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Happy Monday. Everything is Terrible.

A dispatch about the age of grift, meltdowns, and awful politics.
May 13, 2019
Happy Monday. Everything is Terrible.

It’s Monday, and everything that was wrong with us has somehow gotten worse. We’re closer to a trade war and a constitutional showdown; Hollywood celebrities are calling for a “sex strike,” and we are repeatedly reminded of H.L. Mencken’s observation that “Every decent man is ashamed of the government he lives under.”  Mencken also once defined democracy as “the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.”

We are indeed getting it good and hard, so here are a weekend’s worth of random hot takes, cheap shots, and deep thoughts.

Springtime for Meltdowns?

Ben Domenech, the publisher of the Federalist, is also the husband of Meghan McCain. Last week, McCain went on Seth Meyers’s late night show, where they traded barbs over a variety of issues, including Ilhan Omar and the question of anti-Semitism.

Evidently, the exchange upset Domenech and prompted what the Daily Beast later characterized as “an unhinged homophobic rant against ‘cuck’ Seth Meyers.”

“I see that @sethmeyers, the untalented piece of shit who only has his job because he regularly gargled Lorne Michaels’ balls, went after my wife tonight with his idiotic anti-Semitic bullshit,” Domenech wrote.

“Seth is an awful person who is known within the industry for how terrible he is. He is a monumental asshole who is utterly unfunny. He deserves the mockery he receives from all the people who laugh at him.”

He continued:

“Here is proof that white men get ahead despite their obvious lack of talent. It’s @sethmeyers, who would beg for a third of the viewers at @TheView. He’s awful, untalented, and a perfect definition of a cuck.”

“Cuck,” of course, is a term that many Trump supporters and members of the alt-right use to emasculate their opponents.

Asked to explain his tirade, Domenech doubled down, telling Mediaite that Meyers is “trash,” and saying that he “only has his job because of sucking up to the right people.” His reference to gargling balls, Domenench  insisted, was not homophobic, but rather simply “metaphorical.”

By the morning after his Twitter outburst, though, Domenech was having a hangover of regret. He deleted the offending tweets and posted the non-apology of a misguided romantic.

Not surprisingly, this bit of gaudy self-regard and sentimentality didn’t put the matter to rest.

As The Daily Beast wrote, Domenech’s rage tweet that Meyers regularly “gargled Lorne Michaels’ balls” was ironic. Just months earlier Domenech had fired writer D.C. McAllister for similarly rage tweeting homophobic comments to reporter Yashar Ali. She had written:  “Oh so sad. @yashar is lost. He doesn’t know his purpose as a man. He doesn’t know his purpose as a human being. He doesn’t know his purpose as an Individual. So he wallows and tries to find himself in another man’s asshole. Sad.”

There is actually another layer of irony here. Meghan McCain did not need Domenech to defend or protect her. She is a tough woman and, as a regular on The View is no stranger to controversy. Not surprisingly, she more than held her own with Meyers. No frail flower, she.

Husband Ben, on the other hand …

Maybe This Is Why Democrats Are So Bad At Politics.

Time put Elizabeth Warren and her “big ideas” on the cover this week. Last week it was Mayor Pete.

Pete’s edition also included a glowing review of a new movie about a liberal female candidate for president, which described the plot of the film:

Charlotte [Charlize Theron] is currently Secretary of State, and her platform involves a set of ambitious environmental initiatives. Fred [Seth Rogen] helps her find effective ways to sell her ideas, and the two fall in love. Miraculously, the movie makes you believe it.

Get it? Secretary of State? Ambitious environmental initiatives? (AOC was on the cover a few weeks ago.) And a world in which a guy like Seth Rogen gets a girl like Charlize Theron… which the movie “miraculously,” makes us believe?

Look, we all live in our tribal bubbles, but Democrats have something more – a political Holodeck for them to indulge their deepest fantasies. They have movies … and television shows … and glossy magazines that help engorge their wish-casting.

They can immerse themselves in glowing, warm, reassuring fictional worlds in which they are beautiful, noble, lovable… and where, as Al Franken might have put it in his pre-grabby days, gosh darn it, people like them, including their “ambitious environmental initiatives.”

I have questions. Could their addiction to political porn dull their instincts for the real thing? Is this why they have so much difficulty actually performing in an unscripted world? Or why they are so often surprised by reality?

Why Does This Keep Happening?

Charlie Kirk and his organization Turning Point USA are the undisputed youthful darlings of TrumpWorld. But, somehow, like outbreaks of acne on prom night, bad things keep happening to them. It can only be bad luck when racist videos surface and go viral, right?

Last week, a video surfaced in which a young man, who turned out to be the president of TPUSA’s UNLV chapter, sits on a bed with a woman with the words “F— everyone” written out in orange letters on the screen. The two are yelling “White power! Fuck the n—–s!”  The video has been viewed more than 2.5 million times on Twitter.

Click here to watch it on the website It’s Going Down.

TPUSA quickly sacked the campus leader and issued a statement calling his comments “abhorrent, un-American, and disqualifying.”

If only we had been warned. But, wait, we were.

In 2017, the New Yorker published a lengthy expose of the group, including an incident in which the group’s national field director, Crystal Clanton, had texted another employee saying: “I hate all black people. Like fuck them all… I hate blacks. End of story.” Clanton left the organization, which must have been disappointing for Kirk. As the article reported:

In a 2016 book that Kirk co-authored with Brent Hamachek, “Time for a Turning Point: Setting a Course Toward Free Markets and Limited Government for Future Generations,” he described Clanton as “the best hire we ever could have made.” He called her “integral to the success of Turning Point while effectively serving as its chief operating officer.” He added, “Turning Point needs more Crystals; so does America.”

