Volume 3, Issue 49: Walken
"I'm walkin', all by myself. Well, I was talkin' to myself about you."
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Do you know who this person is?
This person is named Sam Graves. Sam Graves is a Congressman, a member of the House representing Missouri’s 6th District, which basically covers the northern part of Kansas City. Rep. Graves does not seem like my sort of guy—very much not so, actually—but until I went looking for a random Congressperson to serve as an example for the point I’m about to make, I had never heard his name in my life. Unless you work on Capitol Hill or live in the north Kansas City area, I suspect you hadn’t either. He has been in Congress for more than 20 years, and I have not thought about him once. He does not affect my life, and really the life of just about anyone I know, in any way, shape or form whatsoever. He’s just some anonymous, unexceptional white guy in an endless line of them. To his family and his friends and constituents, he is a figure of considerable renown. But there’s no reason for him to register in anyone else’s life at all.
Here is another person of even less influence and import in my life, or your life:
This is a woman named Marjorie Taylor Greene, a 1996 graduate of the University of Georgia and, for about a decade, an executive at Taylor Commercial, a construction company in Alpharetta, Georgia, that her father founded and which provided her only employment for the first 15 years of her professional career. (This company still exists but has faced such overwhelming public backlash in the wake of Taylor Greene’s political career that a company named “Taylor Construction,” based in Roswell, Georgia, has had its Yelp page ransacked even though it has no affiliation with Taylor Greene or Taylor Commercial whatsoever.) She left the company in 2011 and became a Crossfit enthusiast before feuding so violently with the co-owner of her gym (who accused her of all sorts of non-Christian behavior) that she started her own gym (with a man named Travis Meyer who remains a professional Crossfit athlete) before transferring the intense devotion she brought to Crossfit into the world of conspiracy theories and far-right politics. She became an adherent of the QAnon cult and then ran for Congress, benefiting from a district that, according to the man who ran against her and lost, would just vote “for whoever was the most For Trump.” Upon being elected to Congress—this woman is in Congress—she has immediately become a national, even global figure. If you have ever given money to a political candidate, the odds are excellent that you now receive multiple emails each day with her name in the subject line, imploring you to stop her, or support her, or fight back against her lies, or defend her against her enemies.
The thing about her, though, is that she does not affect your life either. She has no actual power. After she was stripped over her committee assignments by the House on Friday, she has less power over your life than the person who delivers your mail. If you were able to mute her, like a thread on social media, you would not notice. You would go along with your day just fine.
One of my favorite tricks to play with the boys is to get going in a game of tug-of-war with them and then just drop the rope. They’re yanking and grunting and holding on, and I’m pulling back, and then suddenly I let go. The force they are fighting vanishes and whoosh there they go, flying. They’ve been pulling so hard for so long that they can’t imagine what it’s like not to have that force working against them. So they keep tugging. And they end up on the ground.
There has not been a day since June 2015 that Donald Trump has not been at the forefront of my, and everybody else’s, mind. I wrote a whole piece for Bloomberg the day he came down that escalator that reads now like a warning, not for the damage he would wreak in the years to come, but for the constant, militant hold he would have on our attention for the next five-and-a-half years. You can make a disturbing solid argument that Donald Trump is one of the worst people who have ever lived, but it is undeniable that he has been wildly successful at the only thing he has ever really cared about: Making sure that the conversation that’s constantly having in his head—which is basically, “Trump. Trump. Trump? Trump. Trump! Trump!”—is the one we all had to have over and over, every day of our lives. I remember once, at a party (remember those?), having to stop people from talking about Trump seven different times. (I then forgot and later brought him up myself.) This was not a political party. It was just regular people trying to talk about regular things, and failing. He infected every one of us with that disease of constantly needing to talk about Trump. He was so absurd and venal and unrelenting that you couldn’t help but talk about him. How could this person possibly exist? How could this person be in charge?
And that was what made him most inescapable: This crazy-ass was the President. Escaping from him was not only impossible, it felt downright irresponsible. How could we go about our daily lives, acting like anything could possible be normal or calm, when that lunatic was the President? There wasn’t a problem that needed fixing that wasn’t bigger than getting him out of office. It was the signature cause of the back half of the 2010s, leading to unprecedented levels of social engagement and political activism. It turned every aspect of American life into a battleground. We’ve all been in that battle mode for half a decade.
