Say, what’s in the real news?

Lara Trump explains that a kid who works in the lodge could never ski faster than Eric.

Remember when we coined the phrase “fake news” to describe the proliferation of hoax stories on social media? That genie got out of the bottle fast. The term meant “made-up reports” for about two weeks before Trumpsters coopted it entirely. Now “fake news” is their term for any item critical of the president, including factual reporting of events by legacy news organizations. They prefer “real news,” i.e. statements from people who are not journalists, disseminated by flacks who hold the very idea of objectivity in contempt. It took about six months to get from “watch out for hoaxes” to the assertion that only propaganda is real. Step one was to classify actual events that reflect poorly on the president as “fake news.” Step two is this:

Let’s talk about the things that make this news real:

  1. It is devoted to reporting good things about one subject.
  2. The reporter is the subject’s daughter-in-law.
  3. It contains no interviews with or quotes from anyone else.
  4. It is not broadcast on a news network.

Compare this shot of reality to last week’s reports that multiple people got fired from the White House staff, Obamacare repeal died in the senate, and the president has been asking people if he can legally pardon himself. All that stuff is fake. This video does not mention it explicitly, but we know it’s fake because it distracts us from appreciating the president. Lara Trump implies it with her very first sentence, “I bet you haven’t heard about all the accomplishments the president had this week, because there’s so much fake news out there.”

This statement sets up a weird dichotomy. It’s not as though knowing the Mooch got fired prevents you from knowing that the Dow has reached an all-time high, but Reporter Trump implies that you either know President Trump is doing a great job or you’ve fallen victim to fake news. That news is fake not because investigation shows it didn’t really happen, but merely because Trump fans refuse to listen to it. This is an extremely bracing way to think about the distinction between “real” and “fake.”

Another difference between fake news and the real news, though, is that the real news is not new. This video reports that President Trump continues to donate his salary, unemployment continues to be low, and the Dow continues to be high. One problem with the plan to replace the fake news of sourced reporting and reputable outlets with real news from the wife of the president’s kid is that it doesn’t really satisfy people’s appetite for fresh information about what just happened, i.e. the “news” of the world. It’s weird that Trump & Trump’s Real News would not try to replicate the reporting that most people agree is the lifeblood of what they call fake news.

But maybe they don’t think of it that way. Maybe Trumpworld looks at the Washington Post and the New York Times and determines that their signature feature is not comprehensive reporting on breaking events, but rather stuff that makes Trump look bad. Compare this to their own product, stuff that makes Trump look good. It seems fatuous, but maybe once you commit to approaching all knowledge as instrumental—not as a way to understand the world but as a way to wield power—you kind of forget how truth smells. If you only care about the score, the ref seems like another player. Why not compete with him?

Lara Trump’s real news is a dispatch from a world where the Washington Post is propaganda, too. The more one tries to parse the logic of Trumpworld, the more one suspects that it is not about lying so much as denying the distinction between truth and lies. The question of whether a statistic is accurate or a story really happened is orthogonal to the terms “real” and “fake” as Trumpworld uses them. Pointing out that what they call “fake news” actually happened is like saying the symphony is oblong. That President Trump is making America great again is their only claim of fact, and they take it as an article of faith. All other realness flows from there.

We can end alliteration in our lifetimes

Debut New York Times columnist Bari Weiss

There are two reasons to write: for approval and for satisfaction. Satisfaction is generally held to be the more noble motive, or at least the more sustainable one. But insofar as satisfaction is just another kind of approval, i.e. approval of oneself, there’s really only one reason to write. That’s why reading sucks. Most written works are series of bids for the reader’s approval, with small amounts of useful information inserted like the hook in a big, plastic lure. Look how yellow and glittery my lure is, dear reader! Don’t you want to swallow that fat worm and become my meal? Every writer thinks this, consciously, each time they sit down to write. The trick is to hide it. Here’s the first sentence of Bari Weiss’s debut column in the New York Times:

A mere half-year ago, before collusion and Comey, before Mika’s face and Muslim bans and the Mooch, there was a shining moment where millions of Americans flooded the streets in cities across the country to register their rage that an unapologetic misogynist had just been made leader of the free world.

I see what you did there, and I am displeased. “Collusion and Comey” is all right, even euphonious. That would be just enough spice to get me through this longish compound sentence. But then I get “Mika’s face and Muslim bans and the Mooch,” which is both conspicuous and unsatisfying. Alliteration doesn’t work with phrasal nouns. You could do “Mika and Muslims and the Mooch,” but that doesn’t make sense. Neither does  “Muslim bans,” though, since Donald Trump started talking about that early in the campaign, before the women’s march.  This sentence has to work to wedge in all this alliteration, and for what? It only distracts me while I’m trying to decode the meaning—something along the lines of “It seems like a long time ago, but before all this craziness, Trump’s election brought about something good: the women’s march.”

That sentence conveys the same ideas as the one Weiss wrote, but it does not demonstrate the felicity of the author. I submit that alliteration serves only that purpose in nine out of ten uses. It is a time-honored way to show that you are a good writer, despite the fact that anyone can do it. As a skill it is even less difficult than rhyming, yet generations of English teachers have taught it is a Literary Technique. It is not. Alliteration is a literary term, and as a demonstration of mastery it is only slightly more impressive than enjambment and about as difficult, i.e. easy to do but hard to do meaningfully.

