COVID Restrictions Nearly Led Me Down A Dark Path, How Many Others Got Caught In That Trap?
Back in August, I published my most popular blog entry on here, about how I nearly got sucked into the QAnon wormhole that clearly millions of other Americans, including at least two members of Congress, have gotten lost in. I consider myself pretty cynical and able to spot bullshit pretty quickly, but even I found myself captivated by the allegations that there was a worldwide child sex trafficking ring going on. It seemed plausible, coming at the heels of Jerry Epstein, R. Kelly and the NXIVM cult stories, the latter of which sounds awfully familiar to what QAnon is alleging.
When my grammar school friend, Jen, invited me to join the “Precious Lives Movement” on Facebook, I thought about it for a few minutes and agreed. Jen, which is not her real name, unfortunately has some history with the topic. She was sexually abused as a child, something she shared with me later on as an adult, and had recently expressed concern that her own children were danger of being abused by their father’s uncle. Bored and looking for involvement four months into the pandemic and the restrictions on social life – and on a social justice high coming out of the summer of Black Lives Matter – I was happy to join in.
I scoured the Facebook page and looked at some of the postings, expecting to find links to charities or organizations that I could help out with, or any other information I could find about NXIVM and other sex trafficking stories I already knew about. To my surprise, there was nothing on any of those true things, just post after post of people talking about how they “woke up” and how they believe “Americans are waking up” to the “truth,” and endless false allegations.
That “truth” that they alleged? That Hollywood, the media, academia and other “elitist” organizations are secretly running a Satanic cult trying to destroy Christianity and “the American way of life,” and secretly kidnapping and selling children into sex cults, and the Democratic Party was giving them political cover, and working to protect them from political consequences. Donald Trump, they explained, was the only force standing against them and trying to stop them, and that’s why so many people were trying to destroy him. Even COVID, they alleged, was a hoax created to destroy Trump and stop him from breaking up this “globalist Satanic child rape cult.” That’s why the first celebrity to catch COVID was Tom Hanks. He’s one fo the ringleaders, they allege.
I told Jen that this was a conspiracy theory, but she didn’t believe me, just telling me that I needed to “wake up,” and trying to connect to me by saying she used to think like me, but that these groups made her “see the truth,” and if I opened my mind, I’d see it too. I tried to coax her out of it, by sharing the actual real stories, like NXIVM and Epstein, but she first said those stories made her believe the conspiracy more, and then stopped responding to me after a while. In the end, I reported her to Facebook for making threats after the Jan. 6 Capitol attack.
She not only believed the central tenants of QAnon – that Democrats were part of a Satanic cult out to murder Christians and were part of a child sex trafficking ring and also dabbled in cannibalism – she also believed the election was stolen from Donald Trump, who previous to this year she did not openly support. The child sex cult conspiracy made her believe that Trump was actually an ally to the cause and she began to throw her support behind him. Trump, she said, was just about to arrest them all, so they had to rig the election against him.
Some might say she was headed down that dark road anyway, pandemic or not, but I don’t believe it. She was never politically active before, and to the extent she was, she seemed to lean liberal. Plus, she openly said to me “I’m glad for social distancing, because otherwise my eyes wouldn’t have been open to all this.”
Now I know what you’re thinking – these are people who would flout COVID-19 guidelines anyway. But that really isn’t the point. The Spring lockdowns FORCED them to social distance, they weren’t given the option at first. We took away people’s normal social lives – the jobs, the parties, the bar nights, the weddings, funerals, sporting events and holidays, where they see family and friends. We’ve forced them into a state of indefinite social isolation and disruption, leaving them scared and alone and looking for answers. We then told them to find socialization online, where its safe; on social media, on Zoom.
So they did. Feeling rejected by family and friends and coworkers who were following guidelines by isolating and distancing from them, they found like-minded individuals online who satisfied their basic human need for socialization, and assimilated to their worldviews.
“I’m glad for social distancing, because otherwise my eyes wouldn’t have been open to all this.”
My grammar school friend Jen
Another former friend of mine, Kate, who fell down the conspiracy theory path, had the same trajectory. Everything was fine until the pandemic. Her sister told me that while she was always radically pro-Trump and far right, “family and friends always seemed to be a moderating influence on her.”
A month or so into the pandemic, as the situation in Florida, where they live, seemed to be getting better, Kate started to get angry that her family and friends were still avoiding her and sticking to social distancing.
“It made her feel like we had abandoned her,” her sister explained. “So she sought out people who affirmed her feelings, and that opened the door I think.”
There is growing evidence the lockdowns and social isolation enacted to slow or stop COVID-19 helped fuel the rising interest and growth in QAnon support. According to a study done by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, A UK-based think tank that studies extremists ideologies, while QAnon-related social media saw gradual growth since it first appeared in 2017, there was a tremendous increase in traffic to Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages of QAnon-aligned groups starting in March 2020, when lockdowns began. With the United States leading the way, traffic dropped by June, when the lockdowns in the US and Europe were lifted.
The most striking increase, in March 2020, saw the number of Facebook users increase from an average of 344 unique users per day between March 2 and 8, to 898 between March 22 and 29. (Lockdowns in the UK and United States began around March 14). Similarly, average Twitter users grew from 37,302 in the first week to 89,338 in the last, ” the report, linked here, read. “Both Facebook group membership and engagement rates within those Facebook groups increased significantly in March 2020. Membership of QAnon groups on Facebook increased by 120% in March and engagement rates increased by 91%”
The report goes on to suggest that the first COVID-19 lockdowns were a possible explanation for the rise.
“Further research is required into why the QAnon community is growing so rapidly,” it read, “but possible explanations include that this is a by-product of people spending more time on social media as a result of the COVID-19 lockdowns, or evidence of a coordinated push to amplify the QAnon theory.”
From my point of view, both are feasible, and perhaps connected. I don’t think a coordinated push, if that’s what did it, just coincidentally happened to occur right as the pandemic was beginning and we were telling people to stay home and socially isolate. If there was a coordinated push by QAnon instigators at that time, I would bet they saw the lockdowns as something that would work in their favor.
Indeed, Donald Trump saw a massive increase in support in November in big cities and locations that had tough lockdowns, from places like the Bronx, Detroit and Los Angeles, to the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. Some of that may very well be the influence of QAnon.
The idea that massive social disruption breeds conspiracy theories is not a new theory. It has existed and been well documented throughout history. Typically, though, the phenomenon is limited to just an individual person, someone who gets trapped in conspiracy theories because of something life altering happening to them – a job loss, a death of a close relative or family member, a disease. What we’re seeing here is a collective trauma, one hitting an entire population, and nestled inside that, billions of individual traumas. Those are the perfect conditions for a mass movement to develop.
The far right isn’t alone here. Even Black Lives Matter organizers acknowledged that social distancing helped fuel a lot of new support for their cause last summer after the death of George Floyd. It’s perhaps also responsible for the record turnout in last year’s election. Taking away distractions, like jobs, vacations, sports, theater, parties, holidays, etc. leaves an entire population with nothing to do, looking for something to give this weird time meaning, and searching for answers – easy answers – for what is happening to them. Many found it in QAnon conspiracy theories, which helped amplify the “Big Lie,” – that Joe Biden did not defeat Donald Trump last November. That led thousands to D.C. on January 6th to storm the Capitol.
If not for social distancing and the disruption it has caused, I do not believe there would never have been a big enough turnout in Washington two weeks ago to storm the Capitol. There are many ways to combat the problem of far-right domestic terrorism. I’m an advocate for deplatforming: I’ll have a diary on that soon. The quickest way to starve it of more support though, is to get our society back to a normal left of socializing soon, so friends and family and coworkers can have a moderating influence on people susceptible to these conspiracy theories.
