This is why I (sometimes) still listen to NPR. I exclude Scott Simon from any deliberate boycott, of course, because Chicago Senpai don’t do House Voice, and I guess I could exclude Robin Young as well for reasons having less to do with #SPORTS. *Devin Yamanaka transmission incoming* What’s going on, Ed. *Radio disquiet* Hey there, Devin, here’s a bitch over in Maine who sounds normal but is actually insane.
If that sounded odd, you haven’t listened to enough drivetime Cap Radio. Nor am I the one whose boss got all riled up over D. Money and Smoothie, mythical niggas from wicked south who don’t have anything to do with their kids. Mary Mayhew, Maine’s Commissioner of Health and Human Services, plays the good cop to Paul LePage’s crazy cop. It may be embarrassing that Maine is governed by your crazy racist uncle, but ultimately, likely in a matter of years, not decades, the political expression of LePage’s salty Canuck geezer act is naturally self-limiting and self-correcting. There’s a constituency for his loosely wound bigotry, but it’s too small to win statewide elections on its own. Even George Wallace at his most avowedly racist delivered the goods to his constituents, largely irrespective of race. Paul LePage didn’t get to where he is without the holistic political sense to successfully navigate an unhealthy political ecosystem that was failing to do right by ordinary Mainers, a credible appearance of empathy for their grievances, and some ability to articulate how he’d redress them. He was already governor when he made the comment about D. Money and Smoothie hitting the road after getting your daughter into trouble, so he had some political capital available to burn.
And in any but the unhealthiest political ecosystems, that’s the kind of language that inspires voters to keep an eye out for promising challengers. It alienates voters who expect the governor to behave with some dignity and tact in public. It alienates voters who don’t like being lectured about social morality (not as a euphemism, because it’s ultimately about much more than just sex) by a disinhibited old coot who watches too much Fox and Friends and acts like he has a real problem with interracial marriage, too. Many Mainers, especially younger ones, have black friends, either Somalis or scions of the old stock from points south, or else are black themselves; they might not take kindly to a governor who crudely dogwhistles smears about an entire race in a fashion worthy of a right-wing chain letter. If anything, Somali-American voters might be more sympathetic to LePage’s comments, insofar as they construe these as targeted criticism of specific Community pathologies that they, too, find objectionable; the bitter experiences that many Somali immigrants have had with old-line African-Americans were a key motivation for their initial enthusiasm to #RaceTogether in the Great White North instead. Voter disapproval of LePage needn’t be so nuanced, though: his beef with D. Money and Smoothie is enough to worry a decent swath of voters, possibly enough to swing elections, that he’s going senile, is too needlessly combative and wound-up to function adequately in high office, or is just a fucking idiot.
Mary Mayhew, by contrast, is smooth and clean. Too much so, in fact. She’s far, far more dangerous than LePage. LePage is too low-functioning to keep his true feelings close to the vest. If he’s got a bee in his bonnet about something, he pipes up about it in whatever crude, goofy manner springs most immediately to his mind. He can pretty much be read at face value. LePage is the one who impulsively mouths off with ideas that are unambiguously meanspirited or just plain nuts. Mayhew is the one who sticks to painstakingly scripted talking points and delivers them with scrupulous ritual civility. This doesn’t mean that her ideas are any less nutty or evil than LePage’s, or any different at all. What it means is that inattentive observers, including voters, read her at face value and fall for another snowjob, just as they do with any other slick, urbane bullshitter.
This wasn’t the first time that Here and Now had left me with an aftertaste of why the fuck was that shithead just given a national interview slot on the radio. They did worse in the same hour of the same episode when Robin Young interviewed a cheap faculty provocateuse (we strive to be gender-sensitive, yes?) who got all up in Richard Spencer’s face at their gym about what a Nazi piece of shit he was and so on and so forth, ultimately resulting in management yanking his card. The good professor had previously gotten into it with management over a “Puck Trump” cap that she had worn with, she admitted, an ambiguously printed capital P. In that segment, I discovered that it’s okay to say “spic” on the radio but not “nigger,” specifically in the context of, “I want you to be raped by a spic or a nigger.” No, I’m not going to link to that, not because it’s hateful but because the Here and Now homepage is a mess and I really fucking don’t feel like looking any more of that shit up. If you were looking for a way to demonize someone who also gets rape threats from Pakistani security service goons, that’s it right there.
