New Column at Salon: Donald Trump and The Hobbling of Shame – David Foster Wallace Warned Us about Reality TV

In my new column for Salon, I examine how entertainment values have corrupted the American political process, comparing Donald Trump to a pro wrestling character, and his admirers to frenzied WWE fans. The corrosion of civic virtues in the name of entertainment vices began long before Trump’s entrance into politics, but the new president-elect represents the culmination of it.

The late David Foster Wallace, one of America’s great writers, was obsessed with America’s addiction to entertainment, and how it would make the country weaker and dumber. His prophetic wisdom makes for the perfect predicate to my analysis of the presidential election circus.

Read the entire essay at Salon.

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New Column at Salon: America’s Empty Culture of Hustling in the Age of Trump

In my newest column for Salon, I use the recent footage of Mitt Romney devouring his own soul for the amusement of Donald Trump as a predicate to examine America’s destructive culture of hustling. Historian Morris Berman has argued that hustling is all that occupies the center of the United States, and because hustling is philosophically and ethically empty, it has led to irreversible decline throughout the country.

The election of Donald Trump is the political manifestation of the hustling culture.

Read the column at Salon.

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Weekend Column with Salon: Art is not an escape – It is our most powerful weapon against apathy

I’ve always believed that art is more important than politics. In my new column for Salon, I celebrate art as communicable of the mysteries of the human spirit, generator of hope, and engineer of connection between seemingly disparate points of human experience.

It is for this reason that art becomes critical in times of political trouble. During the current era of American crisis, I reflect on the popular art that sustains and strengthens me – Zadie Smith, David Foster Wallace, Metallica, Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp, Gov’t Mule, and Kurt Vonnegut. Then, I pay tribute to the controversial collaboration between Beyonce and The Dixie Chicks.

Readers can substitute the names of their own favorite writers and performers.

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Weekend Column with Salon: “Real Americans” vs. “Coastal Elites” – The Truth Behind the Mindless Cliche

In my weekend cultural column with Salon, I unpack the idiocy of the popular juxtaposition of “coastal elites” and “real Americans.” Clearly, the term “elite” has no meaning if Donald Trump qualifies as an “anti-elite populist.”

All of the indignant talk about the evils of the elite is actually a disguise for anti-intellectualism. America worships wealth, but distrusts intellectual excellence. “Elitism” is code for expertise, not financial status, and “populism” is the celebration of intellectual mediocrity.

Read my explanation at Salon.

New Essay at The Guardian on Metallica

I made my debut at the Guardian, writing for the arts section about Metallica. My essay explains why the popular, juvenile, and boring wrap against the heavy metal legends – that they “sold out,” they haven’t made a good record in decades, etc. – is in need of quick and painful death.

Like any band with a thirty year career, Metallica has had their highs and lows, but their entire career culminates into a triumph of hard rock and heavy metal excellence – one of the greatest runs on record in rock ‘n’ roll.

I lead readers through their dynamic music of the 1990s and the 21st Century, ending with their new record, Hardwired to Self-Destruct – their best in years.

Throughout the essay, I rely heavily on the interviews I conducted for my 33 1/3 book on the band’s self-titled record, better known as “The Black Album.”

The book, which Consequence of Sound called “a godsend for Metallica fans,” is available at Amazon and fine bookstores everywhere.

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New Essay at Salon: Revisiting Walt Whitman’s, “Democratic Vistas”

In my new essay for Salon, I revisit the master’s work, paying particular attention to the 1871 essay, “Democratic Vistas.” Whitman’s exploration of the struggle of democracy, the beauty and necessity of diversity, equality for women, the gullibility of the populace, and the essentiality of creating a culture of democracy, with the fine arts at the center, applies to America in 2016 with stunning prescience.

My essay includes references to Whitman’s true masterpiece, the epic poem, Leaves of Grass, but most of the focus is on the underrated “Democratic Vistas,” because it is there that Whitman directly confronts all of the triumphs and traumas of the American experiment in self-governance. His wisdom shows no signs of age. My essay begins:

The most wise and visionary analysis of American culture, and the presidential race, in 2016 comes from 1871. In the profound and prescient essay, “Democratic Vistas,” Walt Whitman addressed a nation struggling to unify after civil war, and in the turbulence of its democratic struggle, continuing to fail to extend its promise of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” to all of its people. Leaves of Grass, Whitman’s masterpiece, exercised as inspiration the beauty and brutality of any attempt to turn E Pluribus Unum into reality. The ongoing altercation to amplify what Whitman, in his poetry, called “the password primeval” and “the sign of democracy” has defined the presidential campaign in ways that would surprise even the sharpest of observers. Whitman believed that the sign of democracy included the voices of slaves, prostitutes, deformed persons, the diseased and despairing, and anyone else whose body gives off the human scent – “an aroma finer than prayer.”

Read the rest at Salon.

