Year End Subjectivity: Best Books of 2017

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In some ways, it’s been a bit of a weird and dark year. For some evidence of that, you can check: this blog’s entire archives. If you don’t feel like doing so, you can just reflect on why you need to pull tight the cloak around your shivering body, nervous with dread at each new dawn, wondering what horrors await. Either way!

But it’s also been a pretty good year for books. I’m usually pretty terrible at reading new things, especially new fiction, but for a few reasons have made more a point of doing so this year, in addition to the usual nonfiction.

So, here’s a totally subjective list of some of my favorites. This isn’t to say the “Best Books of 2017”, since that would be absurdly arrogant, not to mention extremely myopic. Here are the best books read this year, with no real division between fiction and non. I’m sure there are many I am missing, and will kick myself later on. I really need to start writing this stuff down.

The first list are ones published this year, then a shorter one of books I finally read, whether a few years old or many.

There’s no real order here, except the first one would probably be on top if I did.

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A Reminder That Iran Protests Don’t Exist Because of or Despite the United States

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I am far from an expert on Iranian internal politics or its economy–though, if you’ve watched the shows or been on Twitter the last few days, that shouldn’t stop anybody from opining intently. Is this anti-regime? Pro-Trump? Anti-Trump? Does it show the nuclear deal was a success, or another capitulation? Should we investigate Hillary? What does Tucker Carlson think? Etc.

What is happening in Iran has quickly become, as these things do, internalized. It’s become about the United States, subsumed into our domestic debates and endless dining room squabbling. Who was right about Iran? Who was wrong?

This is frustrating, and not just because it is myopic, and frankly irritating as hell, but because it gets to the very heart of the problem: we don’t see the Iranians as actual people, but rather as pawns in our imperial power and our domestic maneuvering. And because of that, we’re almost doomed to make worse what could be a propitious moment in regional history.

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Roy Moore Calls For New Election Due to Voter Fraud; Is Mainstream Republican

 

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Erie PA is not a metaphor for the chilling freeze overtaking our democracy, but it’s not not, either

 

Dave Wiegel this morning talked about a ridiculous, ludicrous story that barely even bats a single brow, here in the late bitter cold of 2017.

Roy Moore, the Republican nominee who lost Alabama’s closely watched Senate race this month, has filed a last-minute legal complaint alleging “election fraud” and asking the state not to confirm the victory of Democrat Doug Jones.

In the complaint filed in state court, Moore’s campaign argues that Alabama “will suffer irreparable harm if the election results are certified without preserving and investigating all the evidence of potential fraud.” It cites rumors of election fraud that have already been investigated and refuted by the Alabama secretary of state, argues that high Democratic turnout in key areas was statistically unlikely, and reports that Moore himself has taken a polygraph test — an attempt to disprove allegations that he made unwanted sexual advances on teenagers when he was in his 30s.

Weigel obviously gets to the heart of this nonsense when he talks about rumors that have been “investigated and refuted” by Alabama’s deeply-red Secretary of State. These aren’t even “rumors”, really, as much as “completely made up nonsense by racists and vandals.”

They involve, as you would assume, Soros-funded buses dragging out-of-state blacks and other liberals into small towns in a state with the toughest voter ID laws in the country to swing an election by some 20,000 votes.

There’s another great part in this story.

The complaint also recounts how the secretary of state investigated a viral video of a man saying people had come from “across the country” to help beat Moore — but goes on to argue that the investigation was not transparent. The man in the video turned out to be a legal Alabama voter.

Now, anyone who has ever worked on any election know what that means: there were volunteers coming from everywhere. That happens in every election.  This was one Jones volunteer who excitedly said that they united the country to win, and the right-wing took that as proof of a massive conspiracy. That’s right: they think that they caught some guy going “We have voter fraud, baby! We made the illegal!”

(The whining about it being investigated but not being “transparent” is great. You know the investigation was the SoS going into another room, counting to ten, and coming out and being like “Well boys, we looked into it…”)

The other part of the complaint is that it was statistically unlikely that Democratic turnout in general, and black turnout specifically, was so high. That’s almost cute, because Roy Moore can’t fathom how so many people hate him.

Now, Moore is backed up in this by “election experts”, which is a way of saying people who make up stuff about elections in order to suppress black votes. Weigel politely puts paid to the story.