These were segments that I just happened to hear on my way in and out of Safeway for a culturally appropriational Chinese fressfest. And that’s not even the worst that NPR/PRI/PRX/Public Fuck Me Arse has to offer. I don’t know how or why Marco Werman always sounds like such a simpering prick, but he does. Young and Hobson are pretty damn down-to-earth for Boston Brahmin types, no matter how much hot air hasn’t been let out of their guests. Marketplace has better aesthetics, in a weirdly overcaffeinated way, but they’re all fronting for the kinds of rich moneybags and slicked-up, condescending mercenary white shoe boiler room salesmen most Americans wouldn’t hesitate to throw into the sea. The TED Radio Hour with Guy Raz is its own circle of hell.
NPR is run by people who seem constitutionally unable to grasp that, just because some sleazy, overly coached fraud has something devious to say, they don’t have a duty to journalistic ethics or the public trust to give her a national platform to say it. The Spencer horseshit is a case in point. Richard Spencer is nothing more than a preppy douche from North Dallas who, we might say, dicks around with Nazi cosplay because it makes his Little Richard feel mightier. You know, I could use a good penis mightier, Trebek. Spencer became famous for yelling sieg heil shit and getting an arm stiffy over Trump in a hotel ballroom, then stayed famous for making (mostly) less inflammatory comments, getting sucker-punched by antifa at a rally, and now for being bothered by a crazy bitch with an ax to grind at his gym.
Why the fuck is this loser in the news, again? He isn’t running for public office. He holds no elected or appointed office at any level of government. Civically, he doesn’t even rise to the level of a nutter who shows up every Tuesday night to reciprocally talk over the mayor and the city council about the fluoride conspiracy. Spencer is really just the beneficiary of some weird kind of dark political magic inadvertently practiced by journalists who can’t resist juicy targets, do the real work or even thought necessary to discern what’s newsworthy, or assess threats to save their own lives. Trump, who got wall-to-wall coverage of his campaign speeches from supposedly hostile news outlets including CNN, is another beneficiary, but he was running for the presidency. Spencer is the equivalent of a nobody who occasionally gets into bar fights. He might make the local police blotter, but that’s it. NPR has successfully taken an inconsequential dipshit who was drifting around in grad school and reified him as a serious civic and political leader.
We’re told that this is because journalists want us to hear both sides. Gee, that’s nice. I’m sure radio producers have absolutely no discretion or limits on airtime that they can use to choose losers by not inviting them into the discourse. We don’t hear very much about single-payer health insurance from national news outlets, NPR or otherwise, a curious silence about a policy that enjoys the consistent support of a majority of the American electorate and is increasingly being demanded, loudly and explicitly, at town hall meetings with the elected. Or should I say, the Elect? They certainly seem to go through life with that level of self-esteem, after all. They may not be Dutch, but they’re very much. I’m sure I’d have a harder time getting anyone at Here and Now to hear out a detailed proposal for a revamped public housing program and exactly how I plan to keep the whole thing from turning into the Robert Taylor Homes than that shrill, openly crazy bitch from Georgetown had getting on the air for nothing more than having gotten into a three-way with Richard Spencer and the management at their gym over her feels about Spencer’s having taken Himmler as his spirit animal.
None of these people can do true objectivity, nor do they want to, because it would make them sound like wet noodles, so they do false objectivity. This craven, disingenuous stance does much to explain the long-term decline of public trust in the mainstream news media since the mid-twentieth century: there’s nothing crazy about distrusting organizations that exert powerful influences on public opinion on the basis of biases that they swear up and down they in no way whatsoever possess.
By far the loudest grievances about media bias come from the right wing, in no small part because the authoritarian right is crawling with masterful, relentless grievance whores. Some of these grievances are pure assertions coasting on inertia and repetition since the 1980’s, when there was something approximating a systemic leftwing bias in the mainstream media, at least relative to the prevailing political coalitions in Congress and in a number of statehouses. Challenging supply-side economics and the death penalty in the time of Ronald Reagan and Pete Wilson was a leftward push on the national discourse that could, alternately, be rebuked from the right as suspect elite obstruction of the duly enacted will of the majority or backed up from the left as actual leadership. Given that the factions opposite mine in this discourse show no compunction about arguing through the most idiotic and provably false assertions, I see no reason to present a detailed counterargument right now for why I believe that the mainstream media going into the early nineties showed something closer to true leadership and courage in the face of out-of-control majoritarian sentiment and the demagogues whipping these sentiments up than agitprop worthy of Pravda.
