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.
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.”
Take A Trip With Me Through My 12 Faves Of Christmas
1.) Holiday Decorations
Alright, we’ve been here before. You know I’m a decorating fiend. Every inch of my house is decorated, even my office. I got bows hanging where bows should never be hanging.
It’s a long story about how it got like this, and it goes back to my childhood and my annual winter doldrums that I felt as early as age ten. I think there is some biological reason why kids, as they grow older, tend to fall asleep later. By the time I was ten, I was no longer dozing off at 10:45 after the weather segment on the 10 O’clock News (something I explored in this post about isolation I wrote during the March COVID-19 lockdown). Winter was especially hard because it got dark so early – around 5 p.m. In the summer, having daylight until a couple hours before bedtime felt better, but in the winter, I became feeling the anxiety of being alone at night before we even sat down to dinner.
These were the days before cable television and the internet, so nighttime was very lonely.
Except during Christmas.
I took my responsibility of running up and down four flights of stairs to turn off Christmas lights at night very seriously. When I felt sad or lonely, I simply kept the lights on a little longer and enjoyed looking at them. I had my favorites; the silhouettes of a candle and a Christmas Tree framed in colored lights; a trio of blinking bells that my mother inexplicably threw away years ago, and I scoured eBay to find them recently; ancient blow molds. I have memories of decorating. Climbing out the window onto the second-floor terrace as my dad tied Santa’s sleigh and reindeer to the railing, feeling the rush of crisp cold November air hitting my face and hearing the drone of nighttime city noise; watching planes fly past a few miles north on final approach to LaGuardia Airport. We would make runs to Pergament (and old-school mini Home Depot) in Middle Village for new soldiers, or to Lewis’ of Woodhaven or Woolworth for some new lights. We’d park on the side streets and watch people decorate as we walked to Jamaica Avenue. I remember driving home with my mom at night with new decorations, marveling at the decorated houses and apartments.
I remember sitting at a red light, looking up at an apartment window, framed in lights. I’d watch one half of the lights blink, then the other, without any specific sequence; the first half, then the second, then the first, then the first again, then the second twice.
Then there’s the classic C9 Colored lights that used to hang around the outside of the house, and their giant glass bulbs that shattered easily, but looked like tiny pieces of colored candy. I went out of my way to find them a few years ago and hung them from my driveway fence as a reminder of Christmases long ago. I also hung them around my office window inside, so the bulbs don’t get weather-beaten.
I love lights so much I decorate my yard in them in the summer – fake palm trees wrapped in white lights, colorful lights around the pergola and strands of big-bulbs hanging over the sitting area near the pool. Frankly, I do it because it reminds me of Christmastime.
2) Giving And Wrapping Presents
People think I’m nuts, but I love to wrap presents. Nothing brings me more joy than the see people tear open wrapping paper on Christmas and see it clutter the living room, or kitchen or wherever we’re opening presents. It’s annoys my mother, who prefers to just throw things in bags and cover it with some tissue paper. I prefer wrapping, bows and ribbons, even as I spent 20 minutes every December 23 trying to wrap a ribbon around two presents and make it into the perfect bow.
I prefer giving to receiving. I know it sounds kind of arrogant, but I absolutely love when I find something and think “oh my God, this is perfect for X.” I usually shop for my cousins, their young kids and my partner, but I often find a random gift that is perfect for a friend or older relative and will give it to them.
Then I go, pick out the perfect wrapping paper, and sit in my room wrapping them while watching a Christmas-themed show or listening to Christmas carols. I’m not a very good wrapper – its a running joke among my relatives and my friends – but I don’t care.
I was told one year that giving a gift unsolicited is improper, because the expectation is that one would give a gift in return. I’m just letting y’all know now, if I give you a gift, its because I like you and found something I think would be perfect for you, and no, I do not expect one in return.
Though gifts are always welcome and appreciated, they are never expected.
3.) Manhattan in December
It’s one of my very favorite traditions. (One that had to be set aside this year). To walk through Manhattan at Christmastime and look at the decorations; the store windows; the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree, the Bryant Park Winter Market. My mother and I have started taking the trip annually before my uncle’s glee club’s annual concert. We’ll ride the ferry in from Rockaway – a hilarious thing to do on a cold December day, and walk around before meeting my family for dinner at a nice, decorated restaurant. Then we’ll go see the concert and run for the 9:15 QM15 express bus home.
Manhattan is an amazing place to be at any time of the year, even in the hot smelly sultry summers. Have you ever walked through Central Park on a summer afternoon? Or even a fall or spring afternoon? Perhaps no time of the year is better though than Christmastime.
Songs have been written about New York at Christmas, and movies have been set in the city in December. Who can forget Miracle on 34th Street or Home Alone 2: Lost In New York.
There are always must sees: Obviously the Rockefeller Center tree, but also the windows at Macy’s and Saks Fifth Avenue (and the light show that plays on the building’s façade every 15 minutes at night); Bryant Park’s Winter Market gives you a European feel and offers some great ethnic and local food and homemade gift ideas; and the oversized strand of colorful Christmas lights along Avenue of the Americans, as well as the pyramid of ornaments that piles on a fountain a block away, one of which seemed to have rolled away, are among my favorite.. Experience Christmas from the vantage point of a mouse.
There’s one stop I always make, despite not necessarily being very religious, and that’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral to check out the ornate, life-size Nativity scene inside, and make a few offerings to the saints for my relatives who have passed.
Not this year though. Perhaps I’ll stop in over the summer.
4.) My Christmas Village
In December, 1993 my mother picked me up from school one afternoon. It was rare she did this as we lived two blocks away. I could literally see my school from my pool deck and attic. I thought it was strange and when I jumped in the van, she told me to look in the back. There, I spotted a big box with a picture of four ceramic Christmas villages houses – a bank, a grocery, an inn and a church. I was so excited. Since we had moved the Christmas tree into the kitchen solarium the year before from the living room, we had gotten rid of the tiny plastic houses we arranged underneath it. The four ceramic houses that year were the first in a collection that has grown substantially over the past 27 years. What was once a tiny town under a tree, has grown to something resembling a snowy Los Angeles. Over the years we added more buildings – a City Hall, a police and fire station, a lighthouse, a barn, a windmill, a train station, a post office, a library, a Catholic cathedral, a radio station (paying homage to my college life), a rec center, a beer hall, a school, two breweries and a movie theater. We’ve had some come and go – three of the original four buildings remain, but the grocery store is long gone; we had a ski slope and a gondola that stopped working and our original lighthouse stopped turning.
This year, we added a few more pieces – a camper, an amusement park ride and a sushi bar! Yes, a sushi bar.
It takes anywhere between six and eight hours to build the entire village, which I usually do on a Saturday or Sunday about two weeks before Christmas. I started early in the morning, 8 or 9 a.m. and finish in time for dinner if nothing goes wrong. Often something goes wrong. A bulb burns out in a building way in the back, requiring me to take apart part of the display and change it and then redo it. There is some yelling and cursing and promises that this will be the “last year I do this shit.” But when its done, its just amazing to sit and look at and it always seems worth it. When it comes down in January, planning begins for next year’s display. The sushi bar I bought last August.
Next year, the village will have a new business coming in, one in which few of us would be happy about. (Hint: it rhymes with Ball Fart)
5.) Yankee Candle‘s Christmas Eve scented candle
Years ago, my mother bought a small candle from a local drug store. It was a small red candle called “holly berry.” When she lit it, the scent that enveloped the room was that of a sugary, fruity sweet scent that We finished the candle that Christmas, but for the entire year, I couldn’t get the smell out of my head.
