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Who Says That Next Year Can’t Be Worse?

The Baffler’s year in review, 2016

Even at the end of certifiably non-dismal years, the exercise of compiling a “Best of the Fast-Receding Year” roster of stories, posts, and outbursts always reeks of a bit of unseemly self-congratulation. And make no mistake: 2016 is a colossal fucking bummer of a year, spanning from the grinding humanitarian catastrophe in Syria to the Philippine strongman leader flat out boasting of murder to the tragic losses of musical geniuses Prince, Bowie, Leonard Cohen, and Mose Allison to the unforced, civilization-threatening errors of the Brexit vote and the Trump ascension. If Vox Populi is indeed Vox Dei, then there’s no doubt at all that God has a sick sense of humor.

Nevertheless, we at Team Baffler are committed to documenting the march of time, however shambolic, reeling, and pointless that march may be in a given segment. So travel back with us over the past year and savor all the many ways in which the promise of good old American progress was proven to be a desperately empty lie. If nothing else, this sampling of premium Baffler content provides us with a firm official posture of deniability: You can’t, for God’s sake, say we didn’t warn you.

Selected Salvos:

The New Man of 4chan
By Angela Nagle
Issue no. 30
This seamless convergence of women-demonizing forces is, indeed, something new under the sun, an innovative incarnation of the free-floating male grievance that, as we’ve seen, metastasizes through culture.

Against Activism
By Astra Taylor
Issue no. 30
Organizing is what the left must cultivate to make its activism more durable and effective, to sustain and advance our causes when the galvanizing intensity of occupations or street protests subsides. It is what the left needs in order to roll back the conservative resurgence and cut down the plutocracy it enabled.

Delusion at the Gastropub
By Heather Havrilesky
Issue no. 31
Our hard-won locavore connoisseurship satisfies our senses and bestows upon us, via its $25-a-pound price tag, a feeling we’ve paid tithes to the church of gourmet eating. But more than that, it separates us from the less sainted, the less antioxidized, the less wealthy among us.

Small Worlds
By Chris Lehmann
Issue no. 32
Kondo’s philistine self-complacency opens onto a whole curious other, dubiously spiritualized strain in the surprisingly extensive literature on American domestic order. In a market-dominated society rigidly organized around the continual titillation of consumer desire, it’s not unusual for your stuff to serve as a kind of surrogate placeholder for your general system of values—and indeed, for your most intimate sense of who you are in the world.

Village Atheists, Village Idiots
By Sam Kriss
Issue no. 32 
The real cleavage isn’t between those who believe in God and those who don’t, but between those who want to change the world and those who just want to repeat it.  

Madam Prescient
By Jessa Crispin
Issue no. 32
There is less room than ever in American elections for unorthodoxies, including and especially radicalism, solidarity, movement-building, third-party candidacies, and spiritual affiliations that begin with anything other than a capital letter “C.” That said, even as we retain pride in our political skepticism and reasonableness, our appetite for sensational tales about our chosen candidates remains enormous.

Trumped and Abandoned
By Susan Faludi
Issue no. 33
For the last twenty years and more, the Angry White Males have been looking for a general to storm the ramparts and lead them across the water. Donald Trump is only the latest in a string of plutocrats and media personalities impersonating wartime commanders and working-class heroes, inveighing against immigrants and championing gun rights. 

Virtuous Reality
By Robert Westbrook
Issue no. 33
Civic republicans measure the health of a polity by how well its leading institutions prevent the exercise of arbitrary, uncontrolled power over its citizens—and also by how firmly and vigilantly citizens restrain the excesses of the state. By these measures, the contemporary American republic is in dire straits.

Corruptions of Empire
By Suzy Hansen
Issue no. 33
Seen from outside its borders, America does not look like an “unselfish, compassionate country,” let alone a “city on a hill.” For Turks—and many, many other nations in the Middle East and beyond—America abroad means violence in their streets, religion in their schools, and drunken sailors in their ports.


From the Word Factory:

Donald Trump, Trickster God
By Corey Pein
The key to understanding this election cycle—and its energetic locus, Trump—is to accept that we are not dealing with an ordinary man, bound by the rules of decorum and the presupposition of coherence. I have another idea. I propose that Donald Trump is the personification of a Norse god named Loki.

Life Hacks of the Poor and Aimless
By Laurie Penny
When modernity teaches us to loathe ourselves and then sells us quick fixes for despair, we can be forgiven for balking at the cash register. Anxious millennials now seem to have a choice between desperate narcissism and crushing misery. Which is better? The question is not rhetorical.  

The Only Shocking Things Donald Trump Has Yet to Do
By David Rees
We’re at the point where it seems like there’s nothing Trump hasn’t done—or wouldn’t do, or won’t soon do. Everyone in America is probably keeping a tally of Trump’s broken taboos and errors of judgment and flares of sulfurous ignorance, and the longer that tally grows, the harder it is to be shocked by new inclusions.

The Night Phyllis Schlafly Went Over the Rainbow
By Jane O’Reilly
Still, plenty of hidden costs of Phyllis Schlafly’s historic triumph are continuing to pile up—perhaps most especially, these days, for the GOP mainstream. The rectitude Schlafly and her cohorts displayed so winsomely in the ballroom that night turned easily into hate: hate radio, hate campaigning, and, in the fullness of time, GOP nominee Donald Trump.

Spreading the Bad News
By Sarah Edwards
Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” may be the most muscular and memorable version of restorationism to come along in years, but it is not a new idea: the strategic alliance of the GOP and evangelicals has long depended on an imagined lost golden age of moral and economic prosperity—a backward-looking appeal to a modernized, state-administered moral order.

2016: A Liberal Odyssey
By Maximillian Alvarez
Like nostalgic right-wingers who resist the onslaught of a changing cultural sphere by upholding the righteousness of tradition, liberals line the barricades erected around a future whose righteousness speaks for itself.

Advice for a Trumpland Thanksgiving
By Amber A’Lee Frost
Things are about to change in this country, probably a lot, and not for the better. You don’t know what’s going to happen, and you don’t know how your family is going to interpret our murky future; people are irrational, but they often can shock you with moments of clarity, remorse, and contrition.

Begging Pardon
By Astra Taylor
If the political class, irrespective of party affiliation, despises Snowden, it is because he jogs our collective memory and challenges their version of events. His very presence, however remote he may be physically, reminds us that history could have taken another course, that the War of Terror has been a deadly failure used to trample our civil liberties, and that those who perpetuated these offenses remain in power.

A People’s History of the Third Reich
By Megan Carpentier
The scariest question to consider in 2017 and beyond isn’t whether President Trump will use the power of the federal government to commit acts that many of us, under other circumstances, might consider at least travesties and at worst atrocities. It is, rather, the question of whether Americans will shrug their shoulders, cheer him on as long as the economy improves, or participate. 

Tech Meets Trump
By Jacob Silverman 
The uncomfortable truth is that Silicon Valley is, and always has been, a paid-up member of the military-industrial complex or, as it’s more officially called, the defense-industrial base. The libertarian streak now peddled by tech luminaries is simply another fashionable ideology tried on by the former hippies who managed to preach a mantra of emancipation as they were getting rich by industrializing corporate surveillance of consumers’ lives.

Decent Drapery
By Gary Greenberg
Because this revolution, like every revolution, belongs to no man, not an irascible Vermonter or a crass New Yorker. It is no more controllable than a hurricane. And like a hurricane, it is born of forces that we can easily see in retrospect.