Beyond the malaise of [gestures toward politics] everything, I think I’m finally starting to get a bit of energy back. Maybe it’s that I spent so much of the end of 2019 and about three quarters of 2020 on high alert to the point that I’d regularly sleep 4 hours a night, but I feel…good? Without jinxing myself, I feel like I’m back to around the beginning of 2019 as far as mental health goes, and while I’m not quite there physically, I’m at least on some path toward feeling in control of my life, of my future, of my business’ future, and so on. Hell, even my family life feels stable and good.
Maybe it’s also that I have stuff coming, like lifting but it’s a computer thing Tonal or potential new way I will fail to learn piano Lumi or some Airpods Max I forgot I preordered that arrive Saturday. Or maybe it’s just that I’m lucky. Who knows!
In Appreciation Of David Roth
This classic from David Roth, Defector co-owner and my former editor at both Deadspin and Vice Sports is important to me because I had to describe Rudy Giuliani to my wife’s grandmother last night, and my brain immediately switched to “he is constantly dying of gin.” It’s such a beautiful way of describing Rudy - a man who does not appear to be able to survive in the earth’s atmosphere, seemingly dying at all times but never quite able to crest the hill into Hell. I’d argue that David is one of the best political columnists writing today - someone who should be given that New York Times column not only for his correct, empathetic positions, but because he is able to distill the zeitgeist of any particular situation with startling clarity, cold realism, and yet a warm and playful humanity that nobody else is able to.
This piece on how we got to Donald Trump is one of the few columns on the capitol insurrection that acknowledged that he did not magically become president, and these problems did not just happen because of his presidency. It’s also the perfect distillation of what makes David so good:
The first time Trump ran, it was as the person who could and would avenge various offenses against his followers’ honor in ways that his opponents were too weak to do and too compromised even to attempt. When he ran again, during the second zenith of a plague that he’d alternately ignored and denied, he didn’t even bother making that pitch. He did not claim to have fixed the problems he’d done so much to create, or even to have an idea about how to fix them; he ran against those problems as he understood them, which was as if they were petty and jealous rivals unfairly trying to make him look bad, but mostly he ran as The President, and on the demand that what was his must be allowed to remain his, as it was his by right.
One of the (many) things David does well is the distillation of time and actions clearly, with a degree of sardonic empathy - he understands that Trump’s followers are human beings, and being sold a line of bullshit, and were still human, but were also marks. Roth takes astute points and positions them against a socioeconomic backbone without turning it into a big fucking mess of terms.
By the time Trump’s people breached the Capitol building, the story in which they saw themselves had expanded far beyond him. He was still very much its central character, and his permanent presidency was still its main aim, but there were by the end a lot of strange things in it that had been brought in from outside. The rot and drift and killing abstraction in American life that had made his first campaign possible—that emptiness and parlousness that Trump correctly adduced as proof of a great and longstanding betrayal of the public trust and incorrectly claimed that he would fix—had only grown, and the stories that people told about Trump on television and online and to themselves metastasized in turn.
Roth somehow writes in a way that’s imminently readable yet has the cache and “damn that’s smart” feeling that you’re meant to get with the Gladwells of the world, but fail to if you think about for two seconds how simply what they said could actually be said.
Nobody will summarize the state of Trump’s America better than this:
The distance and defeat in this is awful to behold, and has created a nation that is both desperately strident and shockingly servile. In the absence of any capacity or will to demand more from it, politics just becomes what people argue about instead of what’s actually happening to them. It’s just a TV show, and people watch it as such. This was the one big thing that Trump understood—not just that he could do whatever vile thing he wanted, but how many millions there were who truly could not imagine any greater pleasure or higher calling than the chance to do it for him.
Roth’s ability to summarize both short and long-form is an enviable talent - the ability to create tweets that are cutting and brilliant, the ability to write 2000 words or 4000 words about one thing that people struggle to grasp the malaise of - I truly believe that David should be on every political show talking about every political thing, and somehow also a regular sports talking head too.
His creation of the “Let’s Remember Some Guys” franchise is a perfect example of why he’s just…possibly the best at this? If you really think about sports - not the sports you yell about online or even the games you watch, the memories of sports you have are a collection of the guys you remember doing things you remember, which doesn’t necessarily always shake out as LeBron or Michael Jordan or Tom Brady. I was lucky enough to write at Vice about the Golden State Warriors several times, and the guy I remember the most is Shaun Livingston hitting shots and looking so, so happy. Sure, I remember LeBron’s physical brutality and speed, but I really, for some reason, remember Shaun, despite him being basically the only non-superstar on the Warriors at that time.
And when I think of football, my favourite sport (I mean the NFL), I think of Mark Sanchez, Bernard Berrian, Derek Anderson, T.J. Houshmandzadeh (which I nearly spelled correctly from memory), I remember Brandon Jacobs, I remember watching Kurt Warner on the Cardinals (not on the Rams), or Brett Favre’s Vikings run - I remember football through a series of Some Guys, not because they were superstars, but because they had their moments. Hell, I fondly remember Rex Grossman, a quarterback that was usually awful but very occasionally amazing, who the bears overpaid for no good reason. I’d argue our collective history and appreciation of sports is either through the people we see sports with or the Guys We Remember - in many cases Guys with mediocre careers. I remember defensive end Mario Williams only because I was at a post-party hangover slump watching the NFL draft, and thinking “wow, I do not know what a defensive end is.”
And I believe that the way that David recounts Guy Rememberance is something that’s so amazingly executed - it doesn’t pretend to be wistful or nostalgic in a way that feels phony, and mostly centers around Dave’s experience of sports, his memories of his memories of sports, the things around sports that make him care for sports - the way that most people actually experience it.
If you haven’t read much of his work, now’s a great time to. He’s written some great stuff at The New Republic and obviously Defector. He even has a wonderful podcast around terrible Hallmark movies with fellow good writer Jeb Lund. Try David Roth at your local internet today.