For years, my Christmas scent of choice was pine. It still is in my bedroom. That sharp pine scent just screams Christmas, so much so that for years I would buy an extra pine-scented candle, hide it downstairs and take a sniff at random times during the year to remind myself of Christmas.
But that sugar berry scent was divine. We never figured out what the brand name of that candle was and I spent several Christmases sniffing around Bath and Body Works and Yankee Candle looking for something close to that scent, like Juan Ponce de Leon looking for the Fountain of Youth.
One day, at a Yankee Candle store in Long Island, I picked up a candle and sniffed. There it was. That sugary, sweet berry smell that had eluded me. I looked at the name of the candle – Christmas Eve.
That year I bought two, then two more, eventually keeping four extra candles in stock at all times. Yankee Candle has a nasty habit of discontinuing some of my favorite scents (Ocean Walk, Freshly Cut Grass), so I tend to overbuy just in case. Now Christmas Eve is the scent of choice in my house in December. Every December 24th, I put Christmas Eve tea lights in the tea light holders, votives in the votive holders, and light two jar candles. The entire house smells like that scent. I buy a few more to replace the ones I burned and hid them in a basement cabinet, and just like the pine candles from many years earlier, take a whiff every now and then when I need a little Christmas cheer during the year.
6.) A Christmas Carol
Surprisingly, as a child, I really didn’t like this story. Dickens scared me. I was terrified by A Tale Of Two Cities – the ending still creeps me out, Oliver Twist made me scared to ask for seconds and Great Expectations made me frightened of old ladies.
But as I grew older, I began to appreciate the message behind A Christmas Carol! In college, I was even invited to play the jolly and eccentric Ghost of Christmas Present in a play – which I kept secret from much of my family because I did not want a huge crowd there in case I fucked up, and also because the costume made me like a little, shall we say, vibrant. I wore a giant sequenced robe and cap, a grey wig and glitter eyeshadow. The subtle digs at Scrooge made the part worth playing and it brought me a new appreciation for the story.
After that, I tried to watch as many performances of it as I could. I remember going with my aunt and uncle and cousins to see Patrick Stewart’s one-man version of it on New Year’s Day, 1995. I also managed to find a bootleg video of the Ben Vereen musical from the mid 1990s. But my favorite will also be the 1984 George C. Scott version, which I watch every Christmas morning after midnight mass. In many ways, Scott’s Scrooge in the final scenes reminds me of my grandfather, a Christmas nut himself who died when I was four – with the same smile, big nose and mumbled laughter.
I also enjoy reading it during the Christmas season and even purchased my own little handheld copy of it
7.) Shiny Christmas Orbs
In college, my friend Alicia called me one day in early November. She said she had tickets to see Dane Cook at Madison Square Garden and wanted to know if I wanted to go. I said sure. I caught the last express bus into Manhattan that Saturday to meet her. It was raining, so to get from the bus stop in Herald Square to MSG, I walked through Macy’s. It was less than a week after Halloween and the Christmas decorations were already going up.
As I walked through Macy’s, I marveled at the dark red ornamental pieces that workers were having, surrounding the cursive “Believe” signs.
The department store’s “Believe” holiday motif has always been appealing to me. There’s something delightfully joyful and modern about glistening globes and ornaments in bold red colors. The cool, metallic hues remind me of the city at Christmastime. I love when they come in different shapes – round, oblong, onion-shaped, teardrop shaped. Some have openings in the middle that make them look like geodes.
The traditional globe-shaped ornaments are one of my favorite Christmas pastimes, whether its the giant ones in Rockefeller Center, or the different-shaped ones hanging from the ceiling at Macy’s, or the light up ones that hang from the tree in my yard. The ways they reflect lights and shine in both the daytime and nighttime seem to add to the bright, joyful ambiance.
I even went so far as to get shiny orb decorations to put in a vase in my bathroom with fake poinsettias. The orbs, fastened to the end of long sticks that fit inside the vase like floral stems, reflect the lights in the room and give off a warm glow.
When was a young kid, my uncle made me try eggnog (the virgin kind with no alcohol) and I immediately fell in love with it. I confess that I actually like eggnog better without the liquor than with, but either way is fine for me.
My appreciation for eggnog really started in college, when while out shopping with friends, I came across Eggnog-flavored ice cream in a supermarket. I had realized later that I was mixing up eggnog with egg creme, but I ate the entire pint of ice cream and loved it. The next year, I bought myself a carton of eggnog, mixed rum in it, and sipped my way through the holiday season.
While there are other holiday drinks that I enjoy – hot buttered rum, ginger ale and Fireball whisky – eggnog is, to me, the quintessential holiday libation.
My brand of choice is Pennsylvania Dutch, which mixes the eggnog with both rum and whisky. There have been several Christmases that I’m gotten pretty drunk off the nog, one of my favorites being one in which I cracked drunk jokes that left my then-90-year-old grandmother in stitches.
I usually buy my first bottle right after Thanksgiving, and half a glass or two on the weekend, sometime while watching Christmas movies or while taking a hot bath surrounded by Christmas candles.
One of my favorite things to do is pour out the bottle of eggnog into a punch bowl and drink it as a punch. All I need now is a punchbowl (future Christmas gift idea folks)
9.) A Charlie Brown Christmas
I could watch it 100 times, and this year I’ve watched it at least a dozen, to the point that it drives my mother and my friends crazy. I can almost recite it word for word and I even have my own “Charlie Brown Christmas Tree”
A Charlie Brown Christmas is, without question, my favorite holiday program. From the first piano keys and opening scene of the snowy pond with children skating, its comforting, heartwarming and joyful.
Christmas time is here/happiness and cheer/fun for all the children call their favorite time of year
I’ve always felt a personal connection to Charlie Brown – a social misfit who is unfairly maligned, besotted with bad luck, but ever hopeful and optimist. As I got older, the show only seemed to make more sense. I understand Charlie Brown’s depression and misunderstanding of the holidays. I often found myself feeling let down by the holidays when I was a teenager and young adult. I made up for it with decorations and parties and everything else on this list, but it was many years before I really felt the true meaning of the season.
I regularly find myself getting mad at Violet, and that cheap-ass Regina George; that other bratty girl with the plaid dress and bow, for being so mean to Charlie Brown, and marvel how fast they go from hating him and his tree, to liking the tree and wanting to sing Christmas carols with Charlie after he walks out on them.
And I love the quiet, somberness of Linus reciting the Biblical Christmas story and telling his friend “That’s what Christmas is all about Charlie Brown.”
It just is thirty minutes of holiday magic, even 55 years later.
10.) “Somewhere In My Memory” – Home Alone 1 and 2
So remember that stuff up top about my uncle’s glee club’s annual Christmas concerts? Two years ago, they featured a song that really hit me in the gut.
It’s the theme to Home Alone – “Somewhere In My Memory”. I’ve never actually heard the lyrics, but the music invokes a lot of holiday-related emotion in me; loss, reunion, love, perseverance.
I had forgotten about the song and hearing it again in my 30s reminded me of how much this holiday has changed for me since I was a kid. Gone are the big 20-person Christmas dinners, and Christmas Eves with my grandmother, who passed in 2013. Gone are the New Years Eve when she and her cousin and his wife would sit and drink until 4 a.m. while my mother quietly stewed that they wouldn’t leave. Gone were the living room dance parties, fake Santa visits and midnight present-opening.
