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I get that there is a chunk of America to whom Trump has a visceral and emotional appeal.
I get that he has channelled a certain amount of real anger and real anxiety that does not reflect in a lot of the specific facts and stats like those in an article debunking his claims and checking his facts might reference.
I also get that Hillary Clinton is a person who a certain chunk of people will never, ever like or vote for and that, despite the fact that her qualifications are vast, her liabilities are real.
But it’s inescapable that Trump is completely incompetent and ignorant about how the world works and how the government works and it’s manifest that he possesses no obvious insight into the matters which impact those who support him and no apparent ability to address their anger and anxiety.
Put simply, Donald Trump is a charlatan. An utterly incompetent man who is completely out of his depth and impossibly unqualified to be President of the United States.
I don’t often get emails or messages here about what I write, but I got one today regarding the Trump piece from this morning. This was the question:
Craig–a sincere question re: your Donald Trump post. Why did you write it? I’m asking as someone who 100% agrees with it (and with most things you write). But, as a public figure, even writing that on your private blog, you have to know that it’s going to convince no one who isn’t already convinced. But, it *will* piss some people off. I 100% do not mean this as a criticism, but as a serious, respectful question. What led you to post this piece? I’d love to hear–
I left off the person’s name, and I responded to them privately, but I liked what I rattled off in a couple of seconds, so I reproduce it here:
Thanks for your question. I wish I had a deeper answer than “I am in the habit of saying what comes into my head, in writing, as often as possible.” But that’s a large part of it. When I write things here and, often, on my baseball website, I don’t think of whether it will make people happy or angry or if it will change many minds. I advocate, yes, but I realize that with lots of things, people are loathe to see things differently than they already do.
With this particular piece, I think what inspired it was the notion that, for all of the political back and forth in which people engage, they very rarely say plain basic things like “this person is literally incompetent and is actually ignorant.” They talk about the horse race. They talk about whether someone is getting “their message” out or how they’re polling with some subgroup or whether they “appeared presidential.” But for whatever reason, the press, and increasingly, the public, talk around basic questions of competence and intelligence in politicians, thinking that it’s a rude topic to broach. “Many millions will vote for him!” they say, “so how can you say they’re wrong?” That kind of thinking leads to pulled punches and the acceptance of a ridiculous amount of nonsense in the name of false balance and relativism.
The fact is, Trump doesn’t have the basic knowledge, intelligence or temperament that the leader of the United States of America needs to have to do his job effectively. It’s something that, for as obvious as it is, is not said that much. I sense that most of us are all too tribal and rah-rah in favor of our chosen factions to accept this, but it’s a pretty basic and objective fact that, today, even some of Trump’s supporters are admitting.
Will it make me friends to say it? Not likely. But it’s the truth. And I find a certain value in speaking plain truths whenever I can and, especially, when so few people seem eager to. If it costs me some baseball readers, well, so be it.
In reality, however, if I had made a habit of saying things that were aimed at pissing off the fewest people possible, I never would’ve gotten my job with NBC in the first place.
I just read a fascinating story by Sarah Ellison in Vanity Fair about the downfall of Fox News head Roger Ailes. The backstory is well known by now, of course: Ailes sexually harassed women he employed for decades and got away with it for almost as long. His downfall came when former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson sued him for it in July, leading to his disgrace and departure.
The Vanity Fair article is not interesting for the facts regarding Ailes’ conduct, however. For a much better treatment of that go with Gabriel Sherman’s detailed and at times sickening account of it all in his early September story at New York Magazine. No, it’s fascinating because it’s an account of the legal process which actually effected Ailes’ termination. Specifically, the Fox-led internal investigation of Ailes launched by James and Lachlan Murdoch, sons of News Corp head Rupert Murdoch, and Gerson Zweifach, the general counsel of 21st Century Fox once Carlson filed her lawsuit.
I sort of owe my career to Andrew Sullivan. Not in any direct way. He doesn’t know who I am and never did anything to help me get a job. But he and other web-based political writers who flourished in the early 2000s provided a model for me.
The model was basically:
I wrote a web column covering national topics in 2002 and 2003 and didn’t think of it as a blog, but looking back at those old bits, they were basically blog posts. After a hiatus I began again in 2007. While there were several baseball bloggers around then, they were mostly team-specific or didn’t post as frequently as I did. While I respected their work and still do, I didn’t really emulate any of them. No, by 2007 I was consciously aping the political blogging style, only about baseball.
I modeled myself particularly closely on Andrew Sullivan. While I did and still do disagree with him politically on a whole host of issues, there was a lot about his style that appealed to me. He wrote in the first person a lot and did not hide the fact that he was a human being with his own interests. While he was and still is accused of completely reversing course on various topics, he didn’t really care, noting that changing one’s mind upon encountering new information or simply reconsidering old topics was a sign of intellectual strength, not weakness. He was, with some rather notable exceptions, more self-aware than a lot of his peers and knew that some of his readers wouldn’t care about whatever hobby horse he was riding at any given moment yet still kept riding them anyway.
