Welcome to this first issue of end talk—
Below you will find some frightening media on climate breakdown (fittingly accompanied by Kid A-era artwork from Stanley Donwood, in recognition of that record’s 20th anniversary); a brief essay Will wrote on the Trump tax story and its banality(?) within the neoliberal context; and some recent music and other media that we recommend.
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Daily CO2 (recorded 10/8/2020 in Mauna Loa, Hawaii): 411.12 ppm
“New York City, after years of being considered a humid continental climate, now sits within the humid subtropical climate zone. The classification requires that summers average above 72 degrees Fahrenheit — which New York’s have had since 1927 — and for winter months to stay above 27 degrees Fahrenheit, on average. The city has met that requirement for the last five years, despite the occasional cold snap. And the winters are only getting warmer.”
“Rainforests are highly sensitive to changes in rainfall and moisture levels, and fires and prolonged droughts can result in areas losing trees and shifting to a savannah-like mix of woodland and grassland. In the Amazon, such changes were known to be possible but thought to be many decades away.
New research shows that this tipping point could be much closer than previously thought. As much as 40% of the existing Amazon rainforest is now at a point where it could exist as a savannah instead of as rainforest, according to a study published in the journal Nature Communications.”
“The storm descended quickly. It engulfed the western side of Berrotarán, where winds began gusting at over 80 m.p.h. Soon, hail poured down, caving in the roof of a machine shop and shattering windshields. In 20 minutes, so much ice had begun to accumulate that it stood in the street in mounds, like snowdrifts. As the hail and rain continued to intensify, they gradually mixed into a thick white slurry, encasing cars, icing over fields and freezing the town’s main canal. With the drainage ditches filled in and frozen, parts of the town flooded, transforming the dirt roads into surging muddy rivers. Residents watched as their homes filled with icy water.”
Breaking news, Trump’s a crook
Trump paid $750 in taxes last year, less than I did. Big deal? It’s still more than Amazon. In this lies the problem of the incessant handwringing—“he doesn’t pay taxes”—or that sober one—“we’ve got a broken tax system.” Do we? Perhaps it’s designed that way, and this is the end result of total corporate control over the economy. Corporations took it over, now they suck it dry. Why should Amazon pay taxes when they can offshore their profits? Why pay into this shell of a state? (And why shouldn’t the rich game a system—a system, not reducible to the morality of an individual—that is wholly designed to advance the individual, at the expense of the collective? Better to pay it to the military budget?)
Honestly, though, Trump’s on-paper poverty coupled with his continued success and power—he remains the president—that’s America, isn’t it? It’s a big pyramid scheme. Domestically this is a failed state, the contracting center of empire, a gutted shithole. America mostly looks rich and powerful because it has for so long, because it is on paper, because it prints the paper. How long till it doesn’t? Trump may be the avatar of imperial decline but he certainly did not cause it. It was neoliberalism and late capitalism in this country, which have fast-tracked that breakdown, that caused Trump.
And politically, obviously, nothing that has come to light regarding Trump’s tax returns matters. People who hate him say, “wow, he’s a crook, he paid no taxes.” People who like him say, “what a smart man, gaming the system,” or don’t care. There’s no center, so the media debate is irrelevant.
It would behoove any serious opposition to this state of affairs to construct a criticism of Trump that effectively situates him in the context of a decaying, corrupt, stagnated neoliberal system. If only there were an alternative candidate who was doing that… I seem to remember one…
I suppose I will say, for all of Bernie’s flaws—and I criticized him plenty, and had my own personal doubts about his program, though from another angle—his virtue, even rhetorically, lay essentially in indicting the entire neoliberal system. Because it is that system that utterly defines and constructs the world as it is today, down to individual experience, personal ideology, one’s belief in what is possible, one’s sense of place in this country, et cetera. Every aspect of “collective” life in this nation is defined by that ideology. And so just saying it—acknowledging the depravity of the neoliberal economic arrangement—is an important step, here in America, where people do not understand history, or context, or this country’s role in the world.
And so Bernie had to be shivved out of the way (by the Good Barack Obama, wasn’t it?) because to assert that criticism is to indict the entire liberal elite’s complicity in the process. The Democrats would have no reason to exist if not as a foil to the Republicans—unless, of course, they offered some alternative, which they cannot. Bernie called out the neoliberal consensus; he suggested that the consensus was a choice, not the mythic reality that has come to hold sway over all our lives. In a sense, now it may be both.
Who knows what could’ve happened were he the nominee. Doesn’t matter now. At least he could string a sentence together. But then again Biden and his collapsing, skeletal incoherence is, like Trump, an avatar for the decline and decay of this moment. If Trump is one face of America today, Biden—the Senator from America’s lower-48 tax haven, who dedicated his career to remaking the modern world at the behest of the credit card companies—is another.
Difficult to say what’ll happen in a month (I have my pessimistic suspicions about who may still be president next year, despite the ongoing chaos) but I’ll leave my first, brief note here with this: Trump may remain the focal point, the lifeless vacuum that sucks up all energies in today’s political-media sphere—but only because he is the cartoonish, American emblem for a decline that is far bigger than him. The system Biden (and Obama, and Bush, and Clinton, and Bush, and Reagan, et. al.) designed and thrived within erected the scaffolding for Trump. So can yesterday’s elites re-seize power from the madman they produced—or are they confined to a specific historical moment—and we now exist in a new one, one that requires a new sense of responding to the complexities of the present, more expansive than simply histrionic squealing about how vile Trump is? We shall see.
Cannot recommend this documentary highly enough. It followed Trump through the 80s and early 90s and was *supposed* to come out in 1991 but Trump was able to successfully block its distribution. It was only released online in 2015. It’s got a kind of made for TV, early 90s aesthetic that is pretty wonderful:
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