Treating Trumpism With Kid Gloves Has Brought The Country To The Brink
The day after Joe Biden was finally projected to be the winner of the presidential election in November, I looked around at some of my former Trump friends’ social media sites to see what their reactions would be. Some of it was schadenfreude trolling, I admit. After years of being told “fuck your feelings” and “whatever, you lost,” I wanted to see how they reacted to losing. I wasn’t going to incite them, even though I really, really, REALLY wanted to. Trump had lost, there was no need for that, but I wanted to see what they were saying now.
What I saw though was extremely alarming. Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised that the reaction was not “fuck this, we’ll beat them in 2022 and 2024,” or “you won this time, but we will be back,” which was the reaction most Democrats had in 2020. Their response were completely divorced from reality. Trump did win, they said. The election was stolen. How could he have lost when he was ahead on Election Night? How could he have lost when he had big rallies? As time went on, more and more fabricated “evidence” of fraud popped up. Biden ballots being delivered in Detroit and Atlanta, voting machines changing votes, voting “dumps” of fraudulent ballots. Some of them, college educated adults, believed the Sidney Powell allegations that Hugo Chavez had worked with Democrats to rig the election, even though he’s been dead for seven years. As November turned into December, the fever didn’t break. They were convinced state legislatures would choose Trump electors, then that the Electoral College would elect Trump even though Biden electors were chosen, then that the Supreme Court would get involved and hand Trump the election. When all that failed, January 6th became the do or die date.
“If all that fails,” one Trump supporter said on Facebook in early December, “We go to war on the sixth.”
Eating dinner with my parents the day after the Electoral College voted, I expressed a sense of dread, especially about what he might do on or before January 6th.
“What if Trump tries to declare martial law?” I suggested. “What if he gets a mob of his supporters to attack the White House or Congress or the Inauguration?”
My parents dismissed it as fantasy. My dad was exceptionally non-receptive to the idea, actually going so far as to scold me for suggesting such a thing.
“We’ll be fine,” he said. My father, for the record, is often one who tries to look on the bright side and try to calm everyone down and remain optimistic. He believed that Trump supporters would never allow him to declare marital law or would never resort to violence. They where, he said, Americans after all. If they were truly patriots, they wouldn’t attack their fellow citizens.
But he didn’t see what I saw. I read what Trump supporters were saying. I read how my former friend had bought tickets to Trump’s second inauguration and right into the new year remain adamant that it would happen “even if we have to get tough to make it happen.” She suggested that “Congress would be given no choice but the hand Trump the election on January 6th. He won.” and subtly suggest if they didn’t do it, they would be made to through violence. I read how they didn’t consider Democrats or liberals or anyone who voted for Biden “Americans” or “patriots.”
Weak people who are desperate to project strength, fearful people will see their weakness, will find anyway to look strong. People who feel aggrieved will lash out, even if their grievances are false and even if it against their own. Trump supporters were left feeling weak and vulnerable by his loss, and the lies that convinced them he won made them feel aggrieved.
They warned us. For weeks, they talked about January 6th. For weeks, they said they would march on the Capitol. Trump himself said “it will be wild.” But we didn’t believe them, we wouldn’t believe them. For them, no amount of facts mattered. Trump had won in a landslide, the election was stolen, and everyone was in on it; the Democrats, the media, Hollywood, Europe, Dr. Fauci, everyone. There was a giant conspiracy and only the people who “woke up” knew the truth and only outlets like Newsmax, TownHall and OAN were willing to tell you the truth. They kept asking the same question and it stuck with me.
“Why would they lie?”
There seem to be this idea that Democrats, Biden, the media, Hollywood, the “elite,” all of these people they hate had a vested interest in lying: power. But Donald Trump was a billionaire who gave it all up to “serve his country,” so why would he lie? Why would religious people who know they’d be damned to hellfire for lying, risk such a punishment? Why would reporters on Newsmax, OAN and Fox lie? Their reputation and integrity is at stake. They MUST be telling the truth. Not only do they want it to be true, they have concocted some logical rationale in order to make what they are hearing true.
This is how terrorism is fermented; through lies, misdirection and fear.
It is tiresome that these are same people who say “fuck your feelings?” I understand they feel disenfranchised and forgotten, but these are the same people who are happy to forget and disenfranchise others when they are close to power. They call me a coastal elite, despite the fact that I grew up in a working class outer borough neighborhood, the son of a laborer who rode the subway every day and a bank teller. I’m the coastal elite, even though my great uncles cleaned Donald Trump’s toilets.
But what makes me mad is we spent five years trying to rationalize this behavior. We called it “economic anxiety,” we blamed “wokeness” and “PC culture.,” We dismissed it as performative and laughed off any ideas that Trump supporters would get violent as they grew more desperate. I was even told multiple times by people that once he loses, his supporters will go away. That once he loses the election, the spell will lift. Then the election happened, and all the signs were there, but everyone dismissed it anyway. Everyone was sure they would never take it to this level.
But for those of us who kept a watchful eye, we saw this bubbling over. We saw the strength of QAnon and how it was delivering people to Trumpism. I even wrote about it back in August. It remains this blog’s most-read post.
I recognize the type of people who stormed the Capitol. They are the same people who bullied me in school, whose parents responded that maybe I was the one who encouraged the bullying by being different, or by “showing off,” or by not being friendly. That I made them feel uncomfortable or inadequate, which is why they bullied me. That somehow I should be the one to change in order to stop the torment. There was also some reason or excuse as to why they were bullies, as if circumstances put them under some sort of spell that took away agency.
They are the ones who were never dealt it, or if they were disciplined, it was with a slap on the wrist, which only encouraged them to go further. When there is no accountability, there is no telling how far people will be willing to go, and I have watched bullies who aren’t held accountable go father and farther, and I know how it feels to be terrified of what line they’ll cross. I also know what it looks like they cross it.
In finding every excuse in the book to dismiss Trumpism as something other than what it is – a dangerous fascist movement that threatened our democratic system – we have allowed it to fester to the point where it did something Al-Qaeda couldn’t even do, sack the U.S. Capitol.
I’ve talked about my childhood experiences with bullies pretty often on this blog; especially about how it felt like any attempt to battle them proved futile. Ignoring them didn’t work, fighting back didn’t work, even when I “won,” they seemed to only take it as a sign they had continued power and influence over me. That just reacting to them meant they lived rent-free in my heads, and ignoring them meant they had intimated me. It was years before I figured out the one thing that worked was something I had no control over – starve them of the attention other kids gave them. It wasn’t me or how I respond that fueled their bad behavior, it was how other people did. The more my classmates rooted for them and egged them on, the more they bullied.
In the past few years I’ve seen Trumpism evolve into something similar. There seems to be no real way to quell the bad behavior, meanness and cruelty of Trump and his allies. Accountability doesn’t work – Trump has been impeached and acquitted once and will likely be again imminently. Removing Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Georgia), a QAnon-aligned freshman congresswoman, didn’t work. It only led to her boasting about being marginalized and doubling down on her incendiary comments. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Missouri), who famously objected to counting Pennsylvania’s electoral votes EVEN AFTER a riot stormed the Capitol, has preemptively complained about being cancelled before any attempt to hold him accountable is even made.
Whenever a Trumper is held accountable for anything – or whenever the possibility of holding him or her accountable is entertained – he or she quickly finds a safe space at Fox News to complain about being cancelled, while also bragging about how he or she has “triggered” his or her opponents. Trump would find solace at his rallies, letting thousands of adoring fans cheer on his bullying tactics as validation against ongoing attempts to hold him to account. There is no winning scenario. If you ignore them, they take it as a sign you’re too feckless or scared to stand up to them; if try fight back and hold them accountable, they claim victory for having “triggered” you in the first place.
