Things We Lost in the Fire

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A right-wing coup has taken hold of the United States government, or is soon to do so. If that seems outlandish, consider the following: A candidate who refused to agree to accept the results if he lost, but did promise to lock up his opponent if he won, just became president-elect while losing the popular vote by perhaps 2 million votes. He will have the opportunity to shape the balance of power on the Supreme Court, due entirely to the fact that his own party violated two centuries of tradition by refusing to even consider a replacement nominated by the sitting president—in essence, depriving the voters who reelected President Obama in 2012 of their say in the future of American law and … [Read more...]

A Heaping Helping of ToM Politics to Get You Through This Election Season

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Since our founding in 2010, we at ToM have swerved out of the strictly historiographical lane into the political one like Anthony Weiner forever furtively glancing at this phone.  Like the Great Weiner, we can't help ourselves. Some of our writers are Gen Xers, some are millennials; others are just unclassifiably disgusting. (Looking at you, Clem.) But whether we grew up in the age of Reagan or Clinton, we've all seen the same trends. The reality TV-ization of politics that has reached its apotheosis in Donald Trump, the feckless wars and recurrent recessions, and a general loss of faith in the system across the board, whether it takes the form of 9/11 conspiracy theories or a concerted … [Read more...]

Reckoning Trump through a Joan Didion Lens

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“We’re in a new world in terms of the way information flows to the nation,” Chicago Tribune deputy managing editor James Shea noted nearly two decades ago amid accusations that President Bill Clinton had engaged in “sexual relations” with a twentysomething intern. [1] The Columbia Journalism Review bemoaned the rising influence of “journalistic amateurs” and “pretenders” like then-neophytes Arianna Huffington and Matt Drudge. Today, of course, Huffington Post dominates a segment of the punditry market and the Drudge Report pretty much encapsulates the Trump worldview.[2] While Donald Trump’s attempt at misdirection in using Bill Clinton’s sexual controversies remains a smokescreen for his … [Read more...]

Goodbye and Good Luck!!

"Can we get more plaid in this picture??"; RR, ASC, and CUNY's Matthew Vaz at UHA 2016

Over the past six years or so, I’ve had a great time co-editing and writing for Tropics of Meta. It’s been a real journey. Co-editor Alex Sayf Cummings and I have learned a lot from each other; I’ve learned a lot from our contributors as well. I can’t thank Alex and everyone else enough. Thanks also to all those who have read our pieces, even when you didn’t think much of them because well, you have plenty of things to do in your day and taking the time to check ours out is and was appreciated. So it’s with good feelings towards all that I tender my resignation. I leave knowing that ToM is in the best of hands with Alex at the helm and I look forward to reading more great stuff from … [Read more...]

VP Debate 2016: Send in the Clowns!

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Needless to say, somewhere Smokey Robinson is wondering “WTF?” or patting himself on the back for seeing into the future, maybe both. All over the heartland, real clowns are stalking the populace, horrifying rural and inner city populations alike.  The TV mini-series It turned 25 last year, and it’s as if the anniversary served as a dog whistle for a clown resurgence: a nation of Pennywises rising from obscurity. In almost parallel development, this year’s presidential campaign feels like an Edward Hopper painting, Stephen King novel, and three-ring circus all wrapped into one. The GOP debates functioned as a proverbial clown car with an array of insane candidates emerging to grasp an … [Read more...]

Reagan’s 1966 Gubernatorial Campaign Turns 50: California, Conservatism, and Donald Trump

"Reagan for Governor" pins from the David S. Broder Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress.

On October 27, 1964, Ronald Reagan, in an attempt to right a flagging Barry Goldwater campaign, stepped up to a Los Angeles podium and proceeded to address a national television audience. The speech, “A Time for Choosing,” thrust Reagan into the national spotlight. As a spokesperson for General Electric, he’d given the speech hundreds of times to receptive audiences around the country, yet, as historian H.W. Brands argues, no oration in U.S. history “ever did more…to launch a national political career.” Never an office holder, Reagan had never even campaigned for an elected position. He had only been a Republican for two years, having identified with liberal causes for much of his life as a … [Read more...]

Making Miranda: What the Famous Warning Tells Us about Police Reform Fifty Years Later

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Near the end of Hunt for the Wilderpeople, New Zealand social worker Paula, hot on the trail of the wayward and infamous Ricky Baker, finally captures her ward. “You have the right to remain silent,” she tells Baker, repeating the American police procedural standard to the boy. “That’s more an American thing,” the local constable tells her, demonstrating both Paula’s delusions of law enforcement grandeur and the pervasiveness of American culture, a sub-theme of the film. Over the past fifty years since Miranda v. Arizona (1966), the Miranda Warning has become embedded in the American subconscious and apparently abroad. Paula’s deployment of it in New Zealand only underscores its influence … [Read more...]

Colin Kaepernick’s Critics Only Care about Symbolism and Ignore Substance

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As for many American boys, sports were a staple of my life growing up in the 90s and it was rare to hear about contemporary athletes taking stands on political or social issues. Sure, there was Mohammed Ali, Jim Brown, John Carlos and Tommie Lee, but that was a different era and the urgency that impelled their activism seemed out of place at the time (in the mind of a white, middle class kid). The reigning most-famous athlete in the world at the time, one Michael Jordan, made it clear that he was not interested in wading into politics. When asked to support Harvey Gantt, an African American running against racist Republican North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms in 1990, Jordan reportedly (and … [Read more...]

The U of C Way: Safe Spaces, Trigger Warnings, and Publicity at the University of Chicago

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In a possibly, and very likely, apocryphal story that circulated among my social circle at the University of Chicago, one of my friends claims to have asked a wizened older professor what the school was like during the tumult of the 1960s. “A hot bed of inactivity,” he responded dryly. At least, that’s how the story went. Admittedly, no means of authenticating that anecdote exists, but the fact that it pervaded my notably non-political milieu says something about how at least a segment of the university saw the school’s history of social activism: limited to moderate, at best. Truth is, the school witnessed its share of protest. Bernie Sanders’s presidential bid uncovered some of this … [Read more...]

East Asian ToM: Five Days of Seoul

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After the Korean War, Seoul, South Korea probably wouldn't have been listed as a ideal destination for summer travelers. U.S. occupation, the burdens of a civil war that cost nearly 375,000 Korean civilian lives, to say nothing of the 138,000 Korean soldiers who perished, and persistent food shortages amidst the wreckage of conflict did not make for a prime vacation spot. "Most of Seoul lay in ruins," Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Malcolm W. Browne remembered in his 1993 memoir, Muddy Boots and Red Socks. "The poverty was ubiquitous and obtrusive, and there was a constant danger of losing a wallet or camera to thieves." Decades of military rule followed as did the eventual transformation … [Read more...]