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I finally finished Veep?(which is, for the moment, up on Hulu in its entirety) and I can honestly say that the final season was the best season that the US version of?House of Cards ever produced. Shame that they thought it was better to spend their swan song achieving that extremely?modest distinction rather than doing anything related to what the show originally was, i.e. an examination of the personalities of people who work in politics, and what traits drive someone to do that with their lives (TL;DR it’s sadism or masochism or sometimes both).?Veep was a comedy of humiliation and a masterful one at that, a translocated riff on?The Thick Of It that perfectly applied the Armando Iannucci formula to a US context. Sure, it could be a little heartless at times. It made a few mistakes in terms of handling US partisan politics (there is not exactly a raging debate within the Democratic Party about abortion or same-sex marriage). It also (perhaps relatedly) refused to just say which party the characters belonged to, a constant aggravation of mine, though it was pretty obvious through context clues that these are Democrats. But these quibbles aside, Veep was a show that at its best had verisimilitude: you felt like these were what people in politics really were like, whether or not they actually were (a friend of mine who used to be in professional politics once told me that Tony Hale’s fidgety Gary character was the only one that rang true for him, so go figure). The show was frequently hilarious, not a given for shows billing themselves as comedies these days. And it was cool: its trick was that it was just ridiculous enough that what you were seeing could actually be what was really happening behind the scenes or would happen in the future, and?sometimes it actually was.

But season seven wasn’t cool at all, it was actually a lot like another creation of Iannucci’s, Alan Partridge, someone trying so hard to keep up with what’s new without any feel for it. It’s only natural after all: the standards of ridiculousness in politics have moved a lot since the show’s debut in 2012 and many of the crazy things Selina Meyer does in the show are things that already happened, so it feels like the show is playing catch up instead of setting the trends. Am I really supposed to be shocked by the outrageous plot twist of Selina working with an illiberal foreign government to throw an election when that happened in 2016 in full public view? Then there’s Selina torching every bit of the legacy from her brief past presidency as well as giving away any plans for the next one. This season, more than any that preceded it, is dominated by the Selina story, the other characters’ arcs are largely irrelevant by comparison, and if you do not buy into the idea that Selina would do this then you don’t buy into the season. And I’m afraid I don’t buy it. It just seems so facile and uninteresting, not to mention cliched. All American television and films about politics present us with these profiles of ambition in isolation, unmoored to any political project or aspiration. I’m not saying that there are no people like this in professional politics, but not all are. At bottom this sort of Richard III-type of character is simply uninteresting, as being motivated only by power can only ever give us a character in two dimensions. It’s also a violation of the development of the character earlier in the show which, for all the shots taken at Selina, never depicted her as unqualified for the presidency or really any worse an option for the job than her rivals. The record the show gives her during her brief presidency actually sounds pretty good! The early show had a strongly-defined point of view and ample purpose for existing, while the last season has no point of view and no reason to exist. I suppose that’s better than the US?House of Cards, which seemingly only existed to “educate” dum-dums like Jared Kushner about what politics is or should be. But not by much.

To cover some of the other elements of the season briefly:

  • I enjoyed the meteoric rise of Richard Splett mainly because Sam Richardson is one of the funniest people on the planet and every line he says gets a huge laugh out of me, but the juxtaposition of a blank slate of a man just sailing up through the ranks with Selina selling her soul for power is not quite as clever as the show thinks it is. OF COURSE it’s harder for a woman than for a man, but making the same ground floor-level deep point over and over again, it just grates.
  • I was convinced up until the last 30 seconds that Jonah Ryan, the show’s resident man-baby with a surprising talent for demagoguery, was going to wind up as President of the United States, which was an outcome I was okay with as the end of the series. Unfortunately they did something dumber and made Selina into the pseudo-Trump who becomes president. Ugh.
  • I love Andy Daly as a comedic performer but his character was the other place where I really felt the greasy fingerprints of the US?House of Cards. It’s sloppy and lazy that some rando DNC guy (and one Selina hired by accident, no less!) is going to be The Linchpin of the big conspiracy that Selina eventually turns to, but that he also commits murders as casually as a mafioso? This definitely belongs in the world of Kevin Spacey’s much beloved YouTube character Frank Underwood. (Also, given the party’s performance over the past two decades, they would really have to sell it to me that Democratic political professionals have either the brains or the balls to pull something like this off. Needless to say, I didn’t buy it.)
  • The Kamala Harris clone that Selina runs against is yet another demonstration of how ridiculous the Harris hype was. Woman didn’t even make it to Iowa in real life, but she almost becomes president here. Way to stay ahead of the curve,?Veep!

Bottom line:?Veep?should have ended after five seasons. I liked the sixth more than I should have thanks to the brilliance of putting total slimeball Dan Egan in as a co-host of the CBS Morning News (an idea which the last season repeats with a slightly different execution, man was this show out of gas), but with its last season the show lasted just long enough to descend into total irrelevance. But even at its worst, it was still better than the US?House of Cards. Fuck that show forever!

