In memory of Michael Brooks, the left’s best commentator

Michael Brooks

Brooks, known for his humor and insight, passed last week, age 36.

Humanity lost a tremendous ally last week when Michael Brooks, a cohost of The Majority Report with Sam Seder and host of his own The Michael Brooks Show, passed away at the age of 36. Michael was an informed, insightful, witty, and moral voice for a better world. Outpourings of sadness and support came from thousands of activists, journalists, and political figures, including Chris Hayes, Dr. Cornel West, and even former Brazilian President Lula da Silva.

Brooks transcended the world of internet commentary. With Seder, he broke news stories down to their most essential components with rigorous philosophical and moral investigation. He brought a uniquely internationalist perspective to mainstream leftist YouTube, frequently referencing social movements in Latin America in particular. He articulated himself carefully, almost pedantically, but always with an immense amount of warmth, charm, and compassion.

To call Brooks a political analyst almost cheapens the work he did. He dove deeper. Among podcasters, he was without equal. Brooks never simply read headlines. He placed everything in the context of history and our collective aspirations as people.

He was as scathing in his satire as he was cogent in his analysis. One of the best of his many impressions was of Dave Rubin, a podcaster who specializes in normalizing far-right views. Brooks captured Rubin as a cynical dunce who thought bigotry was a valid “idea” to be debated. Brooks also nailed Obama, creating the hilarious and politically incorrect Nation of Islam Obama character to mock the right-wing perception of the former president as an extremist. Brooks imagined Trump advisor Sebastian Gorka as a pompous, arrogant Saturday morning cartoon villain.

Joe Rogan once criticized Brooks as a bully for his unforgiving ridicule of Rubin. Brooks felt sympathy for those who disagreed with him, who had been bamboozled by politicians and pundits, saying, “Be ruthless with systems; be kind to people.” But he didn’t see his differences with Rubin as an honest disagreement. Brooks had the moral clarity to be merciless with bad-faith actors like Rubin and Ben Shapiro, who knowingly work to make life harder for people who haven’t been as fortunate as them.

For his combination of humor, insight, curiosity, and moral wisdom, Brooks would surely have taken his place among Twain, Carlin, and Chomsky. He fit into no orthodoxy other than the one he formed, and continually evolved, based on his perception of what was true and just in the world.

Following an outpouring of support shortly after his passing, Brooks’s recently released book, Against the Web, was backordered at major retailers. The book directly challenged the “Intellectual Dark Web,” a loose coalition of right-wing cultural figures who, despite their large audiences and generous media coverage, frequently complain of being censored. Against the Web is a volley in the larger battle waged by Brooks and The Majority Report to counter the growing, pernicious indoctrination of young people on the internet by the far right.

While the political left is largely scrambled and without obvious leaders, Brooks was a unifier. He was not just a model for commentators, satirists, or activists to aspire to. He was a philosopher who laid serious foundation for a humane, compassionate, sustainable human project. As a performer he conveyed the true joy he felt in making the world a better place, whether by educating us on important class issues or by scoring a trivial laugh on a far-right clown.

There are no content creators who can match Brooks’s record. We lost one of the all-time greats before he had a chance to get there. Fortunately, by being so universal and philosophical in his approach, the hundreds of hours of content Brooks created is timeless and will remain recommended viewing for generations. May he rest in power.

A way of understanding America’s civil unrest

mpd burning

People run in front of the Minneapolis Police Department, 3rd Precinct, as it burns in the background.

Cities across the country have erupted in protest following a spate of police killings of unarmed black people – most prominently George Floyd, but also Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Dion Johnson, and others. Police have attacked crowds with teargas, rubber bullets, batons, and vehicles. Rioters have burned buildings and looted stores. People have been seriously injured and several have been killed.

Amid the chaos, President Trump has quadrupled down on his most authoritarian instincts. He’s frequently screamed “LAW & ORDER!” in all-caps tweets. Trump urged the nation’s governors to “get much tougher,” “dominate,” and jail protesters for “five years or ten years” so that “you’ll never see this stuff again.” He deployed the military in Washington, D.C., and threatened to use the 101st Airborne against American citizens in American streets.

The history of black oppression in America is too long for any one article, but it’s critical to understand it in order to grasp the facts of the current unrest. Racism is thoroughly baked into the history, culture, and consciousness of America. Many police forces began as slave patrols hunting down escaped slaves and then as segregation enforcers. Civil rights legislation in the 1960s formally outlawed discrimination, but did little to address the legacy of centuries of abuse, poverty, and bigotry. To this day, fully 400 years after the first slave came to America, blacks face well-documented discrimination in housing, education, business, banking, media, and of course, the justice system. Continue reading

Establishment Dems go all-in on Biden gamble

Biden

With help from MSNBC and establishment Dems, former Vice President Joe Biden overtook Bernie Sanders last week to become the Democratic frontrunner.

Turn on the TV or open any newspaper in the last week and you’ll hear a story: former Vice President Joe Biden has revived his flailing campaign, regained his frontrunner status, and pulled off one of the greatest comebacks in electoral history.

