WASHINGTON — Once upon a time … in America, it looked as if white men were at long last losing their tenacious grip on power.
A black man had made it into the White House. A woman in hot pink claimed the gavel in the House. A Latina congresswoman with a Bronx swagger emerged as the biggest media star in the capital. Six Democratic women — five pols and one mystic — earned their spots on the stage in the first presidential debates.
Male candidates who might have jumped to the head of the presidential pack in earlier eras are finding it impossible to rise anywhere near double digits in polls.
When I asked a friend who once worked for Barack Obama why a smart and appealing Obama protégé, Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado, was having a hard time breaking through, she replied: “The bar is much, much higher for white guys these days. You just have to be especially special.”
White male privilege is out of fashion these days. Yet we are awash in nostalgia for it.
Donald Trump has built a political ideology on nostalgia. And Quentin Tarantino has built a movie ideology on nostalgia.
In The Los Angeles Times, Mary McNamara observed that the moral of Tarantino’s new fairy tale, “Once Upon A Time In … Hollywood,” is, “Who doesn’t miss the good old days when cars had fins and white men were the heroes of everything?”
Dubbing the cowboys-versus-hippies movie starring Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio “nostalgia porn,” McNamara notes: “Watching two middle-aged white guys grapple with a world that does not value them as much as they believe it should, it was tough not to wonder if that something was the same narrow, reductive and mythologized view of history that has made red MAGA hats the couture of conservative fashion.”
In The New Yorker, Richard Brody called the movie, Tarantino’s biggest opening ever, “obscenely regressive,” a phrase that could easily be applied to the man in the Oval.
Both the Tarantino creation and the Trump creation feature scripted tough-guy dialogue, rough treatment of women and slurs against Mexicans. (“Don’t cry in front of the Mexicans,” Pitt warns an emotional DiCaprio in a tinsel town parking lot.)
But — except for the usual burst of violence that the director justifies the usual way, by leveling it at the most evil people ever, in this case the Manson Family — Tarantino’s time machine is a gentler ride. (This may mark the first time “Tarantino” and “gentler” have appeared in the same sentence.)
Bathed in a golden glow, Brad Pitt plays a world-weary stunt man and handyman to Leo’s Western star, Rick Dalton. Pitt’s character is a former war hero in the great midcentury tradition of American cinema. He reflects many of the values that America once proudly stood for:
- toughness without belligerence,
- charm without smarminess,
- loyalty without question. He is
- masculine yet chivalrous.
The iconic performance evokes other movie exemplars of the American male: Humphrey Bogart in “Casablanca,” Paul Newman in “Cool Hand Luke,” Steve McQueen in “Bullet,” Clint Eastwood in “Dirty Harry.” (Pitt’s significant other is a pit bull named Brandy — another contrast with Trump, who avoids dogs.)
Trump’s time machine is a vicious and vertiginous journey, all about punching down, pulpy fictions, making brown and black people scapegoats and casting women back into a crimped era of fewer reproductive rights.
Trump has inverted all the old American ideals, soiling the image of our country in the world and reshaping it around his grievances and inadequacies.
He is a faux tough guy who lets other people do the fighting for him, a needy brat who never accepts responsibility for his actions, an oaf with no trace of courage, class or chivalry.
Tarantino fashioned his nostalgic world out of love, while Trump fashions his out of hate.
His entitled and grabby ways illustrate why we need to leave that world behind. America is struggling to find a new identity with a more colorful mosaic, moving beyond our monochromatic past. More new heroines and heroes need to emerge, both onscreen and in life.
But first we need the credits to roll on Trump.
WaPo’s Robert Costa, AP’s Jonathan Lemire, former DOJ spox Matt Miller, NBC’s Carol Lee, and MSNBC contributor Karine Jean-Pierre on the divide within the Republican party over Trump’s continued attacks on the late Sen. John McCain
It would be difficult to overestimate the meaning of Paul Ryan’s decision to retire from Congress even as he occupies the office of Speaker of the House. So let’s estimate.
Twice in the past three years, the sitting Speaker has walked away from the office. Ryan only became Speaker because John Boehner, his predecessor, quit rather than suffer through a challenge from the bomb throwers in the Republican House conference. There’s no precedent for this in American history. The Speakership has been one of the most powerful offices in the world. Now it’s apparently more agony than ecstasy for a Republican.
.. A Republican likely won’t be elected speaker after the 2018 midterms. Ryan’s decision suggests he and others have seen enough internal data to know their capacity to hold their 23-seat majority is slipping away.