The song recalls people we’ve lost, the traditions that have died out, the happy childhood memories that are now so far in the past. Some of it is sad to remember, but much of it brings a smile to my face. It’s also a reminder of how much of a cultural Christmas staple the Home Alone franchise was to my generation.
11.) Midnight Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral
Traditions come and go, but new ones appear. One is watching Midnight Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
I’m not a religious person, and I’ve always avoided going to Christmas mass because I like to stay home on December 24th and 25th. Starting about a decade ago, my mom and I would watch midnight mass broadcast from St. Patrick’s Cathedral on WPIX-11. In our pajamas by the fire, it felt like we were there in the congregation.
One year we were amazed by the soloist who work an exceptionally low-cut shirt. We people watch those in the pews to see if we can spot some famous folks – Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his former girlfriend Sandra Lee were among the congregants one year. We watch them place baby Jesus in the manger.
Midnight mass feels like the zenith of the two-day holiday. It feels like the moment the Christmas miracle happens. The joyous exhalation of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing!” is such a climatic moment. If you ever get the chance to watch, even if you’re not at all religious, you should, just to experience it.
12.) The One Thing I’m Missing This Year – Gatherings
“At least I’ll see them for Christmas”
That’s what I used to tell myself when I felt lonely after family gatherings as a kid. At times when I was most lonely, and I’ve spoken about this before, I’d think about my cousins or my aunts and uncles and have much fun it will be when we gather again. I always knew, at the very least, we’d get together for Christmas.
In 2020, my family has only gathered three times; once in January for my cousin’s college graduation – a celebration already delayed a month; in March right before the pandemic for my cousin’s birthday and for Labor Day for an outdoor barbecue. We won’t be gathering against at least until Memorial Day.
Back in the old days, we had two family Christmas gatherings – one the Sunday before for extended family and on Christmas Day with immediate family. It often felt like Christmas was a week long event. I always loved the drive home from my aunt’s house in Long Island, looking at Christmas lights along the way. Over the years, my extended family died or moved out of state and the gatherings trickled to a stop.
And its not just family gatherings that I’m missing. It’s the office holiday parties, one of the few times of the year I let myself get a little tipsy and splurge on a cab ride home; holiday parties with friends and Escape Rooms with my cousins. Winter can be a lonely, dark time and its always good to get in as much face time with others before the long, cold, lonely stretch of January, February and March.
It’s going to be rough this year. But next year, I promise, will be a holiday season none of us will ever forget.
Much Like Conservatives, I Get Irrationally Angry And Scared When People Don’t Share My Traditions
When I was younger, I had a weird annual ritual. I would keep a mental note of how many neighbors decorated their houses for Christmas, and kept that note ready to see if they did it next year. I remember feeling angry, and even sort of betrayed, when a neighbor did not. Across the street from me, my neighbors used to go all out for the holidays, framing their house in lights and decorating all the windows. One year, they only put a simple wreath on their front window. It made me angry and I pouted for most of the holiday season. I even remember complaining to my grandmother, who told me it was because a close relative had died. There’s a subculture of Italian-Americans that do not celebrate Christmas in a year when a close loved one dies. I do not belong to that subculture.
Even as an adult, it actually makes me angry to hear people say they don’t want to decorate for Christmas, or that they don’t care. Melania Trump yanked at my nerves when she said “who gives a fuck about Christmas decorations,” though she is already well down on my list for bigger reasons. When I read and heard people saying her views on Christmas decorations are the only things they agreed with her on, it felt like a kick in the nuts.
I am aware, and have been for all my adult life, that this feeling is completely irrational. It’s just decorations, and I have no right to judge anyone for not wanting to celebrate. Let me explain where it comes from, and how I think it relates to the type of emotional reaction that drives American Conservatism.
When I was a kid, nearly every house on my block decorated for Christmas. It was a mostly White-European Catholic neighborhood, so everyone had something up; whether it be lights and decorations covering the house and yard, or just some lights around a window and a tree. My block is mostly semi-detached or detached private one- or two-family homes, but closer to the corner, there are townhouses. I remember one year where one of the townhouses strung Christmas lights from the roof to the sidewalk fence in order to create a Christmas-tree type design on the house’s facade, with a giant star on the roof. When I walked out my front door and saw it up the block, a sense of joy came over me. Another year, when I was much older, I stepped up on my pool deck to smoke a cigarette and heard Christmas music. Several houses down, a neighbor had installed a giant inflatable Christmas scene featuring a tree, a snowman, a Santa Claus and a reindeer on the roof of his garage. It played music and the figures blinked to the beat. I don’t know if I ever smiled so brightly.
Over the years though, as the neighborhood changed, fewer and fewer houses decorated (though the numbers have increased again in the past decade). In 2002, my neighbor across the street died, suffering a heart attack walking out of a bank. After that, their house was never decorated again. I had wished for years I had taken photos of the house decorated to remember what I looked like. I still remember the last day it was ever decorated, New Years Eve, 2001. They took everything down New Year’s Day. As the years went by, I would wait to see if the same decorations went up as last year, and one after another, houses that were decorated the year before, were not this time. I became angry, bitter, and even scared. I feared that one day, my house may be the last one decorated, and perhaps, the rest of the block would complain or demand I don’t do it. The fact that others were not joining in on my traditions and beliefs made me feel as if they were in peril, even at risk of being taken from me. I feared being alone and isolated, or worse, persecuted.
Then I realized. This is what drives American Conservatism. More than anything else; tax cuts, freedom, liberty or whatever other buzzword or phrase conservatives in this country use to defend their worldview, it is all based in one thing; cultural grievances and fear. Grievance and anger that people are not following or taking part in time-honored American traditions that they’ve come to love and respect, and fear that as more and more shy away from them, they too will be forced to give them up.
The Republican Party offers them a chance to stop the tide of time, but with a trade off – the increasing income gap, corruption and endless wars. Enough American voters accepted that trade off, which forced the Democratic Party to follow suit in order to gain some of those voters back after massive landslide losses in the 1970s and 1980s. That paradigm still exists, and may even have gotten worse in the last decade. It was important to these voters to defend what they consider to be traditional values that defined the America they knew, and the changing culture of the mid 20th Century, and now in the 21st Century, was threatening them. A lot of this is racism, yes, but it is also about American exceptionalism and the need for some set of values and traditions that define America. It’s also about Christianity and the Protestant work ethic. The value set saw America as a counterbalance to the tyrannical and anti-individualistic Communist power led by Soviet Russia. In this version of America, the family dynamic was pre-ordinated; a working husband, a homemaker wife, dutiful children who will grow up to be workers or soldiers if they were boys, or obedient wives if they were girls. The races had their place; blacks were subjugated to servant roles, and perhaps teaching roles. Latinos were immigrants who cleaned tables or picked fruit. America was a force for good in the world, and defended it with military might. Patriotism was vital and everyone is expected to salute and honor the symbols of America; the flag, the anthem, the President. Men were men, boys were boys and women were women and girls were girls. People put in a hard day’s work if they wanted to eat, have shelter or visit the doctor, and you always respected authority, even if that authority may not be deserving of power.
This version of America still exists in many parts of the country, but starting in the 1960s, as culture changed and Civil Rights and Women’s Rights became issues that shifted society, these values increasingly became less and less relevant. To those who still wished to live by them, it felt as if they were coming under attack. These values, were, to them, at risk of not only becoming irrelevant, but eradicated. Just like I felt my neighbors and friends might go so far as to outright ban me from decorating for Christmas, they felt like liberals will one day tell them they can’t be homemakers, or go to church, or play football or salute the flag.
