Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Selecting Your Difficulty Level: Voting and Video Games (20 Leftist Goals That Will be Easier Under Biden)

Today is the fourth of my series of posts about voting—particularly in THIS election. [And on a personal note, I had to trash several days worth of my regular update schedule to take this from concept notes to a polished final draft, so I appreciate the patience of anyone who was wondering where my usual posts were.]

As one goes further left in U.S. politics, the chances grow rather quickly of finding folks who don’t vote, vote for third parties or write in candidates as “protest,” or generally make sure you know they’re “leftists” not “liberals,” hate the DNC, and find everyone but maybe "the squad" entirely too moderate and impure for them to endorse, support, or vote for. (They also, as a broad generalization, seem to have a weird inability to notice that Senator Kamala Harris rates more liberal by every watchdog group than Bernie Sanders who they think of as the One True Leftist™ in politics––but that could probably be its whole own post. Left-over primary season self-righteousness is a hell of a drug.) 

These are the folks that find compromise on issues like health care to be unacceptable. They are the ones who cannot abide by a mainstream politician who has made, or sometimes even supported a politically centrist policy at any time during their career….even if it goes back perhaps decades. (And, frankly, some of them just hate anyone without a S and and “anders” in their last name.) The harm the Democratic people causes people isn't trivial and they don't accept it just because it's not as much.

And let’s be clear that a lot could be said about these folks. They’re not exactly wrong. Ideologically speaking, I’m one of them. I just yell at the clouds like Grandpa Simpson where it’s most effective and vote…well….ALSO where it’s actually most effective. But Democrats regularly court the far left's votes and then throw them under the bus as a matter of standard operating procedure. ("Oh....did I say socialized medicine? I meant a complicated system of paying insurance companies and a mandate that you must. We'll get you a subsidy, though! Just fill out ten miles of paperwork.") There is no viable left-wing party in U.S. politics. Not really. There are some left-wing parties but voting for them is pragmatically the same as ceding power by inaction and probably instantly gets you on an FBI watchlist. 

But no major political party in the United States (of which there are TWO––take it or leave it) is having a serious conversation about redistributing wealth. Actual leftist folks are NOT represented by the U.S. political spectrum (arguably by design). And frankly, no one is entitled to anyone’s vote, even if "the other guy is totes worse, yo." On a global continuum, Democrats land just right of center, and as a party have never taken a stand against colonization or capitalism, or taken a firm position against police brutality, a MUCH higher tax on the super wealthy, fought hard for social justice issues like institutional racism, really come down against environmental destruction, or found alternatives to cowering in the corner* and begging Republicans not to hurt them every time the latter group demonstrates that it will have no respect for bylaws or precedent and is about to make a naked, “who’s gonna stop us....YOU?” flavored power grab.

*Democrats like to call this "going high." They would apparently rather be governed by the conservative minority from the low ground than engage in anything that has the appearance of unseemly procedural politics.

On the other hand, these same leftists seem more intent on calling people bootlickers, blocking their agree-with-almost-everything-but-the-pragmatism-of-a-protest-vote friends on social media, and sharing dank memes than they are intent on winning hearts and minds with ideas they assure everyone are vastly superior. (And….just so we’re clear, before we go any further, I should again make it crystal clear that I’m mostly one of them.) The message they seem to think they’re sending to Democrats didn’t work in 2016 or even as far back as 2000 when one could arguably say their votes DID swing the election in key states. And their political strategy seems primarily based on showing up every four years, putting a gun to their own heads and threatening to blow away their own political power on write-ins, protest votes, or pure apathy if they are not appeased by Democrats in purple districts embracing various third-rail leftist issues or abandoning all semblance of the decorum without which one cannot get elected in our society. And without getting elected––and this should go without saying, but so often doesn’t in these circles––one cannot govern. (Making the ideal leftist dream candidate, who calls conservatives names and demands policies for which there is no political will, UTTERLY unelectable.) Ironically, the idea that—given how many of them (us) there are––they could pull the entire DNC platform to the left in under a decade by joining the party en masse doesn’t seem to have as much catharsis to them as simply getting pissed off, taking their ball, and going home to watch Democrats lose again (and presumably not be too troubled by watching the folks they claim to champion suffering under Republicans).

It is no wonder they are the ones that Russian psyops and right-wing false flags so consistently target as "the weak underbelly" of the left-wing of U.S. politics. Essentially, by reminding them of what the more conservative end of the necessarily broad Democrat coalition finds acceptable (or by playing a highlight reel of a politician’s most compromising and/or right-wing-y choices), leftists can be convinced to disenfranchise THEMSELVES in write-ins, protest votes, and abstention, thereby ceding power by inaction to the right wing.

