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Johnny Unbeatable is tanned, rested, and ready


Pamela Paul has an op ed that starts out making a crucially important point, then goes off the rails. The point:

Alfred Hitchcock explained the nature of cinematic terror with a story about the bomb under the table. People are sitting around a table having a mundane conversation about baseball when — boom! — a bomb goes off, instantly killing everyone. You’ve momentarily surprised the audience.

But what if, Hitchcock asked, we are shown beforehand that the bomb is there?

“In these conditions this same innocuous conversation becomes fascinating because the public is participating in the secret,” Hitchcock explained to his fellow director François Truffaut. While everyone is just sitting around chatting, the viewer wants to shout: “Don’t sit there talking about baseball! There’s a bomb!”

“The conclusion,” Hitchcock said, “is that whenever possible the public must be informed.”

I bring this up because we know there’s a bomb under the table — the threat of a second Donald Trump presidency. And we have a fairly good idea of the crippling destruction that will ensue. Yet here we are, still talking about baseball.

“A shadow looms over the world,” The Economist noted in a recent editorial about the year ahead. “That a Trump victory next November is a coin-toss probably is beginning to sink in.”

Trump’s increasingly authoritarian braying makes his intentions clear: nullifying parts of the Constitution, imprisoning political foes. The Trump who used to obsess about what the mainstream media — even Twitter/X — thought of him no longer does. He doesn’t need to. The Trump who tried to burnish his credibility by stocking his cabinet with establishment Republican stalwarts will no longer risk anything less than proven fealty. There will be no one on the inside leaking or secretly restraining Trump in a second term; Trump has kept track of the names.

Trump’s first term will look benign compared with what we can expect from a second. “The gloves are off,” Trump has declared.

The only problem with this metaphor is that the bomb is on top of the table, although most of the elite media remains far too reluctant to say so in words of one syllable (I admit there’s been some slow improvement in this regard recently, including at Ms. Paul’s own paper. Too slow and too little given the circumstances).

Her solution to this crisis is a ridiculous fantasy: that a “better” Democratic candidate will replace Joe Biden on next November’s presidential ticket.

This is ridiculous for the following reasons:

(1) Nobody knows if Fantasy Dream Candidate aka Not Kamala Harris But This Other Person would actually have a better shot at defeating Trump than Biden does. This is pure speculation. By the way this point goes in both directions: the fact that Biden (barely) defeated Trump three years ago has very little relevance to the question of his chances of doing so again. Circumstances have changed drastically since 2020, and there’s very little if any evidence of an incumbency advantage in modern American presidential elections (Exactly half of the presidents who could have been elected to another term post-FDR have been re-elected).

(2) Biden is running for the Democratic nomination, and nobody is going to stop him from getting it. Speculations about who might defeat him are, if possible, even more pointless than speculations about who might defeat Trump for the GOP nomination.

Under these circumstances, talking about how Biden is a weak candidate who ought to be replaced is objectively pro-fascist. The coming presidential election, for which people will start casting their votes in ten months, is nominally going to be between Joe Biden and Donald Trump, but it’s really going to be between liberal democracy and fascism. I don’t care whether you think Joe Biden is the greatest president in history or Jimmy Carter Part II or something in between. That is completely irrelevant. He’s not Donald Trump, and that’s all that matters.

Now it follows from this that if I believed that, say, Gretchen Whitmer would have a one percent better shot at defeating Trump than Biden I would want her to replace Biden on the Democratic ticket. But that desire would still be irrelevant to political action, including such fourth responder actions as writing dumbass op-eds in the NYT and dumbass blog posts on LGM, because Gretchen Whitmer isn’t going to be Donald Trump’s opponent: Joe Biden is.

Making a big deal about the purported weaknesses of Biden’s candidacy is bad for Joe Biden and good for Donald Trump. Hence doing so is objectively pro-fascist. This isn’t complicated.

There’s a bomb on top of the table, and maybe we should be trying to throw it out the window, instead of critiquing the stitch pattern on the tablecloth.

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