Our Weekly Discontents, 2/15/2021

Rick rolled

Hey everybody—it’s Eoin Higgins from The Flashpoint. I’m taking this newsletter as an opportunity to talk about the Lincoln Project. It's been a rough week for them, with only Reed Galen and Rick Wilson remaining from the original co-founders (and Steve Schmidt, but he’s on leave and who knows if he’ll be back). I wrote about Reed last year. Today, let's talk about Rick. 

The Lincoln Project, a coalition of former GOP operatives who restyled themselves into resist-win heroes after Donald Trump's takeover of the Republican Party made their positions untenable, has been rocked by a number of scandals. Co-founder John Weaver's solicitation of sexual favors from young men in exchange for political work, including DMs to at least one underage boy, a 14-year-old, began the deluge. Co-founder Steve Schmidt claimed he was in the dark about the behavior; this was nearly immediately disproven by eyewitness accounts, including from Lincoln Project co-founder Jennifer Horn, who claimed Schmidt knew as early as October 2020. 

Multiple former staffers have requested they be released from their NDAs, though this has not happened yet. The group's Twitter account published DMs between Horn and reporter Amanda Becker that were, apparently, obtained surreptitiously. Reporting shows, once again, that the group is shoveling cash into the pockets of its founders. An expose at The 19th revealed a "toxic" workplace where homophobic and sexist language is the norm. Even Meghan McCain dunked on them. 

Both Schmidt and Weaver have stepped away from the group, Weaver permanently and Schmidt only temporarily, as has Horn. Co-founders Ron Steslow and Mike Madrid left in December. Co-Founder George Conway, who left the group last year, called for an independent investigation.

That leaves Rick Wilson and Reed Galen as the two founding members still affiliated with the group.

Of all the members of the Lincoln Project, Wilson's rise to liberal fame remains the most difficult to understand. Of the entire crew, he has the most egregious history of racism, transphobia, Islamophobia, and generally bigoted comments largely aimed squarely at those less powerful than him. 

Yet this doesn't seem to matter at all. Wilson has institutional media standing, being invited on to CNN and MSNBC to hawk his excruciatingly titled books Everything Trump Touches Dies and Running Against the Devil. He has substantial social media cred with liberal influencers like tweetin' historian Kevin Kruse, MSNBC's Joy Reid, and—of course—Center for American Progress President and Joe Biden's nominee for Director of the Office of Management and Budget Neera Tanden

It's worth noting that the preceding media appearances and friendly tweets all came after Wilson's comments on Trayvon Martin, transgender people, and Muslims. They know. They just don't care. 

Assuming the Lincoln Project somehow makes it out of this scandal—a big assumption, to be sure, at least right now—the churn of cash from and influence over liberals will continue through at least the next election cycle. That means another four years of this corrupt group, led by an openly hateful bigot, continuing to wield outsized sway over the Democratic Party. 

