Quote of the Day: What Jim Mattis Didn’t Say

Call Sign ChaosFormer Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, one of those adults we keep being told are keeping things in the White House from being even worse than they are, has a new book out: Call Sign Chaos.

If this essay in the Wall Street Journal, which Mattis and his co-author Bing West adapted from the book, is any sign, there is much he is not saying in the book. To wit, this section on how he dealt with an unnamed admiral who harshly and indiscriminately mocked his subordinates:

I called in the admiral and carefully explained why I disapproved of his leadership. “Your staff resents you,” I said. “You’re disappointed in their input. OK. But your criticism makes that input worse, not better. You’re going the wrong way. You cannot allow your passion for excellence to destroy your compassion for them as human beings.” This was a point I had always driven home to my subordinates.

“Change your leadership style,” I continued. “Coach and encourage; don’t berate, least of all in public.”

But he soon reverted to demeaning his subordinates. I shouldn’t have been surprised. When for decades you have been rewarded and promoted, it’s difficult to break the habits you’ve acquired, regardless of how they may have worked in another setting. Finally, I told him to go home.

There is no indication in this exercise in avoiding the elephant in the room that Mattis ever suggested that the commander in chief should consider not berating or demeaning people, much less just going home.

Reader’s Corner: ‘Russian Roulette’

Michael Isikoff and David Corn’s new book Russian Roulette is, well, timely. My review is at PopMatters:

The intent here was not to write an all-inclusive study of the history of the Washington-Moscow power dynamic, the full legacy of Trump’s law-skirting business dealings, or the noxious way those two elements have meshed together. Something like that wouldn’t be a book. That would require a multi-volume Robert Caro-type of effort which some future generation—assuming deep-dive narrative nonfiction survives Peak TV and Instagram—can take up to figure out what the hell happened. In the meantime, we’ll resort to Russian Roulette

Screening Room: ‘What Lies Upstream’

The bracing new documentary What Lies Upstream is a scarifying investigation that starts with a chemical leak into a West Virginia river and expands into an indictment of a nationwide regulatory system riddled with lax oversight and dangerous levels of compromise.

What Lies Upstream is playing now in limited release. My review is at Film Journal International.

Here’s the trailer.

Reader’s Corner: Bannon, Trump, and the ‘Devil’s Bargain’

As the D.C. news circuit scrambles to dissect the court turmoil in the White House to see how long Steve Bannon may or may not survive, it’s instructive to read Joshua Green’s Devil’s Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Storming of the Presidency.

My review is at PopMatters:

Years from now—assuming that books are still being published and we aren’t just wandering dazedly through a burnt-out cultural void of screaming memes—the books written about the 2016 US Presidential election will fill even more shelves than those written about Watergate. They will discuss the strategies, the major players, and the trendlines that led to this decision or that. Some books will also analyze how, in 2016, a fury-fueled flim-flam man broke almost every rule about presidential campaigns and became the most powerful man in the world. Those authors will argue with good reason that 2016 was the election that changed everything…

Reader’s Corner: ‘Dark Money’

darkmoney1Last year, the New Yorker‘s Jane Mayer published Dark Money, a detailed expose of the massive, decades-long program run by billionaire conservatives like the Koch brothers to re-engineer American politics in a more libertarian, low-tax, and small government direction.

The paperback edition was just released, with a new preface that highlights how the agenda of the Kochs, who theoretically didn’t support Donald Trump, will nevertheless likely be supercharged under the new administration. My review is at PopMatters:

Written with the sharp but cool incisiveness that typifies her long form work for the New Yorker, Jane Mayer’s exposé is the type of book one reads first heatedly, then with a kind of sickened resignation. Her first book since 2008’s The Dark Side, a similarly disquieting investigation into the Bush administration’s legacy of post-9/11 abuses, Dark Money goes looking under a lot more rocks. Again, Mayer finds a cabal of authoritarian-minded Republicans looking to fundamentally alter the American landscape…

Writer’s Desk: How Speechwriters Do It

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With the election, and (who knows?) maybe a gut-punch to democracy itself, just around the corner, it seems like the right time to get some writing advice from people who have to churn out a lot of words on demand at high velocity and with extreme precision: Speechwriters.

Scholastic gathered together a bunch of them, from Paul Begala to Bob Shrum, and boiled down their advice to a few points, explained at length here. Here’s the upshot:

  • Get to the Point — Quick!
  • Make It Look Easy
  • Make ’em Laugh
  • Get Them on Your Side
  • The Meat and Potatoes (what you actually are there to say)

There’s no writer out there who couldn’t stand to get to the point quickly and effectively while making it seem effortless. And the occasional gag never hurt anybody.

Reader’s Corner: ‘Strangers in Their Own Land’ – Fury and Crisis in Trump’s America

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(photo: Gage Skidmore)

It’s hard to look at today’s chaotic political and cultural landscape and not wonder—among many, many other things—in deference to Joan Walsh’s book from a couple years back: “What’s the matter with white people“?

strangers_in_their_own_land_finalA part of the answer can be found in Arlie Russell Hochschild’s fantastic new book Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right. It came out last month and is necessary reading to understand what is and has been going on in America for the past couple decades.

My review is at PopMatters:

When Arlie Russell Hochschild set out in 2011 to research her perceptive ethnography of the frustrated white American conservative, Strangers in Their Own Land, she didn’t realize how many of her subjects would later be driving off a cliff in a fume- and insult-spewing conveyance with “Trump 2016” stenciled on the side. How could she? Few of us knew it would come to this…

Here’s an interview with Hochschild from Vox. where she talks about spending five years among the people who would form the base of Donald Trump’s nationalistic insurgency.