A lot can be written about some of the awful arguments and positions Sullivan has taken over the years, but his approach as a blogger always appealed to me. Emulating it in a baseball context set me apart from my peers. I wrote more, wrote more quickly, more frequently and covered a wider array of topics than most people in the baseball blogosphere. To the extent I was able to leverage two years of independent blogging into a larger platform at The Hardball Times and then, later, at NBC, it wasn’t because I had a ton of friends in the industry or because I networked. It was based almost exclusively on being that weird lawyer baseball dude who updates constantly and talks about everything. It was because I was the baseball Andrew Sullivan. I owe a lot to him, even if he doesn’t know it.
Though I stopped reading Sullivan on a regular basis several years ago, I was sad to see that he quit blogging in 2015. And I am sadder still to see what he wrote today in New York Magazine:
I Used to Be a Human Being
In the article, Sullivan talks about how he burnt out on blogging and all of the online reading, reacting, arguing and writing it requires. About how posting every 20 minutes and obsessing over every twist and turn in a news story, often before anyone even knew what the story was, caused him to crash. His personal health was a factor as well – he suffered from multiple respiratory infections – but his “living-in-the-web” lifestyle, to use Sullivan’s term, was his real problem. He says it took a massive toll on his health, his personal relationships, his intellectual capacity, his writing skills and style and maybe even his sanity. This is, quite obviously, not ideal, and I’m glad that the internet detox on which he has embarked and the meditation regime and sabbaticals and everything else he has done has been good for him. Real life matters far more than four paragraphs of thoughts hastily posted to WordPress.
Of course, it would not be an Andrew Sullivan article if it didn’t include some broad overstatement, generalization and projection of his own feeling and experience onto the rest of us (an occupational hazard of all bloggers, but one which dogged Sullivan more than many). And here it is: too much technology and time online was not just something that harmed him, he says. It’s the scourge of the entirety of 21st century civilization:
Just look around you — at the people crouched over their phones as they walk the streets, or drive their cars, or walk their dogs, or play with their children. Observe yourself in line for coffee, or in a quick work break, or driving, or even just going to the bathroom. Visit an airport and see the sea of craned necks and dead eyes … this new epidemic of distraction is our civilization’s specific weakness. And its threat is not so much to our minds, even as they shape-shift under the pressure. The threat is to our souls. At this rate, if the noise does not relent, we might even forget we have any.
With all due respect to the man on whom I’ve modeled my career: this is fucking bonkers.
I will grant that the manner and to degree to which technology has changed our lives in a very short period of time is, frankly, staggering. I’ll grant that all of us could use more time unplugged and offline and away from screens than we spend.
I’ll likewise grant that people in Sullivan’s line of work are particularly susceptible to being crushed in the manner which he describes. I never was nor have I ever been quite as immersed in the “living-in-the-web” lifestyle as Sullivan was, but doing what I do for a living, as obsessively as I do it, from home, usually alone, I am likely on the far right portion of the, ahem, Bell Curve, when it comes to full Internet immersion. I have over indulged at times. I have had loved ones tell me, hey, you need to unplug, get off of Twitter and close the laptop for a bit. It happens to most of us, especially if we work online.
But Sullivan’s article reads like a harangue from a recently sober alcoholic, convinced that everyone else is destined to fall victim to demon drink simply because he did. It’s calm and measured tone just barely hides what’s really being revealed here: a man with poor work-life balance skills blaming technology for what befell him as opposed to his own inability to unplug and pace himself
Sullivan talks about how he posted seven days a week, every twenty minutes. I remember when he did it and it was insane. I used to do something close to it. It was five days a week for me and it was every thirty minutes – with my blogging partners chiming in once or twice an hour to give us close to the same frequency of Sullivan’s blog – but it was pretty similar. It was also entirely unsustainable, both in terms of content – there really isn’t enough good stuff to write about 40 times a day – but more importantly in terms of the writer’s stamina.
Eventually, I ratcheted back a bit. Instead of writing 20 things a day I wrote 12-15. Many days now I don’t write even that much. Partially because blogging has changed a bit over the years and partially because I have people who work for me whom I trust to handle nights and weekends and those times when I have life to live and errands to run. Mostly, though, because I realized a few years ago that there was no way I could continue that pace into my 40s while still being a sharp thinker, a present father and an all around healthy person. I still write more than most people in my field, but I write way less than I did a few years back. Both I and my writing are better for it and my readers have not complained about it.
I’ll grant that baseball is not as important as politics, but Andrew Sullivan’s blog was not defending us from invading hordes or keeping Democracy alive single-handedly. No matter how important the underlying subject matter, no one was ever going to save the world with a blog post. At the very least the world would have survived for a few short hours if Sullivan had taken his husband out to a nice diner during the Green Revolution or if he had unplugged one night and read a good book in 2008 rather than writing yet another post about Sarah Palin’s baby.