The experts came to the case with baggage of their own. James Condit Jr., one of the election analysts who signed an affidavit on behalf of Moore’s campaign, has written and spoken about “Zionist” control of world politics, and alleged an Israeli role in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Richard Charnin, who provided the court with an argument that there was just enough possible fraud to swing the election, claimed to have “mathematically” proven a conspiracy behind the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

OK, so a loathsome, wildly unpopular figure disputes that unpopularity by claiming to be the victim of massive fraud and conspiracy, against the reality of any evidence, gethers cranks and weirdoes to “prove” his entirely fabricated allegations, takes every opposition statement in bad faith and blows it up into conspiratorial nonsense which gets amplified by the right-wing noise machine, and uses the machinery of state to further his ambitions and monkey-wrench our democracy. What does that make Roy Moore?

An establishment Republican.

As we (unoriginally) pointed out when he won his run-off against Luther Strange, Roy Moore is a perfect establishment Republican: beholden to conspiracy, an expert at self-victimization, a bully and a brute, and an anti-democratic demagogue. To quote myself, because no one else will:

 Roy Moore is just another example of how wild and ultimately ungovernable this country is, and how mean-spirited and bigoted and narrow-minded today’s right wing is, and with that, with his comic-opera cruelty and sneering, gun-blasted piety, he’ll fit right into Mitch McConnell’s Senate.

What was true then is even more true now. Since then Trump’s assaults on the FBI have ramped up, and the Republican Party has continued to march lockstep with this hammering away at our norms. They are undermining any attempt to have a law-based society, and a fact-based one, and are giving into authoritarianism far quicker than I had even thought possible.

This week’s terrifying calls for “purges” of disloyal FBI agents by Florida Congressman Francis Rooney is part of that. While it is easy to write off as the ravings of a lunatic, it isn’t very far off from what other people, both inside government and in the influential right-wing circus media, have been saying.

These people are working for a government of permanent minority, dedicated to white supremacy in the form of plutocratic worship and exclusionary theocracy. They are willing to commit treason for it (as Digby points out, the leading Congressional charge against Mueller is coming from Floridians, who seem to be pretty involved in Russian electoral interference). They believe in wild conspiracies and outlandish assaults on reason.

So why should Moore concede? Why should he back down? What difference do facts make when you have no shame, and are willing to do whatever it takes to establish a denuded landscape of wage-servants fighting each other along racial lines while walled off from the billionaire class and their self-selected fetch-servants?

After all, he is a Republican, dead-center in the mainstream of that wretched collection of goons and thieves. They’re falling in line behind Trump, and Trumpism, as this terrible year ends in the vice-grip of a shattering cold, driving deep into the frozen marrow of our bones, threatening to break everything we once knew.

Happy Holidays! The President is a Deranged Bigot!

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Yes, that’s Dean Cain, in case you were wondering if Trump can’t pull in the stars. He still can, baby! 

So, I was on the el yesterday, and at one of the stops a woman shambled toward the seats in front of me, causing her potential seat-mate to instinctively scoot away. Understandably: she was singing and laughing to herself, dressed in baggy rags, with that particular human odor of neglect proceeding and enveloping her.

She sat in front of me, so for the next 10 minutes I had a one-man audience to her songs, a garbled mix of half-remembered hymns and “Frosty the Snowman”, interspersed with high-pitched laughing when the robotic voice announced the stop. She incorporated the name of the station in her tunes in a way that I found delightful.

When I got to my stop, I walked past her and sort of half-smiled, and she looked at me, burst into laughter, and said “MERRY CHRISTMAS, FROSTY!”

And I thought: well, she must be crazy. It’s only November 30th.

Well.

In his later remarks, the president told the crowd how long he’d been waiting to say “Merry Christmas,” a nod to his 2016 campaign promises that Americans would be “saying Merry Christmas again.”

“Today is a day that I’ve been looking very much forward to all year long,” the president said. “It’s one that we’ve heard and we speak about and we dream about and now, as the president of the United States, it’s my tremendous honor to now wish America and the world a very Merry Christmas.”

This was one of the main talking points our dumbest possible candidate had during the campaign, before he transitioned into the idiot President: that people would be saying Merry Christmas again, because of him. It wasn’t very subtle. He sort of understood the War on Christmas talking points and, but doesn’t understand (and indeed rejects) anything like subtlety or nuance.

