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Donald Trump Is Political Meth

July 19, 2019
Donald Trump Is Political Meth
Donald Trump. (Photo by Michael Reynolds - Pool/Getty Images)

1. Chicken v. Egg

Yesterday I trotted out my theory that Donald Trump is a symptom of where America is as a country, not a cause.

Reader E.P. wrote in to take the other side of that:

I go back and forth as to how much Trump is a symptom vs. a cause. You’re certainly right that a healthy republic wouldn’t let him get anywhere near the presidency. On the other hand, I’m reminded of a quote whose origin I can’t seem to find: “A man may drink because he is wretched, but he becomes even more wretched because he drinks.” Trump has taken a sick culture and made it even worse.

I see Trump as a symptom so powerful that it becomes its own cause, kind of like a political hard drug. Let’s pretend that Trump is political meth. (Heroin is a more timely analogy, but meth is perhaps more closely associated with rural whites and—like Trump—it makes you want to fight people.)

Despite their electoral successes, Republicans in 2015-16 were feeling more and more isolated and culturally marginalized, so in a moment of weakness, they took a hit of meth. It made them feel invincible, so they took more. It even appeared to have helped them succeed when they won the 2016 election. Three years in, though, the Republican party looks like . . . someone who has been doing tons of meth for three years. It’s not pretty.

If you’re deep into meth addiction, you’ve probably lost your job, friends, family, and self-respect. All you have is the meth. This makes you cling even tighter to the very thing that has ruined your life, because despite its terrible long-term effects, every hit (tweet) gives you another burst of that sweet, sweet power that first drew you to the drug.

The meth doesn’t fix your old problems. Whatever problems you had before you got hooked on it, they get bigger. But the meth also creates new problems in entirely different categories, too. Again: The analogy with the Republican party here seems pretty on point.

Was the GOP’s metaphorical descent into meth addiction inevitable? I don’t think so. What if Chris Christie hadn’t suicide-bombed Rubio in that debate? What if the Access Hollywood tape had come out during the primaries? What if Hillary had made one more trip through the Midwest? A lot of things could have changed. Maybe the party would have ended up with a less destructive addiction, like political caffeine pills. Or maybe it would have gone straight to Fentanyl and been dead by now.

So maybe the truth is that Trump is both symptom and aggravating factor.

2. The Big Short

For the last few years I’ve been telling anyone who would listen that Netflix is the Tesla of streaming entertainment.

And boy, howdy, is that coming home. Here’s Richard Rushfield in the Ankler breaking down the beginning of the end of Netflix As We Know It:

Then there’s that valuation, the PE ratio multiples above anyone else in the business. A valuation like that isn’t based on the idea that one day they will run a nice little service among services. That is the investors’ bet on eternal explosive growth creating near-monopoly power to eventually control pricing; essentially that they will become to entertainment what Amazon was to the book retail business.Given that, any slight downturn, any sign of weakness, is going to send the fairy tale up in smoke and have investors crying, “You were supposed to have been immortal. That’s all we wanted. Not much to ask for.”

When the fairy story vanishes, and investors head for the door, Netflix is left not only having to payout its debt with the money it earns from just selling subscriptions, like some kind of 19th Century pushcart peddler, but will thus have only have the wherewithal to produce much, much-reduced slate. . . .

Which brings us to the question, what is this service to its viewers? Netflix has a lot of good shows, even very good shows. It doesn’t have a lot of all-time great shows. It’s got a few critical darlings, but not only doesn’t it have its GoT, it doesn’t have its Breaking Bad, or Mad Men. Or its Office. And that’s after spending untold billions trying. But the more you watch the App’s churn, the more you feel that greatness is not the point. You don’t make a habit of launching a million new shows and canceling almost all of them after two or three seasons if you’re going for all-time great. The point is to dazzle viewers with a bunch of new, exciting things every darn time they fire it up. On that, they are very successful, and you look at what’s come out in the just the last week, and there is a rush of amazement.

So what happens if say its production funds get cut in half. And its productions get cut in half. That’s at least half less dazzling, isn’t it? . . .

We’ve heard that something like 80% of Netflix eyeballs go to licensed content. And that The Office and Friends are vastly their biggest shows. This can’t be where they thought they would be after billions and billions spent. So Netflix is in this state, dependent on inflated valuations and debt to keep the engine pumping, in a time when they have essentially no competition in the App field.

But that is about to change. They are about to get competition—and lots of it. Not just Disney, but Comcast, Warners, Apple, Amazon, and Facebook. They are not just taking away Netflix’s biggest shows, but they are taking them to stream on their newly launched competitive services. . . .

When we talk about tech goliaths that sprang from nowhere to disrupt and reinvent a sector, the telling always assumes the ending of that story is a happy one. They become Amazon, Facebook, or Google. That is a possible ending, but it’s not the most common one, even for tech companies that become ubiquitous giants. The more frequent ending is the world bids a fond farewell to [fill in the blank here: MySpace, Napster, or your favorite] and went on with its life. There’s even the middle-ground ending where a once absolutely dominant company grows up to become, say, Yahoo, and lives on forever, passed around like an unlucky nickel, surviving as a sad, hollowed out, infinitely uncool shell of its former greatness.

Boom. Roasted.

If you’re not subscribing to The Ankler, you’re missing everything important in Hollywood.

3. Birth Dearth

While I’m doing my best Mr. Perfect imitation, here’s a piece in the Atlantic noticing that, “Hey, birth rates are really down in urban areas!”

No kidding!

Last year, for the first time in four decades, something strange happened in New York City. In a non-recession year, it shrank.

We are supposedly living in the golden age of the American metropolis, with the same story playing out across the country. Dirty and violent downtowns typified by the “mean streets” of the 1970s became clean and safe in the 1990s. Young college graduates flocked to brunchable neighborhoods in the 2000s, and rich companies followed them with downtown offices.

New York is the poster child of this urban renaissance. But as the city has attracted more wealth, housing prices have soared alongside the skyscrapers, and young families have found staying put with school-age children more difficult. Since 2011, the number of babies born in New York has declined 9 percent in the five boroughs and 15 percent in Manhattan. (At this rate, Manhattan’s infant population will halve in 30 years.) In that same period, the net number of New York residents leaving the city has more than doubled. There are many reasons New York might be shrinking, but most of them come down to the same unavoidable fact: Raising a family in the city is just too hard. And the same could be said of pretty much every other dense and expensive urban area in the country.

Read the whole thing.

Jonathan V. Last

Jonathan V. Last is editor of The Bulwark.