That is where the similarities end, however. Unlike conservatism, I have never acted on or explored my reaction beyond just noting them. I have never sought to punish or retaliate against neighbors who didn’t decorate, or friends who said they hated decorating. I never sought to force them to conform. I, instead, focused on my own joy. I added more lights, more decorations, more ideas. I made my Christmas village bigger. I put lights on my home office window (which faces nothing but the wall of the garage). I even went so far as to decorate in rooms we rarely even enter. There are decorations in a bathroom that is only ever used if the other one is occupied.
Conservatives, meanwhile, seek to not only discourage, but ban anything that goes against their values. Don’t kneel during the national anthem, don’t say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” (Really, I’m a Christmas radical and this doesn’t even bother me), don’t identify as a gender that wasn’t the one you were assigned at birth, or worse, no gender at all. In 2017, there was an interview with an Obama-Trump voter in Ohio who said he voted for Trump because he was angry his three kids left Ohio for jobs in other parts of the country (they were; a PR executive in Philadelphia, a software engineer in Colorado and a finance manager in New York). At the end of the interview, he expressed anger that there were “Mexicans” bussing tables at Cracker Barrel, while his kids could not find jobs in Ohio and return “home” to be close to family. What leads a man to be angry that his children have high paying jobs in other cities, rather than a job bussing tables at Cracker Barrel in Ohio?
An irrational reaction to what he sees as the loss of his values. He and his ancestors put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into his rural town. The town was his home and his family should be there, as it had been for generations. It was insulting that his children should leave it, for a world that doesn’t conform to his values. If it weren’t for “elite coastal liberals” convincing them they needed to work high paying jobs and move to the cities, perhaps they’d stay home, bus tables at Cracker Barrels and the family would still be together. Conservatism, or the Trumpist version of conservatism, spoke to him. It promised to not only protect these values, but push them on others, and destroy the competing social structure that “lured” his children away.
There’s a lot that goes into my obsession for Christmas, and I’ll cover that in a piece that will be published on Christmas Eve, but it’s always been an important holiday to me, and decorations make me happy. In the same way conservatives sees those traditional values I outlined as invoking happy memories of a simpler, kinder life, perhaps also from their youth. Perhaps they felt safer, more welcomed and more understood, when those values were universally accepted and adhered to, in the same way I felt those things when more people decorated or shared my love of Christmas.
But as I grew older, I realized, that while I may one day be the only one left covering my house in Christmas cheer, it will never be taken from me. It can’t be. No one, except maybe a mean old lady looking for trouble on a homeowners association, will ever keep me from decorating for Christmas and doing the things that bring me joy this time of year. In fact, I’ve learned that in doing it, I’ve inspired more people to join in than I had anticipated. I have had friends who decided to put up lights because they saw mine. This year, my neighbor even said she wasn’t going to decorate because of all the sadness around the COVID-19 Pandemic, but seeing my lights inspired her to put hers up.
Conservatives, meanwhile, have doubled down on the idea that their values need to be enforced in order to remain relevant; that people cannot be allowed to stray from them. Whether it speaks to an insecurity in those values – or more likely a feeling of superiority – is up for you to adjudicate. Perhaps if they sold their values better, rather than just putting down or threatening those who don’t follow them, they might win some converts. I did.
But I guess you would have the same faith and belief in those values that I have in the magic of Christmas, in order to have the security to do that.
Right Wingers Antagonize And Cross The Line So They Can Make Names For Themselves As A Victim Grifter
I promised myself I wasn’t going to write about the Dr. Biden bullshit this week, and this isn’t going to specifically be about that, but a general piece in response to it. As the narrative played out, I found myself becoming increasingly frustrated and annoyed by the response the author of the “Dr. Jill Biden” piece has had to some of the criticism of his editorial.
If you don’t know what I’m talking about, here’s a quick roundup. Somebody with the unfortunate last name of Epstein wrote an editorial in The Wall Street Journal that I’m not going to link here because it doesn’t need more oxygen (if you are interested, go find it yourself), in which he suggests that incoming First Lady, Dr. Jill Biden drop the title Dr. from her name, because she holds an educational doctorate a not a medical one. Epstein goes on to explain that he has an honorary doctorate, but doesn’t use the title Dr. because its honorary; then veers into a diatribe completely unrelated to Jill Biden about how “honorary doctorates” and loosening standards are “political correctness” that almost reads like a Rush Limbaugh robot glitching or senile uncle’s neurons misfiring during an “IN MY DAY” speech after he was read for filth by a well-read teenage great-niece at Thanksgiving.
In any event, Epstein has, predictable and justifiably, faced criticism for his editorial, with many feeling it was sexist, anti-intellectual or just plain mean. Supporters of Dr. Biden defended her, noting that there has never been an issue with people who have earned an Ed.D being called “Dr.” For example. Dr. Ruth holds an educational doctorate. The idea that you can compare an Ed.D, which requires a lot of hard work and dedication, to a honorary degree, is insulting, and even if standards are “lesser” than years before, a product, no doubt, of a racist education system, Dr. Biden still worked and earned her title, and deserves respect for it.
For those, like myself, who felt disgusted and offended by Epstein’s editorial, it was mostly about how it seemed completely unfair and random. Why even open up this line of attack on Dr. Biden? Who does it hurt for her to use the title? It’s not as if there are huge numbers of medical doctors objecting to the use of those with Ed. D’s using the title “doctor.” As a matter of fact, a number of medical doctors rushed to the future First Lady’s defense,
So why write it at all?
To be mean. The cruelty, to modern conservatives, is the point. Like all bullies, the idea is to elicit a response, then claim victimhood to the response and turn the tables on the person being bullied. It’s what conservatives have been doing best for decades, and it has been the basis for the “culture wars” and battles against “cancel culture” and “political correctness.”
It’s also corrosive and has the effect of forcing people in certain marginalized groups to feel forced to take abuse, because the alternative is to create an environment where the abuser comes out the victim. A few years ago, a friend of mine who is a transwoman told me about abuse she faced at her job.
She had a coworker who repeatedly misgendered her, on purpose, and would mock her voice and make crude comments about her genitals. The coworker was fired, but upon being fired, he, according to my friend, “seemed almost happy about it.” He bragged about how he’d end up on Joe Rogan’s Podcast because “he loves to hear these stories” and warned about how popular author and professor Jordan Peterson got after criticizing trans issues. A few weeks later, my friend found another job and quit. The coworker that was fired, also got another job, a much better one and now is in a high ranking government position. In the end, she said, it felt like he won.
A similar situation occurred about a year ago, where another friend of mine, also a transwoman, experienced similar abuse. Her tormentor even left Trump paraphernalia around her workspace and signed her up for anti-trans and anti-LGBTQ email lists. When I suggested she tell her boss, she responded, sadly and defeated; “Why? It’ll just get him a speaking slot at the Republican Convention”
She ended up quitting her job.
This is a classic schoolyard bully tactic, similar to what I experienced – and probably many of you will recognize – on the playground in elementary school. Torment, torment, and torment, and when you fight back, the bully claims victimhood and appeals to classmates and teachers. Oftentimes it works. The other classmates and the adults empathize with the bully, even if the don’t approve of his or her message. They seem themselves in him or her; and the bullies are happy to push that along. It’s the schoolyard version of the “First they came for the…” argument. It may be the bully today, but tomorrow, it could be you.