In the early 1990’s, something changed. I was a tween to early teen at the time, so my perceptions weren’t as keen as they are now, and I haven’t looked through the contemporary archives much, but I distinctly recall a number of ugly reactionary trends appearing in what had previously been regarded as reputable outlets in leftist and centrist circles starting in the early nineties, and the rot has mainly intensified since then. Formerly sober outlets piled onto the bandwagon with salacious, hysterical coverage of the threat of sex offenders in the aftermath of the Megan Kanka murder and did practically nothing to debunk the crazy talking points that ended up conflating serially murderous pedophiles with public urinators and statutory rapists of sexually mature older teenagers. Dateline NBC degenerated from a reputable but still engaging investigative news program into what South Park so aptly ridiculed as informative murder porn, and then into a form of outright pornography that collaborated with a metastasizing carceral state to publicly humiliate losers who had been foolish enough to get catfished by Chris Hansen and his chatroom creep squad. Towards the end of the decade, NPR fired Bob Edwards, a class act, fairly solid journalist, and perfectly popular host who had a truly exceptional radio voice, replacing him with the proliferating pool of barely distinguishable borgs who definitively established the disturbing house voice that prevails at NPR to this day. This move successfully killed two birds with one stone, namely, ethics and aesthetics. As far as I’ve been able to tell (I’ve yet to see a satisfactory explanation for why the hell NPR shitcanned Edwards, let alone an admission ex cathedra), this was a personal part of NPR’s simultaneous campaign to solicit ever more corporate gray and dark money while also, but of course, whining ever more gratingly to its listeners that the fund drives would continue to interrupt the programming they hfad tuned in to hear until they coughed up the damn cash.
By now, we live in truly fucking awful times for mainstream reporting. It’s pretty much been getting worse for my entire lifetime, and I see precious few signs of improvement. The withering complaints that leftists in particular level against the NYT and WaPo are on point: these papers of record, respectively, for my country’s de facto commercial capital and its de jure political capital have been behaving more and more execrably over the course of my adult life. I’m disappointed with the censoriousness with which many leftist elements have carried on about Ross Douthat, but Tom Friedman is a bumptious charlatan, Ruth Marcus is a less talented and more vicious print version of Brenda Jorett who beclowned herself by defending Sam Brownback’s honor in the face of juvenile trash talk on Twitter from Overland Park, there’s a lot of intersectional bad faith and bad writing floating around the syndicated columnist pool in general, and Bret Stephens, from everything I’ve heard, sounds like a shameless bullshitter and a lunatic. One of the few charitable things I’m willing to say about this shitty pool is that David Brooks has some weird redeeming aesthetic value, and that I don’t care if others think he’s an annoying piece of shit because I think he’s a charming piece of shit.
It’s appalling to listen to people running interference for all this horseshit by rebuking newspaper readers as censorious for canceling their subscriptions (Bret Stephens was a popular last straw), as if the reading public has a civic duty to pay against its will for the upkeep of pitiful hacks who produce nothing but endlessly accumulating piles of court propaganda and personal sexual fantasy, much of it aesthetically worthless. Maureen, g’day m’lady; also, Jesus Kristof what up cracka. If it were literally horseshit, you might be able to find someone to cart it off to the shroom crew in Kennett Square, and if you did, you’d get paid by the ton. This kind, you pay for instead, and if you’re a landless Millennial like me, ain’t no use for any of that in the garden that you don’t have.
Commercial print news and public broadcasting have been turned into little more than findom scams on their audiences. It’s shameful, to the extent that those running the scams are capable of feeling shame, and I’d no sooner put money on that than I’d put money on the damn ponies or the NPR pledge drives. This is a bit off-topic (isn’t it all?), but there’s a bronze pig statue in the Reading Terminal Market called Philbert, situated atop a big plexiglass lock box, and customers can feed coins and bills into Philbert’s mouth and, if they’re attentive, watch the money (the coins especially) immediately fly out his ass into the collection plate. Okay, not off-topic, just off-color. Really, though, Philbert would be a fundraising model for NPR, since he welcomes the money and the cash, but he does so graciously. Also the money supposedly goes to projects better stewarded than NPR, the idea being something like at-risk youth in the Badlands getting some garden space, some seeds, and some mentorship instead of another yuppie in Fairmount getting another fucking tote bag.
Is that all you get for your money? Mama Leone, pray for us. At least bless us with soup, if not with sense. I hardly ever set foot in Market of Choice but, yes, I spend too damn much time in Market of Choice. Still, I count my blessings that I grew up around this crowd and didn’t end up on the Spectrum. I don’t know much about vaccines, a type of biology, but I do know that an hour of Marco Werman a day is enough to catch autism, and the kids are hopeless if they’re around the tote bags, too. You may be thinking, shit, this all sounds kind of autistic, so all I can say is, look, I’m really not that autistic. Like, I’ve got other cultural references at my disposal that I don’t find embarrassing. Believe me, I’ve known some strange rangers who do not. I’m not particularly like this when I leave the computer; many other such cases that I personally know or have credibly heard of roll in the deep with this shit all life long.
