How the Classic 1980s Film “Gremlins” Predicted Trump’s America

the 1984 holiday horror-comedy Gremlins envisioned a wholesome, small-town America besieged by nefarious outside forces.

The 1984 holiday horror-comedy Gremlins envisioned a wholesome, small-town America besieged by nefarious outside forces.

‘Tis the season to be jolly, unless you’re a loser. That’s right, the end of 2016 is upon us, and aside from remorselessly swiping David Bowie, Prince, and Natalie Cole from the world of the living, 2016 also installed a boorish orange Philistine into the highest office in the land. There have been numerous watershed elections in U.S. history, but the race that hacked the astringent Trump loogie out of the dankest corner of America’s collective nasal passage and spat him into the Oval Office will surely rank as one of the rankest examples of American democratic excess.

Donald J. Trump — he of the speed-bumped squirrel bouffant and Tang-tinged rice-paper skin — rode a tidal wave of white resentment that allowed him to give high-school swirlys to the aloof establishment nabobs in both political parties. But anyone who cared to pay attention to the festering cloud of amorphous fear mixed with shoulder-chipped resentment that has floated across the Heartland for decades should have noticed that Trump wasn’t some new development in American politics; rather, he’s the culmination of a long-building new American identity: that of the hopelessly besieged.

One seemingly silly movie from the 1980s perfectly envisioned the idea of a besieged America that would push voters into Trump’s charlatan claws some three decades later. I’m talking about the 1984 Steven Spielberg-produced, Joe Dante-directed holiday horror/comedy Gremlins.

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What in the Heck Does it Mean to be a Democrat?

The 2016 Democratic PArty ticket. I guess it's better than the End of the World.

The 2016 Democratic Party ticket. I guess it’s better than the End of the World.

On Halloween night, 1936, incumbent Democratic president Franklin Delano Roosevelt gave a riveting speech at New York’s Madison Square Garden. The United States was in the eighth year of the Great Depression, and FDR was fixin’ to tout his smorgasbord of government programs known collectively as the New Deal.

FDR acknowledged that Americans “wanted peace of mind instead of gnawing fear.” To offer this piece of mind, he promised to protect currency, ensure fair wages, reduce working hours, end child labor, and crush financial speculation. Moreover, The president directly addressed the business and financial interests and their Republican allies who opposed his administration: “Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me — and I welcome their hatred.” Democrats used to talk like that. They ought to again.

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Obamacare: The Ultimate American Wedge Issue

The pro and anti-Obamacare protesters at the the Supreme Court epitomize the ultimate divide in American politics.

Obamacare is dead; long live Obamacare. Or maybe not. Early in 2015, thanks to incessant conservative teeth gnashing, the Supreme Court will once again gird up its robe-covered loins to make a major ruling on Barack Obama’s signature law.

The plaintiffs in the upcoming King v. Burwell case claim that, according to the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) statute, the IRS exceeded the limits of its regulatory powers by allowing for both state-run AND federal exchanges. It’s a classic right-wing “states’ rights” argument. 22 states have already balked on setting up exchanges, and conservatives are betting that weeding out the federal cash that’s picking up the slack in red states will undermine the entire structure of Obamacare. No matter that blocking federal subsidies could yank insurance coverage away from upwards of 11.8 million people: after all, are there no prisons, no poorhouses?! Continue Reading

America, Gay Marriage, and the Never-Ending 19th Century

Pro "Traditional Marriage" advocates protest the legalization of same-sex marriage in Maryland. They had nothing better to do.

“Traditional Marriage” advocates protest the legalization of same-sex marriage in Maryland. They had nothing better to do.

Have you ever taken a really wide-angle view across the American cultural landscape and experienced a nagging feeling of deja-vu? It’s almost as if issues that ought to have been settled over a century ago just keep popping back up into public discourse, usually at the behest of reactionary turnip heads fueled by an unceasing wish to go back to a better, more moral, more “traditional” time that only ever existed in their own fever-swamped craniums.

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Jonathan Chait and the Shadow of Race in the Obama Era

Whether you voted for or against Barack Obama was in many ways dependent on a socially constructed concept known as "race" that, at least scientifically, doesn't even exist.

Whether you voted for or against Barack Obama was in many ways dependent on a socially constructed concept known as “race.”

There’s an old adage that goes something like this: in America, everything is about race, even when race has nothing to do with it. Ever since the colonial era, Americans of all stripes have dealt with the race issue because it’s been a crucial element in determining what it means to be an American from day one. Race was, of course, the major factor that drove America’s original sin of slavery (it’s rumored that early drafts of Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence read: “All men are created equal, except for those dusky fellers picking my tobacco.) But long after slavery’s demise, race still lingers in American political discourse and, if you believe Jonathan Chait, race has been the defining theme of Barack Obama’s presidency.

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The Republican Party, Race-Baiting, and Reconstruction’s Legacy

A campaign button worn by so-called "Reagan Democrats:" blue collar white northerners worried that Democrats had caved to black interests.

A 1984 Reagan-Bush campaign button worn by so-called “Reagan Democrats:” blue-collar white northerners worried that Democrats had caved to black interests.

Its become a truism in modern American politics that the Republican Party traffics in coded racial resentment. Dog-whistle phrases like “taxes,” “welfare,” “food stamps,” “dependency,” “entitlement reform,” or, if you’re the non-too-subtle former Pennsylvania senator Rick “Frothy Mix” Santorum, “I don’t want to make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money,” have helped relay the message to status-anxiety ridden working and middle class whites that the GOP will protect them from the welfare scrounging black hordes.

With good reason, the GOP’s use of racial resentment to win votes is considered a twentieth-century century phenomenon, but it also has deep roots in the nineteenth century Reconstruction era, when the intersection of race and class planted the seeds of racial resentment that show a clear link between the party of Abraham Lincoln and the party of, well, the Tea Party.

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Obama Calling Lincoln: History as the Great Legitimizer

President Barack Obama meets "President Abe Lincoln" during a 2012 campaign rally in Iowa.

President Barack Obama meets a fellow prairie stater, “President Abe Lincoln,” during a 2012 campaign rally in Iowa.

Over the summer, President Barack Obama made a series of speeches designed to drum up public and private support for better infrastructure investment as part of his broader long-term economic recovery plan. This speeches were mostly political, insofar as no such plan has any chance of squeezing through the fatalistic lunatic factory that is the current Republican controlled Congress. The president knows this, of course, but his speeches gave him the chance to do what all politicians do during their time in office: invoke history to legitimize the present…and the future.

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