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TGIF: Ennui the People Nellie Bowles

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Lauren Boebert gives the middle finger to a security guard as she’s escorted out of Beetlejuice. (Photo via Twitter)

Hello and welcome back to the week that was, with me, your dictator. 

→ America the Exhausted: It turns out the majority of Americans are just like us. They look at the politics of the day, the battles, and the options we have, and they say: oh god, this again? And: really? And: it must be time for bed soon, right? From a new Pew report: “Nearly two-thirds of Americans (65%) say they always or often feel exhausted when thinking about politics, while 55% feel angry. By contrast, just 10% say they always or often feel hopeful about politics, and even fewer (4%) are excited.” I want to know the 4 percent who think of a Biden vs. Trump election, or who look at our endless border crisis finger-pointing, and think “I’m pumped.” Me, I think to describe the particular exhaustion of the moment we must turn to the most exhausted people in the world (the French) and their perfect word: ennui, which translates to a sort of deep boredom or tedious pain. TFP readers need to start smoking and wearing berets and then we’re all set. There’s no more Moral Majority. We are the Exhausted Majority. Our slogan is Please, Just Stop. 

→ Obviously I don’t support giving hand jobs at Beetlejuice: I want to start with that. But let’s back up: Lauren Boebert, a right-wing congresswoman from Colorado and a real loon, was on a date at the Beetlejuice musical when she and her male companion started getting frisky in the theater. AS ONE DOES. But it turns out, as you sit in a dark theater, exceptional night vision cameras are pointing at you all the time. And of course the footage leaked, showing her date giving her a breast exam and showing Boebert doing something I need a straight woman to explain to me. Over the pants, mind you, but it didn’t seem right. On the one hand, the trashiness on display here is profound. Beetlejuice? It’s a family show! But on the other hand, TGIF is pro-sex. And for a Congress on the brink of death, with our leaders nodding off and periodically freezing on camera, it’s remarkable to see someone with a. . . I guess we could say. . . a pulse. 

→ Fetterman, meanwhile, refuses to wear a suit: Senator Chuck Schumer has softened the Senate floor dress code to accommodate America’s older cousin, John Fetterman, who prefers cargo shorts and oversized sweatshirts. Now, I know the proper argument here: decorum and standards. First it’s Beetlejuice hand jobs and now sweatshirts (not chic, trendy ones like you might find in Silicon Valley—I mean horrible, baggy ones). Yes, I agree we have fallen. But I have to admit: I’ve never been to a formal event that a pair of Tevas couldn’t complement. Summer party? I’ve got lovely pastel Tevas. Formal occasion performing my role as wife of a media CEO? That’s okay—I have them in platform black. I guess the depressing part is just that our senators don’t take themselves any more seriously than your average L.A. mom. A feeling is coming over me. Say it with me: ennui

→ We must save democracy by establishing one-party rule: There’s a line going around media circles: this election is about “saving democracy” (aren’t they all anymore) and as such, no one should report critically on Biden, our president. Here’s NBC’s Ben Collins, concurring with Guardian columnist Margaret Sullivan: “With democracy on the ballot, the mainstream press must change its ways.” Ben and Sullivan are arguing that “both-sides” reporting misinforms the public, since it’s not two parties but Democracy versus. . . something maybe illegal. And so stories like Biden’s age or finances are not important to cover given the broader situation. “Everyone outside of the news business should demand cable TV networks, newspapers and news outlets abide by it,” Ben writes. And what I say to that is: yes, Ben Collins! We agree! No one in your smart, educated milieu full of good reporters should report on anything interesting regarding our president, and those that do should be shamed into submission to you, Ben Collins. The only place Americans should be able to get both-sides misinformation is at bad places like www.thefp.com, for only eight bucks a month. 


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WATCH: ‘This Is My First Rodeo’ | Ben Meets America Ben Kawaller

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In the latest stop on his cross-country quest to understand America, Ben Kawaller watches men hurl cows to the ground.

Last month I attended The American Rodeo in Arlington, Texas, a city of around 400,000 souls situated between Dallas and Fort Worth. This was my first rodeo, and it did not take me long after entering its host venue, the gargantuan Globe Life Field, to realize that I did not know what a rodeo was. If you’d asked me six weeks ago to define the term, I would have said something like, “It’s when you watch someone career around an enclosed pen on an animal.” 

Which is actually not too far off. But what I hadn’t realized is that a rodeo is actually a sporting event. 

You see, some people are especially good at bending these animals to their will, and if you are one of those people, you can win competitions for things like making the animals run very fast, or tying the animals up very quickly, or not dying while trying to sit on one of the animals.

Of course, I wasn’t really there for the games; I was there to talk to the crowd about what makes our society so divided. If you’re tuning in for the first time to my new series—“Ben Meets America”—I was born and raised in progressive Brooklyn, I now live in West Hollywood, and I will admit to being soft in some fundamental way. Suffice it to say I get a more transcendent high from watching a torch song than I do from watching a man hurl a small cow to the ground.

But, in fact, theater and rodeo have their similarities. If you’ve been to a play in recent years, you will have suffered the degradation of a “land acknowledgement.” This is when the audience is told before the show—either in an announcement or in the program notes—that they’ve gathered on land stolen from whatever Native American tribe existed there years ago. My sense is that some of this is rooted in the idea that America itself is fundamentally illegitimate. Whatever’s behind it, the inclusion of a land acknowledgement has become de rigueur.

I did not think conservatives did land acknowledgements, so I was surprised when the Native American actor Mo Brings Plenty appeared before the start of one of the competitions and performed a minute or two of indigenous wailing. I believe the intent of this was to, well, acknowledge the fact that Native American bloodshed was central to the expansion of the American West. What I did not expect was the incongruence of what came after. Watch the video and you’ll see what I mean. I’m still puzzling over its significance.

