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America waits tonight, after four years of crippling disease, metaphorical, and one year, literal, for a diagnosis. Even with the knowledge that by the time we climb into bed with a blood-alcohol level sufficient to overcome the anxiety of the moment, we may know little more about the fate of our republic than we do now, we search the exit polls for a sign that the disease is being beaten back.

Democracy lays in intensive care, but there are no doctors in sight. Its heartbeat is diminished and arrhythmic, but no equipment can revive it. We have but one tool: the ballot box, and we cling to it because all other tools have failed, from Congressional oversight to the aggressive treatment of impeachment proceedings. …


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Source: Associated Press

Since he became a force in American politics during the last presidential cycle, Donald Trump has repeatedly been branded a populist. The term hit an all time Google search high in January of 2017 as he took office. But in tonight’s debate, Trump embodied not a single characteristic commonly ascribed to populist leaders, preferring instead to finally appeal to the fascist rule of extreme minority.

In her book, “What Is Populism,” Jan-Werner Muller lays out the clearest possible definition of populism based on the qualities it has most commonly exhibited while seeking power and while holding it. She notes that the populist leader always claims to be enacting the will of the people, while depicting dissidents as illegitimate opposition to that will. …


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Things may be reopening, but with a much larger danger around the corner, have we learned the lesson COVID-19 taught us?

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“Back to normal!” came the cry. It came from our parents, our children, and our spouses. It came from our Twitter feeds and Facebook timelines. It came from the president of the United States. Now, the push has begun in full, as people clamor for a return to what once was.

As if we can wave a wand and pick our lives back up where we left them in February. As if, once we do that, life will continue, unabated and eternal, twirling toward freedom to paraphrase The Simpsons.

You may have noticed that normal life, in a sequential, Rube Goldberg style chain of events, led us to this disastrous moment in history with startling precision. The time of COVID-19 has surfaced those fractures and wounds we keep buried when life is normal, from a failed model of economics to a failed healthcare system and, though not the focus of this writing, the unaddressed history of racism still violently rampant in the United States. …


Reality is forever changed. We cannot go back. How do we go forward?

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From the other side of our new normal, the way we once lived feels like an alternate reality. When headlines first made the rounds about a strange new virus wreaking chaos in parts of Asia, the danger seemed alien (with all of the onerously racialized overtones that word implies). Looking back, the feelings those headlines evoked in me were eerily like the ones I felt when Trump declared his presidential candidacy in 2015. “That can’t possibly happen here, right?” …


In a decade of technological saturation, HBO’s raunchy comedy never bought the hype.

the main cast of Silicon Valley stand shoulder to shoulder with shocked expressions
the main cast of Silicon Valley stand shoulder to shoulder with shocked expressions

As it closes out its sixth and final season, HBO’s Silicon Valley is an odd relic of a more idyllic time for the tech industry. When it first debuted in 2014, our culture was in a radically different emotional space regarding its relationship to the technology at the center of our daily lives. Instagram and Snapchat were the hot new kids on the block, Facebook hadn’t yet been accused of destroying Western democracy, and Elon Musk wasn’t labeling his haters pedophiles on Twitter. But as the middle of the decade drew on, people began to recognize that the tech-evangelists of the California bay might not be as sincere about “making the world a better place” as they claimed. At no time in human history did technology increase its forward march at so rapid a pace, and at no time did each new app feel more redundant and soul-sucking than the last. …


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Tarantino’s latest is a deep dive into its creator’s own canon and reputation, and it is a stunning sight to behold.

SPOILER WARNING: I’m going to get into the nitty-gritty details of this movie, so go see it before reading this.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie quite like Once Upon A Time…in Hollywood, a project that arrives on the 25th anniversary of its director Quentin Tarantino’s cult-hit, Pulp Fiction, and plays not only with history but with the accumulation of Tarantino’s canon to surprisingly strong effect.

Though I appended a spoiler warning to the front of this piece, I don’t think there’s much I can say that will constitute a spoiler (short of our inevitable discussion of the revisionist history in the third act). There are plenty of films I advise people to see without watching so much as a trailer. The less you know going in, the better. Hollywood is the rare exception, a film that requires much foreknowledge from its audience. To properly taste the layers of irony and comedy that gird the movie, it is necessary to have a working knowledge of the Manson Family, of the murder of Sharon Tate at their hands, and of Roman Polanski. On first viewing, I came home from the theater with lots of homework. Older viewers should keep in mind that, as a writer in his mid-twenties, I never knew Charles Manson as anything other than a crazy old man sitting in prison, and should excuse me for being woefully unacquainted with the specifics of the murders he incited. …


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Every year, the Conservative Political Action Conference is held to showcase the best thinkers and ideas the right has to offer. Usually, that includes exactly what you’d expect: thinly veiled racism expressed as concern over “illegal immigration” and “border security,” calls to criminalize abortion, and lots of very white, very rich men getting teary-eyed about lowering taxes on the rich.

This year, it was far more bizarre.

Before President Trump even took to the pulpit on Saturday, the parade of scaremongerers and reactionaries who came before him made clear that the theme for this year’s CPAC was “Unhinged Conspiracies on Planet X.” …


The celebrity president has a celebrity mindset

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Trump’s fascistic tendencies have been exposed nowhere more than in his treatment of journalists. His presidency began with a declaration of the media as “enemies of the people.” He points journalists out at rallies, encouraging people to heckle and jeer at them. Last week, he endorsed physically assaulting reporters. Yesterday, he complained that Saudi Arabian prince Mohammed Bin Salman should have done a better job covering up the murder of a Washington Post reporter. He’s threatened to change laws in order to expose journalists to prosecution. At every turn, Trump cannot resist the urge to smear our free press.

Other politicians have hated the press. Nixon is the most prominent example. He once referred to the press as “merchants of hate.” But politicians, even Nixon, have known better than to call for jailing reporters — let alone celebrating their dismemberment in the basement of a foreign embassy. To understand Trump’s particular persecution complex as it manifests toward journalists, you must first understand Trump as something other than a politician. …


We saw it happen. We did nothing.

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Right off the bat, I’m going to violate an unspoken rule of argument: invoking German Nazism. You’re not supposed to bring up Nazis or Hitler or Germany circa 1938 in a debate because nothing could ever really be that bad. If you bring that stuff up, it must be because you’re grasping at straws.

Except it really is That Bad™. Proof? I had to specify German Nazism in the last paragraph. You know, as opposed to American Nazism, which is a thing now.

The path to fascism moves more slowly than the plot of Mad Men. So we’ve been told time and again. But we are not frogs in a pot of boiling water, nor are we television characters unable to see the consequences of their actions. …

About

Max Asher Miller

Managing Editor of Columbia Journal, writer at CBR. Columbia University MFA. (Contact via Twitter for freelance pricing or other inquiries.)

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