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Die Hard was a seminal movie for me at one point but in recent years, it’s been souring on me a bit. I could chalk this up to its cynicism, which seems to find every target except for the ones that, in real world terms, are the most deserving of it. Or perhaps it’s the treatment of violence in general here. I’m certainly not against violent movies, and somehow I have less of a problem with?Commando in this day and age, which is very weird. But?Commando is cartoonish from moment one, and?Die Hard is extremely grounded and realistic in almost every way except for which the effects that violence has on the people perpetrating it. The reason for this is obvious: commercial expectations. Which is why I think I’m souring on it.

Enter?Nothing Lasts Forever, the book by Roderick Thorp which happened to inspire the movie. I have to say that the book is excellent and addresses all my issues with the movie brilliantly. So much of what made the movie great is from the book, to a surprising degree: the feet vulnerability, the chair bomb, the cat-and-mouse game over the radio, it’s all there. But the book has depth to it that the movie doesn’t. It has a theme: the dehumanizing effects of violence. And in place of the movie’s “good guy with a gun” as our hero, we get its antithesis, a ticking time bomb of a man for whom violence is the first resort. This makes the?Nothing Lasts Forever/Die Hard nearly as intriguing an adaptation pair as the movie and book combo of?The Shining, which basically have the same plot but offer virtually the opposite takes on the theme. Kind of makes me want to see a new adaptation of?Nothing Lasts Forever that’s a lot closer to the original intent of the piece. We might be more ready for that now.

What’s brilliant about the book is that it is told entirely from the perspective of Joe Leland (i.e. the John McClane character), so it makes its point purely through subtext. It’s not like Leland ever outright says “My God, I’ve turned into a murderous killing machine!” That would be dumb, and Leland realistically figures that he’s perfectly sane throughout. But the book keeps finding little ways for the audience to understand that he really isn’t (and, eventually, one really big one near the end of the book). It’s a lot like?Lolita in that way, and probably only in that way. The book is brilliantly structured around its theme and it appreciates the different triggers that lead to violence, from the split-second snap decision made by retired cop Leland to the desperation of the lefty terrorists invading the building—oh yeah, in the book, they actually have a solid motivation for what they are doing, though the book pretty clearly argues that their means undermine their ends. Even the ending, where Sgt. Al Powell shoots Karl, has a very different meaning in the book than it does in the movie. I can’t emphasize enough just what a satisfying book this is, how true to life it feels and how artful it is in execution. We’ve all seen?Die Hard but this feels like the more complete, the more interesting, and the more humane version of the story. It’s crazy how nobody talks about it considering the enduring popularity of the movie, because it’s truly excellent.

Anyway, I was turned onto this book by the Pages and Popcorn Podcast, which is excellent. Go check it out.

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Everything’s good now, right?

I’ve been taking a bit of a mental health break over the past week or so. I’m going to put up something nonpolitical tomorrow and hope to get right back at it after that.

I’ll only say for now that this is welcome and long overdue. Treating the GOP as separate from Trump in 2016 was a choice, not one I ever thought was the right one, but given that there was a lot of public ambivalence among Republicans about Trump even after the primaries it wasn’t necessarily crazy. Turned out that the reasons for that ambivalence were that he would lose or that he would win and not be a movement conservative, neither of which came to pass. They never cared about his damage to the rule of law or his white supremacy, which were part of his pitch from the start, and which they’ve enabled the whole time. It’s unfortunate that we’re saddled with a nominee who thinks (for lack of a better term) that Republicans are actually good but Biden is yesterday’s man and only won on Obama’s coattails anyway. These signals sent out by the most beloved Democratic president should trump those sent out by the aspiring placeholder president. Hopefully.

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The weirdest thing about Democrats isn’t liking Obama–the guy is easy to like. It’s the idea that The Obama Era was a good time. It really, really, really wasn’t. Apparently I’m one of the few who remembers that time, maybe because I got so ground down that I gave up on political activism for years, so take it from me. It was not as bad as the Trump Era for sure, though still pretty bad, and at least people are paying attention in a way they weren’t back then.* Remember the endless brinksmanship and gridlock, the fears that Obama was going to give away the store to Republicans in exchange for nothing in a “grand bargain”? Remember year after year of no progress on most key issues? That’s what it was like. I can understand being nostalgic for My President, but it is really amazing just how little people remember what, say, 2013 was like. It was really bad! You started out the year with Republicans tanking gun control (never had much hope of that passing) and then immigration (some hope, obviously that was naive in retrospect), then a government shutdown, then the ACA site not working right for months. None of that stuff was good! And that was just a typical year, not the worst one. 2014 was much worse. 2011–with the first debt ceiling crisis, the height of grand bargaineering, and the dumb as rocks Libya intervention–was maybe the worst. First two years were a mixed bag, certainly some good things there. Last two weren’t nearly as bad either, though the TPP was really bad (remember the TPP?), at least Obama finally started pushing the envelope on executive orders (even though almost all of those later got eradicated by Trump). But on the whole, it was a really bad time. Just because the nation’s figurehead was a legitimately cool person didn’t make those years good.

