What Do You Want?

(Language warning in the video, in case you’re watching around kids or other sensitive people. But I think it’s warranted).

Corey Forrester, a Georgia comedian who sometimes goes by his alternate identity “The Buttercream Dream” says exactly what I’ve been feeling for the past three days (at least), in one tweet, two minutes, and fourteen seconds.

This country has given you so much. We’ve wasted so much time trying to empathize or even understand you. What exactly is it that you want?

Standing By

Watching the five-year-long car-wreck as my country acts like an increasingly grotesque parody of itself, until its inevitably tragic conclusion

Alexandra Petri usually uses her column in The Washington Post for satire or parody, but her entry on January 7, “We Love You. You’re Very Special. Go Home” takes the only tone possible for anyone reacting to the riot of January 6th: sad, angry, still trying to process the simultaneous absurdity and horror that is the culmination of the last five years of absurdity and horror.

It’s a wonderful essay, because it seems to express the feeling of baffled disgust and disappointment I’ve had daily since November of 2016: none of this can possibly be happening, but everybody else sees it, too, so it must be happening. I particularly love Petri’s description of seeing people vandalizing Speaker Pelosi’s office, scaling the walls of the Capitol building, or walking through the halls waving Confederate flags: “Like most things in the age of Trump, this had all the visible markings of a cruel parody but was the thing itself.”

There was so much focus on the absurd pictures coming from the scene that it was easy to think this was just a bunch of the usual comically incompetent chucklefucks playing dress-up, instead of violent insurrection. In fact, the reprehensible, traitorous, lying shitstains are even now, as the toll sits at five people dead because of a desperately pathetic, complete lie, trying to spin it as a bunch of rowdy good ol’ boys who let their patriotism get them carried away and took it a little bit too far. For a while, they were even trying to spread the bullshit lie about their favorite boogedy-boo-bad-guys, even on the fucking floor of the House of Representatives which their goons had just shat in, and said that it was Antifa’s fault. Five years of lying so brazenly, so shamelessly, so absurdly, that you can’t believe it’s real, and so it’s easy to stop seeing it as real. At least, for those of us who want to hold onto our sanity.

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Bespoke Dissidence

An essay by Gregory Thompson intelligently and compassionately rejects the lie of far-right manufactured victimization.

One of the best things I’ve read in recent memory is “Return of the Cold Warrior,” an essay/book review written by Gregory Thompson on Comment, an online magazine “rooted in 2000 years of Christian social thought.”

The essay is structured as a review of a book called Live Not By Lies, but I won’t link to it, both because it sounds dreadful, and because the essay is really not so much a review as a foil for Thompson to forcefully repudiate the culture of false victimization that’s become more vocal — and simultaneously more dangerous and more ridiculous — over the past decade or so.

If I’m being honest, the first thing that occurred to me while reading Thompson’s essay is that I need to start reading more grown-up books. I’m still a firm believer in the idea that there’s no such thing as a “guilty pleasure,” that audiences can have unpredictably profound reactions to any work, and I’ve rejected the idea that “challenging” material is inherently more valuable.

But still, after years spent mostly reading social media and watching YouTube videos, my stumbling into such a literate, thoughtful, and compassionate essay as Thompson’s felt like I’d discovered a doorway into Narnia. Are there really parts of the internet where people can freely reference political, social, and theological movements of the past two centuries as freely as references to the 1984 movie Red Dawn? Is it possible to read someone putting the excesses of the last decade of American society into a larger context, with no sense of bland, moral relativist detachment, and also no talk of getting “owned?”

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You remember. It’s that thing with the feathers.

Finally seeing Biden/Harris’s victory confirmed is such an odd feeling. I’d almost forgotten what hope felt like.

You can help the effort in Georgia senate races by visiting GASenate.com and checking out the Fair Fight Campaign’s website. Nobody believes these are going to be easy races to win, but we’ve seen that change in Georgia is possible.

The title of this post is from a poem by Emily Dickinson. The photo attached is from an article in The New York Times, which (paraphrased) says that Joe Biden’s unsuccessful campaigns have been him running as a politician, while his victory came when he ran as himself.