After poor showings in the first three primary contests – all of which were won by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders – Biden’s political obituary had been all but written. Then, following the endorsement of influential Congressman Jim Clyburn, Biden ran away with the South Carolina primary. That was Saturday. By Monday evening, both Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar had dropped out. Along with Beto O’Rourke, they joined Biden at a rally in Dallas. Their endorsements propelled Biden to victory in ten Super Tuesday contests.

But Biden himself seemingly had little to do with this remarkable turnaround. He did almost no campaigning in Super Tuesday states, didn’t spend much money or employ much staff, and hadn’t done many public appearances. His comeback was completely manufactured. A cheering media and high-profile endorsements carried to the finish line a candidate who does little campaigning, who’s plagued with personal and political scandal, and whose worsening physical and mental frailties are on display every time he appears in public. Continue reading

Don’t look now, America, but socialism is all around you

Bernie

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, currently the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination, is a self-described “democratic socialist.”

With Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders on a trajectory to win the Democratic nomination for president, socialism is the talk of the nation. Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, has proposed big reforms, including universal healthcare, tuition-free college, and more than doubling the federal minimum wage. His ascent has the Democratic establishment and corporate pundits concerned. What the media doesn’t acknowledge is that socialism is everywhere in America already. And whether they realize it or not, Americans like it. Continue reading

Michael Bloomberg is an odious billionaire who wants to buy the presidency

Bloomberg

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg made his presidential debate debut on Wednesday. His performance was widely panned.

After pouring some $500 million of his own fortune into his presidential campaign, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg finally joined his Democratic rivals on the debate stage Wednesday night. He turned in a remarkably despicable performance in which he unapologetically refused to address allegations of harassment and offered only tepid explanations for the stop-and-frisk policy that repeatedly violated the civil rights and basic humanity of hundreds of thousands of innocent black and brown New Yorkers.

For all the problems the Democratic field has, Bloomberg’s emergence on the debate stage was the first time it seemed possible the party could actually nominate someone even more odious than Donald Trump. Bloomberg’s remarks on race, women, LGBTQ issues, and more are often as loathsome as Trump’s and, in some cases, are even worse. Continue reading

Why Bernie Sanders is the best candidate to take down Donald Trump

Bernie

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is now the frontrunner in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary.

Hot off the heels of winning the popular vote in the contentious Iowa caucus, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is in the best position of his campaign. He is polling well against, if not ahead of, longtime frontrunner Joe Biden in important early primary states like New Hampshire, Nevada, and California. Rising on a tide of donations averaging around $20 a piece, Sanders has forced the Democratic establishment and the news media to reckon with the real prospect of his nomination.

This is great news for anyone who wants to see Donald Trump evicted from the White House. Sanders’s strengths as an independent populist play perfectly well against Trump’s weaknesses as a corrupt, incompetent billionaire. Trump’s strongest argument, which has been to paint his opponents as Washington insiders, fall flat against Sanders, a sincere outsider whose convictions have held over his long career.

Perhaps Trump’s greatest gift as a politician is his ability to dispatch an opponent using only a single phrase or nickname: “Lyin’ Ted,” “Low-energy Jeb,” or “Crooked Hillary.” It’s childish bullying, but it’s effective. Elizabeth Warren has demonstrated that Trump can bait her into public embarrassment. Biden has no comeback to “Sleepy Joe” or “Where’s Hunter?”; his deteriorating mental state and family corruption are matters of fact. Sanders, on the other hand, owns the “socialist” label and makes it palatable to an America beset by longer hours, harder work, and runaway inequality.

Trump knows that Sanders is his toughest opponent. In leaked audio from April 2018, Trump admits Hillary Clinton would’ve been stronger with Sanders as her vice president, saying, “He was the only one I didn’t want her to pick.” Trump reportedly grapples with the appeal of socialist policies, telling advisers that the cancellation of student debt is “a tough one to run against.” He even offered faint praise for Sanders in his Super Bowl interview, saying, “At least he’s true to what he believes.”

Sanders is fighting for healthcare, a living wage, debt reduction, and tuition-free college for everyone in America. Within the current Washington dynamic, those policies are written off as unrealistic or too extreme despite their popularity across a broad swath of the American people. Even those who support Sanders and his policies often fear that his progressive agenda will never pass through a far-right, obstructionist Congress. In order to overcome gridlock and establishment opposition, Sanders has pledged to govern as an organizer-in-chief, encouraging Americans to keep the pressure up on elected politicians.

Democratic Presidential Candidates Participate In Presidential Primary Debate In Des Moines, Iowa

Much of the media have declared Sanders and South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg co-winners of the messy Iowa Caucus. Sanders beat Buttigieg by some 6,000 popular votes, but they will likely receive the same number of delegates.

