Bill Maher Takes on Cryptocurrency on a New “Real Time”

“It’s like America was on a 3-month juice cleanse.” That’s how Bill Maher described the first 100 days of Joe Biden’s presidency, opening up a new episode of Real Time With Bill Maher. The bulk of Maher’s opening monologue focused on the current status of the economy, with digs along the way at Sears, Ted Cruz and this year’s Oscars. Maher also addressed Biden’s recent address to Congress — and Lauren Boebert’s protest during it. “I’m just going to take the high road and say that everybody’s entitled to their opinion,” Maher said. “But do not ask me, ever, to respect prop comedy.”

The evening’s first guest? Ben Sheehan, author of OMG WTF Does the Constitution Actually Say?: A Non-Boring Guide to How Our Democracy Is Supposed to Work, who’d last appeared on the show in October. As Maher pointed out, the Constitution is especially relevant right now, given the recent census results and the ongoing effort to make Washington, DC a state. Sheehan had a number of interesting facts to bring out over the course of the conversation – beginning with the statistic that, when Congress was first created, each member of the House represented 30,000 people. (It’s a lot more today.) 

Their discussion of DC statehood shifted gears and became a broader argument regarding the country’s territories, and Maher’s unease that so many Americans lack Congressional representation at all. Sheehan brought up Puerto Rico’s referendums on statehood, with Maher citing the campaign for Scottish independence as a point of comparison.

Also up for discussion: the Supreme Court’s composition over time and its increasing politicization — and whether adding more seats is a viable response. Sheehan pointed out that the number of justices has changed over time, and there’s nothing in the Constitution preventing more seats from being added.

Joining Maher for the episode’s panel were a pair of writers with an impressive grasp on American history and politics. The Baffler founder Thomas Frank is the author of The People, No: A Brief History of Anti-Populism, while Nancy MacLean was a National Book Award finalist for her Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America. Both MacLean and Frank offered qualified praise for the Biden presidency so far, noting that Biden had positively surprised both of them.

Maher turned the conversation to a recurring subject for the show: “wokeness.” He brought up a recent James Carville interview and the relatively low ratings for the Oscars; Frank and MacLean both pushed back, to an extent, with MacLean pointing out that she hadn’t watched the Oscars because she hadn’t been to a movie theater since last year, rather than because of any concerns over what the ceremony might or might not include.

Both panelists also brought up the paradoxes in American society — MacLean cited traditions of both racism and anti-racism in American society, while Frank pointed out that the country had space for both egalitarianism and a deep suspicion of democracy. And if that all seemed contradictory, well, that might help explain the trouble the country is in.

In the panel’s second half, Maher brought up this week’s search of Rudy Giuliani’s apartment. Maher argued that this was unprecedented — but, then, so was what Giuliani is accused of doing. “We forget that Trump was both an idiot and crazy,” Maher said. But it was in discussing another ex-president’s legacy that the panel discussion turned especially contentious.

Frank brought up Maher’s earlier discussion of James Carville, noting Carville’s work to elect Bill Clinton in 1992 — and making a convincing argument that many of the Democrats’ current issues are an outgrowth of policies enacted under Clinton, from NAFTA to the deregulation of Wall Street. 

“He definitely moved the Democrats to the center,” Maher said. “What’s your point?” Frank pushed back. “This country didn’t want those things,” Frank said. “This country didn’t want to deregulate Wall Street.” Both Frank and MacLean went on to argue that Biden and others in the Democratic party had learned from these earlier moments and were looking to address the issues in a different way.

After a few New Rules addressing topics as disparate as mudwrestling and Nomadland, Maher turned his attention to cryptocurrency. “Nothing with crypto in the title ever turns out good,” he said. And, after rattling off a few types of cryptocurrency — including the now-ubiquitous Dogecoin — offered a concise critique of the whole thing. 

“I fully understand that our financial system isn’t perfect, but at least it’s real,” Maher said. Dogecoin, which he dubbed “Easter Bunny cartoon cash,” briefly had a market cap larger than Kraft and Ford. It’s the kind of head-spinning fact that might well be impossible to satirize. Still, Maher had a field day coming up with comparisons for it, including “like having an imaginary best friend who’s also a banker.” 

While there were a few digs at the youth of America in there, Maher reserved his biggest criticism for the threat cryptocurrency posed to the global economy and the sheer amount of power it uses. “I mean, cars are bad for the climate, but at least they take you somewhere,” Maher said. And he went on to critique people who espouse environmental advocacy but also embrace cryptocurrency, citing Tesla in particular — ending the episode on a stark note. 

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