unpopular wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. One of our two major political parties is overflowing with hysterical white nationalists, unapologetic financial criminals who believe that the rule of law only applies to black men who smoke/possess forbidden herbs, and religiously motivated sociopaths who desire wars with Iran, Syria, Iraq, Mexico, Canada, the country of Africa (as defined by Fox News or Sarah Palin), and Massachusetts. But you wanna frame the guy who sells ties and cologne at Macy’s as an existential threat…

When I say that one of the two major political parties is populated with unhinged, disreputable sociopaths, I’m not restricting that description to a handful of talk radio listeners who care passionately about Ted Nugent. The vast majority of American conservatives hold cartoonishly weird, dangerous ideas about public policies and governance. Allan Branstiter isn’t kidding when he says that your parents, and really all conservatives, will support Donald Trump, or any other self-proclaimed Republican candidate under any circumstances, no matter how preposterous, rather than vote for a treasonous-reverse racist-America-hating-welfare cheating-communist-socialist-terrorist (all one phrase, single breath) Demmycrat. We live in a society where nobody changes her/his mind. Which is why, in the course of the Obama years, we’ve witnessed American conservatives plummeting into previously unknown depths of shameful behavior. One especially painful narrative stands out for me. Remember that time when Republicans invited the Prime Minister of Israel to campaign for them in 2012 and 2015, with the sole message that what America needs is a war with Iran? So if you’re looking for a “reasonable” alternative to Donald Trump, you’ll have better luck finding a Super Bowl ring at the headquarters of the Minnesota Vikings. The non-Trump choices all worship at the Altar of Discredited Mythology.

To wit, while The Donald campaigns on his idea for a $9.5 trillion tax cut, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio call for equally absurd tax cuts of $8.6 and $6.8 trillion, respectively (“We’ve Lost Sight of How Wildly Irresponsible the Republican Tax Plans Are,” Vox, Ezra Klein and Jeff Stein, February 25, 2016). Donald Trump has proposed, although we all know that this would never happen with Speaker Paul Ryan and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, that we should invest trillions of dollars in domestic employment, denounced the Iraq War, and endorsed the broad contours of fair trade policies that would benefit American blue collar workers (“The shocking truth about Donald Trump: He’s actually the least terrifying GOP candidate,” Salon, Conor Lynch, September 3, 2015). Alternatively, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio are both in strong agreement that they would abolish social insurance (presumably in separate legislation, which would seem unnecessary given the size of the millionaire welfare boondoggles that they propose). John “Medicaid Expansion” Kasich has spent most of his political career (when he wasn’t working for the eminently respectable institution of enlightened policy discourse, Fox News) attempting to criminalize collective bargaining, making contraception an endangered idea, and of course showering welfare checks onto wealthy people (“John Kasich Is No Moderate,” Salon, Luke Brinker, July 21, 2015).

So before you post another meme about the possibility of a Trump presidency being the end of America, take a moment to consider that you’re not original in your fears or thoughts. Plenty of other demagogues have come and gone. There’s a distinct possibility that The Donald has no intention of governing, and that this is all an elaborate plot to expand sales of his mediocre fashion products, as most conservative political machinations are expressions of subtle, highly intellectual satire designed to test the limits of cultural norms. Even if Trump does actually intend to win the 2016 presidential election, consider the fact that he makes Ted “Government Shutdown” Cruz and Marco “Eternal Warfare with All Muslims” Rubio look reasonable by comparison.

Do you still want to talk about a trombone?

Peyton Manning’s Full Statement to the Press Announcing His Retirement

By Carson Starkey

“Today, I want to announce that I’m retiring, and moving on to the next phase of my life, in which I’ll spout incoherent, meaningless nonsense that has little to no relevance in most situations. I have learned so much from my pappy, my hound dawg, and my squirrel hunting scatter gun. I’m excited about new product endorsement opportunities. I’d like to promise that most of my sexual assaulting days are behind me, but nobody can predict the future. I want to to tip my hat to my immensely talented rival, Tom Brady. Although I have never been able to locate Michigan, California, or Massachusetts on a map, I do know that today I leave the game of football as one of several distant runners up to Tom. I’ll chuckle for many years to come, knowing that the entire combined Manning family has as many Super Bowl rings as the greatest quarterback of all-time. I want to take this opportunity to express my love for Budweiser, Papa John’s Pizza, George W. Bush, and certain portions of America that share my ugly, socially backwards views. Thank you.”
Peyton Manning’s full statement to the press upon retirement.