Even if he doesn’t pass his entire legislative agenda, Sanders has gotten the nation talking about it. Moderate Democrats like Pete Buttigieg now have to make their arguments against Medicare for All. In addition to his New Deal-like domestic policies, Sanders is the most antiwar candidate running and the most aggressive on climate change. Dozens of nations outperform America in healthcare, education, housing, labor rights, and/or environmental protection, and Sanders has shifted the national conversation toward doing better.

Sanders’s biggest obstacles may well come from his own party. Hillary Clinton questioned Sanders’s electability and recently said, “Nobody likes him… nobody wants to work with him.” Insider reporting suggests that Barack Obama, John Kerry, and other top Democratic figures desperately want to avoid a Sanders nomination. Billionaire Howard Schultz has threatened a third-party run if Sanders is the nominee and Michael Bloomberg has already spent some $200 million on his own campaign.

The problem isn’t that Sanders is unelectable; he consistently polls well against Trump, and better in many polls than any other Democrat. The problem is that the Clinton wing of the party doesn’t like him. A Sanders presidency may threaten the interests of corporate Democrats even more than a Trump presidency, fraying their close relationships with wealthy donors. So much the better for ordinary Americans, as those relationships have turned the party away from working-class interests.

Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign is most instructive of all. Her campaign focused more on the evils of Trump than the good she planned to do. Though she won the popular vote, she lost the election. To rally the support and enthusiasm necessary to retake the White House and move America forward requires an inspirational message of your own.

Sanders has no misunderstandings about the danger posed by Trump’s corruption, authoritarianism, and bigotry. But Sanders also knows that Trump cannot be the only focus. The Sanders campaign is centered around class solidarity, environmental innovation, and social supports to guarantee every American a fundamental standard of dignity. That message has made him the Democratic frontrunner. Not only is Bernie Sanders the best choice to stop Donald Trump, he is the best president for this moment.

The fatal flaw of George Clooney’s Catch-22

Episode 102

Christopher Abbott as Yossarian prepares to fly yet another mission.

Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 is a classic American novel about World War II, bureaucracy, the illogic underpinning our social charades, and the courageous use of cowardice to do the one thing that really matters: survive. It is long, dense, and nonlinear, with a large cast of characters who represent Heller’s satires of capitalism, incompetence, American exceptionalism, and more.

Previous attempts to translate Catch-22 in motion pictures proved difficult. Mike Nichols’s 1971 film fell flat before critics and audiences, though Heller himself praised it. A 1973 TV series fizzled before it got off the ground. Now, Hulu and George Clooney have produced a six-part miniseries and most reviews contend that Heller’s epic novel has finally been given the treatment it deserves. Continue reading

The embarrassing futility of ‘principled Republicans’ who attack Trump

trump mccain

President Trump has repeatedly criticized former Arizona Senator John McCain, seven months after McCain’s passing.

Every now and then, the craven indecency of Donald Trump pushes some members of the Republican Party to stand up and say that this time, the president has gone too far. These are supposedly the GOP’s respectable men of stature. They may agree with virtually all of Trump’s policies, but they can’t abide his dirty language or disrespect of sacred cows. Whenever one of these so-called “principled Republicans” chides Trump in public, though, Trump just mops the floor with them. Continue reading

Howard Schultz and the billionaire establishment’s preference for Trump over leftist Democrats

Schultz

Howard Schultz, 65, oversaw the expansion of Starbucks into a global brand and now feels qualified to run the United States.

Whether or not Howard Schultz, the billionaire former CEO of Starbucks, runs for president in 2020 hinges largely on what direction the Democratic Party goes. Schultz, who has no political experience, is concerned that the party has become too left-wing, pushed by prominent congresspeople like Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. In order to save the country from a choice between socialism and Donald Trump, Schultz may be compelled to run as a “centrist independent.”

In a media blitz late last month, Schultz slammed Trump, calling the president “despicable” and accusing him of doing “almost everything possible to discredit the dignity, the civility, the values, the respectfulness of the Oval Office with no degree of any sense of responsibility to the American people.” Schultz’s remarks were notably lacking in specifics. While his most sanctimonious denunciations were of Trump’s demeanor and vulgarity, his strongest policy critiques were directed at Democrats, particularly Ocasio-Cortez. Continue reading

A view of the restraint of President Trump

trump

President Trump has held firm to his position of unilaterally holding the federal government hostage for his border wall, much to the delight of his base.

The presidency of tabloid star, game show host, and brand entrepreneur Donald J. Trump has been a rowdy one. Currently, the federal government of the United States is, like so many of Trump’s former ventures, shut down. As Trump threatens to declare a national emergency and circumvent Congress in order to build his promised southern border wall, commentators are speculating just how far Trump will go to undermine American institutions and empower himself.

Throughout his many decades of public life, Trump has been openly petty, vulgar, racist, conspiratorial, and narcissistic. The presidency hasn’t matured him an iota. As president, he’s continued to lie, flirt with dictators, enrich himself and his family, and show no compunction about stripping away benefits and even disaster relief from vulnerable people. Given how brazenly he’s gotten away with it all, though, it’s almost a marvel that he hasn’t gone even further. Continue reading