Our Long National Nightmare Takes Five

Well, as my old roofing boss used to say, it’s all over but the crying. Except for the Senate runoffs in Georgia that’ll decide whether Democrats, and particularly Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, actually get to, you know, govern. Oh, and the Civil/Cold War between the forces of white supremacy and those of us who bought that whole Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness line and think it ought to apply to everyone. That’s still on, too.

So I guess nothing’s over. Which can be depressing as fuck to think about. So let’s take a minute to unpack some shit and see if it makes us feel better.

Start with the big enchilada, the make-or-break thing we should all be resoundingly pleased by, even if we let the polls fool us into thinking we’d be surfing a blue tsunami to happy ending town: Donald Trump has been defeated. As of January 20th of next year, he will no longer be President of the United States.

Can I get a fuck yeah?

I said, CAN I GET A FUCK YEAH?

Seriously, electing a President is not a magic bullet that solves all our problems. Our system of government is too complicated for that (which is a good thing: if the last four years taught us anything, let it be that). But the President can do a *lot* without Congress. Rejoin the Paris Accords? Check. Reboot our foreign policy so we’re not best buddies with the autocrat set? Check. Disband the concentration camps at the southern border? Check and double check.

Pretty much everything Donald Trump has done the last four years — most by Executive Order and personnel choices in key positions — can be undone by Joe Biden, because the only legislative accomplishment of that time was the giant tax cut for the .01%. All the broken shit Donny T and his band of grifters left in the wake of their fire sale? We can at least start getting it fixed. And with an Attorney General and Department of Justice — and US Attorneys nationwide — some of the corruption we’ve seen over the last four years — and, Gawd willing, some of the Hatch Act and Emoluments Clause violations — can be investigated and, where appropriate, prosecuted.

Speaking of which, there’s a whole raft of legal and financial trouble coming Donald Trump’s way, stuff that’s been held at bay *only* because he’s been President. He, his spawn, and the ecosystem of grifters and opportunists that formed around them are all gonna spend time in the dock. If Gawd loves us, we’ll get perp-walks and frog-marches on live TV. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Getting big things done is going to be a lot trickier. Especially if Mitch McConnell remains Senate Majority Leader, which is pretty much a veto in terms of *any* kind of legislation. It’s why the only things that have gotten done since he has been are a giant tax cut for the people he works for and a shit-ton of judges — including the hat trick he scored on the Supreme Court —  installed to lifetime sinecures on the federal bench.

Is there a chance he won’t be? Slim but not zero. If Stacey Abrams can mobilize in Georgia to win both the Senate runoffs there in January, Democrats might get to a 50-50 tie. Which means they get the majority, since Kamala Harris’s only Constitutional duty besides being our backup President is to be President of the Senate, which duties involve one thing: casting tie-breaking votes.

*If* we get to that 50-50 split, and *if* all Senate Democrats can be successfully whipped into line, they can take a procedural vote to abolish the filibuster — an arcane Senate tradition that means it takes 60 votes to call a vote on anything, and the direct reason nothing’s gotten done in Congress for the past decade. Without abolishing the filibuster, NOTHING gets done. No Medicare For All, no Green New Deal, no statehood for Puerto Rico and DC. No stimulus, either, since we taught Republicans during the Obama years that there was no cost to ni shagu nazad-type resistance to allowing Democrats to govern.

So it’s important to be realistic. Which is something folks on the left can have problems with. I don’t mean to poke at you, but remember the hundreds of millions of dollars that went to candidates like Jaime Harrison and MJ Hegar and Amy McGrath? That money could have funded a lot of local and state government campaigns, the winners of which will redraw Congressional districts next year, because the Census. We blew it in 2010, and it looks like we blew it again this year. It’s going to make it harder than it had to be to do anything, because restoring fair representation to Congress and expanding the franchise and turnout are what gets us the majorities necessary to do big things like manage the pandemic and reverse climate change.

Anyway. We are where we’re at, and it looks like the next two years are gonna be a lot of cleanup and backfill, at least at the federal level, and trench warfare with Mitch McConnell to keep the lights on. Unless we — and by we I mean Stacey Abrams and her highly effective network of organizers and activists — can flip those two runoff Senate seats in Georgie. Then we can whip our Senators to abolish the filibuster and get to governing. Minus that, we’re gonna have to give our elected representatives some leeway, cuz nothing gets done without the White House and majorities in both houses of Congress. 

But, again. Donald Trump won’t be President anymore. Isn’t that fantastic? Just utterly delightful?

