There Are Limits To What ‘Leadership’ Can Do

We All Wish The President Took COVID Seriously, But Ultimately It Matters Who Listens Anyway

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is getting the viral treatment on Twitter again. A video of her desperately pleading with the German people to adhere to COVID guidelines has made its rounds this week. In the video, she apologizes to the Germans for ruining their Christmas traditions, but says the amount of death and sickness that could result in a normal holiday season would be “unacceptable.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel made news this week after making an emotional and impassionate plea to her people to adhere to COVID guidelines this holiday season after Europe’s most populated country has seen a month of five-digit case numbers. Video: DW

The appeal to empathy, the acceptance of blame and emphasis on the importance of the guidelines, has given Americans a taste of what it lacks in our current leadership, and what it hopes to gain when the executive changes in 40 days. It has awaken the belief in many that if America had leadership like Merkel’s, we would not be in the current predicament we are in regarding COVID-19. Responses like “this is what leadership looks like” and “I wish we had this in America” popped up with the viral video.

Her pleas, however, did not come out of nowhere. They are the words of an exasperated head of government trying hard to control and increasingly out of control situation. Germany, which up until now has been seen as a model to how other countries should respond or should have responded to the COVID-19 Pandemic, is seeing its worst days in terms of case numbers and deaths. Increasingly, Germans are defying guidelines and restrictions and a growing number of Germans are adopting anti-mask and anti-COVID beliefs and that ideology is seemingly spreading through the nation.

For the past month, Germany has been logging anywhere from 15,000 to 25,000 cases per day, well ahead of the 6,000-7,000 cases per day the country logged back in the Spring. Back then, Germany was heralded for avoiding the strict lockdowns and mass death other European countries like Italy, Spain, Belgium, France and the UK endured.

Germany’s case rate has stabilized at a very high rate for the last month, causing concern that the country’s early success in combating COVID-19 will be erased. Chart: Worldometer

If you’ve been to Germany around the holidays (I was there in December 2014), you know that it’s a popular time period for people to gather, perhaps the most popular of the year. There are Christmas markets, sporting events, family gatherings and it’s not a surprise that for many there, these long-held traditions are non-negotiable. The last three months of the year, starting with Oktoberfest and ending with New Years, is like one giant party. While that atmosphere is definitely subdued this year, and many official events and gatherings cancelled, it is not surprising that there are underground gatherings going on. Without a really hard China-style or Melbourne-style lockdown, people will still gather and the virus will still spread, especially during the holiday season, nine months into this after people have been isolated all year.

If German mentality around #COVID restrictions is similar to what I hear from Italy, Denmark and the UK, there’s likely a lot of people feeling; “we’ve done it right, we took it seriously, how are we still being asked to sacrifice? Is this even working?” In the same way that we in America look at Australia and New Zealand and wonder “we could’ve been them,” many Europeans look at them and say “Why aren’t we them? We did the same things.” There’s a growing sense that leadership has failed, that guidelines aren’t working and that Christmas traditions are non-negotiable and the government and medical community should have prepared in a way that would have allowed a somewhat normal Christmas to happen.

That’s on top of the fact that Germany has one of the most active anti-mask and anti-lockdown movements in Europe, and the protests in Berlin and other cities have only been growing.

A Christmas market in Cologne, Germany in 2014. In Europe, the December holidays are often time for the type of gatherings which makes COVID-19 spread easily,

This isn’t to say that America doesn’t deserve criticism for how its handled the pandemic. The second wave has hit in a particularly bad time in this country. A defeated lame-duck president, who never really cared about the pandemic anyway, and who has completely checked out, is still in office for another five weeks (and is trying his absolute best to stay longer). A hodgepodge of restrictions nationwide with some states (Florida, South Dakota) having none and others (California) going back into lockdown mode, make fighting COVID-19 into a rigged game of whack-a-mole There is zero federal leadership, zero help financially from Republicans in Congress, who are reinvigorated after over-performing in last month’s elections. Americans have no other options than to ride it out.

But the Germans have Merkel, and many are still choosing to ignore guidelines anyway. Merkel shows the limits of leadership. It’s refreshing for Americans to hear a head of government urge and plea with her citizens to follow the rules, since ours isn’t and hasn’t, but the key here is…it doesn’t appear to be working. She’s resorted to begging because they’re not listening.

While it is comforting for many who want to see leadership take this seriously to hear President-elect Joe Biden talk about the important of mask wearing and social distancing, and make appeals to patriotism, none of it matters if people won’t listen. He is limited to what and where he can mandate restrictions and mitigation efforts, and governors are free to defy him. Much like Merkel, he’ll be resorting to using the bully pulpit.

And with one third of Americans believing Biden wasn’t legitimately elected, and over 100 House Republicans gleefully joining in on that chorus, it is even more unlikely tens of millions of Americans will respond to his appeals. That’s a lot of hosts for COVID-19 to infect.