That’s easy to overlook, when we’re surrounded by cynicism, skepticism, denial, outright lies, political frustration, performative wokeness, anger, and good old-fashioned pessimism. But it’s really huge. For so long I’ve been wondering how can we possibly be expected to move forward when we’re dragged down by so many irredeemably selfish people? But maybe the one and only thing that everyone can agree on — at least, the people worth caring whether they agree or not — is that we should try to be better and try to do the right thing.

Continue reading “You remember. It’s that thing with the feathers.”

Fool me once

After five years trying to give Trump voters the benefit of the doubt, I think I’m finally done with that nonsense

At the time I’m writing this, the votes are still being counted, but several Democrats I trust are saying that Joe Biden is on track to win the election for President. I’m staying cautiously optimistic, but the truth is that I’m so angry with and disgusted by America that I couldn’t sleep last night, and I’ve been having trouble concentrating on anything today. This shouldn’t have been a close race, at all.

Obviously, getting a sane President in office is necessary for us even to survive, and it shouldn’t be underestimated. But it’s somewhat like hearing you probably won’t die in the next few months, but you’ve still got an inoperable, terminal disease.

Over the past five years, I’ve tried — with wildly varying degrees of success — to stay at least somewhat moderate, and give Trump voters the benefit of the doubt. Vocal Trump supporters could of course piss right off, and good riddance. But I strongly believed that most of the people who voted for him in 2016 weren’t vocal supporters, but had just made a bad choice for any one of a thousand possible reasons.

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It’s not difficult

A reminder from Amber Ruffin to stop giving a pass to so-called “casual” racism

This week on the Amber Ruffin Show, she did a segment calling out racist jackass Sonny David Purdue for his disgraceful mockery of Kamala Harris’s name at a campaign rally. And damn, was it satisfying to see.

There’s been so much inexcusably vile stuff being flung around, that this kind of thing can get lost in the noise. Is it really that harmful? Aren’t there bigger things to worry about? But one thing that people always say about any skill is that you’ve got to make sure you’ve mastered the fundamentals before you can move on to more advanced things. I’d say that the same thing applies to being a decent human.

PS: If you’ve ever made a lazy joke about M Night Shyamalan’s name, that’s almost the same thing.

Edited to add: There’s one thing that I just can’t get over: the guy who’s trying to mock and belittle someone for having a name that reflects her race and her heritage, is named Sonny Purdue. Talk about glass houses, but with a rusted old pickup truck on concrete blocks out front.

Edited to add, later: Apparently I’ve completely mixed up my good ol boys. The racist jackass in the above video is US Senator David Purdue, who is cousins with the racist jackass ex-Georgia governor Sonny Purdue. On the one hand, I’m embarrassed for making such a lazy mistake. On the other, I can’t say I care all that much. At least I didn’t call him Davidalocawhatever to the giggles and cheers of my all-white crowd.

Civics for Cynics

How to distinguish between healthy frustration with the political process, and arrogant, selfish, laziness

To start with: a less-than-four-minute video from Trae Crowder explaining why we should vote. I’m posting not because I’m necessarily a huge fan of Crowder,1He’s totally playing up that accent, right? but because this is the simplest and most direct incentive to vote, and it doesn’t require any arguments about selfishness or civic responsibility: if voting weren’t important, there wouldn’t be so many people trying to stop you from doing it.

Even if you’ve managed to convince yourself that the system is rigged by “the establishment,” and that voting doesn’t change anything, you can’t deny that there are blatant attempts at voter suppression happening in Georgia and Texas. (If you do deny that, you’re either out of touch or gullible, either of which is a liability if you’re going for “disaffected free thinker.”)

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What happens next

No, we can’t fix everything with one election. But I wish we were hearing more about how to keep this from ever happening again.

It’s been difficult for any signal about sane, adult, fair policies to make it through the noise of this election, but of course, that’s why the noise exists in the first place. More noise means voters are responding emotionally instead of intellectually, so there’s less opportunity for dissent.

Republicans have made it clear that they don’t care as much for making a case to voters to choose to vote Republican, so much as make them afraid to vote Democrat. (And they’d prefer it if blacks and Latinos didn’t vote at all). That’d be bad enough on its own, but they’ve degraded and dishonored the political process so much that it’s difficult for grown-up moderates and liberals to concentrate on practical policy matters, either.

