Interlude—Who the Sam Hill is Neil Irwin: Lately, neighborhood children have been stopping us in the street with an anguished question.
"Rabbi, why are you shifting your focus?" they ask, using a term of respect they encountered in their New Testament.
Their large eyes shine with tears as they pose their question. They've seen our all new Wittgenstein/Einstein Grammatical Confusion Pavilion (Plus Other Wings) as it rises near the headquarters of our sprawling campus.
They don't understand what that name even means! We haven't seen children this upset since Martin and Lewis broke up—and that happened back in the 50s.
This morning, we're able to answer the children. Why are we shifting our principal focus? Our answer has a hundred names. One of those names is Neil Irwin.
Irwin has an analysis piece from "The Upshot" in today's New York Times. In hard copy, it appears on the front page of the Business Day section. It bears an electrifying headline:
"Donald Trump's 42% Unemployment Rate"
As you may know, "Upshot" pieces are branded as the remaining smart work in the Times. In theory, an Upshot piece won't hand you the same stupid shit you're handed everywhere else.
You won't have to read the ten millionth account of how morally great it was when Saint McCain said that Obama actually isn't an Arab. You get that today in Kristof's column. In theory, you won't be fed that type of gruel under the Upshot brand.
For ourselves, we were thrilled by the headline we've quoted. Sadly but surely, here's why:
After Tuesday night's win in New Hampshire, Candidate Trump started in with the bullshit. Thoughtfully, he told us what he's heard about unemployment.
We join the lunacy in progress. This is now the reliable norm in our nation's post-discourse:
TRUMP (2/9/16): I am going to be the greatest jobs president that God ever created. Remember that.It's going to be so great, he said, when he knocks the hell out of ISIS and takes care of unemployment. Which, he says he recently heard, is 42 percent.
Don't believe those phony numbers when you hear 4.9 and five percent unemployment. The number's probably 28, 29, as high as 35. In fact, I even heard recently 42 percent. Do you think we'd had gatherings like this if we were, if we had— If we had five percent unemployment, do you really think we'd have these gatherings?
Forgetting about security, forgetting about ISIS— Which by the way, we're going to knock the hell out of ISIS.
We're going to knock the hell out of them. And it's going to be done the right way.
So we're going to take care of the economy. We're going to take care of jobs, we're going to take care of all of the things that I said, our border, everything, and health care. It's going to be so great.
Yesterday afternoon, we were speaking telephonically with a journalist friend—a journalist friend with a name so big it would rock your world.
We noted the sheer insanity of the modern age. As we said, it's not so much the fact that Trump would say something like that. It's the fact that our "journalists" now treat these claims as completely routine.
Which part of the equation is crazier—the fact that Trump advances such claims, or the fact that he attributes such claims to things he has "recently heard?"
Neither! The craziest part is the way the people who now play journalists on TV swallow such conduct whole. We saw the same culture at play on yesterday's Morning Joe, with the whole gang sitting mutely by as Trump made ridiculous claims about the rise in premiums under Obamacare.
We've told you this for many years—information plays no role in our modern discourse. It's narrative all the way down—narrative plus clowning, of course.
Those were among our telephonic remarks yesterday afternoon. This morning, we opened the hard-copy Times and stared at this glorious headline, marked with the Upshot brand:
"Donald Trump's 42% Unemployment Rate"
Greedily, we tore at the paper, eager to see what Irwin would say. But Irwin is a post-journalist too.
Headline included, here's the way he began:
IRWIN (2/11/16): Donald Trump's 42% Unemployment Rate"Rabbi," the children are going to say. "Why would Neil Irwin type that?"
Donald Trump seems quite certain that the real unemployment rate is higher than the 4.9 percent that the Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported it to be. A lot higher.
“Don’t believe these phony numbers when you hear 4.9 and 5 percent unemployment,” Mr. Trump said in his victory speech after the New Hampshire primary Tuesday night. “The number’s probably 28, 29, as high as 35. In fact, I even heard recently 42 percent.”
Mr. Trump might be bombastic, but he’s not entirely wrong...
What would you say to the children if you were confronted with that? Can you see why it might be time to expand our range of topics? To leave this sunken ship?