Pragmatism and idealism are big values struggled fiercely over at that end of the political spectrum. Tacit approval of corrupt systems is still approval, and voting for someone who has essentially embraced ideologies, and likely even signed legislation anathema to one’s personal philosophies or even HARMFUL in terms of objective results is understandably an awful position to put anyone in. This Faustian deal is particularly compounded when sneering Democrats catechize leftists about who ELSE they're going to vote for. For leftists, saying “Here, buddy. Have the power to govern me” to someone who has shown that they absolutely WILL use that power to hurt them and theirs is a fucking tough sell.

I’m not here to sling insults or besmirch decisions, but I would like to challenge the existing narrative. Because leftists reach for one particular way to frame this dilemma over and over again: that Democrats don’t share their values and are against them, and moderate policies ALSO hurt them SO WHY EVEN BOTHER. (Personally, I would argue that Republicans and Democrats are far from the same, but this article is not about challenging that perception.) That we shouldn’t HAVE to vote for the LESSER evil and this “it is what it is” shit is hard to swallow cycle after cycle as change, if it comes at all, is glacial and wiped out by the first fifteen minutes of a GOP regime. 

But there’s another way to think of this. Another way to frame this narrative.

Like a video game. Specifically, that screen where you get to choose your difficulty.

See, no one thinks a video game is ON THEIR SIDE. The game is working against them. (The metaphor breaks down, of course, because this is about power, not fun, but if you stay within the margins, it makes sense.) A player has to defeat enemies who want to destroy them. There are powerful bosses. A gamer is likely to fail a few times and have to go back to a save point (or something). The end boss might even be super challenging and in some cases require hundreds of hours of work to have a chance of succeeding. (Even on a relatively easy game.) The system of the video game is not their ally. They are literally working to defeat it.

But many video games do allow for choosing a difficulty level. Maybe you have more ability to get hit, or your enemies less. Maybe you start out with more resources, or they are easier to find. Maybe the number of random encounters with enemies goes down. The game might be working against you and you might be working against the game, but it is just EASIER. The hard parts are still hard, but they’re easier than if you crank the difficulty. And if you DO crank the difficulty, you can often find that just walking around in the world becomes incredibly difficult.

Voting for a Democrat (particularly at a moment in history like this one) is setting the difficulty at a lower setting. It will make for an easier experience for any leftist, whether they be a card-carrying communist or an anarchist, a democratic socialist who would like to see a more Scandinavian model taken seriously, or even just a party line Democrat. We don’t have to share the official DNC “victory condition” objectives or like their candidates’ every past move to recognize that a Democrat makes life as a leftist easier than a Republican. Especially THIS Republican. The hard parts are still going to be very very hard, and we’ve lots of work to do, but they’ll be easier. And it won’t be so fucking dangerous to just walk around.

My leftist friends, this doesn’t mean the Democrats won’t be working against socialism, or radical liberation movements, or that they never passed a bill that targets sex workers or trans folks or hurt a community of color. (They don't, they have, they will again.) It just means that EVERY. SINGLE. GOAL. OR. OBJECTIVE. ––both pragmatic and idealistic––that we leftists have will just be that much EASIER to accomplish under a Democrat. 

Not easy. Just a lower difficulty.

1. Having Codified Power- The reason you get to cheer on Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and “the squad” ––or (if you’re a certain stripe of leftist) hang on Bernie Sanders’ every word and make sure everyone knows he would have done a better job at…..whatever––is because SOMEONE VOTED FOR THEM. At some point they won their elections. That's WHY they have power. The political landscape in their area was liberal enough that their constituents felt represented. That can’t happen if elections are ceded by inaction to the other party. 

2. Discourse- Arguably, the reason that the far left can’t muster more than about 30% turnout during Democratic primaries is because they are still trying to win the war of ideals (and less so, trying to get their people to actually show up). A hearts-and-minds persuasion campaign is not as glamorous to think about as revolutions and not as fun as making dank memes about bootlickers. It is long, unrewarding work, but it is also how movements make progress. Do you imagine that discourse is going to be easier under the party that thinks your goals are all worthy (but that maybe you’re not being pragmatic about how to get the political will to make it happen), or under the party who is framing mainstream Democrats as enemies of the state, characterizing activist groups as terrorists, and working to make it illegal to say what you’re saying? You think people are going to listen to talk of socialism MORE or LESS if we enter a new McCarthy era or have ONE viable party? Or do you imagine your subversive and possibly illegal ideas will be more difficult to talk about?

