That Feeling When the Magic Stops Working

Gail Collins: Bret, before we get to politics, let’s talk about the terrible shooting at the gay club in Colorado Springs on Saturday night. To me it speaks to both gay rights and gun violence. We’ve been making certain progress on the first; not really on the second. And if you want to tie in the mass shooting at the University of Virginia and the terrible stabbings in Idaho — lord, what do you say?

Bret: That it happens way, way too often. And that we should never allow the frequency of these kinds of events to numb our sense of moral outrage at a culture and politics that allows disturbed young men — and it’s almost always young men — to have access to firearms.

Gail: So agree.

Bret: The Colorado Springs case is especially disturbing since it appears that the perpetrator, or at least someone with the same name and age, threatened his mother with a homemade bomb just last year. Why was he not in jail or in a psychiatric hospital?

Gail: I’m resigned to the fact that we’ll have mentally disturbed people in our midst, some of them violent. But we should be able to keep rifles out of their hands.

Bret: And every other kind of firearm. Wish the people who embrace the Second Amendment could insist that a constitutional right they treasure should not become a license for slaughter, any more than civil libertarians should not want the constitutional rights of the accused to become tools for shielding criminals from justice.

Gail: Sigh. Let’s move on to politics. The Republicans are getting ready to take over the House — sort of. The new majority hasn’t been looking too well-prepared. Care to offer Kevin McCarthy and other top Republican leaders any advice?

Bret: Launch an investigation, or six, into the missing 2020 votes that might have put Donald Trump over the top? Block funding for Ukraine? Impeach Joe Biden? The possibilities are endless, Gail.

Just kidding. My first piece of advice is Hippocratic: Do no harm. Second, ask Nancy Pelosi for some parting advice on keeping unruly troops in line.


Gail: Well, gee, I guess keeping the government in operation would be my first priority.

Bret: Yes, you know Republicans are running a house of Congress when we have to worry about a government shutdown. Reminds me of the line in “Animal House” about the need for a “really futile and stupid gesture be done on somebody’s part.”

Gail: On the very rare plus side, we are seeing bipartisan support of the bill on gay marriage. Although not sure you can truly call it bipartisan when 12 Republican Senators join the Democrats to vote to prevent a filibuster from other Republicans.

Bret: I give Republicans like Mitt Romney of Utah, Todd Young of Indiana and Joni Ernst of Iowa huge credit for voting in favor of the bill. They’re voting their conscience in defiance of a big part of their right-wing evangelical base. Takes courage and principle.

Gail: My dread and expectation is that the new House majority is going to obsess about all the stupid stuff you mentioned earlier. Investigate the Democrats! Make Hunter Biden move to Washington so he can be interrogated by every single committee, including Science, Space and Technology!

Bret, how many serious voters out there do you think really give a damn about Hunter Biden?

Bret: Actually, I do. The laptop issue is real and Hunter’s business dealings seem very questionable. They should be investigated as comprehensively as the Trump family is being investigated. I just think it should be done by the Justice Department presenting evidence to a grand jury, not some clown act of a House committee run by Jim Jordan.

Gail: Still think that for the average voter investigating Hunter Biden is right up there with the need to name a national turtle. But go on …

Bret: OK, I’m giggling. Speaking of the Justice Department, any thoughts on Merrick Garland’s decision to name a special counsel?

Gail: I’m worried by how long that might stretch everything out, but otherwise it seems like a good idea. There’s so much Trumpian misbehavior — Mar-a-Lago, Jan. 6 and so forth — it’s easy to make his supporters feel as if he’s being picked on by multitudinous investigations. A special counsel removes everything from politics, at least for a nanosecond.

How about you?

Bret: Apprehensive. I’m hard-pressed to think of a special counsel who did more good than harm, whether the target was a Republican or a Democrat. I also worry that it’s going to give Trump the very political oxygen we ought to deny him.

Gail: Ignoring him is often the best approach. Plus it drives him nuts.

Bret: For instance, I think many networks were right to cut away from his presidential announcement on Tuesday, and I was amused to see The New York Post put “Florida Man Makes Announcement, Page 26” as the only bit of front-page coverage it gave him last week.

Of course, this is the same New York Post that spent six years worshiping at the Trump altar, so it’s all a bit rich. Still, it’s nice to know that we can all be NeverTrumpers again and pretend he never happened.

Gail: I take it you didn’t watch the announcement speech?

Bret: My masochism doesn’t extend that far.

Gail: Have to admit I did — the whole hour-plus — and the thing that struck me most was how boring it was. A lot of his old ramblings, delivered, except for the very end, with low energy.