What he does have a genius for is how to turn the lingering scars of resentments, both real and imagined, into gaping, suppurating wounds. And, due to his overwhelming ego, he convinced people that he would be the one to change it. So he ratcheted the rhetoric up to 11.

In Trump’s telling, absolutely no one said “Merry Christmas” during the Obama years. It never came up. December was a grim and joyless slog toward an undefined date where we gathered, in a foggish trance, driven only by the sense-memory that Dec 25th used to mean something, and exchanged practical gifts and bowls of oatmeal around a fake gingko tree.

It was basically this grim. Check out what he said in St. Louis the other day, in a speech about the “tax plan” (he didn’t talk much about the tax plan, because he certainly doesn’t understand it, and isn’t smart enough to pretend it is something other than the class warfare Gotterdammerung).

“Remember, I was the one when I was here the last time, I said, ‘We’re going to have Christmas again,’ ’’ Trump said. “I was the one that said, you go to the department stores and you see ‘Happy New Year’ and you see red and you see snow and you see all these things. You don’t see ‘Merry Christmas’ anymore. With Trump as your president, we are going to be celebrating ‘Merry Christmas’ again.”

In Trump’s telling, having red and having snow and all those things is somehow not celebrating Christmas, which comes as a surprise to anyone who has been to any store since Thanksgiving and been assaulted by “The Little Drummer Boy”. He is right, though, that people don’t say “Merry Christmas”, but there is a reason for that: it isn’t fucking Christmas until December 25th.

Think of how insane their proposition is. They think that when you walk into a store this evening the person checking you out should say “Merry Christmas”, 24 days before the holiday. It would be like the dude at Target saying “Happy 4th of July!” in mid-June. I mean, we have the American flag paper plates on display, so why not say it?

The thing is, everybody says Merry Christmas on Christmas. And usually for the few days before. If you’re going on vacation on like, the 18th, you say “have a Merry Christmas” to your co-workers as you leave. That’s normal. What isn’t normal is to say a day’s salutations literally weeks in advance, with numbing repetition.

And they obviously know all of this, and you know all of this. Their whole point isn’t to celebrate Christmas; the point is aggressive identity politics. The snarling, combatitive “Merry Christmas” is to make anyone who isn’t celebrating uncomfortable, unwelcome, excluded.

And it isn’t even just anyone who isn’t celebrating; it’s anyone who isn’t celebrating the right way. Hell, I love Christmas, and I’m as secular and liberal as you can get. My bride and I are decorating this weekend. We go nuts. Lights illuminating the every nook and cranny, a real tree, fake fluffy snow bringing memories of frost to every windowsill. It’s a goddamn wonderland. But that’s not enough.

It’s not enough because they have an extremely exclusionary and bigoted vision of what America should be, one that isn’t close enough to encompass a general holiday season, where you can be happy about a lot of things for a whole month. That’s how small and petty and terrified they are. And their avatar is in power.

We see this narrow bigotry in so many places, in so many ways. It manifests itself in the cruelty of the border wall. It manifests itself in the repeated Muslim bans. It manifests itself in Jeff Session’s daily racism. It clearly manifests itself when Trump tweets out fascist propaganda in order to incite violence (alientating our primary ally). It even comes to fore in our nuclear terror with North Korea, where the President preens and blusters and has to show he’s a bigger man than some stunted Asiatic.

It’s beyond argument that bigotry (which is broader than racism, and sometimes less cruel, though they are related) is at the heart of Trumpism. The insane tax plan, which will solidify the plutocracy’s power-and-money-grab for a generation, puts paid that this was at all about helping Johhny Blacklung.

There are people who thought Trump could help the overcome their economic straits, for sure. A lot of people genuinely thought he was a good businessman, with the evidence being: he was on TV. A lot of people were just crying out against change, in some ways an understandable thing.

But at the end, Trump was taking the pain of change and promising not salvation, but retribution. He didn’t promise to make things better; he was the promise of getting even. He promised to bring the rest of us down to size, so we can all be miserable together. He would give the disposssed not any real hope or opportunity, but a chacne to jab the flag of final surrender right into the spine of a fallen enemy. We might all be in the trash heap, but someone’s trash heap has a few gnarled and flickering strings of Christmas lights and the blood of the fallen to brighten their hovel.

Happy holidays!