Skip to content

Low, Dishonest Days

Our year of The Baffler, 2023
Two waiters turning away a man labeled

It’s been over two months since Israel launched a genocidal incursion against the Gaza Strip in retaliation for Hamas’s surprise attack of October 7. In that time, hospitals, churches, schools, refugee camps, mosques, and residential blocks have been bombed with abandon, cemeteries razed, and life-saving aid withheld, all in clear violation of international law. An estimated 1.8 million people have been displaced; more than twenty thousand have been killed, the vast majority of them women and children.

From the perspective of our elected leaders and bastions of supposedly balanced reporting, this is not a campaign of ethnic cleansing but a “war of self-defense.” Despite mounting calls for a ceasefire, the United States is poised to plunk down at least some of the cash necessary to keep Israel’s “arsenal of democracy” stocked with block-busting bombs and artillery. While Congress dithered on how much of President Biden’s $105 billion request for aid to Israel and Ukraine to approve, the State Department recently decided to circumvent standard operating procedure. Earlier this month, they authorized the emergency sale of nearly fourteen thousand rounds of tank ammunition to assist in the slaughter of a people whom Israeli officials have variously called “children of darkness” and “human animals.” Perhaps this ought to tide them over until January.

Whatever horrors had accumulated on so-called humanity’s ledgers by autumn seemed to diminish in the company of this unrepentant brutality. But of course, plenty of other ghastly things besmirched the calendar year. Let us not forget the bona fide airborne toxic event that plagued the town of East Palestine, Ohio, after a Norfolk Southern train derailment in February, prompting evacuations of thousands of residents. Officials with the Environmental Protection Agency were quick to declare the air “safe,” though returning residents reported the unmistakable tang of burning plastic in the air, and many began experiencing a barrage of ominous symptoms, including sore throats, nausea, rashes, migraines, and severe dehydration. For their trouble, Norfolk Southern offered $1,000 “inconvenience” checks to those within the evacuation zone, a piddling consolation to those now trapped in houses no one wants to buy.

A general disregard of, if not outright hostility to, public health was a major theme of the year: in May, the World Health Organization declared that Covid-19 was no longer a “health emergency,” perhaps taking their cue from President Biden, who in March declined to veto a GOP-led measure to end the emergency declaration in the United States. Within days of its formal expiration, the Covid death toll officially surpassed one million, the highest of any nation, though it’s certainly an undercount. Protecting the public’s health may be one of the main reasons we have governments in the first place, but America, and especially our courts, have come to prize an attenuated vision of individual liberty over social solidarity. Live free or die, indeed.

By summer, talk shifted to the accelerating degradation of the planet: wildfires swept Sicily, Greece, Hawaii, and Canada, the latter burning over some forty-five million acres, making it one of the largest wildfires in modern history. July was the hottest month on record; in August, the temperature of world’s oceans reached a new record high; and in November, the global average temperature temporarily exceeded 2°C above the pre-industrial average for the first time in recorded history. None of this should come as a surprise: in March, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its latest prognostication, indicating the actions taken during this decade will “largely determine” what happens for centuries to come. In response to a call for the abrupt phasedown of fossil fuel use, BP announced in February that it actually plans to “dial back” its meek push into clean energy amid a booming demand for fossil fuels.

Meanwhile, Republicans found themselves in general disarray, capable of agreeing on only a few things, among them that books are generally bad, especially for impressionable children, and that trans individuals pose an existential threat to the heterosexual order: over the year, conservatives introduced nearly six hundred anti-trans bills in forty-nine states. While only a portion ultimately passed, there’s no indication they’re abandoning this kind of culture-war fodder—it makes them look busy when they’ve spent a great deal of time bickering about just how much of a psychopath someone needs to be to hold the gavel in the House. After weeks of fickle speed dating following the ouster of Speaker Kevin McCarthy, they finally settled on Mike Johnson, an election-denying Christian podcaster and the type of fella who chums it up with folks who would like to see the death penalty instituted for homosexuals. It’s unlikely he’ll prove a moderating influence on a House fully in thrall to the far right. As for the dread presidential contest, polls indicate Trump’s ahead in a number of key swing states. With his support slumping among those disinclined to support genocide in Gaza, Biden has called on none other than Hillary Clinton to lend a hand.

