A few years ago, when frankly things looked better than they do now, we started using the word “declinism” to describe the feeling that society was getting worse. There’s already a word for that: pejorism, but it sucks. In addition to sounding like a Victorian disorder, it does not do the important job of implying some recent peak. Anyone can think things are getting worse. A person who believes society is in decline must also believe it had a golden age. To embrace declinism, then, is to endorse the past. It is a patriot’s complaint, which probably explains why it’s so popular among old people. Today is Friday, and if any condition of society can be said to be better or worse than any other, it follows that society is at any moment on an upward- or downward-tending line. Won’t you experience confusion and fear at the new rap names with me?
Early Wednesday night, Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs reported on Twitter that he had been “body slammed” by Montana congressional candidate Greg Gianforte, who broke his glasses. It was one of those stories that asked more questions than it answered. Since then, Jacobs posted an audio recording of the incident, which sounds as though Gianforte erupted after being asked about the Republican health care plan but might also sound like a microphone being dropped into a sack. It’s unclear what happened or how it might effect tomorrow’s special election in Montana, but at press time it appears that Gianforte did get angry at a reporter, again. Jacobs account, partially confirmed by Buzzfeed reporter Alexis Levinson, holds that there was a local news crew in the room at the time, so it should be easy to corroborate. One hopes that there is video of Gianforte executing a grappling takedown on a reporter or footage that exonerates him from same. But one must never expect too much.
Montana’s special election is one week away, and the Rob Quist campaign is starting to look like a series of unforced errors. Let us begin with his nomination. Quist was handpicked by the Democratic Party, not by the usual primary system. Somehow, no one in that august political body thought to run a credit check. Pretty much the first story that came out was about the liens filed against their candidate for unpaid property taxes in 2011 and the bill for which he stiffed a contractor in 2001. I can see such problems haunting a popular favorite, but the Democrats chose Quist for his electability. Surely there was some other Democrat in the state who lacked not just political experience but also a debt trail.
Fortunately, the Quist campaign is staffed by experienced operatives from the state party. These old hands know the voters of Montana well enough to find sure ways to distinguish Quist from his opponent—for example, by running the exact same campaign ads. That’s how you win as a Democrat: by acting like a Republican. This principle explains why Quist downplayed his support for single-payer health care and emphasized his support for guns. It also explains why Hillary Clinton is president now. It does not explain why campaign manager Les Braswell accidentally tweeted as The Montana Cowgirl from the Quist campaign account, but we can’t explain everything. He probably got hacked.
Anyway, the Democratic Party is incompetent, even in the last best place. Facing an opponent who just lost a statewide election for governor in which he underperformed the top of his ticket by 20 points, they appear to be headed for defeat. Now is the time to reflect on deep questions. My deepest: In the present economic climate, how is being rich not the biggest obstacle a candidate can face?
American inequality is the worst it’s been in 100 years. Montana has the second-lowest per capita income of any state in the Union, and a politically inexperienced billionaire is on the verge of impeachment in Washington. Yet Quist has said nothing meaningful about inequality. Republicans, convinced we love millionaires as much as they do, are using his personal debts as a cudgel. Call me a pinko, but I wonder if voters might identify more with the guy whose $20,000 debt is wrecking his life than the guy who sold his company to Oracle for $1.5 billion. You can read all about this strange discrepancy in this week’s column for the Missoula Independent. It’s a particularly exciting issue, containing not just my inchoate palaver but also the story of a growing schism in the Montana Libertarian Party and your girl Michael Siebert’s feature-length essay on why the left should embrace gun ownership. Check ’em out. We’ll be back tomorrow with Friday links!
Last week, Montana’s sole delegate to the US House, Republican Ryan Zinke, voted to make transfers of federal lands to the states “budget neutral” for accounting purposes. This came as something of a surprise. Zinke has opposed land transfers throughout his career, going so far as to resign his position as a delegate to the Republican convention this summer in protest of support for transfers in the platform. Then, last week, he votes for item numero uno on the land transfer agenda. What gives?
Commander Zinke isn’t telling. He declined requests for interviews from the Indy, Montana Public Radio, and host of other outlets. Instead, his office released a six-word statement: “Ryan Zinke’s position has not changed.” I can think of two possible explanations:
- They actually said “Ryan Zinke’s position is UNCHAINED!” and the reporter hung up before she could hear the cheers and dance music as the congressman pounded a bottle of Goldschlager.
- They meant Zinke’s position in the federal government.
Right now, as I write this, he’s Representative Zinke. But five days from now, the Senate will likely confirm him as Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke. At that moment, his position will change substantially. He will move from the legislative branch to the executive, slipping the surly bonds of an electorate that holds land transfers in low regard. Zinke’s position has not yet changed, but in another week or so, he will be in a place where the regards of Montanans matter less. He will be in federal government, which this year will focus on dismantling federal government and selling its assets, cheap.
You can read all about it in this week’s column for the Missoula Independent. I’m going to miss Commander Zinke and his tireless portrayal of himself. Unless my man EG-4 shocks the world, Montana’s next representative in Congress will not be such a strong persona. Probably, he or she will not have killed even one person, much less many people in a war. They won’t appear on Fox News as often, if at all. And say what you like about Ryan Zinke’s policies, he doesn’t.
Last Thursday, Indiana passed a bill authorizing business owners to refuse service to gays and lesbians based on sincerely held religious beliefs. The state immediately became a laughingstock. I guess laughingstock is the wrong word for this civil rights issue; Indiana became a cryingstock, or maybe just a boycottingstock. Regardless, it was a disaster. The very next day, the Montana House took up its own religious freedom bill, sponsored by Rep. Carl Glimm (R–Kila.) That bill failed on a 50-50 vote, after a contentious debate that saw Glimm brandishing his camouflage Bible on the House floor. He also said this:
[The U.S. Constitution] is the word of God, and the First Amendment says I have freedom of religion, not freedom from religion.
Literally no part of the sentence is true, and yet it tells us so much. Close reading after the jump.