The center cannot hold water

Indignity Vol. 4, No. 87

The center cannot hold water
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), and Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY), speak to members of the press on the steps of the House of Representatives at the U.S. Capitol on May 8, 2024 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Kent Nishimura/Getty Images)

David Leonhardt Imagines a Constructive Congress


WHAT IF THE things you thought were messed up and bad are actually effective and good? David Leonhardt, the New York Times newsletter franchise who kept telling his readers the pandemic was over until eventually everyone agreed to act as if that were true, delivered another contrarian-yet-complacent take earlier this week:

It may be the most discussed fact about American politics today: The country is deeply polarized. The Republican Party has moved to the right by many measures, and the Democratic Party has moved to the left. Each party sees the other as an existential threat. One consequence of this polarization, politicians and pundits often say, is gridlock in Washington.

But in a country that is supposed to have a gridlocked federal government, the past four years are hard to explain. These years have been arguably the most productive period of
Washington bipartisanship in decades.

Bold words about the same Washington, D.C., that needed nearly six months, including multiple near shutdowns of the government, to pass a budget for the 2024 fiscal year. How does a federal government in which Congress can barely do its most basic constitutional job count as a model of effectiveness? 

One way to make the argument (beyond saying "arguably," the magic word that pundits believe has the power to turn an objectively losing claim into a theoretically winning one) is to lump together a batch of very different things. Citing "the past four years" allowed Leonhardt to cover three distinct political situations: the last year of the Trump administration, in which a Democratic House and Republican Senate cooperated to pass emergency Covid pandemic legislation; the first two years of the Biden administration, in which Democrats controlled the White House and both houses of Congress, but with Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema obstructing their own Senate majority; and the past year and five months, with Biden still as president, the Democrats still barely controlling the Senate, and Republicans now holding a tiny, self-destructive majority in the House. 

Hence Leonhardt's own hyperlink, pointing to a newsletter that he'd written two years ago, in which he wrote that the "117th Congress has been strikingly functional": 

On a bipartisan basis, it has passed bills to build roads and other infrastructure; tighten gun safety; expand health care for veterans; protect victims of sexual misconduct; overhaul the Postal Service; support Ukraine’s war effort; and respond to China’s growing aggressiveness.

Wonderful. Unfortunately, the 117th Congress isn't around anymore. And how has the support for Ukraine's war effort gone in the 118th Congress

This is the false bottom in the box where Leonhardt says a productive government can be found. If you take the ways that each one of the three recent alignments of the federal government has separately managed to be productive, and you skip over all the various ways that each one has been wildly unproductive, you can make it sound as if the federal government accomplishes things these days.

Or you can look at the actual presently existing Congress, as Axios did late last year, writing it was "on track to be one of the most unproductive in modern history":

When you dig into the laws passed by this Congress, the picture becomes even more bleak.
• The vast majority were uncontroversial bills that passed either by unanimous consent or with minimal opposition, including multiple measures to rename Veterans Affairs clinics and another to mint a coin commemorating the 250th anniversary of the Marine Corps.
• The other main class of legislation that Congress passed this year were must-pass bills raising the debt ceiling and keeping the government funded.

Yet Leonhardt maintained that a new dynamism is on display in the capital, driven by the "emergence of a new form of American centrism." This centrism, Leonhardt wrote, is not the stodgy moderation that got called "centrist" under the old neoliberal ruling consensus, but a turn away from it, "a recognition that neoliberalism failed to deliver." If you were trying to discern some general direction in the lurching movements the government still manages to produce, and you were David Leonhardt, you could call it "neopopulism." 

("Call it neopopulism," he told the readers.) 

But if people are supposed to call it something, what is it, exactly? Is it even an it? Leonhardt's neopopulism takes tariffs, infrastructure projects, and semiconductor promotion—that is, the things that Joe Biden was able to pass—and defines them as a coherent turn away from free trade and toward industrial policy. Throw in the TikTok ban and some foreign aid and you have "the battle against an emerging autocratic alliance that is led by China and includes Russia, North Korea, Iran and groups like Hamas and the Houthis." 