3. The Overton Window- If you’re trying to move U.S. politics to the left and maybe someday even see the U.S. abandon some of its destructive legacies, deep-seated culture of bigotry towards various groups, and harmful policies both parties embrace (like allowing monopolies ungodly power), do you imagine that this will be easier with a party whose lefter members already question these things and are willing to move the slider, or with the wing that is actively hostile and pulls to the right whenever they can still do so and win elections?

4. A POTUS Who Might Listen- Simply getting through to a sitting president is NOT EASY. A certain level of….let’s say self-assuredness is required just to run for the position. While there is some evidence that Trump tends to default to taking advice from the last person with whom he was in the room when he has too many options he likes or really doesn’t know what to do, these are his advisors groveling to his ego (and evidence suggests, playing him). When it comes to listening to economists, diplomats, military experts, scientists, historians, the vast majority of the citizens over which he governs, he demonstrates a singular… “disinclination.” Even being nearly killed by Covid-19 didn’t convince him to be any less cavalier about blowing off every safety precaution advised by the very same medical science that almost certainly saved his life. Do you imagine getting the president to listen to reason, science, a huge swath of constituents would be easier with Trump or with Biden?

5. Environmental Concerns- Of course, the Green New Deal is a plan the far left wants, and it would be great if we could just circumvent those pesky democracy concerns and mandate it tomorrow. But in the meantime (until we have a leftist military coup and a socialist utopia enforced at gunpoint by an authoritarian regime), we have to work our ground game and SELL people the idea.  And do you imagine that this will be easier with the candidate who has agreed that anthropogenic climate change is the existential crisis of our century and has said that getting back into the Paris Accords will happen on day one (but has some sobering concerns about how quickly fossil fuel economies can be shifted to renewables and how all this is going to get paid for)? Or do you imagine that this will be easier with the candidate that mocks anyone who says there’s a problem, has called climate change a political hoax as recently as this month (usually insinuating that it's China's doing), pulled us out of The Paris Accords, passes federal laws to undermine states trying to regulate the use of fossil fuels, and has made denial that it is even really an issue a PART OF HIS PLATFORM as well as spending four years deregulating SO much that pollution problems we spent decades fixing have already returned?

6. Anti-Racism- The reason Black Lives Matter was able to bring so much attention to racial disparities in the criminal justice system in the wake of George Floyd’s extrajudicial murder is because they (BLM) had been talking about the issue since the July 2013 acquittal of George Zimmerman for the murder of Trayvon Martin. That’s seven years to start moving the needle on the national conversation. Now do you imagine that sort of progress is going to be easier under a regime that has its problems and needs to unpack some assumptions and challenge systems with racism baked in but that seems more willing every day to challenge a problematic past and be inclusive, or under the regime of the party telling BLM they’re a bunch of terrorists and anyone who doesn’t just let the police kill them can fuck off and die? In fact, we can see the different reactions to the 2020 protests in the candidates themselves. One is clearly a higher difficulty level.

7. Anti-Bigotry- Really the same thing goes for any anti-bigotry. Feminism? Trans liberation? LGBTQIA+ rights? Do you think that getting to where you want to be is going to be easier with a group who generally (except perhaps for its most conservative members) wants the same things but sometimes can’t find the political will to make it happen, or with the party that is overtly hostile to these folks and friendly to the folks who want to treat them as social pariahs and that practically has “Wink Wink Nudge Nudge” stamped on the legislation it passes allowing bigotry against such groups in the name of “religious freedom.” Do you imagine that the courts, where issues of civil rights and liberties are usually hashed out (rather than the legislature), are going to be more or less open minded under Republican appointees? 

8. Body Autonomy- Do you imagine the body autonomy of people with uteruses is going to be more respected by the folks who (generally) consider the right to medical care to be sacrosanct and access and privacy surrounding family planning a basic medical human right, or by the party that is nakedly and transparently packing the court with anti-choice SCOTUS justices so that they can challenge Roe v. Wade piecemeal….or even whole cloth? The party who has made access to abortion a priority in the states they control or the one who has shut down Planned Parenthoods in the states THEY control?

9. Taxes Reform (The Real Kind)- Which party do you imagine is going to make it easier to pass a more progressive tax code? Which party would (in fact DOES) discuss taxing the rich at a greater rate and would make it easier to fund programs that help poorer folks? And would Trump or Biden veto the shit out of anything like that if it landed on their desk––making it that much harder to get done?

