Impeachment Hearing not like C-SPAN

we got we got to sit down in the front
04:56
row there were three empty seats are my
04:58
sister and my friend and I we were all
05:00
there and we sat there for four or five
05:02
hours watching the debate and in the
05:05
vote and I’m telling you it’s not like
it is on c-span
these fan is such a you know
two-dimensional flattens everything out
very strictly framed you don’t get the
peripheral vision on c-span one of the
05:19
things I tell my crew and I if I if I’m
05:23
allowed to when I’m invited to the film
05:25
schools to talk to students I always
05:27
tell them that you’re gonna find more
05:29
truth in the peripheral hmm then in the
05:32
in the spot-on because in the spot-on
05:34
you’re getting the official story you’re
05:37
getting me you know whatever it is they
05:40
want you to report but what’s going on
05:42
over here what’s going on around you if
05:44
you have a sense of trying to pay
05:46
attention to that you’ll find these
05:47
things that that you’ll never see in a
05:50
documentary or in a movie or on the
05:52
nightly news and so what I saw from that
05:57
front row of the gallery last Wednesday
05:59
was both a bit exhilarating and
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frightening exhilarating in the sense
06:06
that you could see that on the
06:08
Democratic side that they many of them
06:11
had found the courage of their
06:13
convictions had found their their soul
06:15
their guts to stand up for this even
06:18
though the polls show it’s kind of a
06:21
50/50 in the country on impeachment a
06:23
little more in favor of it but
06:26
nonetheless a risky proposition
06:28
especially for a number of Democrats in
06:30
swing districts the fact that they would
06:32
take that stand in such a profound way
29:13
electoral states remember Hillary only
29:14
lost Michigan by two votes per precinct
29:18
that’s it and it’s not because lunch
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bucket Joe stayed home you know or voted
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for Trump it’s it’s because the the when
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they talk about the working-class Amy I
29:29
just accessorize me crazy oh you know
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Trump won all these working-class votes
29:32
in Michigan in Pennsylvania no what
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happened was is that the Democratic
29:36
Party didn’t stand up in the way that
29:40
they should have for what the youth
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wanted for what people of color needed
and and the the there are 90,000 people
in Michigan almost 90,000 who went to
the polls mostly Democrats and very
large numbers of them in Detroit Flint
Pontiac Saginaw all these are all black
cities majority black they stood in line
in the cold for two to three hours to
vote they went in there and they voted
for state Rep state Senate County
Commission we don’t have dogcatcher we
have drain commissioner the person in
charge of the sewage that’s the lowest
name on the ballot
they stood there they voted for the
Democrats all down ballot and left the
top box blank 19th only lost Michigan by
10 11 thousand votes 90,000
wanted to send a message to the
Democratic Party you forgot us a long
time ago out here and we will not put up
with us anymore we’re not gonna vote for
Trump but we’re not gonna we’re not
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going to tolerate you sending us another
30:38
Republican White Democrat if we go that
30:42
route if we go that route it’s
30:44
guaranteed we will lose the electoral
30:46
college we will win when we put somebody
30:48
on that ballot that excites the base
30:51
women people of color young people when
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they wake up that morning they feel the
30:56
way that many of us many of you watching
30:57
felt the morning that you were gonna in
30:59
2008 and you were gonna get to go and
31:01
vote for Barack Obama and you couldn’t

The Nihilist in Chief

How our president and our mass shooters are connected to the same dark psychic forces.

What links Donald Trump to the men who massacred innocents in El Paso and Dayton this past weekend? Note that I said both men: the one with the white-nationalist manifesto and the one with some kind of atheist-socialist politics; the one whose ranting about a “Hispanic invasion” echoed Trump’s own rhetoric and the one who was anti-Trump and also apparently the lead singer in a “pornogrind” band.

Bringing up their differing worldviews can be a way for Trump-supporting or anti-anti-Trump conservatives to diminish or dismiss the president’s connection to these shootings. That’s not what I’m doing. I think Trump is deeply connected to what happened last weekend, deeply connected to both massacres. Not because his immigration rhetoric drove the El Paso shooter to mass murder in some direct and simple way; life and radicalism and violence are all more complicated than that. But because Trump participates in the general cultural miasma that generates mass shooters, and having a participant as president makes the problem worse.

