With No End Game In Sight, And Contradictory Predictions, People Are Naturally Very Hesitant To Surrender Freedoms
Back in junior high school, our daily lunch consisted of 30 minutes of eating lunch, followed by 30 minutes for recess – where we would play outside in the schoolyard, or in the school gym if the weather didn’t cooperate. The teachers, unsurprisingly, hated this. When they would bring us back to the classroom after recess, it was impossible to get us 12- and 13-year-olds to settle down to continue with the school day. It sometimes took ten to fifteen minutes just to get the class to simmer down enough to even try to continue with lessons. Sometimes, as my sixth-grade English teacher Ms. Klaus said, it felt like the school day was basically over after lunch, “we were as good as dismissed at 12:15”
The teachers fought to keep us in the classrooms during the entire lunch period, theorizing that it was easier for them to regain control of the class if we hadn’t just been running around playing for 30 minutes. It was a controversial move, with our physical education teacher arguing it was unhealthy to keep us at our desks for six hours a day, but the principal and other teachers argued it would help curb disciplinary issues and rowdiness. As students, we obviously protested, and when our parents heard of this, they made a big stink at PTA meetings.
In November 1995, the teachers got the backing of the principal in their fight to cancel recess. As the weather turned cooler, we would stay in the classroom until Spring, and if we behaved and just did what they asked, we would have recess back in the Spring when the weather warms up.
Privately, though they had a different plan.
At one PTA meeting, – I often attended as my mother was on the executive board – the teacher representative explained that the goal was to “adjust” the students to “a new normal;” being inside during the entire lunch period.
“Ultimately,” Mrs. Monaco, the teacher representative, said. “We hope that by the Spring, the kids are so used to being the class that they won’t even think about going back outside.”
Obviously that didn’t happen, and when April rolled around and we were told we couldn’t go outside during lunch for recess on the first 70-degree Spring day, the result was a number of angry and resentful preteens who no longer trusted and respected our teachers. In a Catholic School setting though, teachers don’t need to care. They don’t need the respect of the students, only the obedience.
I tell this story because it has been in my mind a lot during this pandemic. I believe a similar dynamic is playing out around COVID-19 public health guidelines. My junior high school class were a group of naive, and powerless, students who had no choice but to listen to our teachers and trust them. But the “bait-in-switch” we experienced from losing recess left a bitter taste in our mouths that some of us still talk about today.
Adults all over the world have had these experiences and can sense when they feel like they’re being misled, and some of the rhetoric coming out of public health experts, and government officials, are feeding conspiracy theories that we are being treated to a bait-and-switch; that the mandates and curtailing of public life are efforts to slow walk us into a dystopian future where isolation and masking are how we live. That, I believe based on my own experiences and conversations with others, is what is leading people to no longer adhere strictly to mitigation efforts. Even if people are willing to wear masks or stay home, don’t travel, and don’t gather with friends and family, there’s a feeling that if we voluntarily give these up and continue to give them up, those joys could be lost forever. How? Well, just look at some of the messaging coming from experts.
Back in May, one expert, who has now blocked me on Twitter, suggested “If I had my way, I’d close bars forever,” explaining that congregate settings like bars and nightclubs are responsible for annual flu outbreaks that kill tens of thousands of people a year. After an article came out in July that noted COVID-19 mitigation efforts in South America helped reduce the flu to record low levels, some experts began calling for adopting those mitigation efforts annually to reduce flu cases – even though the mitigation efforts credited in the article were lockdowns and school closures, things that aren’t realistic options every winter.
Indeed, the timeline and end game has also changed. When this started, we heard that some restrictions may be possible until a vaccine, a timeline that could be 12-18 months, but now, as vaccines go from being years to only months away, we are now being told that social distancing and mask wearing will have go on beyond a vaccine. Perhaps, as one editorial in The Lancet suggested last week, permanently. Dr. Tom Frieden, former CDC Director under President Barack Obama, has even suggested that we may have to “permanently adapt our lives” to COVID-19, because even beyond a vaccine, there will always be a small percentage of the population at perpetual risk of serious illness. Many experts have been touting the “Swiss cheese” model, which explains mitigation efforts through the image of multiple slices of Swiss cheese stacked horizontal next to each other. The virus can get through the holes in the first or second piece of cheese, but the more pieces, the less there’s a clear path for the virus to get through as the holes in cheese slices are not all in the same place. Social distancing, banning mass gatherings and mask wearing are all pieces of Swiss cheese in this model, along with vaccination. Remove even one of the pieces and the virus has an easier time getting through.
The addition of vaccination to the model comes along with messaging from the very top, World Health Organization itself, that vaccines will not be “the silver bullet” that would end the pandemic. There’s no real answer on what is.
Even the trusted and popular Dr. Anthony Fauci himself has come out and made cryptic remarks that seem to imply a dystopian future, suggesting that “we can never let up public health measures” like social distancing and mask-wearing. He no longer talks about returning to normal, rather “a semblance of normalcy,” which he now says won’t come until the end of 2021. He had previous said Summer of 2021 as recently as July.
Meanwhile, experts have come to the conclusion that COVID-19 will be endemic, if it isn’t already, and will never be eradicated. Dr. Mike Ryan from the WHO, Dr. Allison Arwady, Chicago’s Health Commissioner and even Fauci himself have all admitted they believe the virus can never be eradicated, and we’re in for years of mitigation, at best, even if we all take the same precautions now.
While I continue to wear a mask in public places, avoid crowds, keep my bubble small and stay home as much as possible, others in my social circle have not. Some of what has been said above has been brought up by these folks as reasons they have given up on strict measures and became reclaiming normalcy, even with the risk of COVID-19 infection ever present. Two of whom are my parents, who are just finishing up a road trip to Maine that I desperately asked them to forego this year.
“If we don’t do it this year,” my mother said. “When can we do it? They’re going to tell us it isn’t safe next year either.”
I couldn’t really point her to anybody who suggested when and if it would ever be truly “safe” for her to do the things she enjoys again. They decided minor precautions were enough and took their vacation.
Another friend, a diabetic who championed #StayHomeSaveLives in the Spring, recently went on vacation with several friends to Florida. What convinced her to do it was having heard a doctor on TV saying people with high risk co-morbidities, like herself, would “have to face an indefinitely altered quality of life.”
“What point is there to live if I can’t enjoy it,” she said, adding that she was getting to the point where it almost seemed better to take her chances with COVID-19.
In July, I wrote a piece about how I felt like shifting timelines and inconsistently enforced guidelines were leading people to lose trust in science and government and do their own risk assessments. I think that problem has only exacerbated since then, as more and more experts begin hinting around the possibility of permanent social distancing and mitigation. I honestly can’t blame them for feeing scammed, and for losing trust in both experts and the state. If no one can give us a clear vision on what the way out is, everyone will just chart a course one for his or herself. The end result is a worsening pandemic like we’re currently experiencing.
Others have suggested these restrictions are a form of social engineering, like the cancellation of recess in junior high. Once we get used to not doing to crowded gatherings and wearing a mask, it would be easier to make it permanent and then enact even more restrictions. Much like my classmates and I at the end of second grade, there is a growing distrust and sense that if we cooperate with these guidelines, even if we agree with them, we will never get what we gave up back when the pandemic ends. They will find a reason – whether it be the flu or not-fully effective vaccines – to permanent institute these measures.
To be honest, I don’t believe that’s what will ultimately happen. It would go against human nature and the economic and social cost would eventually surpass that of COVID-19. Democracies of the world will need to show citizens that they can close the door on this crisis and return life to a social and economic normal in order to get reelected, or those who don’t will be replaced by government that will, high risk or not. But I do believe many of the experts that we trust will fall on the side of “permanently altered way of life” when we reach the phase of the pandemic where there are mass vaccinations and lowering cases. When they do, those who have been imploring family and friends to trust their advice and follow it in order to get past this and go back to normal life, are going to left with egg on their faces. I don’t plan on being one of them.
We’re only 20 days until the final votes are cast in the 2020 Presidential Election, and…nothing has really changed. If anything, the race has only slipped more from Trump.
Swing state polling has been showing Biden cement a lead in the key states of Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. Trump’s campaign has apparently written off Michigan, the narrowest of the Obama-Trump states from 2016, but he’s still fighting for Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, where recent polls have shown Biden up around 10 points and over 50 percent. It’s hard to come back from that with three weeks left and voting haven already begun.
As far as “already voting,” according to Florida Professor Michael McDonald’s voting-reporting site ElectProject.org, more than 13 million people have ALREADY voted; that’s close to 10 percent of expected turnout. That number will increase as more and more states begin early voting. Voters waited as long as 11 hours to vote in battleground Georgia this week. In Wisconsin, Over 120,000 votes have already been cast in Dane County, the state’s Democratic bastion which includes the state capital of Madison. Only about 310,000 people voted in total in Dane County in 2018, meaning we’ve already reached 40 percent of 2018 turnout in that county, where Hillary Clinton won 70 percent of the vote.
Georgia is still a tossup, and perhaps the closest state right now, along with Iowa, as polls put both states at a 50-50 tossup. Ohio remains a tossup, though recent polling has shown Trump a point or two up.
I still haven’t moved Texas to tossup, though maybe it should be. Polls show Trump a couple of points up, but Biden and the Democrats are pouring a lot of money into the Lone Star State and local polling is showing Biden doing better in tossup state legislative districts than 2018 Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke, who came within 2 points of winning. So we’ll see.
North Carolina, Florida and Maine’s 2nd District remain tossups, though Biden has been up consistently in polls recently in all three, and at over 50 percent in Florida and North Carolina. I think Biden would win them if the election was today.
Boy, what a decade the last week was. Between a horrendous debate performance by Donald Trump to his catching COVID-19, going to the hospital and then making a spectacle of the entire thing, it certainly does feel like the Trump train is derailing at a high speed. But we thought that in 2016 too (we are as far out from the election as we were when the Access Hollywood tape dropped) and, well, we know what happened then.
Still, national polls show Biden’s lead expanding from high single digits to low double digits, which is landslide territory. Recent polls in tossup states North Carolina, Georgia and Florida show Biden slightly ahead, with Iowa and Ohio tied. Gun to my head, I’d say Biden wins them all right now except Iowa, with Ohio being the only one I am 50-50 on. But the Trump campaign has apparently went dark in Ohio and Iowa, so who knows that’s up there. I think in a landslide, Biden will sweep most, if not all, the tossup states like Obama did in 2008.
Watch Texas though. I still think Trump is ahead there, and polls seem to put him at around a three point lead, but Biden, now rolling in dough, is investing in the Lone Star State. That would be the next shoe to drop for the Republicans.
