Oh, To Be So Certain Again

When I was a teenager who wanted to be loved by as many people as possible for being funny, I thought Rush Limbaugh had it all figured out.

Back then, I traveled a lot as an inventory auditor, and my conservative Republican boss listened to talk radio for the hours between the grocery stores we counted. He even once unzipped the Bible-sized satchel in which he kept his cellular telephone, clipped the antenna to the window, and dialed Rush’s call-in number so I could raise a point with him.

Of agreement, I’m sorry to say. And yes, I got through and made the point to the man himself.

What I envied most about Rush Limbaugh (other than getting paid to talk) was how he always had something to say on any subject. I hated being caught off guard with no opinion when asked, and it seemed amazing to me that Limbaugh always knew exactly what he thought and felt about everything.

If you asked Rush about the death penalty, he’d say, “Burn, baby, burn!”

If you asked me at seventeen about the death penalty, I’d say, “Well, who are we talking about here? How many people did the guy kill? Is he likely to do it again?”

In my youthful anxiety, that felt to me like confusion and indecision, so I set out to find my own rigid core of certainty just like Rush’s.

Exactly like Rush’s, in fact. I read my girlfriend’s father’s back issues of Reason and The Limbaugh Letter and the American Spectator (where I applied for an internship). I read Ayn Rand and P.J. O’Rourke, too, and I wrote lists and essays for myself explaining the complicated logic why people deserved the lives they’d gotten.

Yes, I even read The Art of the Deal.

For a while, I felt warm and secure with everything conveniently packaged for me, always having a canned opinion I could rely on.  

But the more I honestly assessed the real world and talked to the people who lived in it, the more twisting I had to do for the logic to work. Around 1997 (in my twenties) came a series of personal events that snapped the infinite folding for good when I was haunted by a simple question:

“If an idea requires this much rationalization and still feels icky, how can it possibly be right?”

That’s how it all fell down, helped by Babylon 5 and Star Trek and Eyes on the Prize and Langston Hughes. (It was a strange semester.)

Doing the right thing isn’t always easy and it doesn’t always feel great, but it shouldn’t feel…ugly. Or empty. Or stretched thin between far distant facts that we had to scrounge for on the fringe despite our own intuition.

Of all the flimsy rationalizations and blithe cruelties spouted by Rush Limbaugh, one of the most damaging is the idea that it’s possible and desirable to always be certain. We’re dealing now with the people he emboldened to think that doubt and exceptions are signs of weakness.

That’s mildly excusable in a seventeen-year-old desperate for something to hold onto. It’s embarrassing in adults who have seen and experienced more of the world.

If you’re mourning Rush tonight, I hope you’ll ask just how much of your heart is his and how much is yours.

So You Managed to Rig the Election

First let me say my hat is off to you. That’s an ambitious achievement requiring the cooperation of hundreds of conspirators, and you’re clearly putting your Six Sigma project management certifications to good use. If you weren’t a black belt before, you should be one now.

Or a BLUE one, am I right?

Our demon prince is up by four million votes nationally, but it’s of course absurd that you’d have forged that many votes.

No, you were far more devious.

  • You convinced an innocent but adventurous foodie at the Wuhan wet market to eat a particularly sick-looking bat. Maybe you used a gun or just a nice orange pepper glaze, I don’t know.
  • With a worldwide network of agents, you guided the spread of the illness to your ultimate target, the United States.
  • There, the virus ran rampant and set up the chess board for your ultimate objective: a population worried enough by sickness to cast a large number of plausible mail-in votes for your manipulation.
  • But first, you needed the ultimate unstoppable candidate: an elderly milquetoast Washington insider with an unambitious legislative agenda and some slightly creepy behaviors toward women’s hair. Just, you know, to keep it plausible.
  • A candidate like that required the support of deeply angry and radical people, so you stoked the fires of racial hatred by encouraging the only ten racist police officers in America to act out their fantasies as visibly and violently as possible.
  • The ensuing protests unfolded in your perfectly orchestrated ballet of support for the only candidate who could truly advance our socialist agenda of white extermination: Joseph Biden.
  • You could have stopped there, but the cherry on top was finding a Black female prosecutor who will one day take the reins of government and drive our national chariot into total communism.
  • All you had to do next was generate thousands of ballots in a half dozen key states, each printed specially for a particular voting district.  
  • Then, offering day-old sandwiches from Jimmy John’s, you hired a hundred mentally-ill homeless people (also across six states) to carefully color in the correct circles for Joseph R. Biden.
  • Luckily, you had a sharp-eyed QA team checking each one and beating homeless men when they kept trying to fill out Jo Jorgensen by “accident.”
  • When it was all over, you herded most of them into a tunnel of rotating blades and rendered them into a delicious beige slurry for IAMS. (Net profit: $1.4 million.)
  • To cover your bets, you blackmailed several programmers hired by Siebold to embed pro-Biden glitches in the code of electronic voting machines. Luckily, the project owners were NOT Six Sigma-certified like you are and could not find the inserted code.
  • Election day almost went exactly as planned, but those plucky Trump voters managed to pry themselves from their sweat-soaked recliners to vote. We always underestimate the courage and conviction of the simple, God-fearing folk and we need to stop doing that.
  • So you had to bring in our crack teams of vote fraud specialists, already poised in the likeliest states for razor-thin margins: Georgia, Nevada, Arizona, and Pennsylvania.
  • You quickly printed more mail-in ballots for the inner city voting precincts from a company we later firebombed for total deniability.
  • Then your teams completed more ballots, sealed them, postmarked them with machines stolen from the post office, and slipped them unseen into the voting count centers while descending from wire harnesses.
  • To show their total commitment to endless silence for the cause, those teams then severed their own tongues and cut off their own fingers so they could never reveal their role.
  • Finally, after several days of completely smooth counting hidden away from the gaze of the entire world, our ballots tipped the balance to the dark prince was declared victorious.

