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Mata Hari died at the age of 41 on October 15, 1917.

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October 15, 2016

On the last night of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, which I was covering for Bloomberg Politics, I didn’t have any major assignments. I’d done most of my work for the week, all the Bloomberg passes at Quicken Loans Arena were already taken and I had too early of a flight the next morning to spend the night out looking for drunk Republicans. So I stayed in. I was sharing an apartment with the brilliant Sasha Issenberg, who was going to be out working all night, so I grabbed a six pack of beer and a notebook and turned on CNN to watch Donald Trump’s acceptance speech.

I only made it through one beer, and I put the notebook away five minutes in. Not to put too fine a point on it, but Trump’s speech was one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever seen. It wasn’t just that Trump is, well, Trump, and that he was accepting the nomination of one of the two major American political parties to become the most powerful person on the planet. It was the speech itself, and how well it was delivered. This was not the rambling Trump we saw before, and after. This was a focused, sharply scripted Trump, at the peak of the Trump Experience, a night he’d certainly been imagining in his head his whole life, a vindication of every hater and loser who ever doubted him. This was Authoritarian Trump. It is one thing to see Trump’s bloated, braying Alpha routine at a rally in Florida. It is quite another to see him backed by the awesome power of the staging of a political convention. Seriously, look at this photo.


If you cracked open Trump’s brain, I think this is what it would look like.

But it wasn’t just all that power. It was Trump’s vision of the world, in which everything was collapsing and your life is miserable and the whole planet is going to hell and we really should just burn the whole place down. It was nothing but thundering images of murder and disease and rot and despair and, more than anything, rage. The television seemed to shake when Trump was speaking. It was 70-plus minutes of unadulterated fury.

And everyone in the room ate it up. It was a frenzy. It was a speech that was muscular and powerful and visceral and undeniably effective. It was then, for the first time I think in the entire campaign, it looked like Trump could win. The problem with the thought of Trump winning that night wasn’t that I disagreed with his policies (what policies you could find), or whether or not I found him a loathsome person. I have voted for people in both parties, and I have voted for and against people with whom I suspect I would not personally be friendly. What scared me so much that night is that that rage seemed to have found a home in the America people. What scared me is that it looked like it might work. Reason magazine’s Peter Suderman wrote that night, “The simplest and more straightforward way to interpret Trump’s speech was as a warning that outsiders are coming to America to kill you and your family … a fictitious, nightmarish vision that a power-hungry narcissist invented for the purpose of acquiring power for himself by being elected president. That’s the all-too-possible nightmare that should terrify us most.” I woke up several times that night in a sweat. I don’t like emotional reactions to politics; I don’t trust emotional reactions, in general, let alone with something so important and universal as the highest office in the land. But I was scared. I won’t lie to you. I was legitimately scared.

I flew home the next day still rattled. Everything just felt different in a world where such a speech could thrive, where such a speech could be one of the central public addresses of our public discourse. I couldn’t get it out of my head. It blared through my skull. “Death, destruction and weakness.” “I will restore law and order to our country.” “I AM YOUR VOICE.” I could almost feel blood vessels popping in my brain.

I drove home from the airport and parked my car in our driveway, still unable to stop obsessing over the speech. Is this who we were? Is this what we had become?

And then a bus drove by. Some kids on a summer field trip. A landscaper did lawn work across the street. There were baseball games that night. A movie I wanted to see was opening. I had to pick up my older son from a camp in which they made pottery out of clay with their hands. It was some old friend from college’s birthday. I banged my toe on the kitchen table pouring tea. The neighbor’s dog wouldn’t stop barking. The mailman smiled and said hello.