Beyond that, there isn’t much for Biden to reach for except maybe make a play for Alaska, South Carolina, Missouri, Kansas and Montana – all states that have seen the possibility of a close race and four of which have Senate races the Democrats would like to win.
The Presidential Debate Was Triggering For Me, But That’s What Trump Supporters Want
I turned off the presidential debate after 20 minutes, then I felt anxiety pour over me in a way I hadn’t felt since COVID-19 began unraveling society back in March. I sat on the floor, trying to prevent myself from hyperventilating as I controlled my breathing and calmed myself down, I felt my throat choke up and my face fight back tears. I let them loose and cried, for about ten minutes, just cried.
I know it seems like an overreaction to a debate. It did to me too. Once I gained composure, I did what my Reiki healer, the Rev. Joanne Angel Barry Colon, taught me to do. I meditated. I called upon my higher self to find out what caused me to break down like that and worked to heal it.
I had been triggered. That word that anti-PC folks and right wingers like to mock people for. Triggering seems like a joke to most people – the result of someone who isn’t strong enough emotionally or mentally to handle attacks or criticism, overreacting to an event or words in an overwrought way – but triggering is a real phenomenon where unhealed trauma and pain is reignited by someone’s actions or words. It can happen to anyone. Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, for example, is a form of “triggering.”
The first 20 minutes of the debate last night – the rude, taunting behavior of Donald Trump, Joe Biden’s struggle for composure and moderator Chris Wallace’s exasperation in trying to control the situation, brought back traumatic memories for me. What I was witnessing wasn’t a debate – it was a livestream of a bully being a bully. I was back in grade school again.
My higher self called up a situation when I was in the sixth grade. I had to give an oral report, which I loathed to do. I was nervous about it for days. I had considered faking sick to get out of it, but I knew I’d only be delaying the inevitable. I had to go up there and give the report eventually.
So I put on my school uniform, went to class and when called on, got up and began my report. Every few sentences, Anthony, Mike and Frank, three bullies who regularly tormented me, would interrupt me by calling me names, making fart noises or mocking my voice. I remember standing there feeling so defeated; not about being heckled necessarily, rather the fact that the rest of class, even people whom I thought were my friends, laughed along or even joined in. I felt as if every laugh only made the three of them more resolute in mocking me more. My teacher sat at her desk and passively told the boys to stop, but in a way that seemed to imply she was just saying it because she had to, not because she meant it. There were no consequences except another sternly-worded rebuke with no follow up.
As I struggled through my presentation, I thought about my options. I could go up to each of the them and punch them in the face, but that would get me in trouble and inspire backlash. I could run out of the room, but that would make me look weak and the teacher would make me come back and carry on anyway. I did the only thing I could do in that moment – ignore it and carry on and hope I don’t snap. I didn’t do nearly as well as I could have and ended up getting a B on the project (Pro Tip: Bullying hurts kids’ academic performance).
I was brought back to that moment watching Biden put up with Donald Trump’s heckling during the debate. There were no good options for Biden either. He couldn’t clock Trump in the face. He couldn’t walk off the stage. Chris Wallace wasn’t enforcing the rules. I’m not sure he had any way to. The closest Biden got to standing up to him was when he told Trump to “shut up,” which was a cathartic moment for many of us, but also exactly the reaction Trump wanted.
And that’s exactly what makes all this so hard. I wasn’t going to write anything about this and I hesitated to use the world “triggered,” because I know there are Trump supporters out there reading this who are laughing right now. I know they’re mocking me for this. They’re reading this and thinking “haha cry harder lib” and enjoying my pain.
They’re broken people. I don’t know what broke them or how they got like that, but they are broken people. I sincerely hope they get the help they need and they find some peace in their life, because their brokenness is now affecting millions of Americans negatively. When I think of the damage they have inflicted on our society because of how broken they are and how they’re unable to see it or feel it, it sometimes fills me with rage, but it mostly just fills me with sadness. It didn’t have to be like this. It’s comforting sometimes to realize that everything about them is projection. They are the real snowflakes, the real triggered people. But that really only makes it worse. They’re even more broken than me, except unlike me, they don’t recognize it and try to heal it; they channel it in damaging, dangerous ways, and we’re all paying for that.
Bully Culture is a social problem that I feel like we only pay lip service to. We recognize the problem, we diagnose where it exists, but we don’t actually dig for a real solution, instead opting for whatever solution sounds the most like the ending of a Hollywood move. “Stand up for yourself,” “Fight back” “Don’t let it go to you” are all nice storybook endings for dealing with bullies, but when you’re a nerdy, slightly effeminate, chubby kid in a Queens, New York parochial school in the 1990s, none of that works. Throwing Frank down a flight of stairs once didn’t work. I got detention, which I had to serve WITH him and the detention room turned into a UFC octagon real fast. Standing up for myself to Anthony when he threw a baseball at my crotch didn’t work. He threatened to bring a switchblade to school and slice my neck open. I lived in fear for weeks that he would. He didn’t, but probably because as a precaution, his backpack and pockets were checked everyday at the urging of my mother. What if she didn’t have the influence in the school that she did? Would I have been murdered in the schoolyard by a bully who couldn’t handle being stood up to?
I once sat in the principal’s office, being told that everything I did to stand up to bullies was wrong. A good Christian man doesn’t throw a punch, a good Christian man doesn’t tell a bully he’s “stupid” or he’s “just mad because his parents don’t love him;” all stuff I said back to bullies. I couldn’t get an answer from anyone on what the “right” way to stand up to bullies was. I honestly don’t know how I survived all those years now. I was at times suicidal and thought about running away to relatives in Colorado and Illinois several times. It’s a testament to how much stronger I am than I realize that I got through it.
Anthony, Frank and Mike did eventually stop bullying me. In the final months of eighth grade, Mike actually became much more friendly. Until last night I didn’t consider why, but then it hit me. After telling me one time I should become a priest “because no person would ever want to marry a troll,” a classmate of mine, Jamie, stood up and looked him in the face.
“Mike,” she said. “Do you ever wipe your ass because it smells like you don’t.”
He never bothered me again. (Mike had bad hygiene and was very self-confident about it)
In my first year of high school, I didn’t make friends fast, but when I did, I had a rather large group of (mostly female) friends. Jonathan thought it was a sign that I might also secretly be a girl, which, of course, is a bad thing to a lot of insecure men. For several months in Freshman year, he tried to torment me, using homophobic and transphobic slurs against me. It was only after Grace, then Linda, then his own sister Cristina, told him to “grow up,” “get a life,” “stop being a jerk” that he finally stopped. His bullying wasn’t getting him attention, he wasn’t getting support from classmates. He was being starved of the fuel he needed to bully.
And that’s the lesson I learned: Standing there in front of my class; with Jamie in eighth grade and with Grace, Linda and Cristina in high school. The only way to beat a bully is to starve him or her of the attention he or she seeks, and the support and power they crave. Sometimes standing up to them does that, because it exposes the bully as weak and unable to intimidate, and people aren’t drawn to someone who doesn’t seem to have power. More often, however, the power for a bully to do what he or she does lies in the hands of not the bullied, but third parties – us. It is up to US to defend and protect the victims of bullying, and to make it clear to a bully that his or her behavior will only make him or her more isolated, not more popular.
Trump has his power, he’s the president, and he has his support; thousands still risk death to see him bully people at rallies. It’s why Don Bongino called Trump an “apex predator” on Fox News last night. Keeping up the façade the minds of voters that Trump is strong, powerful and in charge will hopefully keep his steady supply of fuel in place. Like my classmates laughing and encouraging the bullying taunts in junior high school, Trump supporters voting for him and attending his rallies keeps the bullying tactics alive. Biden couldn’t have done anything and can’t do anything to stop the bullies, except win the election and win it big.
Winning a landslide election, dealing him and his supporters downballot around defeat after defeat, embarrassing loss after embarrassing loss, that is what will end this nightmare and destroy the bully culture we have allowed to ferment in this country.
And we must make it clear, to the people who support him, to the people who cheer him on, that this is unacceptable, even if it ends friendships, relationships and tears apart workplaces and families. We must make it clear that if what they want is attention, this is not the way to get it.
Is It A Stable Race, Or Is The Bottom Falling Out For Trump?
With only a little more than a month to go before the election, Biden still appears to be in the driver’s seat. Though there were some grumblings about a tightening race mid-month, latest national polls still have Biden around seven points ahead of Trump, and leading in most of the swing states.
Notably, polls in two battleground states released this week already show Biden ahead comfortably in Pennsylvania and slightly in Georgia.
Last week, I noted that Pennsylvania was teetering on the edge of a Tossup status, but two recent polls showing Biden up 9 (49-40 in NYT/Siena and 54-45 in ABC/WaPo) tell me Biden is still ahead there, and flirting or over the 50 percent margin. I think he’s on sturdy ground there providing there isn’t any guffaw with absentee ballots or Trumpers with guns storming Philadelphia polling places.
I have moved Maine’s 2nd District to Lean Biden because of polls showing Biden ahead and showing a commanding lead for Democratic Rep. Jared Golden. With instant runoff voting in place for the presidential election, its likely Biden will be able to even narrowly win here. Though Trump won the district by 10 in 2016, he only got 51 percent of the vote. If third party votes had gone to Hillary Clinton, he only would’ve won the district by 2, so that ten point win overestimates his support here I think. Having said that, I don’t think Biden wins Maine 2nd by more than 5, and he could absolutely still lose, but I am moving it to Lean Biden anyway. A reminder that Al Gore only won the district, which includes most of rural Northern and Eastern Maine and cities of Lewiston, Bangor, Caribou, by 2 in 2000, so the district has historically been competitive.
The Tossups remain Florida, Ohio, Iowa and North Carolina. George also remains a tossup, although two recent polls by Quinnipiac and Civiqs both show Biden leading by 3, by the same 50-47 margin, so it bears watching whether or not Georgia is slipping away from the Republicans. The Atlanta suburbs are trending blue fast and we could have reached a tipping point there.
Texas remains Lean Trump as several polls there show the race tied or with a low-single digit Trump lead. I think he still wins there, but the margin will be small and that will put the state in dangerous territory for the GOP going forward.
You can either accept it, or continue to live in denial until it gets so cold, you catch pneumonia. Believe me, I speak from experience.
I always get a little depressed when Summer turns into autumn. I don’t watch when the pool cleaners come to close the swimming pool – I hide inside. I don’t help put the yard furniture away. I stop paying attention to the weather or what time the sun sets. I involve myself in work and other activities to keep myself from obsessing over the change in seasons. I focus on what makes happy about the season; pumpkin pie, apple cider, chai, especially crunchy leaves, hoodies, season premiers of my favorite shows.