So you get scolded for “stooping to their level” or for “not trying to find a way to deescalate.” It’s typically code for “Can you just live with it? I’m worried if I do something, it will upset a fragile social hierarchy which would threaten me.”
That, my friends, is why Dr. Biden can have her credentials cruelly questioned, and end up the bad guy if she fights that. It’s also why Kayleigh McEnany can lie to your face and defend a guy who called Mexicans “rapists” and mocked war heroes and people with disabilities, but gets airtime to whine about a Biden staffers referring to Trumpers as “fuckers.” That’s why you can be mocked, threatened, demeaned and belittled, but trying to stop it is “political correctness.” The powerful have a right to subjugate the less powerful.
Because America has accepted part of our social fabric is THEY are the bullies and any attempt to fight back, tears at that fabric.
It May Sound Hysterical, But There’s A Flaw In Our System That Will Allow Republicans To Steal The Next One
Imagine This Scenario:
A Democrat wins 51 percent of the popular vote – a seven or eight million popular vote margin – and 270+ Electoral Votes, but the Republican candidate claims fraud in three states, say Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Georgia. Whoever wins those states gets the required 270 electoral votes.
The incoming Congress will be Republican controlled, thanks mainly to gerrymanders in several large states, and the legislatures of all three states are also GOP controlled.
After allegations of fraud, with little to no proof, Republicans refuse to certify results in several states, leading to state legislators choosing Republican electors even though the state voted for the Democratic candidate. The end result is the Republican candidate winning.
Seems like an unrealistic scenario, no? An overdramatic hysterical LARP that would have no basis in reality?
Well, guess what, it’s how Rutherford B. Hayes became our 19th President in 1876.
The 1876 Election was arguably the most contentious one in American history, even more so than 2000. Hayes, the Republican Governor of Ohio, faced Samuel Tilden, the Democratic Governor of New York and a popular reformer. Tilden campaigned against the corruption and scandals that marred the outgoing Ulysses S. Grant administration and on a change mantle after sixteen years of Republicans in the White House. The country was just barely a decade out of the Civil War and strife between the north and south continued, but Tilden, a northerner, running on the Southern-dominated Democratic Party’s ticket, helped bring a sense of balance. Tilden’s running mate was also a northerner, Governor Thomas Hendricks of Indiana.
At the end of the campaign, it appeared Tilden had won the election, easily winning the popular vote and appearing to win 204 Electoral Votes out of the 185 needed to win. But the results in three Southern states; South Carolina, Florida and Louisiana, were cast in doubt. Republicans, who had controlled the states through Reconstruction policies, alleged fraud in all three. They alleged massive voter intimidation against Republican voters and that in one state, where symbols replaced party and candidate names for illiterate voters, Democrats used former President Abraham Lincoln as their symbol in order to trick Republican voters into choosing the Democratic ticket.
Ultimately, despite Tilden appearing to have won all three states, the states’ election boards, controlled by Republicans, ruled for Hayes and the state legislatures awarded all three states’ electoral votes to him, giving the Republican the required 185 votes to win the Electoral College.
Tilden supporters did not take the win lightly. There were protests and even riots. An assassination attempt occurred against Hayes in Ohio. Outgoing President Grant even put the military on high alert and tossed around the idea of martial law if things got too out of control. It seemed very possible the country could be headed for another Civil War or a military dictatorship.
With the scabs of the Civil War picked, and the wound at risk of festering, members of Congress came together to figure out a way to calm things down. They came up with the Compromise of 1877. Under the deal, Tilden would concede the election to Hayes, who agreed to serve only one term, and both Grant, in his final days as president, and Hayes in his first days, would agree to remove federal troops from the South, effectively ending Reconstruction and giving birth to the Jim Crow Era.
While it may seem an election from a century and a half ago may not be relevant today, this is almost what happened in 2020. Republicans, just as they did in 1876, claimed fraud in just enough states to flip the election, and they tried to get Republican-led legislatures to appoint Republican electors or a court to decertify the results.
It didn’t work, but what I fear is that it set the foundation for future elections.
Now let’s game this out:
In 2024, Republicans control both houses of Congress, but a Democrat, let’s say Vice President Kamala Harris, wins the presidential election with a similar map as 2020. This time though, Republicans control both Houses and can successfully challenge an Electoral College vote from any state.
So a number of battleground states, which provided Harris the margin of victory, sends two sets of electors to the Electoral College and Congress receives both sets. After objecting to the Democratic slate, both houses approve the Republican slate and either recognize the Republican electoral victory, or throw out the electoral votes entirely, causing neither candidate to get to 270 and the race to be thrown to the House, who then elects the Republican president.
This is not an unlikely scenario. In fact, I would argue that if Republicans control both houses in 2024, a realistic probability, this is what will happen. I believe with nothing stopping them, Republicans WILL formally end democracy if given the chance. Democracy doesn’t serve them. They have lost the popular vote in seven of the last eight presidential elections, and five of the last eight Congressional elections. They would need to move further to the center if they had to win popular vote contests, something that goes against their very nature and worldview. They meet very little resistance from the middle and left as it is, and trust in our institutions remains high enough in key constituencies that Republicans may feel most Americans will simply just accept whatever happens with a grin.
So why not this time? Because they had roadblocks.
How does the dynamics of a coup change if it has a chance of succeeding through Constitutional avenues? What happens in 2024 if Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Arizona all decided to send two sets of electors to the Electoral College and Congress, in Republican hands, decides the election in favor of the Republican, even though he didn’t actually win? Or rejects them and throws the Presidential election to a Republican-controlled House?
It is my belief that Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger may have been more amenable to not certifying Georgia’s results if the election relied on Georgia’s electoral votes. Even if Raffensperger had opted to help Trump overturn the results in his state, it still would not have been enough to win him the presidency. Trump needed at least three Biden states to give him their electoral votes. Of the five states that flipped from 2016, only Georgia had a Republican Secretary of State (Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Arizona are all Democrats), but all five states do have GOP-controlled legislatures. Even if the legislatures in those states had sent Republican electors to the Electoral College, forcing Congress to decide between their slate and the certified Democratic slate would have still failed, since Democrats controlled the House. Indeed in all of these states, plus Nevada and New Mexico, Republicans are trying to do just that. I believe, and fear, had Republicans won control of both Houses of Congress in November, the state legislatures would have sent their own electors and forced Congress to choose between the two. They would have easily reelected Trump.
We saw 126 Republicans, more than half the House caucus, including party leaders House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-California) and Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-Louisiana) support a ridiculous lawsuit Texas filed with the Supreme Court that aimed to throw out, in its entirely, the election results in Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. The lawsuit was so flimsy that the Supreme Court didn’t even decide to hear it, but most of the House Republican Caucus supported it anyway. What would have happened had McCarthy been the incoming Speaker of the House?
These are not doomsday prospects, these are, I believe, what the current fight is setting us up for. It’s all a trial run for when they don’t have Democrats blocking the way.
In a perfect world, we get rid of the Electoral College and elect our president by popular vote so that we don’t allow opportunity for these types of shenanigans. Maybe this experience will finally teach us a lesson of how fragile our system is, how archaic and obsolete it is, how easily it is to manipulate, and why it finally needs to be changed.
We All Wish The President Took COVID Seriously, But Ultimately It Matters Who Listens Anyway
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is getting the viral treatment on Twitter again. A video of her desperately pleading with the German people to adhere to COVID guidelines has made its rounds this week. In the video, she apologizes to the Germans for ruining their Christmas traditions, but says the amount of death and sickness that could result in a normal holiday season would be “unacceptable.”