China and...the Houthis? George W. Bush's Axis of Evil never dreamed of such possibilities. 

But that was before the age of Donald Trump, who, in Leonhardt's account "did move his party toward the middle on several big economic issues." Well, maybe not moved it in the sense of moving it, Leonhardt allowed:

Trump himself remains inconsistent on many policy questions. Even as he talked like a populist president, he installed pro-deregulation cabinet secretaries, and his signature domestic legislation was a nearly $2 trillion tax cut skewed toward the wealthy. If re-elected, he has promised to extend it. He recently reversed his support for a forced sale of TikTok shortly after speaking with a Republican campaign donor whose firm owns a stake in TikTok’s parent company.
Even as he talked like a populist president, he installed pro-deregulation cabinet secretaries, and his signature domestic legislation was a nearly $2 trillion tax cut skewed toward the wealthy. 

The caveats kept caveating. The basic idea behind this neopopulism or centrism, Leonhardt wrote, is that public opinion is leftish on economic policy, but not on "social and cultural issues." Well, maybe not all social and cultural issues:

Americans lean right on many of those issues, polls show (albeit not as far right as the Republican Party has moved on abortion).

Parentheses and an "albeit" for the single most electorally galvanizing social issue in generations! This is where the lumps swept under the rug started to lift the rug up off the floor. But Leonhardt had one more big point to make, with an even bigger caveat. The real point of convergence was where certain Democrats and certain Republicans happened to agree with David Leonhardt's own hobbyhorse, immigration. 

As a non-ideological pundit, interested strictly in the will of the people, Leonhardt has concluded that the United States has let in too many foreigners, and real Americans don't like it. Immigration is something imposed on the people by free-trade types, who like how it breaks down barriers between nations:

Most voters, especially working-class voters, feel differently. The soaring level of immigration during Biden’s presidency, much of it illegal, has become a political liability,

And so the neopopulist movement came together and...uh:

Senate Democrats and Republicans put together a plan to strengthen border security. It was the mirror image of Republicans’ agreeing to support the semiconductor and infrastructure bills: This time, some Democrats abandoned a policy stance that was out of step with public opinion.

The immigration proposal never became law because Trump viewed it as politically helpful to Biden and persuaded congressional Republicans
to kill it

Here is Leonhardt's productive bipartisanship at work: Republicans staked out a right-wing position against immigration. Democrats, beaten down by Republican attacks and coverage of the "border crisis" in outlets like the New York Times, agreed to support that right-wing position. And then the Republicans refused to cooperate, because the whole point was to use immigration as a political weapon. Neopopulism is when nothing gets done, but loudly. 

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Indignity Vol. 4, No. 666


Deathfest Band Logos Are Finely Wrought Metal 

THE 2024 MARYLAND Deathfest, more correctly billed as Maryland Deathfest XIX, is starting tomorrow, May 23, 2024. Death Metal bands from all over the planet are converging on Baltimore, Maryland for four days of Death. 

Here’s a lineup from a recent Maryland Deathfest:

Acid Witch • Antichrist Siege Machine • Asthma Castle • Atheist • Autopsy • Bile • Birdflesh • Blood Feast • Blood Incantation • Bowel Erosion • Cadaveric Incubator • Cancer • Carcass • Cardiac Arrest • Cavalera (Return Beneath Arise) • Cephalic Carnage • Cerebral Rot • Cloud Rat • Coroner • Crosspitter • Dark Fortress • Deeds of Flesh • Deicide • Demilich • Demolition Hammer • Destruction • Divine Eve • Drawn and Quartered • Enforced • Exhorder • Frizzi 2 Fulci • Ghoul • Gravesend • Graveyard • Human Effluence • Hypocrisy • Immolation • Impaled • Imprecation • Infest • Malformity • Malignant Altar • Massacre • Miasmatic Necrosis • Monstrosity • Mortician • Mortiferum • Napalm Raid • Necrofier • Necrophobic • No/Mas • Nocturnus AD • November’s Doom • Nunslaughter • Obituary • Onslaught • Panzerfaust • Pink Mass • Primitive Man • Profanatica • Putrid Pile • Pyrexia • Retching Pus • Rottrevore • Sacralegia • Sacramentum • Scattered Remnants • Schirenc Plays Pungent Stench • Scorched • Shock Narcotic • Skeletal Remains • Spite • Squash Bowels • Suffering Hour • Suffocation • Sulfuric Cautery • The Ruins of Beverast • Throaat • Total Maniac • Triptykon • Triumph of Death • UADA • Vio-lence • Warfuck • Warmask • Whoresnation • Yautja • Zombie Assault

