Magazine | March 20, 2017, Issue

Make Politics Boring Again

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer at work, May 30, 2017. (Reuters photo: Joshua Roberts)

The other day I was chatting with a friend.

“What’s that?” you say. “In person? Is this an AA meeting in a church basement?”

Then, no. Not in person. On the Internet.

Anyway, I’m chatting with a friend and he makes a classic sausage-fingered flub, the kind I know all too well: He accidentally grazes the CAPS-LOCK KEY AND DOESN’T REALIZE IT UNTIL HE HAS BASHED OUT AN ENTIRE PARAGRAPH.

LOL-ing at his mistake, he then makes some comment about “pulling a Spicer.”

Puzzled by what he means, I reply, articulately, ???

Come to find out he is referring to White House press secretary Sean Spicer’s reputation for tweeting with all ten thumbs.

Sigh, I typed, sighing. It bothers me that you even know the press secretary’s name, much less his social-media peccadillos.

My friend takes umbrage. What the hell do I mean?

How many Obama press secretaries can you name off the top of your head? I ask.

He won’t have any of my whataboutism. He thinks that because he has, in the past, been largely apolitical (save for a mild cultural conservatism), I’m criticizing him for ignoring the freewheeling press shops of White Houses past. But he’s misreading me. I don’t care that he can’t rattle off your Gibbses, Carneys, and Earnests, or their many sins. I’m just legitimately bummed out that he, a young professor in a useful field who has better things to do, feels the need to pay attention to my dirty little corner of the world.

I’ve felt this a lot in the last month.

I get an at-least-daily e-mail from another long-time friend — a center-center-right Wall Street guy politically promiscuous enough to have voted for Kerry, Obama, Romney, and Nobody — raging out about the latest outrage.

I sat down for coffee in Austin, Texas, with a girl I knew in high school. She’s kind and smart and covered in tattoos the way the world is covered in water, but again, I had never known her to be political except in the way that all well-intentioned free spirits are vaguely if naïvely left-leaning. Yet our catching-up session quickly turned into an interrogation, with her politely but intently asking me a battery of questions aimed at trying to understand the contemporary conservative mind from me, a specimen in the wild who she knew from personal experience was not likely to be a serial-raping Klansman.

A third friend, dearer still, who is both a working artist and an expert skilled laborer in the Mission District of San Francisco, a man who knows his way around gun and knife and whose political ideas, such as they are, are both so radical and so anachronistic as to not map neatly onto any modern faction, texted me: “Helluva news cycle we’re in, man.”

The occasion marked, I am one thousand percent sure, the first time he had ever used the phrase “news cycle” in his natural life.

These are just the four examples that come most readily to mind. But my Facebook wall, apartment-building elevator rides, and hometown-coffee-shop small talk are full of this stuff. And I’ll admit it: There’s a touch of bitterness admixed with my glumness over this mass political awakening. Though I’m acquainted with many smart and capable people, their sudden concern at times has struck me as both belated and ineffectual. Though they’re right that things have gotten a bit dicey, they’re frequently too worried about the wrong things and not worried enough about the right ones. Though they hardly conduct themselves like professional progressive hysterics, they aren’t immune to freaking out about Kellyanne Conway’s goddam knees.

But like I said, mainly I’m just bummed. You and me, reader, we’re dorks. We share an interest, a hobby, an affliction. But National Review was never meant to have the circulation of Reader’s Digest. We were not all meant to live-blog press gaggles or talk about garbage-time MSNBC panels around the water cooler. For Pete’s sake, have you seen how many of you are marching around in little pink hats?

To be totally clear: I do not think hacks like your author are any better than these newly woke Average Americans. In many cases, I’m quite sure I’m worse. I don’t resent them for cutting into my racket or crowding me out of my little club. But I absolutely do mourn that they are tuning into our politics at precisely the time our politics is at its stupidest.

Widespread civic engagement with The Federalist Papers — or even the Federalist website — is a welcome thing indeed. Widespread civic engagement with award-show speeches and roadshow pederasty advocates is something else entirely.

And so my instinct has run directly counter to those of so many of my friends and acquaintances. I try, as best I can, not to watch anything with a “chyron” on it, or to watch anything at all if I can read a transcript or a faithful account minus all the empty pomp and spectacle. I still like tweeting my dumb little jokes, but I’ve lost all appetite for pretending that I can achieve anything noble, or even useful, in 140-character broadsides. I’m reading more and writing less. I’m trying to think about things that will matter for longer than the next 15 minutes. I’m still a political junkie, but I’m trying to avoid an OD. It has kept me slightly saner than I otherwise might be, and it managed to get me pretty far into 2017 without knowing what “pulling a Spicer” was.

Daniel Foster — Daniel Foster is a former news editor of National Review Online.

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