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President Trump on Sunday responded after multiple tweets in which he railed against the Nobel Prize [for journalism, which doesn’t exist] — repeatedly spelling it as the “Noble Prize” — drew mockery online, asking, “Does sarcasm ever work?”

What I think people are missing here is how great this all is for teenagers of Trump-supporter parents.

Wait, you lied to me about taking the car out on Friday night!?

I was being SARCASTIC! Jeez, Mom!

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Die Hard was a seminal movie for me at one point but in recent years, it’s been souring on me a bit. I could chalk this up to its cynicism, which seems to find every target except for the ones that, in real world terms, are the most deserving of it. Or perhaps it’s the treatment of violence in general here. I’m certainly not against violent movies, and somehow I have less of a problem with?Commando in this day and age, which is very weird. But?Commando is cartoonish from moment one, and?Die Hard is extremely grounded and realistic in almost every way except for which the effects that violence has on the people perpetrating it. The reason for this is obvious: commercial expectations. Which is why I think I’m souring on it.

Enter?Nothing Lasts Forever, the book by Roderick Thorp which happened to inspire the movie. I have to say that the book is excellent and addresses all my issues with the movie brilliantly. So much of what made the movie great is from the book, to a surprising degree: the feet vulnerability, the chair bomb, the cat-and-mouse game over the radio, it’s all there. But the book has depth to it that the movie doesn’t. It has a theme: the dehumanizing effects of violence. And in place of the movie’s “good guy with a gun” as our hero, we get its antithesis, a ticking time bomb of a man for whom violence is the first resort. This makes the?Nothing Lasts Forever/Die Hard nearly as intriguing an adaptation pair as the movie and book combo of?The Shining, which basically have the same plot but offer virtually the opposite takes on the theme. Kind of makes me want to see a new adaptation of?Nothing Lasts Forever that’s a lot closer to the original intent of the piece. We might be more ready for that now.

What’s brilliant about the book is that it is told entirely from the perspective of Joe Leland (i.e. the John McClane character), so it makes its point purely through subtext. It’s not like Leland ever outright says “My God, I’ve turned into a murderous killing machine!” That would be dumb, and Leland realistically figures that he’s perfectly sane throughout. But the book keeps finding little ways for the audience to understand that he really isn’t (and, eventually, one really big one near the end of the book). It’s a lot like?Lolita in that way, and probably only in that way. The book is brilliantly structured around its theme and it appreciates the different triggers that lead to violence, from the split-second snap decision made by retired cop Leland to the desperation of the lefty terrorists invading the building—oh yeah, in the book, they actually have a solid motivation for what they are doing, though the book pretty clearly argues that their means undermine their ends. Even the ending, where Sgt. Al Powell shoots Karl, has a very different meaning in the book than it does in the movie. I can’t emphasize enough just what a satisfying book this is, how true to life it feels and how artful it is in execution. We’ve all seen?Die Hard but this feels like the more complete, the more interesting, and the more humane version of the story. It’s crazy how nobody talks about it considering the enduring popularity of the movie, because it’s truly excellent.

Anyway, I was turned onto this book by the Pages and Popcorn Podcast, which is excellent. Go check it out.

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Everything’s good now, right?

I’ve been taking a bit of a mental health break over the past week or so. I’m going to put up something nonpolitical tomorrow and hope to get right back at it after that.

I’ll only say for now that this is welcome and long overdue. Treating the GOP as separate from Trump in 2016 was a choice, not one I ever thought was the right one, but given that there was a lot of public ambivalence among Republicans about Trump even after the primaries it wasn’t necessarily crazy. Turned out that the reasons for that ambivalence were that he would lose or that he would win and not be a movement conservative, neither of which came to pass. They never cared about his damage to the rule of law or his white supremacy, which were part of his pitch from the start, and which they’ve enabled the whole time. It’s unfortunate that we’re saddled with a nominee who thinks (for lack of a better term) that Republicans are actually good but Biden is yesterday’s man and only won on Obama’s coattails anyway. These signals sent out by the most beloved Democratic president should trump those sent out by the aspiring placeholder president. Hopefully.

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The weirdest thing about Democrats isn’t liking Obama–the guy is easy to like. It’s the idea that The Obama Era was a good time. It really, really, really wasn’t. Apparently I’m one of the few who remembers that time, maybe because I got so ground down that I gave up on political activism for years, so take it from me. It was not as bad as the Trump Era for sure, though still pretty bad, and at least people are paying attention in a way they weren’t back then.* Remember the endless brinksmanship and gridlock, the fears that Obama was going to give away the store to Republicans in exchange for nothing in a “grand bargain”? Remember year after year of no progress on most key issues? That’s what it was like. I can understand being nostalgic for My President, but it is really amazing just how little people remember what, say, 2013 was like. It was really bad! You started out the year with Republicans tanking gun control (never had much hope of that passing) and then immigration (some hope, obviously that was naive in retrospect), then a government shutdown, then the ACA site not working right for months. None of that stuff was good! And that was just a typical year, not the worst one. 2014 was much worse. 2011–with the first debt ceiling crisis, the height of grand bargaineering, and the dumb as rocks Libya intervention–was maybe the worst. First two years were a mixed bag, certainly some good things there. Last two weren’t nearly as bad either, though the TPP was really bad (remember the TPP?), at least Obama finally started pushing the envelope on executive orders (even though almost all of those later got eradicated by Trump). But on the whole, it was a really bad time. Just because the nation’s figurehead was a legitimately cool person didn’t make those years good.