The pandemic has made this year even worse. Summer gave us a chance to be outside, and the prospect of being back inside for the next 6-8 months with no trips to theaters, family gatherings, bar trivia nights and other social events that normally help me get through the dark doldrums of the colder months, is daunting and depressing.
So I recently started thinking about fun autumn memories of the past and found doing so helped relieve some of the anxiety and remind me that, even in a pandemic, autumn can be a wonderful season. Memories are often triggered by music. I find it happens to me a lot when I hear a song, especially a song I haven’t heard in a while, and it triggers a happy memory.
That inspired me to make my first listicle. Here are my top ten songs that I associate with the Autumn season, because they bring back fun and happy memories of autumns passed. (I plan to make one for other seasons too in the future).
Make the best of this Fall and find joy where you can – music helps – feel free to share your own autumn memories, and songs that remind you of the season.
In the Fall of 2013, I was falling back into my first depression in six years. I felt sad and overwhelmed. I turned 30 in May; my grandmother Millie, who I was extremely close to, had died suddenly in July and I was burning out at work covering the 2013 New York City Mayoral Election and the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy the year before. I was working for a demanding editor and publisher, pulling 14-hour days sometimes, other times writing my articles until 3 a.m. and often getting stuck doing my editor’s work – going “above and beyond” – because I knew how to meet a deadline.
On the morning of October 1, 2013, I woke up and noticed our swimming pool was closed for the season and realized I hadn’t really hadn’t spent enough time either swimming or sitting outside in the backyard that summer, since I was working so hard. I cried hysterically. I was having a breakdown. The thought of a long, depressing winter finally tripped a wire that allowed me to grieve what I had lost that summer; my grandmother and my 20s. In some way, I felt like my grandmother’s death wouldn’t be real as long as summer continued. Once it ended, it was real.
I decided that I needed to take some time for leisure and for myself. So each Friday night, I went to a bar (Union Pool) in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Union Pool has a huge outdoor section that’s open almost all year round. The yard features a fire pit, outdoor bar and a taco truck. I was there one chilly night in late October with a date when Lorde’s “Team” came on the radio inside the bar. I was sitting by the fire pit having a drink with a friend when several girls sitting across from was swaying in unison to the drum beat of the song. The etherial organ-type music that carries through the song, often the only sound along with Lorde’s singing, gave me this warm, comforting feeling. I associated it with strength. I can’t really explain why.
I admit I didn’t really know who Lorde was at the time, so I had to Shazam the song on my iPhone. My date told me he had recently seen her at Warsaw – a concert hall nearby.
I hit up the drive-thru at Wendy’s on the way home. Sitting there in my car in the parking, eating my burger watching distant planes take off from JFK, I listened to the lyrics and felt a twitch of association with Lorde’s “over it” singing style. I found the ability to process what had been bugging me; the feeling of being lost and forgotten, of having to support my mother through my grandmother’s death, and having to come to terms with the fact that I never got to say a proper goodbye to her (She died in the hospital, only hours after I found out she was even there); the burn out at work and my accepting getting older. Here I was carrying my family through grief, carrying my newspaper through a busy news year, but when it was time for someone to support me, no one was there. I felt like a volcano ready to either explode or collapse into a caldera.
Cause what this palace wants is release
The song played on repeat the next few weeks at work, as I wrote some of my best stories and features. Some of which later won New York Press Association awards. “Team” allowed me to process my stress and grief that autumn and do some of my best work, all while finding the time to have some fun by a fire pit in Brooklyn.
9.) Live Your Life – T.I. featuring Rihanna
This song forever reminds me of what I consider to be one of the most hopeful, uplifting moments in my life – the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States in the Autumn of 2008.
That Fall, I was frustrated at life. I had gotten a job late the previous year at WLIW-TV, Long Island’s PBS station as producer of public affairs programming, but I shared the job with a co-worker of mine who regularly made my life a living hell, because she thought the job had been promised to her. WLIW was my first real post-college job and I was, for the first few months, so afraid to lose it, and intimidated by her long-held relationship with the staff there, that I let her walk all over me.
In the Fall, with the election coming up, I was tasked with producing a town hall program that aired on PBS which focused on how young people were voting that year, and what issues and policies were important to them. It was also my escape hatch from dealing with….THAT co-worker. She wasn’t involved in this project – it was all me.
It was my masterpiece.
Because of lack of desk space at WLIW’s office, I worked from home on Mondays. It was the Monday after we recorded the town hall that I had the AV guys burn DVDs of all the camera angles. I went home and laid out the entire one hour town hall right down to the time cues to change camera shots. It took me seven hours of work and when I was done, I trotted around the room listening to this song.
There’s a section of T.I.’s rap that I related to at the time.
I’m the opposite of moderate, immaculately polished with The spirit of a hustler and the swagger of a college kid Allergic to the counterfeit, impartial to the politics Articulate, but still’ll grab a **** by the collar quick
Here I was, evolving from a shy, risk-adverse, passive, insecure kid to someone willing to brawl for my job and give it everything I got. The show, called The Gen Y Factor, was a hit and it won me a Bronze Telly Award. Even though the job couldn’t be saved in the financial crisis that followed, the experience left me with enough confidence and fortitude to go out and find a new one – and that’s how my local news reporting career in Queens began.
On Election Night, my friend Andrew and I bounced around from our college radio station on Long Island, to his house, to the victory party for a local state senate candidate who had become a friend of ours. When I drove home at the end of the night – the election had at that point been called for Obama – I celebrated by blasting this song, singing the “AYYY, OHHH” chorus loud enough that all of Southern Queens had to have heard me.
As I got ready for bed later that night, I looked up at the election coverage on TV and saw news that made me holler. Obama had carried the state of Indiana – a state that had been Republican since 1964. I swayed back and forth to Rihanna’s refrain. In that moment, everything and anything seemed possible.
8.) Skyfall- Adele
In October, 2012, my college friends had a great idea. Since it had been ten years since we all met (in the Fall 2002 WRHU training class), we decided to get together for a weekend of fun and festivities in Manhattan. As I was packing a bag to go to Manhattan for the weekend, I got a message from a friend on Facebook. The new James Bond theme to “Skyfall,” the upcoming Bond movie was out and I’m never going to believe who sang it. I practically screeched like a teenage girl when I saw Adele’s name. I listened to only 15 seconds of the song and felt a wave of happy pleasure come over me. You see, I’ve always been a big James Bond fan, part of my Anglophile character. “Skyfall” seemed like a perfect fit of a Bond theme after a serious of rather disappointing addition to the canon.
From the opening piano riff that reminds me of Carly Simon’s “Nobody Does It Better,” one of the more well-known James Bond theme songs (from 1977’s “The Spy Who Loved Me”), to the guitar chords later in the first verse that feel like a 007 staple and the obvious inclusion of the actual Bond Theme at the end of the first chorus, it seemed almost too good to be true.
Less than three weeks after that weekend, two events occurred within four days of each other that are forever connected to this song. One involved me co-moderating a debate between two state senate candidates in Queens, one of the most nerve-racking experiences of my life. It was the opening lines of Adele’s “Skyfall” that actually calmed me down before the debate.
This is the end Hold your breath and count to ten Feel the earth move and then Hear my heart burst again
The second was Hurricane Sandy. During the terrifying night of flickering lights, vibrating windows and angry whooshing of wind outside, I escaped into Adele’s comforting lyrics.
Let the sky fall When it crumbles We will stand tall Face it all together
The next day, I went out and surveyed the damaged. What followed were a series of news articles and features that later won me awards and left me with wild memories – of meeting people whose cars had been sucked into Jamaica Bay, or interviewing a state legislator in his “mobile office” – his car, since his office had been destroyed in the storm.
Because of the disruption from the hurricane, I didn’t get a chance to see “Skyfall” at first when it came out, but my friend Andrew – whose house was flooded in the storm – suggested seeing it one night in an effort to escape from the aftermath of the storm for a while. It still is one of the best Bond movies, and probably the best Daniel Craig one.
And the song brings me happy memories of being on top of my game as a reporter and editor that autumn, reconnecting with old friends and facing one of the scariest weather events of my lifetime.
7.) No More ‘I Love You’s’ – Annie Lennox
I didn’t spend much time home in 1995. Besides my annual family vacation to Maine, my mom and I traveled to Loveland, Colorado to see family and Salt Lake City, Utah to see friends. When we weren’t traveling across the country, we’d spent weekends with friends at their summer home in Farmingville on Long Island – about an hour or so east of New York City – or Upstate in the Catskills.
It was during the summer that my mother stacked up on her music collection, hitting the record store in Colorado to buy several albums, including Annie Lennox’s Medusa.
As summer turned to fall, our weekend getaways ended and I had to go back to school – a miserable place where I was the target of bullies. I’ve discussed this before and will again I’m sure. After school, my mother would play Medusa in her stereo in the afternoons while cleaning or cooking. The album’s lead track , “No More ‘I Love You’s'” brings me back to those September, October and November afternoons, where I would put on a jacket and sit quietly on the pool deck, with autumn leaves falling around me, and get lost in my imagination, an escape hatch from the torment of school. I would inquisitively watch my eccentric next-door neighbor drive his 1970 Plymouth Duster around the block a hundred times to break in his new tires. I also created an imaginary world in my mind where the animals in and around my yard secretly communicated. It was sort of a Friends-style sitcom featuring my mutt puppies Louie and Jaf, an alley cat named French and a young trendy squirrel couple named Sebastian and Roxanne (after two tropical systems that year)
“No More ‘I Love You’s'” both served as a requiem of sorts for the end of that summer, but when I hear it now it brings me back to those chilly Fall afternoons on the pool deck wondering what the squirrels were saying to the dogs.
In October, 2006, I was forced to quit a job I had a lot of hope for. Although I was hired to be a “political director,” I ended up spending Columbus Day cleaning my boss’ mother-in-law’s rat-infested basement. I went home that night and ran a fever of 101 degrees and had what looked like mold growing in then back of my throat. That was it. I resigned the next morning.
Left with nothing else to do, I threw myself into that year’s midterm elections. Having dabbled in progressive politics and the anti-war movement in the mid-2000s, I reached out to my friends working on campaigns and bobbed around between several local Democratic candidates for office, helping out any way I could – often with just some advice that ended up being quite helpful.
When I wasn’t working, I was walking…like, everywhere. My anxiety was high that autumn with the upcoming elections. It felt like time was dragging on and the elections were taking forever to get here.
On Election Night, I did a radio show at WRHU-FM and then later went to the victory party for one of the state legislators I was helping out. It was there that I heard this Nelly Furtado track being played as Congressional and Senate races around the country were being called.