Depriving them of an audience works. Look at how deplatforming Trump from social media has silenced him since the January 6th Capitol attack. We haven’t heard from him since he left Washington more than three weeks ago. Without his Twitter soapbox – and the dopamine that comes from the likes and retweets – and his adoring mob accused of trying to stage a coup, Trump is no longer able to receive the reward of popularity for his cruel and bullying ways. Having lost the election and having been repudiated by the American people, along with his own supporters hanging him out to dry to save their hides, he is no longer able to leverage a victory as a defense against criticism of his opponents. He and his supporters are not longer able to respond with dismissive catchphrases like “u mad bro?” and “fuck your feelings.” It is no longer liberals and Democrats who are screaming and crying, it is Trump and his supporters themselves. It is QAnon groups who are losing followers, disenchanted in having been hosed by the conspirators. Republicans are losing members by the thousands, Trump’s popularity has never been lower. The political movement that made a name for itself dismissing their opponents as crybabies and whiners, threw the ultimate temper tantrum.
There was one other thing that I discovered worked, largely because it seemed to turn other students against them – bully back. Tony Navarro stopped bullying me when I pointed out his father abandoned him; Mike DeMarro left me alone when I mocked him for having a learning disability; Alex Price never said another word to me after I made fun of his weight problems.
That’s the thing about bullies, they do what they do because of their own insecurities. It’s a pecking order. They don’t feel strong, so they need to appear strong. Bullies can dish it, but they cannot eat it. Once you point out their flaws and air their insecurities, bullying you becomes like touching a hot steam pipe or exposed electrical wire; the pain reminds them not to do it again.
But what kind of society are we building when we are responding to bullies with more bullying? That is not the ideal scenario, and not one I necessarily advocate for or endorse. I am not proud of having done these things. But when you have exhausted all other options and are left with no other means of recourse, it becomes the only one. You cling to it out of desperation.
And that’s an ugly place for us to be. We may have no other path but to end up there, however, if accountability fails.
Americans Rarely Dabble In Collectivism. That They Would Do It This Drastically For This Long Was Always A Delusion
Social media was all abuzz this weekend by the crowds that packed the streets of Tampa, and later Raymond James Stadium, for Super Bowl LV, where patrons, including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis himself, watched the Big Game maskless.
We’re in the middle of a pandemic, how can people be so careless? It’s the same scolding-about-guidelines narrative we’ve heard since last March’s Spring Break. We saw it last Memorial Day with crowds on the Jersey Shore and in Lake Of The Ozarks, Missouri; Fourth of July; Halloween; and traveling for Thanksgiving and Christmas. In every case, it was the same complaint. How can people be so careless? How can they not take this virus seriously? How can they not care about endangering the lives of other people?
Putting aside the fact that this Super Bowl was unique in that the host city, Tampa, saw its own team play in it – something that has never happened before – we are now nearly a year into a pandemic that has disrupted all of our normal lives, and forced into unprecedented social isolation and economic chaos. No one should have expected anything different at this point.
Let me be clear: Nothing about what has transpired during this pandemic should surprise anyone. We asked a nation that is ingrained in the concept of individualism to give up their lives for several weeks, which most did do voluntarily. Then, a few weeks in, we told them they had to do it for longer, perhaps indefinitely: No social life, no bars, no traveling, no family gatherings, no church, no school. We were told to give all that up, first for two weeks, then a month, and then until such a time that a bunch of doctors and politicians decide that it was safe to resume them. We told them maybe we can go back to some level of normal if we get caseloads low enough to test, trace and isolate, then watched that fail in most countries that tried it. I can’t think of a scenario that is more unlikely than Americans voluntarily giving up their joys and livelihoods for the sake of others for an extended period of time, let alone indefinitely. That people are surprised at this turn of events, frankly surprises me.
The truth is, this is not merely an American problem. There was a reason other countries enforced lockdowns by police or military force; because they knew some people wouldn’t voluntary comply, and as time went on more and more people would grow fatigued and frustrated and join in. Lockdowns have a shelf life. New Zealand was able to eliminate the SARS-COV2 virus from their borders after only a month of hard lockdown that led to hundreds of arrests; Australia took a few months longer, but had to strictly enforce restrictions – during which they literally locked residents in one apartment complex inside their units – and shut borders tightly, to get there. They didn’t “beat” COVID because they are better people, or because they have a collectivist spirit. I mean, the Australians? Really? They did it because their government restricted their civil rights. They did not have a choice in the matter.
The United States, in part because it is a nation that values individualism over collectivism, does not have clear legal authority to enact such enforcement. State borders cannot be closed, stay at home orders cannot be enforced. Even more reasonable, less intrusive restrictions like mask mandates and limits on size of gatherings have met legal opposition in the courts. And would we even want to? How do you think Donald Trump with the power to enforce stay-at-home orders with mass arrests would have ended? He tried to stage a coup d’etat last month, there is zero chance he wouldn’t have taken his new found COVID powers and used to keep himself in power as well.
Considering who we are as a country – one that wouldn’t even hold our elected officials to reasonable gun control legislation after the massacre of little children, or turned the other way to decades of racism and other forms of bigotry – I’m surprised we lasted this long and got the level of adherence to guidelines that we did. Americans, whether fairly or unfairly, developed a reputation in Europe to taking better to mask-wearing, for example.
And considering the shifting goalposts and incoherent messaging, as well as lack of clarity in an end game, I’m surprised as many Americans are still following guidelines as they are today. Much of this is self-preservation – fear of your own death or the deaths of your loved ones, but that’s where vaccinations change the game, and even to some extent natural infections. Much of the recent talk about a return to normal revolves around when and if we’ll hit “herd immunity,” where enough Americans are considered immune to prevent exponential growth of new infections. With the more contagious variants popping up, that threshold is higher than it would have been a few months ago, perhaps too high to reasonably be met. There is justified concern that herd immunity won’t be reached, and no real plan for what happens if we don’t; just new stories about how the “end” gets pushed farther and farther away. First summer, then maybe fall, now maybe winter…if we’re lucky.
People who have been following guidelines are at some point going to get tired, and find their own exit ramps. Once you believe yourself and your circle to be free of the threat of death or serious illness, you’re likely to stop caring. I expect that’s what we’ll see happening as vaccinations become more widespread, and there remains a lack of clarity from experts as to what the end game is, and when/if we can return to normal.
Everything that we have been told by public health officials in this pandemic – how long social distancing would last, the changing story on masks – plays right into the hands of those who have defended our obsession with individualism: It has allowed libertarians and conservatives to once again make the argument that the only instinct you can trust, is your own. Increasingly, we’re going to find experts, who we’ve grown to trust, more and more marginalized as vaccinations increase and cases and deaths subside. Any calls to continue to take precautions and adhere to restrictions for the few people who can’t get a vaccine, or for the many who just won’t get one, is going to met with opposition at best, disdain at worst.
I suspect what will happen in the coming is cases and hospitalizations will decrease down to minimal levels, #COVID will fall out of the news cycle, and we’ll go back to normal even as experts scream “no, you can’t” into the void.
A View From Denmark On Europe’s Latest COVID-19 Wave And Lockdowns
I’ve had a pen pal in Denmark for the past 24 years. Marie-Louise Metz (or Mare as I call her) and I have been writing each other since I was 14 and she was 15. We probably would’ve stopped writing if the internet hadn’t become a thing two years after we started mailing letters. It became easier after that to chat, first via email, then on instant messenger, then on Facebook and WhatsApp. Sometimes we chat on the phone. We met fairly often while she was doing graduate studies (and dating an American soldier) in Virginia, and we met in London seven years ago for a fun weekend. Today she lives in Copenhagen with her husband and three kids. Anyway, here is an email I got from her earlier this week responded to a series of Tweets I posted about COVID-19 and Europe. I think it provides a perspective into how some Europeans feel about their early success, and their current situation, and the paradox of emotions around this crisis.
