BOOK REVIEW: The adults in the room have always been “Reckless”

In the Mel Brooks parody, “Space Balls”, the villainous character Darth Helmet brags to Lonestarr, the protagonist, that, “Evil will always triumph because good is dumb.”

This trope appears in fiction often, and some writers rely on it almost entirely.

The medievalist historian and culture critic Steven Atwell has observed that one of the central differences between George R.R. Martin’s worldview in the fantasy book series A Song of Ice and Fire and that of showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss in the HBO adaption Game of Thrones is that Martin will stack the cosmic deck against his “good” characters to give them more adversity while D&D treat nobility itself as a handicap, where evil is synonymous with competence, cunning, with a willingness to make the hard and necessary choices.

The early 21st-century genre of “prestige television” with its white male anti-heroes is predicated largely on this worldview, from Vic Mackey in The Shield to Frank Underwood in House of Cards, but it continues today and goes back to Kurtz in Apocalypse Now and beyond.

In contemporary reality, though, we have a president and administration that is an ever-overlapping Venn Diagram of racists, incompetents, and grifters rapidly approaching a perfect circle with every new cabinet departure and replacement.

Recently, that administration announced that Vietnam War refugees who’ve been living in the United States for 40 years or more are now subject to deportation. We can and should condemn that as yet another example of ethnic cleansing that it is. It’s the sort of behavior that’s cartoonishly evil except for that it’s actually happening and hurting real people.

That we are currently ruled by schmucks does not make their sadism less painful.

At the same time, there is a syrupy-sweet voice talking from the corners of New York Times opinion columns and conservative “former Republican luminaries” that suggests that everything could go back to normal if we just had the adults back in charge, that if people were a bit more civil and subtle as they went about pursuing policies that irreparably harmed marginalized people, and if they didn’t tweet rude, misspelt things, we’d all be OK.

Reckless: Henry Kissinger and the Tragedy of Vietnam by Robert K. Brigham is a great corrective on that impulse.

Continue reading “BOOK REVIEW: The adults in the room have always been “Reckless””

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Donald Trump isn’t president yet, but he’s already started bombing

The other day the candidates finished up the last of three presidential debates after a year and a half of serious campaigning, and the only thing left on the calendar is Election Day itself. Now the final hours of the election are unfolding like the extended director’s cut of Return of the King: we’re ready for it to be over any time now, but there’s still much more than you need or want ahead.

So the 2016 Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner just happened, and because there are pageviews to get and 24 hours of cable to fill and politics are consumed and pored over by laymen like Westerosi genealogies, it wasn’t just another private white-tie fundraiser for New York Catholics and other elite figures to mingle and lightly roast one another; it was a public occasion open to anyone with cable or YouTube and another subject to fill conversation for the chattering classes we can now all count ourselves among thanks to the steady march of progress and the Internet.

Donald Trump gave his speech; Hillary Clinton gave hers. They each apparently gave two versions of their talks because that’s how people reacted to it. Ideology is a prism for splitting the light from any event into your preferred spectrum, and we’re lucky enough to have plenty of sources available to better crystalize our thoughts, whatever the ideology.

Continue reading “Donald Trump isn’t president yet, but he’s already started bombing”