The irony of it all is that the folks who gave us Biden did it because they want to bring back The Obama Era, and they will certainly get their wish. But the actual Obama Era, not the golden age that hucksters like Biden are selling them, and without having the most charismatic and coolest president ever as the figurehead. Instead it’ll just be some incoherent ancient white male mediocrity who can’t seem to inspire anyone to do anything. I give it three months before the bottom falls out after inauguration. Gonna be real funny when Biden meets with his good old friend Mitch and asks what they can do on X and Mitch says nothing. Not ha ha funny, but you get it.

Also, relatedly, definitely read Pareene’s latest. And give some money to TNR if you have it! They have quietly assembled an excellent stable of writers and are at this point like Splinter was, but better, all killer and no filler.

* I ended a friendship by calling someone out for posting an argument that was basically, “I trust Obama to bomb Syria the right way.” My reaction was, as I recall, that it’s better think for one’s self than to just put all your trust into one person. I don’t really regret doing that but it’s not like this person was alone in just shrugging at anything Obama ever did. It was distressingly common! The Trump Era is worse and we hear a lot of talk about things getting normalized but there’s nowhere near the level of just being checked out that there was back then.

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I haven’t really changed my views on Sanders or Biden since my venomous pre-postmortem last week, but I will say that I was pleasantly surprised that Sanders dropped out in conjunction with the overwhelming logic for doing so (getting blown out in one primary after another by 20 points is not really going to gain leverage, quite the opposite in fact) and I was also pleasantly surprised at the (admittedly modest) concessions that the Biden folks offered in conjunction with that. Considering that we’re living in a time where most surprises are not at all pleasant, I’ll take it!

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How can anything be “Trump’s Katrina” when Trump’s approval ratings and public perception have been from the start where George W. Bush’s were after Katrina (as well as Iraq and like half a dozen serious scandals)? What would doing a Katrina even mean under these circumstances??Certainly it’s true that Bush wound up losing a good chunk of Republicans, mainly during the last two years, which is why he wound up with only consumers of conservative media approving of him when he left office. But they didn’t leave him over Katrina. They left him because John Wayne movies don’t end with the Indians creating a quagmire that Wayne can’t deal with. As soon as Sarah Palin winked her way onto the national stage, they were all back on board.

This just gets back to the tiresome liberal question of the Trump Era: what’s it going to take for Republicans to finally bail on Trump? The answer, as it has always been, is that nothing will ever make this happen. Certainly a lot of Trump voters are going to be directly affected in a negative way by Trump’s handling of corona but if Republicans processed events the same way we do, then they’d be us, and none of the reasons that drive fervent Trump support are going to vanish because of a disease.

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Probably not on its own or all at once, but maybe. For people who were either too young or don’t remember the Bush Administration–which is to say just about everybody–the notion that Katrina destroyed it in one fell swoop is overly simplistic as it was one of any number of events, including scandals (oh for the days when pressuring appointees to do partisan shit was really, really bad) and the ongoing mess in Iraq that did it. Iraq was probably the most important part of all of it because Bush went in so heavily on that stuff and tied it so directly to masculinity and machismo from the start that when Iraq continued to be a mess, it became a double-edged sword cutting the other way against those qualities. You can’t be a dick-swinging world conqueror who brought Iraq to its knees and then have it spiral out of control and there’s nothing you can do about it. You become a joke that way, a caricature of phony swagger. It wasn’t an accident that Trump bashed Jeb Bush over the failure of his brother’s war in Iraq, or only to do with hitting Jeb in the sweet spot that Trump so frequently seems to find. So the Coronavirus could maybe be the thing that cracks the image of tough, manly, Trump in control altogether. (And I say image precisely because that’s all it is.) Trump is plainly not in control and while this is no surprise for liberals, it might be the breakthrough that we’ve been waiting for.

And yet…it might not. It is extremely hard for a lot of people to accept that literally the only things that motivate fervent Trump support amount to ugliness in various forms. In only a nominal sense do Trump fans care about Trump “getting stuff done” in most areas of policy, owning the libs is more the mark of victory than anything else. Substance matters far less than emotion and always has. From the implied insult of a black man believing he could be the president to the continuing insult of a woman thinking she could do the same (even though she lost) to actual (and largely fair) insults from “the kids today,” the motivations for Trump support are not going to be cracked by this thing. Perhaps it will split a few people away, some who are personally affected by it, that may well happen. But it will not exorcise the sickness in our society that gave us Trump.

