The short-fingered vulgarian cometh


Please, God, let him run. If Donald Trump runs for president, God, we promise we will never make fun of the pope again. Or Pat Robertson. Well, the pope, anyway. —SPY, November 1987

I found a second reason to appreciate tech — the SPY magazine archives scanned and searchable in Google Books.

It couldn’t have come at a better time, now that Donald Trump is leading the GOP back to the White House, and the rest of humanity to End Times. (My first reason to thank tech, you might remember, is the online tobacco documents library that I wrote about recently—the open black box on the deadliest capitalist conspiracy ever and the Big Tobacco shills who played wingman to mass death-for-profit, from Malcolm Gladwell and Glenn Greenwald to UCLA Medical School and the American Civil Liberties Union.)

It’s hard to explain today what SPY meant when it appeared out of nowhere at the end of the 1980s, as the Reagan freeze was just starting to melt. There wasn’t much going on culturally by then—most of anti-commercial cultural energy went into music, into all the subspecies that 70s punk spawned, but that pretty much died out or devolved into kitsch by the time SPY appeared.

SPY was vicious and funny and smart — a fortress/safe zone for all the legions of pissed off, overeducated college grads with literary ambitions and a long list of personal grudges to work off… and bridges to burn. What made each new issue of SPY thrilling to read was the vicious satire—the way they went too far, gratuitously vicious, beyond the point of repetitiveness, to some very deserving targets.

SPY won my heart by relentlessly savaging what passed for the American literati in the Reagan Era: Bret Easton Ellis, Jay McInerney, Tama Janowitz — the triumvirate of the talentless, all that was loathsome, boring, affected and just plain wrong with American prose.

But SPY was also very local, a kind of provincial Manhattan highbrow hate-zine for insiders — so some of its targets meant nothing to me. It was through SPY that I first learned about Donald Trump. I couldn’t understand SPY’s relentless vicious targeting of Trump, why a sleazy real estate developer mattered so much — but like a good loyal SPY reader, I supported their hate 100%, the more gratuitous and vicious, the better…

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