My piece in Blue Virginia: What Kind of Candidates Should Dems Be Looking For Right Now?

Blue Virginia last week published something I’d be mulling for a while: given what just happened in 2016, what lessons should we draw, and what kind of candidates should be looking for as 2018 mid-terms ramp up? Here’s the TL;DR:

  1. Candidates don’t necessarily have to be local stalwarts with a lot of experience or money. The 2016 campaign showed traditional measures of candidate strength to be less important than conventional wisdom has argued.
  2. Activists should instead prioritize candidates with a compelling personal narrative and an alternative story to tell about America that is capable of countering the narratives advanced by Trump and the GOP.
  3. Democrats need to begin identifying and supporting a new generation of leaders who not only can win in 2018, but who will grow into the liberal leaders of the future.

Do read the whole thing.

It Is Now Vitally Important To Protect and Nurture the Personal Life

Reds 1981 movie posterTwo of my favorite movies are about the Russian Revolution. I maintain this is because the two movies happen to be just really damn good, and not because I have a particular soft spot for the events of 1917. One of these films is obviously Dr. Zhivago, although it probably ranks somewhere between 15 and 20 on my list of favorites. But the other movie is Reds, and Reds is and has been, since College, my all time favorite movie.

Most people I have this conversation with have never heard of Reds, much less seen it. So, perhaps a primer is in order. Released the year I was born, in 1981, Reds is about real life journalist John Reed, who, along with his partner Louise Bryant, was one of the only Americans in Russia at the time of the Russian Revolution. He wrote a book about the experience, a classic called Ten Days That Shook the World. Reed is played by Warren Beatty, who also wrote, directed, and produced the film. Diane Keaton plays Bryant, and Jack Nicholson plays their friend, playwright Eugene O’Neil. A fantastic supporting cast fleshes out various American writers, artists, and creative luminaries of that era. Reds was nominated for 12 Academy Awards and won 3, including best director for Beatty.

Don’t Just Subscribe to Print Out of Charity – Do It For Your Own Sanity

Mother Jones Thank you screenYesterday I good and finally started to lose it over the constant torrent of news pouring outward from this dumpster fire of an administration. My favorite economist blogger said something to the effect of it being merely a weird day, not a very weird day. He’s a level-headed guy, that one. Others have suggested the news projectile vomiting outward from the Bannon-House is a calculated strategy designed to confuse, disorient, and exhaust the opposition. If that’s true, it’s working.

It’s not just me who is disoriented. I think we all are, us liberals. We haven’t seen anything like this, so it’s unclear how we should react, or what we should focus on, or how to deal with our own mental health in the process. By the end of the day yesterday, as I injected my third glass of wine, I wondered: were we 10 days in to this administration? Or was it 12? Obviously I couldn’t go on like this. We can’t go on like this.

Nationalism, Optimism, and How I Think About the Future Now that Trump Is President

Trump Innauguration SpeechI’m sorry to say, I just watched a President Trump deliver his inauguration speech. I wish it were Hillary up there. Actually, I wish it were Biden, telling us how he is going to build on everything Obama has done, but alas.

I’ve never heard such a nakedly nationalistic speech from an American politician before. As a student of history, I know there is a school of thought which says that nationalism is a sickness responsible for centuries of human misery. That in the struggle to secure one nation against another, or pit one nation against another, or compete, one nation against another, we humans have caused nothing but war, suffering, and injustice.

The thought that nationalism could somehow be a sickness, or that it is a bankrupt idea, is not exactly in vogue right now. Nationalist movements are sweeping much of the Western world, and I fear what is to come.

The Year Behind, the One Ahead (A 2016 Review and 2017 Preview)

At ITVFest with Districtland

Last year around this time I wrote that I planned to take it easy in 2016.

Heh. That was funny.

I was as busy as ever in 2016. But on the flip side, I did not go through any film production which quintupled the number of white hairs in my beard (See Districtland, making of…). On the contrary, this year I went through the best production of my life with the cast and crew of #humbled.

It’s sort of funny if you look at it. In 2015, I made a 22-minute Pilot episode for a TV show, which was shot over four days and cost more than $8k, and the experience nearly led me to quit film. In 2016, informed by many of the lessons I learned on that production, I made a 75-minute feature, also shot in four days, and costing less than $7k. And it was one of the smoothest, most enjoyable experiences I could have imagined.