Distracting us from the abyss was a coterie of minor menaces: Taylor Swift, “Woke-free Ultra-Right Beer,” AR-15s “for kids,” and merchandise inspired by Barbie, a movie inspired by merchandise. Hope has proven to be in perilously short supply, though we did take heart in the success of major strikes by the Writer’s Guild, SAG-AFTRA, and the UAW, the latter of which announced in November that it will undertake a drive to organize the U.S. factories of Toyota, Tesla, and Honda, along with the nation’s other non-unionized automakers. We’ll raise a glass to that. And while we’re at it, let us also toast some of the most bracing salvos, essays, criticism, and fiction we published over this strange and surreal year.

Revolutionary Interventions

By Tareq Baconi, Issue no. 67

“Revolutionary change does not always manifest in large-scale transformative eruptions; it is built on a foundation of incremental, cumulative, tireless political work.”

The Sunshine Imperium
By Jasper Craven, Issue no. 67

“Ron DeSantis still operates under the assumption that so long as you’re draped in the American flag, nothing you do can be deemed wrong or off-limits, no matter how inhumane.”

Honduran Hydra
By Jared Olson, March 21

“Soon, the killings began. Twenty victims, most killed in death-squad-style ambushes. Then fifty, ninety, a hundred twenty, a hundred fifty.”

Letter to Wild Wings
Fiction by Andrew Norman Wilson, April 14

“I’m just trying to please you, Helene, by finding elegantly disturbing solutions for these riddles.”

By Grace Byron, April 18

From exorcisms to conversion therapy, we’re still casting the demons out.

Unmade Beds
By Jess McAllen, Issue no. 68 

Rethinking the mental health system amid a shortage of psychiatric beds.

The Deported
By Joshua Craze, Issue no. 68 

South Sudan did not yet exist when Duol Tut Jock and his family moved to the United States. But the American government deported him there anyway.

What Happened In Vegas
By David Hill, Issue no. 69 

“Nevada would need criminals to run their casinos, and someone even more unorthodox to post up the money to get those criminals started. That’s where the Teamsters came in.”

Black Hole Paradox
By Erica Vital-Lazare, Issue no. 69 

How many dimensions had we crossed to get to Nevada?

Risk and Revolution
By Wen Stephenson, July 20

“The risks to revolutionists are, indeed, enormous. But the alternative is intolerable.”

No Overtime at the Boner Factor
By Eugenia Williamson, August 10

“Dov Charney would break history’s crucible in a pair of nut-huggers.”

California Gothic
By Andrew Marzoni, August 22 

“Lana Del Rey’s songbook is a secular Revelation for the coming fall, illusions of redemption having all but burned out.”

A Baker’s Secrets
By Dave Denison, Issue no. 70 

“Ted Odell was a natural resister, a stubborn malcontent, but also a cooperator, and a steward for his little corner of the earth.”

Land Ho
By Gaby Del Valle, Issue no. 70 

“The past that tradwives want to return to, an anachronistic pastiche of rugged pioneer individualism and midcentury familial plenty, never really existed.”

Doomsday Diaries
By Sarah Aziza, October 18

“As a Palestinian, I refuse to mimic the oppressor by denying the humanity of the deceased.”

At the Threshold of Humanity 

By Karim Kattan, October 31

“It seems there are not enough horrors inflicted upon the Palestinians to prompt the international community to demand, unambiguously, for a cessation of hostilities.”

Must Something Be Done?
By Joshua Craze, Michael Barnett, Alex de Waal, Musab Younis, Miriam Ticktin, Hong (Stella) Zhang, Issue no. 71

“The problems that humanitarianism sees in the world are real; but it is part of the problem, not the solution.”

Deadly Strain
By Pooja Bhatia, Issue no. 71

How the UN sought to deny its role in Haiti’s cholera epidemic.

Mei Bao’s World
Fiction by Can Xue, translated by Annelise Finegan, Issue no. 71

“Is this the sea?”

Flooding the Heart of Empire
By Rayan El Amine, Tracy Rosenthal, Dylan Saba, Hussein Omar, Arielle Isack, Voulette Mansour, Yasmina Price, Sarah Aziza, November 8 

“Among the political paradigms rendered inoperative might be the liberal notion that identity precedes commitment.”