So what have we learned?

First thing is you really, really can’t trust the polls. We were all shellshocked in 2016 by how off they were, and it doesn’t look like they were much better this year. There’s a bajillion possible reasons why, but my money says the biggest problem is that pollsters don’t factor in Republican vote suppression schemes. Sounds a whole lot more likely than the ‘shy Trump voter’ who doesn’t want to admit who he’s voting for, at least to me. I mean, does anybody really believe shy Trump supporters exist? Conservatives and Republicans are so tribal that even after the four years we all went through, after the catastrophic mismanagement of the pandemic that’s half-crashed sociey and the economy, more of them — some seventy million of our fellow Americans — voted for him this year than in 2016.

Republicans — who are the party of white people — have looked at the same demographic trends the rest of us have. More than that, they’ve conceded the argument over how to run our society, because their arguments suck and their policies are disastrous. They can’t win power at the ballot box. So they pursue it by other means, like the SCOTUS fuckery, gerrymandering, vote suppression, and low-key (for now) domestic terrorism. There are no limits, nothing they won’t stoop to. Because they’re in a war for the soul of America, which they believe they own because God said so. That’s why they demonize liberals, and fuck their own health and economy to own us. For a long time, the American left hasn’t wanted to recognize that. But there’s no choice now, and it’s about goddam time.

This leads to my next takeaway: it’s time for Democrats and the left to stop pretending these people are economically-motivated or persuadable. We won this time because of turnout — Joe didn’t have very long coat-tails, you may have noticed — particularly by organizers and activists of color, who are the heart, soul, and future of not only the Democratic party but the left in general. It’s time, I think, for those college-educated white folks like myself — you know, the ‘Democratic wing of the Democratic party’ — to take a step to the side and ask how we can help. I’ve seen — and participated in — a lot of presumption about whose party it is and how to proceed. It’s time we recognize that presumption for the privilege and entitlement it is, and adjust our behavior accordingly.

I guess what I mean to say is that pursuing social justice is likelier to get us to social democracy than the other way around. It’s sure a lot likelier to rouse up the people who actually vote for Democrats. 

In the end, simply put, it’s about power. Once upon a time there may have been comity and civility and blah blah fucking blah, but we’re past all that now. If we want nice things like a functional ecosystem and a fairer, more just economy — where we, like, actually take care of everybody, and invest in everybody, and try and make the whole Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness thing real for everybody — we have to keep eyes on the prize, we have to keep showing up, and we have to listen to and follow the BIPOC folks leading the way.

The last thing is a little more speculative. An idea that’s been nagging at me. That maybe it’s time to set up a parallel effort, a para-state, if you will, that moves in the direction of social justice and social democracy on a voluntary, opt-in basis. A kind of vast, decentralized, international mutual aid society in which those of us who believe we’re all better off when we’re all in it together can prove ourselves right by, you know, actually pitching in and doing it.

That all said, I just want to come back around one last time to say that even though the work is still just begun and the opposition is both intransigent and without moral compunction, we won a real victory in defeating Donald Trump, one we can build on til, eventually, we get to that bright, shining, just, and prosperous future we want for ourselves and everyone.

I feel pretty good about that.

An Ex-Bartender’s Apology to the Addicts I Enabled

You probably think I’m talking about alcoholics. And sure, I spent twenty years pouring drinks for them. Most bars wouldn’t survive without their coterie of regulars, the folks who show up every day for happy hour, or every night with their friends. And sure, they’re coming to hang out and be in public and not have to be alone with their thoughts and their damage, or just unwind from whatever it is that stresses them out. But a solid percentage of them are addicted to alcohol by any reasonable measure, and I, like every bartender ever, share some culpability for enabling them.

But they’re not who I’m talking about. Plenty of those folks are plenty functional and I say let them have their joy, or relief, or escape, or whatever. And the ones that aren’t, or who turn mean or sad or depressed? Yeah, drinking exacerbates things. But their troubles go beyond the bottle.

No, I’m not talking about the folks putting the ‘fun’ in ‘functional’. I’m talking about customer service addicts.

I wrote about them before, when the first wave of Coronavirus shutdown protests hit, and entitled white people across the nation demonstrated for their inalienable right to get their hair and nails done, and be waited on in a restaurant. They’d gone cold turkey for a few weeks — the first time in their lives many of them had ever been deprived of a fix — and they lost their goddamned minds, same as any addict forced to quit when they aren’t ready. Worse, there are so many of them they have the clout to keep the service economy open even though it’s not safe. Not for them, or for the people who have to work those frontline, high-exposure jobs, most of whom don’t make that much money, especially the ones who rely on tips for their income.

