America’s Croissant Moment
Like any media organization, we have to keep an eye on our stats to determine which kinds of stories are more popular. Despite the fact that our most viewed article on a single day ever, We Own You, Marcia Bachmann, was a political one, in general we do much better adhering to our core competencies: entertainment and fashion. When this site was still a group blog, I used to joke that we aspired to be as fluffy as a Dior tulle gown, and I stick by that joke. Despite the fact Galliano has stopped designing for that venerable couturier, no doubt entirely because of my piece about once having caused him to be spanked, their gowns have become no less fluffy under Bill Gaytten’s design direction.
Try as I may to keep us fluffy tulle and out of the Battle for Washington, I cannot ignore what is going on right now with the GOP, and how it is affecting the nation in general. It’s actually an exciting turning point, and falls under the realm of entertainment, depending on how you look at it; I am as glued to the front page of HuffPo,The Daily Beast and Politico as reality-TV junkies were to Big Brother when it first came out.
When I was a young Ameropean embarrassed of my paternal nation’s rube-ness, its maddening religiosity, its inedible food (fast or otherwise), its malformed jingoism, and on and on, I took a firm stance against it, relentlessly railing to the point of seeming so un-American to those who believed they were true Americans that I believed it myself; when you’re called something often enough, you tend to become that characteristic. But not very deep down, I was still proud to be a citizen: It was certainly convenient, and there was more to love about this country than there was to criticize. One thing I always said at the end of a particularly frothy diatribe that would leave my listener furious was, “But the great thing is, this country is a self-correcting system.”
It’s not just the system that allows for correction, it’s the culture itself. When I was a kid going back and forth between Italy and the US, the fact you couldn’t get a decent cup of coffee here, much less a decent plate of pasta—what Americans called Italian food I was always at great pains to explain was actually Italo-American and nothing like the real thing—was exasperating. Yet, starting slowly in the 80s, even the Italo-Americans grew weary of their own tomato-paste laden, meatball-topped slop, of trying to make Maxwell House and Folgers taste like Lavazza, and introduced De Cecco pasta in supermarkets in New York City, and proper espresso machines with freshly ground coffee to go with them. From my point of view, life became more livable in my homeland.
Decent pasta and coffee imported from Italy were changes that took place in the larger urban areas, not in the larger Electorate. I mark the true turning point of American taste in the general populous with the introduction of the croissant at McDonald’s. I call it the Croissant Moment, a watershed in our perpetual self-correcting Renaissance.
People complain about a Starbucks on every corner, but I see it as a good thing, both the proliferation of the brand and the complaint itself. The fact there are now so many conoscenti in this country who prefer the little-known coffee shop that roasts and grinds its own to the corporate behemoth that bends over backwards to be the good guy is as much a sign of evolution to me as the mass-marketing of quality rather than junk. Drinking wine and developing a taste for pasta made from Durham semolina flour was considered unmanly and un-American when I was a kid. Now it is integral to the culture, in the blue states, at least.
In that same time span, we have seen the devolution of what was once the ruling party. It began with Nixon, continued with Reagan—please, enough with the misguided hagiography: he was a ruthlessly Machiavellian former B actor with early Alzheimer’s whose economics policies were rightly dubbed ‘voodoo’ when they were introduced—and reached its nadir with the faux-Texan Dubya. The McCain/Palin race in ’08 was Fellini’s La Strada with more circus grotesqueness and less pathos, but it was so utterly eclipsed by the miracle of Obama that it was a fart in a tornado, never going to happen, easily forgotten were That Woman not the Krazy Glue of batty politicians.
Over a year ago, when I was writing more about politics without heeding our stats as much, I began calling for the GOP to change radically or perish, in pieces like Morons Talking Loudly. I called on them to throw out the Tea Party, and either install a GOP 2.0 as their operating system or start a new conservative party altogether, preferably a more staunchly centrist one akin to the Tory Party in the UK. (The British version of the Republican Party isn’t the Tories, but the more extreme, radical BNP. Obama is far more Tory than he is Labour… but I digress.)