The appeal to empathy, the acceptance of blame and emphasis on the importance of the guidelines, has given Americans a taste of what it lacks in our current leadership, and what it hopes to gain when the executive changes in 40 days. It has awaken the belief in many that if America had leadership like Merkel’s, we would not be in the current predicament we are in regarding COVID-19. Responses like “this is what leadership looks like” and “I wish we had this in America” popped up with the viral video.
Her pleas, however, did not come out of nowhere. They are the words of an exasperated head of government trying hard to control and increasingly out of control situation. Germany, which up until now has been seen as a model to how other countries should respond or should have responded to the COVID-19 Pandemic, is seeing its worst days in terms of case numbers and deaths. Increasingly, Germans are defying guidelines and restrictions and a growing number of Germans are adopting anti-mask and anti-COVID beliefs and that ideology is seemingly spreading through the nation.
For the past month, Germany has been logging anywhere from 15,000 to 25,000 cases per day, well ahead of the 6,000-7,000 cases per day the country logged back in the Spring. Back then, Germany was heralded for avoiding the strict lockdowns and mass death other European countries like Italy, Spain, Belgium, France and the UK endured.
If you’ve been to Germany around the holidays (I was there in December 2014), you know that it’s a popular time period for people to gather, perhaps the most popular of the year. There are Christmas markets, sporting events, family gatherings and it’s not a surprise that for many there, these long-held traditions are non-negotiable. The last three months of the year, starting with Oktoberfest and ending with New Years, is like one giant party. While that atmosphere is definitely subdued this year, and many official events and gatherings cancelled, it is not surprising that there are underground gatherings going on. Without a really hard China-style or Melbourne-style lockdown, people will still gather and the virus will still spread, especially during the holiday season, nine months into this after people have been isolated all year.
If German mentality around #COVID restrictions is similar to what I hear from Italy, Denmark and the UK, there’s likely a lot of people feeling; “we’ve done it right, we took it seriously, how are we still being asked to sacrifice? Is this even working?” In the same way that we in America look at Australia and New Zealand and wonder “we could’ve been them,” many Europeans look at them and say “Why aren’t we them? We did the same things.” There’s a growing sense that leadership has failed, that guidelines aren’t working and that Christmas traditions are non-negotiable and the government and medical community should have prepared in a way that would have allowed a somewhat normal Christmas to happen.
That’s on top of the fact that Germany has one of the most active anti-mask and anti-lockdown movements in Europe, and the protests in Berlin and other cities have only been growing.
This isn’t to say that America doesn’t deserve criticism for how its handled the pandemic. The second wave has hit in a particularly bad time in this country. A defeated lame-duck president, who never really cared about the pandemic anyway, and who has completely checked out, is still in office for another five weeks (and is trying his absolute best to stay longer). A hodgepodge of restrictions nationwide with some states (Florida, South Dakota) having none and others (California) going back into lockdown mode, make fighting COVID-19 into a rigged game of whack-a-mole There is zero federal leadership, zero help financially from Republicans in Congress, who are reinvigorated after over-performing in last month’s elections. Americans have no other options than to ride it out.
But the Germans have Merkel, and many are still choosing to ignore guidelines anyway. Merkel shows the limits of leadership. It’s refreshing for Americans to hear a head of government urge and plea with her citizens to follow the rules, since ours isn’t and hasn’t, but the key here is…it doesn’t appear to be working. She’s resorted to begging because they’re not listening.
While it is comforting for many who want to see leadership take this seriously to hear President-elect Joe Biden talk about the important of mask wearing and social distancing, and make appeals to patriotism, none of it matters if people won’t listen. He is limited to what and where he can mandate restrictions and mitigation efforts, and governors are free to defy him. Much like Merkel, he’ll be resorting to using the bully pulpit.
And with one third of Americans believing Biden wasn’t legitimately elected, and over 100 House Republicans gleefully joining in on that chorus, it is even more unlikely tens of millions of Americans will respond to his appeals. That’s a lot of hosts for COVID-19 to infect.
Leftists Don’t Hate Or Look Down On Rural Americans, But The Right Is Happy To Exploit That Idea
When I was growing up in Queens, my mom’s best friend had three nieces who were all close to my age. We all went to the same elementary school and we lived six blocks apart. We hung out all the time, swam in each other’s pools, played sports in the park, played video games and had birthday parties.
In 1994, their mother remarried and the family relocated deep into the Catskills near Margaretville, about halfway between Kingston and Oneonta, located alongside a branch of the Delaware River close enough to its source that it can only be described as a rushing stream. Their home was as rural as rural gets. The closest pharmacy was 20 minutes away. There was a small market in the nearest town (Fleischmanns) that was smaller than a corner bodega in the Bronx and only open until 7 p.m. If you needed to do an actual grocery trip, there was an A&P in Margaretville, but once it ran out of milk, you were shit out of luck for another week. Often the family would drive an hour to Kingston to go to a large Waldbaum’s to do two weeks worth of shopping; no ice cream or frozen food though, they would not have survived the trip home, especially in the summer.
My friendship with the girls did not end when they moved – in fact we’re still friends today. As a teenager, I would go up to their house on weekends regularly, for birthdays or just to get away. We would go sledding in the winter (you haven’t seen snow until you’ve seen Catskills snow), and go tubing down Esophus Creek in the summer. Eventually their family built an inground pool on their large property. I made friends with their classmates in tiny Margaretville High School – the entire school had an enrollment of 29 students – and that’s how I met Tommy.
Tommy’s Dreams Unfulfilled
Tommy and I had some common interests; No Doubt, MTV Unplugged, Super Mario Brothers video games and disaster movies among them. Kelly, the middle girl of the family, whom i was closest to, moved to Brooklyn for college. For the next few years, we hung out and bar hopped in Manhattan and had parties in Kelly’s Brooklyn apartment. Tommy would tell me his goal was to graduate from SUNY Delhi in the Catskills and move down to the city and escape what he called “the wasteland” where he lived.
In the mid 2000s, no one was more negative about life in rural America than Tommy. He often called the town he came from “a rusty old dump” and complained that there was nothing to do but “drugs and tractor racing.” He joked about “hillbillies” and made off-colored comparisons to the movie Deliverance. I didn’t join in. I would sometimes remark that I found the Catskills charming and enjoyed escaping the city, away from traffic, noise and pollution. Though my allergies would explode, the smell of the pine air and the chilly summer nights were a welcome treat from the smoggy, grimy city air.
“You would never want to live there though,” he said to me once.
He never finished college. Once I graduated and our mutual friends went into the workforce, the gatherings got fewer and fewer and I didn’t speak to Tommy except on Facebook for several years. He proudly voted for Obama in 2008 due largely to his opposition to the Iraq War. Many of his friends back home moved away; one to Schenectady to marry his college sweetheart, another to Florida to work fixing boats at a marina near Tampa. By 2009, Tommy had married and moved to a small house somewhere between Margaretville and Delhi, working at a hardware supply store in the former town. The next time we spoke was after Hurricane Irene in 2011, which badly damaged Margaretville when the stream that was the Delaware River turned into a rushing torrent. I noticed a slight change in attitude from him as we spoke. He seemed gloomier, angrier, a bit resentful even. He complained about President Obama and Obamacare and threw remarks about how people look down on folks like him and everyone was more concerned about New York City than his town. “All Obama cares about his own people,” he said. I heard the dog whistles. I got reflexively defensive, noting that Obama was approving aid to his town and how Obamacare helped fund community hospitals like Margaretville’s.