The Urban-Rural Divide Is A Product Of Imagination And Misplaced Fear

Leftists Don’t Hate Or Look Down On Rural Americans, But The Right Is Happy To Exploit That Idea

When I was growing up in Queens, my mom’s best friend had three nieces who were all close to my age. We all went to the same elementary school and we lived six blocks apart. We hung out all the time, swam in each other’s pools, played sports in the park, played video games and had birthday parties.

In 1994, their mother remarried and the family relocated deep into the Catskills near Margaretville, about halfway between Kingston and Oneonta, located alongside a branch of the Delaware River close enough to its source that it can only be described as a rushing stream. Their home was as rural as rural gets. The closest pharmacy was 20 minutes away. There was a small market in the nearest town (Fleischmanns) that was smaller than a corner bodega in the Bronx and only open until 7 p.m. If you needed to do an actual grocery trip, there was an A&P in Margaretville, but once it ran out of milk, you were shit out of luck for another week. Often the family would drive an hour to Kingston to go to a large Waldbaum’s to do two weeks worth of shopping; no ice cream or frozen food though, they would not have survived the trip home, especially in the summer.

The town of Margaretville, New York, located in the Catskills more than a hundred miles from New York City, where I spent much time as a teenager. Photo by Daniel Case via Wikimedia Commons

My friendship with the girls did not end when they moved – in fact we’re still friends today. As a teenager, I would go up to their house on weekends regularly, for birthdays or just to get away. We would go sledding in the winter (you haven’t seen snow until you’ve seen Catskills snow), and go tubing down Esophus Creek in the summer. Eventually their family built an inground pool on their large property. I made friends with their classmates in tiny Margaretville High School – the entire school had an enrollment of 29 students – and that’s how I met Tommy.

Tommy’s Dreams Unfulfilled

Tommy and I had some common interests; No Doubt, MTV Unplugged, Super Mario Brothers video games and disaster movies among them. Kelly, the middle girl of the family, whom i was closest to, moved to Brooklyn for college. For the next few years, we hung out and bar hopped in Manhattan and had parties in Kelly’s Brooklyn apartment. Tommy would tell me his goal was to graduate from SUNY Delhi in the Catskills and move down to the city and escape what he called “the wasteland” where he lived.

In the mid 2000s, no one was more negative about life in rural America than Tommy. He often called the town he came from “a rusty old dump” and complained that there was nothing to do but “drugs and tractor racing.” He joked about “hillbillies” and made off-colored comparisons to the movie Deliverance. I didn’t join in. I would sometimes remark that I found the Catskills charming and enjoyed escaping the city, away from traffic, noise and pollution. Though my allergies would explode, the smell of the pine air and the chilly summer nights were a welcome treat from the smoggy, grimy city air.

“You would never want to live there though,” he said to me once.

He never finished college. Once I graduated and our mutual friends went into the workforce, the gatherings got fewer and fewer and I didn’t speak to Tommy except on Facebook for several years. He proudly voted for Obama in 2008 due largely to his opposition to the Iraq War. Many of his friends back home moved away; one to Schenectady to marry his college sweetheart, another to Florida to work fixing boats at a marina near Tampa. By 2009, Tommy had married and moved to a small house somewhere between Margaretville and Delhi, working at a hardware supply store in the former town. The next time we spoke was after Hurricane Irene in 2011, which badly damaged Margaretville when the stream that was the Delaware River turned into a rushing torrent. I noticed a slight change in attitude from him as we spoke. He seemed gloomier, angrier, a bit resentful even. He complained about President Obama and Obamacare and threw remarks about how people look down on folks like him and everyone was more concerned about New York City than his town. “All Obama cares about his own people,” he said. I heard the dog whistles. I got reflexively defensive, noting that Obama was approving aid to his town and how Obamacare helped fund community hospitals like Margaretville’s.

“You would never be able to live here,” he said again, suggesting I did not have the ability to survive in a tough, rural society.

He was right, of course, but I had conceded as much years earlier.

By 2016, the tide had turned even further. My one interaction with him that year was when he attacked New York City as a “lawless, godless place of thugs and crime.” I took issue with his remarks, reminding him that crime was low in New York City and even he once wanted to live there.

“I don’t know what I was thinking of I said that,” he said. “If I never set foot in that hellhole again, it would be too soon.”

It was shocking to me, because it was a completely different take on New York City than I had heard from him a decade earlier, when the city was a far less safer place to be. I asked him where this attitude came from all of a sudden.

“Well, you think so little of us,” he said. “Look at how you guys put down rural Americans.”

He began to list off arguments such as “rural people are uneducated” and “rural people are all drug addicts” and “rural people are racists,” which are all things I’ve never said, nor has anyone I know ever said. I even reminded him that some of these slurs against rural culture are ones HE himself used many years earlier.

“Yeah but you agreed,” he suggested. I did not, and to the extent that I might have, it was an acknowledgement of problems in these communities that I, as a liberal Democrat, would like to fix, and added that I am happy to acknowledge problems (poverty, affordable housing, pollution) that exist in cities as well.

Over time, he shared pieces justifying his anger and resentment. Prager U; Townhall.com; Newsmax; Human Events, you name it. Tomi Lahren, Ben Shapiro, Mark Levin, a laundry list of conservative grifters and noisemakers who fed him an unhealthy diet of resentment politics.