Lockdown sucks. It really does suck. During the first lockdown, we were shocked by it and by the time we adjusted to it, it was over. Then we thought we were done. The kids went to school, we went back to our lives, with masks and two metres apart. We had beat it and now we will be able to control it. Yeah, we mocked Sweden and Brazil and you for failing. Then it came back. It feels like we're being punished for doing it right. Since we did it right the first time, we are expected to do it again. The kids are miserable, my husband is miserable. I miss my mom and dad. They're saying April if we're lucky, but possibly even June. We are confused. We see numbers dropping and are told to ignore it, another surge is coming, and it's coming because there's no immunity in the population. We don't know when the vaccines are coming and we see Americans getting vaccines by the millions. It's as if any hope we have is quickly shot down and discouraged. We remind ourselves why we're doing this; to save lives, to save hospitals, for the good of the country. I can't help but feel a little jealous at your guys. There are times when I wake up and think 'okay I'm finished with this, whoever dies will die,' but then I feel guilty about that.I feel like I'm having my humanity and empathy sucked from me. At this point, we have sort of came to the conclusion that we will all get infected before we get the vaccine and are just hoping we don't die. It's feels like the end of the world almost. We hear about another neighbour or family who caught it, and it comes closer and closer to us. I'm more terrified now that I was at the beginning, because then I trusted that what we are doing was working and now I'm not sure anymore. All we can do is pray, and hope we still have a country after this. I had hoped and looked ahead to seeing you again after this, but now I'm not as sure we will anymore.
For what it’s worth, experts have suggested that Denmark is doomed to another surge despite declining cases because the B117 variant, the “UK Variant.” The theory is that even though cases have declined, the proportion of cases that are of the variant is going up, meaning at some point an equilibrium will be reached and cases will grow slowly.
While such a surge is also predicted in the United States, it hasn’t happened in the UK or Israel, where here is widespread immunity, via infection or vaccination. Basically, Denmark is screwed because they managed to keep the virus from infecting most Danes, while Israel was able to vaccinate enough people fast enough and the UK responded too slow early on, creating a Spring wave that allowed some level of immunity to build. It might be what saves Americans too in the coming months. And if so, Mare would be right, still sitting in lockdown in Copenhagen. They fell victim to their own success.
UPDATE: On Friday, Mare lost her sense of smell and taste and immediately went for a COVID test, which they are turning around quickly in Denmark. She tested positive and is now in isolation away from her family. She feels well and I hope she continues to have a mild case and can return to her children quickly. What a nightmare.
He Can’t Hurt Us Anymore, But The Trauma Will Last For A Long Time. Let’s Do Something Good With It
He’s gone. He can’t hurt us anymore. Donald Trump is no longer the President of the United States. He is permanently banned from Twitter. He no longer has any power to yield over those he seeks to oppress, or authority he can manipulate and corrupt. He is now disgraced and weakened, living in a sort of exile in Florida.
The entire Inauguration was cathartic, from the powerful poetry by Amanda Gorman, to the celebratory concert and fireworks in the evening. But it was also bittersweet. Not far from our minds is the sad state Donald Trump left the country in, and the challenge we have to try to pick up the pieces and put the nation back together again – if we even can.
Anybody has ever been in an abusive relationship knows exactly what the last week was going to feel like, and every emotion felt familiar. First we will look at all the evidence in place to know that it will be over soon. We see the new president’s schedule, we hear the news acting sure the transfer of power will happen; but still you feel like it won’t be. You can’t accept it. Those finals minutes, when you know its about to end, and yet you wonder if something will happen to prolong it. As if you’re checking around to see if there’s anything you missed that can allow him to hurt you again. I felt it all. The QAnon conspiracy theories didn’t help. Yes, it seemed absolutely insane that Trump would use the inauguration as a means to trap Biden and other top Democrats in Washington and have the military round up and execute them, but a lot of things that happened in the last four years have been insane. It might be a consequence of years of abuse and gaslighting that you no longer can tell what is unrealistic and what is just an unbelievable thing that could happen.
The weight lifted when it was clear he was gone, but it still felt hard to accept. Is there some quirk in the system that make him still President? Biden took the oath ten minutes early, does that change anything? Is he really gone? You go through stages until you finally accept, its really over. Thursday, I stared at the television during Biden’s COVID-19 announcement and the White House Press Briefing in disbelief. It feels like a dream, like I had fallen asleep watching one of Donald Trump’s pathetic press conferences or reading some of his insane and inflammatory Tweets and dreamt of what a stable, normal administration would look like. It feels like I’ll wake up, be in the middle of the nightmare again, and tell my friends how I dreamt Joe Biden was president last night.
I had a sign ready to go for this moment that I had made four years ago. It read “I Survived The Trump Presidency.” I decided not to bring it out, and instead I destroyed it. I may be true – I did survive the Trump presidency – but hundreds of thousands of my fellow Americans did not. It didn’t seem like the right tone.
It was every bit the nightmare and disaster I had expected to be, maybe worse.
There’s a silver lining though. When we look back on the last four years, I think we’ll discover that it is a trauma we had to go through. In Gorman’s poem “The Hill We Climb,” that she read at the inauguration on Wednesday, she redefined patriotism as something different that the symbolic nature we’ve grown accustomed to:
Patriotism, she said, is the ability to recognize the mistakes of our past, and dedicating ourselves to the hard work of correcting them. What is left is a “more perfect union,” the words etched in the Preamble of our Constitution.
For my entire life, nearly four decades, it felt as if patriotism encompassed this fear of lifting the proverbial rock to see what was underneath, because we know it won’t be pretty. Trump kicked that rock away. The ugly underbelly is exposed and we can’t ignore it. We have to deal with it. In the Trump years, we saw what we were capable at our worst. The blinders are off now. We can no longer deny the existence of ignorance, of racism, of white supremacy and of misinformation. We saw how quickly a virus can bring us to our knees, how fast economic security becomes economic catastrophe, the slim margins we all survive on, the apathy – and even the indignation – of the rich, whom we were led for decades to believe would “trickle down” their wealth upon us if we empower them to. We have seen how quickly our brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, friends, coworkers and acquaintances can be conned by lies, and incited to do evil. It’s not a secret anymore. Just standing for an anthem, wearing a pin and waving a flag is no longer enough. Symbols are insufficient.
If that’s the lesson we take from the Trump years, and we channel that into positive action going forward, we may end up looking back at this era as what saved our nation, rather than what broke it.
The COVID Disaster Out West Triggered My Pandemic PTSD, And I’ve Lost Trust In The Experts
I haven’t slept right since Christmas. I’ve been waking up at odd hours of the night, having nightmares and feeling scared and vulnerable. It feels like March and April again, even though the situation in New York City is nothing like it was. In the five boroughs, our hospitalization rate is just 25 percent what it was in April, even as we ride out this wave. Our governor says it won’t get much worse and the end is in sight.
It isn’t New York’s situation that worries me; I think we’ll make it out okay this time. It’s what I’m seeing and hearing in the country’s second-largest city. It’s eerily similar to what we New Yorkers experienced 9-10 months ago, and different from what we saw in Florida, Texas, Arizona or South Dakota, it seems to be going on longer.
This morning, I was devastated to watch CNN reporter Sara Sinder struggle to get through her live shot from Los Angeles. After weeks of covering the COVID-19 surge in the city, seeing the seemingly unending amount of death and grief, it all come to a head for her. It was remarkable, but also familiar. There were moments last spring where I just couldn’t take it anymore and would break down myself. It was so much, and I felt so useless and ineffective, it felt like there wasn’t isn’t anything I could do even if I wanted to; just watch and pray.
California went back into a state of lockdown over a month ago. By now in the other states, the outbreaks had reached a peak, but the situation in Los Angeles just seems to be getting worse and worse. Perhaps its because of the holidays, or because its a larger metropolitan area. (We don’t know when exactly New York’s outbreak started, but it was at least a month before mid-March, when lockdown happened, and two months before the mid-April hospitalization peak), but what’s clear is that Los Angeles is enduring the type of traumatizing epidemic that New York, Sao Paolo, Madrid, Brussels, Milan and Wuhan have experienced. The news of hospitals running out of beds, funeral homes stacking bodies in chapels and ambulance sirens blaring nonstop throughout the city brings me back to April all over again.