“You would never be able to live here,” he said again, suggesting I did not have the ability to survive in a tough, rural society.
He was right, of course, but I had conceded as much years earlier.
By 2016, the tide had turned even further. My one interaction with him that year was when he attacked New York City as a “lawless, godless place of thugs and crime.” I took issue with his remarks, reminding him that crime was low in New York City and even he once wanted to live there.
“I don’t know what I was thinking of I said that,” he said. “If I never set foot in that hellhole again, it would be too soon.”
It was shocking to me, because it was a completely different take on New York City than I had heard from him a decade earlier, when the city was a far less safer place to be. I asked him where this attitude came from all of a sudden.
“Well, you think so little of us,” he said. “Look at how you guys put down rural Americans.”
He began to list off arguments such as “rural people are uneducated” and “rural people are all drug addicts” and “rural people are racists,” which are all things I’ve never said, nor has anyone I know ever said. I even reminded him that some of these slurs against rural culture are ones HE himself used many years earlier.
“Yeah but you agreed,” he suggested. I did not, and to the extent that I might have, it was an acknowledgement of problems in these communities that I, as a liberal Democrat, would like to fix, and added that I am happy to acknowledge problems (poverty, affordable housing, pollution) that exist in cities as well.
Over time, he shared pieces justifying his anger and resentment. Prager U; Townhall.com; Newsmax; Human Events, you name it. Tomi Lahren, Ben Shapiro, Mark Levin, a laundry list of conservative grifters and noisemakers who fed him an unhealthy diet of resentment politics.
What was clear to me was this:
Tommy, who grew up in a rural, forgotten part of the country, had big dreams – ones sold to him by a media environment that taught him living where lived made him inferior and he had to get an expensive education, move to or near a big city and get a big fancy job around powerful rich people to “make it.” In his teens and 20s, that seemed possible, but circumstances; lack of opportunity, lack of money, or just lack of dumb luck, stood in his way. For whatever reason, financial obstacles, personal obstacles, obligations, he wasn’t able to achieve the life he dreamt about and was sold as the definition of success in America. While the people he grew up with moved to Brooklyn and Florida and other places, he was stuck back in the Catskills, selling wrenches for just enough money to feed his children and keep the lights on.
The Conservative Bait And Switch
Some will read that and say “You see, you are passing judgement” and it’s true, I am. But I what I’m trying to get across is that I understand where he’s coming from and I understand why he feels so frustrated, why he needs to lash out.
I don’t feel superior to him. I’m certainly not. I’m not trying to look down on him. I don’t believe Tommy is a failure. I believe Tommy’s experience and his place in our society is important. He is raising his children in a place in America where schools are as underfunded as they are in our cities and where opportunities are limited. His libraries are only open a few days a week. He has no high-speed internet access and needs to stand in his attic to get a cell phone signal (which is better than 2013 when he didn’t have a signal at all). Despite a boost from Medicaid reimbursements from Obamacare, Margaretville Hospital is small and underserved and has only 15 beds, yet serves an area spanning four Upstate counties. He’s living a third world lifestyle in a first world country, and we’re allowing it to happen, because conservatives are telling him the people who want to help are actually just being patronizing.
My worldview is one in which we must make life better for him and his family, such that he doesn’t feel reflexively defensive about living in a place that he rightfully feels devalued or looked down on. It wasn’t liberals who devalued rural America, it was Capitalists who constructed a view of the American Dream that was unrealistic for most. A view that told folks who were happy enough to live simple lives in both rural and urban America that their idea of success was actually failure. It isn’t enough to be a working class hardware supplier from the Catskills, raising three kids in a small house with no amenities like a pool or central air conditioning, taking vacations to the lake. You needed the suburban mansion or pristine condo, the fancy cars, the luxurious dinner dates, and trips to the Caribbean or Europe. This is what defines success and this is the type of success that seems to only exist in and around cities. So we’re left to look down on Tommy as someone who failed, just as we look down on a black or brown family in the South Bronx or Compton the same.
But here’s the catch.It was Capitalists, and their Republican and conservative defenders, who created that narrative. The concept of the “American Dream” was meant as a preemptive strike against any socialist or communist uprising in America. The working class, conservatives figured, are unlikely likely to join any left-wing revolution if it appeared wealth and power was within reach for any or all of them. It also made them dedicated worker bees – like Boxer in Animal Farm – but for Capitalism. They would work, work, work with wealth and power eternally just barely out of reach.
But what happens when that aspiration never comes to fruition? Where does that resentment go? Republicans knew it would backfire on them, so they gave working class rural Americans another target.
Tradition and culture is how the Republican inoculate themselves from the fact that their economic policies are what destroyed the simple rural working class life. Despite the fact it was 20th Century conservatives who encouraged young people to get out of their small towns and make it big, they have managed to turn the narrative on its head by blaming the media, colleges and other institutions that they recruited to help with their pro-Capitalist initiatives decades ago. It is the entertainment industry, the media and the colleges, Republicans say, that brainwashed young people into abandoning their traditional rural lifestyle for a more cosmopolitan life in big cities and suburbs. What they don’t say is that it was them who originally encouraged it.
It is true that what we think of as the “American Dream” does not consist of a tiny house or trailer on the side of a rural road, laundry hanging from a haphazardly hung rope between trees. It doesn’t include working a blue collar job that leaves your hand with callouses. It does not involve having to go to the market everyday for fresh food because you don’t have room enough to store or keep food fresh. It does not involve hospital bills and mountains of debt and wearing hand-me-downs from your older siblings or relatives or neighbors. It involves fancy new cars, big houses or condos, dining out regularly and fancy clothes.
There is nothing wrong with small cottages by the side of the highway, jalopies and callouses, but our society has taught us that they’re a sign of failure, a sign that you haven’t worked hard enough to earn wealth and power, so of course those, like Tommy, who live the traditional rural life feel like they’re being judged and looked down on, or at best, have their way of life threatened.
Republicans are happy to oblige in this, lamenting “elitists” looking down on working class Americans, while also mocking them as well. You see this in how they respond to Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York), criticizing her policy ideas, many of which will go a long way to helping folks like Tommy, as “elitist,” while also mocking her previous job as a bartender, and then appealing to their own barely-tangible working class roots when she fights back.
The is the odd paradox laid out in J.D. Vance’s novel Hillbilly Elegy, where he bemoans how he was looked down on by Ivy League folks when he left his rural Ohio town to go to college, while at the same time joining them in admonishing the folks back home as having succumbed to “social rot.” The “rot,” he blames on welfare and social programs that have taught rural Americans to be dependent on government rather than self-sufficient. In that narrative, we see how conservatives managed to turn the blame from them, the folks who told working class Americans they had to strive for something more that is out of reach for most, onto progressives, who want to just help them survive in a cruel Capitalist world.
Attacking Rural Pride
Not long after the 2016 election, I read a profile piece of an Obama-Trump voter in rural Ohio. He was retired and he said he voted for Trump because of his stances on trade and the economy, though the article quickly veered off into a discussion about immigration and rural resentment. In the piece, the interviewee explained that his town, located near the Ohio River in what used to be a deeply Democratic area, used to be a vibrant manufacturing town, but the jobs left and his children also left to find work elsewhere. He explained that all of his children went to Ohio State and his daughter moved to Philadelphia to work in public relations, his eldest son was a software engineer in Boulder, Colo. and his youngest son was a trainee at an investment bank in New York City. The distance caused longtime family traditions, like summer trips to Lake Erie and birthday parties, to cease. He explained that if his children were able to find jobs close to home, they would have come home. At the end of the interview, he laments about the “Mexicans” working as busboys at the Cracker Barrel, blaming them for “taking jobs my children couldn’t get.”