Today when I hear the song, it reminds me of that happy autumn when I found my passion of writing about and involving myself in politics and political analysis, and that I was actually pretty good at it too. I predicted all but two of the House seats that flipped in the 2006 elections. I knew I had a knack for that, and a direct line can be drawn to that autumn night in a Queens catering hall swaying to Nelly Furtado and Timbaland’s musical mating ritual right to this blog and my political analysis today.
5.) Where’s Your Head At? – Basement Jaxx
There was a cloud hanging above all our heads in the Fall of 2001.
The entire autumn, it seemed like a reminder of what happened on that day was everywhere. Smoke still rose from Ground Zero into October. In the weeks after the attacks, it was a struggle to find some sense of normal life in New York. That experience makes me wonder what kind of struggle 18 year old’s are dealing with now during the COVID-19 pandemic. The big difference is we had places to go to let loose and forget about the world for a while. We had nightclubs.
Every Friday, my friends and I would drive into Manhattan – on one particular memorable night, we took note of the bright floodlights rising from Ground Zero that could be seen from the Queensboro Bridge several miles away.
There were several different hot spots we’d go to so we can dance away our fears and struggles – Limelight, Sound Factory, Exit. It was one particular night at Sound Factory where “Where’s Your Head At?” came on and the dance floor seemed to explode. Cages dropped from the ceiling with dangers dressed head-to-toe in bondage gear dancing. It was a wild experience. One lyric in the song stuck out at me, because of how the world felt at the time:
You have now found yourself, trapped in the incomprehensible maze.
Terrorism was all around us. From the floodlights at Ground Zero, to the homeless guy on the subway saying Osama was going to blow up the train, to the metal-detecting wands at the front door of the clubs we were going to. There was no escaping it in the outside world. But in this room, in this moment, we were able to let it go, if for just a few minutes.
Ever since, this song reminds me of those nights out, waiting on a freezing cold line to get into a club, dancing until the DJ started playing German house music – our cue to go, culminating in a 2 a.m. burger at the diner. For a few nights that autumn, it felt like we had managed to escape that incomprehensible maze.
4.) Happy Nation – Ace of Base
Yeah I’ll admit it, Ace of Base’s The Sign is one of my favorite albums. There isn’t a bad song on the record, from the sultry and suggestive “All That She Wants” to the haunting, mysterious hymnal sound of this song.
I’m not sure what initially attracted me to the song, it was a variety of things: the Gregorian chants at the beginning, the dystopian lyrics (For the people, for the good, for mankind brotherhood sounds like my campaign slogan) and the hypnotizing mix of a hymnal and reggae beat.
In the autumn of 1994 my family and the families of some of my school friends would take weekend camping trips to the Catskills. My mom and I would leave in our 1982 Dodge Ram van to pick up my dad from work in Manhattan and drive to one of two campgrounds – one in Florida, New York , or another in New Paltz, New York – for a weekend of toasted marshmallows, apple-picking and campfire songs. The Sign was one of the only tapes I had that I could play in my Walkman, so that’s pretty much all I had to listen to on the drive up once we were out of range of New York City radio stations.
This song brings back two memories of those trips that stick in my mind. One was the drive up dark Upstate roads and the smell of the pine and other freshness in the chilly air. In the back of my parents’ van, we had bench seats and windows that only opened on the bottom. On the drive Upstate, I would lay across the bench, my head positioned to look out the window, and I’d slide open the small part that opened to get a whiff of the cool country air, while listening to this song.
The other is a specific moment sitting in front of the campfire, staring directly up at a telephone pole over our camp site. It’s a constant reminder of those happy Fall weekends where my friends and I would escape the city to play soccer in the meadows, climb trees to find the biggest apple, or tell scary, and bizarre, ghost stories in rural darkness.
3,) Policy Of Truth – Depeche Mode
Depeche Mode is one of my favorite bands, and actually several of their songs bring back memories of Fall, but the one that really makes me think of this season is “Policy of Truth,” from their 1990 Violator album. (One day, I’ll do a favorite albums listicle and it’ll be in my top 5).
My first memory of this song comes from an abnormally frigid, misty autumn night taking the subway home from the Village Halloween Parade in 2000. We decided to take a detour to a rave on Borden Avenue in Long Island City. Leaving the rave at 1:30 a.m., I stood in the middle of Borden Avenue on the cold night air in a Julius Caesar costume trying to flag down a cab as it began raining, staring up at the eerie image of the orange-crowned Empire State Building peeking out from behind fast-moving low clouds. When my friends and I got in the cab to take us to Woodside, this song was playing.
Over a decade later, it came on randomly when my iPod was on shuffle while on my way to an October vacation with my family to Moonfall, our compound in Maine. It was a particularly cold October, reminiscent of that cold Halloween rave in Long Island City. It came on early in the trip, while driving up the New England Thruway, just north of the Bronx border. I stared out the window at the power lines hanging over the adjacent Metro North tracks and watched a Grand Central-bound train fly by going the other direction. I forgot how much I liked the song, so I played it on semi-repeat for the entire nine-hour drive to Moonfall.
At one point, we were driving down a rural Maine road and I sat back in my seat, put the song on and looked our at the colorful autumn countryside go by, counting the telephone poles as they pass, allowing the passing power lines to hypnotize me as they swag from pole to pole, across the street and then back again. I dozed off as the song faded into its last refrain and addicting synth riff.
Never again is what you swore, the time before
2.) (Can’t You) Trip Like I Do? – Filter & The Crystal Method
High School is scary for most, but not for me at first. I couldn’t be more excited about going to high school. Maybe it was the freedom of finally leaving my neighborhood every day instead of every few weeks, or the fact that I got to start anew, where no one knew me or where I had no reputation for things I did or said years earlier.
But a few months in, and I was already overwhelmed. The commute – 90 minutes each way on a good day – drained me. I wasn’t making friends fast and I had attracted the attention of a fresh new bully, although he later stood down when he realized his bullying wasn’t garnering him attention from classmates. At age 14, no one accepted that I was having a hard time adjusting or coming to terms with who I was. I kept being told I was “too young” to feel the way I did, I often felt ready to explode. I felt misunderstood and maligned.
When I got home from school that first semester, I would head up to the attic apartment, where my uncle had lived for my entire life until he moved out that Fall after getting married. I would bring my homework and my boombox stereo – cleverly designed as a boombox where the speakers detached to become a stereo – and pop in my favorite CDs and watch the city as the sun set everyday. Because both of my parents worked and didn’t get home until 6 p.m., I essentially had the house to myself from 4:30 until 6 every evening. From my uncle’s attic kitchen window, Lower Manhattan’s skyline was visible, with the twin towers of the World Trade Center dominating the other buildings.
One of those songs I’d often listen to was this one from the soundtrack of the movie Spawn. The song brings me back to those days, with the window open and the cold fall air pouring in, looking out at the amber and orange colored sky behind the World Trade Center towers; a slow pulsing red light on top of tower one; the blinking lights of planes flying past. The lyrics – and the way Richard Patrick seems to bring himself back from the point of breakdown in every line – echoed the frustrating and “over my head” emotions I felt those first few months of high school. I would sing this song loudly in the attic while jumping around like I was at a ska concert – my neighbors must’ve heard me. THE final stanza of the song, after the orgasmic “OH MY GOD,” feels like coming down off a climax in a euphoria – like dropping from the peak of a roller coaster into a dip and then a loop – I felt all my fears, stresses and frustrations just fade away.
Can’t you trip can’t you think can’t you feel like I do Can’t you walk can’t you breathe can’t you trip like I do
The song is clearly about getting high on ecstasy, but I learned that Fall that music can be a drug too, and give you that same high without the nasty recovery period and addiction problems.
1) Possession – Sarah McLachlan
Whenever I hear the angelic hymnal music fade in at the beginning of the song, I am taken to a chilly fall day, sun’s angle lower in the sky, but not quite where the winter sun is, the gold, brown and tan leaves dancing through the air.
When I was kid, I hated the Fall, because the days got shorter, I had to go back to school, I had go back inside and the weather got colder and winter was just around the corner. As I grew older though, I began to enjoy Fall more and more and what it had to offer: Apple cider, pumpkin spice, decorating for the holidays, fire pits and fresh air
The only specific memories I have attached to Sarah McLachlan’s “Possession” comes from the Autumn of 1996. During the last weekend of September, we were, for some reason, having a family gathering at my aunt’s best friend’s – I call her Aunt Katie, that’s how long they’ve been friends – summer house in East Hampton. My mother and grandmother drove out earlier in the day on Friday and I was to take the Long Island Rail Road out with my dad later when he got home from work. I was excited about the weekend all day in school and I remember walking home – it was still summery weather at the time – and packing my weekend bag while listening to my stereo. “Possession” was playing.
Later that day, my dad and I caught the “Cannonball,” a Friday afternoon express train that leaves Jamaica, Queens and runs nonstop to the Hamptons. As we approached the East Hampton stop, I stood in the doorway of the train, I could hear Sarah McLachlan’s voice singing “Possession” over the organ-like background music as I was watching the rural South Fork fields, illuminated in the setting sun, go by. A tinge of cold air – the first chill of the season that I felt – hit me. It reminded me that it was now definitely Autumn. It seemed almost as if the scenery were performing in sync with Sarah McLachlan’s guitar.
You know how you hear a song and it’s stuck in your head for days or weeks? That was the case here. A few weeks after the East Hampton trip, I was lying on my bed around sunset, looking out of the window at the last rays of sun hitting my neighbors’ windows. The window was open slightly, allowing the chilly fresh October air to blow in, caressing my feet. The only sounds I heard outside were my neighbors’ dogs barking and the clickity-clack of the subway a few blocks away. As I lie there, I hummed along to the beat of “Possession,” and the lyrics, stacked with vivid imagery, stuck in my head.
Oh you speak to me in riddles and You speak to me in rhymes My body aches to breathe your breath Your words keep me alive
Oh, into the sea of waking dreams I follow without pride
I dozed in and out of a sleep as I watched the sky outside the window fade into a deeper blue as the sun set, until dusk came. It’s a memory that constantly reminds me my youthful negative opinions of Autumn were not well well-informed.
It’s a beautiful, wonderful season full of amazing imagery and the chance for fantastic memories to be made.
In Interactions With Cops, Black Americans Are Held To A Standard Unlike Anyone Else In Free Societies
When the indictment against one of the three cops who were involved in the killing of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky last March were announced on Wednesday, it at first seemed like it was a relief. One cop, Brett Hankison, was charged with a Class D Felony for “wanton disregard” for human life. Someone would be facing justice for the act. But on further examination of the indictment, it quickly became clear that justice wouldn’t be Breonna Taylor. It would be for her neighbor’s window.