Let's be fair to Irwin! In one tortured way, you could almost say Trump's ridiculous statement isn't "entirely wrong."
In fact, his statement doesn't rise to the level of being wrong! Starting with his attribution, his statement is about a hundred times dumber than "wrong."
"And yet, this is [us]," to borrow from the poet. This is very much the way our post-discourse discourse works, with no serious pushback emerging from our own helpless tribe. Darlings, it just isn't done!
As he continues, Irwin is even more sanguine. Trump isn't entirely wrong, he pitifully says. "And the ways in which he is wrong are actually useful for anyone who wants to understand how to make sense of economic data." According to Irwin, Candidate Trump's presentation just gets more and more useful!
Why on earth would any real journalist take this approach to that latest buffoonish statement by Trump, with that gong-show attribution? We can't exactly answer that. Yesterday morning, the whole Morning Joe gang played the game the same way. But then, they always do.
Neil Irwin represents the smartest brand at the Times. That said, the Times is no longer a real newspaper, although the type of reasoning it puts on display is also on widespread within our own addled tribe.
Have you read Michelle Alexander's new piece at The Nation? Did you see the segment with Ben Jealous on last night's Maddow Show?
Jealous is famous for being the NAACP head who threw Shirley Sherrod under the bus based on something he saw at Breitbart. That defines the caliber of work currently found within our own failed liberal tribe.
Alexander's piece is based on the ancient need to extend tribal loathing within an established tribe. At some point, the elect will decide it isn't enough to loathe The Others, since everyone already does. The elect will then create a new pattern of loathing, a pattern of loathing within one's larger tribe.
To accomplish this task, the elect will begin to sift, select and disappear facts in the utterly silly way put on display in Alexander's piece. The same need to loathe was put on display by Jealous last night.
Under this familiar old system, it isn't enough to say, "I like Candidate Sanders more," a perfectly sensible judgment. Clinton must be villainized, in all the stupid old ways!
Now for an admission. Plato has repeatedly come to us in our dreams of late. He keeps reminding us of what he once said, in the Seventh Letter.
In the Seventh Letter, Plato described what he thought when The Thirty came to power around 400 BC. "In what way isn't your tribe like this?" he thoughtfully asks us as we fitfully sleep:
PLATO (353 BC): My feelings were what were to be expected in a young man: I thought they were going to reform society and rule justly, and so I watched their proceedings with deep interest. I found that they soon made the earlier regime look like a golden age. Among other things they tried to incriminate my old friend Socrates, whom I should not hesitate to call the most upright man then living, by sending him, with others, to arrest a fellow-citizen, and bring him forcibly to execution; Socrates refused, and risked everything rather than make himself a party to their wickedness. When I saw all this, and other things as bad, I was disgusted and withdrew from the wickedness of the times."Rabbi, please!" we've often said. "You were talking about political figures. We write about journalists here."
Same difference, he constantly says, often in the original Greek—and we see his point. Just look at the work at the new Salon. Just look at Maddow's endless mugging, at her endless apparent dissembling.
"Your associates can't see through that sort of thing," Plato has often told us. While you're at it, look at this comment to Alexander's piece:
COMMENTER: The article is wonderful...It's weird all the Obama people I know who are now pro-Hillary. SHE of course is the most anti-Obama Democrat on record. And as secy of state, she disagreed plenty, and not in a good way, always being more hawkish.The commenter is puzzled by "all the Obama people" who are now pro-Hillary. She doesn't seem to realize that Obama is one of those pro-Hillary people—that it was Barack Obama who made Clinton his secy of state.
With the gatekeepers gone, that's the actual caliber of us over here in our tribe. "What you need is a good strong philosopher-king," Plato has often told us.
We always reject that idea. Still, would you want to reason with liberals like that on a daily basis? Because, in the end, that's very much who We actually are, even as we fluff ourselves by discussing how dumb and evil They are.
The gatekeepers are gone—and left on our own, we reason like that. "Why not open that new wing?" Plato has often said.
"Rabbi, why?" the children still ask. It's hard to level with them about the adults who lounge about in human, all-too-human ways within their nation's post-discourse.
Tomorrow: What those two Trump voters said
Saturday: One of world history's greatest moral traditions