Missing The Whole Play

Imagine that you were a TV baseball sportscaster, and had been one for, say, forty years. All you’d ever done was baseball: you knew the rules backwards, you knew the plays backwards, and you knew everything about the teams — their franchise histories, their rosters, their managers, their fans and their cities.

Now imagine that you were asked, at a moment’s notice, to deliver TV commentary on a game of Calvinball on the planet Mars.

That was the feeling I got when I read P.J. O’Rourke’s aptly-named How The Hell Did This Happen?, his take on the 2016 elections.

I’ve always liked P.J.’s writing, by the way, because he uses just enough humor to make a political point insightful without being boring or snarky. But after reading this, his latest political work, I got the feeling that P.J., always something of a journalistic outsider but possessing a keen political sense, was almost in the same boat as the liberal mainstream media when it came to the 2016 results — he was caught between his distaste for Donald Trump as a person and his knowledge of our political system. The only thing that set him apart from the rest was his intense dislike of Hillary Clinton and most things Democratic, but in the end, he was betrayed because like our hapless sportscaster above, he only knew one game.

And if there’s a better analogy of last year’s election than Calvinball (for both political parties), I can’t think of one. The only difference between the parties was that on the Democrat side, the party bigwigs changed the rules as they went along (the Clinton campaign essentially cheating Bernie Sanders out of fully participating in the nomination process), whereas on the Republican side, the rules were constantly being changed by the voters — and as Trump was the only one who caught the “toss ’em all out” mood of the electorate, he was able to play it all the way to the White House. Nothing says “Change” like “Drain the swamp”, after all.

So all the way through P.J.’s book, I could see his complete inability to understand what was going on — why was Trump winning, how could voters not vote for Rubio / Bush / whoever wasn’t Trump, and so on. The fact that NJGov Chris Christie and OHGov John Kasich — mere distractions both — merited more than a few lines in the book was, I think, symptomatic of the media’s problem in general: they got caught up in personalities when what was really happening was a sea change in voter attitudes towards the whole political structure.

The same is true with P.J.’s casual take on the U.K.’s Brexit vote: a side issue, a non-issue even for America, when in fact what it meant was a fundamental shift in the polity — an advance warning of what was likely to happen in the U.S. when it became our turn to express a similar sentiment.

P.J. was always good when he stepped outside the country to look at the attitudes of foreign people, then applying those lessons to our local politics with devastating accuracy — which is what made his strikeout on the 2016 elections so unusual. (The same, in microcosm, is what happened to the rest of the media in the U.S.: by not venturing outside the coasts, they never saw the tidal wave coming.) But in How The Hell?, P.J. only seems to get a vague idea right at the very end of the book — and even then, he can’t bring himself to accept the fact that only a rank outsider like Trump was ever going to win the election — and because the Stupid Party has only ever nominated known political figures, their candidates of choice (Bush, Rubio et al.) never stood a chance. It’s telling that the only serious “insider/outsider” (political maverick Ted Cruz) got even close to the eventual nomination — but even that fact escaped the media, and P.J. O’Rourke.

Afterthought: What I find interesting is that the “outsider” on the Democrat side is Bernie Sanders, a self-confessed Socialist, whose interest is in changing American society into a socialist one, and who is finding favor with the Democrat version of “throw the bastards out” — only in his case, “the bastards” includes anyone earning more than $100k a year, hence his appeal to the Young & Stupid Set on the Left.


  1. For the first time in a long time, the Democrats may deserve the name The Stupid Party as much as the Republicans (although they still get The Evil Party too). Let me explain. No, would take too long, let me summarize:

    1) Tell a huge block of your potential voters that their vote doesn’t count in the Primaries, but expect them come out in the General to vote for the candidate the DNC insisted upon over the voters fairly obvious wishes (for Bernie of course). Let us recall the Super-Delegates were put in place after the last time an upstart stole the nomination from Hillary, that upstart of course was the junior Senator from Illinois, Barrack Obama.

    2) Choose the most vile candidate in generations to be the anointed, expect women to come out in numbers that blacks did in 2004 and 2008, because vagina or something. Crap women voted for Trump despite his “grab them by the pu$$y” comment because Hillary was such a piece of crap.