The charges had nothing to do with Taylor, as none of the bullets Hankison fired struck her. The officer, who was outside the building at the time of the incident, fired bullets that hit the windows and outer walls of a neighboring apartment, where Taylor’s neighbors were inside.
Basically, to Kentucky’s top prosecutor, Breonna Taylor’s neighbor’s window and walls mattered more than her life. Though no fault of their own, it was not lost on anyone that her neighbors in that apartment are white.
When Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron, a Black Republican, outlined the charges against Hankison on Wednesday, he called Taylor’s death a tragedy. This seemed to imply, however, that it was an unfortunate circumstance of either a misunderstanding by the police and her boyfriend Kenneth Walker, or her boyfriend’s intention to kill a cop. (Walker insists he did not know it was police entering the apartment)
The story of what happened on the night of March 1`3 in Louisville went something like this: Louisville Police, executing what was issued as a “no-knock” warrant on Taylor’s apartment in a drug case related to Taylor’s ex-boyfriend and another man, used a battering ram to enter the apartment, while Walker retrieved his legally-own firearm thinking a burglar was entering the unit. When the door was breached, Walker fired, unknowingly according to him, hitting one of the officers. In response, officers fired over 20 rounds into the apartment complex, striking Taylor five times, killing the 26-year-old EMT in her own home.
The shooting led to questions about the use of force, “no-knock” warrants – where police don’t have to announce before barging into a private dwelling – and accusations of systemic racism in policing (Would they have done this in a white person’s apartment?). Taylor’s situation is not a unique one. Botham Jean and Atatiana Jefferson were also recently killed by police while minding their own businesses in their own homes.
In Cameron’s press conference on Wednesday, he poked some holes in the widely accepted account of what happened. He said police did announce themselves before using a battering ram to enter the apartment, attributing it to one witness. Eleven other witnesses in the building stated they did not hear police announce themselves. He said the warrant was reclassified and wasn’t a “no knock” warrant at the time it was executed, thought it was when issued. Cameron further explained that because Walker fired first, the cops fired on him in self-defense, during which Taylor got caught in the crossfire, meaning cops are not criminal liable for her death.
Any objective reading of this conclusion as fair has to take into account several things that most people wanting equal justice do not accept:
That police, even if they did announce themselves once as the one witness suggested, were justified in using a battering ram to enter an innocent woman’s apartment to search it in relation to a drug investigation that does not include her as a suspect. The warrant on the apartment was issued because one of the suspects used Taylor’s address to have packages delivered, suspected to be (but never proven to be) drugs.
That Breonna Taylor’s life had less meaning simply because she tangibly associated herself with drug dealers.
The Breonna Taylor’s life had less meaning because she happened to be the path of 20 rounds of bullets fired by police who feared for their lives.
That it is perfectly acceptable for police is either not announce themselves or just do it once before battering through a person’s private residence in the dark of night.
That it is perfectly acceptable for cops to fire 20 rounds, reloading, because of one gunshot. Also, 20 rounds and you didn’t even get the guy who shot at you?
There’s a lot of blame beyond the cops responsible for what happened to Taylor. The glaring failure of the virtue-signaling War on Drugs policy for one thing. We are still intent, decades later, to treat drug addiction as a criminal, rather than social, problem. We believe, against all evidence and medical advice, that the threat of harsh criminal punishment is enough to keep people off drugs and end and prevent addiction.
Wait – let me clarify. We treat drug addiction as a criminal problem, unless you’re white, then you get interventions, fancy rehabs, second chances, third chances, even fourth chances if you’re rich enough. You get to do things that get black men and women killed, and then you get to “find Jesus Christ” and get a prime time speaking slot at the Republican National Convention. You even get to relapse, and have the empathy of America as you continue to struggle. Addiction is a disease, even when rich why kids suffer from it. It should be treated as such.
But who feeds white America’s drug habit? The men and women who are offered few other opportunities to survive except to make a little money off an addiction problem we as a society refuse to deal with. Anyone who believes in Capitalism should understand as long as there’s a market, there’s a product, and when your choice is poverty or dealing drugs, you may very well choose the latter. What Capitalist could genuinely blame you?
When we talk about “defunding” or “abolishing” the police, we’re not talking about a world where law enforcement is gone (Well some are, but most aren’t). We’re talking about a world where some of the billions of funding we give to police to buy battering rams to use in executing search warrants, instead go toward job training, education and other programs that end the cycle of poverty in poor communities, especially communities of color, and don’t put them in a position where the only path to survival is to feed America’s drug habit. We’re talking about pouring money in anti-addiction programs to get America off its drug habit and smash the Capitalist market for drugs to pieces.
“Oh, but they don’t HAVE to deal drugs,” you’re going to tell me. It’s a bad life choice. Yeah, ok, tell me about bad life choices. How many have you made? How many have you made because you felt it was the least bad of many different choices? Have you never been in a position where you had to choose a bad option just to keep a roof over your head or food on the table? No? That’s what we mean when we talk about privilege. For most poor Americans, of which many are black, “good choices” don’t exist. You go where the money is. That’s Capitalism. Childish Gambino explains this pretty succinctly in “This Is America.”
Second; what the hell is a “no-knock” warrant and who is the bright shining star who thought that was a good idea for anyone involved? I get it; a “no-knock” warrant gives the element of surprise, so that suspects can’t hide or destroy contraband or prepare for a fight with cops. But how do you think people are going to respond to someone barreling through their front door in the middle of night in a country where it’s legal for everyone to carry a gun? You know they sell racks for shotguns that you can put on the side of your bed, so you can grab it and shoot an intruder without even getting up, right? How is this safe for either the people inside the apartment OR the cops? Why are you doing this at that hour of night anyway?
Further, it was clear police and others in the system tried their best to cover up the shootings and spin a narrative to help the cops. Taylor’s ex-boyfriend, Jamarcus Glover, the suspect of the investigation was, according to his lawyer, offered a plea deal in which he would implicate Taylor in the drug ring; presumably to taint her reputation in the public eye and/or offer further justification for her killing. Clearly the thought process was this; maybe if people thought she was a drug dealer herself, or was involved in dealing, there wouldn’t be as much sympathy for her and more understanding of why police had to enter her apartment by force. We all know a significant portion of America would just go “ahh, yeah, black woman = drug dealer, that makes sense.” And once you’ve done something wrong while black in America, you often forfeit your life in the minds of many. I call this the “No Angel” rule.
Oh, did I mention no drugs were ever found in Taylor’s apartment? So…yeah.
Also, maybe not everything has to be the climax to a big-budget cop movie? There may be reasons to use a battering ram to enter an apartment, but to serve a warrant to look for, presumably, drugs that you only suspect are inside in order to build a case against a drug dealer who doesn’t live there seems like a situation where a kind knock at the door will do. When suspects have nothing to hide, a simple “Hello, yes ma’am, we have this warrant to search the premises,” is often enough. How do I know? Because cops do it every damn day. What if she says no? Well then you escalate. Breonna Taylor wasn’t even given that option.
I know some of you are rolling your eyes. What business do I have critiquing the cops? I don’t know what the job is like. They just want to get home to their families. Yes I know. Probably not forcing police to barrel into someone’s apartment unannounced in the middle of the night in a state with a “stand your ground” law will help them not get killed? Think about it.
I’ve had many heartbreaking conversations with some of my black friends about how to handle the police interactions, which unfortunately are far more common for them than they are for me. More often that not, just being a black person in the wrong place at the wrong time is enough for them to end up in a life or death situation. What kind of freedom is that? What kind of fear do black Americans have to live in every day, even in the safety of their own? How free is THEIR America? We white people would never stand for this. Many of us are ready to drag out the guillotines over being asked to wear a mask!
I’ve only had rare encounters with police – one or two a year maybe. Most of them go off with no issue – such as the time when I was 17 years old, drunk and stoned, and I pissed in front of two cops on the platform of the Broad Channel, Queens subway station. The cops shook their head and walked away.
There was another instance when I was 25. I was waiting for a friend near a “hot-sheet motel” in Jackson Heights, Queens. I got antsy, parked the car and walked to meet him, but he wasn’t where we were due to meet. It was winter and cold and I walked back to the car. I paced the block several times in my car and on foot waiting impatiently, until finally I got stopped by two cops.
After a couple of questions about what I was doing – which I successfully bullshitted my way through. (I was waiting for my girlfriend “Amy,” she lived on the next block and she was taking forever and I was getting annoyed), they nicely explained to me that they were because of drug use at the nearby motel. We had a casual, friendly chat about how the motel did look seedy and I embellished on my story about how I was annoyed “Amy” was making me wait for her so closed to such a shady place. What if i got mugged? They laughed, told me they’d intervene if that happened and then told me to have a good night and left.
The truth was…There was no “Amy” and I was there for a sordid reason. I plead the Fifth on what that reason was, but my point is the cops took one look at me, saw a 25-year old white guy in dress pants and a blazer, and decided I wasn’t who they were looking for. I wasn’t a suspect and my fabricated story was believable. Even though anyone who knows anything about the illegal drug market in New York could tell I fit the profile of someone coming to buy a gram of coke from a dealer at the motel – or meeting a pimp for a night with one of his girls.
A white dude dressed in business casual clothes on Friday at 10pm in Jackson Heights on a cold winter night? It takes a lot of privilege for that not to raise eyebrows. No one battered into my home in the dead of night. No one searched me or my car. No one pointed a gun in my face. Just a simple “stay safe and have a good night.”
Because to those cops, my life mattered. I wish we lived in a country where the lives of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Rayshad Brooks, Daniel Prude, Atatiana Jefferson, Aura Rosser, Stephon Clark, Alton Sterling, Botham Jean, Philando Castile, Freddie Gray, Eric Garner, Akai Gurley, Tanisha Anderson and Tamir Rice mattered just as much.
It Was One Party Who Broke The Norms To Protect Their Power, Not ‘Both Sides.’ Hold Them Responsible.
As the United States careens toward a Constitutional cliff, our executive branch ping pongs from one scandal to another, and candidates who support ideas once considered fringe win primaries in both parties – instead of just the GOP – its commonplace for those in the media and causal observers to bemoan the lack of cooperation, bipartisanship and common purpose in our country. The “both sides do it” argument has permeated political discussions so much, a term has been added to the lexicon to describe it: “bothsiderism”
It’s tempting for those who are afraid of seeming closed-minded and boxed in by partisanship to lay blanket blame to “both sides” in an attempt to seem reasonable and open-minded. Partisanship is scary. It can end friendships, break families, even cause violence and war. But “both sides” are not to blame for the current situation. Republicans are to blame. They own it. All of it.