Again, one of the disturbing things here is that Here and Now is some of NPR’s better programming, so if it’s that bad, the whole joint must be fucked. Hell, even Marco Werman looks normal in pictures, so I don’t know what the hell is wrong with him. No, come to think of it (you heard it here first, not five seconds after I did), that twit may be some kind of low-functioning dipshit, the brownnosing class dork to Paul LePage’s racist uncle. I can’t recall getting the bad feeling that he was running a serious con on his audience. It was always pretty much just the dork from the multicultural club giving another school assembly presentation that went on too long. As I said above, two segments in the same half of the same Here and Now episode maxed out my bullshit meter the other day. That isn’t just some dipshit neighbor kid who always wants you to come over and listen to his collection of weird-ass international folk music and Skype with some guy he somehow knows in Lahore or Nairobi or God knows how the fuck he pulls any of this off when he doesn’t have any friends in his own school. As much of a public twit as he is, The World has never blindsided me with anything close to a crazy bitch using “spic” and “N-word” in the course of bragging about how she got all up in the face of some cosplay Nazi at the gym. I still don’t want to listen to a simpering dork talk to some Anglophile grandmother in Delhi about how nice it is to have a cup of tea when the monsoons haven’t quite yet arrived, and there’s probably more than a bit of subliminal neoliberal programming mixed into the programming (many such channels!), but there really is something to be said for programs that don’t give off that Gathering Fall of Rome feeling.
Some of the most dangerous people we could encounter are ones who come across as perfectly normal and engaged but who are, upon any examination, in some crucial way batshit crazy or depraved, because we’ll inevitably end up taking them at face value and getting screwed over for our gullibility. This is something that doesn’t get repeated nearly enough in the Anglo-American world today, or for that matter in much of the West. All sorts of noxious bullshit gets repeated to no end, but not that. These are the sorts of thieves and killers who will end up breaching our defenses.
Mary Mayhew, the Maine health poobah from some distance above, is perfectly designed to breach our defenses. Actually, I should put on the Gillespiean leather jacket and clarify who’s us, Kemo Sabe: formally educated people of the sort of liberal to centrist persuasions who have been successfully conditioned to believe that the Cathedral is looking out not only for them, but for everyone. Many less educated people are too street-smart to believe such a thing for a hot second; for their trouble, they get ridiculed for putting credence in conspiracy theories that do not involve elaborate Kremlin conspiracies that conflict with everything that has been soberly observed of the Kremlin under Putin. The elites, they’re all just Russian to judgment.
That was terrible, but so was the amount of sleep I got last night, so it shall stand. It’s eerie and a bit frightening to realize the extent to which trust in versus distrust towards authority figures and their institutions codes for class. With a very few caveats, it’s reasonable to say that it’s considered low-class to distrust religious leaders, law enforcement officials, social workers, teachers, school administrators, doctors, dentists, news media, and landlords. To the extent that religious piety or fervor is still coded as low-class, it’s due to a combination of delayed observation of cultural trends (the highbrow right wing has been having a shit fit about the decline in church attendance among the lower classes, but this bitching circulates mostly within the Buckley and Buddies community) and the success with which middle- and upper-class godbotherers catfish as discount salty crackers. The dentistry thing is striking, too, in a really scandalous way. Dentistry in the United States isn’t a profession; it’s a caste. It’s hard to refute arguments that dentists assume themselves put on this earth to make a shit ton of money by specializing in dental diseases of the rich and another shit ton by flipping their practices to other dentists (the last part I heard straight from a dentist’s daughter). Personally, I feel mostly goodwill towards the individual dentists I’ve known, but I’ve had consistent dental care my whole life, as well as several years of orthodontic work in my teens, and I’m well aware that a widening swath of the American public can’t afford routine checkups and prophylactic work. The ongoing involvement of dental associations in extreme to-hell-with-your-mouth reactionary politics is a national scandal, and when a profession that requires fishing around in other people’s mouths full-time degenerates into such a hostile, corrupt racket, it’s hard to imagine what sector of the economy is immune from equal corruption.
The lower classes have wildly different experiences with authority figures than the middle and upper classes. Their encounters are much more often adverse. I can speak to this based on nothing more than my dealings with my landlords in Eureka, whose systemic mistreatment of their tenants and rental applicants was barely known among local homeowners but notorious among renters. It isn’t a delusion if they really are out to get you. Okay, it is a delusion if Psychotarp construes it to include Methodist-Catholic conspiracies including antisemitic arson, but even then there may be some truth mixed up with the crazy. In many cases, the condescension, hostility, and even paranoia of authority figures dealing with the poor has to be seen to be believed.
