The commentator David Brooks — who has made a career out of piously trolling liberals for their supposed decadence and lack of morals — posted a photo on Twitter with the caption “This meal just cost me $78 at Newark Airport. This is why Americans think the economy is terrible.” Pictured in the photo were a hamburger and French fries with what appeared to be a fairly large glass of whiskey. Social media users quickly identified the restaurant in question, and the owner chimed in to confirm that the food portion of Brooks’ meal cost around $18, with rest of the tab being liquor. The proprietor also noted that a double-shot of whiskey cost $22, suggesting that Mr. Brooks may have been getting plastered on multiple drinks.
Now, I happen to believe that the economy still feels tough for many people because the cost of living is still high relative their incomes, even if inflation is trending down. But what Brooks did here appears to be intellectually dishonest, a lapse of journalistic ethics in the service of a political cheap shot.
It’s considered uncool in professional media circles to speak about news events in terms of conspiracies, but the Big Lie surrounding the 2020 election, the January 6 insurrection, the widespread idea that the Trump indictments are grounded in some kind of lawless “weaponization” of the Justice Department, and the plotting of powerful right-wing groups to give authoritarian powers to the next Republican president and destroy climate policy constitute nothing less than a conspiracy to end democracy and destroy the planet for profit. So if people want to be suspicious about something, there’s plenty of material already.
Trump surrogates such as Steve Bannon have been talking about destroying the “administrative state” for years now, as though federal government employees are all in on some grand conspiracy. Now this ridiculous idea has been explicitly codified in a Heritage Foundation plan for the next Republican President, ominously called “Project 2025.” This document, brought to you by a highly influential, oft-cited think tank, is nothing short of a blueprint for authoritarian rule. But don’t take my word for it. Consider the AP headline: “Conservative groups draw up plan to dismantle the US government and replace it with Trump’s vision.”
Corporations sponsoring sporting events is obviously nothing new, yet the U.S. Open seems to take commercialism to the next level. In addition to the ubiquitous logos of upscale products and financial services splashed on every available surface, there are odd little promotions such as the instant replay (technically a “line call” to determine whether a ball was in-bounds) being rebranded the “Chase Close Call” as described in the comic. At the end of a match, the winner whacks balls into the crowd as part of the “Emirates Ball Flight.” There was also something involving Grey Goose Vodka that I can’t quite recall, aside from the fact that I found myself craving a greyhound cocktail afterwards.
Market hype, with its seductive appeals to dreams of getting rich, gets blasted out 24/7 on various networks, not to mention a slew of financial publications. Yet there is no corresponding entity that reports moment-to-moment on the struggles of ordinary people to get paid a living wage, or not have their bodies destroyed in a warehouse.
Last week Bill Maher posted an extended screed against the Barbie movie, calling it “preachy, man-hating, and a #ZombieLie,” the Zombie Lie being that patriarchy still exists. According to Maher, it is “something that USED to be true but no longer is, but certain people pretend it’s still true.” His cherry-picked proof of this is that the Mattel board is currently more diverse than the one depicted in the movie. Of patriarchy, he writes: “Yes, there was one, and remnants of it remain – but this movie is so 2000-LATE.”
Mind you, Maher is saying this in the wake of the Trump administration’s over-the-top misogyny, a massively toxic male supremacist movement led by the likes of Andrew Tate, Tucker Carlson and others, and the Supreme Court decision ending abortion access for millions of women. Around the world, whole populations are swooning over authoritarian “strongmen.” If anything, patriarchy is becoming more entrenched than I ever expected to see in my lifetime.
It kind of blows my mind that callow internet trolls can attain public intellectual status by throwing on a sport jacket and a title at a bogus think tank. There’s an entire infrastructure on the right that funds and rewards extremist charlatans, lending them a veneer of professional respectability that dupes mainstream news outlets into platforming them as thought leaders. (For a recent example, see this article.)
The “big ideas” described in panels one and three are absolutely real. OceanGate submersibles co-founder Guillermo Söhnlein recently described his plans for a 1,000-person colony on the hot and gassy planet of Venus, noting that some parts of its toxic atmosphere have Earth-like temperatures. And disgraced crypto billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried had been planning to buy the island nation of Nauru with his brother in order to build a doomsday bunker and laboratory to perform experiments on “human genetic enhancement.” Never mind the little detail that Nauru is not for sale.
In reality, universities already contain a mixture of political views — you’ll find plenty of Republicans in business schools, economics departments, and law schools (see also: Frat Row). They also sit on boards of directors and comprise a large chunk of the donor class. But the right’s revolutionary project will not be satisfied until students stop learning facts that contradict the movement. Feminism, gender studies, the ugly parts of American history, climate science — it all must go! And so we get cries for “ideological diversity,” which sounds fair to well-meaning people who believe in good-faith debate as a way to arrive at the truth. But truth is not the goal here; the goal is power.
In Ron DeSantis’s Florida, new standards for teaching K-12 African-American history include a recommendation that the curriculum cover “how slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.” As this excellent LA Times editorial points out, there is no reason for this other than to whitewash the horrors of slavery.
This week’s comic was largely inspired by Disney CEO Bob Iger’s comments on the writers’ strike during a lengthy interview on CNBC last week. He absolutely stepped in it when the subject of the WGA came up, calling the strike “very disturbing” and “very disruptive.” What wasn’t mentioned in the conversation is that Iger stands to make some $54 million over the next two years while writing and acting jobs have been so degraded that they’re no longer sustainable. Residuals from streaming are often miniscule, with payments in the pennies. Media companies are deleting their own shows from streaming platforms so they no longer have to pay residuals at all. The amount of spec work has grown, leaving writers without income for long periods of time, sometimes never to be paid a cent. The fact is, it’s not the creators who are the aggressors here. To the extent that they are being “disruptive,” they are responding to how their jobs have been destroyed.
The mad scramble for social network dominance has reached a fever pitch, with Meta/Facebook launching its new Threads app recently. Word is it feels soulless and corporate, and your feed is filled with influencers with large followings that you can’t opt out of seeing. The head of Instagram, to which Threads is connected, says the platform won’t be encouraging politics, as such topics aren’t worth the scrutiny or negativity. (Downplaying “politics” is also convenient if your company has done some extremely questionable political things involving, say, genocide and selling data to unscrupulous presidential campaigns. In fact, it’s great for dictators and aspiring autocrats in general!)
I did finally sign up for Bluesky last week, so please follow me if you’re on there.
As the Texas Tribune has reported, Gov. Abbott just signed off on a bill that will eliminate ordinances in Austin and Dallas requiring a ten-minute water break for construction workers every four hours. This is part of a larger power grab by the state aimed at overriding the more progressive policies of cities. Businesses complained that the “patchwork” of laws created an unreasonable burden. Now, I don’t see what’s so difficult about remembering to give workers water so they don’t die while they’re building a skyscraper in Austin or Dallas. What this actually seems to be is corporate authoritarianism, an effort to destroy any democratic ability to protect the public interest.
A few readers have pointed out that Saguaro cactus doesn’t grow in Texas, and they are right! I was using desert cartoon tropes without thinking about the actual location.