This past Sunday, I was on “Joanne’s Healing Within” with my good friend and Reiki Healer Rev. Joanne Angel Barry Colon to talk about ways to make two careers work. Since 2017, I’ve been juggling two careers – real estate and writing/editing. Only in the past year have I really figured out how to make both work. I shared some tips, ideas and what I’ve learned on Joanne’s show.
Don’t forget to Like, Share and Comment on the show to qualify for a free raffle prize!
It Will Never Be Possible To Get 67 Senators To Convict A President, Essentially Making Him Or Her Lawless
So Trump’s second impeachment trial ended a month ago, and as expected the Senate acquitted him of the charge of inciting an insurrection connected to the storming of the U.S. Capitol by his supporters on January 6th. The vote was rather historical though. Seven Republicans joined all 50 Democrats in voting to convict the former president, and several others, including former Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) suggested their vote for acquittal had to do with believing the trial of a former president is unconstitutional, and not that Trump wasn’t guilty of the crime.
There have been four impeachments of sitting presidents, two of which were against Trump alone. In 1868, Andrew Johnson was acquitted by one vote, and in 1999, Bill Clinton survived conviction by the Senate by a fairly wide margin of 19 and 17 votes. In both those incidents, no Senator from the sitting president’s party voted for convict. Trump, however, saw defections both times. Last year, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) became the first Senator from the impeached president’s political party to vote for conviction when he voted to convict Trump of high crimes and misdemeanors related to his pressuring the Ukrainian president to dig up dirt on the man who ultimately defeated him in 2020, President Joe Biden. Romney did it again last month, joining Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-Louisiana), Richard Burr (R-North Carolina), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Ben Sasse (R-Nebraska) and Pat Toomey (R-Pennsylvania) in convicting Trump of inciting the January 6th attack. This made the vote the most bipartisan ever for an impeachment of a President.
And yet, Trump was acquitted. Ten more votes were needed for conviction. Ten. In the nearly one month since the trial ended, the thought has crossed my mind over and over. It’s hard to imagine what else could’ve been done or said to get those ten votes. Progressives stewed about the decision by the Democratic majority to backtrack on calling witnesses; Republicans had threatened to turn the trial into a long drawn-out circus if they did, but even House Impeachment Manager Stacey Plaskett (D-Virgin Islands) admitted it wouldn’t have changed any votes.
Which brings us to the final conclusion: In the current (and perhaps now permanent) partisan reality, there is nothing a president can do that would get him or her impeached and convicted. Presidents are essentially lawless. Impeachment is an obsolete, badly ineffective way to hold a president accountable. It may have worked in the 18th Century when the Founding Fathers created it. Back then there were only 26 senators, no political parties, and senators were not directly elected by voters, so they didn’t have primaries to worry about. Twenty-first Century America deserves a 21st Century way to hold its leaders accountable. Here are some ideas on how we can do that:
1.) Make The Jurors A Panel Of Randomly-Chosen Federal Judges
In a way, the 17th Amendment may be primarily responsible for the impeachment process becoming obsolete. When the Constitution was written, Senators were not directly elected, and did not have to worry about primary elections. That was purposely done to keep Senators from having to react to populist whims, the way the House often does. It made sense for the Founding Father to see Senators are likely to be able to put aside politics and be unbiased jurors to a president’s trial.
But times have changed, and perhaps that means the people who should serve as jurors has changed as well.
The Judiciary Branch of the United States Government is designed to be the only one not accountable by voters. That’s why federal judges are given lifetime appointments by the President, confirmed by the Senate. That means they don’t have to worry about the political popularity of their decisions, and can focus on legality and constitutionality. We know that the decision to acquit Donald Trump was a political one – Republicans don’t want to upset their base. The Republicans who voted to convict Trump last weekend either aren’t up for reelection for four to six years (Susan Collins of Maine, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Ben Sasse of Nebraska were just reelected to six year terms in 2020, Mitt Romney of Utah isn’t up again until 2024 in a state where Trump was never particularly popular with Republicans), or are retiring like Richard Burr of North Carolina and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania. The seventh Republican, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, has already survived attempts by her party to primary her, and will run for reelection next year in a state that has adopted a jungle primary system, meaning she doesn’t have a partisan primary to worry about.
How many of the other Republicans might have been inclined to vote for conviction if they weren’t worried about the next Republican primary?
Which brings us the idea of judges. Federal judges never have to worry about primary voters. They are in their jobs for life, or until they decide to retire. That gives them the ability to put aside politics in judging a president’s criminality.
It is true that judges can also be partisan, and idealogical battles are fought on judicial confirmations. Presidents and political party use to process to shape the judiciary to serve their interests, so you can’t have one court (i.e. the DC Circuit or the Supreme Court) serve as the jury. My proposal is to create an impeachment tribunal, featuring one judge selected a random from each of the 11 circuit courts, the DC circuit court and one Supreme Court justice. The panel of 13, called an “Impeachment Tribunal” would sit as jury and House Impeachment Managers and the defense would make their case in the Supreme Court rather than Congress.
The process would remove the U.S. Senate completely, or the U.S. Senate could, like the House, be required to agree to impeachment by simple majority vote and Senators could serve as impeachment managers along with House members.
2.) Lower The Threshold For Impeachment to 60 Votes
There was a reason the Founding Fathers gave the power of Impeachment to Congress. They are the elected representative body of the American people. Even the Senate, which initially wasn’t democratically-elected, is more representative now because Senators are directly elected by the people they represent.