The middle and upper classes shield themselves from this mistreatment so thoroughly that they can hardly imagine it exists. It’s unfortunate, then, but not surprising that the affluent have converged on a bipartisan worldview that aggressively defends authority figures from all challenges of legitimacy. They’re just trying to get everyone else to help them vote their own interests. One of the most diabolical things I’ve ever seen is the creation of a false appearance of division within the top ten or twenty percent. Of course the broad overclass wants the rest of us to think that it’s fighting internally over obnoxious wedge issues: yelling about sex and abortion, yelling about guns, constantly relitigating the Scopes Monkey Trial, ad nauseam. The overclass may even want to believe this about itself rather than face its own uncanny class solidarity. It’s relevant that Dave Ramsey dresses worse than the flophouse downtowner I saw on the San Diego Trolley who told his girlfriend, “I can’t afford to go to the bank no more.” The flophouse fellow was a genuinely indigent man with a sense of dignity that he asserted by dressing as well as he could; Ramsey is a moneybags with the false modesty of a man who can’t afford to check Goodwill for hand-me-down Reyn Spooner shirts. Hence all these alleged religious, aesthetic, and cultural divisions among an upper class that, even from its nominal left, refuses to really call out Paul Ryan or Ted Cruz for orchestrating attacks on the commonweal, let alone call out landlords for putting rental applicants under duress to pretend that they’re engaged to be married in the hope of securing apartments. A left wing (LOL) that won’t defend its own sworn principles can’t be expected to defend fair housing law, either.
Again, so fucking much of this is really about class and nothing but class. It’s almost impossible to exaggerate. Let’s use this class gloss, then, and ignore all others as red herrings. Mary Mayhew’s manner of speech codes overpoweringly as upper-middle-class. The lower classes find it ridiculous and pointless to talk like that, a decent swath of the truly secure upper classes have too much self-respect to debase themselves in such a fashion, and the middle-middle has ways to make a living that don’t require turning into a talking points robot. Paul LePage’s manner of speech codes strongly as lower- to lower-middle-class, although it’s harder to pin down to a specific caste because he’s harder to pin down, too. LePage was a French-Canadian runaway who learned English late in his adolescence, in the midst of a period of homelessness and itinerant living that he entered to protect himself from an abusive home environment. Right there I can tell that he has more in common with me than Mayhew does, no matter how divergent our upbringings and socioeconomic backgrounds. LePage managed to achieve upward mobility over the course of a chaotically fluid life, and his career has had him liaising (mostly successfully, it appears) with people from all over the place socioeconomically, so it stands to reason that his speech is all over the place, too. He flies by the seat of his pants, just as he has his whole life. As embarrassing as the D Money and Smoothie incident may have been, he was really just extemporaneously articulating concerns about sociological pathologies of the lower classes that he, unlike the Kennybunkport set, was willing to examine and think over.
Wikipedia tells me that he also called out their associate Shifty and later said, “Let me tell you something: black people come up the highway and they kill Mainers. You ought to look into that. You make me so sick.” We might say that LePage has a heart of some darkness, or, as George Wallace put it, his heart is as black as anyone’s here. All the same, I’m not convinced, just on the basis of his public comments, that he’s a committed bigot. It may just be that he’s always done everything on the fly (coming from a background like his, that’s the only way to get by) and has an impolitic way of discussing his efforts to interdict criminal elements from Dorchester. As I mentioned above, these comments probably play better in the Somali community in Lewiston than we’ll ever hear in the mainstream press. Like Somali immigrants, he integrated into Anglo Maine from an alien community with an alien tongue. You might as well wait for a blizzard on Waikiki as wait for the mainstream media to even consider the possibility that there’s some unexpected intersectionality here, or to report on the well-established mutual antagonism between African-Americans and Americans from Africa in other parts of the country.
Excluding politics, the likeliest way for LePage to outearn Mayhew would have been for him to maintain seniority in a union shop and for her to teach at a private school, as a woman of a certain class who is able to take such a financially déclassé but socially prestigious position thanks to family money. LePage is one hell of an outlier in terms of his drive, the runaway son of a mill hand who learned English, finished school, and cofounded his own small business. Any number of people might work their way up from skid row with a union card in a functioning mill town, but LePage’s story is exceptional, and unlike so many bootstrap stories, it really seems to be a function more of hard work than of luck.
When I was thinking about Mayhew, I had a vague feeling that I knew her from somewhere, but it was only when I recast her as a (nonunion) private school teacher that it hit me, hard: I knew her from Lancaster Country Day School. Not her specifically, but women on the faculty who were dead ringers for her: the same voice, the same accent, the same subtly affected style of speech. LePage is too seat-of-the-pants to put up an affectation; the stuff he says may be goofy or coarse, but it comes from the heart. Mayhew, we might say, speaks from a transplanted heart. It’s striking how fucking timid some of these scions of the upper middle class are, how afraid they are of having their own opinions or feelings or observations, how readily they take refuge in the hive mind. I knew a bunch of them at Country Day, and another, bigger bunch at Dickinson. The men don’t show any more courage than the women; they just express it a bit differently, creating a shitty sexual dimorphism in khaki and pastel. These people are interchangeable units who can be plugged straight into any corporate propaganda machine. Some of them are pleasant individually, but as a collective they paint a hellscape.
