TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 22, 2020
RBG bobbleheads and us: At roughly 7 o'clock this morning, we were so sunk in overload that we thought we'd write today about Lord Bertrand Russell.
Our despair concerned our own tribe's overwhelming foolishness. It's been so widespread in the past few days that we hardly knew where to start.
Lord Russell enters the picture as a symbol of the ubiquity of our species' intellectual incompetence. Also, you can enjoy the laughter of the gods when you recall the way the great man tortured himself over the imagined logical complications of "the set of all sets not members of themselves."
Lord Russell was then, and is today, considered an intellectual giant. That said, his comical contortions about this particular "set of all sets" made absolutely zero sense, except as a source of entertainment for those who dwell on Olympus.
That said, his contortions are still taken seriously by the people hired to play the role of logicians. The gods roar on Olympus, then look away. Every once in a while, the rest of us should go ahead and enjoy a good laugh too.
We were going to start that way, perhaps with a mention of Professor Goldstein's book about Godel Wittgenstein. But then, a bit like Keats before us, we came upon Ann Hornaday's essay in the Washington Post.
We're not sure we've ever read a more perceptive political essay in any major newspaper. Needless to say, it came from the Post's main film reviewer.
We know Hornaday a tiny tad, as we've noted in the past. Back in 2007 and 2008, we would encounter her adorable daughter, then maybe seven years old, on quite a few weekday mornings in an unnamed coffee joint.
Those meetings made us recall Mr. Peterson, who had two jokes, and never failed to tell them, back in the early to mid 1950s, when we ourselves were maybe 6. But we can leave such things for another day, thanks to Hornaday's essay, which is perhaps the most perceptive political essay ever unloosed in the Post.
Hornaday in the Washington Post's chief movie reviewer. Did you really think that political insight would come from the paper's political writers?
Hornaday smuggles her political insight into her essay under cover of movie critique. In print editions, headline included, her essay starts like this:
Your RBG bobblehead is shaking in dismay
There’s no denying that Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a rock star. Maybe that was the problem.
Ow ow ow ow ow ow ow! Already, Hornaday is dropping down on her target.
What could Hornaday possibly mean by those opening thrusts? The late Justice Ginsburg had been a bobblehead-honored "rock star?" Where was "the problem" in that?
As she continues, Hornaday cites Justice Ginsburg's "brilliant advocacy for women’s rights," along with her "intellectual prowess, soft-spoken civility and physical tenacity." In this way, Hornaday is speaking about the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg the actual person, not the "pop-culture icon."
That said, our utterly hapless cultural tribe did make her such an icon. Covering herself with a mention of films, Hornaday joins Ruth Marcus in citing a fateful decision by Ginsburg—a fateful decision the commissars have told us we mustn't discuss:
HORNADAY (9/22/20): Ginsburg’s status as a pop-culture icon was solidified in 2018 with the release of two feature films celebrating her life and career. “On the Basis of Sex,” starring Felicity Jones, was a dutiful if somewhat drearily conventional biopic. But it was the documentary “RBG” that became a surprise hit that year, an intimate, adoring portrayal that morphed into a cinematic pilgrimage for mothers, daughters and granddaughters who turned out in droves to cheer on their heroine as she pumped iron and pummeled her conservative colleagues with her scorching dissents.
“RBG,” which replayed on CNN this weekend, only briefly addresses Ginsburg’s controversial decision not to retire during President Barack Obama’s tenure, which probably would have ensured that her seat would be filled by someone with similarly liberal views. Like so many others, she made certain assumptions, including that Hillary Clinton would win in 2016. And really, who could be immune to the poetic justice of Ginsburg’s replacement being named by the first female president? The optics were irresistible.
Then, when things didn’t go as planned, optics were all that some of us had. The Notorious RBG, a cancer survivor whose fragility belied a formidable will, became a meme of the Trump-era resistance, her star status cemented by a Kate McKinnon parody on “Saturday Night Live,” coffee mugs and collectible bobbleheads.
Dear God, no! Like Marcus in Sunday's Washington Post, Hornaday mentioned Ginsburg's fateful decision—the fateful decision the commissar has said we mustn't cite.
As Hornaday took this forbidden route, her imagery heightened:
In Hornaday's rendering, "The Notorious RBG" became a meme of our (hapless) political tribe. Ginsburg was honored with her own bobblehead doll as she became a symbol of the resistance.
You may recall the resistance! It got its start in the first few days after Trump was elected. In an act which bordered on self-parody, it staged its initial fruitless march the day after Trump took office.