So, who are these customer service addicts? If you’ve ever worked in food service or retail you already know who I’m talking about, even if you never thought of them as addicts or the service you gave them as their fix. They’re the ones who believe the hype, who really think the customer is king, and always right, no matter how unreasonable or abusive they’re being. They’re the ones who don’t tip, or tip grudgingly when they do, the ones for whom your earning so little money is a feature, not a bug. They get off on treating you like you’re less than them, knowing you have to play along or risk your income.

They’re like weather, and they’ll thicken your skin and tighten your game, or they’ll run you out of that line of work and into something else. Not everyone’s got the grit or the psychological agility it takes to thrive in that environment. Because let’s face it, there’s a solid chunk of people who just really get off on treating other people like shit. Weirdly, they’re thickest on Sunday during brunch, right after church gets out.

And while that sounds like a dig, it actually goes to the heart of the matter. Because the woman who wants to speak to your manager about your attitude is trapped in her own kind of hell. She may have chosen it, may think she likes it, may even be right. But the tensions and contradictions inherent in that kind of stratified worldview — never mind the psychological contortions required to participate in white christian patriarchy — tear a person apart inside, even if they don’t know it’s happening. To be inducted to the hierarchy requires a person be injured, either directly, or, in the case of those doing the injuring, indirectly, because to harm others is to harm oneself. And to live with that kind of contradiction, and keep shoving it out of the light, will, in the end, do a person great harm.

Say it this way. Early in my career, here’s how I taught myself to deal with people who believed buying whatever the establishment was selling entitled them to treat me not as the person expediting their good time but as a lesser being they were free to be as rude and abusive to as they liked: I might have to deal with this person for five minutes, or an hour, or whatever; they have to live inside their head all the time.

Cruelty begets misery. This much is obvious. But the particular fuckery of a hierarchy-based worldview is that misery also begets cruelty. I call it Shit Mountain because we all know which way shit rolls. Why do you think it’s called a pecking order?

Not everyone believes Shit Mountain, of course. For every customer service addict who gets off on being treated like they are actually, meaningfully better than me and the rest of the staff — like the game we were playing was real, which was weird, since they’re also the ones who like to break the rules at the end and tip poorly, no matter how good their service was — there were two or even three people who understood it was a kind of game we were playing, that I and the staff were people like them doing a job well or poorly but in good faith whether that good faith was returned or not. Even places where the ratio’s different still have people it’s an actual joy to serve. But, like the weather, there’s always gonna be customers who think they’re the king and always right and are gleefully watching you for the slightest misstep or slip-up, looking for an excuse to deduct from your tip or call your manager and get their ego fluffed.

So why, you might ask, am I the one doing the apologizing?

They say addiction is a disease, and it’s possible they’re right, at least metaphorically. I’ve always had mixed feelings about the metaphor given my experience as a bartender and (currently quit but nostalgic) smoker. To me, addiction is a way of dealing with pain, more particularly with the damage, psychological and physical, that causes it. There’s that dopamine rush when you fix, yeah. But there’s also that feeling of relief when you re-up your stash, or buy a new pack of cigarettes, or your favorite bar or coffee shop opens. It’s reassuring the same way having enough food in the pantry is for some people. Because like when your food runs out and you get hungry, when you run out of whatever your fix is, the damage starts hurting again. For some people it’s bad enough to drown out everything else.

For most of my career, and the first few years after, I would have cast myself as the aggrieved party when it came to customer service addicts. I mean, at least for the drunks and alcoholics I was the dealer — a fraught position to be in but at least one they had to respect. For the customer service addicts I was the fix. And while my kung fu was strong, that shit leaves bruises no matter how thick your skin gets. But now I’ve got more distance I can see how I enabled them just as surely as any alcoholic, and that just like with the alcoholics I enabled, I have some culpability to acknowledge.

The customer service addict is as damaged as anyone who lives on Shit Mountain. That they live there, where cruelty begets misery begets cruelty all the way from the top down to the bottom, is by itself damaging to them, and to everyone around them, and to the world in general. By playing along, by enabling them, I contributed to the furtherance of not only their pain and damage, but the damage and pain they cause others, and the world.

For that, I sincerely apologize.