.. That makes 42 GOP retirements among the 237 Republican members of the 115th Congress—a number vastly higher than any recent Congress’s.
.. the Ryan retirement isn’t just a sign. It’s like a fireball from the sky. And it will occasion more retreats and embolden more Democrats.
.. the GOP is Trump’s party now, not Ryan’s.
.. His mercurial nature and habit of punching down have combined with general GOP support for Trump personally to prevent any such rump from emerging in the Congress. He’s already claimed the scalps of two Republican senators—Bob Corker and Jeff Flake—who attempted to do just that. How did their standing athwart Trump help them or anyone?
.. some of the GOP’s wonkier agenda items are being implemented by the Trump administration–notably, in the sphere of deregulation. So, yes, it’s Trump’s party, but there’s an extent to which it’s also Ryan’s party, the conservative policy wonk’s party. Except, of course, for two big things.
The first big thing is entitlement reform, which is the issue nearest to Ryan’s heart.
.. No matter what happens, no matter the growth of the economy or the glories of #MAGA, the remorseless logic of the actuarial charts showing the government going bankrupt from the cost of Medicare and Medicaid sometime around 2030 is unyielding
.. The second big thing is the massive federal deficit, which is projected to stay above the $1 trillion mark for God knows how long. The bitter irony here is that the Tea Party–whose ab nihilo existence began the Republican resurgence in the House and Senate, and whose anti-Establishment ethos was the precursor to Trump–was obsessed with the idea that Barack Obama was breaking the bank, and rightly so. Now, the Tea Party forms the hard schist of the Republican base, and it’s clearly decided not to hold Trump accountable
Yes, sportswriting has moved far left. The entire media has moved far left. The media used to cater to New York, the hub for traditional liberal values. Journalists used to be obsessed with working at a New York magazine or newspaper or TV network. Now the entire industry is obsessed with going viral and how words will be received via social media. Who determines this? San Francisco/Silicon Valley, the hub for revolutionary, far-left extremism, the home base for Twitter and Facebook. Twitter and Facebook’s employee base is from the area. New York and San Francisco are distinctly different. San Francisco is driving the American media, not New York. You have young, microwaved millionaires and billionaires reshaping the American media in a way that reflects San Francisco values. This is a major story the mainstream media ignore. San Francisco hacked the media. Frisco-inspired clickbait is the real fake news.
.. Whitlock puts his finger on why today’s conservative complaint about a liberal media is different from that of ten years ago or twenty years ago. The old New York establishment Left, shaped heavily by Watergate — Dan Rather, Peter Jennings, Anthony Lewis, Woodward & Bernstein — could drive the right batty but it was all driven by a noblesse oblige: a self-awareness of the power of their positions and a duty to correct the world’s injustices through exposure.
.. The old journalism saying, “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable” implied punching up; the more powerful you were, the more you needed scrutiny.
For Watergate, the Pentagon Papers, My Lai, all that the press needed to do was expose the wrongdoing and the public would instinctively recoil and dole out appropriate consequences.
Today’s social-media outrage-mob-driven click-bait journalism is much more about punching down, finding someone who has deviated from the range of acceptable thought and ostracizing them and enforcing the tenets of a shame culture.
It’s less about exposing the sins of the powerful than exposing the sins of the near-powerless, whether it’s those gorillas-in-the-mist reports from Red State America or gleeful exposé about the hypocrisies of religious conservatives.
The hypocrisy of a self-proclaimed environmentalist who enjoys a private jet with a massive carbon footprint never quite stirs the hearts of the media as much as a preacher’s affair.
.. No wonder their dominant attitude towards immigration, legal and illegal, is so welcoming, if they feel such contempt for the Americans who are already here.
.. most of those in journalism are driven by the impassioned belief that Republican lawmakers represent the preeminent threat to all that is good in America
.. our media today is driven primarily an ostentatious, smug progressivism
.. Of course, a good portion of what Silicon Valley develops runs on our now-ubiquitous smartphones, built by Chinese workers on 12-hour shifts that few Americans would ever tolerate for themselves. Silicon Valley’s super-elites may not be as different from those old, exploitative plutocrats as they like to think.
.. One can’t help but wonder if there is some repressed guilt coming out in the form of demonization of others:
“Silicon Valley has stopped being the place where people who can’t get jobs elsewhere go. Now it’s like the first stop on the privileged elite bus from the Ivy League—and do not even stop by Wall Street on the way,” Mr. Garcia Martinez said.
.. at least some of California’s wealthy progressives find solace in the thought that if flyover country is comparably poorer and struggling to get by, it must be because they’re morally worse people – “deplorable,”