Life was going on. The world was imploding all around us, everything I believed was good about us, all of us, as a people, was beginning to appear in serious question, and we seemed a couple wrong moves away from either Triumph of the Will or Mad Max. (And I wasn’t entirely certain which was worse.) But people were going about their business, following their regular plans, honoring their schedules, getting their work done, living their lives. There is value in the normalcy, in the routine, in the day-to-day. Whatever swirls around us, whatever awfulness there might be in the world, whatever perils might await us … we still get up in the morning and go about our business, still hopeful enough to keep plugging forward. I found it stabilizing. I found it reassuring. I even found it energizing. If everyone else, people who have it so much worse, can keep plugging along, then dammit, I can too.

The last week has been the lowest week of our public discourse than I can remember in my lifetime. I want to walk around putting my hands over everyone’s ears. It is demoralizing and destructive and degrading. I am so relieved that my sons are too young to understand what has been happening. I sort of wish we all could be.

I try to remember that it means something that we’re all plugging forward, even those whose personal experiences in their past have made this week particularly painful to endure. There is relief in the stability, in the normal, in the routine. Everyone’s still going out and living their lives, no matter how dark it might get around them. There are still games. There are still PTA meetings. There are still people nervous about their Homecoming dances. It has been a hard, relentless slog of a year. But we’re still out there. People are still good. People still believe they will be happy. People still want to keep going. I thank them all for it. We’re all getting ourselves through it. It helps to look around and see everything remaining in order. I still wish I could put my hands over everybody’s ears.

Here is a numerical breakdown of all the things I wrote this week, in order of what I believe to be their quality. (This is an attempt to have an objective look at the value of my work in a way that I suspect will be difficult to sustain.)

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  1. The Magic of That Wiffle Ball Sound, The New York Times. I do not know if my op-ed about Wiffle Ball – which came out the day after the Access Hollywood tapes were unveiled – makes me a part of Donald Trump’s supposed lawsuits against The New York Times. I suppose I should ask.
  2. David Ortiz Said Goodbye in a Way That Didn’t Feel Right, Sports On Earth. I surprised myself with how emotional David Ortiz’s last game made me. I’m still surprised, to be honest.
  3. A Bullpen Revolution Might Be in the Works, Sports On Earth. This is one of those pieces that doing MLB Plus all season really helped me with. That was fun, and educational!
  4. Cowboys Fans Are No Longer Bandwagon Jumpers, Sports On Earth. Defending Cowboys fans was not necessarily the most noble thing I’ve ever done, but I stand behind it.
  5. “Crisis In Six Scenes,” Episode 6 Recap, Decider. All told, I think I liked the show a little more than everybody else did. But just a little.
  6. The San Francisco Bullpen Imploded Again, Sports On Earth. Where was this bullpen in 2012 and 2014?
  7. Don’t Underestimate the Drama of the League Championship Series, Sports On Earth. Just a simple, sort of fun, ranking of every LCS since 2010.
  8. ALCS Preview: Blue Jays vs. Indians, Sports On Earth. So, I need the Jays to win the next four games to make this prediction come true. Could happen!
  9. World Series Bracket, Final Eight, Sports On Earth. We’re getting fewer votes on this thing every week, which is probably a sign.
  10. How Late-Night Comedy Is Handling the Trump Campaign, Bloomberg Politics. Fun podcast, dull writeup.

As I say every week: If you are the sort to subscribe to a weekly newsletter, I would have to think it wouldn’t be too much of a hassle to subscribe to one of the four (!) podcasts I do. Here they are:

Grierson & Leitch, chatting about “The Birth of a Nation,” “The Girl on the Train,” “Newtown” and “L.A. Confidential.”

The Will Leitch Experience, previewing the NLCS and ALCS.

Culture Caucus, talking with Variety’s Mo Ryan about “SNL” and Samantha Bee.

Waitin’ Since Last Saturday, recapping the weird South Carolina game and previewing the Vanderbilt game.

Also, this week’s Pro Football Now. It was just me, fill-in host Ryan Asselta and Nate Burleson this week. Here is me being afraid of a football.



Have a great weekend, everyone. Let’s go Dodgers.



Best,
Will

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