10. Social Issues- You see where this is going, right? You can fit almost any issue in here and ask yourself the same question. I don’t need to list them all. From immigration reform to labor rights to equality issues to early childhood education, they will have the same basic breakdown. Do you think you’re going to get more under a regime that drags its feet and won’t (or often can’t––because governing a pluralistic society is hard) get things done as well or quickly as the leftist line, or do you think you're going to get more under the regime of the group that is openly hostile and derisive to all those things? Anything from school lunches to kids in cages to SNAP benefits to regressive tax “reforms.” It’s all the same. Which party do you think is going to make it easier to achieve some concessions, achieve some progress, achieve SOME middle ground, and which party wants to pass laws going exactly the other way ALL the time and to make every single thing you might want to accomplish much much much more difficult? Even something relatively simple like taking a more nuanced look at Christopher Columbus and indigenous history, we can see which side is going to make it easier, and which side is going to make White House official statements that any such nuance is anathema to the “spirit of patriotism.”

11. Safety and Security- There is no question that our entire society and all on the political spectrum are hostile to certain marginalized communities, but one thing we’ve seen in the last four years is that while Democrats may not expend their political capital to make things better, Republicans can always, always, always, ALWAYS make them worse. Fucking always. Do you imagine a president who is openly, nakedly racist, refuses to condemn white supremacy or fringe conspiracy groups, and whose rhetoric encourages stochastic terrorism will make keeping folks (particularly marginalized folks) safe and secure easier or harder? Do you imagine folks for whom simply walking around has become difficult will be more likely to take chances putting their time and energy and money into all those leftist causes if they are spending more time just trying to make sure they and their family are getting by and safe and staying alive?

12. Health and Livelihood- The same goes for heath and livelihood. Possibly literally, as the gutting of the A.C.A. is absolutely on the ballot this year. Do you imagine people going through foreclosures because of medical bills or watching loved ones die are going to be more or less likely to have time and energy for a leftist mobilization? Do you imagine that lacking affordable health care or conversely being unable to miss a day of work because even REMOTELY affordable healthcare is coupled with employment would make it easier or harder on the average person?

13. Covid Response- Do you imagine we’re going to slow the body count that is directly affecting some of the most marginalized communities with a president who is ready to embrace national leadership, whose party has pushed for some serious stimulus, who personally takes the CDC guidelines seriously, or with the president who knew the truth and didn’t tell us, has actively hidden data that looks bad, yanked data from the CDC because they told him opening wasn't a gangbusters idea, who mocks basic medically recommended precautions as “living in fear,” and whose basic outlook on stimulus is, “Fuck you. It’ll ruin the Dow. Get your whiny asses back to work"?

14. Socialism- I know it’s a dirty word that conservatives are afraid of even though by calling everything socialism they demonstrate breathtakingly that they actually don’t understand what it even is. Many conservative voters even favor policies that are MORE socialist...as long as the word "socialism" is taken out of the description. But if we think of Capitalism vs. Socialism as a slider moving from left to right instead of a switch that is either on or off, which party do you think is going to make moving the slider to the left towards “socialism” easier? Which party already favors safety nets, social programs, expanding medicare, progressive tax structure, keeping social security funded, and increasing minimum wage? Which party hates ALL those things, has strategy memos about how to win a war of attrition against the New Deal, wants to go back to a flat tax, and will cut costs by privatizing health care, education, and even retirement? Which group has a higher difficulty level?



But hey. Maybe all this policy wonkery isn’t your style. Maybe you think taking to the streets and mobilizing and organizing is the key to change rather than getting your hands impure with all that mainstream politics. I might encourage anyone with such a belief to take a look around and notice how many of the U.S. proletariat’s deep-seated and very real concerns they are literally refusing to take political action on in pursuit of “loftier ideas” for which they want those exact same people’s support, but that’s a different article. Even if you don’t, strictly speaking, believe in "harm reduction," you can still turn down the difficulty level on what you ARE trying to accomplish.

15-Activism/Protest- Do you suppose there will be more or fewer people able to go to marches and protests and weekly meetings and write persuasive articles and give their time, energy, and money to a cause under the party that generally struggles for labor rights, health care, and accountability in law enforcement? Or do you suppose that you’ll get a lot more people who CAN’T participate, are afraid of the consequences, or can’t AFFORD to take a day off to take part in a march or something under the party that is openly hostile to all those things….well, at least when the left is doing them (seems like domestic terrorists invading capitol buildings in Michigan get a pass). Do you imagine that standing up and being counted (if you are a "mob" instead of a "militia," that is) will be easier or harder as the consequences increase for doing so?