What was clear to me was this:

Donald Trump made himself popular in rural America by exploiting the resentment in these communities toward what they see as being looked down on by educated rich urban Americans and animosity toward their culture and traditions.

Tommy, who grew up in a rural, forgotten part of the country, had big dreams – ones sold to him by a media environment that taught him living where lived made him inferior and he had to get an expensive education, move to or near a big city and get a big fancy job around powerful rich people to “make it.” In his teens and 20s, that seemed possible, but circumstances; lack of opportunity, lack of money, or just lack of dumb luck, stood in his way. For whatever reason, financial obstacles, personal obstacles, obligations, he wasn’t able to achieve the life he dreamt about and was sold as the definition of success in America. While the people he grew up with moved to Brooklyn and Florida and other places, he was stuck back in the Catskills, selling wrenches for just enough money to feed his children and keep the lights on.

The Conservative Bait And Switch

Some will read that and say “You see, you are passing judgement” and it’s true, I am. But I what I’m trying to get across is that I understand where he’s coming from and I understand why he feels so frustrated, why he needs to lash out.

I don’t feel superior to him. I’m certainly not. I’m not trying to look down on him. I don’t believe Tommy is a failure. I believe Tommy’s experience and his place in our society is important. He is raising his children in a place in America where schools are as underfunded as they are in our cities and where opportunities are limited. His libraries are only open a few days a week. He has no high-speed internet access and needs to stand in his attic to get a cell phone signal (which is better than 2013 when he didn’t have a signal at all). Despite a boost from Medicaid reimbursements from Obamacare, Margaretville Hospital is small and underserved and has only 15 beds, yet serves an area spanning four Upstate counties. He’s living a third world lifestyle in a first world country, and we’re allowing it to happen, because conservatives are telling him the people who want to help are actually just being patronizing.

My worldview is one in which we must make life better for him and his family, such that he doesn’t feel reflexively defensive about living in a place that he rightfully feels devalued or looked down on. It wasn’t liberals who devalued rural America, it was Capitalists who constructed a view of the American Dream that was unrealistic for most. A view that told folks who were happy enough to live simple lives in both rural and urban America that their idea of success was actually failure. It isn’t enough to be a working class hardware supplier from the Catskills, raising three kids in a small house with no amenities like a pool or central air conditioning, taking vacations to the lake. You needed the suburban mansion or pristine condo, the fancy cars, the luxurious dinner dates, and trips to the Caribbean or Europe. This is what defines success and this is the type of success that seems to only exist in and around cities. So we’re left to look down on Tommy as someone who failed, just as we look down on a black or brown family in the South Bronx or Compton the same.

But here’s the catch. It was Capitalists, and their Republican and conservative defenders, who created that narrative. The concept of the “American Dream” was meant as a preemptive strike against any socialist or communist uprising in America. The working class, conservatives figured, are unlikely likely to join any left-wing revolution if it appeared wealth and power was within reach for any or all of them. It also made them dedicated worker bees – like Boxer in Animal Farm – but for Capitalism. They would work, work, work with wealth and power eternally just barely out of reach.

The concept of the “American Dream” was meant as a preemptive strike against any socialist or communist uprising in America. The working class, conservatives figured, are unlikely likely to join any left-wing revolution if it appeared wealth and power was within reach for any or all of them.

But what happens when that aspiration never comes to fruition? Where does that resentment go? Republicans knew it would backfire on them, so they gave working class rural Americans another target.

Cultural Appeals

Tradition and culture is how the Republican inoculate themselves from the fact that their economic policies are what destroyed the simple rural working class life. Despite the fact it was 20th Century conservatives who encouraged young people to get out of their small towns and make it big, they have managed to turn the narrative on its head by blaming the media, colleges and other institutions that they recruited to help with their pro-Capitalist initiatives decades ago. It is the entertainment industry, the media and the colleges, Republicans say, that brainwashed young people into abandoning their traditional rural lifestyle for a more cosmopolitan life in big cities and suburbs. What they don’t say is that it was them who originally encouraged it.

It is true that what we think of as the “American Dream” does not consist of a tiny house or trailer on the side of a rural road, laundry hanging from a haphazardly hung rope between trees. It doesn’t include working a blue collar job that leaves your hand with callouses. It does not involve having to go to the market everyday for fresh food because you don’t have room enough to store or keep food fresh. It does not involve hospital bills and mountains of debt and wearing hand-me-downs from your older siblings or relatives or neighbors. It involves fancy new cars, big houses or condos, dining out regularly and fancy clothes.

There is nothing wrong with small cottages by the side of the highway, jalopies and callouses, but our society has taught us that they’re a sign of failure, a sign that you haven’t worked hard enough to earn wealth and power, so of course those, like Tommy, who live the traditional rural life feel like they’re being judged and looked down on, or at best, have their way of life threatened.

