Context — October 30, 2015, 11:33 am

Bombast Bursting in Air

Republican presidential candidate John Kasich surveys his competition; Lewis H. Lapham analyzes the 2016 election so far.

Published in the November 2015 issue of Harper’s Magazine, “Bombast Bursting in Air” is Lewis H. Lapham’s analysis of the 2016 election. Read the full essay here.

[Lede]

From a Washington Post transcript of the third Republican presidential primary debate, held October 28, 2015. The remark below was made by Ohio governor and presidential candidate John Kasich.

I want to tell you, my great concern is that we are on the verge, perhaps, of picking someone who cannot do this job.
     I’ve watched to see people say that we should dismantle Medicare and Medicaid and leave the senior citizens out—out in the—in the cold. I’ve heard them talk about deporting 10 or 11—people here from this country out of this country, splitting families. I’ve heard about tax schemes that don’t add up, that put our kids in—in a deeper hole than they are today.

Trump declared his candidacy on June 16, a deus ex machina descending by escalator into the atrium of the Trump Tower on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue, and there to say, and say it plainly, that Justice Brandeis had it right, democracy and concentrated wealth do not a happy couple make. Money is power, and power, ladies and gentlemen, is not self-sacrificing or democratic. The big money cares for nothing other than itself, always has and always will; it is the name of the game and the nature of the beast. Trump didn’t need briefing books or policy positions to front an outdated noble falsehood. He embodied — live and in person — the proof of the proposition that he deemed it the duty of the children of the city to believe.

Trump established the bona fides of his claim to the White House on the simple but all-encompassing and imperishable truth that he was really, really rich, unbought and therefore unbossed, so magnificently rich that he was free to say whatever it came into his head to say, to do whatever it took to root out the corruption and stupidity in Washington, clean up the mess in the Middle East, or wherever else in the world ungrateful foreigners were neglecting their duty to do the bidding of the United States of America, the greatest show on earth, which deserved the helping hand of Trump, the greatest name on earth, to make it worthy of his signature men’s colognes (Empire and Success) and set it free to fulfill the destiny emblazoned on his baseball cap: make america great again.

Read the full essay here.

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More from Lewis H. Lapham:

From the November 2015 issue

Bombast Bursting in Air

The story, so far, of the 2016 election

From the May 2012 issue

Ignorance of things past

Who wins and who loses when we forget American history

From the April 2011 issue

Democracy 101

Mark Twain’s farewell address

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No one would talk to me for this piece. Or rather, more than twenty women talked to me, sometimes for hours at a time, but only after I promised to leave out their names, and give them what I began to call deep anonymity. This was strange, because what they were saying did not always seem that extreme. Yet here in my living room, at coffee shops, in my inbox and on my voicemail, were otherwise outspoken female novelists, editors, writers, real estate agents, professors, and journalists of various ages so afraid of appearing politically insensitive that they wouldn’t put their names to their thoughts, and I couldn’t blame them. 

Of course, the prepublication frenzy of Twitter fantasy and fury about this essay, which exploded in early January, is Exhibit A for why nobody wants to speak openly. Before the piece was even finished, let alone published, people were calling me “pro-rape,” “human scum,” a “harridan,” a “monster out of Stephen King’s ‘IT,’?” a “ghoul,” a “bitch,” and a “garbage person”—all because of a rumor that I was planning to name the creator of the so-called Shitty Media Men list. The Twitter feminist Jessica Valenti called this prospect “profoundly shitty” and “incredibly dangerous” without having read a single word of my piece. Other tweets were more direct: “man if katie roiphe actually publishes that article she can consider her career over.” “Katie Roiphe can suck my dick.” With this level of thought policing, who in their right mind would try to say anything even mildly provocative or original? 

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In the early Eighties, Andy King, the coach of the Seawolves, a swim club in Danville, California, instructed Debra Denithorne, aged twelve, to do doubles — to practice in the morning and the afternoon. King told Denithorne’s parents that he saw in her the potential to receive a college scholarship, and even to compete in the Olympics. Tall swimmers have an advantage in the water, and by the time Denithorne turned thirteen, she was five foot eight. She dropped soccer and a religious group to spend more time at the pool.

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$12,000

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"Gun owners have long been the hypochondriacs of American politics. Over the past twenty years, the gun-rights movement has won just about every battle it has fought; states have passed at least a hundred laws loosening gun restrictions since President Obama took office. Yet the National Rifle Association has continued to insist that government confiscation of privately owned firearms is nigh. The NRA’s alarmism helped maintain an active membership, but the strategy was risky: sooner or later, gun guys might have realized that they’d been had. Then came the shootings at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, and at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, followed swiftly by the nightmare the NRA had been promising for decades: a dedicated push at every level of government for new gun laws. The gun-rights movement was now that most insufferable of species: a hypochondriac taken suddenly, seriously ill."

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