Because it is so cruel and so stupid, so petty and also so astonishingly vast, it is difficult to fully get a handle on the $1.5 trillion tax bill that the Republicans pushed through the House and Senate on Wednesday. A disconcerting number of little fees and insults in the bill are only now becoming known, but the basic numbers are there to see, and the numbers are extremely bad and extremely unpopular. But the numbers are also so big and so abstract as to feel unreal; it happened more or less as the people pushing it wanted it to happen, but it just still beggars belief that anyone could want this, or do it.
That unreality will change again once the bill becomes law, and then we’ll have a darker and more specific unreality to reckon with—the needless and intentional immiseration of tens of millions of Americans and the suffering that will result, and the simultaneous knowledge that all this happened so that a small number of very rich people and criminally rich corporations could keep more of what they already have and get some of yours besides. At the moment, though, as the specifics of a bill passed without any oversight or transparency continue to round horrifically into view, we are still stuck in this dreary and dreamlike state of suspension. This has been something like the dominant mood of 2017, and it fits that it has found its idiot apotheosis at the year’s end. It fits, too, that after a whole year of this shit it is still so difficult to understand any of it. It is, all of it, just so much crueler and so much dumber and so much more shameless than ever seemed possible, even in the cruel and dumb and shameless recent past.
Thankfully, this great pink lad is here to help with that.
His name is Wyatt Koch, and he is, in order of importance, 1) the 31-year-old son of the billionaire heir Bill Koch and 2) the proprietor of a Florida-based company named Wyatt Ingraham—the company’s name appears to be pronounced “Wyatt Ingra-ham”—that sells garish $120 shirts to idiots. It is, I think, not unfair to Wyatt to say that point 2) in that last sentence is wholly dependent on point 1). Bill Koch is the least well-known of the hugely rich Koch brothers—where Charles and David Koch are let’s say famous for spending billions of dollars to elect/procure politicians who will support the arch-libertarian anti-tax economic policies they prefer, Bill is probably best known for having built a sprawling (and private) Wild West Village for his collection of memorabilia on his Colorado ranch. (A fourth brother, Frederick, is an art collector.*) As with everything about the Koch family, from their father’s economic ties to Stalin-era Russia on forward, it is all just a little bit too much—too on-the-nose in the broad strokes of its villainy, too thuddingly obvious in the picayune unpleasantness of the particulars. In this sense, and also in the sense that they seem finally to have succeeded in buying something like the country that they wanted, the Kochs are very much of this shared national moment. Wyatt, though, seems a little more of the moment than the rest.
It’s not just that Wyatt is precisely the sort of person who stands to benefit most from the new tax bill, although as it so happens his combination of wealth-without-wages, eventual massive inheritance windfall, and LLC company mean that he absolutely is. He absolutely is that person, but also and more importantly and most 2017 of all, he fucking sucks at it. At this point in the current presidency, the idea that there is some inherent virtue to wealth or wealthy people just won’t play. Wealthy people do, on balance, tend to have larger homes and boats than less-wealthy people, but there is no way to look at the collection of fameball defectives and venal louts and thrice-divorced golf creatures that comprise Donald Trump’s extravagantly wealthy court and see any way to connect the valuable things they have with any of the values that they possess. The only exceptional thing about the rich people presently remaking the country in their own selfish image is their bulletproof self-regard.
If you start from the things they have and reverse-engineer your way backwards, you can kind of almost rig something together, and given that they’re willing to let a few thousand people starve to death in order to pay a little less in taxes I guess you can call them determined or focused or something. But again the evidence against their merit is towering and all around us. Trump has pasted his stupid name on numerous buildings in big gold letters, but that does not mean he cannot be a doddering old gossip whose mind has been turned to fudge by television and inattention. He insists, every day and in every possible way, that he is just that. Wyatt Koch has a passion for dumb shirts and a dumb shirt company to go with it, but that does not mean ... let’s just say that it does nothing whatsoever to rebut the reality of this:
What Wyatt does right, in that effortlessly perfect one-minute promotional video, is be himself. He insists, boldly, on boldly asserting his boldness, and then talks up his prank shirts for assholes. He wears a shirt printed with literal moneybags and holds forth on his boat about the importance of authenticity and passion. Because our reality unfolds entirely within the Tim & Eric Awesome Show, Great Job cinematic universe, he brings his dad—a reclusive reactionary known for hoarding away historical doodads and getting defrauded to the tune of $2.1 million over bottles of counterfeit wine—into the damn thing somehow. He makes clothing so garishly oafish that they effectively cannot be worn outdoors and calls it a lifestyle. “Not everyone can live the Palm Beach Lifestyle,” one promotional video on the company’s Instagram proclaims, “but everyone can be bold.”
Look: This is, in the end, Wyatt’s business. It’s his business in a literal sense, of course, although the success or failure of Wyatt Ingraham LLC will have no impact whatsoever on the material comfort of Wyatt Ingraham Koch’s life. What I mean is that his dumbass life is his business. He will go on winning WILD Pants Party contests at Palm Beach galas and racing dune buggies with his friends and wooing and suing a line of rich Floridian women until his last days on earth, and I suppose I wish him well in all that. He will always have more money than anyone needs, and if this is what he wants to do with it—the dumb shirts and the drowsy holding-forth about said shirts—then he is certainly free to go ahead and do it. It’s all shameful, but also none of it is going to hurt him, ever, because he is not really at risk.
But there is something clarifying about staring all this smug and gaudy uselessness in the face. There is the amazing howling shameless lameness of it, but also the reflex towards self-congratulation and self-celebration; the tone-deaf vanity, but also the deep and innate clownishness of that vanity’s performance. The ridiculousness of all this is disorienting in a different way than the odiousness of the GOP tax bill, but it all resolves in the same way, and towards the same point. It’s a reminder to take the rich at their word when they tell you that they don’t care about you. It’s a reminder that their wealth has made them both dumb and weak, that it’s made them strange and cruel. And it’s a reminder that they want the rest of what you have and that they would also like you to congratulate them, in a respectful way, on how stylishly they are stealing it. Bold is a good word for it.