This activism was inspiring and, ultimately, victorious: He lost. (He lost by a lot, actually.) After a deeply tumultuous month of denial and avarice, culminating in an assault on the Capitol that remains one of the most horrifying things most of us have ever seen, he left office and has retreated to his retirement community in Florida. He has continued influence among his political party, to say the least, and we will spend the next two-three weeks having all sorts of public battles over his second impeachment. But he, himself, has been oddly quiet—even curiously so. He has been stripped of his Twitter megaphone, which has neutered him in a way that’s somehow doubly humiliating; maybe you really can just mute the thread. This week, he got in an open-letter fight with Andrea Zuckerman of “Beverly Hills 90210” that featured some stupid insults and the usual stains of pathetic insecurity (“Who cares!”) … and it was almost quaint. Remember when we used to have to deal with this shit all day every day? We don’t anymore. Trumpism isn’t over. But right now, Trump sure seems to be.
But we have been tugging on that rope for so long that our pulling has an inertia all its own. Trump has so dominated our passions that his absence is palpable: We need something to fight. We need a bad guy. We need someone to be appalled by. This pent-up outrage has to go somewhere.
Enter Marjorie Taylor Greene. This ridiculous person, this nothing woman, has learned from Trump that the only fuel she needs is our anger and repulsion. She is not in Congress so she can pass laws or fight for her constituents or Make a Difference. She is there solely for herself. John Stoehr, in his essential The Editorial Board newsletter, writes:
It’s not like Greene went to Washington to govern. Her role is demagogic. Leverage and bargaining, bills and laws—these are beside the point. The main point is creating conditions in which she can appear to be in a near-total state of persecution to speak for Americans who feel the same way … Her job is to manufacture crisis in the absence of one.
She is good at the exact same thing Trump was good at: She gets you to talk about her and how awful she is. This is all she wants. And by elevating her, by using her as our Trump outrage replacement, we give her a power that she does not have. She is not a substantial figure; she is a loud Sam Graves. We make her look stronger than she is. We turn nothing into something.
I understand that the fight is not over that Trump is out of office, that the forces that created him have not been vanquished, that there is so much work left to do, not just to fix everything that he broke, but to start working on all the problems that were there before him, that have been there forever. There is always value in calling out bigotry and ignorance. I am not talking about disengaging. Taylor Greene, after all, is not the only noxious one.
But part of the point of getting Trump out of office was to lower the temperature, to take a breath, to concentrate on the things that actually matter rather than whatever thing we’ve all decided to be angry about today. Getting Trump out was a huge step toward that point. But we have to do our part too. And a large part of that is not giving more oxygen to shameless opportunistic loons like Taylor Greene. She’s not the President. Her party isn’t even in power. She’s nobody. We should treat her like a nobody. We should treat her like she doesn’t affect our lives at all. Because she doesn’t.
One of my favorite baseball players as a kid was Jack Clark, a slugging first baseman for the Cardinals in the mid-’80s. (Dwight Gooden called him the batter he least enjoyed facing.) Clark was an excellent hitter, but his primary attribute was how hard he would swing the bat. It was violent and visceral.
This violence would ultimately work against him. In 1986, Clark was facing Ron Darling, a pitcher for the Mets. He was sitting on a fastball, which made sense; Darling threw hard, and Clark was a fastball hitter. But Darling threw him a waffling curve, and Clark swung and missed so hard that he yanked a muscle in his back. He, as Cardinals broadcaster Jack Buck put it, “corkscrewed himself into the ground.” This would happen again in 1987. He swung so hard that he tore tendons in his ankle, forcing him to miss most of the 1987 postseason. His last at-bat of the season was at Wrigley Field, when he took a swing so savage that he crumpled to the ground.
Jack Clark had to swing that hard to deal with what was coming. It was the only way to fight back against a Gooden or Darling fastball. But eventually, that fastball isn’t there. You’re striking out, and hurting yourself, against a pitch that isn’t even being thrown. You’re punching back against a ghost. You’re swinging with everything you’ve got even though there’s nothing to hit. And you’re corkscrewing yourself into the ground.
We are in danger of corkscrewing ourselves into the ground. We cannot live in this state of constant frenzy. That is how we lose. That is how this doesn’t get better.
Take a breath. Take a pitch. This is your life, not theirs. They’re all just Sam Graves. Let’s treat them like Sam Graves.
WEEKLY BOOK UPDATE: 13 WEEKS TO LAUNCH
Every week here at The Will Leitch Newsletter, we count down the weeks until the release of How Lucky, my novel that comes out May 11. This is the spot for weekly news, updates and pre-order reminders.
I am done bothering you with blurbs—though do not forget to check out that Richard Russo one from last week—so this week’s update involves that old chestnut, the author photo. It’s remarkable how often the phrase “author photo” comes up in regular conversation, whether you’re a writer or not. It’s like “album cover.” It’s what people say when they see a picture of you that they like, or think is somehow mysterious: Album cover. Author photo.
This puts a considerable amount of stress on an author photo. My Life As A Loser author photo was taken with a disposable camera; Catch was taken by my old boss at Registered Rep. magazine who was dabbling with photography; God Save The Fan was a gag photo taken at a formal wedding; Are We Winning? was taken by the official Hyperion photographer and it’s my least favorite of all of them.
