We Have Always Been At War With DOMA

Unpacking my own hypocrisy (maybe?) and avoiding getting gaslit by the Obama administration.

After I read Kal Penn’s memoir, I was pretty salty about how it just barely even mentioned being not-straight1For lack of a better description, since I don’t know exactly whether Kal Penn identifies as gay, bisexual, queer, etc., and instead treated it as if had been a non-issue. He casually says that in his mid-20s, his friends already “knew that [he] was dating dudes;” he makes a passing reference about figuring out his sexuality; and he has a chapter about his partner that is more about NASCAR than anything else.

That’s pretty much it. It stands out because so much of the book is about facing discrimination as an Indian-American working in Hollywood, or as an actor (at the time primarily known for his work in stoner comedies) working in the Obama Administration, but makes absolutely zero attempt at describing any kind of intersectionality with his sexual orientation.

It’s been bugging me for the last few weeks, since I’ve been wondering how much, if at all, my criticism makes me a hypocrite.

Continue reading “We Have Always Been At War With DOMA”
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    For lack of a better description, since I don’t know exactly whether Kal Penn identifies as gay, bisexual, queer, etc.

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.

Continue reading “Fool me once”

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.”)

Continue reading “Civics for Cynics”
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    He’s totally playing up that accent, right?

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.

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    And, we should never forget, that for marginalized people and those living in poverty, the system has never worked.
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    Amy Coney Barrett’s refusal to answer the most basic questions about voting rights and the peaceful transition of power were absolutely disgraceful and disqualifying.

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.

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    and it is only one political party
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    including “traditions” they made up out of political convenience
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    scare quotes because the so-called “conservatives” are obviously just treating this as a formality
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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.

Does He Even Know He’s the Heel?

Looking for voices of reason in the middle of America’s most successful kayfabe administration

On the podcast No Such Thing as a Fish, there’s kind of a running bit that illustrates how people have a hard time comprehending complex systems such as evolution, without wanting to assign motivation or direction to it. Often when they’re talking about interesting physiological behaviors or adaptations, they’ll word it in terms that suggest intentionality: like “the plant wants to reach the most sunlight,” or “the female spider wants to find the healthiest males to mate with.” Usually Dan Schreiber will ask something like “does the spider know this is the healthiest male?” to which John Harkin usually responds, “does she even know she’s a spider?”

I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately, as I’ve been barraged with media that seems to want me to be perpetually panicked, angry, and frightened. Obviously, I’ve brought some of it on myself by diving back into the Performative Awareness Platform known as Twitter — even in read-only mode, it works perfectly as designed, taking me from resting anxiety to blood-boiling, panicked rage in about 60 seconds. But even when I’ve got that shit turned off, I’ve seen the people who I usually trust to be rational become obsessed with Trump’s bullshit rambling quotes about not accepting the outcome of the election. It’s a coup! He’s going to throw out the ballots and the Republicans are just going to appoint him President!

One of the only voices of calm and reason I’ve been able to find is from Teri Kanefield, who wrote a great op-ed for The Washington Post (and has been talking about it in Twitter threads). I’d encourage anyone who can get around the paywall to read it, but essentially, she reminds us all that he can’t do that. He can’t control state elections, he doesn’t have control over state legislators, and he doesn’t control the judiciary. He just wants you to believe that he can, because he’s losing in just about every legitimate poll available.

Of course, it is unequivocally, undeniably, unacceptable for the President of the United States to be casually speculating about a treasonous coup during a press conference. But, I mean, welcome to 2020.

People should understand now that it’s possible for something to be an unacceptable perversion of American Democracy and basic human decency; but also at the same time, meaningless nonsense trolling bullshit. I’m not saying ignore it. I’m saying don’t build a news cycle out of the headline “Trump is forming a coup to stay in office despite the election results.” The message should be that it’s unacceptable for him — or anyone anywhere near the presidency, for that matter — to be saying shit like this, not that it’s something that we need to be worried about and prepared for. If a child is throwing a tantrum and threatening to hold his breath until he passes out, you tell him to stop it; you don’t immediately call 911.