Mayhew is another of these cyborgs programmed with intersectionally neoliberal/Tea Party talking points that she most civilly regurgitates on the radio with absolutely no consideration of whether they make any fucking sense. If she’d gone up on stage at a Country Day school assembly during my time there and said any of that shit, somewhere between a third and half of the student body would have looked at her, like, cracka dafuq. That’s how she would have been received at a prep school that catered to a large constituency of dutiful generational social climbers and did a good job of managing the makeup of the student body so that never harbored enough students with behavioral problems to form a Lord of the Flies quorum. (Individual losers with modest behavioral problems were fine.) At most public schools, I have to assume that the reception would be even worse. Mayhew got a straight-faced reception at WBUR because WBUR is staffed by people who have been trained to keep a straight face before sleazy, ridiculous bullshitters who ought to provoke unabashed snickering whenever they open their mouths. Their idea of balance is to have LaDonna Pavetti on with actual statistics at her command showing that disability beneficiaries commonly return to the workforce once they have recovered enough to hold down jobs, then phone Mary Mayhew for a rebuttal that’s nothing but talking points about nudge theory and the dignity of work (which, as we’ll see shortly, that bitch is not qualified to discuss). It’s like Opposing Viewpoints about nursing: “I’m relieved that Charles Cullen isn’t practicing it any more” vs. “A proposal for expanded hospice nursing on medical/surgical units, by Charles Cullen, RN, RIP Bitch.”
There’s a certain amount that a person has to be paid, monetarily or in kind and usually consistently, to inspire loyalty to this horseshit. I can’t exactly what this threshold of corruption is, and as with many matters involving individual preference, your mileage may vary ($2,000 in campaign cash for Kamala Harris, reputedly a bag of groceries for Spiro Agnew), but I know that I ain’t hardly touched dem shine ricebowl and that there’s no unringing the woke bell for me at this point. Like Paul LePage, I’ve seen some heavy shit, and I ain’t about to unsee it. I know people who are corruptible for fairly small amounts, but no one has even tried to corrupt me by the hour, so I might as well reiterate that if you’re going to run a racket that is enabled by paying people off, you gotta fucking pay a guy off. My adult social life has revolved around watching a vulgarity of disingenuous WASP’s and fellow travelers try to run a mesh of glorified mob rackets while still maintaining their degraded yet overly precious sense of WASP propriety and parsimony, a squeamishness which makes it impossible for them to deliver the goods to key players that any sensible mobster would keep happy, and now it starts to look like the whole damn thing is starting to implode. It’s actually metastable and starting to shift and creak in the wind? Gee, one doesn’t say.
As the Last Psychiatrist always liked to say, if you’re reading it, it’s for you. The Here and Now interview with Mary Mayhew was probably just a psyop on Bougie, because NPR (duh) but also because that’s who will listen in good cheer to a hellish downeaster version of Brenda Jorett lecture America about “pathways” to the “dignity” of work. Mick Mulvaney’s tirades about how “we need you to come back to work” at least sound sort of normal. Who the fuck talks about “pathways to independence?” What we’ve got here is a mashup of a TED Talk, an I Fucking Love Science article, Romney/Ryan blather about “takers,” and an undergraduate botching the quasiplagiarism of Malcolm Gladwell at daybreak the morning the paper is due, and this shit is being dignified with a one-on-one interview on nationally syndicated news radio. The whole thing was a John 3:16 sermon on the Protestant work ethic minus the poetry. The neoliberals ruin everything they touch, but we knew that already. At least Peru’s Maoists will agree that there’s only one acceptable Path, although they’ll surely insist that Mayhew’s is too dark, and even they had the self-respect not to call it a fucking “pathway” or talk about incentivizing it with anything shy of honest infantry.
That bitch doesn’t know a goddamn thing about the dignity of work. Someone like Paul LePage who actually outfought the streets might have a legitimate point to make about the payoff of hard work, but Mayhew is so full of shit, you might as well go ahead and write her the Movantik prescription right now. We’ve got a rapidly dwindling pool of adults in this country whose interactions with the workplace have involved consistent dignity and a rapidly growing pool who have encountered deep humiliation and degradation, often with nothing to show for it after being chewed up by dead-end application processes under the direction of hiring managers who have shit for manners. Dignity? Bitch please. And the compulsory work regime that Mayhew is trying to impose is exactly the thing that will degrade work environments for EVERYONE, not just for the workshy, and strip them of what dignity they still have. No one who has a lick of business being in management or ownership wants to train and supervise an unwilling workforce of marginally employable headcase and gimps; the only people who want anything to do with that are psychopaths and sadists, walking horror shows who progressively drive away their own good employees.