We went out and got an actual professional for this one, Abbey Lindsey from Dylan Blue Photography. Getting a professional to do the photo for the first time was a good idea. It didn’t make the subject any less stupid-looking, but it did at least get the lighting right.
Anyway, so here, for the first time, is the How Lucky author photo.
Future updates will feature demonstrably fewer author photos.
So: You can pre-order the book right now. I’ve had a few people ask whether it makes a difference where they pre-order the book. It doesn’t: It only matters to the purchaser, all told. If you are anti-Amazon—for perfectly good reasons!—there are other options for you on the HarperCollins page, though from what I understand, at some sites you can’t pre-order until two months before the book comes out. Pre-ordering is important, though: It shows the publisher that there are people excited to read the book and thus encourages them further to promote it. So hey, you’re here, reading this far already. Pre-order already.
Here is a numerical breakdown of all the things I wrote this week, in order of what I believe to be their quality.
Seven Takeaways From the Nolan Arenado Trade, MLB.com. When I get to write about the Cardinals trading for Nolan Arenado, suffice it to say, that’s gonna be my favorite story of that week.
The Wayne’s World Super Bowl Ad Is Decadent and Depraved, Medium. The equivalent in 1991 of a Wayne’s World ad today would be an ad about “The Andy Griffith Show.”
What’s the First Pandemic Super Bowl Going to Look Like? New York. This is the first Super Bowl I won’t be attending in seven years.
Defending Division Champ Power Rankings, MLB.com. Sorry, Cubs, but ARENADO’S HERE.
The Dangerous Irresistibility of the NYT Voter Map, Medium. Find out what areas in the country you’ll feel comfortable getting gas!
Denzel Washington Movies, Ranked and Updated, Vulture. With The Little Things.
Buy, Sell, or Hold: The 20 Best Players of 2020, and How They’ll Do in 2021, MLB.com. No Cardinals on the list. But ARENADO WILL BE.
The Thirty: One Player Every Team Would Like to Have Back, MLB.com. It hurts just looking at Arozarena in a Cards uniform.
I Did an Interview About Newsletters, and Here It Is, Yelrum Media. I count interviews when I have to type out my answers. It’s writing!
Grierson & Leitch, we discussed “The Little Things,” “Saint Maud” (which is great) and “Supernova.”
People Still Read Books, we’re finally back next week. I promise.
Waitin' Since Last Saturday, no show this week.
LONG STORY YOU SHOULD READ THIS MORNING … OF THE WEEK
“All Work, No Pay,” Various Authors, New York. Shouting out to the home team here, but the cover package of this week’s New York, run by the crew of The Cut, is all about how disastrous the pandemic has been for working women. You can find all stories under this tag; they’re still putting them up all week. It feels like the stories in this package should be centered as part of every single discussion about the pandemic.
ARBITRARY THINGS RANKED, WITHOUT COMMENT, FOR NO PARTICULAR REASON
Super Bowls I’ve Attended, Ranked by How Entertaining The Experience Was, As I Lament Not Attending This Year’s
Super Bowl LI, Houston: Patriots 34, Falcons 28
Super Bowl XLIX, Glendale: Patriots 28, Seahawks 24
Super Bowl XLVI, Indianapolis: Giants 21, Patriots 17
Super Bowl LII, Minneapolis: Eagles 41, Patriots 33
Super Bowl LIV, Miami: Chiefs 31, 49ers 20
Super Bowl XLVIII, East Rutherford: Seahawks 43, Broncos 8
Super Bowl LIII, Atlanta: Patriots 13, Rams 3
Super Bowl 50, Santa Clara: Broncos 24, Panthers 10
ONGOING LETTER-WRITING PROJECT!
These have slowed down over the last fortnight. I am blaming the snow, not you. Write me at:
P.O. Box 48
Athens GA 30603
CURRENTLY LISTENING TO
“Champaign, Illinois,” Old 97s. With Illinois basketball playing like this, there was no other option here. Even if the song basically equates Champaign, that town I love, with purgatory. Here’s a great Smile Politely piece about the history of the song, and its connection to Bob Dylan.
Remember to listen to The Official Will Leitch Newsletter Spotify Playlist, featuring every song ever mentioned in this section.
It’s already baseball season down here: Little League tryouts are next week. We’re going to play—my children need to get out of the danged house—and I’ll be coaching my son Wynn’s team. I’m insisting my players wear masks the entire time unless they’re in the field (I believe the league is mandating it anyway), and I was trying to figure out a way to make sure the kids, who are all six or seven years old, kept track of their masks and didn’t just leave them lying on the ground.
So my father and I concocted this contraption. You can hang up your masks!
We make do, to get through, however we can.
Be safe, all.