Republicans are happy to oblige in this, lamenting “elitists” looking down on working class Americans, while also mocking them as well. You see this in how they respond to Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York), criticizing her policy ideas, many of which will go a long way to helping folks like Tommy, as “elitist,” while also mocking her previous job as a bartender, and then appealing to their own barely-tangible working class roots when she fights back.

After New York Democratic Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez called out Republicans to mocking her previous job as a bartender, Republican Rep-elect. Marianette Miller-Meeks of Iowa appealed to her own working class roots; evidence of how Republicans appeal to, and also run again, working class populism depending on when and where it serves them.

The is the odd paradox laid out in J.D. Vance’s novel Hillbilly Elegy, where he bemoans how he was looked down on by Ivy League folks when he left his rural Ohio town to go to college, while at the same time joining them in admonishing the folks back home as having succumbed to “social rot.” The “rot,” he blames on welfare and social programs that have taught rural Americans to be dependent on government rather than self-sufficient. In that narrative, we see how conservatives managed to turn the blame from them, the folks who told working class Americans they had to strive for something more that is out of reach for most, onto progressives, who want to just help them survive in a cruel Capitalist world.

Attacking Rural Pride

Not long after the 2016 election, I read a profile piece of an Obama-Trump voter in rural Ohio. He was retired and he said he voted for Trump because of his stances on trade and the economy, though the article quickly veered off into a discussion about immigration and rural resentment. In the piece, the interviewee explained that his town, located near the Ohio River in what used to be a deeply Democratic area, used to be a vibrant manufacturing town, but the jobs left and his children also left to find work elsewhere. He explained that all of his children went to Ohio State and his daughter moved to Philadelphia to work in public relations, his eldest son was a software engineer in Boulder, Colo. and his youngest son was a trainee at an investment bank in New York City. The distance caused longtime family traditions, like summer trips to Lake Erie and birthday parties, to cease. He explained that if his children were able to find jobs close to home, they would have come home. At the end of the interview, he laments about the “Mexicans” working as busboys at the Cracker Barrel, blaming them for “taking jobs my children couldn’t get.”

It struck me that this father felt his children, who had all from my view gone on to successful lives – just not in Ohio, would be better suited to bus tables at Cracker Barrel, than work in high-paying industries like public relations, computer programming or banking.

But for him, what matters is that they were in Ohio, putting down roots and raising a family in the town where he and his ancestors put down roots. Tradition took precedence to what we deem to be “success,” and that reflex I had reading this story, that the children are living better lives than they would in Ohio, is exactly what makes rural Americans like Tommy feel they’re being looked down and cast aside. What they built in rural America, what their ancestors built, is no longer enough or worthy. It’s too poor, too racist, too ignorant, too low class, and liberals – the father noted that his children were all “liberals” now – were destroying our towns by invoking a brain drain, enticing young people away with promises of tolerance and wealth, like a political Sarah Sanderson from Hocus Pocus. Trump and the modern GOP was more than happy to oblige this narrative to win their votes, and it worked.

Election Results- Middletown, NY (Margaretville)
2008Obama 54%McCain 44%
2012Obama 52%Romney 46%
2016Trump 51%Clinton 42%
Election Results in Middletown, New York, which includes Margaretville, show how the town, like most of Rural America, swung to Trump in 2016 after voting for Obama twice.

I don’t exactly know how to fix it. I feel like the resentment has festered too far now that its gone beyond just wanting to be recognized or respected, to a cruel place where what drives many rural conservatives is a desire to make everyone as miserable and forgotten as they are. There are certainly ways to make the lives of rural Americans better. We can bring new jobs and industries to these areas, but when a friend of mine ran for the West Virginia House of Delegates in 2008 on the promise to replace lost coal jobs with jobs at a hydroelectricity plant on the Big Sandy River, he lost in a landslide and was told by a constituent “to go back to liberal New York City with your tree-hugging bullshit.” His opponent smeared him as an “elitist big city type” who didn’t understand “true rural values.” My friend grew up in a trailer outside Huntington, WV, and moved to New York to attend college, before moving back to West Virginia, but those four years on the East Coast tainted him and his ideas forever in the eyes of his community. He has since left Appalachia for California.

In 2016, Hillary Clinton suggested expanding broadband web access to rural areas after she we asked why she thought she was struggling politically in rural parts of the country. The economy there, she said, hadn’t grown as fast as elsewhere after the financial crisis, so Trump’s message of change resonated. She suggested she could help them with rural broadband, which would attract business and jobs, as well as educational opportunities.

In response, she was accused of being an “elitist” who blamed her political problems on the fact rural Americans didn’t have high-speed internet and thus weren’t “educated.”

Similar attempts by progressives like Sen. Bernie Sanders, who tanked in rural areas in 2020 after winning many of these areas in 2016, and Rep. Ocasio-Cortez, have also been waved away. Progressive candidates have barely gotten anywhere politically in rural America, succeeding almost exclusively in cities and suburbs.

And that is the odd position Tommy is in. Is he happy in his life? No, it’s pretty clear he isn’t, but he’s defensive of it, and resistant to any attempt at changing it. Why? Because to people like Tommy, it’s better to be miserable and defend a broken system than swallow your pride and admit your community needs help and that the people you think look down on you, might actually be right.

