Donald Trump: “I Tell It Like It Is”, Whatever That Means

What does “it” mean in that sentence? What does “is” mean? Circular logic, well, is what it is. The first “it” would seem to imply facts, truths, or simply popular biases. The second “it” only works under its conjunction with “is,” which, as President Clinton knows, is a claim to some sort of knowledge of reality that at a minimum its audience is supposed to accept as true. A literal translation would go something like: “I tell you about the world like I think I (either) believe (or) want to exploit your (superlimited, necessarily biased) supposed understanding of.” If you’ve seen a single episode of any reality show, you’ve heard someone say, “It is what it is.” Whatever Trump means, we’re talking a deprivation of intellect, a mimesis of the televisual imagination.

Demagogue, narcissist, product of privilege to whom no one has ever said “no”: however you want to type him, Trump’s a product of our ethos/value-free fame-sucking culture as much as any Kardashian. Can we break it down for you? Thus: John McCain, war hero if nothing else, says Trump’s vile stereotyping of Mexicans brings out the “crazies”. Trump, pretending he doesn’t understand English, says McCain was calling the attendees at his event “crazies” (which, mind you, is just a mild insult). What any native speaker knows he meant is that Trump’s asinine idea of building a Great Wall of China on our border encourages fantasists and scape goaters who need some mass of humans to blame for the state of the world. (N.B. Trump supporters skew to white men who have only high school degrees, who are indeed being screwed by technology and globalism, but who also seem to think they should never have to do anything to keep up with change. Just resist.) Based on this dumb anger (T. is the thinnest-skinned man ever to run in the digital age), Trump clearly demeans McCain’s war service. I mean, if he doesn’t “like” vets who were captured, what about those killed? Were they just losers who didn’t fight hard enough? Trump’s draft deferments are well documented, including this excellent take down in the WaPo:

McCain acts like a decent human being, does not demand apology to him, but to those who served. (If you know anyone who did serve in Vietnam, you know with 90% certainty they do not agree, not to say they’d want him run through with a bayonet at the end of a rifle or anything.) Trump pretends he was not voicing off-the-cuff anger in a dumbass way, but he was concerned that, somehow, because all problems with the VA have not been solved like one solves a contract dispute with undocumented (not the word Trump would likely use) Mexican workers on a giant casino or something, that he “cares” about vets, and will completely solve all administration problems with the VA, because: businessman born to millions who now has billions.

This is old news, which is precisely the point. Essentially what we have is Postmodern Man or, as David Foster Wallace coined, an Outsized Feral Infant. There is no reality besides that in his head, and the heads of those who naively take the bait he’s got on offer. While it is amusing to think about how Trump would manage a meeting with a hostile foreign leader, when he said something off-the-cuff that might possibly cause new hostility and death, and then blame the press when the all-out war in Ukraine started WWIII, in which of course his progeny would not serve, because they were busy bilking money out of investors who believed in the Myth of Trump, we’d rather not. Think Putin–his model–equally divorced from the notion that others exist in this world and deserve respect, and equally besotted with Himself.

Thus also: Megyn Kelly asks a perfectly contemporary debate question about “sexist things sexist people say in modern media” and she becomes the villain for, what? No one who watches Fox News for edification will remember what she asked come next year.

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Give War a Chance: A Brief Meta-Analysis of the Same Old Game of Death

A fellow named Michael Oren, Israeli ambassador to the U.S. from 2009-13, in an editorial in the Washington Post, posits, of John Kerry and others pushing for a cessation of hostilities in the current conflict, “To preserve the values they cherish and to send an unequivocal message to terrorist organizations and their state sponsors everywhere, Israel must be permitted to crush Hamas in the Gaza Strip.” (Carthago delenda est?) He also claims that in the past, when Israel was persuaded to end similar operations, the terrorists “won” (though admitting that the bar for these wins was “extraordinarily low”), moving on to what we think is inadvertently the author’s key line: “So the cycle continued.” He concludes with the most Orwellian sentence either of us has seen in print in many a year: “To guarantee peace, this war must be given a chance.”