As a New Yorker, I was able to channel my experiences in grief and trauma from 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy to help formulate an emotional and physical response to the outbreak. I had been through citywide tragedies before, I knew what to feel, who to listen to, what to do. For Los Angeles, however, this is something they are not used to. Cities, due to their sheer size, do not get the benefit of being treated like small communities. There is no expectation of the intimate, family-type feel that you expect to see in small towns. But cities are like large families, even if most of our “relatives” are strangers. We share collective experiences, we hear the same things, experience the same weather, ride the same buses, drive on the same roads, and when we see other cities in pain, it feels familiar. I feel about Los Angeles the way I felt for Paris and Brussels in 2015 when terrorists attacked those cities. It’s a way I think about cities that were devastated in history, like San Francisco in 1906 or Tokyo in 1945. You never truly see your city the same again. There’s a scar that doesn’t heal, but over time it become part of your city’s identity, often in a good way. Los Angeles will be forever altered by this experience, but there’s an opportunity to channel it into something positive, and develop a new skin to protect you, and learn lessons to prepare you, from the next disaster.
With COVID-19 though, there is another layer to this. California tried. They legitimately tried. Sure, people will point out the anti-maskers and anti-lockdown protestors in Orange County and elsewhere in the state, but we’ve all had to deal with those folks, and it was always predictable that adherence would slack as time went on. California was praised for its early response, especially up against New York, but my concern in the Spring, which has borne out, was that they were only delaying the inevitable. New York had the ability to write off our outbreak as a result of not catching it early enough, or not reacting fast enough. For Californians, I have to imagine there’s some sense of defeat, or of failure. That they had tried for so long, and sacrificed so much, to keep COVID-19 contained, and it all was for naught. It came anyway, and its killing so many people.
There was little to no chance of getting population-wide buy in for indefinite social distancing and isolation. Besides the fact that human beings are social creatures who crave social contact, and need it to keep their mind and body stimulated, as more time goes on, and the virus became more and more of an accepted presence, people’s risk calculations change. I feel it with in my own mind. I stayed in my house for 53 days from March into May, and that 53 days felt like a good trade off to avoid getting COVID-19 at the height of the wave in New York. But as the months carried on, and I knew more and more people who got sick and recovered, it became less of an obvious choice. Was it worth not seeing my partner or my godson for two months in order to prevent getting COVID-19? Sure. What about four, six or nine months? Well, that’s where the dynamics change.
While COVID-19 fatigue was something experts suggested they knew would be a problem, it is not something they, nor politicians, apparently planned for. Now, Angelenos are being told to try wearing masks even around the house. The advice just gets more and more unrealistic.
Sometimes it feels as if public health officials have long accepted that they can’t control the pandemic, and instead they have spent this phase of the crisis trying to figure out how to get the public to blame each other for the failures. Rather than saying that our opportunity to quash the pandemic came in the Spring, and because we were unable to do it, it is unlikely we will control it without medical means now, we are stuck spinning our wheels – and grieving.
No One Except A White-Dominated, Conservative-Aligned Movement Could’ve Gotten This Far
I know what you’re probably thinking. You probably had an Andrew Sullivan-type reaction to this headline; an eye-roll; a grunt; a “why does everything have to be about race?” I’m sure you have some reaction in there about how “wokeness” is the problem and stuff like this is why Trump supporters feel disaffected and maligned enough to do something like this. I’m asking you to put that aside for just a few minutes. Even if you think liberals talk too much about race, and make everything about race when it doesn’t need to be, there is good reason to think that what happened last week at the U.S. Capitol is not one of those situations.
Ask yourself, as no doubt many have asked you to do already, what would have happened last Wednesday if it were a Black Lives Matter protest that marched on the Capitol? Would we have been better prepared if the chatter was Islamic terrorists planning an assault on the national legislature, and not white Republicans? President-elect Joe Biden made an observation (or it was brought to him by his granddaughter) that many of us made; when BLM was holding protests in Washington D.C. last summer, they were met with military lined up on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, or with tear gas in Lafayette Park to allow Trump to take a photo outside of a church holding the Bible upside down. (I still don’t know what that was supposed to imply.)
But the protestors-turned-terrorist on Wednesday? They were met with minimal reaction. We knew this was coming. There was evidence everywhere. We saw it on social media; plans to march on the Capitol and storm inside, and “go after” members of Congress. There were even suggestions about “using violence” to force Congress to reject electoral votes and overturn the results. There were concerns about Proud Boys and other white supremacist groups showing up. The FBI even interviewed some of them before the protest. Clearly there was concern. A number of words were thrown around on social media; “strength,” “force,” “tough,” all signs that this protest wouldn’t end as just a protest.
Trump himself said “it would be wild.” One of his strongest supporters, Turning Point founder Charlie Kirk, said it would be “a historical event,” that would be “the largest and most consequential in history.” Earlier in the day, in speeches, Rudy Giuliani referenced “trial by combat,” while Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Alabama) called for force. Trump himself told his supporters to march to the Capitol and “show strength.” What did they think was going to happen when you tell a mob of angry people to “show strength” and “use force?” While it is absolutely fair that many may have read into that as nothing more than peacocking, their supporters certainly didn’t take it that way, and there is no reason that we could’ve been at least as prepared for them as they were for a much tamer BLM protest. That alone might have saved the Capitol from being pillaged.
The debate over policing focuses so much on how police treat black people, but Wednesday is a good representation of one part of the policing debate that goes under discussed. It isn’t just that black people and other people of color are overpoliced, though that’s most of it, it’s also that comparatively white people are UNDERpolicied. Law enforcement have so badly internalized the idea that white people are not capable of the same type of violence and lawlessness they think black people are capable of, they didn’t even consider the possibility that this could happen EVEN THOUGH they’ve been threatening it for more than a week.
White Privilege allowed Trump supporters to be given the benefit of the doubt, which gave them leverage to take us all by surprise. BLM could never have used language like that and have law enforcement respond as if they weren’t serious, dismissing is as just a lot of talk. They would have been met with overwhelming force, because law enforcement would have assumed they were being literal. They would have taken it seriously. The ideal that is systematic in our society that black people are naturally violent and capable of violent acts means you can take their violent language seriously. White people, the ideal states, are largely not capable of this type of violence – unless, of course, they’re liberals, which means they’ve adopted the practices of black people and people of color, and are prone to violence. God-fearing, flag-loving, self-identified patriots would never do such a thing. There’s no need to prepare. It won’t happen.
And because of that mentality, we let the Capitol fall to a mob that included a guy dressed up as a ram, and a dude who died after tasing himself in the nuts.
Good job everyone!
On a related manner, the term “economic anxiety,” has all but vanished since a mob of near-unanimously white Trump supporters, some of whom flew to D.C. on private jets and stayed in hotels like the Grand Hyatt, stormed the seat of American government to try to overthrow a democratic election. We were gaslighted for so many years by people on both ends of the political spectrum that Trumpism was about the economy, or trade, or lack of a social safety net, and not what we can clearly see now it was about – the superiority of a white, Christian way of life. Wednesday was more evidence that Trumpism is born in the belief most white people in this country were raised with; the value that “American” was a title reserved for those who shared the same race, ethnicity, religion, language as you, or for those willing to accept the culture dominance of those folks, and that straying from that core value is treason. We can’t delude ourselves any longer than this is about the economy, or that a progressive economic agenda would do anything to quell these people.
We Have Plenty Of Summer Song Hit Lists, Why Not One For Winter As Well?
10.) Cherish The Day – Sade
My mother had a Sade phase. She loved the sultry British crooner’s soft love ballads and I must admit, Sade still gives me the Sweetest Taboo. In the mid 1990s, she would play Sade’s greatest hits album on repeat on our home stereo and in the 1982 Retro Dodge Ram van we drove around New York.