As such, the resistance sketched itself as a symbol of our tribe's inability to see what's happening until it's too late. (If at all.) At this point, Hornaday offers the most insightful political analysis ever put into print by the Post:
HORNADAY: Over the weekend, her fans mourned her passing by gathering with candles and songs at the Supreme Court; presumably, others donned their “dissent collar” T-shirts or lit RBG prayer candles in memoriam. Meanwhile, President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) were already getting to work. McConnell and his Republican colleagues had prevented Obama from nominating a replacement for the late Antonin Scalia in February 2016, insisting that the seat remain vacant until after the election. Days before she died, Ginsburg had shared her “most fervent wish . . . that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.” But it’s unlikely that such niceties will be observed by a party and administration that has made the shredding of once-settled norms and sacred traditions just another day at the office.
Thus concludes another real-time lesson that liberals just can’t seem to learn: that while they’ve been congratulating themselves watching movies that co-sign their most closely held assumptions, elevate their most cherished shibboleths and flatter their most self-righteous vanity, the right wing has been systematically institutionalizing its agenda by way of an incrementalism strategy aimed at capturing governorships, statehouses and the courts, and radically reshaping the entire national legal infrastructure.
In that passage, Hornaday mocks our liberal teammates. In Hornaday's rendering, they confront the world with candles and songs, but also with "dissent collar T-shirts," whatever the heck they may be.
They confront the world with prayer candles. Also, with bobblehead dolls of impressive people who they've turned into pop-culture icons.
They tend to show up a day too late, "elevating their most cherished shibboleths and flattering their most self-righteous vanity." And as our team has behaved this way down through the many long years, realpolitik players like Trump and McConnell (and quite a few others) have been systematically institutionalizing all aspects of pseudo-conservative power.
Hornaday goes on from there, but her stunningly accurate point has been made. In an increasingly polarized nation, the other tribe will have the Supreme Court. We're going to have our prayers and songs, and our bobblehead dolls.
Hornaday's essay appears on the front page of Style. Indeed, no one would ever write with such insight in the Post's political pages.
Dearest darlings, use your heads! It simply isn't done!
What is being done today across our upper-end world? Inevitably, the cult of pop-culture personality is being advanced in the New York Times as people crowd forward to broadcast useless tales of their personal friendship with Ginsburg.
Eric Motley offers this op-ed essay about his "unlikely friendship with" Ginsburg. On the facing page, F. Murray Abraham offers this self-promoting letter about the time "Ruth Bader Ginsburg and I shared a gondola in Venice."
So amazingly cool! That said, our tribe will never be free of our attachment to such behavior on the part of Tinseltown types. Often, the clueless conduct of these halfwits has damaged liberal interests.
We liberals! As Hornaday notes, we have our bobblehead dolls, our candles and songs, and our dissent collar T-shirts. The other team will soon have a 6-3 edge in the Supreme Court and, in a visiously ironical turn of events, a chance to end Roe v. Wade thanks to a gamble lost.
There's no reason why Justice Ginsburg had to retire while Obama was president. The fact that she didn't decide to retire doesn't make her some sort of bad person.
That said, the likely outcome of her gamble is now all too clear. And, of course, the commissar quickly moved to tell us that we shouldn't discuss it.
To be clear, Hornaday isn't speaking, in the main, about the late Justice Ginsburg. She is speaking, in the main, about the cluelessness of everyone else in our bobblehead-afflicted, personality-driven political tribe.
Our tribe is driven by bobbleheads and by politics as a form of identity formation. As we promote "our most closely held assumptions, elevate our most cherished shibboleths and flatter our most self-righteous vanity," how dumb are we able to be?
This dumb! Our leaders keep saying that McConnell has already lost two votes—those of Collins and Murkowski—out of the three votes he can afford to lose.
In truth, neither Collins nor Murkowski has said that she will vote against the commander's forthcoming nominee. We've been through this okey-doke with Collins about a million times by now, but our journalists just keep saying these things 1) possibly because we're really that dumb, or possibly 2) to make us readers and viewers feel good.
(Given the political leanings of Maine, the embattled Collins could imaginably get permission to dissent this time.)
The woods are lovely, dark and deep. At the same time, it's clear that our flailing tribe just isn't up to this task.
Hornaday's essay moves directly to the heart of the problem. It could only have come from a movie reviewer. Simply put, our "political analysts" aren't up to so crucial a task.
Tomorrow: The commissar's edict