We of course have to begin by opting out of the choose-a-team phase of issues like this.* We neither stand with the European school of thought that almost reflexively sees the primary villain as Israel, nor with a single man who would blow himself up in a café or on a bus in the name of symbolically “striking” his symbolical enemy (for no one who does this is ever thinking about other human beings qua human being, ever). And weighing the wrongs of the two sides is about as useless an exercise as “Where did history begin?” We all understand (Postmanisms hopes), that resolving history’s endless parade of Oresteian bloodshed cannot be accomplished by deciding who had the land first, or who hit who first. The virus of a hatred that will not be sated with blood is latent in us all, to a man and to a woman, given the circumstances. We all know actual humans who slither about on the energy of perceived wrongs.

But let us take a look at the language of the man who, all he is saying is Give War a Chance. (cf. Hamas leader Khaled Messhaal’s Charlie Rose interview, from, we believe, the safe luxury of a posh hotel in Qatar.) First, everyone is always sending “a message” with their bullets, bombs, rockets, and blood. What message? That for every one of “us” who dies, a hundred of “you” will die? (Decode, if you can separate it from his group’s egoistic obfuscations, the “message” Usama Bin Laden “sent” to the symbolic West on 9-11-01.) Then tell us how that message can be separated from the nightly b-roll on television of weeping mothers and grieving fathers and blocks of living quarters reduced to rubble? If death in this fashion is a message, the meta-message is, “This, every day, is what all humans are constantly in danger of doing to all other humans. The choice, to continue or to stop, is yours.” We’re in Hannah Arendt territory here, as far from philosophical understanding as we’ll ever be, which was her point.

He dreams of “crush”ing Hamas. Name us one reason human beings have come up with for killing one another that has ever, in human history, been crushed? Do you realize that, in South America right now, people are being persecuted for witchcraft, inflamed by fundamentalist missionaries and their belief in a literal devil? Also, we’re being asked to see the conflict in purely political terms, as if there doesn’t stand, behind and before politics, human nature. Before any reader gets humpty about that archaic-seeming phrase, we’re not saying there is any such thing as “human nature” that the majority of people in even the average church (much less nation) would agree on. Just that one’s conviction about what human nature consists of will determine what actions one deems just. Those who believe violence and hatred begin and end with politics*** are invited to get back to us years from now and show us how well that political solution (whether it be war or power sharing) worked out.

And then that key line, meant to denote the seemingly endless recurrence of this particular conflict (though it must be noted that it is also, broadly, the most exasperating feature of all such conflicts, the kind of thing that makes your parents go, “They’ve been killing each other for centuries. There’s nothing we can do about it.”). Ambassador says, not without a note of exasperation himself, “So the cycle continued.” Of course, the author seems to firmly believe the “cycle” can be ended, if we’ll just let a few more hundreds of innocent human beings die in the heap with a few dozen guilty ones. So let’s construct a counter-reality. What if the only way to end violence would be not to escalate violence, most especially when one is provoked to it (the actual meaning of Jesus’ “turn the other cheek”; and admitting that if Hamas can’t keep members of its populace from killing innocent symbolical teenagers, it is certainly never going to be able to sell peace; same goes for Israel’s “settlers”—putting all your angry, ready-to-kill zealots in the same community is also no way forward). But what if, as we saw in the first week when hundreds of lousy little rockets managed to kill exactly one Israeli citizen, the nation had not launched a war? Would that not be a much clearer “message”? (Look for tunnels all you want; put every armed citizen on tunnel hunt for a month—your border’s not much bigger than the Gulf Coast of Alabama.)

Violence is a mimetic disease of the human species, and communal violence was probably necessary in our ancient past to keep us from wiping ourselves out (other animals never do this; they are incapable of holding fantasies of everlasting vengeance and “crush”ing enemies, and they never come up with the idea that some other animals don’t have the right to live next to them***). Again, read your Oresteia. But at this late date, when every human who wants one can get their hands on explosive weaponry, is it really too much to ask to try a little positive mimesis? Just like with violence: someone has to go first, to “cast the first stone,” so the other throwers can feel justified. What might happen if someone tried to be the first, just for today (and then tomorrow and then . . .), to DROP the first stone and walk away? Are these not the “values” we should “cherish” if we have any interest in our species’ survival?

And there are and never will be any “guarantees”.