One chilly winter Friday, my mom, my grandmother and I were driving from Queens into Manhattan for one of our regular pasta dinners at her cousin’s Tudor City co-op in Murray Hill near the United Nations. She picked me up from school, took me home to change and then we packed into the van to meet my father at her cousin’s apartment.
We were stuck in standstill traffic on the Queens Midtown Expressway just before the Midtown Tunnel, right as the sun was setting (still before 5 p.m. at that time of year) behind the silhouette of the Manhattan skyline. The sky above looked like a giant dome colored like an Easter egg that started as orange and yellow in the west and gradually blended into a beige a little further up to a royal blue directly over my head down to a dark navy blue almost black behind me in the east.
The memory is one that I sometimes use in mediation or during a Reiki session – its one I used often during lockdown at the start of the pandemic – a happy relaxing moment under a beautiful sky and a sensual song. It’s also a reminder that whatever sucks about New York City in the winter – the icy cold, the filthy snow, being trapped in small apartments – the sunsets in winter, aided by the clearer haze-free frigid sky, are just breathtaking; an unsung staple of life in the Big Apple.
9.) Don’t Tell Me- Madonna
I knew pretty early in life that seasons effected me. From the time I was a pre-teen, my mood was just different in winter. Part of this was the loneliness I felt at night, exacerbated by the sun setting earlier, some was the fact that many of my outside activities that I enjoyed – rollerblading, bike riding, going to the beach – were on hold, and I was pretty much forced to stay closer to home. That seasonal mood only grew darker as I got into high school. I found a way, however, to process it and release the emotions that brought a smile to my face – dancing.
Dancing was something I was good at, something that I enjoyed and something that kept me fit. It helped temper my winter moods. “Don’t Tell Me” came out around Christmas in my senior year of high school. I found some solace in Madonna’s persevering lyrics, especially in those final months of high school when the scary future of adulthood and college loomed over the horizon.
I remember choreographing a dance to this song. At some point that winter, we had a big snowstorm and I stayed up all night to watch it. I danced to this song in my room while the snowstorm raged outside. If you’re from a cold climate, then you know how freshly fallen snow makes the night look brighter, almost a beige and blue hue instead of pitch blackness. I remember doing a few dance moves to walk myself up while I got ready for school, before playing it on repeat on my Discman while jumping over mountains of snow to get on and off the Q88 bus. (Yes, even Giuliani’s New York City sucked at snow removal). That winter seemed brighter and warmer than earlier ones.
The last part of the song, the long fade out guitar riff, reminds me of walking alone down a snow-filled sidewalk, with a sense of accomplishment in both my dancing abilities and my imminent high school graduation, and I definitely did not sneak into a gay bar with a fake ID and rode a mechanical bull to this song. Who told you that? Lies.
That winter was one of winning.
8.) Insomnia- Faithless
As a young teenager, I had a way of getting myself to sleep every Saturday night during winter. I’d listen to New York City’s popular 1990s-era dance radio station WKTU. Each Saturday night, they would do a dance party-style bloc from 10 p.m. to sometime before dawn where a DJ would spin on air, but live from a dance club somewhere in the New York area.
As I lie there in bed with my walkman on, I would imagine myself at a nightclub dancing with friends, an image that eventually morphed into the imagine of a worldwide night of dancing where my backyard (and everyone else’s backyards) were packed with dancing people, strobe lights and spotlights. Perhaps an idea post-COVID?
There was never a night where this song, Faithless’ fittingly-titled “Insomnia” wasn’t played. I always knew it was coming. The industrial-sounding drum and base of the first two and a half minutes of the song mimicked the anxiety of not being able to sleep, but the last minute or so, featuring the airy and pounding synth beats reminded me of driving through a city on a cold night surrounded by lit up skyscrapers, perhaps in Tokyo or Hong Kong, or perhaps closer to home in Flushing, Queens or Lower Manhattan on a cold night.
As my mind got lost in my discotheque imagery, I would inevitably fall asleep, usually with this song being the last one I remember hearing, and wake up sometime around four or five in the morning with the headphones somewhere above my head on the pillow.
I was probably 13 or 14 at the time, so way too young to actually go to clubs, but listening to KTU’s Saturday Night Dance Parties would light a fire in me that led me to Sound Factory, Twilo, Limelight and random raves on Borden Avenue many years later.
Fun Fact: I had to explain to people what a “heath” was because of this song.
7.) Don’t Let Go (Love) – En Vogue
Something weird happened in the eighth grade. I was suddenly popular.
In Reiki sessions and meditations in recent years, I explored what about me changed that I went from nerdy kid in the background to sitting at the cool kids table in junior high. Some of it might have been that I grew into my looks and my newfound athleticism allowed me to burn off baby fat and tone up. Some of it might be that I had finally decided to strike back at bullies, with mixed success; and some of it might have been that I had lost some of my shyness. Whatever the reason, I had a group of friends and the winter of eighth grade, we found ourselves, decked out in our best Starter jackets, wandering around Southern Queens doing…whatever it is 13-year-olds looking for trouble do.
One song that often brings me back to me and my “posse” that winter is En Vogue’s “Don’t Let Go (Love).” From the moment the piano crescendo builds alongside Dawn Robinson’s vocalizing, you knew you were in for four minutes of R&B power. The beginning of the chorus even makes you feel the earth move a bit; lovemaking, heartbreaking, soul shaking; Can you feel it?
Listening to this brings me back to waiting outside the Cross Bay Theater in Ozone Park to buy a ticket to see Space Jam! but actually use it to sneak into Set It Off instead. We knew someone on the inside. It reminds me of sitting on the front stoop of a friend’s townhouse in Woodhaven, Queens play fighting with the other dudes in my circle of friends. It brings me back to the time I was invited to my first Halloween party at a friend’s house in Howard Beach, which got interrupted by the New York Yankees defeating the Atlanta Braves in Game Six of the 1996 World Series, their first win in nearly 20 years, after which the city exploded in excitement.
It brought me back to a time when I felt like I wasn’t a social outcast, but actually felt like I belonged; to a time when I finally began to feel comfortable in my own skin, a journey that began that winter and continues to this day.
6.) Sweet Dreams- Beyonc´e
In the winter of 2009-2010, I finally felt like my dreams were coming true. I had gotten a job as a reporter for the Queens Tribune covering my own neighborhood and Western Queens. I started the week after Thanksgiving, 2009 and by January 2010, I had gotten into a good groove, developed sources and imbedded myself into my beat. I spent entire days going from press conference to interview to photo shoot throughout my beat. Ridgewood to Richmond Hill to Howard Beach to Maspeth and then back to the office in Fresh Meadows.
At night, I was turning in the pen and reporter notebook for a pair of Timberland boots and three button shirts and hit the bars and nightclubs of Williamsburg and the Lower East Side and celebrate away my new opportunities and seemingly bright future in journalism.
That winter, Beyonce was about a year into dominating the American musical scene with her I Am… Sasha Fierce album. She was showing up on the movie screens, notably in the bad Fatal Attraction-wannabe remake Obsessed where she, justifiably, battles “Bad Karen” Ali Larter to the death to protect her character’s marriage to Idris Elba.
For me though, I will best remember my Beyonce winter with her song “Sweet Dreams,” a total bop that had me doing Bey moves in my car at red lights in my bubble jacket and beanie, between press conferences, or on the steps at Sugar Land in Brooklyn leading up to the second floor dance floor. I could be caught humming it at the Community Board 5 meeting, or grabbing pizza in between assignment on Myrtle Avenue. The etherial dance beats on top of an R&B drum and base makes the reflexes move like Queen Bey herself on a stage. And those bright-eyed, lovestruck lyrics lauding a beau whom she knows may end up being her dream come true, or her undoing.
My guilty pleasure/I ain’t going nowhere/Baby, as long as you’re here/I’ll be floating on air
It was a relatable lyric. At the time I was having a fling with someone in the adult film industry. I was deeply into this person, and enjoyed his company and enjoyed being his plus one, but perhaps for the wrong reasons? Anyway, was it a sweet dream? or a beautiful nightmare? Ask me sometime. 🙂
5.) Tonight’s The Night – Outasight
For me, its the first 20 seconds of the song that invokes a happy winter memory.