No, You Can’t Have Time To Grieve

I’m Sorry Your Feelings Are Hurt, Be Have A Country In Crisis That Needs Tending To

“Facts Don’t Care About Your Feelings” is a quote made famous by conservative wunderkid Ben Shapiro years ago when he insisted on referring to transgender individuals by the gender they were assigned at birth, not what they identify with. Science, he said, backed him up. (Funny when science is important when it excuses bigotry, but not when it governs a pandemic)

Photo by Andrew Neel on Pexels.com

This past weekend, thousands (at least we think thousands) of Trump supporters swarmed onto the streets of Washington, D.C. to protest the results of the election. They are being egged on by outgoing President Donald Trump, supported by most of Shapiro’s fan club, who refuses to concede the election and remains resolute that he is the legitimate winner and the election was rigged.

On Tuesday, Two Republicans on the Wayne County, Michigan Board of Elections refused to certify the county’s election results, a formality, on grounds that some of the vote totals taken by different groups were off by a few – a common issue that is rectified later at the state level. They relented, but only after Trump lawyer Jenna Ellis gave away the plot on Twitter, saying that preventing Wayne County from certifying means Michigan’s Republican legislature would have to appoint Trump electors, even though Biden won the state by more than 150,000 votes.

Monica Palmer, one of the Republicans on the Wayne County board said she would be willing to certify the entire county except for the City of Detroit, which Biden won with over 90 percent of the vote, despite the fact that discrepancies she blamed were more numerous is the white Republican-leaning suburb of Livonia than in Detroit.

In Georgia, the state’s Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger even got a call from Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, inquiring about whether or not he could invalidate thousands of votes. Biden leads Trump in Georgia by over 12,000 votes and if that holds, which is almost certainly will, he will be the first Democrat since Bill Clinton in 1992 to carry Georgia.

And later this week, former America’s Mayor and now certified nut Rudy Giuliani held a bizarre press conference with some woman named Sydney who looks like something out of central casting for “Insane Southern Republican lady.” They alleged, with no evidence, that a conspiracy involving George Soros and Hugo Chavez, who has been dead since 2013, to change Trump voters to Biden votes is why the president “lost” the election.

They refused to accept that Trump has lost, and believe, without any evidence, that widespread voter fraud has been committed, and Trump has encouraged it, repeating over and over again that he believes he won the election and that fraud is the reason Biden has won the popular vote and the Electoral College.

It would be just a nuisance if this was a game, but it is not a game. Since Trump refuses to concede and allow an orderly transition, President-Elect Biden is unable to prepare his team to get to work on January 20th and will have to spent days and weeks playing catchup during a catastrophic economic and public health crisis that is killing 1,500 to 2,000 Americans a day.

All this for Donald Trump’s hurt fee-fees and the delusions of the millions of syncopates who turned him into a golden calf. One supporter even called into Rush Limbaugh’s show, in tears, saying he would be willing to “die” for Trump.

How pathetic can you people be?

Let me remind you all that the morning after the 2016 election, Hillary Clinton concede defeat. Even as some supporters demand she fight fo recounts in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, all of which were closer than than they are now, she conceded defeat. Outgoing President Barack Obama graciously welcomed Trump, who had built a entire brand around himself parroting a racist lie about the sitting president, to the White House after THE MEDIA called the election for him, and before states certified their results. Donald Trump was given the right to have an orderly transition to his presidency. Democrats and the left complained, some questioned the results, but none stood in the way of Trump taking office. They organized, marched, recruited candidates and ultimately built a coalition that defeated Trump this year.

I don’t ever want to hear about how liberals are snowflakes ever again.

We do not have time to soothe the hurt feelings of a President who spent the last five years mocking and degrading his opponents and encouraging his supporters to do the same.

So my message to Trump supporters is this.

Get over it. You lost. Nothing is owed to you, nothing is guaranteed to you. You lost. Take your loss and figure out your next steps. Losing sucks, I know, but stop being what you’d call “snowflakes” about it. Dry your right wing tears and get to work. Buck up buttercup.

And on that: I don’t ever want to hear about how liberals are snowflakes ever again. What is going on right now, from the White House to the Halls of Congress to the Republican offices at local boards of elections to the protestors who came to Washington, is textbook “snowflake” behavior. It fits though. With the right, everything is projection. Everything they accuse their opponents of being, they truly are and by projecting it, they hope you won’t notice.

Now it can’t be unnoticed.

My Final Prediction And What Counties I’ll Be Watching Tonight

Biden Will Win Big. I’m Putting Money On It

Here’s my final prediction for the 2020 race. I know you might think it’s nuts, but I’m betting on a huge Biden win. I think he narrowly carries Georgia, North Carolina, Florida, Iowa, Ohio, and yes, Texas. It’s Ohio I’m least certain about, but I think he might finish there ahead by 1-2 points.