* Wow. Want to see how incoherent morality can be without a language for it? See Sam Harris, Commercial Atheist, in Salon. Because he believes Religion is Stupid, he disapproves of a “Jewish state” (using the word “unjustified,” as if there is some common moral concept our combatants share that would make that term meaningful). But because of, um, Muslims, there is an “obvious,” nay, “undeniable moral difference” between these two groups in this particular battle. (Any thoughts on Ukraine, Sam? No religion in that one.) His words come from moral discourse but have no ground that he cares to explicate in his essay, because in our post-Enlightenment world, they can mean nothing on a communal level except the expression of preferences (here, Jews over Muslims, and sorry about the dead kids). His language is “emotivism,” as McIntyre has it in After Virtue, assuming a consensus about their meaning that simply does not exist now. Without a moral language, which has a tradition, what you have is ideology and politics (or **), from which you just pick a side in your sovereign individuality, then yell as loud as you can.

** (or economics, or psychology, or our irrational “lizard brain”, or just a bunch of neurons firing away for no particular purpose other than what we gather in our individualities to freely pick and choose like shoppers at the mall)

*** Imprecise metaphor, although: consider lion-on-gazelle action. Lion gets full, quits for the day. Lion does not suddenly decide to kill every single gazelle on the veldt.

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And the Word Became App, and the Media Looked Upon Its Work, and Said It Was Good

It was dumb enough for Western media to credit Facebook and Twitter with (nearly) being the fulcrum of the Arab Spring, which has now dissolved into actual human complexity and savagery. Now, new media’s getting an upgrade. In a segment called “The Big Idea” (because a million big ideas = progress, right TED?) Chelsea Clinton reports for NBC Nightly News on a new Bible app for yr smartphone. Which makes it new. Because no one has a Bible app out there, right?

Story follows a youth pastor, of the vein-popping, cropped hair sort who’s megachurch standard these days. You know, the cool Christian. Hip, with it. “It makes me realize wow, they do get it. They’re digging into God’s word, just in digital form.” Just like the activity buildings for basketball and roller-skating that non-mega churches started erecting all over America in the 70s; there’s nothing Jesus disapproved of more than not being up-to-date with the latest trend.

Teen says, “I can dig into God’s word whenever I want to,” which, we guess, means sneaking a peek at the Bible app in his secular-school English class where he’s not allowed to read the Bible or, um, his phone. And then get in a round of Candy Crush Saga.

Bobby Gruenewald, the Innovation Pastor (who deserves his own post), at Lifechurch.TV (ditto), wears a blazer over a black t-shirt, and thought-urps all over Chelsea Clinton what we imagine he thinks are Innovatively Pastoral thoughts: “So it’s an online church experience,” minus, er, people, guidance, a reverent atmosphere, the sacramental? Chelsea Clinton (You can do better!) is polite.

Other teen says, “It’s brought Christianity to a higher level that the Bible couldn’t do on its own.” Postman wept.

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Assad’s “Dark” Threats: Just Say “Duh.”

“Conscience makes cowards of us all.”—Hamlet (and, uh, that’s good thing)

So we’re watching ABC’s evening newscast, and after they finish with the lone achievement of an elderly woman swimming from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage (cf. Evel Knievel, “Let’s start with the happy news!”), we are told in grave Announcer-voice that, as reported in a French newspaper, “Bashir Assad warned that any military strike against his country would spark an uncontrollable regional war and spread ‘chaos and extremism’.” (AP) As is our wont, it’s not so much the ludicrous, pie-faced insanity of the statement by another decrepit homicidal dictator that gets our notice, nor is it really the assumed cooperation of Assad’s “Hey, none of us are getting slaughtered, so, you know, whatever” buddies Russia and Iran. It’s the notion that MSM then add to the wall of incomprehension by Announcer claiming these particular threats are “dark” threats. Correct us if you can, but exactly when has what Assad said not been true of the entire Middle East since the end of WWII?

