Sigh of Relief

Revisit a classic profile of Larry King, continue to explore the roots of Trumpism, consider whether we’ve been visited by aliens, and more.

Bernie Sanders broke the internet this week. His attendance at President Joe Biden’s Inauguration, with his one good winter coat and his now-famous mittens, would have been iconic no matter the setting.

But I think it took off in part because it was an online expression of a collective sigh of relief. It was a release of anxiety and fear and worry over what might have been at the moment of our peaceful transfer of power, which might not have seen physical resistance from Donald Trump himself (since he was content to be in Florida in a display of remarkable pettiness) but his followers were harder to predict.

Even if they didn’t flood the streets of Washington, D.C. like they did on Jan. 6, there was worry they would flood streets with potentially violent demonstrations in states all across the country. We’d barely had time to put behind us the ravages of the siege on the Capitol; in many ways, we still haven’t nor will we any time soon. Investigations and manhunts and arrests will continue, and most notably, Trump himself will deal with an impeachment trial in the Senate soon.

The Inauguration was inspiring and no less democratic without Trump there. Indeed, it was somewhat disorienting to see just how quickly things could return to normal without him.

And one of the most normal things has to be Sanders’ practiced look of detachment and disinterest. The memes built from the senator’s look and posture, coupled with his general reputation for cantankerousness, represented a small bit of light-heartedness, a hopefulness, that many of us feel with the passage of power from Trump to Biden

Some of it was the normal boredom of the internet’s masses. But it was a great cathartic release because of it’s harmlessness. We weren’t making fun of our elected officials because of buffoonery, but rather because a dyspeptic socialist come-lately political rockstar looked thoroughly uninterested with the stunning normalcy of the whole ordeal.

Politics, in the beforetime, before 2015 saw Trump ride his golden escalator into our political consciousness, used to be boring.

Here’s to a return to boring. May 2021 leave us all sitting there, looking as disinterested as Bernie.


Ten worth your time

  1. Sometimes a piece of journalism is just perfectly fitted for a moment, and there was no way that Mark Leibovich’s New York Times Magazine profile of Larry King from 2015 wasn’t going to be just that when King inevitably passed away. That day came yesterday, when the famed television interviewer died at 87.

  2. Speaking of the moment, it’s important not to lose sight of the reality of the extended political moment we’re living through. And surely there are just as many people who’d rather never think of Donald Trump again as there are clamoring that he should be president again, but it’s important that we don’t lose sight of the ugliness that Trump made commonplace, the quiet parts he spoke aloud, and the millions of Americans who said they were not only fine with that but signed up for four more years of it. An interesting piece from Vox relays the work of numerous political scientists trying to pinpoint exactly how a figure such as Trump became so popular in America.

  3. Relatedly, Ta-Nehisi Coates revisited his powerful 2017 essay for The Atlantic entitled “The First White President,” returning to The Atlantic this week with a frank assessment: “I’m sorry to report that I think it holds up well.” I tend to agree with him. Coates wrote:

    More, that Trumpism did not begin with Trump; that the same Republican Party some now recall in wistful and nostalgic tones planted seeds of insurrection with specious claims of voter fraud; that the decision to storm the Capitol follows directly, and logically, from respectable Republicans who claim that Democrats steal elections and defraud this country’s citizens out of their right to self-government.

    This is why it’s important not to lose sight of this political moment simply because something more normal-seeming has returned to the White House with President Biden’s administration. Trumpism is not going away, and there are plenty smarter than he willing to pick up his mantle.

  4. The incomparable Tom Junod followed up his essay on the Capitol siege with another essay, this one for The Undefeated, about another symbolic building and its promise of democracy: Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church.

  5. For an insight into where I live, which is prominent and important in certain circles but largely unknown to the vast majority, CNN recently got a call out of the blue from a local resident who’s fearful the town will disappear as the wider world at large turns away from the coal that made this place indispensable.

  6. This week I got a surprise in my mailbox: the most recent print edition of GQ. It was like an accidental curly fry in the basket of crinkle-cuts. I had to think for a long, hard minute: Did I subscribe to GQ recently and simply not remember? Wouldn’t be unheard of, as I had that same experience a month or so ago when I was surprised by a print issue of Esquire. But I had actually subscribed to that one. I just assumed that Conde Nast was thankful for all of its other magazines I prop up with subscriptions, so they thought they might entice me with a sample GQ. Inside, a found a great story feature story about United Nations’ war crime detectives picking up, for the first time in 20 years, the trail of one of the perpetrators of the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

  7. A super interesting read from WIRED with a crazy genesis: 25 years ago, the cofounder of the magazine and a Luddite author made a bet: By 2020, society would collapse, as judged by three factors: an economic disaster that would render the dollar worthless, causing a depression worse than the one in 1930; a rebellion of the poor against the monied; and a significant number of environmental catastrophes. The bet was for $1,000, and it’s now come due. Who won?

  8. Have we already been visited by aliens? That’s the question posed in the pages of The New Yorker, and it never fails to catch my attention. It’s worth a read.

  9. Just what everybody needs: A theory of social order as exemplified by Michael Scott from The Office. The scary thing is once you read this, you’ll come around to an uncomfortable realization: A lot more of us are like Michael Scott than we’d like to admit.

  10. My recommendation for a must-watch this week: Derek DelGaudio’s In and Of Itself. What it is exactly is hard to explain, but in its most basic formulation, it’s a filmed version of a stage show done by DelGaudio, who’s a cross between a storyteller and illusionist, and the show is more than a little of both. It’s deeply affecting, and no matter what your stance on illusions, or more colloquially, “magic,” there’s no denying that by the end of it, you’ll consider what you’ve watched to be magical.


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