I was 28 and spending the weekends at an ex-lover’s apartment in Greenpoint, Brooklyn and from the bed, I could look out and see four red beacons blinking – the tops of a quad of radio towers in Maspeth, Queens. Oftentimes, the radiators in the old walk-up building would hiss like they were on the verge of exploding and the entire room would turn into a sauna. (Fun Fact: They were designed to allow windows to remain open during the winter for ventilation purposes, an invention that stemmed from that last massive global pandemic a century ago).
Anyway, I’d open the window and let the frigid winter air hit my face. Have you ever listened to New York in winter at night? There’s this low hum or groan, like a base noise for which the rest of the urban sounds – traffic, trains, planes, people – build on. It’s that hum that comes back into my mind when I hear the opening seconds of this song.
I’ve never realized it until I sat down to write this list, but I’ve always dealt with the winter blues by throwing on my sturdiest boots and warmest coat and going out, partying and being around people.There were the December nights sipping from a straw out of a fishbowl at Brother Jimmy’s with my cousins, before mediating a sister fight on the F train; or the frigid February nights fighting for a place in front of the fire behind Wiliamsburg’s Union Pool. (See my Fall list for a song that reminds me of that place) or the late January evenings trying to drag my friends from DNA, a long-closed Astoria nightclub that I can only describe to you as “ratched.” We’d leave before the DJ begins playing German techno at 3 a.m., only to end up having to carry that one girl to the car because she choose to wear stilettos when there was ice and snow everywhere.
I don’t even care for this song so much, but the memories it invokes of my late 20s and early 30s can actually be described in a lyric to the song:
Imma have as much fun as I can/ And figure out the rest when I etch out a plan
I’m still figuring it out guys. Bear with me.
4.) Take A Picture- Filter
Your probably going to wonder why I consider this a “happy” memory. Hang in there through the dark part, there’s a bright light at the end.
In December 1999, something terrifying happened to me. The internet still being a new feature, and me still not really understanding it, I was catfished. Yes, even back then catfishing happened. A friend of mine from grade school, who I trusted for some reason, instant messaged me on AOL from a fake account, pretending to be a boy from my school who I suspected (correctly) was gay. I let down my guard, the conversation got explicit. The next day, the entire conversation was emailed to everyone on my buddy list; friends, family, even teachers at school. It was mortifying and terrifying and even today, 21 years later, it makes me feel anxious.
I had been struggling for a while. Earlier that year, I had contemplated suicide, and was saved by a teacher at school who sought help for me. That spring I was nearly expelled from school due to a false allegation of sexual assault, which I only got out of by coming out to the school dean, which led to him suggesting conversion therapy. I never went, having told my parents I lied out of fear of being expelled. My grandmother had decided to move in with us that autumn. 1999 was a really, really bad year. But the actions of John, that was his name, nearly ended me.
I thought of a dozen ways to do it, I thought of running away to family in Colorado or Hawaii, but ultimately decided I would throw myself in front of an M train at the Metropolitan Avenue train station in Middle Village. It’s not important why, but on the evening of December 14, 1999, I stole my grandmother’s Green Chevy Cavalier and drove to Middle Village. I parked on the roof of Metro Mall, next to the station, which was the parking lot serving now-closed K-Mart and Toys ‘R Us. The rooftop parking lot, which explained in my Fall listicle, has probably the best view of the New York City skyline in the world. I sat there and listened to my Walkman and happened to have a recording of Filter “Take A Picture,” which I listened to on repeat over and over again. Probably 20 times at least.
What crossed my mind in that moment was just how big New York City was. There were places in the city I have never been, places where people wouldn’t know I had been outed, or wouldn’t care. I wasn’t trapped in this bubble of shame. I could get out. I could go somewhere. That’s what I had planned to do.
It was just a few weeks until the millennium. I had waited all my life for it. I would chose to live just two more weeks. I chose to live many, many more.
The next day were my friends Becky and Jess’ Sweet 16 party in Rockaway Beach. They are twins and had their party at, fittingly if you knew the neighborhood, an Irish Pub (one of the last places that still had cigarette vending machines). Later that night, we sat in the freezing cold on the front porch of whoever’s house it was we went to nearby and talked, laughing at the fact the neighbors across the street were watching porn on a big screen television with the shades up. It was a good time. Some of my friends expressed dismay at what happened to me and support for me. Suddenly, it didn’t seem like what John did would be life-ending after all.
My mother picked me up, yowling about the fact that I reeked of cigarettes and weed, and drove me home. I sat in the backseat of our minivan, my Walkman on, listening to this song and looking out the window at the skyline while crossing Jamaica Bay. Another excellent place to see the city. I felt good, content, happy.
3.) In The Air Tonight – Phil Collins
I actually only have one specific memory of this song and I don’t know why or when it was, except that I was really, really young. I believe it was Williamsburg or Greenpoint in Brooklyn, or perhaps Long Island City in Queens, late on a brutally frigid winter night, sometime in the late 1980s or early 1990s.
We were parked in a parking lot either at a store or a restaurant. I remember it being extremely frigid, the type of cold that actually hurts your face. My mother put me in a car, I was small enough to need a car seat, and strapped me in. Then she and my dad got in. Out of the windshield, I was able to see the Midtown Manhattan skyline, all lit up in the clear dark night. The glowing lights of the skyscrapers, including the golden-topped Empire State Building, were surrounded by the rushing dots of cars scurrying on the FDR Drive and airplanes slowly gliding across the sky.
I could see our breathes smoking in the biting cold air, as my dad fumbled with the engine, which struggled to turn over. The car, whatever car it was, has trouble turning on in the weather. I remember the heat coming on, but being ice cold at first, but warming up with the low hum of the fan blowing heat from the console.
We drove home, probably on the BQE or the LIE and I looked out the window and watched the street lights zoom past like a strobe linked to the beat.
There’s something fitting about Phil Collins’ frosty, dreamy “In The Air Tonight” and a cold winter night. The irony of it reminded me of the air that night – cold and dry – and the soft drum beat echoing the quiet, frozen spirit of New York City in the dead winter.
When I hear this song now, I immediately feel my body temperature drop a degree or two.
2.) The Sun Always Shines On T.V. – a-ha
I can pinpoint the date my youthful optimism in the future of America died. It was January 19, 2010 – the day Scott Brown became the first Republican in 30 years to win a U.S. Senate seat in Massachusetts, and ended the Democrats’ 60-seat Senate majority and any chance of actually enacting some progressive policies that could starve off the worst of climate change and economic inequality. That week, I moped around in a serious depression that made it impossible for me to even do my job – right at a time when I was started to excel at it.
This was the same winter that I was seeing someone who was involved in the adult film industry. He lived in a walkup apartment in Greenpoint and we’d hang out every Friday night. This specific Friday night, he bailed on me to go see friends in Manhattan and I sat home, being petulant. It was cold, I didn’t want to watch the news and could not focus on much else. Trolling through Facebook, I saw an ad for a party at a LGBT nightclub in Williamsburg that I had gone to celebrate a friend’s birthday several years earlier, but had been too shy to go into on my own since. A new decade had started a few week earlier, the club had been doing decade-themed parties every weekend in January. First the 60s, then the 70s, then the 80s and then the 90s. That Friday was the 1980s weekend. So I threw on the closest thing I had to gay 80s gear and drove to Brooklyn. Getting over my shyness was an issue. I walked around the block several times before I got up the nerve to go in alone. I had this irrational feeling everyone would laugh at me or I’d get kicked out or something for going alone.
