Everybody Row!

The problem is that most of the things happening in the world, or even in our own towns, are not things we have power over. We're made to be emotionally invested in things we can't solve, can't fix. "A fatal car accident today left three dead, including two children." It's awful, but it's also over. What does it mean for us to know it? Our own social support systems already exist for this kind of thing. If we needed to know, if it were someone important to us, we'd find out. Having the news tell us doesn't do anything except make us feel sad that children sometimes die for stupid reasons.

What we don't realize is that we like feeling strong emotions. It's addictive. And so we tune in again and again, and while we feed that monkey on our back that just wants to feel, our brain sees a carnival of cruelty, random tragedy, and sly propaganda, and concludes that this is all some kind of undifferentiated doom and that nothing matters.

...and then 48% of eligible voters stay home in November, and then...

And what do we do about that, huh? There was no way not to talk about it. The rise of populist nationalism in America (and its mirror-movements throughout the West) are pretty much the Big Story right now, and it's hard not to think that the media are deliberately ignoring the forest so that they can examine individual stumps more closely. Media want your eyeballs, and they don't care how they get them. They can't care. It isn't just money, either. Media is part of the Social Order(tm).

They're scared of what might happen if they suddenly start caring. They're scared of what they'll have to look at, and what they'll have to admit about themselves and what they've created.

But now even that service is democratized, with all the attendant chaos that comes with democracy.

Donald Trump, believer of conspiracy theories, presumably receiving radio broadcasts from Deep Space about everything from President Obama's birth certificate to the "Chinese Hoax" of global climate change, is now himself the punchline of a probably-not-too-absurd-to-be-believed-by-some conspiracy. Personally, I think it'd be fun to keep repeating this in cafes and truck stops around the country, casually, just to let it take off. No real news-site will carry the story except as the obvious hoax that it is, but we can't trust those sites anyway, right? But a Pakistani news agency? Well, Trump is from there, right? They'd know, right? So it kinda makes sense...

My grandmother asked me around the 18th of December or so, "Do you think the Electoral College will actually follow through with the election of Trump?"

What's lacking in America, more than anything, is political courage. We're never sure what the next big atrocity is going to be, so everyone bides their time and conserves their political capital. No one is willing to die on any given hill. We act as though we know something Even More Important is coming, and we might as well hoard our resources in preparation for it.

This is a self-fulfilling prophecy, because it means we do nothing while problems mount up, despite their being perfectly good, legal, and morally justified methods of preventing the oncoming wreck. The Electoral College, theoretically, was put in place by the authors of the country's founding documents as a final emergency-brake on the election of a demagogue, especially one unduly influenced by foreign power, especially one without the administrative skill to be in office, especially one without the temperament to govern with dignity and responsibility, especially one who relied on talents of rhetoric and incitement as a method of gaining popular support. Sound familiar?

Well, the Electoral College, with the barest and most symbolic (and therefore ultimately meaningless) resistance, put him in the Big Chair. So much for all that. Arguably the first time in the country's history, certainly in the living memory of the country, where the exact circumstances foreseen would warrant the powers of the Electoral College, and they allowed precisely what they were supposed to prevent.

The checks on populism are turning out to be paper tigers, though. It turns out that the Brexit referendum probably isn't even legally binding. I somehow doubt that'll stop some form of it from going through.

Also, late night on December 30th, Josh Marshall, the very talkative face of Talking Points Memo, a left-leaning political wonk-blog, tweeted this gem:

There was the expected lame attempts at ass-covering afterward, because there’s no
deleting such a mistake from the interwebs. But it got me thinking - if 2016 and
whatever’s up next haven’t made us a little more shameless, a little less concerned
with propriety and self-shame for normal human urges (whatever else is true - and
much is - about the porn industry), is anything going to? Are we going to mock each
other for being horny humans right up until the bombs start dropping?

Excerpted from Steve Spirgis' newsletter Everybody Row

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