Clearly the party's media sycophants and liberal influencers have no problem with this. Do you?

~~~

Wars of Future Past

Kelsey D. Atherton

On February 5th, a writer at another substack declared “The end of the War on Islam,” on the faith that the wars Biden inherited from Trump, who inherited them from Obama who inherited them from Bush, have reached a natural end point, thanks especially to, of all things, a reported fall in Islamophobic hate crimes. It was a bold, bloggy piece, filled with the kind of half-baked PoliSci 102 analogies one found in the mid-aughts blogosphere, back when we called it a blogosphere instead of the endless maw of discourse.

The piece is bad (you’re free to find if on your own you’re so inclined; here’s a place to start), but it stuck in my mind because of how easy it is for people to want it to be true. I remember, sitting in the room of the “War on Terror” class I was taking as a sophomore in the spring of 2009, and talking about how Obama changing the name to “Overseas Contingency Operations” meant the War on Terror was over, right? I’ve since graduated college and worked 8 years in journalism reporting on the specific machinery of the endless war. The colloquial names for the war have changed, but the Forever War ticks on. 

Instead of an end, there is, in this precise moment in February 2021, an apparent pause on some of the worst parts of drone bombing justified under the 2001 AUMF. It could be the start of something greater; certainly, the activist push to end US support for Saudi hostilities in Yemen has already yielded results, though much more remains to be done. But the pause could just as easily be an administrative reconfiguring, as the fourth presidency to take over the long war finds a new justification for endless spending on weapons and constant airborne violence. So long as the machinery remains in place, calling the war dead by any name is a act of hubris; calling it dead by its most xenophobic name, specifically, is to greatly overestimate the defeat of the worst strains of American war nationalism.

Welcome to Hell World

Luke O’Neil

This weekend I interviewed Max Collins aka “The Eve 6 Guy” in a discussion less about his newly celebrated and funny Twitter account and more about the meditative qualities of swimming and back pain and alcoholism. He did tell a few good old band stories though like the one about the time the guys from Staind were going to beat his ass.

“Without the option of alcohol I gotta get those endorphins and just get the perspective. Being in the water swimming laps really gives me something that no other kind of exercise or whatever does. It’s like this forced mediation. You’re stuck with your thoughts and you have no choice really but to observe them and have some space created there.”

Also our very own Felipe De La Hoz wrote a piece for Hell World on where things stand with immigration and “kids and cages” under Biden.

“As of right now, asylum and immigration remain for practical purposes banned in the U.S., and everyone has just moved on.”

That one is behind the paywall but grab a discounted subscription here for $4.65.

A Lonely Impulse of Delight

Connor Wroe Southard

After yet another Covid Winter break, I’m bringing the newsletter back this week. Prior to November, I didn’t take a single week off from A Lonely Impulse of Delight. Then I suddenly found myself living in arguably the global epicenter of the pandemic circa Thanksgiving (the Northern Rockies). And well, let’s just say we can all agree, on a week that’s freezing virtually every part of the United States, that it’s been a long winter. I’ve taken a couple of weeks off since then. Just gotta get through [gestures around].

Is relief on the way, weather-wise or anything else-wise? I don’t know, and as your arts and culture correspondent, it’s mercifully not my job to find out. I can tell you that I’ve come to almost enjoy the isolation of this particularly strange season. There’s something calming about not being asked to do much except stay home and toil away and then crack a beer and play the same video games you’ve been playing for months.

I’m also managing to fit in some wholesome narrative arts consumption. I think this week I’ll write about Moon (2009), a very good movie about being alone under strange circumstances. (If you know my newsletter, you know I might change my mind Tuesday night.) Two weeks ago, I did another subscriber Q+A. The only way to know for sure what’s coming next is to sign up. Stay warm and stay sane out there, folks.

The Insurgents

Jordan Uhl & Rob Rousseau

This week we spoke to none other than Eoin Higgins, the guy from the intro to this very newsletter. We talked about Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial, whether the Democrats just bungled a huge opportunity to (correctly) link the Republican Party and the American conservative movement to extremism, and whether it’s cringe and/or lib to care about any of this at all. We also spoke about the implosion of the Lincoln Project and the ongoing troubling signs that the Biden Administration is going to botch this historic moment and fail to deliver on a transformative agenda that actually helps people’s lives.

In the intro we pour one out for friend of the show Gina Carano who, in a sign of modern McCarthyism run amok, was fired from her job on Disney’s Mandalorian solely for the crime of being conservative. We didn’t really look into it but we’re pretty sure she was posting about, like, having low taxes and why regulation is bad? Something like that anyway.