I mean, “Miasmatic Necrosis,” that is completely disgusting and unfortunate, eh? That is a Goregrind band, but I’m not getting into the sub-genres, it’s all beyond me, I’m here for the cryptic and unsettling and unrecognizable logos!

It’s always fun to look at the logos of the bands and play the game “Can I figure out the name of the Deathfest band by looking at their gnarly logo?”

The answer is frequently  “no.” I cannot even guess at this one, so it’s now one of my favorites, a logo that makes me feel like a complete outsider, like, if I was really interested in keeping the scene alive, I would know the name of this band. I am not worthy. I really like what this one is giving, though, it’s a drippy spider with four of its legs pulled off, and it doesn’t care, it’s just sitting there, being deadly. I think there’s an “R” in there, but that’s all I got. It feels like something wet and covered with dust lying in the corner of an unfinished basement, lit by a single naked lightbulb that’s swinging a little so you can never quite get a look at whatever this horror exactly is. For the record, as far as the name of this band, my official and highly-incorrect answer is: NHERK. (Editor's note: answer below)*

I can say with a high degree of confidence that this is DISMEMBER. A solid Deathfest-type name.

Another straightforward logo (I think), and a great Death-y name, SODOM. Good times.

Some of the logos are at first glance impossible, but I’m seeing BLOODBATH here. See it? See the BLOODBATH?

This one is great because it has bat wings and upside-down crosses, and it looks like MADHELM, but the small scratchy stuff in the center might be more words, I can’t figure it out. (Editor’s note: Indignity Morning Podcast theme composer Mack Scocca-Ho correctly identified this as MAYHEM)

Tree-root-looking logos are big in this scene, and I immediately scanned this as  ARTROACH, but then I thought about trees and it could be ARTOAK. ARLOAH?

I really like this band name because it’s SABBATH, but they left off the “S” for SAVINGS, hiyo!

FORBIDDEN almost seems like it’s a different genre of music, but it’s menacing.

ARCTURUS is great because there’s what looks like a seahorse in there, or maybe a dragon.

PRIMORDIAL has so much going on, antlers, animal skull, ouroboros!

CRYPTOPSY is awesome, spiderwebby, dirty, a crypt that eats like an autopsy.

GORGUTS? GERGDTS? I keep wanting to say GORGOSITY but that isn’t any more correct than the rest of my answers.

I am guessing 1349 is some sort of significant Death-date, and it is an unusual logo for this group of bands, so it must be a highly portentous and grim number. Or else you hold it upside-down in front of a mirror or something and it's a word?

OPPRESSOR is another fun one where you look at it and feel good about yourself when you see the word, although the word is OPPRESSOR, so stop feeling good, right? Perfect.

SOILENT GREEN is great because they made [SPOILER ALERT] the movie title SOYLENT GREEN, the film about eating people, worse, somehow, by making it SOIL.

VOMITORY is totally the one I would want the t-shirt of.

I am pretty sure this is AHAB, but it could also be ACAB, but I think it’s AHAB. Ahoy! Kill the whale!

ARCHGOAT, wow, what a great name! Full-on Satan stuff, upside-down cross, runes or whatever, hail, the Greatest Of All Time!

I don't even know how much more I can say about using the name of cinema’s Coal Miner’s Daughter, Academy Award-winning Sissy Spacek, for a Death Metal—or other closely-related sub-genre, excuse my ignorance—band, except, bravo, or WUUURRRRRGHHH!!!! or whatever they do at the shows to voice approval. UOOGH!

I think this is DERKETH, and it’s sort of an electrocuted-root-hair look, very great logo.