    3) Expect Her Vileness to float into the White House on Girl Power and the novelty of voting for a woman.

    On the Republican side:

    A) If Christie, Rubio and Bush drop out when they SHOULD have, and stop bleeding primary votes from Cruz, Ted wins the nomination and probably beats Hillary like a rented mule. Cruz, as you noted, was enough of an outsider to appeal, without the baggage and buffoonery of Trump.

    B) I fully expect the RNC to institute Super-Delegates for the next election cycle, because we can’t have someone not approved by the RNC being the candidate again. Because they’ll always be the stupid party. Of course if this happens, and if the DNC keeps things as they are, there might be TWO new political parties next election cycle, the Socialists (putting forward Bernie or someone similar again) and Conservatives (Cruz maybe?). MAYBE the RNC will be smart enough to take Trump (assuming he runs for re-election, although I doubt he will), or they might withhold their endorsement and try to run a three-party race (thereby handing the election to the D’s).

    Interesting times (in the Chinese curse manner) indeed.

    1. Embrace the Power Of And…..
      Dems: The Stupid Evil Party!
      Never underestimating the stupidity of the GOPe is a winning bet.
      Super-Delegates have destroyed the Grass Roots of the Democrat Party, and if the GOP voters allow this to be done to them, well……the Whigs spawned the GOP and may be there to welcome it to Perdition.

    2. I think Trump cruises to victory in 2020. Easy win for an incumbent President…especially since his biggest vulnerability, inexperience, will no longer apply.

  2. Perhaps you should check out Don Surber’s two books, Trump The Press (the nomination), and Trump The Establishment (the election), available at Amazon.

    I met PJ many years ago, liked his work, but we’ve changed and I don’t find him funny now.

  3. PJ has been a great chronicler of the idiocy found in power-centers, whether politics or manufacturing (some of us still fondly remember the coals he raked people over during his stay at Car & Driver). Today, I have to question if he “gets out much”.
    Perhaps he should lay on a road-trip through Flyover Country (“Flyover Nation: You Can’t Run a Country You’ve Never Been To”) with Salena Zito who seems to have a feel for what is happening out there today between the Appalachians, and the Pacific Coastal Range? Perhaps they could include Dana Loesch (see above) who could give them shooting lessons?

  4. Finally! Kim’s right, Trump rode a wave of disgust and gross incompetence by the GOP Establishment to the nomination. Grabbing illegal immigration as an issue gave him a front-tier position, but he was only getting 20% of the vote in early primaries. That’s losing, big. But in a field of 16, it was enough to be the least loser. The GOPe should have looked at that field BEFORE Iowa and told them there were only 12 tickets out of Iowa, 9 out of New Hampshire, and 7 out of South Carolina. Clear out the no-hope candidates early.

    Now, if the GOPe got a brain transplant, they would realize that this is a golden opportunity. Let Trump do the dirty work. And get reelected, the Democrats don’t have anyone who can beat him in 2020 – they’re not just the Evil Party, they’re the Old Evil Party. Then come into 2024 with a new candidate (not Mike Pence) who has no ties to Trump and can win big.

  5. Bernie Sanders is absolutely, positively, not a Socialist.

    He is a con-man, and a very, very good one. I salute him, for he, I and Canada Bill Jones believe that it is immoral to let a sucker keep his money.

    The American voter has become a consummate sucker, and I am sorry for that, but even so, the American voter must therefore be picked clean, sheered of his wool, plucked of his down and be separated from his spondulix.

    And cry me no rivers about the current small number of sane voters being equally punished, they deserve it for not controlling the intellectual weaklings in their herd.

    I believe that I will move forward with my perpetual solar energy company, there’s still lots and lots of good sweet taxpayer gravy in the AGW – alternative energy scam. Al Gore did not get it all.

  6. I’ll admit that I was not a Trump fan myself, and had a hard time voting for him.
    Voting against Hillary was easy, and watching her get beat was just plain awesome.
    Since the election, I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the good, and almost ecstatic that it’s still not Hillary or Former President Obama.

  7. And here we are, with the man who should not have won, . Ha Ha Ha…..

    He was not exactly my first choice but I became a supporter, if only because he would appoint a good judge to the Supremes, and he did. Ha Ha Ha……

    Everything else is gravy on top and he keeps pouring it on while rescinding the Obama crap, over and over…..