It staggers the imagination, comrade. There will one day be statues in your honor, big concrete ones two hundred feet tall with stern jawlines.

But today, you must die and take your glory with you.

Time Capsule 2020

I’m going to Lowe’s today to buy a giant slab of marble on which I can carve an explanation of these times to the survivors wandering the smoldering hellscape. It’ll take awhile, I know, but what else am I doing?

Greetings, traveler! Tarry a moment from your scrounging for canned food and read these words of explanation for the horrors you behold!

Three generations of Americans, trained by bad movies and television to believe that heroism is the pursuit of an ideal without compromise or compassion, discovered a place where we could feel the endorphin rush of fighting evil but with none of the risk: the Internet.

Online, we chose our sides between the Enjoyers of Brutal Truths (life is hard and that’s good because it makes us hard) and the Resisters of Brutal Truths (life is hard and that’s bad because it makes us hard). We filtered our friends and our news by the dramatic passion they enflamed, and we competed to assert our commitment to the tribe with ever more exaggerated perspectives and actions. We made hasty judgments on sketchy information and then rationalized the results.

Constant and instant exposure to both the worst people we agreed with and the worst ones we didn’t distorted our perceptions of the importance, frequency, and scope of the problems we fought to solve. With no mitigating perspectives, we developed over-simplified theories of how the world works and pursued them off a cliff.

Inevitably, we dared each other to prove our commitment to our theories in the real world. Every occurrence became a symbol of why we were right, and every action became a desperate do-or-die fight for the nature of reality.

Two million years of outdated and unquestioned human evolutionary software turned us into self-righteous “heroes” fighting for the things we were most blindly wrong about.

If you’ve found this, we didn’t figure it out in time.

So You’ve Been Cancelled

One minute you’re tweeting your perfectly reasonable advice about getting over race and gender in this country, and the next, you’re hiding your Porsche in the garage from a fusillade of socks soaked in warm vomit.

Man, this job would be so much better without the fans, am I right?

The good news is that you still have the house, the car, the second house in Sundance, a current passport, and enough money to go completely Charles Foster Kane on their asses. You can hole up in Xanadu and let them gossip in awed tones about the cool mysterious things you’re doing (playing video games in your underwear, writing poetry, and learning to carve scrimshaw from YouTube).

The bad news is that you’re going to have to lie low for a while. That’s not a terrible thing; some people have done their best work in exile. You’re no Malcolm X or Martin Luther King, but celebrity is KIND OF a life’s work, too. This is your chance to take a breather, let the career inertia fade, and then choose any new path you want.

Nobody is asking you for another painful movie about the characters you’ve come to resent. Nobody’s asking you to say your catch phrase or write another song like the last ten.

You’re free. Put your feet up and enjoy your time in the penalty box.

Here’s the thing to remember: America is where generations of (primarily white) fuck-ups came to escape the mistakes they made in other countries. We’re all predisposed to a good comeback story because there’s a deep guilt in each of us for the one thing we wish we could do again better.

But first comes the sacrifice of the Designated Sinner.

Someone has to go in the Wicker Man every now and then to burn for our cultural sins of racism and sexism and homophobia and genocide and all the other shit, and this time — just like the guy in the movie — you kind of deserve it.