I admit I haven’t paid that much attention to specifics of Biden’s platform, because the choice is literally, non-hyperbolically, the Democratic candidate, or the end of the United States of America. I believe Biden’s made good-faith attempts to emphasize policy, when he gets the chance. And the campaign is trying its best to make voters enthusiastic about voting for Biden instead of just voting against his opponent. But in practice, that gets lost when his opponent is just flinging his own shit around and it’s the only thing anyone can pay attention to.

Back in 2016, a lot of people believed that the US was essentially “too big to fail.” Even if a corrupt moron took over the executive branch, we had enough institutions in place to prevent it from becoming too catastrophic. I hope everyone has seen now what a huge mistake that was.

So I’m glad to see that the centrist-liberal platform that’s defined the Democratic party for the past couple of decades has been pushed slightly left, and they’re finally making an unequivocal stand for addressing climate change, women’s rights, fair immigration policy, and LGBT rights. And as much as I dislike many progressive politicians, it’d be foolish to deny that it’s only because progressives been so outspoken and so contentious that they’ve managed to push the Democrats away from becoming just “diet Republicans.”

But what I haven’t heard emphasized is a solid plan to keep this bullshit from ever happening again. Which is concerning. Thankfully, the Democrats seem to have gotten over their trepidation over telling it like it is, and they’re acknowledging that not only is this not normal, it’s catastrophic. They’re warning us about increasing authoritarianism. Defiance of checks and balances. Turning the judicial branch into a partisan mockery of justice. Gerrymandering. Voter suppression. Voter intimidation. National security threats. Dismantling and undermining our institutions for health and safety. Undermining and threatening free speech.

The only solution they offer: “vote.” I understand that voter turnout is crucial when voter apathy was the main reason we’re in the disaster we are now. But they’re simultaneously using the language of revolution and the language of peaceful transition. They’re saying the system is being destroyed from the inside, but also that the system is strong enough to stop the damage.

Why should we be content with a system in which the winner of the popular vote doesn’t win the Presidency?

What’s to stop another shithead like Mitch McConnell with no integrity from having an egregiously outsized influence over the entire government, like he has for the past eight years? Why does everyone just shrug and say there’s nothing to be done?

Why do we have a system in which one party can arbitrarily decide the blatantly partisan make-up of the judicial branch? Why aren’t more people actually involved drawing attention to the fact that the confirmation “hearings” were a sham?

We’re being shown all of these things to make us upset and angry, but we’re not given any real sense of a plan to stop them. We’re being assured that the system works, when it’s been painfully obvious from at least the beginning of the Obama administration that the system doesn’t work.1And, we should never forget, that for marginalized people and those living in poverty, the system has never worked. That suggests that the Democratic party doesn’t believe the system is broken, only that the wrong people are currently able to take advantage of it.

After seeing Senator Feinstein’s disgraceful and obsequious praise for Lindsey Graham over his sham confirmation hearings, and Speaker Pelosi’s frequent demonstrations of putting party over policy, I’m inclined to think that’s the case. They want us to be just worried enough for a Democratic sweep, but not worried enough to actually make systemic change.

I used to believe that most adults were more politically aware than I am. I believed that I could trust the people who were interested in politics to follow the day-to-day details, while I educated myself just enough to vote for the right people and then could go on about my business. That’s the promise of a representative democracy, after all. I would still love not to be worried about politics every single day — for instance, not having a shitty, pervy, do-nothing, partisan hack like Clarence Thomas threatening to keep me from being able to get married would be a nice reality to wake up to.

But now I’m convinced that 99% of the people who claim to have real insight into politics have no idea what the hell they’re talking about. If they were as tuned in as they claim to be, then we wouldn’t be in this mess. Pundits and self-described political analysts have spent the last decade marveling at a grifter’s preternatural ability to play 5th-dimensional chess against the media and the Democratic Party, even though it’s been abundantly clear since Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous that he’s a classless moron. They talk about “red states” and “blue states” that don’t actually exist. They make bullshit claims about the “base” of Trump voters, even though we’ve seen repeatedly that his rallies have trouble filling school gymnasiums.