What Voting Should Be Like

“Hurray for democracy!” I shouted. A guy with a mustache and a hunter’s camo jacket who’d just dropped his ballot chuckled. Nearby, a bald man in a bright-colored sweatshirt leaned out of an SUV, taking pictures or video of a woman putting their ballots in the drop box outside the county courthouse. I’d left my wallet in the car but had my phone in hand so I could take pictures of the ballots going into the box.

See? There they go!

It took all of an hour from Dr. Bae bringing the mail in today, October 16th, eighteen days before the election, to my dropping the ballots in this box, the only delay being the time it took to do the research to make informed choices on some of the down-ballot races and local referenda and drive down into town.

For more than ten years, Washington state, where I live, has had all mail-in elections. Every registered voter receives a voter’s pamphlet a month before the election, in which candidates introduce themselves and cases for referenda or ballot initiatives are made and rebutted. Then, twenty days before the election, every registered voter is mailed a ballot, along with a tab to follow the vote as it’s collected and counted.

Look at this gorgeous thing.

It’s fucking awesome. Seriously, it’s so much better than vote in person, which I was happy to do when that’s what people did. But did I always do the research beforehand to make informed choices? No. I didn’t. And even if I had, who’s to say I’d have remembered it. No, it’s so much easier to crack open the voter’s guide, fire up the old internet machine, and take the time I need to make sure my voice is not only heard, but that it’s saying what I want it to say.

Also, and I can’t stress this enough, there’s a paper trail. Actual, physical paper. The best guarantor of election security there is.

This year, voting was quick and easy. This year, it’s Democrats all the way down the ticket. Since my general rule is to always vote for the most liberal/progressive viable candidate, that’s most years. But if you’re reading this, and you aren’t voting Democrat all the way down (especially at the state and local level), please please please reconsider, just this one time. For all our sakes.

Today was the fastest turnaround I’ve ever done for getting my ballot in. I’m usually a late voter. Not because I’m a late decider — I’m too compulsively informed for that — but because I’m lazy and I suck at time management. This year is different, for reasons we’re all too painfully aware of. But either way, I had the privilege of getting my ballot, dropping what I was doing, and getting it filled out and dropped off as fast as I reasonably could. Like I said, I took only the time I needed to make sure I was voting what I actually want. But if I didn’t have that privilege? If, say, I was an essential worker who had a shift today, or on election day? If I only had five minutes here and there over the course of a week to do my research? If I couldn’t get my ballot in til the last minute? No big deal. It only has to be postmarked by November 3rd. I would not even need a stamp (though if you got one, use it; the Post Office could use some love right now).

Expanding the number of people voting is not only good for small-d democracy. It’s good for liberals and progressives of all stripes. Because it’s not true, as is said ad infinitum, that America is a center-right country. If it was, the Republicans wouldn’t need to do all the voter suppression, gerrymandering, vote stealing, and ratfucking they do. They’d just win, fair and square. But when things are fair and square, it’s the Democrats who win, because America’s center-left, or even left-wing now Covid and late-stage capitalism have worked us all over so fucking thoroughly.

We are the majority. It behooves us to make sure everyone votes, or can vote, for reasons both idealistic and partisan. It’s a win-win.

And if you’re looking for a good way to do it, mail-in balloting on the Washington model is a damned good place to start.

Shit Mountain Blues: Anti-masking, Open Carry, and the Right to Do Harm

How many times have I heard the lament? If you won’t wear a mask to protect yourself, won’t you at least think of the innocent people you might infect? Because that’s the thing, right? Masking works best when everyone does it, because it provides some protection for the wearer from aerosolized droplets, yes. But the bulk of the protection comes from limiting the spread of those droplets in the first place, when the infectious person’s mask catches them right out of the gate. That’s just science.

The lament is rhetorical, an appeal to conscience. And if you have one, and aren’t hyper-invested in white christian supremacist patriarchy and your place at or near the top of its hierarchy, such an appeal might work. But it doesn’t, because it is exactly that perceived positioning atop that particular hierarchy that drives the anti-mask movement, along with Second Amendment fundamentalism and, let’s be honest, the conservative movement generally.

It’s a dominance thing.

Let me see if I can break it down. Say you believe that there’s a hierarchy to the world. Call it Shit Mountain, because the slopes are steep and we all know which way shit rolls. Say your mythology tells you you’re king of shit mountain, or at least a member of his court, and everyone below you doesn’t matter. You don’t have to give a shit about them or about what they think or what they want or how they feel, because they’re below you, and we all know which way shit rolls. 

