Book Review, Our World, Podcast

EVERYTHING I NEED TO KNOW I (COULD HAVE) LEARNED FROM CHAPO

In which [Dig Boston] strokes the gang’s new book like Dems do war and the establishment

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Photo of Chapo crew by Oscar Ouk

 

As somebody who thinks morticians should have fed the corpse of John McCain to livestreaming meth-addled cannibals, social media was nauseating through and through two weeks ago. The senator from Arizona was the sort of phony gode who coaxes so-called mods into fellating goons like Henry Kissinger, leaving no-one-understands-me prick contrarians like me without a place to turn and whine unless we feel like rubbing half our friends (and readers, in my case) the wrong way.

While I’m always happy to back unpopular ideas, it still gets lonely being the guy whose tweets get lots of clicks and impressions, but relatively few likes and RTs. All shunning and shadow infamy considered, I was relieved and entertained to learn last year that my sympathies lie with a much larger assembly, namely the alleged “Dirtbag Left,” a loosely applied label for fans of the Chapo Trap House podcast and anyone else who genuinely loathes the work of Aaron Sorkin but lets people live at parties when they say they dig his shows because we’re more human than not. Not completely unlike Unitarianism, but for people who say things that make Unitarians uncomfortable.

Without trying much harder to explain the Chapo gusto since you ought to sniff it on your own, I think their drama is well defined by the teardrops of one Bill Scher, whose recent Politico review of Virgil Texas, Felix Biederman, Matt Christman, Brendan James, and Will Menaker’s The Chapo Guide to Revolution is headed “Is This the Stupidest Book Ever Written About Socialism?” It may seem unfair to slam Scher for a line cooked by his editor that slugged its way to the front page, but he’s the same shameless apologist who blew a fart titled “Master of Grief: How Joe Biden’s exemplary eulogizing and willingness to share personal suffering helps him transcend our political polarization,” making his Dem-serving assessment of the Chapo book an ideal reactive explainer:

Chapo Trap House is one of the fastest growing political humor podcast in the country, boasting the all time largest Patreon with over 20,000 paid subscribers. A mix of absurdist comedy and freewheeling commentary, the five-member comedy collective has gained an extremely loyal following due to their irreverence and frankness in dissecting the current political and cultural climate. … In their evisceration of liberals and establishment Democrats, we get the usual left-wing criticisms of the Barack Obama and Bill Clinton presidencies: The $800 billion stimulus had too many tax cuts, the Affordable Care Act is little more than a Heritage Foundation scheme, the crime bill sparked a wave of mass incarceration. Even if all of that were true, we don’t hear about how the Recovery Act stopped a Great Depression or how the …

As I’m sure Scher understands as one of the most celebrated chroniclers of the American experience himself, the Chapo crew is simply offering a side of meat that’s typically left off the table—a perspective that eschews capitalism and is funny for a change. These guys never (really) claimed to be historians or weathercocks but rather simply uploaded some podcasts that a few lost souls like me largely agree with. All to the increasing dismay of people who think Joe Biden’s a hunky sympathetic tough guy, and that Clinton and Obama are above all criticism in the age of Trump.

In honor of the Chapo gang’s new book, as well as their visit to the Wilbur in Boston on Friday and this week’s exceptionally advice-laden student guide, I have compiled a compendium of basic helpful concepts that I didn’t really understand throughout my formative years, along with some brief excerpts (in bold italics) from their Manifesto Against Logic, Facts, and Reason that I feel would serve anyone looking for answers between lines on the left quite well.

 

Capitalism, and the politics it spawns, is not working for anyone under thirty who is not a sociopath. It’s not supposed to. The actual lived experience of the free market feels distinctly un-free.

Sure, I could have and did learn about the shit evils of capitalism elsewhere, like when I was clobbered by NYPD while covering Occupy Wall Street. Or even before that, like when Michael Bloomberg, the piece of trash whose namesake biz sells subscriptions to the software that biz dicks who cops that fucked me up were flanking despite all they’d done to soil the economy, was elected thrice to run that city. But it would have been nice in my younger days to find such a credible condemnation outside of a nihilistic stand-up routine that strikes truth by accident, a track by Immortal Technique, or an insufferably tedious socialist tract.

 

[Ayn] Rand’s legacy in right-wing thought is clear. Not only did she write several thousand pages’ worth of pseudo-philosophical drivel that declared the highest moral good was achieved in being the biggest asshole possible, but, in elevating reason as supreme among all human faculties, she was the first philosopher to elevate facts over feelings.

I actually read about 10 pages of Atlas Shrugged to figure this out on my own. Biggest waste of time in my entire life besides the decades I’ve spent living in a bubble inflated by her most vicious sycophants.

 

The meanest thing you can say about liberalism (to a liberal, anyway) is that it’s not really a set of beliefs. … Bush’s first term, quite frankly, broke liberals’ brains.

Mine included. Fortunately, I’ve been able to pick up the pieces.

 

A generation after the neoliberal turn, the Democratic Party, headed and staffed by self-professed liberals, is arguably to the right of Nixon on most economic issues and committed to a largely symbolic (and almost always negotiable) progressive cultural agenda to mask it.

If I would have learned this earlier, I wouldn’t have spent two years volunteering for blue campaigns before resorting to journalism.

 

Journalists spent the coke-fueled 1980s living the dream. The nascent twenty-four-seven cable news channel CNN put frowzy pundits in front of cameras, increasing their celebrity and vanity. Meanwhile, America elected a Hollywood actor president, and unflinching, heroic newsmen got to the bottom of Iran-Contra, the S&L crisis, and AIDS denialism by demanding that Reagan tell them folksy stories about being friends with Tip O’Neill.

Of course, I picked journalism roughly 10 years too late.

Also, there’s your Boston reference. No doubt the Chapo chaps will enjoy their cruise through Tip’s tunnel en route to the Wilbur.

 

The dislocations created by climate change helpfully remind us that the political systems we live under are incapable of solving any fundamental problems or acting in the interests of anyone but the ruling class.

As a reporter, there’s always been this nagging notion hobbling my thoughts that suggests everything I’m doing is a total waste of time if I’m not writing about how we are all—and by “all” I mean elected pols, their puppeteers who pollute indiscriminately, and the F-150-pushing curved hats who support the lot of ’em—hastening our untimely demise with every passing day. In a country where we have a hundred times more types of bottled water than we do options for cable, Chapo is a refreshingly rare circle of jerks that ravages the rubes who care not for our planet.

 

The present and future of work is a lot like its past: stupid and arbitrary, and everyone’s terrible boss gets to fail upward to the next thing he can fuck up. … If you’re reading this book in one of the few “free” moments you have, on your way to a job that’s slowly sapping your will to live, you already know that the good side won.

I guess I would have figured this one out all on my own, but it’s always more fun to learn it from Chapo. Or rather, to unlearn years of nonsense with a little help from their outstanding Guide to Revolution. Which brings me to the most important thing I’ve learned from listening to them, a lesson that has been cemented since spending a week with their tome: Nonpartisan haters of the world are not alone. There are thousands—perhaps hundreds of thousands—of us out there.

All we needed was a trap for congregating and a bible.

 

Chris Faraone is the News+Features Editor of DigBoston and the Director of Editorial for the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. He is also the author of four books including ’99 Nights with the 99 Percent’ and ‘Heartbreak Hell.’
This article first appeared at digboston on September 12, 2018 and is reprinted here with the permission of that fine publication.
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