Shoulda been a tweet: Taibbi on our great divide

Apologies to regular readers, I’m going to repeat myself a bit here. In 2016, I left DC for Seattle, embarking on a flubbed career change. I drove. I’m not a great distance driver. I stopped for a lot of coffee. It seemed like at just about every stop I heard someone praising Trump. Straight shooter.

I figured people should take him seriously. I eventually veered back to incorrectly believing he didn’t have a chance. We all have our dark sides. I’ve got one. I didn’t want him to win. I thought it would be disastrous for the country. But I lamented not being able to see if a Trump victory would cause the corrupt Democrat and Republican parties to implode and force them to fix themselves.

Well, we know how that went. I hope Trump’s a one term president. But t’s not his presidency that worried me most. I figured we’d survive a Trump presidency, if you don’t figure in the four years lost on the climate change front. The greater risk is how divided we are. I’ve worried since 2016 that it has the possibility of turning violent. I hope I’m being alarmist*, unduly influenced by a brief foray into the toxic cesspool of twitter and the possibility that the media relentlessly focuses on those divisions.

As usual, I buried the lede here or the main topic. Matt Taibbi’s look at these issues through Thomas Frank’s work. Taibbi covered the 2016 elections for Rolling Stone. Taibbi mentions that he thought the Trump portion of the campaign coverage would be a short period of ridicule. But when he went to a Trump campaign event, he realized that Trump was tapping into the sorts of things that Frank was discussing in books like What’s the Matter with Kansas?

It’s an interesting read. Parts of it can be frustrating. For example, for some reason, it always seems that these issues are always discussed in terms of the left needing to do a better job of communicating and engaging. For example, Taibbi and Frank point out that the coastal centers of pop culture constantly insult and ridicule middle America. Are there ever any similar calls for reflection on the right? Just an observation and off-topic.

Taibbi’s a talented journalist. I’m glad he’s secured a spot at Substack. It’s great to see independent journalists. Just don’t follow him on twitter. That place makes everyone miserable. The twitterers, the followers, the commenters, and the occasional lurkers.

Bonus round. I saw a notification on my screen referring to the astronauts who just splashed down. I hope it went well. But it made me want to re-read about Grissom’s splash down. Have you seen The Right Stuff? In the movie it makes it seem like he panicked and blew the hatch. There’s a lot of evidence out there showing that is completely inaccurate. Here’s an interesting article on it by Emily Carney.

* I might be an alarmist, but I’m still looking at exits. I started learning some German in Duo Lingo, but I’m starting to reconsider that. I’ve watched several German shows during the pandemic, and in all of them there have been resurgent Nazi and far right nationalism undercurrents. I didn’t think too much about it. Far right nationalism’s all the rage, right? Also, I’m pandemic binge watching, so themes and plots in shows spread out over years seem magnified.

But then I started seeing several articles discussing serious German concerns that the military and the police are rampant with far right nationalists. It’s interesting to wonder just how much art foreshadows things that we may not be fully aware of. Or is it just that we can invariably find examples that satisfy our need to see links?

6 thoughts on “Shoulda been a tweet: Taibbi on our great divide

  1. Oh boy. I think about where to go next all the time. But timing is everything…leaving the country in the middle of a pandemic might be nearly impossible to do in any practical way. But post vaccine? Finding a place that isn’t politically polarized, has sound environmental and social structures in place AND is affordable…? It seems like there’s a rubix cube of twists that need to fall into place before that problem is solved.The Taibbi piece is interesting. He didn’t really tackle how to fix this mess and I’m at a loss for how to remedy what ails our nation. But he seems to, as you pointed out, declare that this is a failing of neglect on the part of the Dems…their shifting of focus to the elites of the party and their condescention towards Republicans. I don’t think any of this is a result of some decision by Dems to no longer appeal to the working class. The working class has always been at the mercy of the economy and under the patronage of the middle class, which is now virtually gone. If anything, the working class has been let down by the disappearance of the middle class and the weakening of the labor unions, a Republican missive. I’ll need to read the Taibbi piece again, perhaps I missed something there…I consider myself a fiscally conservative liberal. I lived in major metropolises my whole life until I was 30 and then moved to small town conservative USA. And…the divide is real. It’s not that there aren’t good people everywhere. There are. But we cling to the mythologies of these polarizing identities like our lives depend on it. We always have. We never really did allow "to each their own" living. Or value coming together in agreement. Ye olde towne square certainly hung their share of innocents who pushed back against conservative values (to the cheers of the crowd). Later, the police and conservative militias had violent conflicts with the labor unions. There are many, many historical examples of similar polarities in our politics. But now, with a peephole into everyone else’s business online, we think that we have an obligation to educate and influence others with our less-than expert opinions (I have been guilty of this) which not only heightens awareness of our differences, but also increases our number of opportunities for interaction and conflict. Of course, accountability for that is the companion-piece and the bandwagon is the only ride we’re comfortable on when we take a stance. Which makes it even worse. We’re so easily manipulated online into narrow channels of thought and performative behavior by the people who benefit most. To what end? To fall in line with political agendas. To make money for the 1%? So…what’s the point? This is a capitalist system designed to do exactly this. So do we opt out? Drop out? I’m confident that even if we all did just that, we still wouldn’t be able to speak about politics, religion or money with any of our neighbors. So…if it all comes crashing down, the only thing that will be different from the social or political economics of the 1930’s is that we’ll be seeing the devastating fallout in real time. Not just as it affects "us" and our families, but as it affects "them" and their families. And perhaps there will be a lull in the vitriol as we are busy focusing our energies on survival. And we’ll all demand robust social programs again. And we’ll be rewarded with a new burst of recovery and prosperity as these programs get people back to work. And the robber barons of 2020 will sit back counting their profits. Until the next big repeat.