    I never liked him as a TV Star, super wealthy, New Yorker but I really like him as my president because he won and beat the Wicked Witch. Ha Ha Ha…..

    I used to like P.J. O’Rourke’s writing but over time he became trapped in the coastal power field, what passes for conservative for those coastal folk and that doesn’t cut it here in Texas, he lost me.

    You are right, the goofy, annoying Trump stuff has become a different game, kind of like inventing a new change up pitch and the funny part is that he is my President, he can and does change the rules.

    Ha Ha Ha……

  8. Somehow I seem to work longer hours as the years go by, so I miss reading the erudite and the greats (except KdT and his correspondents).
    But in one of the few sensible papers left in Oz, last weekend, was an opinion piece that referred to H L Mencken. Cripes, that rang a bell. Dust off your Mencken – he is probably as relevant as ever!
    ( memo KdT- I am pleased to hear that you are enjoying the time in Englishland- refresh and revive)

  9. I remember telling my wife and only a couple of friends during the election that I though the pollsters were missing it. I really believed that people who supported Trump were not admitting it, and just went out and voted for him. No one wants to be ridiculed. There was a disconnect between his crowds and the poll numbers. I voted for him and hoped for his win but I didn’t predict it. As skeptical as I was, I couldn’t believe that the Clinton juggernaut could be beaten.

    1. As it turns out, they weren’t that powerful after all, just loud. The image that sticks in my mind is the Evil Bitch doung a face plant, being dragged into that SUV, and leaving a single shoe behind.

  10. Seems to me that a major factor in Trump’s win was Joe Sixpack’s disgust at “business as usual” by the Beltway Bandits. Many different groups of Joes and different bits and pieces of business, but they added up to the result we saw.

  11. Last year, I moved from Texas, back to the U.P. of Michigan, and now live in a “blue” section of the area. there are many Union folk in these parts as I’m on the Mi/Wi border and the biggest employer is the boatyard making the littoral boats noted for breaking, plus a foundry, an engine part maker, and two Paper mills, among others, all union (how my employer has avoided unionizing is amazing as management is ignorant as the day is long and we got a few gov’t contracts).
    During the run up to the election, on either side of the river, there were many yards with the Russ for Wi signs, some kid financed by the left in Lansing running here in Michigan, other leftoid locals etc, and maybe 3 Hillary signs. There were a few Trump signs, one “Some thief stole my Trump sign” sign, and several home made Trump signs. There were more fools with Brnie signs than Hillary, and none of those changed other than a few that lost all their signs when she copped the nomination. Then again, I understand it was a bit hard to get Hillary signs in these parts, as she knew she was gonna win, so she concentrated on get out the vote in NYC, Chicago, the Left Coast etc, to ensure she won the popular vote, instead of ensuring she’d carry the “Safe States” of Mi and Wi.
    One fool at work knew Trump would crash the economy (eyeroll), but others who would normally be dem votes quietly admitted they couldn’t bring themselves to vote for her. One saying Benghazi turned him, the other simply “I couldn’t spend the next 4 years listening to her.”
    She is not well liked by her own party voters, so many stayed home, or voted Trump in spite.
    Trump had the populist ground swell, and folks like me who decided “Nope, can’t let her win” so gladly pulled the Trump vote, and hoped he’d not screw up as bad as we know he could, and have for the most part been very happy with him. Still not a full on Trump supporter, but hey, he keeps going like he has been, I’ll be happy to vote for him next time too.

  12. PJ was a conservative Boomer. After his success as a maverick, he then became part of the establishment. Time and relevancy has simply passed him by. It happens.

  13. “only in his case, “the bastards” includes anyone earning more than $100k a year, hence his appeal to the Young & Stupid Set on the Left.”

    Well, anyone earning more than $100k a year…..except Bernie and his wife. They deserve what they get because they nobly pick my pocket to provide a living for parasites.

    Yeah, P. J. used to be funny. But, he will be 70 years old soon and divides his time between his home in New Hampshire and Washington D. C. Nothing like living in the swamp to remove your sense of humor. He probably just wants to be invited to the chic cocktail parties and conservative oriented humor tends to alienate the swampers.

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