Experts brightly offer to help create a society so safe, clean, inoffensive, and nontoxic art disappears. Show them the door.

Philip Guston, The Studio, 1969

“The people who run our great institutions do not want trouble. They fear controversy. They lack faith in the intelligence of their audience.”

There’s been a lot of shrinking from trouble lately, so you will be forgiven if you guess wrongly about what controversy these sentences are about.

They don’t come from someone concerned that Seuss Enterprises, the company acting as Theodor Seuss Geisel’s literary executor, consulted an “expert panel” and stopped publishing six titles deemed “harmful.” …


I just voted in the least important election of my lifetime

(Win McNamee/Getty)

I have struggled to explain to other people why, perversely, I have become more politically conservative during the reign of Donald Trump. This despite having pretty deep left-wing convictions and never having been anything other than disgusted by Trump himself. I have struggled to explain this to other people, but not to myself. It is perfectly obvious to me.

“Conservatives” is a word that captures a bunch of different things. For a lot of left-liberals, my former self and some part of my current self included, it just means the enemy. …


Reflections from my grandfather aboard the USS Augusta with Churchill and FDR

Comic self portrait of radio man James Wendell Dempsey, circa 1936

For Memorial Day, I want to share a personal story written almost 80 years ago by my naval officer grandfather about how, in 1941, he played a small role in world history.

According to the Office of the Historian at the State Department:

Churchill and Roosevelt met on August 9 and 10, 1941 aboard the U.S.S. Augusta in Placentia Bay, Newfoundland, to discuss their respective war aims for the Second World War and to outline a postwar international system. …


It was turf the left fought over until like six days ago

(Photo taken, and poster designed, by The Good Liars)

“Do you have any idea what you just did?”
“Come on, we just made the deal of our lifetimes. We should celebrate.”
“You just bet against the American economy.”
“Fuck yeah we did. Fuck yeah!”
“Which means, if we’re right, people lose homes, people lose jobs, people lose retirement savings. People lose pensions. You know what I hate about fucking banking? It reduces people to numbers. Here’s a number: for every one percent unemployment goes up, 40,000 people die. Did you know that? Did you know that?
“No, I didn’t know that.”
“Whoa. I just got really scared.”

That’s dialogue…


Review of In Dogs We Trust: An Anthology of American Dog Literature

(Getty)

In a new anthology of American dog literature mostly spanning the late 19th and early 20th centuries, we see how Americans viewed dogs as the country developed.

The questions at the heart of In Dogs We Trust include: How did we record our canine history, and how did it evolve? What did earlier Americans say about our furry friends and their fore-pawthers?

Broken down into four sections — working dogs, sporting dogs, poetry about dogs, and companion dogs — editors Jacob F. …


Review of “Antisocial” by Andrew Marantz

A little knowledge, per Alexander Pope’s Essay on Criticism, is a dangerous thing. In Antisocial: Online Extremists, Techno-Utopians, and the Hijacking of the American Conversation, New Yorker staffer Andrew Marantz demonstrates how a little principle can be an even more dangerous thing.

“Having spent the past few years embedding as a reporter with the trolls and bigots and propagandists who are experts at converting fanatical memes into national policy, I no longer have any doubt that the brutality that germinates on the internet can leap into the world of flesh and blood,” Marantz recently wrote in the New York Times…


An old argument against gun rights is now getting deployed against speech rights. It’s a bad argument.

John Milton

“I’m going to open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money,” said candidate Donald Trump in the winter of 2016.

Before his election, Trump’s wish to expand the existing exceptions to free speech — in this particular case, to categorize press coverage he didn’t like as a subtype of defamatory speech — was taken in the press as yet more evidence that he was willing to undo the fabric of American society. Free expression is a first principle of any open society, a…


We know the characters the candidates are playing by now. Finally, we got to see some honest debate.

Credit: Brooks Kraft (Getty)

Well, the opening statements of all 10 Democratic candidates to make the latest debate were apparently written by the same speechwriter. At least it felt that way. And it felt like that speechwriter’s name was Barack Obama — soaring if platitudinous rhetoric about what unites us outweighing what divides us, and a hilarious amount of “let me be clear” openers. Vintage 2004 convention speech messaging.

One of the weirdest things about the Democratic primary so far has been Barry’s absence. Obama has an 87 percent approval rate among Democrats. A lot of the 2020 Democratic primary candidates seem to think…


Idiocracy reigns, Comfortably Smug is more powerful than the DNC, and other reflections on two depressing nights

Democrats to America

This election shouldn’t be hard for Democrats to win. Trump commands a base of support that is exceptionally zealous, and partially for that reason one that is also exceptionally small and hard to grow. The ceiling on his approval seems to be somewhere below 45 percent, and it has been hard to imagine him getting that up the few points he needs to even possibly win. Everybody whose hair gets blown back by his shtick is already on board, I’d speculate. Twitter bluster and crazy pronouncements and proud trolling and fanatical devotion to immigration restrictionism are apparently appealing to some…


Ideologically empty conservatism and the Eye of the Tiger

Brave Achilles, holding a shield in drag, trying to avoid the draft. Painted by Pietro Paolini circa 1620s.

The inciting incident for what has been roiling conservative intellectual circles lately is something so seemingly irrelevant, so far-off, so unimportant, and so innocuous that I feel idiotic telling you about it. On Facebook, the page for the Sacramento Public Library posted a June 2 event “for kids and families” called “Drag Queen Storytime.” Sacramento is 2,815 miles from New York, where Sohrab Ahmari edits the opinion page of the Post. For reference, that’s more than a thousand miles more distant than Paris is from Moscow. Anyway, thanks to the magic of our interconnected world, Ahmari, a Roman Catholic convert…

Nicholas Clairmont

Associate editor at Arc, writer, book reviewer, man about couch

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