In the end, however, I decided I prefer the conservative version of a land acknowledgement. Unlike the inane liberal sacrament, it appears to be capable of expressing two truths at once: that oceans of indigenous blood were spilled in the creation of this country, and that we live in one of the greatest nations on earth.

Even if one of our favorite spectator sports is man versus cow.

Only paid subscribers can see Ben’s video on The American Rodeo. Become one today and scroll down to watch.

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April 14, 2024 Garamond

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Senate spotlight: A Trump Republican’s China problem Judd Legum

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November’s election will not only determine which party controls the White House but also the United States Senate. Currently, the Democratic caucus holds a narrow 51-49 advantage. Control of the chamber will come down to a handful of competitive races. This is the first installment in a series that takes a deep dive into the issues shaping these campaigns. 

In Ohio, businessman Bernie Moreno (R) is attempting to unseat Senator Sherrod Brown (D). Ohio, once a swing state, has been trending Republican. Moreno’s campaign strategy is to attach himself at the hip to Donald Trump. He refers to himself as the “Trump endorsed Republican nominee for US Senate from Ohio.” This helped him easily win the Republican primary against a field of more politically experienced opponents.  

In a potential second term, Trump is vowing to declare economic war on China, promising to “tax China to build America up.” Trump’s plan is to revoke China’s most favored nation trading status and impose a tariff on Chinese goods of up to 60%. (The policy would cost the typical American household thousands of dollars annually and increase inflation.) Imports of “essential goods” from China, including electronics, steel, and pharmaceuticals, would be completely banned

Moreno has taken a similar approach, saying he is running for Senate to “Beat Communist China.” To bolster his anti-China credentials, Moreno claims to have a history of combating Chinese power. These stories, however, don’t stand up to scrutiny.

Moreno made his fortune through buying and selling car dealerships. As his wealth increased, so did his interest in Republican politics. In 2011, former Ohio Governor John Kasich (R) appointed him to the board of trustees at Cleveland State, one of Ohio’s public universities. Moreno served as chairman of the Cleveland State board from 2016 to 2018.

Confucius Institutes, which offer “Chinese language and culture programs,” were established at numerous U.S. universities beginning in 2005. They were partially funded by the Chinese government. Over time, there were bipartisan concerns that Confucius Institutes were being used to promote Chinese government propaganda or even to facilitate espionage. On the campaign trail, Moreno has repeatedly claimed that, in his role as chair of Cleveland State’s Board of Trustees, he eliminated the university’s Confucius Institute.

Here is how Moreno described his role in a March 2023 campaign event:

I chaired the board of trustees at Cleveland State University, and I’m very proud of the fact that when I was there, we got rid of our Confucius Institute. We made certain that we focused everybody on student achievement, and we respected free speech on campus.

He made a nearly identical claim in October 2023. But it is a lie.

Moreno’s service on the board ended in May 2018. Cleveland State did not shut down its Confucius Institute until 2021. The truth is, while Moreno was on the board, he repeatedly approved funding for Cleveland State’s Confucius Institute. In 2016, when Moreno was still vice chairman, he voted to approve $38,000 in funding for the school’s Confucius Institute. The following year, as chairman, Moreno voted to re-up the funding. Minutes from these meetings show that Moreno did not express any concerns about the Confucius Institute

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Moreno told the Columbus Dispatch that he deserves credit for the elimination of the Confucius Institute at Cleveland State because of “his role in the hiring of Harlan Sands, who was Cleveland State’s president when the institute closed.” There are a couple of issues with this response. First, this is not what Moreno said previously. He clearly said that the board “got rid” of the Confucius Institute while he was chair. Second, Cleveland State did not eliminate the Confucius Institute because of the initiative of President Sands. Cleveland State, along with nearly all other universities, closed its Confucius Institute after Congress passed legislation in 2018 and 2020 limiting federal funding for universities that maintained the Confucius Institutes. From 2019 to 2023, the number of Confucius Institutes operating in the United States went from about 100 to fewer than 5.

The truth about Moreno and Chinese-made SUVs

“When I was a General Motors dealer, I sold Buicks. The Buick Envision was made in China. I told General Motors I wouldn’t sell one of them, don’t even ship it to me,” Moreno said during a February 10, 2024 radio interview. “They threatened me and sent me all kinds of nasty notes… we have to actually take this stand…”

That story, which Moreno also told during his brief run for Senate in 2021, is a lie. 

In reality, Moreno sold the Buick Envision at his dealership for at least five years — from 2014 to 2019 — and promoted the vehicle repeatedly on its social media channels, an investigation by NY1 revealed

A December 13, 2016 video published on the “Bernie Moreno Companies” YouTube page begins with this testimonial: “My name is Kayla McCullough. I purchased a 2017 Buick Envision from Buick GMC of Beachwood… I highly recommend you visit the team at Buick GMC of Beachwood, a Bernie Moreno company.”

Moreno’s campaign “acknowledged to Spectrum News that his dealership did sell the Chinese-made SUVs.” It claimed that “in response to the closure of the Lordstown Plant here in Ohio [in March 2019],  Bernie made a decision to stop any new inventory of Envision’s from being sold at his dealership. After he sold off the inventory he already had on the lot, he refused to take orders for more Envisions.” This explanation, however, makes little sense as the Envision was also produced in China and never at Ohio’s Lordstown Plant. Moreno’s dealerships also continued to advertise for the Envision months after the closure of the plant. 

 

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