Just last year, the Young America’s Foundation, a prominent conservative group, circulated a scathing 12-page memo “outlining the lack of integrity, honesty, experience, and judgment of this growing organization.”

The memo, written by the foundation’s vice president and general counsel, Kimberly Begg, warned: “The long-term damage TPUSA could inflict on conservative students and the Conservative Movement can no longer be ignored.”

In particular, the memo accused TPUSA of inflating attendance at events by “boosting numbers with racists & Nazi sympathizers.”

And who can forget the deep thoughts on Hitler from TPUSA’s Candace Owens?

“If Hitler just wanted to make Germany great and have things run well, OK, fine,” she explained at an event with Charlie Kirk. “The problem is he wanted, he had dreams outside of Germany. He wanted to globalize, he wanted everybody to be German, everybody to be speaking German, everybody to look a different way. To me, that’s not nationalism. So in thinking about how it could go bad down the line, I don’t really have an issue with nationalism, I really don’t.”

What, exactly, attracts these types to Kirk’s group? And how often do the group’s leaders tolerate or turn a blind eye to this sort of mouth-breathing ignorance? This seems another good reason to read Rosie Gray’s disturbing piece about the alt-right and how it has infested parts of the conservative movement.

The GOP Reminds Us That Even Rock Bottom Has a Basement. (I saw that phrase on a T-shirt.)

Lest you think that the previous item is punching down, consider what happened last week after Charlie Kirk tweeted a threat to North Carolina senator Thom Tillis.

Within hours, Tillis caved, setting a new land speed record for pusillanimity as he tweeted his abject fealty to the president’s family.

Republicans obviously have no stomach for the heavy lift of investigating their president; but what we now see is that they also unwilling to engage in the light-lifting of asking any questions at all. Even though the Mueller report was a referral to Congress and an invitation to exercise their constitutional responsibilities, Republicans have gone full  “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.”

The country was attacked, that attack is ongoing, and the president may have obstructed justice, but his allies in Congress – including Senators Rand Paul, John Cornyn, Ted Cruz, the invertebrate Tillis and others – now declare “we don’t want to know any more. We don’t even care if we have been lied to. Because MAGA.”

Which brings me to a Deep Thought.

The Grifted Age.

Our age has an identity crisis. We live in our own Gilded Age, but the name has already been taken. So has the “Decade of Greed,” which wouldn’t really capture the distinctive culture of our own time, which, by the way, is not #MAGA.

How about the Flim Flam Decade? Or the Grifted Age?

Consider some of the defining stories of our time; the Fyre Festival, Theranos, the college admissions scam, Anne Sorokin (better known as Anna Delvey), and, of course, Donald Trump —  all extraordinary examples of faking-it-until-you-make it. Or not.

But there is a pattern here that seems distinctive to our time: the panting after celebrity, the sheer brazenness of the flim-flammery, the dominance of star-bleeping over substance, and the embrace of charlatans by the rich and powerful.

The Fyre Festival is, of course, the stuff of legends and documentaries. Lured by social media and the prospect of hanging out with glitterati and gorgeous models on a private island in the Bahamas, urban elite-types forked over as much as $250,000 for what turned out to be a non-existent music festival. The reality spectacularly failed to live up to the imagery, but the episode served as a schadenfreude-laden primer on the power of hype and willful gullibility.

For a time, it looked like Fyre would be displaced as The Worst Scam by Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos (also the subject of another documentary you really ought to see.) At one point, the company was worth more than $9 billion – and hyped by the rich, beautiful, powerful, and entitled — before it was also exposed as a fraud.

And, then there was the fantastic story of Anne Sorokin.  As the New York Times explained:

For years, Ms. Sorokin pretended to be Anna Delvey, a German heiress with a trust fund that paid for a life of glamorous ease. She lived in boutique hotels, wore designer clothes and hung out in Manhattan’s moneyed party circles.

In reality, Ms. Sorokin, 28, was a Russian immigrant who walked out on bills, connived her way into luxury, and persuaded a bank employee to give her $100,000 she never intended to pay back, the jury decided in convicting her last month.

But really all of the scams of our time pale before Trump himself.  Trump does not define the age, as much as he arises from it. As we learned last week:

By the time his master-of-the-universe memoir “Trump: The Art of the Deal” hit bookstores in 1987, Donald J. Trump was already in deep financial distress, losing tens of millions of dollars on troubled business deals, according to previously unrevealed figures from his federal income tax returns.

Mr. Trump was propelled to the presidency, in part, by a self-spun narrative of business success and of setbacks triumphantly overcome. He has attributed his first run of reversals and bankruptcies to the recession that took hold in 1990. But 10 years of tax information obtained by The New York Times paints a different, and far bleaker, picture of his deal-making abilities and financial condition.

As it turns out, Trump’s losses of $1.17 billion over the decade meant that “year after year, Mr. Trump appears to have lost more money than nearly any other individual American taxpayer.”

And yet, Trump managed to parlay that monumental fail into an elaborate myth of himself as Master of the Universe, an image that ultimately propelled him to the presidency. So now we are all living through the Fyre Festival of presidencies.

How does that not define our times?

Charlie Sykes

Charlie Sykes is a founder and editor-at-large of The Bulwark and the author of How the Right Lost Its Mind. He is also the host of The Bulwark Podcast and an MSNBC contributor.