16. Full-on Civil Unrest- Which party do you think is going to outlaw mass protesting or at least make certain kinds of protesting illegal? (You don’t have to imagine this. You can just look and see which party has already tried to pass exactly such legislation.) Which party is going to accelerate police brutality? (Again…which party HAS?) Which party is more likely to react to grievances in better faith? And if you do have police cracking down (via various work-arounds to the first amendment), which party will make peaceful assembly harder? Again, it’s not like there’s never been protests and/or police brutality under a Democrat. That’s absurd. But Trump has made it crystal clear that it’s going to be HARDER under him.

17. Finding (and Sharing) Quality Information- Do you imagine Donald Trump with his open contempt and hostility for the fourth estate, a history of coverups of everything from translators speaking about his sideline conversations with geopolitical enemies to his taxes to the dangers he knew about Covid way back in February, and shrill insistence that anything he doesn’t like must be “fake news” is going to make it easier or harder to access reliable information? You may not like the mainstream media and its corporate, GE/Comcast, News Corp, Disney, Viacom, Warner Media monopolies on what news you even have access to, but do you imagine that things will be easier or harder under a regime that actively undermines the press at every turn? What about social media? Do you think it’s going to be easier to find reliable information on social media under the party that is instigating hearings into social media’s effects on democracy, or under the group that hired Cambridge Analytica, shrugs at Russian troll farm meddling, claims a "fact check" is censorship, and thinks that anyone with money should be able to spread just as many lies as they want without so much as a fact check?

18. Grassroots Movements/Parallel Infrastructure- Of Trump or Biden, which do you think would be more accepting of movements that build political power by doing what government ought to be doing, though at the community level; however who also do so with an activist/leftist bent? Which do you imagine will have federal agents who seize assets and shut programs down on technicalities? (Not because they actually did anything “wrong,” but because they were hotbeds of “radical antifa liberal” thought.) Which do you think will make it harder for such a group to influence policy? Which do you think will just make it simply HARDER to exist as such an organization?

19-Democracy (flawed though it may be)- We are a flawed democracy. That is a matter of fact. (Feel free to look it up. We're on the edge, but it's true.) We're more an oligarchy really and with profound disenfranchisement, particularly of marginalized groups. But which candidate has been encouraging voting? And which has openly said anti-democratic shit? Which party "gets out the vote!" and which party floats, writes, endorses, proposes, votes for, and fights the legal battles to maintain laws that disenfranchise voters (particularly CERTAIN voters)? Which party is more likely to use computers to gerrymander the SHIT out of states so that some votes literally count for less? Which candidate has said he won’t accept the election results? Which candidate has hinted around that he will want more than two terms (“My political opposition made me do it.”) Which party makes vox populi a higher difficulty level at every opportunity?

20. The Vaunted “Revolution”- I just want to take a moment to address the leftist elephant in the room: the “revolution” everyone seems so keen on. While I’ll laugh at a clever guillotine meme, and I understand the language of the unheard, people who have watched too many movies maybe don’t understand just how many people get killed (and which underclasses will take the brunt of these casualties) if folks try their hand against the greatest military in history on its home soil, and against a party that finds the Geneva conventions or the rules of engagement....constraining. If we do end up sparking a revolution under a Democratic regime, it is more likely to be a cultural metamorphosis. A huge tectonic shift in social norms and ideology. A "movement." We’ve seen what this looks like. Not without its civil unrest (I’m no credulous naïf), but perhaps without tanks in the streets and live ammunition. And we’ve already seen who militarizes and demands violence from the governors they don’t think are being heavy-handed enough. Which revolution do you imagine is going to have a higher difficulty level….(of even surviving, never mind of effectively changing anything)?

I could go on. This list isn’t even exhaustive. Leftists can’t get what they want out of U.S. mainstream politics, but the idea that the election outcome doesn’t matter is absurd. Just the great awareness of the coming shift in judicial outcomes is proof that elections matter.

Everything that someone who claims to be lefter than liberal (and I’m talking about those who go to great pains to make sure that everyone knows that liberals are too moderate and they don’t consider themselves to be one)…..

EVERY goal they have….

EVERY objective they’re trying to accomplish……

EVERY SINGLE THING they want to see in the world….

ALL OF IT will be easier under a Biden presidency. And so, so, so much harder under a smug-about-winning and likely unfathomably vengeful Donald Trump regime. 

