The Year of Our Baffler 2018
2018 proved once and for all that cruelty and stupidity make energetic bedfellows. It was the year of children in cages and “a very stable genius,” of Paul Manafort’s leathers and attempts to legislate trans people out of existence. The measured, expert testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford held no sway against the ruddy theatrics of Brett Kavanaugh, who ascended to the highest judicial body in America despite hours of tearful screaming about his taste for beer. Pundits gnashed their teeth over interrupted dinners and Tucker Carlson hecklers while white supremacists killed Jewish worshippers at a synagogue in Pittsburgh and black shoppers at a Kroger supermarket in Kentucky. But the same media class grew positively misty as they penned overwrought goodbyes to a slew of Great Men who brought us endless war, public health crises, and the total plunder of the social safety net on behalf of the American elite (this last point of course referring to Paul Ryan, who, while recently departed from a Congress, is regrettably still kicking). California burned and the IPCC predicted we have only twelve years to avert total climate catastrophe, but hey—at least Starbucks banned plastic straws.
While it’s no great sorrow to bid adieu to all 2018 has come to represent, 2019 portends its own special kind of hell—the first six of twelve planned Democratic primary debates leading up to 2020, a figure which makes us look back at 2016 and ask: Were we ever so young? So stave off the future with us for a little longer as we look back at some of the year’s most relentless salvos, outbursts, essays, and reviews.
By Soraya Roberts, January 24
What is perhaps as consistent as the badness of Instapoetry is the general unwillingness to speak openly of its badness.
By Barbara Ehrenreich, Issue No. 39
How silly patriarchy is looking at this moment, as one rich and powerful man after another falls victim to the #MeToo movement.
By Jonathon Sturgeon, March 2
The long history of hatred for literature has evolved into something worse: a culture of indifference.
By Jennifer Schaffer, March 21
In three new novels, women protagonists overturn the “sage older man seduces beautiful ingénue” trope and find their way as writers themselves.
By Lauren Oyler, Issue No. 39
The situation may be OK, but it’s certainly not good: on Helen DeWitt’s sometimes fictional quest for a crap-free deal.
By Chris Lehmann, April 16
Paul Ryan’s career began with Randian delusions and is ending with a legacy of tax cuts, budget deficits, and servility to a race-baiting president.
By Kim Phillips-Fein, Issue No. 40
In America, the poor are trapped within a social panopticon that permits and feeds on their constant observation.
By Zach Webb, April 25
The Dream Machine, one of several recent temporary exhibitions designed for Instagram, quite literally makes a mockery of our dreams and imaginations.
By J.W. McCormack, June 18
“The President Is Missing,” a new novel “written” by James Patterson and Bill Clinton, goes to disgusting lengths to back up the claim made by its title.
By M.H. Miller, Issue No. 40
“I am just one of about four million borrowers in the United States who owe a total of roughly $1.4 trillion in student loan debt.”
By Rafia Zakaria, June 26
The Trump administration and the courts are building an edifice of exclusion, proving that even as white numbers decline, white power marches forward.
By Gene Seymour, July 17
Boots Riley’s Sorry to Bother You faces race and abasement in a battered republic.
By Jacob Silverman, July 30
Depending on your perspective, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is either an inspiring augur of the Democratic Party’s future or a dangerous tilt leftward.
By Miya Tokumitsu, Issue No. 41
America’s vast therapeutic brain trust has steadily eradicated the language of solidarity and class consciousness and replaced it with exhortations to “do what you love.”
By Patrick Blanchfield, August 27
John McCain, the POW hero turned political icon, reached the apogee of his influence in a nation grown inured to constant war.
By Becca Rothfeld, Issue No. 41
Shatter the dishes. Dismantle the glass ball museum. Never meditate. Say no as often as possible. And above all, do not calm down.
By Kate Wagner, October 19
In an era of capitalist ruin, we need an architectural history of the people.
By John Ganz, Issue No. 42
As 1992 drew closer, a specter haunted the Republican Party establishment—the white-robed specter of David Duke.
By Liz Pelly, December 11
The Spotify economy of clicks and completions, where the most precious commodity is polarized human attention, has given rise to a new streambait pop.