Acknowledging that possibility of all-against-all, genuinely apocalyptic violence is the reality the world has been living with ever since we discovered mustard gas and nukes is simply stating a fact. Anyone doing anything in the region could conceivably cause such a cataclysm. In fact, since Al Qaeda’s scapegoating of the West has subsided, somewhat, it seems pretty clear that half the pan-Arab world would like nothing more (when released from the hypnotic gravity of their morally bankrupt rulers) than to kill off the other half. And we’re not giving the West a pass in this department either (no human group is special): in our view, this is the state of the entirety of the desacralized modern human scene, as described in the work of Rene Girard and others (Or please, someone, read some Alisdair MacIntyre before describing contemporary moral claims as dark or light). Good violence and bad violence are all mixed up; no violence is now capable of restoring the old “order” with the (temporary) effectiveness that it once had (and we wouldn’t want it back if it could). Therefore, violence everywhere has been “freed.” The only meaningful decision left to all of us is this:

Renounce Violence, or Everybody Dies.

And we mean all violence: economic, environmental, psychological, sexual, as well as the old-fashioned gas’n’bomb’n’shoot variety. Threatening the financial collapse of the world in the name of global, Trumpesque hubris is no less a violent “threat” than war. Should we talk about the epidemic of gang rape in India? Our trigger-happy vigilantes of ‘whatever ya got’ in the good ole US of A?

Needless to say, we are not advocating any political position, including the musty “lesser of x evils” one. We wonder why it seems impossible for any such analysis ever to cross the airwaves in our supposedly free and inquisitive newscape. (Oh, wait, let us suggest a reason . . . )

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Guns as Entertainment; NRA as Postmodernist Death Cult

Because we are a nation based in fantasy. Much that is in the fantasy is a great, good thing in the world: equality under the law, for example (albeit almost fatally betrayed by slavery, and institutionalized racism for 100 years thereafter); the “Sermon on the Mount” Christian vision of Winthrop (routinely, almost idiomatically betrayed by far too may Republican officeholders today). These were ideals, most of them germinated in a skeptical-minded Enlightenment (not that skepticism hasn’t become the entire worldview of too many hardcore liberals now). But still. In the omnipresent mediascape, it’s the fantasy of your choice now. Build a bunker in Alabama, where Postmanisms are located, then kidnap a child from a schoolbus and take him down there? So we can viscerally feel your depthless paranoia while respecting your right to own lethal weapons, a law-abiding gun owner right up until the moment you shot the bus driver dead? Amy Bishop, too, was a law-abiding gun-owner, until, at the end of a department meeting, she whipped it out and killed several of her colleagues, in Alabama, at a research university. The line is so thin, LaPierre. And the end of that bunker story (which we’ve already forgotten, right?) is the natural end of all bunker mentalities.

There are no doubt many sane gun owners like a friend of mine who needs them to defend against an occasional drunken, hostile neighbor, or to stop feral dogs from killing his baby lambs (and his wife makes a fine lamb stew). But the vast majority of gun owners own guns to entertain themselves, we contend. Some of these entertainment-gunners just like to shoot at stuff, at a range or on their own property (knock yourselves out, guys’n’dolls). Some like to run around in paramilitary gear and pretend they’re fighting off a fantasy government that has the will+resources to come try to take 300 million guns away from them (guys, really—we can’t even keep the Post Office solvent). Some build bunkers and hijack school buses, or shoot up movie theaters or grade schools. Could it possibly be as simple as this: Either the world you live in is real, and requires real compromises, while discouraging mental scenarios that have exactly 0% chance of occurring; or the world is whatever is in your head, and every wretched excess is justified by the mere mentality that you’ve staked your existence on?

If the preceding is even partly true, then the NRA, as currently configured, is a nascent death cult, as surely as the Islamic extremists they so fear really are. (“Mon frère! Mon sembable!”) Maybe the NRA hasn’t actually advocated for consumers to be able to buy “cyanide-tipped armor-piercing bullets” (that’s a Simpsons joke), but when they advocate for all teachers to be locked and loaded and ready for a firefight in a building full of students AT ALL TIMES (recall, for the nonce, that Postmanisms are teachers), they seem to be advancing the view that 24/7/365, paranoid, hair-trigger “vigilance” is the only way a good society should function. And don’t start with your movies and video games yadda yadda–the fantasy media that produces an apocalyptic bunker mentality is on the InterWeb and talk radio, in fundamentalist churches, and to a lesser extent, underlies the merely self-serving commercial enterprise of Fox News.