The Complete Tom & Russell Talk Politics Podcasts

Starting in Mid-September 2016, my long-time friend, Tom Paynter, and I recorded a series of podcasts discussing the Trump-Clinton election. We recorded every week from then through to the election. Below are all of them collected, in order:

Episode 1 – Sept. 11, 2016

Not too long ago it dawned on me that absolutely nowhere have I heard two reasonable people, one a Trump supporter and the other a Hillary supporter, having a reasoned discussion about the election. This certainly isn’t happening on television (not that I watch much of it), and of course it doesn’t happen in print.

Without going into too much background (it’s all in the podcast), this is just to say: my friend Tom Paynter and I are trying out an experiment. He’s a Trump supporter; I’m a Hillary supporter. From now until the election, every week Tom and I will record a discussion about how we’re responding to the news of the week and talk about where our thinking is generally on politics, the election, and the issues which are driving national discourse.

Without further prologue, I give you, Episode 1:

I still cannot understand what is going on… But I do know one thing.

It’s time like these I wish I had the eloquence to match the moment.

The moment being two days before an election in which America could choose to collectively shoot itself in the head. For months I’ve reached for that argument, that paragon of persuasion, which might crystalize and explain what the fuck is going on in America right now.

And there has been lots of eloquence out there. There is no shortage of writers better than me who have explained just how completely insane it would be to make Donald Trump president. I’m thinking about Andrew Sullivan’s New York Magazine piece from last April, or, more recently, the one from a few days ago:

The most frustrating aspect of the last 12 months has been the notion that we have been in a normal, if truly ugly, election cycle, with one extremely colorful and unpredictable figure leading the Republican Party in an otherwise conventional political struggle over policy. It has been clear for months now, it seems to me, that this is a delusion. A far more accurate account of the past year is that an openly proto-fascist cult leader has emerged to forge a popular movement that has taken over one of the major political parties, eroded central norms of democratic life, undermined American democratic institutions, and now stands on the brink of seizing power in Washington.

On Giving Up Facebook (Or, Living the Dream)

At this point I consider Facebook to be a necessary encumbrance to modern life.

First, the bad:

  • Facebook does not “connect” us. It separates us.
  • Facebook is not good for political discourse in any way, shape, or form.
  • Facebook facilitates the Internet Outrage Machine that is so poisonous for everyone who is exposed.
  • Facebook hasn’t saved media companies. It’s made them serfs in Facebook’s empire.
  • Facebook is an addictive time suck.

The good:

  • Facebook incontrovertibly gives businesses an amazing advertising product with a reach and targeting ability the likes of which have never before been seen.

In my version of “living the dream,” I am not on Facebook. In this life, I share pics of my son with the extended family in one of several other perfectly obvious ways, I get my news by visiting actual news sites, and I keep up with my friends by actually visiting with my friends.

So, why don’t I quit?

Reason 1: I’m in marketing. I can’t quit, for obvious marketing-related reasons.

Reason 2: I can’t think of a more effective way to let people know what I’m doing with my film projects. My audience wants to know about what I’m up to, what movies I’m working on and such, but not all of them want to sign up for an email list. They actually do prefer to receive their updates via Facebook. It is without a doubt the most effective way to spread the news.

One day though I will quit. Either Facebook will cease to be the effective marketing tool that it is right now, or I will leave marketing and leave film and leave everything behind that requires me to “spread the word” in order for it to succeed. I would become a farmer, but that requires me to work 14-hour days in one place for much of the year, so that’s out.

But… one day.

85 percent of my daily thinking is not publishable

I was thinking today about the criteria I use for when something is worthy of a blog post.

Writing a blog post is in many ways a highly egotistical exercise. The implicit assertion is that my thoughts on this subject are worthy of reading, and in longer form than a social media post can accommodate. Of course, we live in a time of sharing. We share publicly our thoughts, feelings, and opinions on everything from how cute our cat is when she naps to whether the super-delegate system is treating Bernie Sanders unfairly. We share that we cooked a great dinner, and we share that someone in line at the grocery store cut us off. Hashtag rude.

Democracy is not what our founders had in mind… Nor is it even preferable

The best headline of the week absolutely has to belong to this Atlantic story, by Uri Friedman:

Boaty McBoatface and the False Promise of Democracy

See, what happened is that the UK government held a naming contest for a new science vessel. And the British voting public, in their wisdom, declared in a clear and not-so-authoritative voice, that they wished said vessel to be named… wait for it… Boaty McBoatface.