The irony of it all is that the folks who gave us Biden did it because they want to bring back The Obama Era, and they will certainly get their wish. But the actual Obama Era, not the golden age that hucksters like Biden are selling them, and without having the most charismatic and coolest president ever as the figurehead. Instead it’ll just be some incoherent ancient white male mediocrity who can’t seem to inspire anyone to do anything. I give it three months before the bottom falls out after inauguration. Gonna be real funny when Biden meets with his good old friend Mitch and asks what they can do on X and Mitch says nothing. Not ha ha funny, but you get it.

Also, relatedly, definitely read Pareene’s latest. And give some money to TNR if you have it! They have quietly assembled an excellent stable of writers and are at this point like Splinter was, but better, all killer and no filler.

* I ended a friendship by calling someone out for posting an argument that was basically, “I trust Obama to bomb Syria the right way.” My reaction was, as I recall, that it’s better think for one’s self than to just put all your trust into one person. I don’t really regret doing that but it’s not like this person was alone in just shrugging at anything Obama ever did. It was distressingly common! The Trump Era is worse and we hear a lot of talk about things getting normalized but there’s nowhere near the level of just being checked out that there was back then.

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I haven’t really changed my views on Sanders or Biden since my venomous pre-postmortem last week, but I will say that I was pleasantly surprised that Sanders dropped out in conjunction with the overwhelming logic for doing so (getting blown out in one primary after another by 20 points is not really going to gain leverage, quite the opposite in fact) and I was also pleasantly surprised at the (admittedly modest) concessions that the Biden folks offered in conjunction with that. Considering that we’re living in a time where most surprises are not at all pleasant, I’ll take it!

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How can anything be “Trump’s Katrina” when Trump’s approval ratings and public perception have been from the start where George W. Bush’s were after Katrina (as well as Iraq and like half a dozen serious scandals)? What would doing a Katrina even mean under these circumstances??Certainly it’s true that Bush wound up losing a good chunk of Republicans, mainly during the last two years, which is why he wound up with only consumers of conservative media approving of him when he left office. But they didn’t leave him over Katrina. They left him because John Wayne movies don’t end with the Indians creating a quagmire that Wayne can’t deal with. As soon as Sarah Palin winked her way onto the national stage, they were all back on board.

This just gets back to the tiresome liberal question of the Trump Era: what’s it going to take for Republicans to finally bail on Trump? The answer, as it has always been, is that nothing will ever make this happen. Certainly a lot of Trump voters are going to be directly affected in a negative way by Trump’s handling of corona but if Republicans processed events the same way we do, then they’d be us, and none of the reasons that drive fervent Trump support are going to vanish because of a disease.

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Probably not on its own or all at once, but maybe. For people who were either too young or don’t remember the Bush Administration–which is to say just about everybody–the notion that Katrina destroyed it in one fell swoop is overly simplistic as it was one of any number of events, including scandals (oh for the days when pressuring appointees to do partisan shit was really, really bad) and the ongoing mess in Iraq that did it. Iraq was probably the most important part of all of it because Bush went in so heavily on that stuff and tied it so directly to masculinity and machismo from the start that when Iraq continued to be a mess, it became a double-edged sword cutting the other way against those qualities. You can’t be a dick-swinging world conqueror who brought Iraq to its knees and then have it spiral out of control and there’s nothing you can do about it. You become a joke that way, a caricature of phony swagger. It wasn’t an accident that Trump bashed Jeb Bush over the failure of his brother’s war in Iraq, or only to do with hitting Jeb in the sweet spot that Trump so frequently seems to find. So the Coronavirus could maybe be the thing that cracks the image of tough, manly, Trump in control altogether. (And I say image precisely because that’s all it is.) Trump is plainly not in control and while this is no surprise for liberals, it might be the breakthrough that we’ve been waiting for.

And yet…it might not. It is extremely hard for a lot of people to accept that literally the only things that motivate fervent Trump support amount to ugliness in various forms. In only a nominal sense do Trump fans care about Trump “getting stuff done” in most areas of policy, owning the libs is more the mark of victory than anything else. Substance matters far less than emotion and always has. From the implied insult of a black man believing he could be the president to the continuing insult of a woman thinking she could do the same (even though she lost) to actual (and largely fair) insults from “the kids today,” the motivations for Trump support are not going to be cracked by this thing. Perhaps it will split a few people away, some who are personally affected by it, that may well happen. But it will not exorcise the sickness in our society that gave us Trump.

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