The Necessity of Cool

I love how angry the left is over Hillary Clinton. In particular middle-aged anti-authoritarian leftist guys. Glenn Greenwald is a classic example, but there are tons of them, and they fall throughout the political spectrum. They’re usually very angry, and focused on how the system is corrupt and bad and evil and needs to be overthrown right away. And last night made them apoplectic.

Anti-authoritarians are often know-it-alls, until you ask them the question “What should we do?” Then they’ll just give a deer-in-headlights stare, shrug, and say “I don’t know.” At which point it’s tempting to ask “Did your mother not love you enough?” But you don’t because that would only set them off.

The other day I heard an interview with journalist Jessica Yellin on David Axelrod’s (amazing!) podcast and she said a very wise thing about being a journalist – something like “Ask for what you want, and then do what you’re told.” She wanted to be a White House correspondant for a long time, and she told the folks she worked for that over and over while they assigned her to all manner of other topics. And then she got the White House assignment. An anti-authoritarian would have never made it. They might have started their own news organization, but the chances are the White House wouldn’t talk to them, because major politicians like to talk to the major news networks.

If you want to reform the system, you have to work within the system. If you want to destroy the system, you shouldn’t be surprised (or offended) if it tries to destroy you.

What’s really weird about the US is that people here often confuse the idea of America with the US Federal government as exists in practice. The insurrection in the Malheur Wildlife Refuge should have been ended shortly after it began, and the participants either killed or locked up in maximum security prisons – but of course, they had a great deal of sympathy throughout the country, and doing justice to them would have surely caused more trouble than it was worth. Conversely, peaceful protests that ask for government action on some particular issue – and I’m think of Black Lives Matter or the Occupy Wall Street protests, among others –  are all too often condemned as illegitimate.

If you want to get anything done, you have to be cool. You can protest, and you can be as fiery as you like, but you have to stay cool no matter what happens. The folks who this morning were all full of piss and vinegar over Lester Holt not spending 90 minutes grilling Hillary Clinton over how she’s corrupt and greedy, how she took money from bankers and corporations and is mean and nasty, and just a big old liar – those folks aren’t cool. And that’s why they won’t get anywhere. They won’t achieve anything. They’ll complain their way through this election, and then complain about the outcome.

Hillary won the debate last night, in part because she was able to keep her cool, and also because she was able to goad Donald in to losing his. I learned the necessity of cool working in kitchens – if you lose your cool during the rush, it’s fucking over, pack your shit and go home – but I’ve found it applies to a lot of life, political debates in particular.

Published by samuelbarbour

Besides writing a blog, I also teach, farm, cook, and play music. I live in the Illinois River Valley with my partner, Molly Breslin, who sometimes posts stuff at

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