Most galling: they call it “showboating” or “gotcha questions” when people in the highest offices of power are asked the most fundamental of questions about our values as Americans, but are still unable to answer.2Amy Coney Barrett’s refusal to answer the most basic questions about voting rights and the peaceful transition of power were absolutely disgraceful and disqualifying. It’s not damning when a journalist or a representative asks a question about our most basic principles; it’s damning when a candidate or nominee is unable to give the trivially true answer to the question without trying to make it out to be “controversial” or “partisan.” Any pundits our journalists trying to make it sound like these basic questions about our values are irrelevant or naive are actually revealing themselves to be too cynical, too removed from the process, or too shielded from harm, to be competent at their jobs — they’re supposed to be translating the impersonal machinations of politics into a form that the rest of us can relate to, after all.

I’m so very much looking forward to stability and sanity. And I’m just as much looking forward to being able to leave politics to the “grown-ups” until it’s time for me to step up and take a direct role by making an educated vote. But the grown-ups sure as hell better have a plan for making that stability and sanity last for longer than just the next four years.

I’ve seen conservative before, and this ain’t it

Words should mean things

Something that annoys the hell out of me: when people see the members of one political party1and it is only one political party blatantly ignoring standards and tradition2including “traditions” they made up out of political convenience to redefine how our government is supposed to work, for the purposes of perceived short-term gain, and still call that “conservative.”

Case in point: the “hearings”3scare quotes because the so-called “conservatives” are obviously just treating this as a formality right now to approve Amy Coney Barrett to a lifetime position on the Supreme Court. The whole process is, simply put, unfair. That’s not me talking as some California liberal; it’s fact. It’s objectively and incontrovertibly true. Republicans in the Senate refused to confirm Merrick Garland for eight months with the tepid excuse that it’s “tradition” not to confirm a lifetime appointment in an election year.

The only argument you could possibly make in good faith is that you believe the unfairness is justified for some reason. One example that I’ve seen is the idea that it’s dangerous to have all three branches of government controlled by one political party. I strongly disagree with that on principle, but even if I didn’t, anyone who thinks that the Democrats would become an unstoppable machine of progressive change if they took control of the executive, legislative, and judicial branch is someone who has obviously never seen how the Democrats operate in practice.

No doubt there are plenty of people who’d say that complaining about “fairness” in politics is naive, childish, or unrealistic. (Or if they didn’t say it outright, it would quickly become clear that it’s what they believe). This is why it’s not great to have the political conversation completely dominated by pundits and activists — they treat political issues either as a sport, or as something so crucial that being concerned about fairness is a luxury they don’t have. In either case, the objective isn’t to govern, but to win.

But if there’s any part of government in which it’s important to stop, take a step back, and consider the full implications of what’s happening, it’s with the judicial branch. That’s the entire reason the judicial branch exists in the first place. Genuine conservatives and liberals alike should all agree that the court should be non-partisan. The purpose of the court isn’t to further conservative policy or liberal policy, but fair policy. The reason for lifetime appointments is to make sure that justices aren’t subject to shifting party alliances. A real conservative would actually be pushing for a moderate or a liberal justice to replace Justice Ginsburg, to preserve the balance. Real conservatives should be disgusted that Kavanaugh was confirmed after his disgraceful meltdown(s).

If we think of it only in terms of a win for “our side” or “their side,” then we have ignored the entire reason the government is supposed to exist in the first place. That’s why, out of the ten billion things that disqualify Trump from being President, his frequent assertions from day one of his campaign that he was only president of the people who voted for him should be the most damning thing for actual conservatives. Even the ones who were able to overlook his thousands of lapses in character, his gross incompetence, and his blatant corruption. When he’s done so much that’s inexcusable and inhuman, it would seem like only caring about the red states would be the least important thing to complain about, but I’d argue that it’s the one thing that, in a nation of conscientious adults, should offend everyone.

(That’s also one of the reasons that the faux-progressives who throw a tantrum instead of voting for “another old white man” are so insufferably infuriating. They condescend to everyone else while failing to understand that centrism, tempered by active dissent, is essential to the democratic process. A democratic government has to represent even the shittiest and most selfish Republican, or else there’s no point in having a democracy at all).