The GOP has been breaking norms and ignoring rules and laws since at least the 1990s. The Republican rank and file were left intoxicated by the power they gained in the 1980s under Ronald Reagan. For the first time since before the New Deal – over a half century earlier – they were winning landslide elections, they were expanding in every demographic and in every state. In tying the Democratic Party’s economic agenda to America’s #1 post-war enemy, the Communists, and in riding the backlash to racial integration and cultural shifts, the Republicans were able to market themselves as the party of traditional American values, and thus the party of real patriots. This helped them win several national landslides at the presidential level and left them believing they were, as one Republican told me in 2005, “destined to govern America forever.”
The 1980s and early 1990s were a GOP Golden Age. Though they never won control of Congress, they had a functional majority with the support of “boll weevil” Democrats – conservative Southern Democrats who voted with Republicans often and served as a stronger counterbalance to the left wing of the party.
The Man From Hope Who Sapped Their Hope
Then Bill Clinton happened. The charming, homey bourgeois Governor of Arkansas ended the GOP’s twelve-year stint in the White House with a youthful, diverse, activist campaign that appealed to the type of counterculture worldview Republicans thought they had vanquished. Gone now were the stuck-up, ascot-wearing, brandy-sipping traditionalist country club types and in were the rebellious feminists, urban minorities, rural Bubbas and rugged wrong-side-of-the-tracks labor types. Clinton, who grew up poor in the sticks of the Ozarks, had no business holding the presidency in Republican America.
And so the plot to destroy him began – if they couldn’t have America, no one can. His agenda, though not progressive by today’s standards, was radical for its time. He wanted to overhaul healthcare, instituting a universal healthcare system that had eluded Democrats since the Harry Truman era. He wanted to overhaul education, make progress on racial issues and the concerns of other minority groups, and reinvigorate unions.
Angry over their fall from power, Republicans sought to destroy Clinton, and nearly did – with a little help from the President’s own tendency to to entangle himself with controversy – ultimately winning control of Congress and impeaching him for what should have been, at worst, a censurable offense.
Clinton survived though, but severely wounded. Instead of turning the page from a decade of conservative rule, he declared “the era of big government is over,” gutted welfare, expanded the criminal justice system and deregulated the financial industry, earning the ire of leftists for several generations. He got the last laugh though, ending his term with tremendous popularity and seeing his wife win a Senate seat in New York that Republicans had had their eyes on since the 1970s.
But the damage had been done. Democrats, now, had become what progressive later termed “Republican-lite,” and the Republicans realized there would be no electoral consequences for using oversight to settle personal scores.
Congressional oversight is broken. Republicans broke it.
Steal My Sunshine State
In 2000, the country saw the closest presidential election in four decades, hinging on the votes of just a few hundred people in Florida. If anything foreshadowed the chaotic, divided future of America, it was the battle for Florida’s electoral votes in the Autumn of 2000. The presidential election in the Sunshine State was so close, it went into multiple recounts and got down into the weeds of what legally constitutes a vote. Some of Florida’s election ballots at the time were designed in a way where you had to punch a hole aligned with the candidate you want to vote for. It was revealed pretty early on that the so-called “butterfly ballot” was confusing for some voters in Broward County, leading them to vote for Pat Buchanan on a third party line instead of Al Gore. The Democratic candidate may have lost as many as 10,000 votes due to it.
In the end, the recount hinged on whether or not “undervotes,” or ballots that weren’t fully punched through, counted as votes. Florida’s Republican Secretary of State, Katherine Harris, an ambitious religious zealot with eyes on a Sarasota-based Congressional seat, intervened on Bush’s behalf, certifying him the winner of Florida’s electoral votes on the senseless basis that the state’s recount laws were…unclear.
Rather than make them clear, Florida’s Republican legislature and Republican governor, who just happened to be Bush’s own brother, decided to just skip the process entirely and send electors to vote for Bush. The Florida Supreme Court overturned Harris’ certification and the recount went on until it was ultimately stopped by the U.S. Supreme Court in Bush v. Gore. In the infamous decision, the court ruled that Florida’s recount law, which varied by county, violated the Equal Protection Cause of the 14th Amendment, and then in a completely bullshit 5-4 partisan decision decided that because the state had no other means of counting the votes, the votes just won’t be counted, sorry.
We still don’t know who actually won Florida in 2000, though several audits done independently suggested the final result, if the Supreme Court had allowed undervotes in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties to be counted, would have been Al Gore by three votes. It wouldn’t have mattered really anyway since Florida’s GOP-controlled legislature had already decided it would appoint Bush electors – as they are Constitutionally allowed to do – despite what happened with the recount and the Supreme Court decision. (A precedent I think we should be concerned with this year. I’ll have more on that next week).
The way we elect our presidents is broken – and the Republicans broke it.
Busting The Senate By Filling It With Bullshit
But the real fuckery – yes I’m using that term – started in 2006, the year after my Republican friend told me her party was destined to govern America forever. George W. Bush’s unpopularity over the Iraq War, his administration’s penchant for scandals and the Hurricane Katrina debacle, drove the Democrats to their first House majority in 12 years, and to the surprise of nearly every pundit, they took control of the Senate as well by a one-seat margin with Jim Webb’s upset win in Virginia. Republicans were dumbfounded. Now Democrats had control of both houses of Congress for the remainder of Bush’s term. They had the power to grind his conservative agenda to a halt. To replace the retiring Bill Frist, Senate Republicans chose Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell as their floor leader.
It was then that McConnell decided that in order to bring his party back to power, he must break the institution he served in – the U.S. Senate. The filibuster, previously a rarely-used procedural tactic in which unanimous consent is denied to move a piece of legislation or nomination out of debate and to a final vote, would now be a regular occurrence. Between the GOP-controlled 2005-2006 Congress and Democratic-controlled 2007-2008 Congress, the number of cloture motions – which is parliamentary jargon for a filibuster – more than doubled from 68 to 139. Filibusters are almost always conducted by the minority party. The number remained stable after President Barack Obama’s election in 2008, with 137 cloture motions filed between 2009 and 2010, during which Democrats have enough votes to invoke cloture on their own for about six months. This is commonly referred to as a “supermajority.”
It was during this time that McConnell declared that his goal was “to make Obama a one-term president.” The Democrats’ supermajority protected them from McConnell’s filibusters, but then Massachusetts saw red. In January, 2010, Massachusetts voters replaced Ted Kennedy with Republican Scott Brown, ending the Democratic supermajority and giving Republicans back their power to veto.
McConnell did not succeed in making Obama a one-term president, and Brown was defeated by Elizabeth Warren for a full term in 2012, but the filibuster did grind Obama’s agenda to a halt like investigations into Bill Clinton did to his nearly twenty years earlier. The number of filibusters more than doubled from 2011-2012 to 2013-2014 from 115 to whopping 252. Once Republicans gained control of the Senate in the 2014 midterms, the number of filibustered dropped as Democrats, trying to seem reasonable and return the lost norms, neglected to follow the Republican strategy of filibustering everything.
Then Trump won and all bets were off. From 2017 through now, having seen that their policy of trying to seem reasonable didn’t pay off politically, Democrats invoked the Republican strategy and there have more filibusters than ever before – close to 300 so far in this Congress.
The Senate is broken, and Republicans broke it.
Oh You Won More Votes? That’s Cute
In 2006 and 2008, Democrats won control of state houses across the country – from New Hampshire to Nevada to Alabama to Indiana. Control of these states allowed them to expand voting rights, healthcare and enact other long-held priorities. It also gave them a foothold in these states to build a future national bench. Then they lost it all in the 2010 midterm elections.
In my last piece, “If You Love America, You’ll Want To Fundamentally Change It. Here’s How,” I noted that after the 2010 elections, Republicans controlled redistricting in many states and drew themselves district maps that allowed them to stay in power even if they didn’t win the most votes, as they had expected to happen in coming years. It happened for the U.S. House of Representatives in 2012, where Democrats didn’t regain control despite winning a million more votes nationwide, and it has happened in state legislatures in New York, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Virginia and Ohio. Thanks to shifting demographics in districts that were red a decade ago, with an assist from Donald Trump’s unpopularity, Democrats have been able crawl back from early decade bottoms. However, they were only able to break the gerrymanders in the U.S. House of Representatives and in the Virginia legislature thanks to court decisions that struck down several district maps as unfairly disenfranchising to black voters.
Democrats remain in the minority in the other states, despite repeatedly winning more votes than Republicans. There is some hope that the 2020 elections might allow them to break through and Democratic victories for state row offices (Governor, Attorney General, Secretary of State) in these states in 2018 means they’ll have a backstop against GOP attempts at gerrymandering during the next round of redistricting. The redistricting battles in the earlier part of the decade, however, showed just how ruthless Republicans were willing to get in order to hold on to power and not face a repeat of 1992, 2006 and 2008.
The way we draw our legislative districts is broken. Republicans broke it.
Look What You Made Me Do: The Passion Of Robert Bork
In 1987, Ronald Reagan was tasked to make a third appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court when Lewis Powell announced his retirement. To the shock of many, he chose D.C. District Court Judge Robert Bork, a controversial figure who most notably served as Richard Nixon’s acting Attorney General after the infamous Saturday Night Massacre. It was Bork who fired Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox and triggered the chain of events that eventually led to Nixon’s resignation. Besides his controversial role in Watergate, Bork was also known as an originalist who opposed many of the civil rights decisions of the Supreme Court from the 1950s through the 1970s, including most notably Roe v. Wade. Further, Bork was a critic of government regulations on the economy and court decisions granting the state power to regulate. In short, he was a nonstarter for Democrats.
In the 1986 midterm elections, Democrats won control of the Senate. When Powell retired, Reagan was itching to replace the moderate Powell with a conservative and he chose Bork, deciding he could potentially win the battle by invigorating his conservative base who had not turned out in the previous years elections. That might unite Republicans behind Bork and peel off conservative Southern Democrats like J. Bennett Johnson of Louisiana, John Stennis of Mississippi and freshman Richard Shelby of Alabama (who later became a Republican and remains in the Senate as one today).
He was wrong. In the end the Democrats mostly stuck together – only two members of the party – Dave Boren of Oklahoma and Fritz Hollings of South Carolina – voted to confirm him. Reagan lost six Republicans, mostly from Northeastern states, and the Bork nomination failed 58-42, politically weakening the lame duck president and forcing him to settle on the nomination of Anthony Kennedy – later the court’s main swing vote in the 2000s and 2010s and the justice who wrote the landmark 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges decision that legalized marriage equality nationwide. Bork’s defeat was effectively the end of the Reagan presidency. The next year and a half featured the fallout from the Iran Contra scandal and saw some of his proposals failing in the Democratic Congress.