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New at Salon: Interview with Nathan Rabin on Donald Trump and The Insane Clown Posse

George Carlin once explained that when “you’re born you get a ticket to the freak show, and when you are born in America, you get a front row seat.”

Nathan Rabin, former head writer at the Onion A/V Club, cultural critic and author of “The Big Rewind,” has decided to test the veracity of Carlin’s theory with his new ebook, “7 Days in Ohio: Trump, The Gathering of the Juggalos, and The Summer Everything Went Insane.” Rabin is also able to offer insight into who the real freaks are: Are they fans of the socially stigmatized rap group, Insane Clown Posse, whom the FBI has labeled a dangerous organization and public threat, or Republican Trump supporters? At the risk of spoiling the fun, I’ll mention that the maniacs are not the ones wearing circus makeup.

In his equally amusing, fascinating and moving new book, Rabin chronicles his week in Ohio, attending both the annual Gathering of the Juggalos and the Republican National Convention. As if that were not enough to provide fodder for entertainment and journalism, Rabin spent the seven days with his long-lost brother, allowing him to further reflect on broken families, fractured relationships and the painful consequences of disconnection.

Rabin writes with his characteristic wit, but he also maintains an empathy that is staggering in its profundity and potency. As clichéd as it might seem, when I read Rabin’s account and analysis of Republicans, who frightened him, and Juggalos, who inspired him, mixed together with his own traumatic family history, I experienced the full range of emotional response — rage, laughter, tears.

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Rabin over email.

Read the exchange at Salon.

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New Essay at Salon: Barack Obama Reclaimed Patriotism for The Left

In my newest essay for Salon, I examine how Barack Obama, making brilliant use of his own life as metaphor, confiscated patriotism from the reactionary right wing, and claimed it as property of liberalism. As central to the American spirit and story, Obama emphasized diversity, and the enlargement of opportunity and liberty. He injected Whitman’s poetry into politics, making it clear that America is full of contradiction, and that it contains multitudes.

Read the essay at Salon.

I will explore Obama’s transformation of patriotism from conservative vice to liberal virtue, among many other topics, in my upcoming book, Barack Obama: Invisible Man (Eyewear Publishing).

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New Book – Barack Obama: Invisible Man

I’m excited to announce that Eyewear Publishing, based in London, will publish my newest book in December, Barack Obama: Invisible Man.

In my forthcoming book, I will analyze and interpret the presidency of Barack Obama by comparing him to the unnamed narrator of the Ralph Ellison novel, Invisible Man. It is my contention that, although the American people elected him twice, the country was unprepared for the reality of a black president. His victory was traumatic for much of the American public, and the country is yet to deal with the full implications of a black man in a White House.

The right wing distorted Obama into a monster, judging him according to a paranoia standard, while much of the left, operating under the belief that his policies would have the same revolutionary impact as his symbolic victory, distorted him into a messiah, judging him according to a purity standard. Few Americans were able to clearly see Obama as Obama – a man of flesh, substance, and bone, rather than a symbol, and a president capable of greatness, but also, like any president, full of flaws. Through their respective manipulations of Obama’s image and leadership, both the hard left and hard right rendered him invisible.

Both political polarities also set him up for failure, but in spite of unprecedented political and cultural opposition, Obama can claim an impressive record of accomplishment on his presidential resume. He must also face accountability for his failures. My book will explore the highs and lows of his administration.

I will also examine the cultural legacy of Obama. More elegant, calm, and rational than much of American discourse, he attempted to elevate public conversation, but for a variety of reasons, could not succeed.

Eyewear will publish the book in the Spring, shortly after Obama’s departure from the Oval Office. Check back here for updates on the book, and in the meantime, continue to look for my essays on politics and culture at Salon.

I will also have more dates for my Words and Music: American Troubadours series soon. American Troubadours gives a live and interactive tour, featuring the brilliant musical accompaniment of singer/songwriter Kev Wright, of the American songwriting tradition,  with a particular focus on the songs of Woody Guthrie, Robert Johnson, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, and John Mellencamp.

Stay tuned for more updates. 2016 will end, and 2017 will begin, with excitement.

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Review of Everybody’s Fool – The New Novel from Richard Russo

Anyone who doubts that literature still presents the finest exploration of humanity and the “greatest opportunity for moral inquiry,” to use a phrase from Christopher Hitchens, need only begin with Richard Russo’s new novel, Everybody’s Fool.

In my newest essay for Salon, I review and evaluate the magnificent new novel from Richard Russo, Everybody’s Fool.

Russo is one of America’s greatest living writers. With humor and pathos, he is able to oscillate between comedy and tragedy, to reveal the recesses of race and class, and offer profound insight into the complexity of human psychology.

While his newest novel is not among his best work – The Risk Pool, Nobody’s Fool, and Straight Man – it is a remarkable achievement guaranteed to entertain and enlighten anyone who takes the journey inside of its pages.

Read my analysis here.

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