I just cannot ignore the turnout in Texas, and the fact that Democrats seem to be getting what has always eluded them in the Lone Star State, high turnout in the Rio Grande Valley. In Hildalgo County, which includes McAllen, turnout is already past 2016 levels. That, combined with record turnout in Houston, Austin, El Paso and Dallas points to a much stronger Democratic finish than 2016, and possibly a Blue Texas for the first time since Jimmy Carter carried the state in 1976.

I think based on polls and early voting numbers, Biden will win Florida and North Carolina. Let’s see if I’m right.

For those who know me, you might know that my career in political punditry began almost by accident. It was 16 years ago tonight on WRHU, Hofstra University’s radio station, that I commandeered the microphone halfway through our Election Night broadcast and to the cheers of our General Manager and Professional-In-Residence, I walked our listeners through a county-by-county analysis of the election, based on voting patterns I had been studying in an Independent Study with my Political Science advisor all year.

Predicting elections and following results has been a gift of mine ever since. In 2008, I took ten counties in ten swing states and predicted the winner of each country would win the state it was located in. I was right on all ten; nine went for Obama and one; Clay County in Missouri and the state, went to McCain. In 2012, I called the election for Obama when I saw he had won Loudoun County, Virginia, a longtime Republican county in the DC suburbs that Obama had flipped in 2008, a second time. In 2016, I knew Hillary Clinton was in trouble when she lost Pinellas County, Florida.

Dissecting the polls, the way places have voted since 2016 and expectations, here is how I see six counties that I think will all go to Biden, but would be good barometers for what’s going on in their specific states and nationally. Good chance Trump will win if he wins 2 or 3 of these counties.

PINELLAS COUNTY, FLORIDA

2000AL GORE50%GEORGE W. BUSH46%
2004GEORGE W BUSH49.6%JOHN KERRY49.5%
2008BARACK OBAMA53%JOHN MCCAIN45%
2012BARACK OBAMA52%MITT ROMNEY46%
2016DONALD TRUMP48%HILLARY CLINTON47%
RECENT PRESIDENITIAL RESULTS

The most densely-populated county in the United States after Manhattan, Pinellas County is home to heavily-Democratic St. Petersburg, and suburban, longtime Republican towns like Clearwater and Dunedin. It is a classic swing county, having voted for Obama twice, but George W. Bush narrowly before that. The country is almost entirely suburban, except for St. Petersburg, and is home to many retirees and transplants from the Northeast and Midwest.

It was early in the night, around 8 p.m., in 2016 when I noticed nearly all of Pinellas had been counted and Trump had narrowly won the county. I knew then Hillary was in trouble. Tonight, this is the first county I’m looking at.

Biden winning Pinellas doesn’t guarantee he wins Florida, as it didn’t for 2018 gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum and former U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, who won Pinellas by 3 and 5 respectively, but Pinellas did signal a Democratic year nationwide. If Biden wins Pinellas by four percent or more, it could be a sign that he will win Florida and the country.

NORTHAMPTON COUNTY, PENNSYLVANIA

2000AL GORE51%GEORGE W. BUSH45%
2004JOHN KERRY50%GEORGE W. BUSH49%
2008BARACK OBAMA55%JOHN MCCAIN43%
2012BARACK OBAMA52%MITT ROMNEY46%
2016DONALD TRUMP50%HILLARY CLINTON47%
RECENT PRESIDENITIiAL RESULTS

Anchored by the city of Bethlehem in the Lehigh Valley, Northampton County is often considered the easternmost reaches of the Rust Belt, just touching the exurbs of New York City and Philadelphia. This was once home to industrial powerhouses like Bethlehem Steel and Atlas Portland Cement.

Both companies are gone now, and the Lehigh Valley has never fully recovered economically. It has a long history of voting Democratic for president, but has elected Republicans like the conservative Pat Toomey and moderate Charlie Dent to represent it in Congress. Trump became the first Republican presidential candidate to win Northampton since George H.W. Bush in 1988, but the county snapped back Democratic in 2018, voting for Democratic Gov. Tom Wold and Sen. Bob Casey by 17 and 10 points respectively. It also elected a progressive Democrat, Susan Wild, to represent them in the House, by a nearly seven point margin.

If Joe Biden is to win back Pennsylvania, his road goes through Bethlehem, as it did for the Democrats to win back the House in 2018.

MACOMB COUNTY, MICHIGAN

2000AL GORE50%GEORGE W. BUSH48%
2004GEORGE W BUSH50%JOHN KERRY49%
2008BARACK OBAMA53%JOHN MCCAIN45%
2012BARACK OBAMA51%MITT ROMNEY47%
2016DONALD TRUMP54%HILLARY CLINTON42%
RECENT PRESIDENITIAL RESULTS

If there was any place that better exemplifies how 2016 went wrong for Hillary Clinton, its in Macomb County, Michigan. Home to the working class Detroit suburbs of Warren and Sterling Heights, Macomb County is not a historically Democratic county like some that flipped in the Rust Belt in 2016. It voted Republican in 1992 and 2004, but it did have one of the biggest swings in the region, gong from Obama +4 to Trump +12.