Sounds pretty good, right? But it’s not, though. It’s enervating as fuck. Because you know the people you shit on are eyeing you, watching for weakness. Worse, you’ve got your own to jockey against, because the closer you are to the top the less you can afford to get shit on, because if people see shit on you, they might think you’re lower down than you are. If it happens enough, they turn right.

It’s enough to keep a man up at night. To eat at him constantly. The more invested he (or she) is in Shit Mountain, the more anxious, the more paranoid about status he (or she) gets. Seriously, just try and tell a Shit Mountain man something. Anything. He’ll fight you on it just because you said it first. Prove it’s true, and he’ll double down. Because to Shit Mountain Man everything is always about power. Shit Mountain Man believes he can bend reality to his will. So long as he can make you submit, he thinks he has.

The more anxious Shit Mountain Man is, the more likely he is to act out. To insist not only on his right to do so, but on the rightness of his doing so. To insist, furthermore, on acknowledgement of his right to do so. Because what, after all, is a greater demonstration of power than to harm others without consequence to oneself?

When white men don’t wear masks, when they march in the street open carrying long guns, when they show up to ‘protect businesses’ or counterdemonstate against police accountability protesters, when they ask to see the manager and try and get you fired from your job, it’s an assertion of power. It’s an assertion of a positive right to harm others, and a willingness — in too many cases, an eagerness — to do so. It’s an assertion about Shit Mountain, and where they are on it, and where everyone else is. And that assertion, and submission to it, is more important than anything else. 

***

I wrote not too long ago about what I call the Founding Factions, the contradiction at the heart of the American Experiment: 

“On the one hand you have ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all are created equal and endowed with inalienable rights to life, liberty, and th pursuit of happiness’. On the other you have the Three-Fifths crowd, a burgeoning aristocracy founded on the bedrock of chattel slavery, in which some people have no rights at all.”

me

Shit Mountain Man is the cultural, intellectual, and — in plenty of cases — genealogical heir to the Three-Fifths crowd. They’ve fought against those self-evident truths since the ink on the Constitution dried. They tried to secede from the Union, and when they lost they engaged in armed insurrection, terrorism, and guerilla warfare til the Union said fuck it. They lost slavery, so they built the caste system of Jim Crow, and have done their level best ever since to keep America from fulfilling the promise that was supposed to legitimize the whole goddam thing in the first place.

The world’s oldest democracy has never lived up to its ideals. How could it, when the clearest enunciation of those ideals come from a slave-owner and serial rapist? Try and bury that kind of contradiction, shit’s gonna keep coming back around, like it is now. 

The Shit Mountain crowd is scared. They lost the argument — because, duh — and, worse for them, they’re losing the demographic battle. That’s why they’re so desperate, why they have no conscience left. After all the dirt they’ve done, what’s a few more dead, theirs or ours? Until we submit, and pretend they can bend reality to their will, they’ll keep insisting on their right to do harm. And they’ll keep doing harm, in or out of uniform.

Who am I kidding? They’ll keep doing it whether we submit or not. We all know what power does, just like we know which way shit rolls.

It’s Alright to Wish Donald Trump Ill

A lot of people I know are taking the high road with regard to Donald Trump’s Covid infection, and urging others to do the same. As someone who for the most part takes the high road myself, when it’s available, I applaud them, and agree: in general, it’s not good to wish others ill, or wish that someone would die.

(For my own part, I do not wish for Donald Trump to die of Coronavirus. I want him to die many years from now, broke and in prison for his life of crime, so he really has time to kick himself for all his mistakes. Barring that, I prefer he survive at least til November 4th of this year.)

That all said, Donald Trump is the exception that proves the rule. Or maybe the rule’s better understood as a guideline. Whatever. Donald Trump is not only a manifestation of almost everything that is worst in human nature, he has also done untold harm to more people than you or I or all our friends put together could count. He’s an abuser we’ve all been forced into a relationship with, and he’s hurt all of us, without caring or apology. His handling of the pandemic has not only killed two hundred thousand Americans and counting, it’s disrupted the lives, well-being, and livelihood of the whole goddamned country. It’s going to take decades to fix all the damage, if we even can, thanks to the judges that have been confirmed on his watch; either way it’s going to leave scars on our democracy and a lot of us with PTSD just from bearing witness to the whole tragicomic shit-show.

So yeah, it probably is better for your soul or whatever not to wish death or suffering on anyone, no matter how terrible they or the consequences of their freely-taken actions are. But as far as I’m concerned, when it comes to history’s monsters — and Donald Trump is one — you may excuse yourself from that particular aspiration, and wish the man a speedy rendezvous with his just desserts.