A note from the management


Last night I dreamed I was on trial for attempted murder. I didn’t do it. The man I was accused of trying to kill said that I didn’t do it. I only stood next to him when he was shot, and it was all a big misunderstanding. He was friendly and sad, an old drinker who kept telling me how ready he was to testify on my behalf. My lawyer was ready, too. She thought we stood a good chance of winning this thing. I was innocent, and that helped, although obviously anything could happen. “It’s a jury trial,” she said. My heart sank.

For months I planned the post that I would write today. It was going to be about how I decided to stop writing about politics in Combat! blog. I would still write about it indirectly, sometimes, through close readings of political rhetoric or analogs to history, but I would be done with the horse race, the daily news. That’s not where my talents lie. It’s not what has advanced my career. But more importantly, it’s not where the kind of nuance I care about abides. Political arguments converge on answers so firm and binary they cannot be the truth. When your inquiry can only reach a handful of conclusions, you’re not doing inquiry. You’re doing propaganda.

I stand by my plan to stop writing about horse-race politics, but the post with which I planned to announce it is useless now. It only read in the context of Hillary Clinton winning. I expected to turn away from politics today smug and disappointed. She was a flawed candidate, exciting as a woman but depressing as a woman who responded to our contemporary crisis by promising more of the same. Her campaign drifted into a bland centrism that seemed to synthesize all of American politics: trans rights and war in Syria, a friend of Wall Street who would tax the rich, endorsed by Henry Kissinger and Bernie Sanders. She seemed to represent the dingy underperformance of our entire system— a form of government that, to paraphrase Churchill, was the second worst after all other forms of government.

I guess she represented that to a lot of other voters, too. Her stunning loss, which contradicted months of polling that continuously put her lead between a few points and a landslide, suggests a whole American democracy out there we don’t know about. It takes a frightening shape. The prospect of President Donald Trump scares me, but more worrying are the people who elected him.

To me, and to everyone I know or read, he was a recognizable type of huckster. His presentation was so phony and self-aggrandizing that he was funny. Remember when Trump was funny? Remember when he was an exaggeration of what a lying egomaniac might be? That is what the American people chose this year, not as a comedy sketch, but as our president. They heard him say only that he would be great, and they believed it. To watch this person rise to the nomination was alarming, even awful. But to watch him win, when no one we trusted thought he could, is to suddenly learn our mounting worries where actually a pleasing fantasy.

America did not get to the point where a game show host could almost be elected. It got to the point where he won. What Trump did worked. It worked on a numerical majority of voters.1 Those are the people who took charge of the nation’s future yesterday, and they are the people we live with now.

It is tempting to turn against them, or at least away from them. It would probably feel good to say enjoy your president, assholes and retire to some perch. Back when President Trump was an absurd daydream, I thought that if he were elected, it might be my excuse to give in to my natural misanthropy. But that would be only another capitulation. When people disappoint us this badly, in a way that leaves us feeling this bereft and powerless, loving them is all we have.

So. Now Donald Trump will be the president, and he will lie to us about what he did instead of what he is going to do. Today beings a period of transition for the country, probably, and definitely for Combat! blog. I planned this. These are not the circumstances I planned for, but they will not change what we do here going forward. We will only have to ignore a politics that demands our attention a little more insistently, and when we look at it out of the corner of our eye, it will be a little uglier. But our gaze does not change with what we look upon. It changes with what we look for, and on what we choose to focus, and how.

Over the next few days, I would like us to have a conversation. If you can think about anything but what happened yesterday, I encourage you to use the comments section. What do you like to see in this blog? What disappoints you? When have we been at our best here, and when have we gotten bored? I have my own ideas, obviously, but I would like to hear from you. Combat! blog has been a practice for me. It has also been a community, and in moments like this I value your readership especially. Welcome back, friend. So much has changed since last we spoke. Thank goodness we are here together, again.

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  1. Dan, this blog is terrific. But as you alluded to, I don’t come here for the daily beat of national politics.

    I come here for the variety. I like that one day you’ll explore Ted Cruz’s disgusting nature, and the next about Missoula real estate prices.

    Perhaps it’s escapism, I don’t know. But I enjoy that your writing is a fresh lense of the American experience. So much of what we read nowadays makes us feel like we are all trudging through the same shit; and we are in some ways, to be sure. But you bring a great perspective on the variety of happenings that not everyone else explores.

    Keep it up.

  2. I come here for your writing and your reasoning, Dan. Today you have surprised me, and given me something to think about. My mind is sludgy with fear right now, so your clarity brings some relief.