Angry Doctor Huxtable Departs, Vows to Defraud Clueless White People with Renewed Vigor

by Carson Starkey

Doctor Ben Carson announced that he is suspending his campaign on Friday, March 4th. All twelve of his actual voting supporters are disappointed but willing to compromise, promising to shift their support to Clarence Thomas or Bill Cosby. Upon learning that Clarence Thomas and Bill Cosby are not campaigning to become president, those same supporters are proposing to consult Megyn Kelly for further guidance. Before you become overly concerned about voters or their collectively tenuous grasp on electoral politics, consider the silver lining in the wake of Angry Doctor Huxtable’s departure from the campaign trail. While voters have lost a deeply confusing, frequently somnolent candidate, they have also gained a tremendously talented Fox News commentator. I’m excited about the inevitable prime time show, “Ben Carson and Herman Cain Shout Insults at House Plants and Passing Cars.” Of far greater importance, at least in direct economic/financial terms, is the fact that political consultants will now have increased access to a mammoth cash machine for their perpetual grifting operations, although they’ll be the first to admit that Ben Carson has already enriched them on an astronomical scale.

When I say that Ben Carson has been good for the political consulting business, I mean that he spent fifty-eight million dollars in nine months (and secured a microscopic number of votes), more than any other Republican candidate in the 2016 presidential race, according to the Associated Press (“Carson Spent Heavily on Consultants, Lightly on Campaigning,” March 4, 2016). Allow me to clarify the specifics of Ben Carson’s sprawling white collar criminal endeavor. He spent approximately seven hundred thousand dollars on direct payroll expenses (ostensibly the employees that run a political campaign-spokespeople, data managers, local door knockers, state campaign managers) and six hundred thousand dollars on total advertising. Fifty-eight million minus one million three hundred thousand is fifty-six million seven hundred thousand. To paraphrase De Niro’s immortal hustler Sam “Ace” Rothstein, what in the holy f%*king hell happened to the rest of the money Ginger?!!!

If I can slander my own experience, that last paragraph underestimates your pre-existing knowledge of American conservatism and its predilections for naked, cartoonish theft. Feel free to consult, if you haven’t already, stellar authors like Rick Perlstein, Jonathan Chait, or Michael Tomasky as to the guiding purpose of most conservative causes or campaigns. Among the knowledgeable operatives of the Republican Party, Fox News, The Wall Street Journal, CNBC, and AM talk radio, everyone accepts the fact that separating clueless rubes from their money with an endless array of sophisticated scams must always be the pursuit of utmost importance. Winning elections, implementing public policies, or disseminating hurtful claims about the Clinton family are all icing on the metaphorical cake of political discourse.

If you don’t believe the previous claim, peruse the advertisements of National Review. Attend CPAC. Watch Fox News or CNBC for five minutes. Of course you’re supposed to whip yourself into a frenzy about the existence of mathematics, black women living in Chicago, or Sarah Silverman’s contempt for family values. Not the point good citizens. What matters is how you respond to your blistering outrage. If you want to stick it to the liberals who are destroying America, don’t sit idle. I mean stay seated, and continue to watch Bill O’Reilly, sweet Lord, of course you’re supposed to do that. But during commercials, strike back at godless hippies by exercising your power as consumers and purchase Mark Levin’s/Ann Coulter’s/Ted Nugent’s/Mike Huckabee’s/Sean Hannity’s books/gold products/canned foods/firearms/ammunition/tickets to see Laura Ingraham speak/Ben Carson’s latest investigative journalism that reveal global warming to be a hoax.