I think Kanefield’s key point — at least, it’s the one I most strongly agree with — is that all of this panic helps no one but Trump. It helps cement this baffling idea that he’s somehow powerful enough to overthrow the American government, control the minds of 50% of the population, bend the legislative branch to his will, and display a preternaturally savvy understanding of the media and how to manipulate it. All this about a barely-functioning moron who is clearly in way over his head. Who not only lost the popular vote, but lost it by the largest margin since 1876. Who is hated by the military — who I’m assuming would be at least nice to have on your side for a proper coup — because he’s a draft-dodger who routinely, casually, and openly insults and denigrates them. Who has the “support” of the Republican party, but only by means of a relationship that’s less like the houses in Game of Thrones and more like sharks and remoras, in that they’re spineless opportunists who don’t really give a shit about most human beings.

You can tell how widely Trump is disliked when even the conservative jackasses speak out against him. One such jackass has accurately pointed out that Trump’s interactions with professional media are more like professional wrestling than genuine governmental communication. And I can’t think of a better analogy than comparing Trump to kayfabe: He saunters into the ring and blathers off some racist, misogynist, blatantly anti-American bullshit. The people who we look to as referees or announcers all lose control and scream about this unprecedented display. No one can imagine what a decent American adult could possibly do when a competitor dares to break every norm of the sport and bring a folding chair into the ring oh my God I’ve never seen anything like this before, is this the end of America as we know it?!

If you’re in the media, or if you’re a politician hoping to stop this nonsense, then you have a responsibility when it comes to responding to Trump’s bullshit posturing, if you respond at all. What you don’t do is keep asking him if he’s going to do it, cementing the idea that it’s up to him to decide. Instead, you point out that he can’t do it, and that’s the end of the story. Or, if you believe that he can, you explain how, and you tell us all what the American public can do to circumvent it. It’s irresponsible to keep treating this asshole like he’s Billy Mumy in The Twilight Zone, magically gifted to enact whatever cruel whim he comes up with.

This whole incident is a perfect example of how the media — both legitimate and social — just stumbles over itself trying to give him more attention and more unearned significance. I suppose having someone in the office of the President who will just randomly spout out racist, fascist bullshit is like a negative zone version of the Puppy Bowl: it’s cheap, it’s easy, and it gets a strong, immediate reaction from the audience. And the state of mass media in the 21st century is a complex system that happens to feed off of knee-jerk reactions to blatantly provocative trash. Our insistency on immediacy, and on the distrust of gate-keepers, has created an environment where even the cheapest and laziest disturbance can ripple out into a gigantic, self-perpetuating feedback loop, more quickly than actual news has ever been able to spread.

But giving Trump credit for “manipulating” that environment would be as misguided as assuming butterflies have insidious powers of weather control when they flap their wings and cause a hurricane on the other side of the planet. (Now I’m going to be embarrassed when we discover the butterflies have been the supervillainous architects of 2020 this whole time).

If this is a chaotic system, like I’m suggesting, then it’s probably a mistake to assume malicious intent on the people warning us about every incident of Trump’s incompetently authoritarian, clown-fascist posturing. In fact, I’d assume that most have the best of intentions. After all, if the president is even casually threatening to refuse to leave office, it is news, even if it’s not an imminent threat. I think the issue is that people are ignoring the notion that journalism and politics are both supposed to be a public service. It’s not enough to tell us what’s happening; you have to either put it into a useful context if you’re a journalist, or tell us what you’re going to do about it if you’re a politician. But one of the few things that both the “left” and the “right” can still agree on is that our politicians don’t feel obligated to represent us. For over a decade, most of the people representing me in the federal government have been less interested in impactful legislation and more interested in crafting the most impactful, buzz-generating statements on Twitter. Let that sink in.

Calling Trump “the heel” — in the perpetual Wrestlemania that national politics in 2020 has become — can be interpreted as an attempt to diminish his awfulness, but that’s not the case at all. It’s not hyperbole at all to say that four more years of Trump would be catastrophic for this country. But it wouldn’t be a “master manipulator,” or some shadowy dark state puppet-masters taking over the country in a violent or non-violent coup. It would be more a case of Americans just giving into apathy, selfishness, and hatred, letting the cancerous decay take over everything. It’d become a nation of Tucker Carlsons and Kellyanne Conways. But calling him “the heel” is a good analogy because it’s a reminder he’s not just a tool for the Republicans to root for or hide behind. He’s there to give the Democrats somebody to boo at.