It struck me that this father felt his children, who had all from my view gone on to successful lives – just not in Ohio, would be better suited to bus tables at Cracker Barrel, than work in high-paying industries like public relations, computer programming or banking.
But for him, what matters is that they were in Ohio, putting down roots and raising a family in the town where he and his ancestors put down roots. Tradition took precedence to what we deem to be “success,” and that reflex I had reading this story, that the children are living better lives than they would in Ohio, is exactly what makes rural Americans like Tommy feel they’re being looked down and cast aside. What they built in rural America, what their ancestors built, is no longer enough or worthy. It’s too poor, too racist, too ignorant, too low class, and liberals – the father noted that his children were all “liberals” now – were destroying our towns by invoking a brain drain, enticing young people away with promises of tolerance and wealth, like a political Sarah Sanderson from Hocus Pocus. Trump and the modern GOP was more than happy to oblige this narrative to win their votes, and it worked.
Election Results- Middletown, NY (Margaretville)
Election Results in Middletown, New York, which includes Margaretville, show how the town, like most of Rural America, swung to Trump in 2016 after voting for Obama twice.
I don’t exactly know how to fix it. I feel like the resentment has festered too far now that its gone beyond just wanting to be recognized or respected, to a cruel place where what drives many rural conservatives is a desire to make everyone as miserable and forgotten as they are. There are certainly ways to make the lives of rural Americans better. We can bring new jobs and industries to these areas, but when a friend of mine ran for the West Virginia House of Delegates in 2008 on the promise to replace lost coal jobs with jobs at a hydroelectricity plant on the Big Sandy River, he lost in a landslide and was told by a constituent “to go back to liberal New York City with your tree-hugging bullshit.” His opponent smeared him as an “elitist big city type” who didn’t understand “true rural values.” My friend grew up in a trailer outside Huntington, WV, and moved to New York to attend college, before moving back to West Virginia, but those four years on the East Coast tainted him and his ideas forever in the eyes of his community. He has since left Appalachia for California.
In 2016, Hillary Clinton suggested expanding broadband web access to rural areas after she we asked why she thought she was struggling politically in rural parts of the country. The economy there, she said, hadn’t grown as fast as elsewhere after the financial crisis, so Trump’s message of change resonated. She suggested she could help them with rural broadband, which would attract business and jobs, as well as educational opportunities.
In response, she was accused of being an “elitist” who blamed her political problems on the fact rural Americans didn’t have high-speed internet and thus weren’t “educated.”
Similar attempts by progressives like Sen. Bernie Sanders, who tanked in rural areas in 2020 after winning many of these areas in 2016, and Rep. Ocasio-Cortez, have also been waved away. Progressive candidates have barely gotten anywhere politically in rural America, succeeding almost exclusively in cities and suburbs.
And that is the odd position Tommy is in. Is he happy in his life? No, it’s pretty clear he isn’t, but he’s defensive of it, and resistant to any attempt at changing it. Why? Because to people like Tommy, it’s better to be miserable and defend a broken system than swallow your pride and admit your community needs help and that the people you think look down on you, might actually be right.
I’m Sorry Your Feelings Are Hurt, Be Have A Country In Crisis That Needs Tending To
“Facts Don’t Care About Your Feelings” is a quote made famous by conservative wunderkid Ben Shapiro years ago when he insisted on referring to transgender individuals by the gender they were assigned at birth, not what they identify with. Science, he said, backed him up. (Funny when science is important when it excuses bigotry, but not when it governs a pandemic)
This past weekend, thousands (at least we think thousands) of Trump supporters swarmed onto the streets of Washington, D.C. to protest the results of the election. They are being egged on by outgoing President Donald Trump, supported by most of Shapiro’s fan club, who refuses to concede the election and remains resolute that he is the legitimate winner and the election was rigged.
On Tuesday, Two Republicans on the Wayne County, Michigan Board of Elections refused to certify the county’s election results, a formality, on grounds that some of the vote totals taken by different groups were off by a few – a common issue that is rectified later at the state level. They relented, but only after Trump lawyer Jenna Ellis gave away the plot on Twitter, saying that preventing Wayne County from certifying means Michigan’s Republican legislature would have to appoint Trump electors, even though Biden won the state by more than 150,000 votes.
Monica Palmer, one of the Republicans on the Wayne County board said she would be willing to certify the entire county except for the City of Detroit, which Biden won with over 90 percent of the vote, despite the fact that discrepancies she blamed were more numerous is the white Republican-leaning suburb of Livonia than in Detroit.
In Georgia, the state’s Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger even got a call from Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, inquiring about whether or not he could invalidate thousands of votes. Biden leads Trump in Georgia by over 12,000 votes and if that holds, which is almost certainly will, he will be the first Democrat since Bill Clinton in 1992 to carry Georgia.
And later this week, former America’s Mayor and now certified nut Rudy Giuliani held a bizarre press conference with some woman named Sydney who looks like something out of central casting for “Insane Southern Republican lady.” They alleged, with no evidence, that a conspiracy involving George Soros and Hugo Chavez, who has been dead since 2013, to change Trump voters to Biden votes is why the president “lost” the election.
They refused to accept that Trump has lost, and believe, without any evidence, that widespread voter fraud has been committed, and Trump has encouraged it, repeating over and over again that he believes he won the election and that fraud is the reason Biden has won the popular vote and the Electoral College.
It would be just a nuisance if this was a game, but it is not a game. Since Trump refuses to concede and allow an orderly transition, President-Elect Biden is unable to prepare his team to get to work on January 20th and will have to spent days and weeks playing catchup during a catastrophic economic and public health crisis that is killing 1,500 to 2,000 Americans a day.
All this for Donald Trump’s hurt fee-fees and the delusions of the millions of syncopates who turned him into a golden calf. One supporter even called into Rush Limbaugh’s show, in tears, saying he would be willing to “die” for Trump.
How pathetic can you people be?
Let me remind you all that the morning after the 2016 election, Hillary Clinton concede defeat. Even as some supporters demand she fight fo recounts in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, all of which were closer than than they are now, she conceded defeat. Outgoing President Barack Obama graciously welcomed Trump, who had built a entire brand around himself parroting a racist lie about the sitting president, to the White House after THE MEDIA called the election for him, and before states certified their results. Donald Trump was given the right to have an orderly transition to his presidency. Democrats and the left complained, some questioned the results, but none stood in the way of Trump taking office. They organized, marched, recruited candidates and ultimately built a coalition that defeated Trump this year.
We do not have time to soothe the hurt feelings of a President who spent the last five years mocking and degrading his opponents and encouraging his supporters to do the same.
So my message to Trump supporters is this.
Get over it. You lost. Nothing is owed to you, nothing is guaranteed to you. You lost. Take your loss and figure out your next steps. Losing sucks, I know, but stop being what you’d call “snowflakes” about it. Dry your right wing tears and get to work. Buck up buttercup.
And on that: I don’t ever want to hear about how liberals are snowflakes ever again. What is going on right now, from the White House to the Halls of Congress to the Republican offices at local boards of elections to the protestors who came to Washington, is textbook “snowflake” behavior. It fits though. With the right, everything is projection. Everything they accuse their opponents of being, they truly are and by projecting it, they hope you won’t notice.