I had to cheat and look up the name of this one because I was worried, but the name of this band is MORTUARY DRAPE, which is fine, and I really enjoy the bat wings and devil tail.

IRON LUNG is just sort of classic grim medical stuff, solid.

This looks like logo design by CAPTCHA, and I hope it says WEEKEND NACHOS, otherwise I am not human.

Another medical horror, ORGAN FAILURE, def kinda creeps up on you as you take it in. My eyes have not yet failed! Are eyes organs? Yuck!

OK, this has been a lot of DEATH METAL logos, and I left many good ones on the table, make sure you enjoy the Deathfest web site and ’em all. I gotta wrap this bit up now, in a MORTUARY DRAPE, yeah? This last one jumped out right away, LACK OF INTEREST, this is the year’s winner for me. Apathy is an interesting and appropriate sub-theme for Death Metal, it fits in a nicely harmonious way when the logo for the band is completely legible, and not in title case, and just sort of letters, which makes me think there was indeed a lack of interest even in creating a scuzzy/spidery/blood-gore logo for the scene. Hail, Apathy!

Here is the Maryland Deathfest 2024 Spotify playlist, URRRHHGGHHHRR!!

*The band with the "drippy spider with four of its legs pulled off" logo is MORK.

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Light blue sky with tiny bit of wispy clouds way way far away

New York City, May 21, 2024

★★★★★ The weight and bulk of the jacket, brought along as protection against air conditioning, jounced annoyingly in the bag. The actors were at it again with their Henry IV scripts on the grass above the Pool. Between patches of dappled shade, the direct sun on the notebook was a little too harsh; by the North Meadow ballfields, even the asphalt underfoot was glaringly bright. In early afternoon there was a ballgame going on, complete with uniformed umpires, and the shade was a needed relief from the hot, grassy air. A hawk circled at treetop height, sun shining red through its tail, and a flight of pigeons, of all things, seemed to briefly be circling to chase it. A penny gleamed on a rock under the stream by the waterfall, while petals floated over it, casting moving shadows on the bottom. A sunbather fanned herself with a folding fan. By the 5 o'clock hour the heat had retreated from the side streets, though it still pressed on Broadway. The man with the $20 wireless earbuds for sale was still wearing the same red puffy coat as always. A mile-long walk home in the hour toward sunset was suffused with light and free of the least discomfort. 

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CLICK ON THIS box to enjoy today's Indignity Morning Podcast:

Indignity Morning Podcast No. 279: The threat of accountability.
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WE PRESENT INSTRUCTIONS in aid of the assembly of a sandwich selected from Mrs. Ericsson Hammond's Salad Appetizer Cook Book, by Maria Matilda Ericsson Hammond. Published in 1924, and now in the Public Domain and available at for the delectation of all.

Caviar russe à la Yvonne

Six slices of bread, two tomatoes, a small head of lettuce, three tablespoons of caviar, three tablespoons of butter, pepper and salt.

How to Make It. Put the lettuce in ice-water to become crisp. Select even-sized lettuce leaves, one for each person. Stir the butter to a cream and spread the bread with the butter. Cut the bread out with a medium patty cutter. Spread each sandwich with a little caviar and put a lettuce leaf on each, peel and slice the tomatoes evenly. Cut the center out of the sliced tomatoes. Fill the center with caviar, and make leaves of the stirred butter around on the tomato slices. Arrange in the form of a ring on a platter and put the heart of the lettuce in the center. Just before serving sprinkle some French dressing over the lettuce. This can also be served as a salad.

If you decide to prepare and attempt to enjoy a sandwich inspired by this offering, be sure to send a picture to 

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Supplies are really and truly running low of the second printing of 19 FOLK TALES, still available for gift-giving and personal perusal! Sit in the gathering heat with a breezy collection of stories, each of which is concise enough to read before the sun gets high.

HMM WEEKLY MINI-ZINE, Subject: GAME SHOW, Joe MacLeod’s account of his Total Experience of a Journey Into Television, expanded from the original published account found here at Hmm DailyThe special MINI ZINE features other viewpoints related to an appearance on, at, and inside the teevee game show Who Wants to Be A Millionaire, available for purchase at SHOPULA.

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