It all seems kind of obvious now, right? For decades, you’ve suspected that most, if not all, Republican candidates, talk radio/cable news commentators, and conservative thought leaders are engaged in elaborate, high brow satire. That has to be the real story, because nobody is foolish or crazy enough to believe that endless wars, welfare checks for millionaires, and racial segregation make sense or improve quality of life for most Americans. Obviously conservatism is just a colossal pyramid scheme designed to fleece vulnerable people. Think about how relieved you are at this moment, knowing that conservatism is so profoundly unserious about its stated aims. Now think about how relieved Angry Doctor Huxtable is to be done with campaigning and finally moving on to the Promised Land of massive, Heritage Foundation/American Enterprise Institute/Tea Party Express-subsidized pay days. He’s living proof that anybody can succeed in this great society of ours, as long as s/he is willing to spout incomprehensible nonsense for months at a time.

All hail The Grift Machine.

Reckless Courage: The “Respectable” Conservative Plot to Cheat Aggressively

by Carson Starkey

Cool Republican Marco Rubio failing to stop Donald Trump. | Reuters/Nick Oxford

Sweet White English-Speaking NASCAR-Lovin’ Baby Jesus, what are conservative big whigs thinking when they openly brag about stopping Trump? Let’s proceed under the notion that you’re not fully aware of the Republican leadership’s plan to deny Donald Trump their party’s presidential nomination as outlined in the NYT article “Inside the Republican Party’s Desperate Mission to Stop Donald Trump” from February 27th. Put aside the fact that everything Donald Trump is saying on the campaign trail is entirely within the mainstream of American conservatism, other than vague mentions of fair trade and hostility for the Bush family, which will have little to no impact on policy outcomes beyond 2016. Ask Paul Ryan about the less-than-desirable work ethics of urban inner-city men. Solicit Willard Romney’s opinion about what constitutes productive labor. Examine any National Review/Wall Street Journal article for hints about why America 2025 will be an awful place, filled with immoral rap music and people who speak Spanish. Probe any Fox News viewer about what her/his greatest fear is (nonwhite people, even though the obvious answers should be heart disease, illiteracy, oral infection, and accidental death from misusing firearms while under the influence of alcohol).

So . . . as I was saying, “respectable” conservatives (hysterical, angry white racists who don’t trust Donald Trump to smash social insurance and sufficiently immiserate anyone not in favor of a war with Iran) are attempting to thwart Donald Trump’s ascent to the nomination with aggressive cheating. Movement conservative thought-leaders are betting that their flyover country cable news viewing foot soldiers will be cool with an outcome in which the candidate with the most votes and delegates loses to The Anointed One Who Can’t Beat Trump Fair and Square, Marco Rubio. Seriously, that’s their idea of an elegant, successful plan.

Take a moment to think about how that will look, and what kind of reactions such an outcome would provoke. The moment that Rubio walks to the podium, with his giant glass of water and his legal pad covered in last-minute red crayon edits, for his acceptance speech, Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh will lead an armed mob to the door of The Heritage Foundation and burn the building to smoldering ashes. Mark Levin and Glenn Beck will conduct a simultaneous assault against Congress, beheading Republican elected officials on the National Mall following on-the-spot treason trials conducted by Oath Keepers and presiding judge/Governor Militant Joe Arpaio. Fox News will broadcast live coverage of foaming-at-the-mouth, shrieking white Alabamians clad in Confederate Army uniforms lobbing Molotov cocktails at federal buildings, declaring their “independence,” and doing battle with U.S. marshals.

Somebody needs to sit down with Republican leadership and explain to them that cheating is only acceptable in general elections, and only if the cheating is designed to disenfranchise impoverished black people. George W. Bush has plenty of free time these days. He needs to get on the next flight to D.C. and convince his brethren against igniting a second Civil War. Nobody wants to live in an America where Supreme Commander of the White Nationalist Armies Sean Hannity issues edicts about need to eradicate subversives and foreigners (women who wear pants and residents of Massachusetts). Save America one more time Shrub. We need you more than ever.