Ultimately, reading and writing about crap on the internet is a job. It can be an extraordinarily immersive job. One that, if you’re not careful, can cause you to lose yourself. But still a job. If Sullivan wasn’t killing himself with this job, I strongly suspect he would’ve been killing himself with another one. I suspect he’s just wired that way.
One final point: Sullivan’s article is illustrated with famous paintings, photoshopped to show their subjects using cell phones, such as Edward Hopper’s “Hotel Room,” at the top of this post. It’s cute, and you can see what he and his editors are getting at with the little joke. But it also proves too much.
Most of Hopper’s best works portrayed subjects who were isolated and lonely and detached. Amazingly, something besides the Internet was to blame.
My dad, born in 1943, is supposedly a member of the “Silent Generation,” which means that he liked Bob Dylan, but only as long as he played protest songs and liked protests only as long as the protesters had short hair and got a damn job.
My mom, born in 1948 is a Baby Boomer and pretty much fits the stereotypical bill. She wore stuff with shoulder pads in it in the 80s and watched “M*A*S*H.” Not all Baby Boomers were at Woodstock, you know.
I date to 1973, which means I spent most of my 20s and 30s overly-preoccupied with “authenticity” without ever bothering to ask why, setting back my emotional development a good ten years. I also have strong feelings for Winona Ryder and never felt older than when she showed up as the half-crazy mom of a high school kid in “Stranger Things.”
My fiancee was born in 1980 and, according to most sources, that makes her a Millennial, but she bristles at that label. I can see both sides. In some ways she has more Gen-X qualities, separate and apart from liking a tired old Gen-X guy like me, than Millennial qualities. On the other hand, she is constantly explaining to me how technology works and unironically likes things simply because they bring her joy and that’s TOTALLY not a Gen-X thing.
In other news, generations are somewhat amorphous and difficult to peg.
I’m doing some research in old Detroit newspapers. This ad from April 1911 shows you that the Tigers used to have WAY better sponsors.
The new iPhone was unveiled today.
The big news is that it does not have a headphone jack. You’ll need to use wireless headphones, which Apple is calling “AirPods” or else you can use wired headphones using their lightning cable and an adapter. You cannot, however, use regular headphones and there is no longer a standard aux cable.
This is causing a great deal of sturm und drang, with people alternatively freaking out on social media about losing their AirPods or racing to top each other in jokes at Apple’s expense.
Of course, there are also a lot of people defending this move by Apple as visionary, because there are some people who will say anything Apple does is visionary. Apple marketing exec Phill Schiller went so far as to say that the move “comes down to one word – courage.” Which, um, sure. The takeaway here, I think, is that both complainers and backers of every technological change overstate their cases, often in ridiculous ways.
I think it ultimately comes down to this: if you think of an iPhone as a stepping stone across the Great River of Technological Advancement one must ford on The Path to Paradise or something, wireless is necessary and cool and – dare I say it?! – courageous. If you think of an iPhone as a consumer product that you use as a tool to get you through your day, much like a vacuum cleaner or your car, not having a headphone jack is a pain in the ass. It’s that simple.
You have to accept some balance in that whole calculus, of course. The customer isn’t always right. Indeed, it’s often the case that end users have to be prodded, often sharply, into trying new things that will, in fact, make their lives easier one day. But it’s also the case that companies which lose sight of the fact that, hey, people use their products for a reason, eventually run into trouble when he products stop being useful and practical. This is especially true of companies who are making money hand over fist, face little competition and forget how demand curves work. Ask a GM executive from the 1960s and 1970s about that.
I’m certainly no technology expert, but I think the move into wireless headphones mostly serves Apple’s interests, not the interest of its customers. Maybe Apple has learned that its customers will go along with anything even if they aren’t being well-served. Maybe it has managed to convince enough of them that they are really buying that stepping stone across the Great River of Technological Advancement and not a simple consumer product. As an Apple product user myself, I am well aware that there are some cultlike tendencies among our kind that have basically given Apple a license to print money in ways few if any companies ever have had.
But I think it’s a mistake to assume that Apple is infallible when it comes to this kind of stuff. It may have more money than God and it may have assumed a place in our culture that makes it seem like something more than a company selling gadgets to customers, but it’s still just a company selling gadgets to customers. It strikes me that, perhaps, it should think a bit harder about what customers want and ease up a bit on what it thinks customers will adapt to. At some point it’s going to lose a bet on that score.
Bruce Springsteen has an autobiography coming out. In a recent interview, he talked about how he reconciles his blue collar, Jersey shore past and the hundreds of songs he has written about all of that with the privileged life those songs and his wealth have allowed him to live for half of his life:
“Whoever you’ve been and wherever you’ve been, it never leaves you. I always picture it as a car. All your selves are in it. And a new self can get in, but the old selves can’t ever get out. The important thing is, who’s got their hands on the wheel at any given moment?”
That’s a pretty amazing and profound insight. A simple one, simply put, that somehow eludes almost all of us when it comes to considering who we are as people compared to who we used to be, in fear of who we may become.
That Springsteen may yet make something of himself. He’s a pretty good writer.