Yeah, we saw that film from the PSA about what to do if some previously law-abiding citizen came onto our campus and started unloading on us and our students, and you know what it made us think? That if we had that kind of crap at the front of our cerebelli every second of the day, we might build a bunker too.

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“Wish in One Hand, Poop in the Other…”: What the Late Election Season Says About the Age of Total Noise

Here are five headlines, four from pundits of The Washington Post, one a “news analysis” item from NBC: 

“Will: Obama’s empty noise”

“Rubin: Obama escapes scrutiny on Libya”

“Gerson: Obama’s historic negativity”

“Parker: The un-callable election”

“Democrats face very steep climb to 25 House seats they need”

Of course, we at Postmanisms are being blatantly biased with our pundits-of-choice, each one being a bona-fide rightie (and we’ve left out Krauthammer!): Good-humored Parker, “old man” Will, former W. spokesmodel Gerson, and the execrable Jennifer Rubin (less pleasant for the length of a single column than listening to Laura Ingraham for an hour). The reason for our bias, however, is not simply a reflection of our political sympathies: the same analysis could have been done on Democratic-leaning pundits near the end of 2010, or for that matter, at the end of 1988, when the general noise-level on TV made a few of us think Dukakis still had a hope in hell.

What these headlines have in common is an almost deistic faith by the ardent supporters of one party that their wishes can come true if only they’re expressed fervently in public: “Go, team, go! We know you’re behind 35-7 in the fourth, but you’ve got SPIRIT! S-P-I-R-I-T!!” Will calling Obama’s closing arguments “empty noise,” after his own party’s candidate spent the last month shredding every position he’d staked out over the previous year, then topping it off with blatant lies in ads with his name on them, is mere bluff. Rubin channels Fox News’ fervent desire that a tragic (and probably problematic—who knows?) event in a Middle Eastern nation that 99% of Americans could not find on a map be magnified into an emblem of 9/11-size failure-to-prepare is just more rank nonsense. Gerson, though capable of being thoughtful, bears the terrible news that exactly everyone knew a year ago, that in a rough political environment where margins were thin, this race was primarily going to be about winning ugly; one only had to watch a couple of his own party’s primary debates to gauge how negative. Parker has not been reading (or taking to heart) Nate Silver, who himself acknowledges that Friday’s 80.9% is only a probability, albeit one worth a small wager. Collectively, these are wishes that seek to reify themselves simply by being written/published. In an age infinitely noisier than 1988, you’d think a little more circumspection would be in order. (Then again, we are not paid to make a certain sub-demographic of readers feel good every time we poke our heads above ground. We ourselves are not “totally confident” about the outcome on Tuesday, nor after an agonizing week of possible recounts in Ohio—though thankfully, nothing depends on Florida this time. We’re merely hopeful.)

The NBC header is a different kind of beast, in a class with recent ones in places like Slate that idly ponder “what ifs” about a hypothetical Romney administration’s policies. (Admittedly, the candidate has made it exceptionally hard to discern, not what he’d like to do in Fantasy Whitehouse, where he barks CEOish orders at Congress and they do what he says, but what the rational businessman might probabilistically think he could actually achieve.) It isn’t a “steep climb” because no one—go find your anonymous blogger to try and prove us wrong—to our knowledge has suggested the Democrats had a real shot at regaining the House this year. The superfluous “they need” (= “to take back the House”) is a completely spurious premise, unless one is doing a reverse-Fox and trying to wish into existence some Democratic wave/landslide which, people, just ain’t gonna happen, and that prediction has a gold-plated lock on it.

Silver makes the point, in his magnificent, good-humored “The Signal and The Noise,” that more information often leads to WORSE predictions, topping that with hard data which shows that the more a pundit appears on TV, the LESS accurate their predictions tend to be (think: ideological intransigence, getting paid to voice your fans’ opinions on TV, mere hubris). If anyone out there really believes that the Information Age is not busy producing more mythology than all of ancient religion and literature combined, Postmanisms wants to play a game of idea-poker with you.

Who’s your Oracle?


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Culture of Contempt (Old People Edition), or “Who’s the Douche?”