Conservatives will always be on the scene; we need them as much as we need liberals, just as yin needs yang. We know now from recent psychological studies done by reasonably reputable institutions that the right-wing mind hates harder and is more fearful than the liberal. As a result, the GOP is intensely protective of itself, ferociously tribal, semper fi no matter how awful the leader it is backing, how ridiculous it looks doing so, how egregious and inhumane the ideology it is espousing. The tribe closes ranks and soldiers forth in a phalanx, unmindful of the consequences of its unbending insularity to the country as a whole. Its members’ often nefarious dabblings and riggings and subversions are done because they believe their goals justify the means, which is one main reason they are so often compared to Nazis: “Yes, gassing Jews is bad, but we have to save the country from their influence.” That the bad influence is really themselves is something that escapes them; it’s too difficult to look in the mirror and see that you are the fault. Better to blame those who are “different.”
I know my stalwart conservative father thought Ronald Reagan “stupid” before he was nominated, and was even quite irate at the prospect, but when The Gipper became the Republican nominee, Dad hunkered down—semper fi, semper fi—and worked on the ad campaigns that swept Reagan & Co. into power. The last political conversation my father and I had, just before the ’08 election, his bulldog jowls shook with rage as he said, “George Bush is an idiot.” Still, he had thrown his weight behind him eight years earlier, despite the fact he probably had that same opinion even when Dubya was “selected.”
That tribal attitude—the blinkered adherence to inept leaders, the recalcitrant resistance to doing business with the perceived “enemy” that is the Democrats, or anyone who goes against their belief of what America should be and where it should be headed—has led to an enormous amount of dysfunction in the party. They have been increasingly wrong for so long—for at least forty years, again since Nixon—and getting wronger with every day, that their collective tribal mind can no longer cope with the stress of trying to make itself right. As it looks in the mirror, that mind starts to break down, to splinter, as they say in psychology. I mean, when the few intellectuals the party has left, like Peggy Noonan and David Brooks, have thrown their hands up, when Rush Limbaugh—an obese rageaholic with an addiction to prescription meds and who knows what else—is the only one cheering from the sidelines, when your candidate for President actually welcomes an endorsement from Donald Trump, then you know they are starting to hit rock bottom, as they say in AA.
And what a joyous occasion that is. We can look forward to recovery and transformation, albeit slowly, day by day, one step at a time. You can already hear and feel the “tough love” that is going to revolutionize the GOP, which is eventually going to see the Republicans restored to sanity, and which in turn will restore our balance to the country.
Perhaps I’m rainmaking. I hope not. The signs of weather change I’m seeing come not just from the Republican intelligentsia detonating grenades within the tribe’s air-tight phalanx—forgive my mashed metaphors; this is a political post—but from what is clearly a cultural shift in perspective taking place across the country. I believe a Croissant Moment happened this week not when Romney’s 47% remarks inflamed the nation, but when suddenly MSNBC beat out Fox News in the ratings at least two nights in a row. Rachel Maddow was more popular than either Bill O’Reilly or Sean Hannity for the first time in… ever? From my perspective, as I sit here stitching fluffy tulle gowns on my laptop from a media and entertainment perspective, what people are watching and listening to is the true barometer of change, not candidates being voted in or out of power, much less their gaffes.
“But what about the Republican base?” a friend asked a couple of days ago when I was assuring him of this transformative Croissant Moment. He was referring to the seemingly bizarre dichotomy that will always shape conservative parties in countries everywhere in the world: the elite, monied few on one end of the spectrum, and the undereducated working class on the other, with little in between. To understand this dynamic, you just have to look at any given episode of Downton Abbey (I know, here I go again with the entertainment comparisons, but we are how we portray ourselves on screen). The servants downstairs are the ones who rigidly preserve the core values and traditions upstairs, often to a greater extent than the aristocrats themselves.
When the aristocrats change, as they inevitably must in America’s case, their servants will follow their lead. Right now, the Republican stately home is in shambles, inhabited by dissolute heirs to a legacy that has been corrupted for decades. The family fortune has been squandered, and they have “become ruined” as they used to say in in the 19th century. The wrecking ball is already swinging, and the former ruling party is going to have to sober up; it has no choice because it can never disappear altogether. The hangover will be ferocious, the withdrawal symptoms painful, but it will be worth it in the end.