Once inside though, I had a great time. Though there was a healthy playlist of 80s hits from Whitney Houston to Juice Newton to Tone Loc, for some reason this song stands out to me from that night; “The Sun Always Shines On TV,” a-ha’s overlooked follow up to “Take On Me.” It came on in a climatic moment in the night that involved a series of strobe lights, a drag queen in a long blonde wig on a stage, her mane blowing in the wind machine; a bartender dressed in a leather jacket with a crucifix earring a-la George Michael singing to a group of guys who I’m wiling to be were younger than the song was at the time. (You should’ve seen him do “Father Figure” earlier in the night). I left not long after, offering to drive two guys home to Astoria, which was absolutely way out of my way, just to keep the good times coming. (Fun Fact: I actually really enjoy being the Designated Driver). As we drove home, one of the two guys, Brendan, told me about the Shazam app for the first time and informed me he had “Shazamed” the song. Instinctively, I knew it was a-ha, but couldn’t remember the title. We listened to it driving over the now demolished Kosciusko Bridge.
On my way home, I stopped at Wendy’s for a 1:30 am snack. As I sat in the parking lot scoffing down a Baconator, watching planes take off from JFK Airport seven miles away, just as I had mentioned in the Fall, I found this song on iTunes and downloaded it. It was then I realized, I completely forgotten about the Massachusetts election for the first time. I listened to it several times that winter – driver to work in a snowstorm, driving to a friend’s wedding on Long Island, sitting at home doing work and taking a break to go some dance moves to it that involved me wrapping myself in a blanket like a cape. It helped get my mind off of depressing things and onto more exciting prospects.
1.) Middle – DJ Snake featuring Bipolar Sunshine
The last great year was 2015. That’s what I’ve been telling people this weekend as 2021 begins. Every year since has seemingly only gotten worse. But 2015 was a fantastic year. I had a great job, I was kicking ass in CrossFit, and that July, I stood on the front porch of a house in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn and learned what “love at first sight” actually meant. I had found someone that summer who I wanted to go on a lifelong adventure with. It took a few months for him to reciprocate, but on November 1, while waiting outside the Barclays Center for my college radio station’s alumni event at that night’s Islander’s game, that adventure began…and it’s still going.
Like all relationships though, there are growing pains in the first several months. The early honeymoon period faded, and I had to tackle my abandonment and jealousy issues that torpedoed all my earlier relationships. I had to tackle my own selfishness (Fun Fact: It is not acceptable to tell your partner you don’t want to see him because parking is bad or it had snowed too much a few days earlier). It was a bit easier this time because I was able to share it with friends and family, which made it better to navigate. They’re the ones who open you eyes to your selfishness and irrational jealousy. That winter, 2015-2016, we grew to know each other better. We did trivia with my friend Tess every Tuesday night, and restaurant hopped on the weekend. We walked through Queens Center Mall, meeting random people along the way and having some wild adventure. We had discovered something big – we were good together.
On those cold winter nights when I would drop him off at his Brighton Beach apartment and drive home on the Belt Parkway, or wait for him outside our favorite Park Slope taco place or Long Island City bar, this song would often come on the radio. I had become a DJ Snake fan the previous summer while doing CrossFit – something that will probably come up when I do my summer list. The airy beats and soft body-moving beats in “Middle” take you to a chilly urban street on a winter night, or a forest scene blanketed in freshly-fallen snow. The The lyrics stood out to me as particularly relevant than winter; ironing out the kinks of a new relationships, apologizing for the stupid crap you did because you’re not really experienced at these types of relationships, and then a commitment to making it work. Even hearing it now takes me back to the whirlwind experiences of that great winter.
I promise to build a new world for us two/with you in the middle
That’s the world I’m still building. It seems to be working, albeit more slowly that I had hoped. Maybe 2021 will be the first good year since 2015.
Sen. Bernie Sanders Said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell Needed To Understand His Constituents.
The Senate held a fiery debate Tuesday on a plan passed by the Democratic-controlled U.S. House of Representatives and endorsed by outgoing President Donald Trump to increase direct payments to Americans, still struggling to earn income during the COVID-19 Pandemic. The amendment to the bill Trump signed last weekend would increase payments from $600 per person to $2,000 per person. The proposal, however, was thwarted by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), who was blasted on the Senate floor by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), a supporter of the $2k payments.
In his speech, Sanders pointed out that ten of the poorest counties in America are in McConnell’s home state of Kentucky and the need for money right now is greatest in those communities.
“Let me just make it clear for the Majority Leader that 10 out of the poorest 25 counties in the United States of America are located in Kentucky,” he said. “So maybe my colleague, the Majority Leader, might want to get on the phone and start talking to working families in Kentucky and find out how they feel about the need for immediate help in terms of a $2,000 check for adults.”
Progressives applauded Sanders’ speech, which, justifiably, painted McConnell as out of touch with working families in his state.
But is he?
McConnell was just reelected on November 3. He defeated Democrat Amy McGrath by 19 points, his largest win since 2002. How did he do in those ten poor counties Sanders was talking about? Well, he won all off them. In fact, it was first time he ever won Wolfe and Elliott counties, which were once Democratic strongholds. Trump also won all the counties, by larger margins.
Thought some of these counties did once vote Democratic, others – such as Owlsey, the poorest of the counties – have never voted Democratic for president and having voted Democratic for Senate since 1992. The best a Democrat has ever done for president in Kentucky’s poorest county was Bill Clinton in 1996, when we received 37 percent of the vote. Owsley County even voted for Alf Landon over Franklin D. Roosevelt by an 83-15 margin, the third highest margin of victory for Landon in the country that year. (Jackson County, also on this list, gave Landon the biggest win).
Owsley County is the poorest county in the country; more than half of the county residents’ personal income comes from government benefits. The median household income in Owsley County is $19.351, less than a third of the national average ($61,937). And it has never voted for a Democrat for president. Ever
Median Household Income
Nov. 3, 2020 Election Results in Kentucky’s ten poorest counties for U.S. Senate and President
Why, you might ask? Well it isn’t entirely clear, but some of these counties are historically Republican going back to the Civil War, where they were strongholds of abolitionist and Union sympathisers. With generation after generation of the same families remaining in these areas, they just never wavered from their party.
Now, progressives who supported Sanders will be quick to suggest that Democrats would win these areas if they ran on economically populist and progressive ideas, such as Medicare For All or stronger labor unions. Sanders did win all but two of these countries in 2016, but the 2020 primaries showed something different. Sanders lost all ten of the counties in 2016 and even finished behind Uncommitted in the two poorest counties – Owsley and Breathitt. (caveat: Kentucky’s primary was two months after he dropped out of the race). Also, remember, some of these counties didn’t even vote for FDR or Lyndon Johnson.
In the 2020 U.S. Senate primary, McGrath faced Charles Booker, a Kentucky state representative from Louisville, who ran on a Bernie Sanders-type campaign with the support of progressive groups like Our Revolution. How did he do? He lost, getting under a third of the vote in a Democratic primary in all but one county. In fact, Booker did nearly twice as well in Kentucky’s richest county Oldham (46%) than he did in the poorest (25%)
Results of the 2020 Democratic primary for U.S. Senate. Progressive candidate Charles Booker lost them all to eventual nominee Amy McGrath, despite endorsements from progressive organisations
Is it no wonder McConnell feels no pain in rejecting $2,000 checks? He has a secure Senate seat for another six years and won all of the poorest counties in his state by wide margins. For whatever reason, voters in these counties rejected the Democratic candidate and stuck with him, and even Democratic voters in these counties rejected the more progressive candidate when awarded the option.
Sen. Sanders is right that McConnell has turned his back on working class Americans by denying them extra money in stimulus that even his own party’s president has called for, but it’s not surprising he did it and that he isn’t worried about his own prospects. He won Kentucky’s working class voters, by a fairly large margin – CNN’s exit polls say he beat McGrath 55-39 among those who make less than $100,000 a year – and many, if not most, working class Democrats in the state are not enticed by a progressive option. Some of these voters have been red for generations, even going back to when progressive believe Democrats “fought for working class ideals.”