History nearly repeated itself a four years later when Clarence Thomas was nominated by President George H.W. Bush to replace Thurgood Marshall and Thomas was dogged by allegations of sexual assault by former employee Anita Hill. This time though, Republicans held their caucus together, sensing another Bork situation, and Thomas won confirmation losing only two Republican votes (Bob Packwood of Oregon and Jim Jeffords of Vermont).
In fact, Thomas got 11 Democrats to vote for his confirmation, including Bennett and Shelby, securing his seat on the court.
The Brett Kavanaugh hearings in 2018, and the assault allegations by Christine Blasey Ford, reignited that resentment, reminding conservatives of Bork and Thomas, helping defeat four Democratic Senators in red states despite a Democratic landslide nationwide.
The Republican butt hurt over Bork may be especially raw right now since the man who oversaw his (and Thomas’) nominations as Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee is none other than….
…That’s right. Joe Biden himself. His nomination for president (and presumably impending victory) is a constant reminder that Bork was denied and Thomas and Kavanaugh had to answer for their bad behavior. The man they hold responsible is on the verge of removing them from power.
The Bork and Thomas situations were actually cited by Republicans during the Obama presidency as a major reason why they blocked many of Obama’s judicial appointments, most notably Merrick Garland. They left a Supreme Court seat open for an entire year because they were still angry Democrats did their Constitutional duty to vet candidates for a lifetime appointment on the nation’s highest court. The sense of entitlement and hostility to accountability led Republicans to shatter our institutions. They lost a few rounds, so they flipped over the board.
Our judicial system and the way we appoint and confirm judges is broken. Republicans broke it.
Won’t Somebody Think Of The Norms!
How do they get away it with it? Well, easy. They are propaganda masters. In an earlier piece, “Progressives Are At A Natural Disadvantage,” I outlined how Republicans appeal to patriotism and other popular institutions and ideals, like faith, family and tradition, in order to get voters to relate to them on a personal level before gaining their trust and selling them on ideas and policies that voters may otherwise reject. For many Americans, especially those who fall in the moderate section of the political spectrum, patriotism is a difficult construct. It’s a battle between the head – which tells them America is a complicated nation with a complicated nation with a lot of structural problems and a sordid history that has not been adequately adjudicated and accounted for – and the heart – which tells them patriotism comes with no strings attached and, like family, God and, well, sports, you stick with your team and root for it, flaws and all. Republicans appeal to the heart, which humans tend to respond to better on an emotional level than the head. Democrats and liberals, they say, want you to not love America because its flawed and its history is full of ugly holes. Would you feel the same way about a relative or your God? For many Americans, especially privileged white Americans, so much of our identity growing up American revolves around the United States being a force for good, it’s like learning your father was a Nazi or your son tortures animals. Do you turn on him? Or do you love him no matter what?
Republicans also see politics as a high school lunchroom where they’re the popular kids and the Democrats are the geeks and loners, and then they offer moderate voters a chance to sit with the cool kids.
For any of us who remembers high school politics, once you’re in with the “cool kids,” you tend to want to protect your place in the social hierarchy and protect the group that gave you that place, so certainly it makes sense to punch down as centrists and moderates do. The way they do that is simple – by allowing Republicans to get away with breaking norms and rules, even if they aren’t thrilled by it, but by reacting when Democrats do it the way they wish they could for Republicans, with scorn and punishment.
When Republicans break rules and norms, it is expected, either because they’ve managed to secure themselves to the top of the pecking order, or Americans just gave up trying to stop them and accepted that half the voters are fine with it. Their mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, sons, daughters, cousins, aunts, uncles, neighbors, colleagues, and clients are all fine with it. Challenging it might create conflict and Americans, especially those who fall in the more moderate alignment politically, are conflict-adverse. They don’t want to get uninvited to the neighborhood pot luck, they don’t want to become social pariahs in their communities and houses of worship. They don’t want to be sent back to sit in the corner with the drama geeks, goth kids and the chess club. So moderates and centrists invest in a delicate social structure where Republicans, on top, get to do whatever they want, and Democrats, on the bottom, have to follow rules and norms and accept unfair treatment and inequality, or, you know, die.
A civil rights icon had it right:
I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;” who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season.”
Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Letters from the Birmingham Jail 1963
That détente is unsustainable. Democrats, leftists and minority groups won’t accept that unequal political reality forever, and they especially won’t accept it when the country is on the verge of social collapse – a cliff the COVID-19 Pandemic has pushed us to the brink of. Up until now, they bring knives to gun fights, and as much as it absolutely frustrates progressives that they do that, they know – in part because of the privilege centrists give to Republicans – the only thing keeping this country together is Democrats bringing knives to gun fights.
Trying to sell the idea that Republicans are to blame is hard. Bothsiderism is invested in the idea that “both sides” are the problem – and they get support from Republicans who happily accept that viewport, while politely disagreeing with any criticism of them, because it absolves them of complete responsibility. They’re fine with sharing the blame. This makes them look more reasonable to Bothsiders than Democrats and leftists who are tired, frustrated, scared and aggravated that Republicans are never held accountable for any of the bullshit they pull, and that they keep winning despite it. Republicans treat politics like a game, but for Democrats and leftists, politics is often a matter of life and death. Moderates cannot really grasp that, since they are more likely to not feel their lives depend on decisions made by politicians.
We’ve reached a turning point though, where everything Democrats and progressives have fought their lives to build, and moderates take for granted – civil rights, equal rights, healthcare, worker protections, etc., – are now in jeopardy. It is no longer clear that the best solution is to cut losses live to fight another day. It is no longer clear that bringing knives to gun fights just for the sake of stability and peace is the best option.
And moderates and centrists, they need to see that. They need to pick a side, or allow the Democrats the same leeway they allow the Republicans. The social hierarchy they rely on is coming crashing down on way or another.
America is broken. Republicans broke it. They need to be held accountable for it. All of it.
Presidential Race Stable, But Will Supreme Court Bombshell Change Anything? Especially In The Senate
The nightmares that Democrats and progressives have been having repeatedly over the past four years came true. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the liberal anchor of the court, died, just 46 days before a presidential election that could have decided her successor. That means Donald Trump, at least for the time being, gets to appoint her successor and gets to shift the court to a 6-3 conservative one that could be locked in place for decades. If the Senate, led by Mitch “Donald’s Boots Taste Too Good” McConnell, lets him.
In a presidential race that has been fairly stable for the past year, could this be the shakeup we were all waiting for? The punditry seems to suggest it will galvanize right wing voters who made feel down on Trump due to his mismanagement – and that’s putting it lightly – of the pandemic and the endless barrage of scandals. But it could be a wash, or even a boon for Democrats. The nightmare having come true, it may galvanize them in ways they never have been before. After Ginsburg died Friday night, Democrats raised over $100 million in donations to Senate and other candidates, suggesting her passing has lit a fire under the Democratic base in a way nothing has since Barack Obama.
Early polls suggest most voters think Ginsburg’s replacement should be named by whoever wins the November election, be it Trump or Biden, but when have Republicans cared about what the majority wants? They’re in power despite the majority not voting for them.
Still, the GOP Senate Majority is tenuous. They have two seats up in six weeks in states that Hillary Clinton won and five more in battleground states. Of the two Clinton seats, Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado is already a write-off (and hasn’t swayed from voting with Trump despite it). He’s expected to lose to former Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper. He already said he’d vote to confirm a replacement. The other Clinton state is Maine, where GOP Sen. Susan Collins, who always won by big margins despite being in a blue state, is in big trouble. She has waffled on whether or not she’d vote for a replacement, but she’s already trailing her Democratic challenger, State House Speaker Sara Gideon by mid-single digits and Trump is way behind Biden in the state. Voting against confirmation might not save her, which may free her to vote FOR a nominee, having nothing left to lose.
Of the five Trump-battleground states, Arizona, which Trump narrowly carried in 2016 and currently trails in, is the third likely pickup for Democrats. Appointed incumbent Martha McSally is trailing astronaut and Mr. Gabby Giffords himself Mark Kelly in polls. McSally, who was appointed to the late John McCain’s seat in 2018, is sticking with Trump on a confirmation hearing, much like Gardner, preferring to go out appealing to the base.
The other four battleground state Senate races include both Georgia seats, where Democrats are vying to defeat appointed Sen. Kelly Loeffler and Sen. Dave Perdue; North Carolina, where Democrat Cal Cunningham is taking on Sen. Thom Tills and Iowa where Sen. Joni Ernst is up against Democrat Theresa Greenfield. Recent polls have shown Cunningham and Greenfield slightly ahead of the incumbents, while Democrat Jon Ossof is tied or slightly behind Perdue in Georgia and the Loeffler race is in flux. Because it is a special, a jungle primary featuring Republican Rep. Doug Collins and Democrats Ralph Warnock and Matt Lieberman will be held first with the top two going to a runoff. It’s possible neither Democrat could make it, though recent polls show Loeffler and Warnock, the pastor at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, in the top two spots.
Interestingly, if Democrats beat McSally and Loeffler, the winning candidates would take office before the end of the year, as they are special elections. That would reduce the GOP majority to 51-49 almost immediately.
Where the Supreme Court battle could help Republicans is in red states where Democratic Senate candidates have been doing well – Alaska, Kansas, Montana, Texas and South Carolina – galvanizing Republicans to vote for their Senate choice even if they don’t vote for Trump. It could also cut the other way as well.
As for the presidential race, no big changes. Pennsylvania though hangs on the edge of going back into tossup status, but Biden has led in every poll out of there, and is close to, or at, 50 percent there. I feel the same way about Pennsylvania for Biden as i do about Trump for Texas, where polls actually show a slightly closer race; not quite tossups, but close.
Tossups remain: Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Ohio, Iowa and Maine’s 2nd District. In the Lean Biden states other than Pennsylvania, polls still show Biden comfortably ahead in Michigan, Wisconsin, Nebraska’s 2nd District, Minnesota and Arizona.
Our Nation Is Broken: Stop Defending An Untenable System Because You Think It’s The Patriotic Thing To Do
There’s a scene in Downton Abbey that I’ve linked it below (relevant scene starts at 2:27), where Martha Levinson, played by Shirley MacLaine, arrives in England from America for the wedding of her granddaughter, Mary Crawley (Michelle Dockery). Upon arrival, she runs into her daughter’s mother-in-law and her nemesis, the Dowager Countess of Grantham, Violet Crawley (Maggie Smith). The year is 1920 and World War I had recently ended. Europe was in political turmoil with monarchies falling in Portugal, Russia and Germany and on the verge of falling in Greece and Spain. Britain was left in financial and social ruin from the war, and at risk of similar social upheaval.