I definitely understand that when we’re threatened with corrupt authoritarianism and blatant attempts to establish a theocracy, complaining about using the wrong word to describe Republicans is a non-argument that completely misses the point. But I’d insist that defining “us” vs “them” in terms of “conservative” and “liberal” is just falling for Republicans’ decades-long branding campaign. When the rest of us fall for it, it subtly changes the way that we think about the issues and about the people actively trying to subvert our democracy. We all know that branding is effective at shaping the way we think. Even though I’ve had almost 50 years of being shown, over and over and over again, that the Republican party has never truly been the party of fiscal responsibility and conservative economics, I still instinctively assume that Republicans are going to behave conservatively.

By shitting all over our institutions and branding it “conservative,” they’re trying to normalize anti-democratic, anti-American policies as if they were merely another valid part of the political spectrum. It’s like acting surprised and offended when the Slytherins reveal themselves to be evil, when they’ve got a fucking snake in their logo.4#NotAllSlytherins

It’s good that social media is being vocal about refusing to normalize corrupt behavior, and calling out the traditional media for trying to create false equivalencies and insist that “both sides” are playing politics. I just want to remind people that calling gross manipulation of our institutions “conservative” does nothing but help normalize it.

Notes on Being a Decent Human

Lecturing Americans to show sympathy for Trump is like lecturing someone going through chemotherapy to show sympathy for their tumors.

Edited to add: There is at least one effort to share the stories of people affected by COVID-19, via the Faces of COVID twitter account. It also links to a crowdfunding campaign for a memorial project.

Yes, I’m finding myself sliding deeper and deeper into the pit of despair that is Twitter. But in my defense, an awful lot of stuff is happening. Rapid-fire, up-to-the-second, completely unverified, irresponsible, extremist reporting is exactly what’s required to keep up with it. The “president” has contracted a potentially lethal respiratory disease and been airlifted to a military hospital a month before an election, and the White House has spent so long blatantly lying to the American people that their official statements can’t be trusted.

But even more than irresponsibly and unreliably reporting the news, Twitter’s other main purpose is to provide us with a constant stream of performative statements and shallow, ham-fisted attempts to get a handle on the popular consciousness. Which means we’ve been barraged with stern reminders that we’re obliged to show sympathy for Trump and the people surrounding him. Basic decency demands that we show compassion even to the worst people among us. To do otherwise is to sink to their level. We should be better than that.

And I’d like to respectfully reply “Nah, you can fuck right off with that nonsense.”

To be clear: I’m not talking about the legions of hypocritical ghouls who’d barely had time to wipe the spittle from around their mouths after gleefully celebrating the death of Justice Ginsburg, before they turned to clutch their pearls and collapse to their fainting couches at the shocking lack of decorum from the “tolerant left.” People like Brit Hume, that barely-human personification of a Disney hound dog, who’ve so shamelessly spread their party’s campaign of disinformation that they don’t understand “human decency” as anything other than a phrase you shout out to try to win political points. There is less than nothing to be gained by trying to point out their ceaseless hypocrisy; they’re nothing but a blight, and if you want your anger at them to be productive, direct it instead to the people at Fox News and Twitter who’ve made their fortunes by giving them a microphone.

For that matter, I’m not talking about Vice President Biden, who hasn’t lied about or hidden his complete contempt for Trump, but who also understands that a leader is supposed to show a level of decorum and civility in public. One of the qualities I really like in Biden — and the main reason he’s so frequently accused of “gaffes” by pundits and the Democratic “establishment” — is that he’s able to openly acknowledge that what he says in public is not always the same thing as he says in private, but without it ever sounding insincere or inauthentic.

No, I’m talking about the people who speak as if this was a random act of God, instead of the inevitable result of months of arrogance and egregiously callous selfishness. It can’t even be called “ironic” or “poetic justice,” because there’s nothing unexpected about these assholes contracting a disease after months of lying about the severity of the disease, openly defying the easiest ways to prevent spread of the disease, and mocking people for being responsible enough to make sacrifices to prevent the spread of it. Telling Americans to feel sympathy for these assholes is like finding someone who’s spent the past four years being punched in the face by a bully, and scolding them for not being concerned whether the bully’s fist hurts.