The first sign was in the 2016 primary when although Hillary Clinton won the primary here over Bernie Sanders 49-47, three percent of Democrats case votes for “Uncommitted,” meaning against both candidates. Rather than not show up at all, which many Democrats did do, three percent of primary voters went out of their way to show up and express their disapproval of BOTH Democratic candidates.

This year, however, Biden won the primary in Macomb easily and only two percent of Democrats voted for none of the candidates. That still hints to some level of Trump support among Macomb Democrats. This might be the hardest county among the ones on the list for Biden to flip, but if he is indeed leading Trump by high single digits in Michigan, he’s winning here. Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer won Macomb in 2018 by 4 points while winning statewide by just under 10 percent.

KENOSHA COUNTY, WISCONSIN

2000AL GORE51%GEORGE W. BUSH45%
2004JOHN KERRY53%GEORGE W. BUSH47%
2008BARACK OBAMA59%JOHN MCCAIN40%
2012BARACK OBAMA56%MITT ROMNEY43%
2016DONALD TRUMP47.2%HILLARY CLINTON46.9%
RECENT PRESIDENITIAL RESULTS

If there was a moment in the campaign where everyone thought the tide was going to turn in Trump’s favor, and everyone was wrong, it was the aftermath of the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha in late summer. The riots and unrest that occurred in Kenosha after the shooting left many political pundit believing the narrative had moved in Trump’s favor, and there’s a reason for that.

Trump won Kenosha County, located on Wisconsin’s lakefront on the Illinois border, by a mere 238 votes. Trump was the first Republican to win Kenosha County since Richard Nixon in 1972. Even Walter Mondale beat Ronald Reagan here. Kenosha going red was a telltale sign the Democrats had tanked in the Midwest. The sense was that Trump’s anti-Black Lives Matter campaign won him some longtime Democratic support in Kenosha. Perhaps that analysis is wrong. Since then, Biden’s lead in Wisconsin has stabilized or even grown.

Democrats clawed their way back and in 2018 the entire Democratic statewide ticket carried Kenosha including Democratic Gov. Tony Evers by 4 and Sen. Tammy Baldwin by 14.

If Biden is leading in Wisconsin by the margin polls show him to be leading, he should take back Kenosha with room to spare. Keep and eye on it.

TARRANT COUNTY, TEXAS

2000GEORGE W. BUSH61%AL GORE37%
2004GEORGE W BUSH62%JOHN KERRY37%
2008JOHN MCCAIN55%BARACK OBAMA44%
2012MITT ROMNEY57%BARACK OBAMA41%
2016DONALD TRUMP52%HILLARY CLINTON42%
RECENT PRESIDENITIAL RESULTS

Here’s my first prediction. Joe Biden should NOT win Tarrant County, Texas. If he does, it is a landslide. But what’s worth keeping an eye on if it’s close.

Tarrant County is home to Fort Worth and DFW Metroplex suburbs of Arlington, Burleson and Lake Worth. It is one of the fastest growing counties in the country. It’s also one of the few counties with a population of over 1 million that has long been solidly Republican. But in 2018, something happened. A Democrat won Tarrant County. Democratic Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke defeated Ted Cruz in Tarrant County by a little over 4,000 votes, for about 0.7 percent. That was the first time a Democrat won in Tarrant in decades. Other Democrats running statewide got close, winning around 47 and 48 percent of the vote.

This year, with several State House races in play in Tarrant, Democrats are investing in the area and interestingly Tarrant’s final totals from 2000 through 2016 almost mirrored statewide results exactly, so if Biden is carrying Tarrant, he might very well be winning Texas. Even if he’s close, its a sign he’s probably winning nationally.

MARICOPA COUNTY, ARIZONA

2000GEORGE W BUSH53%AL GORE43%
2004GEORGE W BUSH57%JOHN KERRY42%
2008JOHN MCCAIN54%BARACK OBAMA44%
2012MITT ROMNEY 54%BARACK OBAMA44%
2016DONALD TRUMP48%HILLARY CLINTON45%
RECENT PRESIDENTIAL RESULTS

Maricopa County is the largest county in the country with the longest Republican streak (after California’s famously-conservative Orange County flipped blue in 2016). This year will almost certainly be the end of that. The entire city of Phoenix is located in Maricopa, as are many of its suburbs – Scottsdale, Paradise Valley, Goodyear, Mesa and Tempe.

Maricopa has voted for every Republican presidential candidate since 1948, including Barry Goldwater and Bob Dole. But Hillary came close to winning it in 2016 and Trump coudn’t get 50 percent of the vote. Since then, Democratic Sen. Krysten Sinema and Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs won the county in 2018 in their successful statewide wins.

If Biden is to carry Arizona tonight, and he’s favored to do so, he will have to win Maricopa. It’s hard to imagine he won’t though considering the polls there and the way Arizona’s been voting since 2016.

So there you have it. My predictions and what I’ll be watching tonight. See you on the flip side. Let’s hope its a better place.