For someone whose diction is so clear and deliberate, Mayhew’s thinking is godawfully muddled. She actually said, verbatim, “work is the solution to poverty.” The fuck? Money is the solution to poverty. Gifts or payments in kind can work, too. If the state meets the material needs of its needy, it has met their material needs. This should be self-explanatory. Whether or not they’d be somehow happier or more existentially satisfied or purposeful if they had jobs is a separate matter, tangential at best. A lot of the beneficiaries in question are acutely sick or injured and unable to function normally in the workplace, so there’s that, too. Sure, there are some malingerers and frauds on the disability rolls, but there’s also Psychotarp, and that fucker is crazy. Who in hell would want to hire him? There are people in this world who are too crazy to shovel gravel into potholes; Mixups in my Mind, whom I personally know, is one. I know from personal experience that ministering to the neighborhood nutters gets in the way of running a business, or anything else that one was planning to do, for that matter, like take two minutes to burn some paper trash in a wood stove.
Mixups and Psychotarp are too disturbed for their own families. If we have the compunction not to be a society of psychopaths, we’ll recognize that people of their psychological condition are inevitably going to run at a financial loss and will have to be chargeable to the state in some fashion for their own welfare, if not for the protection of public safety as well. It’s perfectly conceivable that Mary Mayhew fundamentally does not understand what it’s like to deal with disturbed people or what it takes to provide for the disturbed. Regardless of her clinical background, I have personally dealt with two acquaintances who are stone nuts, and I do not take kindly to some partisan zealot dumping people who would be better off in state hospitals or nursing homes into a workplace or onto the streets, in either of which they’ll cause nothing but grief for the rest of us.
This idea that income should somehow inevitably be associated with dignity is bizarre. Do I sound like I go armpit-deep into recycling bins in pursuit of my own dignity? Did I drop it down there? No. I do it for the money, like any sensible person would. The State of Oregon pays me damn well for my labor, but the cash kiosks at BottleDrop don’t spit out dignity vouchers. God, that sounds like something that the right wing would earnestly propose. It probably has already. There isn’t any particular dignity in accepting handouts from my parents, either, but I’m not the kind of petty dumbass who doesn’t appreciate the help staying afloat and living decently. Why, then, is a woman with a steady, benefited job running a state HHS department given a platform to lord it over the precariat with boasts implying that she has dignity and we don’t? It’s snacktime, sweetheart, and today’s snack is a hearty wedge of Manchego Fuck Yourself.
I know, I know, it so often is. This isn’t the first time that Here and Now has gone poorie-punching. As with the Mayhew segment, their primary target is noncompliant yuppies, actual or inferred, but if that’s their stance towards the college-educated, it’s wise to assume that their stance towards mere high school graduates, let alone dropouts, is even more hostile. They’re telling the rest of us how to live, and frankly they expect us to bend over and lube up. They only act refined and thoughtful. I can tell the difference between dignity and purpose (going for a hike) and money (rummaging through trash cans again), but their guests can’t. Oregon has excellent hiking and excellent canning; get you a state that can do both. And the state government isn’t full of officials who use ugly social controls like nudge theory to police up the poors. Instead the legislature is like, forget your nickel a bottle, ’cause you’re getting a dime now. One of my reasons for maintaining California voter registration is to incrementally retrieve California’s government from its increasingly third-world standards of accountability to the public. I’m not saying that I necessarily have a prayer, just that I’m keeping the dream alive, in large part because I work in a neighboring state whose government isn’t a row of burning dumpsters.
Anyone who gives it some thought could flip the script on a cheap poor-shaming bullshitter like Mary Mayhew. It’s pretty simple: why are you sitting up there in the state government telling workaday people how to live their lives? Why are you up there telling people down here on the ground that they aren’t sick or injured? Bernie Sanders flips the same script as a matter of course, although usually against bigger, juicier targets. The rest of his caucus doesn’t because it believes in garbage like nudge theory, too. Why would the Democratic establishment call Mayhew out when there’s hardly any daylight between them? If anything, they believe in an even more elaborate battery of meritocratic punishments and rewards that systematically brutalize the poor.
