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Baffling, Baffling, Baffled

2017 in criticism

“It won’t hurt much longer,” promises Javier Bardem’s character in the 2017 movie Mother! With this utter trainwreck of a year careening to a close, we guess you could say the same of 2017, although who knows what we have to look forward to as the second year of the Trump era begins.

2017 was supposed to be the year we came together, leaving the nitty-gritty of our critiques behind in favor of a dignified #resistance and pathetic odes to “country over party.” Rather than blithely accept the explanations thrown at us by Democratic party insidersthe rest of the liberal establishment, or the ever more numerous factions forming on both the left and right, we opted for vigorous rejoinders on all fronts—politics, culture, literature, and tech. Guileless unity led by our spineless political and media elite dreaming of a so-called “militant center” will be fruitless in the end. Aren’t comforting liberal fables a big part of how we got here in the first place?

While the hurt will undoubtedly continue into the new year, let our war on bullshit carry us through these troubled times. Well, that and this gleeful selection of biting salvos, essays, and reviews.


New Atheism’s Idiot Heirs

By Alex Nichols, Ocober 17

The heirs to New Atheism may have a new target and a remodeled ethos, but their rhetorical crutches remain the same.


The Problem With Muzak

By Liz Pelly, Issue no. 37

I want to believe that it’s not too late to beat the billionaires and the bots.


The President of Blank Sucking Nullity

By David Roth, August 22

This is the horror at the hole of every asshole, and it is why Trump will never get better as a president or a person: it will always and only be about him.


The Miseducation of Lady Bird

By Lauren Oyler, November 15

High school, like life under capitalism, always sucks. What Lady Bird presupposes is: What if it didn’t?


A Wonk on the Wild Side

By Chris Lehmann, September 18

Hillary Clinton has emerged from the bruising trials of 2016 with her meritocratic faith intact.


Race to the Bottom

By Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, Issue no. 35

Now is hardly the time to effectively banish all talk of racial injustice to the unincorporated nether reaches of political discourse.


Natural Human Behavior

By Corey Pein, Issue no. 36

The most impressive, effective, organized, and determined activists to emerge thus far in the Trump era are those working to protect the immigrants he has singled out for hatred and black-hole detention.


The Accidental Elitist

By Maximillian Alvarez, February 22

The left’s battles often involve conditioning popular discourse to unfamiliar material, while the right has been exceptionally good at “framing” popular discourse so that people will support things that are bad for them.


The Forgotten Man

By John Ganz, December 15

As commonly happens when you aim for, and miss, the sublime, Rothbard’s vision ends up desolate and despairing.


The Unhappy Medium

By Vincent Bevins, March 6

Inevitably, people pushing to move society in any direction are bound to reject some of these beliefs, so the centrist locates the space where their rejections overlap, points to it wildly, and there you go, bada-bing, bada-boom. Communists are Nazis. Civil rights groups are Jihadists.


Tory Porn

By Jonathon Sturgeon, July 25

Critics would do better to step outside the nightmare factory and into the world of cinema—a world many of them once knew and cared about.


It’s Already Happened Here

By Sarah Kendzior, February 9

Trump and his inner circle of trusted advisers will do what they like, regardless of what the law decrees—unless they are stopped by it.


Explanation for What?

By David V. Johnson, Issue no. 33

Vox represents the ideological grandstanding of the technocrat and the professional-managerial class.


Over Our Heads

By Dave Denison, August 3

Thinking about The Fate of the Earth, you can’t help but quake knowing that our fate is—once again—in the hands of a man who would not be capable of reading even ten pages of such a book.


Our Lady of Complicity

By Laurie Penny, May 9

Ivanka Trump is that special type of person, the Stepfordian Night-Ghast of neo-capitalist auto-Taylorism.


Rubber and Heroin in a Dying City

By Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib, March 9

This is what made Ohio fall in love with Barack Obama, and, on the other hand, what made them fall in love with Donald Trump.



By Jacob Silverman, November 14

One’s genetic inheritance might be a matter of gentle amusement for 23andMe and their brand of soft-focus corporate liberalism, but it’s taken far more seriously on the political right.


The Hamilton Hustle

By Matt Stoller, Issue no. 34

We should be grateful not that Hamilton structured the essential institutions of America to fit his vision, but that he failed to do so. Had he succeeded, we would probably be living in a military dictatorship.