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Some intrusive thoughts about Ron Johnson drinking a beer.
A screenshot from a video shows Senator Ron Johnson drinking a beer in a sad bland-looking bar. In the lower right-hand corner, a timer counts up how long it is taking him to drink the beer.

Some intrusive thoughts about Ron Johnson drinking a beer.

It’s an indelible document of Ron Johnson, politician. “I wanna thank the Wisconsin Tavern League for your endorsement again. Uh, cheers.” And with that, Wisconsin’s senior Senator downs a mug of beer that does not look particularly frosty or inviting. A timer in the lower left-hand corner of the video counts up as Johnson drinks, in an attempt to make this gesture seem festive and sporting. 

Other than that, Johnson gives no indication that he’s either enjoying or not enjoying the beer. Some form of reaction might give the act some charm—even a noisy glug or a satisfied belch or a grimace or a hearty exhalation or a “damn that’s good” or a tipsy little sway. Anything that might distinguish this from, say, watching a lamprey feed.

I see Twitter replies claiming that this shows Johnson “chugging” a beer. No! The verb “chug,” in this context, implies a vigor, a relish, a presence, an abandon. It’s not the right verb for this perfunctory transfer of fluid from one lukewarm vessel to another. A campaign press release claims it’s an “ice-cold Miller Lite.” Now, if you’re trying to charm people on the campaign trail by taking part in Wisconsin bar culture, you might want to put a little gusto into it, maybe drink something stronger and/or more of it. Like with other people in the frame. But this isn’t about the good times. It’s about a heinous lobbying organization and its need to endlessly re-litigate the idea that maximizing its customers’ and workers’ exposure to COVID would have been good for business. 

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Johnson, riding high on racist attack ads bankrolled by other rotting miserable rich people, ends the video with the glazed half-smirk of a dog who’s just taken a shit on the sidewalk for the thousandth time and knows for sure that, just like the other 999 times, there will be no consequences. Much like running for a third term after pledging not to, it all radiates a mix of entitlement and indifference. Imagine if the highlights of your Senate career included election tampering, fighting with Elizabeth Warren about chairs, and trying to block COVID relief. Imagine if, after all that, you still had competitive polling numbers, because the country has plummeted so hard and fast into authoritarian decline that people barely have time to blink at all the destructive, corrupt things you do. You’d be cocky too, and maybe even a bit bored with the process of accruing power. 

Where is this even taking place? By god, what is this drab location?

Like the Tavern League itself, the bar in this video is a representation of bars that does not remotely remind you of any time you’ve actually had fun in a bar. Look at this lighting, the paint a shade of green found usually in the most unappealing of men’s pants, that light-colored wood paneling behind him. Maybe this is at a really racist country club or inside a model home. Will they serve you a beer in the fitting room at a Men’s Wearhouse? 

It’s hard to imagine Ron Johnson genuinely enjoying himself—I try and my mind immediately lapses into the last half-hour of the 1989 horror film Society, which is you haven’t seen it is streaming as part of Criterion Channel’s ’80s horror collection this month—and it is just has hard to imagine anyone enjoying an evening at this grimly manicured little bar. Mandela Barnes at least seems like a guy who’s capable of fun, and these days he’s stuck fielding questions at Monty’s as his fellow Democrats once again become their wet-noodle selves under pressure. 

Johnson is so selfish, his stance toward others so laced with contempt, his party so dead-set on securing power through force or trickery no matter what voters want, that he can’t even be bothered to do a halfway decent put-on of political charm. He’s somehow worse at this than even the uncanny Ted Cruz, which is really saying something. The exaggerated “mmmmmm!” of a shitty Scott Walker food Tweet positively teems with life when compared to Johnson’s efforts to interface with the common slob.

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