Alliteration works well in epithets, such as “nattering nabobs of negativity.” This leads us to assume that it would constitute wit in prose. But while alliteration is good for coming up with catchy nicknames, it almost never makes a sentence more trenchant. Neither does it introduce double meanings or resolve ambiguities, except incidentally. It doesn’t engage the realm of meaning at all, operating on the level of diction by making it serve arbitrary similarities between words instead of connotation and nuance. It’s frosting. Alliteration is the kind of wit that isn’t funny or insightful, the kind of poetry that does not address the soul.

And yet we keep taking it up. I think alliteration is a step we take not because it gets us where we’re going, but because it’s sure. If I sit down to write the first sentence of something important, I am liable to think too much. I need to just start typing, and alliteration gives me a form I can follow almost automatically. That is a reason to avoid it. Sentences get hard to write when we are not sure what they say. To govern them by some other logic is to avoid the hard questions good writing seeks out.

Anyway, a lot of people are mad at Weiss for attacking the leaders of the women’s march on the basis of their past approval of problematic figures, such as Louis Farrakhan and Fidel Castro. She also seems to put “anti-Zionism” in the same category of bad ideas as anti-Semitism and killing cops. Those are valid grounds for criticism. I also think Weiss is right to be on the lookout for anti-Semitism in contemporary progressive movements, which seem to defend the rights of Jews less vigorously than those of other groups. Reasonable people can disagree about which ideas are “beyond the pale of the progressive feminist movement in America”—a truth that constitutes both a criticism of Weiss’s column and a defense of it. But the issue on which there can be no disagreement, where we must enforce consensus with an iron fist, is alliteration. That shit must stop immediately.

Buzzkill chief of staff fires the Mooch

And I’ll need you out of the condo by the end of the month. Your mother and I have decided to rent it.

When Reince Priebus got fired last week for his role in the Bannon autofellatio scandal, he narrowly escaped becoming the shortest-serving White House chief of staff in history. That honor goes to James Baker, who left his position as Secretary of State to become George H.W. Bush’s chief of staff in August 1992. But Baker is a legend. He was Reagan’s boy in the eighties and came out of retirement because he was the best to ever do it. Priebus had the shortest tenure of any chief of staff who started at the beginning of a president’s term, when it could have gone so well. If only, he thought, screwing his magic monocle into his eye, we lived in a world where someone got fired even faster than me. And before you can say “spice rebus,” Anthony Scaramucci gets cut from his role as White House communications director.

That mischievous imp! The workings of fifth-dimensional magic are the only force I can think of powerful enough to dislodge the Mooch from his position as communications director. The only other possibility—the one thing I can think of, besides the machinations of an imp, that would account for all this—is that he directly communicated with the New Yorker about what stupid pussies his colleagues were. But that’s it. Those are the only two reasons I can think of.

Regardless, Scaramucci made it just 10 days in the West Wing before he started telling people to, if not literally go fuck themselves, at least listen to his descriptions of others doing that. The job makes people crazy. Either that or the multimillionaire founder of Skybridge Capital and personal friend of the president relished this opportunity to get up there for a week and tell it like it is, and he never thought of himself as other than temporary. History will have to wonder. In related news, the new White House communications director will be the first person to shout “Howard Stern’s penis” into the briefing room microphone.

Friday links! Mounting frustration edition

White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci keeps it to himself.

The problem with democracy is that people never just shut up and give you what you want. Take American democracy, for example. You would think that after Republicans won control of all three branches of government—at no small cost to their principles, I might add—people would accept their robust agenda of cutting taxes and reversing the flow of time. But no. Everyone has to get their pantaloons in a buncherino over who’s going to die, what sexual orientations deserve legal rights, which countries colluded with the president’s campaign, et cetera. By “everyone,” I mean Republicans. Today is Friday, and even the conspirators are too divided to act. Won’t you vent your frustration with me?

Continue reading

Steve Daines takes bold stand against methamphetamine

“The way I see it, heaven is a big, dark cave, and you can climb all over the walls and ceiling…”

I’m not going to sugarcoat it: American politics have come to a bitter pass, and what one voter holds dear is likely to enrage another. In these fractious times, Senator Steve Daines (R-MT) is doing what he can to bring the country together by standing up for what people still agree on. Last month, he celebrated Flag Day by proposing a constitutional amendment to ban the desecration of Old Glory. That probably cost him some votes in Tehran, but it seemed like a safe move otherwise. He followed it up with an editorial in the Missoulian and other Lee papers last week, in which he spoke out against methamphetamine. Beginning by noting that 95% of participants in his recent telephone town hall agree meth is a problem, he argues for 500 words that meth is, indeed, a problem. He concludes by saying that now is the time to raise awareness.

I suppose that last 5% of awareness is always the hardest. Still, one cannot help but think of other issues Sen. Daines might address, including the massive, secret, and extremely controversial health care bill his caucus is currently trying to ram through the senate. That bill might be why Daines keeps holding telephone town halls instead of regular ones. He hasn’t been back to Montana in a minute, and he lobbied to cancel the August recess. With all the flags-are-good and drugs-are-bad rhetoric coming out of his office right now, he’s starting to look like he might be trying to duck the issue. You can read all about it in this week’s column for the Missoula Independent. We’ll probably be talking about Daines more in the near future, since he introduced that single-payer amendment he doesn’t actually support. Start working on your goblin jokes, and we’ll meet back here tomorrow for Friday links.