In 2016, the Democrats spent an entire convention reminding us that Trump was a demagogue. I’m guessing that they didn’t ask Michelle Obama what that word means, exactly, because they sure as hell seem to be trying to make us as fearful and suspicious of each other as they can. It should go without saying that I’m voting for Biden. And more than that, I like Biden, and I trust him, because he’s one of the few politicians at the national level who seems incentivized to do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do. But I don’t know what the hell Biden’s campaign is doing.

There are all the annoyances with overwhelmingly frequent donation requests, and tone-deaf and robotic messaging, which are all probably inevitable in a national election campaign these days. But what I find disconcerting are the messages that seem to be intended to make us afraid or worried. I’ve seen donation requests that claim “the polls” put Biden at Trump within 2 points of each other, so it’s crucial that I send a grassroots donation of $100 or more, even though I’d already read on the same day that Biden is winning significantly in polls all over the country. I’ve seen claims that the Trump is raising hundreds of millions of dollars and Biden is the underdog, right after seeing reports that Trump’s campaign is as bankrupt as his casinos and Biden is out-funding him significantly.

I understand the desire to keep people involved and keep voters from becoming complacent, but if you can’t do it honestly, then that sets a horrible precedent. When apathy is largely responsible for putting one of the most obviously shitty and dishonest people in the United States into the office of president, we can’t just shrug and say, “eh, politicians and political campaigns lie all the time. That’s just the way it works.” There’s something very dishonest about whipping people into a panic about the president stealing the election in an unprecedentedly underhanded coup attempt, and then telling us that the only way we can stop it is by voting. Doing otherwise just undermines the entire system of democracy that we have in place. You can’t warn people that they’re in imminent danger and then not give them any tools to actually do something about it.

There is no real choice in this election — it’s either Biden or disaster. But that was also true in 2016. I think a lot of liberals like myself assumed that since nobody in their right mind would vote for Trump, there was no chance he’d make it into office. And I think the Clinton campaign made the mistake of assuming that the race was between Clinton and Trump, when in fact the race was between Clinton and apathy. That’s exactly why I want the Biden campaign to focus on the whole “build back better” message (which I happen to think is perfect) and less on the “Trump is a lying piece of shit and he sucks” message. The reason is because the goal of the Democrats in this campaign shouldn’t be just to win, but to get people engaged again, helping build up our communities, restoring faith in our democracy and our ability to do better. Stop letting some shithead dominate the conversation and make everything about him. Instead, remind people how the government — and law enforcement — are supposed to work for us, instead of being in control over us.

In other words: back off the hyperbolic “coup” bullshit until you’re trying to get us to actually mobilize to overthrow the government. Until then, just try being honest with people about the severity of what’s happening in the government, and our role in it. If you want to encourage voting, encourage voting; don’t just gin up meaningless social media engagement and call it “activism.” If you want people to volunteer, give them opportunities to volunteer, and do what you can to make them productive. Give people opportunities to combat and counteract voter suppression attempts, instead of just being angry about them. As it is, yelling “Trump is going to throw out your ballots and steal the election!” seems only a step removed from “Obama is coming to steal your guns!”

Trump is obviously unfit for office, and he’d already done 10,000 disqualifying things before he even started lying about a disease that’s killed over 200,000 Americans so far. This is serious. But our role in it at the federal level is pretty simple and straightforward: research the candidates for local and state races as much as possible, make informed choices in those races, vote Joe Biden and Kamala Harris into office, and encourage friends and family to do the same. If we want to be more involved, we can volunteer for campaigns or volunteer to work at the polls. Or we can get back to focusing on local issues, where we can probably make better use of our talents and have a larger impact.

But part of the beauty of having a representative government is that the vast majority of us don’t have to spend every waking moment of the day in a panic about what’s happening in the federal government, because people have been screaming at us that not being anxious 24/7 is the same as being complicit. Hell, if you want to convince more people to vote for Biden and Harris, just remind them what it was like to wake up not worried whether the federal government had collapsed while you were asleep. Remind them what it was like to be able to travel and not be embarrassed to be American. Or to travel at all, for that matter. Maybe campaigns want each of us to feel like we’re super-important, but our actual role at the federal level is pretty simple and straightforward. But over 300 million people taking the responsibility to do something simple and straightforward can make for a complex system that wants to do the right thing.