I’m talking about the people who sternly tell us that we shouldn’t wish death on anyone. The lazy response to that is to point out how viciously and cruelly that Trump and his sycophants have spoken of other people, but I’m not interested in the lazy response. Wishing someone dead implies I have some agency, which isn’t the case for someone who doesn’t have any clue who I am but still has been given the power to make me miserable every day for years. It’s not the same thing as acknowledging that if he does die, I won’t feel even a nanosecond of sadness. The only tragedy would be that he didn’t live long enough to truly face the consequences of his actions. I’d much rather know that he saw what his life was like once he was no longer politically or financially useful to the sycophants he’s surrounded himself with, but who actually feel nothing but contempt for him.

And I’m not talking about the people who say that failing to show sympathy for him is sinking down to his level. I already know that I’m better than him because I feel sympathy for the millions of people who’ve died because of or suffered from this disease and who deserve my sympathy. The people who had to die alone. The families who couldn’t be with their loved ones in their final moments. The people who weren’t airlifted to hospitals and immediately given intensive care.

It’s because of those people — the hundreds of thousands who’ve died, and the millions who’ve been affected — that I’m complaining. This isn’t just me campaigning for my right to be petty. This is me reminding everyone how white supremacy is so deeply entrenched in the United States that it can even manifest itself in people trying to do the right thing and take the high ground. I don’t know the names or stories of hardly any of the Americans who have died from COVID-19; I was never told their stories unless they were deemed “newsworthy,” or unless their stories were considered ironic enough to be exploited to make some kind of point. White supremacy isn’t just people waving torches and screaming racial slurs; it’s a society in which one of the most useless people imaginable can spend over 70 years being given everything he doesn’t deserve, even after proving himself completely unworthy of it, over and over and over again.

There are so many people more deserving of our attention, and for four fucking years now, we’ve been forced to give all our attention to him. And now you want us to give him our sympathy, too? I’ve always been told that this isn’t a zero-sum game, that sympathy isn’t a finite resource. This administration has proven that it is a finite resource. Trump and his enablers have already drained so much of my energy. The delight you’re seeing from people isn’t just schadenfreude; it’s the glimmer of hope that comes from realizing we might one day be able to wake up without feeling anxiety and constant despair. So I’m saving whatever energy I have left for the people who actually deserve it.

I think about everything that responsible people have had to sacrifice this year, much less those who had to watch loved ones die from a distance, only to see that effort carelessly tossed aside by selfish people who “choose” to put everyone in danger. I have, as they say, no fucks left to give.

At the time I’m writing this, the most anyone has been able to deduce from unreliable reports from a White House that does nothing but lie to the American people is that the super-spreader event was a ceremony to celebrate their nomination of a Supreme Court justice. That they’re hypocritically ramming through in a shamelessly partisan political power-grab. Which is intended to, among other things, eliminate affordable health care for non-wealthy Americans. And openly disrespects the dying wishes of a great woman — to whom they’ve shown no respect, and in fact accused her granddaughter of “lying” about her wishes. And they all attended while openly defying precautions for mask wearing or staying separated. And then irresponsibly spread to who knows how many other people, some even after receiving their positive test results.

The only thing that keeps it from being the most perfectly repulsive display of every sin of this administration is that Pence didn’t test positive. The ultimate proof that 2020 is being scripted by an unsubtle and predictable writer would be Pence getting a disease from being too close to a woman.

I have more sympathy for the virus. These “people” have happily abandoned any claim to humanity or basic decency. The world will be undeniably, immeasurably better when they are gone and no longer able to endanger and steal from the people they are supposed to serve.

To the people telling us we should “go high:” seriously take a minute and think hard about who deserves our attention and our sympathy, and whether you’re just supporting a machine that perpetuates wealth and celebrity at the expense of people who aren’t shown the same respect. Think about why you haven’t called for us to show empathy to the journalists who made Americans aware of this story, or to all the staff who were forced to cater to these assholes who brazenly exposed them to the virus so they could celebrate their attempt to defecate on the judicial branch. Ask yourself whether you’re sincerely calling for civility, or if you’re merely taking advantage of this as an opportunity for performative righteousness.

And to the “president” and the growing list of enablers being diagnosed with the same disease your selfishness, negligence, incompetence, and corruption have allowed to impact millions of Americans while you’ve lived your tasteless lives unaffected by any of it in unearned wealth and comfort: Thoughts and prayers.