New York’s Long Voting Lines Are Not Due To Suppression

The Empire State Has It’s Election Issues, But These Are Not The Same Issues As In The South

A lot of being made of the massive lines that arose in the first days of early voting in New York. The lines, sometimes four hours long, appeared not only in New York State, but all over the state; in Long Island, in Albany, in Buffalo, even in rural Herkimer County.

New York has a long, sordid history of making voting harder than most of the rest of the country, but we have come a long way in a few short years toward rectifying that situation. The lines this past week weren’t due to an attempt at keeping people from voting, rather they are a result of high enthusiasm, bad timing and the COVID-19 Pandemic.

More than 1 million people early voted in New York City this week.

This is only the second election during which New York has early voting. Previous to 2019, New Yorkers only had two options to vote – in person on Election Day or absentee due to illness, disability or because you would be out of town on Election Day. After taking control of the State Senate in 2018, Democrats enacted an expansion of voting rights that included early voting. Last year, a quiet off-year election, was the first time we had it. This is the first presidential election.

At first, due to the pandemic, it appears that most New Yorkers would take advantage of the expansion in absentee voting put in place by Gov. Andrew Cuomo for the primary and later the general, to avoid congregating at polls that would make social distancing difficult. Then Donald Trump fucked with the post office. It should be no surprise that when the threat of slowing down mail delivery to prevent votes from getting in on time became real, people shifted to early voting, My family did.

Further, we would normally vote early closer to Election Day, but we all felt these times are unpredictable and what if by Oct. 31 or Nov. `1, we are prevented from voting for some reason? Best to get your vote in early, especially when not undecided.

This is what I believe most New Yorkers did, which, on top of restrictions on how many people to let inside a venue due to COVID-19, led to the lines we saw in the last week. Over 1 million people voted early in New York City this year. That’s nearly half of total turnout in 2016, and doesn’t include anyone who did mail in their vote or will vote on Tuesday.

This does not mean there isn’t anything to learn from the lines this week. Early voting is in its infancy in New York, and this is the first presidential election during which we are able to vote early, The city did eventually extend the length of time polls are open, and number of sites, and should consider doing that in the future in years when high turnout is expected, like general elections in presidential years and midterm years. We did do some of that this year, adding several new early voting sites, like Madison Square Garden and Barclays Center, but more is needed.

And as far as the New York City (and state) Board of Elections? Yes, they are historically incompetent and corrupt. In the city, the BOE is an organization ripe with political patronage. It needs to be reformed for a multitude of reasons.

But when compared to Texas or Ohio putting one drop box in a county of millions of (mostly Democratic) voters, or black voters purged from the rolls in Georgia, or polling places being closed in black areas, or Florida requiring felons who served their time to pay a poll tax to vote, the lines in New York don’t even come close.

Election Update – October 20, 2020

Alright, I’m Buying Tossup Texas Now.

Ok I’m sold.

Astonishing early voting turnout and continued close polling has convinced me Texas may actually be a tossup. As of Tuesday night, nearly 5 million people have voted, more than half of the 2016 turnout. Only Vermont has reached 50 percent of 2016 turnout. Now some of this is due to population growth – Texas has had an influx of people moving into it since 2016, especially in the last year, and Republicans do account for some of that. Indeed there has been a steady flow of California conservatives who have relocated to Texas recently, but turnout is up in blue areas of the state, notably Houston and Austin.

I still think Trump will squeeze out a win in Texas, but the fundamentals tell me it will be closed and Biden victory there is possible.

None of the other tossups have changed. Iowa and Georgia remain genuine tossups. Ohio I think has a slight Trump lean, while North Carolina, Florida and Maine’s 2nd District slightly lean Biden. The Democratic challenger remains in good position in the Upper Midwest. Pennsylvania and Arizona seem a bit shaky, but Biden’s still ahead in both I think. The nightmare might come if Biden is slightly behind in Arizona and not at 270 when we go to sleep Election Night. That happened to Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona) in 2018. She ended Election Night trailing now Sen. Martha McSally, but took the lead days later when mail-in votes were counted and won by three points.

I dread a situation where Trump leads on Election Night, but loses days later.

13 days left.

Messaging From Experts Is Hurting Commitment To COVID Mitigation

With No End Game In Sight, And Contradictory Predictions, People Are Naturally Very Hesitant To Surrender Freedoms
Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

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.

The “Swiss Cheese model” representing how various means of mitigation work with each other to stop an epidemic. Vaccinations were recently added to the model, raising alarms among some that the current way of life will never end.––––

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.”

If no one can give us a clear vision on what the way out is, everyone will just chart a course for his or herself.

“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.

Election Update- October 13, 2020

Biden’s Lead Is Unrelenting Three Weeks Out

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.

But it’s not, it’s still 20 days away.

Election Update- October 6, 2020

Is It Over Yet? I Want To Get Off This Ride

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.

25 days left.

The Trauma Of Watching A Bully On National Television

The Presidential Debate Was Triggering For Me, But That’s What Trump Supporters Want
Last night’s Presidential debate in Ohio was brought back traumatic memories of bullying

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.

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

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.

We need to do better.

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