The problem, however, is political realities make it impossible to ever reach the 67-vote threshold for conviction. It is difficult for a party to achieve more than 55 seats. It has only happened once in the past 25 years – when Democrats won 59 seats in the 2008 election, and held 60 seats for a short time during that succeeding Congress. You would often need to convince more than ten members of the president’s own party, and likely more, to convict.
The only time any president came close to being impeached and convicted was Richard Nixon during Watergate, and at the time Democrats held 56 Senate seats and at least ten Republicans warned they would be willing to convict, putting Nixon in danger. If Democrats only had 50 seats in 1974, it is possible Nixon never would’ve faced conviction, and could have survived Watergate.
The first Senate had 26 members and no political parties. It is much easier to get 18 independent Senators to agree on the criminality of a president than 67, many of whom are political allies of the president or represent constituencies where he is popular.
Since 60 seats is a threshold nearly impossible for a party to reach, and maintain, perhaps simply lowering the threshold for a conviction to 60 votes would give the process more teeth. At that threshold, it is likely an incumbent president couldn’t be convicted without some support from Senators from his or her party. We’ve seen that this is possible in Trump’s impeachment trial, but that a double-digit number of conviction votes from the president’s party is a step too far.
3.) DOJ Must Allow For The Criminal Prosecution Of A President
There is always one last option that doesn’t involve impeachment – simply allow a president to be criminally prosecuted by the Department of Justice. Allow the Attorney General, or have Congress authorize, the appointment of a special prosecutor to convene a grand jury, and let the judicial process play out the way it would for any ordinary American.
Right now we don’t know if this is Constitutional or not, but as Robert Mueller noted in his final report on the Russia Wikileaks investigation, it is standard policy of the Department of Justice to not indict and prosecute a sitting president. There are justifiable reasons for this: What do you do in a situation where a president is indicted and awaiting trial? Who is president if he is being held on bail, or on house arrest? Does the Cabinet invoke the 25th Amendment and give the Vice President power while the process plays out? What if they refuse to do that? These questions have national security implications.
The alternative, however, is for us to have a lawless president who can never be held accountable. If Donald Trump, after inciting an attempted coup, couldn’t get the votes needed to be convicted, no president will. There needs to be a plan B, one that is not marred and tainted by politics.
Giving the Department of Justice independent authority to convene a grand jury and try the sitting president in the same away they would any other citizen does that. After all, that would surely mean the president is not above the law.
Regardless of how we do it, it is clear the current status quo is not cutting it. All over America, there are men, and perhaps women, in positions of power and influence who are thinking the presidency is an office that absolves them of all crimes, and are plotting their way to the office.
Why Would Honest People Get Involved In Such A Dirty Business?
The West Wing aged poorly, but one of the things Aaron Sorkin’s early 2000s political drama taught us that is definitively applicable now is politics is messy and involves a lot of compromise and complex nuance debates that leave us feeling like we’ve just bathed in a pig trough full of shit.
You have to deal with some real sleazy characters who are inexplicable given undeserved power by voters who are dazzled by bullshit, or in the case of foreign governments, won it through undemocratic means. But you do it because maybe, just maybe, at the end of bathing in that shit, you might make the lives of some folks better and you might help society progress. Those rewards are few and far between, but when they come, they are invigorating. It gives you the motivation to swim in that shit trough again.
In lieu of President Joe Biden’s decision not to hold Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman accountable for the murder of American-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi, some have felt a wave of disillusionment. We dethroned the corrupt and sleazy Trump Administration, but got one that is still kowtowing to a brutal character like MBS. When does it ever get better? Why would he do it?
It reminds me of a scene from a 2002 episode of The West Wing where White House Press Secretary C.J. Cregg, played by Allison Janney, is briefing reporters about the White House’s response to a story from the Middle Eastern kingdom where 17 school girls were trapped in a burning school, and emergency crews refused to rescue them because they weren’t wearing correct Islamic garb. After holding back her own emotions on the subject. a reporter asks Cregg how she could be so sanguine about the tragedy. With righteous indignation wrapped in a protective layer of sarcasm, Cregg goes through the laundry list of reasons Saudi Arabia is a brutal, oppressive regime, while finishing it by quoting Shakespeare “but Brutus is an honorable man” and telling the reporters the standard American government talking point about the kingdom, with obvious derision – “That is Saudi Arabia, our partners in peace”
It’s an indigent recognition of a truth that existed in that show’s world that also exists in ours: Saudi Arabia is an ally we can’t afford to piss off. A major oil supplier that is barely holding together a politically volatile region with duck tape and pins. When our options are bad or worse, you choose bad. It still makes it taste like ash and iron to have to sing the praises of the “bad,” or give in to it.
Politics is a great place for many naive and delusional people to get involved in if they want to see the real world. It is eye-opening. You discover that life is actually full of bad options, and you often have to pick the least bad option to hope to live another day. Sometimes great options come along, and you take them and enjoy them, like a rare sunny, warm day in early summer. It’s those options, where we make the best differences and almost makes up for all the bad times.
I’ve been quiet lately. My day job has gotten busy quickly and I’ve been digesting everything that has happened politically over the last few weeks, but I have a lot coming down the pike for you to read.
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.
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.
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.