    1. And I agree about the Taibbi piece. With his writing there’s increasingly a reliance on snark. It’s a snark I’m guilty of. Sharpshooting can become addictive, pointing out that people aren’t saints. True for all of us. I think some of my snark assessment is just not liking anything on twitter. He works hard at the craft of journalism. I disagree a lot, but in most cases I’m probably wrong. I really appreciated his takes on the Russia stuff. I think the media botched that. Trump is a terrible president with a weird, awful affinity for autocratic strongmen, but Maddow world saw that and became obsessed with the idea that his every waking movement was controlled by Russia and we’d be saved by Mueller.


  2. Last night on the way home from someplace with the boys I tried listening to Taibbi’s podcast Useful Idiots on the radio. I’ve always paid attention to bylines with him, he gets pretty showy leads and features. I’m trying to think of where I could possibly be reading him over time besides in Rolling Stone (which I usually only read in dentist offices). Has he written for the New Yorker? Marvelous writer. But I’m not sure if I enjoy listening to him. He’s pleasant but a little ponderous for the radio, IMHWO. His cohost was fine. I’m going to give him another try but the particular podcast episode I was listening to was full of a lot of pesky filler. It wouldn’t ever get to the main feature and I have a long attention span. Or I thought I did. I looked at his article on Substack. Interestingly, I picked up What’s the Matter with Kansas from a Little Free Library a few years ago, I wasn’t really familiar with Thomas Frank at the time and didn’t know if he was just some hack political writer or what. Little did I know. Out of curiosity, I tried deciphering some of the feedback to Taibbi’s article in the comments which is a bad rabbit hole I should’ve stayed away from….. it made my head hurt. I found the responses surprisingly civil, low on trolls but painfully predictable how polarized people are. What’s really unnerving, bordering on scary for a relatively lay reader like me (a complete dumbhead, I mean……. but a conscientious one) is how many convincing, sophisticated arguments, seem to proliferate out of the ether, these days. And I’m not talking about the dumb, made-up stories and news that people apparently fall for on Facebook. One of my worst dreads right now is how the danger, risks of the pandemic are getting twisted and weaponized every single day to fit a most poisonous, polarized narrative about culture in the U.S. Sorry I’m such a rambling ninny. A rambling ninny is better than a weirdo lurker, right?
    The same year you left DC for Seattle, that summer some occasionally-more-than-casual acquaintances who were lifelong Seattleites left for DC, a humongous, risky life change for them. She got an appointment in something like the Dept. of Migrant Education. After November that year and the months that followed….. I thought maybe they believed they were cursed with the most terrible timing. They’re back in Seattle now but I don’t think they’ve fully recovered. Did you work in some capacity as a Foreign Service officer? I’ve been really afraid to ask, it seems intrusive and it’s just dumb me that’s curious. I think I knew more a couple years ago. Maybe the career change hasn’t gone according to plan quite yet but even if/when you move I hope you’ll look upon Seattle with fondness. And you never know, a place to come back to if a longing arises to return to the reformed united states. What about Prague?


    1. I agree with all of that. I have to read it again. I like that he has tackled things others won’t, but there’s also this proliferation of meanness. The people swirling about him seem some of the meanest.
      Yep, I was an FSO. There was so much to like about that experience. I worked with wonderful people. But I made the personal decision that I no longer believed what we were trying to do actually led to better foreign policy outcomes. Even if I’d wanted to stay, I would have left under Trump/Pompeo. You can always email me at sbhopper8 at the gmail.


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