The president’s bigoted rhetoric is obviously part of this. Marianne Williamson put it best, in the last Democratic debate: There really is a dark psychic force generated by Trump’s political approach, which from its birther beginnings has consistently encouraged and fed on a fevered and paranoid form of right-wing politics, and dissolved quarantines around toxic and dehumanizing ideas. And the possibility that Trump’s zest for demonization can feed a demonic element in the wider culture is something the many religious people who voted for the president should be especially willing to consider.

But the connection between the president and the young men with guns extends beyond Trump’s race-baiting to encompass a more essential feature of his public self — which is not the rhetoric or ideology that he deploys, but the obvious moral vacuum, the profound spiritual black hole, that lies beneath his persona and career.

Here I would dissent, mildly, from the desire to tell a mostly ideological story in the aftermath of El Paso, and declare war on “white nationalism” — a war the left wants because it has decided that all conservatism can be reduced to white supremacy, and the right wants as a way of rebutting and rejecting that reductionism.

By all means disable 8Chan and give the F.B.I. new marching orders; by all means condemn racism more vigorously than this compromised president can do. But recognize we’re dealing with a pattern of mass shootings, encompassing both the weekend’s horrors, where the personal commonalities between the shooters are clearly more important than the political ones. Which suggests that the white nationalism of internet failsons is like the allegiance to an imaginary caliphate that motivated the terrorists whose depredations helped get Trump elected in the first place. It’s often just a carapace, a flag of convenience, a performance for the vast TV-and-online audience that now attends these grisly spectacles, with a malignant narcissism and nihilism underneath.

And this is what really links Trump to all these empty male killers, white nationalists and pornogrind singers alike. Like them he is a creature of our late-modern anti-culture, our internet-accelerated dissolution of normal human bonds. Like them he plainly believes in nothing but his ego, his vanity, his sense of spite and grievance, and the self he sees reflected in the mirror of television, mass media, online.

Because he is rich and famous and powerful, he can get that attention with a tweet about his enemies, and then experience the rush of a cable-news segment about him. He doesn’t need to plot some great crime to lead the news; he just has to run for president. But having him as president — having him as a political exemplar for his party, and a cultural exemplar of manhood for his supporters and opponents both — is a constant ratification of the idea that we exist as celebrities or influencers or we don’t exist at all, and that our common life is essentially a form of reality television where it doesn’t matter if you’re the heel or hero so long as you’re the star.

One recurring question taken up in this column is whether something good might come out of the Trump era. I keep returning to this issue because unlike many conservatives who opposed him in 2016, I actually agree with, or am sympathetic toward, versions of ideas that Trump has championed — the idea of a

  • more populist and worker-friendly conservative economics, the idea of a
  • foreign policy with a more realpolitik and anti-interventionist spirit, the idea that
  • decelerating low-skilled immigration would benefit the common good, the idea that
  • our meritocratic, faux-cosmopolitan elite has badly misgoverned the republic.

But to take this view, and to reject the liberal claim that any adaptation to populism only does the devil’s work, imposes a special obligation to recognize the profound emptiness at the heart of Trump himself. It’s not as if you could carve away his race-baiting and discover a healthier populism instead, or analyze him the way you might analyze his more complex antecedents, a Richard Nixon or a Ross Perot. To analyze Trump is to discover only bottomless appetite and need, and to carve at him is like carving at an online troll: The only thing to discover is the void.

So in trying to construct a new conservatism on the ideological outline of Trumpism, you have to be aware that you’re building around a sinkhole and that your building might fall in.

The same goes for any conservative response to the specific riddle of mass shootings. Cultural conservatives get a lot of grief when they respond to these massacres by citing moral and spiritual issues, rather than leaping straight to gun policy (or in this case, racist ideology). But to look at the trend in these massacres, the spikes of narcissistic acting-out in a time of generally-declining violence, the shared bravado and nihilism driving shooters of many different ideological persuasions, is to necessarily encounter a moral and spiritual problem, not just a technocratic one.

But the dilemma that conservatives have to confront is that you can chase this cultural problem all the way down to its source in lonely egomania and alienated narcissism, and you’ll still find Donald Trump’s face staring back to you.