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Joe Biden is already signaling that he’s going to run the usual bland, hack consultant Dem campaign about nothing (gonna be a lot of concern about “tone” for sure), which is one lost opportunity of his getting the nomination, but not the greatest one. There’s no way to know how great the damage of the coronavirus is going to be at this point—certainly not anything that’s going to be resolved by January 20 of next year. Whoever is running the government at that time is going to be making choices about how to rebuild things after that, choices that are going to be much more extensive than Obama’s after the financial crisis, choices that are going to reverberate for decades. Next year has gone from a “more of the same” scenario to perhaps the single greatest chance to enact fundamental change we’ll ever see. Gee, wouldn’t it be great to have someone in there with an inspiring and just vision for the future? Instead it’s going to be a guy who quite obviously believes that the Obama Era with a few tweaks was the best that anybody left of center can ever hope to have, and who you have to figure is going to try to rebuild that roundly terrible status quo as his return to “normalcy.” It’s sickening, really. I wish I could be more optimistic like some that Biden is a sort of LBJ figure whose opportunism could lead him to adopt left-wing options if they’re the best for him personally but I just think the guy is too invested in having been right all along in his career to accept that the world he helped build actually sucked. He thinks it was good, so he’s going to build it back again. It’s simple as that.

And the biggest reason why this is going to happen? One Bernard Sanders. I think this Slate piece lays out a lot of compelling evidence?that Sanders cooked his own goose, and fundamentally I can’t help but see this very old man as a child who only wanted to do the fun parts of campaigning and who never appreciated why 2020 isn’t 2016, why what he did in 2016 wasn’t going to work now, or even why his campaign in 2016 failed in the first place. Rerunning the 2016 campaign was a crucial mistake for Sanders, a wildly inappropriate one in fact. I have no doubt that railing against the party establishment is where the most famous not-a-Democrat in Democratic politics feels comfortable, but in 2020 he wasn’t facing an opponent who had locked down virtually all institutional support within the party, so the shorthand of “establishment = Hillary” didn’t work. “The establishment” was actually up for grabs this cycle and Sanders might well have been able to snag a chunk of it if he’d done the professional politician thing, but he didn’t. He might have eased a lot of critics by smiling a bit more and occasionally throwing in a bit about party unity. He wouldn’t. And above all, Bernie Sanders’s stature was different in 2020 than it was in 2016. In 2016 the expectations were negligible for Sanders and he beat them many times over. In 2020, the expectations were high because Sanders polled first or second for virtually the entire contest. The expectation was for him to win or to come very close to doing so. To get walloped by Biden is a vast underperformance that is going to hurt the left bloc and that will soon render Sanders much less relevant than he has been for the past few years. Biden is going to tell Sanders to take a hike when it comes to input on a VP or on the platform and frankly, why shouldn’t he? Biden convincingly beat Sanders when the polls showed them close up until the end, and he’s going to get into office owing nothing at all to the left. All because Bernie couldn’t be bothered to do the yucky parts of politics. The ego of it is just so astonishing I can scarcely believe it. People say that they’d rather be right than president but Bernie actually believed it and he neutered the entire left bloc in the process. Petulant, unwise, and selfish: the words that will describe Sanders to future leftists when wondering how we all could have blown this.

Ultimately, the pressure on Sanders was much greater in 2020 than in 2016, and the risks of failure were vastly greater. I can’t imagine the fear I would feel in that situation but I never saw any hint of it on Sanders, and I think that’s the big problem. Fear of that sort of failure—of the consequences that would extend beyond his own reputation but also to allies and to the movement that he led—is necessary. It is what needs to be in place in order to do whatever it takes to win, regardless of one’s own preferences. I frankly don’t think Sanders ever felt the fear, and that, furthermore, he really did believe that a 16-point defeat was a stolen victory due to The DNC, which meant that he had to change nothing for his next run. The guy should have been running a frontrunner’s campaign with top-notch strategy and a nice, happy message of party unity. Instead he replicated the shambolic non-strategy and abrasiveness of his earlier run with even worse results. To lose to Hillary Clinton was one thing, she had all the advantages. But to lose to a mediocrity like Biden after being on the same level as him for a fucking year? Jesus fucking Christ. The whole “party establishment” angle was just such a wild misread and speaks to a fundamental lack of empathy on Sanders’s part, that he really can’t imagine anybody not sharing his priorities and way of thinking. I guess it shouldn’t be surprising that this was the case considering that he had no theory of change beyond “people will rise up” due to his message. This all points to a man who does not care to engage with any unwelcome reality, but holy fuck, how do you lose a “grip on reality” contest with Joe Biden, a guy who seemed to talk himself into that bogus “arrested in South Africa” story? On some level, it’s difficult to even fathom what level of clueless you have to be for that to be the case. I don’t even want to think about it.

I hate Bernie Sanders. I hate him. I’ll never forgive him for this. The Clinton people in retrospect were lowballing how bad he is. He blew this because of his own ego, and the price of it is going to be losing the best opportunity to make this a much better country that we’re likely to ever have. The worst thing about it is that, if losing by 16 points isn’t enough to make the candidate feel the loss and take any lessons from it, losing by 25 isn’t going to either. He and his noxious followers will forever be proffering ever more insane theories about how Bernie got robbed. I guess the reassuring part is that he’s a loser now in a way that he never was before and I don’t think anybody is going to care to hear them. Small comfort.

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Madam Speaker makes it all a little too obvious. Much as we’d all like to imagine that there is a place for Nancy Pelosi in even a moderately progressive future, there just isn’t and she’s never going to leave voluntarily.

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