Perspectives: Past, Present, and Future

Patrick Wyman

The human past: a lot longer and more diverse than we usually think! This week, I covered Egypt before the emergence of the pharaohs and the pyramids. In this long-lost world, groups of herders moved their cattle up and down the Nile, never staying too long in any one place when they were alive. When they died, however, these mobile pastoralists congregated together in enormous cemeteries. Cities of the dead came before cities of the living in prehistoric Egypt, and this emphasis on death and the bodies of the dead stuck around for millennia to come.

BORDER/LINES

Gaby Del Valle & Felipe De La Hoz

I think it’s kind of corny to call things “Orwellian” because it’s like, yeah, I get it, I also read 1984 in 9th grade. That said, I can’t think of a better way to describe the “Migrant Protection Protocols,” a Trump-era immigration policy introduced in 2019 that makes some asylum seekers wait in Mexico while their cases play out in U.S. immigration courts. Migrants on the MPP docket are regularly extorted, assaulted, kidnapped, and even killed by gangs; they often live in crowded shelters run by churches and nonprofits or, if they’re less lucky, in squalid encampments. On top of that, it’s almost impossible for people on the MPP docket to find lawyers, meaning it’s almost impossible for them to get asylum in the U.S.

Last week, Biden announced he’d be ending MPP and allowing migrants who were still waiting in Mexico to enter the U.S. This is obviously good news, but there’s a catch: people still waiting in Mexico will be processed into the U.S., but anyone who was subjected to MPP and lost their asylum case—meaning they were ordered deported—won’t get a second shot at asylum. Even with MPP’s end on the horizon, the border still remains closed to unauthorized migrants, including asylum seekers, thanks to a CDC order issued under Trump that Biden is in no hurry to rescind. There’s also Trump’s visa ban, which lawyers for the Biden administration said they’re still “reviewing.” So are things getting better? Yes and no. I wish I could say I was surprised.

Discourse Blog

Last week felt like a perfect Discourse Blog week. Some days you struggle to find news, or find yourself shoe-horning stories into the blog that might not quite fit, or just seeing the news cycle so dominated by one subject that stories feel redundant. That’s how things go. But last week we had it all.

The Democrats fed their means-testing addiction. The Republicans didn’t even pretend to care about impeachment. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement continued to find new ways to be a black mark on American society. A centrist grifter platform imploded, and the Washington Press Corps humiliated themselves all over again. That’s playing the hits, baby -- a whole week of blogs right in our wheelhouse. And to round things out we had two personal essays by Paul Blest and Sam Grasso, about taking up tennis and getting vaccinated for medically-dubious reasons respectively. Blogging is back, baby! Awooooooo!

Foreign Exchanges

Derek Davison

Italy has a new prime minister, as former European Central Bank head Mario Draghi assumed that post on Saturday. Draghi, tapped by Italian President Sergio Mattarella earlier this month to lead a “technocratic” government following the collapse of former PM Giuseppe Conte’s coalition, spent the past week in negotiations with the leaders of Italy’s major parties to try to gain broad support for his endeavor. His apparent victory became clear on Thursday, when members of the Five Star Movement voted to back the new government, and he unveiled his proposed cabinet on Friday. Draghi will now spend this week debating his government’s agenda ahead of confidence votes in the Italian Chamber of Deputies and Senate. Assuming his support holds, those votes should be little more than afterthoughts.

Draghi’s reputation at the ECB speaks for itself, and not in a good way. During his 2011-2019 stint as its president he’s regarded as having “saved the euro,” by which his fans mean he helped browbeat the Greek government into a debt settlement that protected its creditors (German banks, primarily) at the cost of the Greek people. As writer Thomas Fazi put it in a 2019 Jacobin piece, Draghi “blackmailed governments into implementing crippling austerity measures and neoliberal ‘structural reforms’ — and … crushed whoever dared to resist. He is the man chiefly responsible for transforming the eurozone from a dysfunctional but formally democratic monetary union into an unprecedented governance structure in which governments are disciplined and punished.”

That said, in his new role Draghi has the chance to make a very different kind of impact on Europe. The critical task facing Italy’s next government will be rebuilding the Italian economy, and making effective use of the unprecedented common stimulus/recovery package the European Union finally enacted—after a frequently acrimonious debate—last year. If Draghi manages to succeed, and there’s plenty of reason to be skeptical that he can, he could validate the shared recovery package and turn Italy into a veritable poster child for European fiscal solidarity, the kind of thing that is generally opposed by the same people who cheered him on for his pro-austerity efforts at the ECB.