The crowd at Mar-a-Lago, I gather, had to be restrained by security from sneaking out early. That was one of my very few moments of sympathy for a crowd at Mar-a-Lago. And I can see why Ivanka dodged the whole event.

Bret: When Lyndon Johnson lost Walter Cronkite, he lost America. When Donald Trump lost Ivanka, he lost … um, switching subjects!

Elon Musk! Watching Musk’s first disastrous weeks as Twitter’s boss is like watching a python trying to devour an alligator: You’re rooting for both sides to finish each other off. Your thoughts?

Gail: First is that I love your analogy. Second is that while I have absolutely no admiration for Musk whatsoever, I do realize it’d be possible to have a worse richest-person-in-the-world.

Bret: Vladimir Putin, for instance.

Gail: We’ve moved into a whole new period in history with the Twitterverse. I have to admit I don’t understand the whole Musk mess. So I’m counting on you to explain: What does it all mean?

Bret: OK, so here’s my unified field theory. We are witnessing the belated but ultimately healthy collapse of what I call the abracadabra economy, which was itself born of a marriage between the fake-it-till-you-make-it mentality of Silicon Valley and a decade of ultralow interest rates that allowed people to invest lavishly in really stupid ideas.

Examples: Elizabeth Holmes, who was just sentenced to 11 years in prison, had an abracadabra company, Theranos, based on a fake technology and many false promises.

Gail: Did like that mini-series about her rise and fall …

Bret: Sam Bankman-Fried, of the recently collapsed cryptocurrency exchange FTX, had a business model based on conjured money and abracadabra gains. And then there’s the social media incarnation of Musk, who made what felt like a bogus offer for a company shot through with bogus accounts, only to be forced into a deal he didn’t want and that now seems to be heading toward implosion and maybe even bankruptcy. Think of it as a magic act in which a magician puts the assistant in a box to act like he’s sawing her in two, and then — abracadabra — saws her in two.

Gail: Was sorta impressed somebody as young as Bankman-Fried could construct such a huge evil empire. And now every time I hear Musk’s name I’m going to envision a woman getting sawed in half.

Bret: I’d probably add Mark Zuckerberg’s bizarro “metaverse” to this list, but that’s a slightly longer story. Does that make any sense?

Gail: Yeah. We can move on if you promise me updates.

Bret: Just waiting for Tesla itself to have its long-delayed comeuppance.

Gail: To get back for one instance to Trump’s speech. I’ve heard a lot of them over recent years and in the beginning his slam-dunk for riling up the crowd was to mention Hillary Clinton. ( “Lock her up!”) Then when Hillary faded out of the news, the name he invoked was Nancy Pelosi. Huge jeering response.

Can’t help noticing they’re both women. Now that Pelosi is stepping down, do you think there’ll be a successor? Hard to imagine the right wing getting all worked up about Kamala Harris at this point.

Bret: In fairness to Trump’s crowds — and those aren’t words that come easily — they aren’t too keen on Joe Biden, Barack Obama or Bill Clinton, either. As for Harris, my general sense is that nobody on the right really hates her because they don’t particularly fear her. In fact, few things would delight Republicans more than if Harris were somehow to become the Democratic presidential nominee if Biden decides against running again.

Gail: Yeah, but I just don’t get the same gleeful hatred when Biden comes up.

Bret: Speaking of which, the president just celebrated the wedding of his granddaughter — and his 80th birthday. Other than wishing him good health and long life, any thoughts on this milestone?

Gail: Well, if he runs for and wins a second term he’d be 86 at the end, which is a lot even in these days when older people are doing pretty much everything.

Bret: You know the saying that 86 is the new 85?

Gail: This week I thought Pelosi made a great move in stepping down from the House leadership so younger Democrats could get a chance to run the show. But she’s going to keep her seat and continue, as she said, to serve the people of San Francisco. Wish Biden could find a role like that for himself.

Your thoughts?

Bret: John McCain used to talk a lot about “country first.” Biden can honor his old friend’s motto by showing Americans what it means to do that: focus only on what’s good for the country, irrespective of his own ambitions; devote all of his energy to governance rather than politicking; allow his party to find a younger standard-bearer; go out on top by knowing when to quit; allow Americans of all ages to know what it means to live the final chapters of life with grace; accept our human limitations as ennobling, not diminishing. Hard to think of a better legacy for our oldest president.

Gail: Well said. Still would like to find him another career. Gee, I guess he’s not the man to take over Twitter …

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