    You have a clear voice, and choosing to use it in a new way signals to me that we can all move forward thinking about alternative ways to approach and understand. Conversation involves as much tangent as direct exchange, in my experience. A web, or delta. Maybe a bit of indirect talking will surround the (for me) confounding state of our current society and coalesce again, leading to understanding and progress.

    Your humor and intelligence are your best tools. I come to you to read your sort of pragmatic, grumbly humanitarianism that often manages to be humble without blunting its wit. Please keep opening ideas into other ideas while remaining human. Please keep us present while you do so.

  3. When people disappoint us this badly, in a way that leaves us feeling this bereft and powerless, loving them is all we have.

    One of the best pieces of advice I have read. The silver lining for me is the people I know and love vowing to be better and do better, not to hate and despair..

  4. This sounds like great news for us readers. Your takedowns of a Sarah Palin, a Trump, or another stock dummy are thrillingly amusing, but can’t help but seem too easy for you, as you don’t have to confront anything challenging. I think you’re at your very best when dealing with specific, “realer” characters and incidents (including the fictional ones). Your social commentary tends to be vague for my tastes (as is anyone’s), and I devour it anyway just to enjoy your sentences. I’m always hoping to see you actually challenge yourself. Whatever happens, I’ll be reading.

  5. Oh yeah, also: You’re good at writing quickly, so timely pieces seem to suit you. You usually even toss off a paragraph or two of brilliance in your “Combat! endures fretfully painful sword through face, fails readers” posts. (In such a state, I’m sure I would write the word “poop” three times and then bang on the keyboard, sobbing.)
    So I’m curious if you’ll find some other timely hook other than politics, or if not, how you’ll direct that agility towards timelessness.

  6. Dan – of personal enjoyment to me are your explorations of humour. I loved your explanation of the Norm MacDonald’s Moth joke and the Simpson’s gag about the monkeys and typewriters. Comedy is extremely difficult to deconstruct and you do it (seemingly) effortlessly.

    Also, while it wasn’t an article specific to this blog, I really enjoyed your assessment of Cards Against Humanity in the New York Times Magazine. Your incisive analysis really changed my perception of the game.

    Finally, I enjoy your dives into aspects of Missoulian life. Being Canadian and unlikely ever to go to Montana, it’s like a little vacation every time I read about the peculiar workings of the place.

    Anyway, whatever you write is always worth the read.

  7. Fiction.

    I really miss your fiction. Plus you undervalue character because it’s effortless. At least I think you find it effortless. It seems that way.

  8. Love everything you write but — and this would sound like fawning hyperbole were it not statistically provable with a comparison chart of the number of words I read — your political commentary is some of the most perceptive in the nation. David Remnick, Margaret Sullivan, Timothy Egan, Jelani Cobb. In Montana only David Crisp can punch your weight. In Missoula you’re peerless. I’m excited for your new direction but I am looking forward to anything you continue to write about politics. Yes, reading COMBAT! has turned me conservative.

  9. It never really seemed like you were covering the horserace. When you write about politics you’re often writing about how ideas are transmitted and what the message they’re boxed in reveals about the speaker. And you show how they connect to other ideas that we know are abhorrent without the glee of most commentators. That’s important learning for most of us and seems like easy analysis for you, so you must do it. You can write about semiotics and avoid current political issues. Just write about car commercials and tweets.

    My self-serving vote is that you write about writing at least twice a month. The perfect post would be the left column talking about whatever, and right column showing snippets of rewritten sentences and your thought process while composing. Your essays border on magic, and if I had better instincts I’d know how to end this sentence without making an appeal to duty ethics. I’ve also considered physical threats, bribes, and begging. But I don’t have that, because the asides you make critiquing word choice and punctuation have declined over the years and I lost my commonplace book with them when http://www.findings.com shut down.

    Its Friday, and you don’t owe your blog readership anything, probably. But you’ve added declinism and the problem of others to our vocabularies, so with gratitude I must discourage any wholesale changes. Isn’t fiction harder to write, anyway?

  10. To echo what others have said: the humor, reasoning, and writing is what I come here for. I’d imagine that those things are easiest to produce on a regular basis when you’re writing about whatever you’re interested in or preoccupied by. So if that continues to be politics, or if it’s something else, that’s fine by me.

    …having said that, I’m super-sick of politics right now, so it would be awesome if you wrote about any aspect of internet culture (not the alt-right, but any weird corners of YouTube or something), but I like Brian’s idea of writing more about Missoulian life, too (not local politics necessarily, but just slices of life).

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