Admittedly, this one’s well at the margins of anything one might call the mainstream, but something about its cancerous vibe struck a chord for us. (cf. our earlier entries on Family Guy) Turns out that a novelist who was last popular some twenty-odd years ago was reading the new biography of David Foster Wallace, another writer who came of age in that generation. Apparently, novelist Brett Easton Ellis felt the bio to be a locus of all he despised about the now-deceased Wallace, his work, and his readers. Being a modern guy, he also felt he couldn’t contain his loathing to a mere think-piece for Newsweek, but had to broadcast it over one of our hip, happening social networks, Twitter. (How about an all-rant site called Farter, where posts are called Poots?)

A taste: “OMG is the solemnity of the David Foster Wallace myth on a purely literary level borderline sickening…”; “the most tedious, overrated, tortured, pretentious writer of my generation…”; “Anyone who finds David Foster Wallace a literary genius has got to be included in the Literary Doucebag-Fools Pantheon…”; “I find the halo of sentimentality surrounding him embarrassing.” Quite enough, thanks.

First, we’d like to point out that words like “overrated” (a word you often hear chanted at sporting events) and “pretentious” have dogged Wallace’s work since the time Ellis was outselling him ten to one, and that what they come down to is crotchets of taste. One likes the Ramones, the other likes King Crimson, and amazingly some people can actually make room for both in their pantheon, depending on how the mood strikes. But one can never win an argument about taste. A friend of ours will drink no fizzy soda but Diet Coke, is not fooled by substitutes, and will not be dissuaded by her friends on a long cross-country car trip. (Coke Zero really is awful, though.)

We, of course, are avid readers of Wallace, and if you need an excuse to quit reading us, click away (for years now we’ve been reading what horrible humans we are, what limited intellects we have, for appreciating the work of DFW). Yet we are not blind adherents who can’t recognize the variance in quality between, or even within, his works, and we’ve never thought to tell anyone who didn’t “get” Wallace that they were blind or stupid. We do sometimes feel like Professor Frink, when he’s demonstrating atomic properties to third-graders with one of those toy ball-rolling machines; he won’t let Ralph play with it because, “I’m enjoying it on so many more levels than you.” We’re also pretty sure that if an Ellis work has ever had more than two levels, we missed them.

The sad thing, though, is Ellis’ need to attack “the myth,” which no artist from Shakespeare to Led Zeppelin should ever be held responsible for. Especially in our media age, these memes or “infotainment orbs” generate themselves whether the artist participates or not; as Neal Gabler notes in Life: The Movie, even trying to be off the myth-making grid (Pynchon) only makes you ‘the author who is never seen, except with a bag over his head on The Simpsons. But Ellis then has to go that extra mile (why else would he have gotten noticed by a Salon writer and been able to send his contempt all the way down to mere Postmanisms?), and assert, in that Zeus-like tone that characterizes so much communication on the InterWeb, that anyone who thinks Wallace was great is a) a douche (frat-boy as literati), and b) a fool (meaning he or she is dumber—has worse taste/doesn’t live in New York/has to actually buy books—than Brett Easton Ellis).

It simply isn’t enough to have enemies and hate them; one must despise everyone who may have been reached, in what those readers consider to be a profound way, via a work of art. It’s our belief that the new intensity of this felt compulsion to verbally destroy, and to do so instantly, thoughtlessly, and with no desire except to provoke a response (Here we are!), is merely an aftereffect of our disembodied digital landscape. One has to talk as loudly and vilely as possible now in order to be heard over the howling wind of a billion cells, souls, dogs barking.

We wish to thank Prachi Gupta of Salon for following Ellis’ bile with a sort of ghost answer, from which we have stolen this: “Look, if the contemporary condition is hopelessly shitty, insipid, materialistic, emotionally retarded, sadomasochistic, and stupid, then I (or any writer) can get away with slapping together stories with characters who are stupid, vapid, emotionally retarded, which is easy, because these sorts of characters require no development … Look man, we’d probably most of us agree that these are dark times, and stupid ones, but do we need fiction that does nothing but dramatize how dark and stupid everything is? In dark times, the definition of good art would seem to be art that locates and applies CPR to those elements of what’s human and magical that still live and glow despite the times’ darkness.” (DFW, from an interview with Larry McCaffrey)

Hard to think of less douchey words spoken in the last twenty-odd years.

Quotes sourced from Prachi Gupta of

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