Really, it’s an honor. They don’t put Paula from Accounting in the Wicker Man. If you’re worth bringing down, you’re worth something. Hold on to that.

So here’s the plan.

  1. Spend the next six months letting yourself hit rock bottom. (Men, switch to wearing denim shorts and those adventure sandals that strap around your heels. Women, shave your head. Sorry, I don’t make the rules.)
  2. Then have a photogenic meltdown in a public place. Throw a cup of beer at a toddler during a baseball game. Threaten a flight attendant for not letting you smoke. The point is to show everyone you suck as much as they think you do.
  3. Next, take two years to work on whatever thing you love (your comedy, your novel, your solo album) until it is the best you can make it: emotional, soulful, and above all, penitent. If you have to, get help from someone who actually has feelings.
  4. Then begin the apology tour. One of the late night hosts will almost certainly let you on the show, and that’s where you can tell the world what you’ve learned…and the beautiful thing you’ve made to express how sorry you are.

What HAVE you learned? Well, it would be wonderful if you could say (plausibly) that you’ve listened to the people you’ve hurt to make amends. If you can’t do that, you’ve at least learned to shut the fuck up about things you don’t know much about, right? That’s almost as good.

Slowly, you creep your way back into the tribe by letting people feel good about forgiving you.

Luckily for you, we all have exactly six active slots available in our brains for grudges…and your egregious replacement just logged in.

Leaked: Donald Trump’s Speech to the RNC

Photo by Gage Skidmore

(Trump ascends to the stage holding up a small plastic aquarium.)

Can you see that? I’m not sure you can get that on camera. If you look real close, you’ll see there’s a thing swimming around in there about the width of my thumb and maybe, what, a foot long? Something like that.

Anyway, me and the family went on vacation a couple of years ago to Bali — beautiful place, by the way, the best service on the planet — and while I was practicing some dives off a rock cliff, the larvae of this little guy wormed its way into a scrape on my knee. I’m told they do that, look for holes.

Turns out that this is the Greater Balinese Brain Fluke, a trematode that laps up cerebrospinal fluid like a deer at a mountain stream. Loves it. Loves it so much that sometimes it makes a comfortable little nest in the brain of a human host. Kind of like that thing from that Star Trek movie. Beautiful movie, by the way. “Khaaannnn!” I love that part.

Anyway, this little fella set up shop near the amygdala on the left hemisphere of my brain and just started pumping away, kind of like a little fist. Like this. Just squeezing away, drinking and growing and secreting like all God’s creatures.

Wait, wait. Don’t get up. I’m getting to the point.

The amygdala, as we all know, is the breaker switch for decision making and emotional reaction, and, well, you might have noticed something a little strange about me these last few years: word salad, vindictiveness, impulsive behavior, all the classic signs. Even then, it wasn’t until I started getting the migraines and those weird sniffles that my doctor ordered a CT scan that found my little friend curled up in my skull like a puppy in a little basket.

Long story short, we had a surgery yesterday and this was pulled from my nasal cavity by a very nice Indian doctor. They’re some of the best in the world, I can’t recommend them highly enough. This guy’s great for all kinds of things, not just brain flukes.

And then my staff showed me the tapes of what I’ve been saying and doing, and holy shit, I owe all of you a huge apology. Huuggge. I wasn’t even supposed to get this job, much less turn it into this shitshow. It’s like that brain fluke made me say the absolute worst thing in every situation to make it even more horrible, like a shit-seeking missile.

That’s on me. But I do have to say that I’m a little worried that nobody noticed the symptoms of a Greater Balinese Brain Fluke splashing around in my brain this whole time. What more would a guy have to do or say before any of you said, “Holy shit, this isn’t Alzheimer’s or syphilis but clearly the ravages of a parasitic trematode”? It’s kinda my brand to be an asshole, I get it, but come on.

Jared? Ivanka? Mike? Nothing? You didn’t notice? Jesus wept.

So tonight, I’m here to ask for another four years because those first four didn’t really count. When you think about it, the brain fluke was really the president and I was just kind of like the suit it was wearing for a long, long Halloween.

What I can promise you is that my next term’s grift and bullshittery will return to the normal thresholds you’ve all come to need and expect from Washington. That’s why these new hats have the slogan, “MAKE AMERICA LESS OBVIOUSLY AWFUL AGAIN,” and you can buy them from any of the merch tables lined up in Melania’s Rose Garden.

We’re also selling the pale-veined satin lapel ribbons for Greater Balinese Brain Fluke Awareness because damn, you people need to learn the difference between politics-crazy and brain-fluke-crazy.