The failure of journalistic competence in the Mayhew interview was epic. Mayhew was allowed to get away unchallenged with an assertion that “we have thousands of job openings.” That’s nice, but it’s distracting and barely relevant. Any alert, self-respecting interviewer would have asked her what sorts of jobs these are. They could be part-time gigs at Hannaford for the purpose of calling in the slacker and last-in-first-out pools when one of the lifers has a medical appointment. Worse, the Maine job market contains several hundred thousand positions, either full or vacant, so there could easily be thousands of openings at a time due to nothing more than retirements and normal turnover, even in a slack job market. Mayhew succeeded in finding an interviewer who was either unable or unwilling to ask followup questions based on quick mental arithmetic informed by a rough estimate of Maine’s population. It’s impressive to discover that radio hosts who seem perfectly well put together are so fucking incompetent and lax when push comes to shove.
Job retraining, which Mayhew also promoted, is a perfectly sensible idea if it’s done right, but she isn’t up to that job. Cool, here are a dozen guys who can’t really use their arms because they got repetitive stress injuries pulling green chain, and here’s a job opening in skull base surgery. Mayhew is clearly arrogant enough not to notice these details. It isn’t really that difficult to train PhD’s to compete for special education slots; all it takes, as they say, is the right nudge.
Then there were Mayhew’s comments about using Medicaid work requirements to encourage volunteerism, which also went totally unchallenged. I found these powerfully offensive and devious. I understand that it’s considered boorish, even inconceivable, to criticize volunteerism or argue that there should be less of it, not more, but I’ve seen too many loudmouthed, longwinded shitheads abuse voluntary organizations as platforms to indulge their own grandiosity, and too many schnorrers in positions of power and ownership abuse volunteerism for reserve labor pools that they conveniently don’t have to pay for their for-profit work, to shut up and keep the stiff upper lip when right-wing con artists pipe up about the virtues of voluntary organizations as replacements for competent government services.
That entire realm is shot through with serious boundary problems, as I can attest from horrifying personal experience. The particular form of volunteering that Mayhew advocates, a public-private partnership using the coercive power of the state to drive its beneficiaries into volunteer positions with private and religious organizations, will inevitably attract predatory do-gooders like moths to a lamp. I’ve rarely run into a proposal whose outcome I can predict with such confidence. This arrangement will bring the worst, most predatory busybodies to the yard and reward them, both financially and morally, for their meddlesome, condescending grandiosity. Some of the organizations who will line up at Mama Sugar’s tit are already patently criminal enterprises: the Salvation Army, for example, is accused by its clients of routinely running the homeless out of its shelters for minor infractions, barring them for thirty-day periods, and selling the personal property that they leave behind in its thrift stores, and its call-me-major grandiosity is legendary.
Shit, Rogers, the automobile is a better poor house than that. Its an absolute goddamned disgrace that the Democratic Party not only compulsively fields candidates who can’t relate or get through to the legion victims of these predatory businesses (Hillary Clinton) but also actively sandbags and sabotages the few who can and will (Bernie Sanders). It would be scandalous enough for one of a country’s two major political parties to regularly front Hall and Oates Effect rich bitches to run interference for obscenely rich scolds, authoritarian busybodies, and fellow-traveling predators, but the United States has both of its major parties pushing an agenda that seeks to drive the vulnerable into poverty and the poor into what can reasonably described only as forms of slavery. The Democratic Party is overrun with puffed-up, overeducated creeps who believe in nudge theory every bit as passionately as Mary Mayhew does; their disputes with her, if they even have any, are over inconsequential aesthetic differences or which particular pool of losers is to be driven to slaughter first. Neither of these factions has any moral center to defend. One of the Democrats’ great wanking fantasies this year is that Joel Ossoff (ed.: Oops, Jon; gimme that Ephesians 3:20, baby) will blaze the path to a new majority coalition held together by educated suburban professionals, relegating the Republican Party to a rump of country cracker-ass deplorables. This is yet another reason why I’ve come to despise the party that I rejoined just last year as a registered voter: at the institutional level, it is not only deeply evil, but also strategically and tactically inept beyond belief. Just because I regularly vote for its candidates and consider its main opposition even worse doesn’t mean that I don’t want to destroy it and see what emerges from its ruins.
NPR acts on a fierce institutional affinity for the Democratic Party, so of course it gives moralizing bourgeois-supremacist shitheads like Mary Mayhew a judgment-free zone on its nationally syndicated programs. Homegirl ain’t looking to loot ricebowls for hungry fuckers who could use some damn rice. Neither is that crazy bitch from Georgetown who is too bashful to utter “raped by a nigger” on the radio but not too bashful to spit out “raped by a spic.” If that kind of unnewsworthy garbage is fit for a family radio show, every fucking word I’ve published in these pages is fit for the internet.
M’honky, you’re most welcome.