Martha and Violent make casual passive aggressive conversation during which the conservative and traditional Violet informs the modern, progressive Martha that she will like her new grandson-in-law, himself a man of the modern era. Martha asks to meet him before Violet responds that he has turned in for the night – tradition dictates that the groom cannot see the bride before the wedding. Martha smiles and shakes her head in disbelief:
“Nothing ever alters for you people, does it?” she exclaims. “Revolutions erupt and monarchies crash to the ground and the groom still cannot see the bride before the wedding.”
“You Americans never understand the importance of tradition,” Violet snaps back.
“Yes we do,” Martha calmly answers before placing her hands on Violet’s shoulders in a condescending way, as if to comfort a child. “We just don’t give it power over us. History and tradition took Europe into a world war, maybe you should think about letting go of its hand.”
When I first saw this episode, way back in 2012 – I can’t believe it’s been that long – it struck me as a historian as the perfect portrayal of the divergent cultural paths erupting on either side of the Pond at that time. The United States was seen as a rising, modern forward-thinking power, while Britain desperately clung to its past, struggling to not get swept away in the tide of time. It’s working class population looking toward new, progressive ideals, while its aristocracy looking to hold on to traditions and ideals that, in their minds, were responsible for building and sustaining the largest empire the world had ever known.
But the scene also stuck with me because I felt as much as Martha was speaking to the British a century ago, she was also was speaking to Americans in the present day. Europe plunged into two centuries of war and unrest starting with the French Revolution and ending in fall of the Iron Curtain, because the systems that sustained it for over a millennium, notably the feudal system and religion, had broken down, and no one with the power to do anything about it could accept it or was willing to change it. Starting with the storming of the Bastille in 1789 and ending with the collapse of the Soviet Union 200 years later, the continent saw one bloody and violent battle after another as countries endured a deeply painful cultural reckoning.
I watched the episode during the 2012 presidential campaign, where there was some discussion over the possibility that President Obama could lose the election by losing the Electoral College, while winning the popular vote – as had happened to Al Gore 12 years earlier – and discussion that aggressive gerrymandering by Republicans meant Democrats could win more votes for House of Representatives and not win the House majority. The latter did happen, but the former did not, at least not that year. It did happen in 2016, the same year the Republican Senate majority, representing about 42 percent of the nation’s population, refused to do their Constitutionally-mandated duty of advising and consenting on a Supreme Court nomination by Obama – leaving the seat vacant for over a year until it was filled by Donald Trump, who won the presidency while losing the popular vote by 3 million votes.
The Electoral College, acting on the plurality, not the majority, of votes in several key states elected Donald Trump to the presidency, who thereafter broke every rule in the book with no accountability. Trump:
Hired his family for key jobs
Used the Department of Justice for his own personal benefit
Used the White House for political campaigning.
Used his own properties and forced taxpayers to foot the bill for security and rental space.
Used his office to dig up dirt on his potential 2020 political opponents, for which he was impeached and acquitted by a Senate representing 40 percent – a minority – of the country’s population
Left millions of American citizens in Puerto Rico without vital aid after a devastating hurricane
Nearly took us to the brink of war with North Korea and Iran
Downplayed, ignored and fumbled the response to the worst pandemic in a century, leaving over 200,000 Americans dead
Encourage and celebrated violence against opponents and journalists
Did nothing when a foreign adversary put out a hit out on American soldiers
And what is our way out of this? Well, Trump was impeached by the House of Representatives for his involvement in trying to use official business to dig up dirt on his Democratic opponent Joe Biden from the Ukrainian government, but he was acquitted by the Senate in a near party-line vote. A majority of the United States Senate, half of the legislative branch designed as a check on the president’s power, is instead doing his bidding – and voters made his party stronger in the Senate in 2018, adding a net gain of two Republicans to the caucus, all of whom are staunch allies of Trump – even as Democrats won more votes nationwide and took control of the House of Representatives by a huge margin. How? Only a third of the Senate is up every election year and by sheer stroke of luck, the 2018 map favored Republicans.
After their 2010 election win, in which voters chose Republicans as a check on Obama’s power, the GOP instead went ahead and cemented their own, using redistricting to draw Democrats out of power for most of the decade on a federal and local level. Gerrymandering meant Democrats have not been able to win the House despite winning more votes in 2012, and control of legislative bodies at the state level despite winning more votes several times over. Democrats won over 200,000 more votes than Republicans for the Wisconsin State Assembly in 2018 – an eight point margin – but remain well in the minority, holding only 36 of 99 seats. Democrats also won the popular vote for both houses of the North Carolina, Michigan and Pennsylvania legislatures, but didn’t take control of any of the six. All four states have Democratic governors, meaning aggressive gerrymandering by Republicans in 2011 denied Democrats full control of the state governments in those states that voters voted for.
From these legislative bodies, came action – or inaction – on issues dealing with education funding, policing, criminal justice, women and gay rights and infrastructure. It has been most notable during the COVID-19 Pandemic, where state legislators in those states tried to throw wrenches in their Democratic governors’ responses. In Wisconsin in 2018, the legislature actually wen so far as to try and strip power away from the incoming Democratic governor in a naked power grab.
Back on the federal level, Trump has been allowed to stack the third branch of government – the courts – with over one hundred conservative jurists and allies, many of whom filling seats Senate Republicans refused to fill with Obama appointees from 2015-2017, including that one seat on the Supreme Court – for which they were rewarded with the presidency and continued Senate control.
And now, with the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Trump has the opportunity to appoint a third justice, solidifying a 6-3 conservative court for decades. If he does, a majority of the court, five of nine justices, will have been appointed by presidents who won their initial elections without winning the popular vote.
Trump and the GOP will own all three branches of government, and there will be no checks and balances as the Founding Fathers intended, and none of it won the support of a majority of American voters.
To make matters worse, the United States remain trapped in a death spiral called the COVID-19 Pandemic. With no federal leadership and high unemployment, the Republican Senate and President, neither of which won the majority of voters, refuse to pass more economic stimulus and aid to hard hit states like New York, that was passed by the Democratic House – which did win with the support of most voters. That leaves tens of millions of Americans without a paycheck and social safety net and opens the possibility of dramatic and painful cuts to New York City’s and other cities’ budgets.
To sum up: The system has failed. Our system relied on all actors acting in good faith to put country over party or desire for personal power, and the modern Republican Party – and its tens of millions of supporters – have shown they are not interested in acting in good faith. Aggressive gerrymandering and the debate over the vacant Supreme Court seat is the latest example. The GOP refused to even consider Obama’s nominee in 2016, because it was an election year – ironically blaming a suggestion Joe Biden made in 1992 if there was a vacancy in the court in an election year, but refuses to enforce the rule now with only six weeks to go before the election. No matter how many more votes Democrats deliver on the federal or state level, they still cannot be guaranteed power. Such a situation is unsustainable.
The circuit breakers put in place by our Founding Fathers – Congress, the courts, the electorate, an appeal to fairness, good faith and statesmanship and trust in the voting public – have all failed to prevent the slide into authoritarianism and lawlessness it was designed to stop, and has instead lead voters to unheard and disenfranchised. Is it any wonder we are starting to see lawlessness and apathy to rules and regulations in the general population? If our leadership isn’t accountable, why should we be?
There are ways to change it. But first we have to accept that it’s all broken. The way we elect our presidents is broken; the U.S. Senate is broken; the way we draw our Congressional districts and state legislative districts is broken; our criminal justice system is broken; our economic system is broken; our education system is broken; our infrastructure is broken; our media is broken.
Now you may say, “Well Nick, that’s how it is. This is a republic, not a democracy. Tyranny of the majority is bad” and so on. It’s fine if you believe that (it’s not, but let’s say it is). However, the lesson of Europe a century or two centuries ago is this; it’s fine until the general public no longer say it’s fine. By allowing a government to rule without the legitimacy of the public, you risk the general public’s anger and rage. Things will reach a breaking point, and we may be at the cusp of that right now. I guarantee you people who feel disenfranchised will only stay quiet for long. The situation is a powder keg and ignoring only guarantees the United States will experience what European countries did during the 19th and early 20th centuries – chaos, instability and, ultimately, war. The pandemic, and the social and economic upheaval it has brought, has only hastened that moment, and if we’re not careful, will provide the spark – if it hasn’t already. We can adapt, let go of what doesn’t work and reinvent ourselves, or we can go down a destructive road as a nation. A true patriot would not want the latter.
How do we do that?
We can fix the Supreme Court problem by adding seats, expanding the court from 9 to 13. It’s been done before, expanded from 5 to 7 to the current 9. Is it a power grab? Sure, it’s an escalation, but the legitimacy of the court is already damaged in the eyes of half the country. If not adding seats, set term limits.
We can fix the Senate by getting rid of the filibuster, so a simple majority is all that is needed to pass legislation. Before 2007, that’s how most legislation passed – very few pieces of legislation were filibustered. When the Democrats took a one-seat majority in the 2006 elections, Mitch McConnell, as Republican leader, decided everything that came before the Senate would be filibustered by Republicans, breaking a norm that had existed for 200+ years.
We can fix our elections by eliminating partisan gerrymandering and allowing independent redistricting, expanding the size of the House of Representatives so a million people in Delaware and Montana don’t have the same representation as 579,000 people in Wyoming and 745,000 people in California in a body that is supposed to be representative of the people. We can make the District of Columbia, which is more populated than Wyoming AND Vermont, into a state so they have full representation and, should they choose it, bring Puerto Rico in as a state. Let Republicans compete for Congressional and Senate seats in DC and Puerto Rico the same way Democrats are expected to in Wyoming and Idaho. It will force them to become more moderate.
We can eliminate the Electoral College and establish instant runoff voting, allowing third parties a chance to get votes without being a spoiler and ensuring nobody becomes president without getting 50 percent or more of the vote. If not, we can push states to adopt the “Popular Vote Interstate Compact” where states agree to give their electors to the popular vote winner, regardless of if he or she won their respective states. This would render the Electoral College functionally obsolete.
We can enact independent redistricting nationwide, and amend the Constitution to mandate it
Why are we hanging on to those obsolete, untenable institutions and traditions? Out of some deference to our ancestors who fought and died for them? It may have worked for them – debatable – but it no longer works for us. We can’t keep pushing broken institutions and ideas to a breaking point and be surprised when rage and violence erupts when they break. Civilizations around the world from England to Greece to China survived thousands of years by reinventing themselves and adapting to the changes around them and within them. America must follow in their footsteps if it hopes to survive as long as they have.
The paraphrase Martha Levinson; History and Tradition are threatening to take this country into a civil war. Maybe we should think about letting go of its hand.