Monday, September 28, 2020

This Is Why We Vote (A Non-Comprehensive List)

Though a stand-alone article, this is the third in a "spiritual succession" of articles.

"But They Won't Care"

Democrats Are Not "Just As Bad"


“My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.”

-Ruth Bader Ginsburg

I won't reiterate the political situation we're in. It's dire. Even many on the far left, who four years ago insisted they were too pure to vote for a candidate with an imperfect record, who were unwilling to take on their causes (whether or not they were a "third rail" in mainstream politics), who superciliously informed Democrats that they weren't being sufficiently excited by the DNC nominee, who insisted both sides were "really just as bad," suddenly have realized how appallingly, ludicrously, order of magnitudinally, they were wrong. Democrats have never been just as bad. However, since 2016 the chasm between them has grown naked and grotesque and more than a little harmful and wildly insulting to continue speaking about as if it doesn't exist.

Now we face down a political landscape of S.C.O.T.U.S. nominations ready to cost millions what little health care coverage the ACA gives them, a slew of LGBTQ+ rights, and probably abortion—if not birth control. The President attempts to secure his own reelection by openly subverting democracy, with foreign actors and his own executive powers, being so naked, transparent and flagrant as to brag to a room of "his people" that his attacks on the post office were to help him win. And leftists must prepare for the very real chance that even speaking their vaunted leftist aims and opinions (which I should be clear that I share, despite my pragmatism) might become criminal offenses. Those "*ahem*" free and fair elections (already in deep jeopardy due to Republican cheats like voter ID laws, registration restrictions, intimidation, claims of fraud, and roll purges as well as gerrymandering and felony disenfranchisement) will be a thing of the past. 

This is exactly, entirely, precisely why you fucking VOTE! 

Even if the nominee isn't exciting. Even if they don't promise you every legislation you wish they would. Even if you don't like them as a person. Even if they're not left enough for you. Even if you wish there were more than two viable parties. Even if they make you feel a little dirty. 

Because it's not just one person you're voting for. It's NEVER just them you're voting for. It’s not just their politics and your protest or purity on the table. It's the shape of every commission they form. It's the philosophy of the entire Cabinet. It's the legislation they'll use their podium to promote or their pen to veto. It's why they declare states of emergency and what they do during them. It's the character of every lifetime appointee they nominate. It's the attorneys general and their prosecutors. It's the heads of agencies they appoint. It's the regulations they gut (or don't). It's the executive orders. It's the way they instruct law enforcement to ignore white supremacy and blame everything on Antifa in a transparent effort to criminalize all those things patronizing leftists assure everyone they ought to be doing "instead of voting" (Why not both?). It's which laws they will enforce and how. It's where there will be overreach and what it will be done to accomplish.

And of course it is the flavor of the judiciary of the highest court. 

There's now a damn fine chance that everything from Roe v. Wade to Obergefell v. Hodges gets overturned and the next THIRTY years of rulings will be so spectacularly pro-business and anti-immigrant/poor/civil rights/body autonomy that we really will be back to fighting for the things we won in the 60s.

It's never just about that one person. Those ripples will echo on for DECADES. Because as true as it might be that a single vote for a single Democrat might not make everything we want better, things can always, always, always get worse. 

And all that is to say nothing of the down-ticket issues and elections.

There are reasons to vote that go well beyond personal distastes and single issues, and some sense of political purity. Personally, I know this falls into a tricky trope this close to the election, but the center is going to vote in droves, and the people that need to hear this are to the left of most mainstream Democrats. So I'm going to say it anyway:

At my absolutely MOST nuanced moments, I hold deeply and powerfully ambivalent feelings about the ticket itself, but frankly, leftists who leave ordinary American working class folks to their fates with no insurance, debilitating tax burdens, a party that openly legislates harm from a position of bigotry, but who then show up for the DNC primaries and expect those same people to rise up and join them in some proletariat uprising or be called "bootlickers" are a little bit revolting. 

This is exactly, entirely, precisely why you fucking VOTE! 


When I started this list, the very first reason was one that no longer applies. I think we were all hoping that we could allow an 87-year-old woman with cancer to retire without losing the next 30 years of Supreme Court rulings. That we forced her to try and grin and bear pancreatic cancer without retiring is bad enough.

Our national federal response to Covid-19 matters. We have, as of this writing, just shy of 210,000 deaths. It didn't have to be this way. In fact most epidemiologists (and the clear example of other countries) show that we could have prevented anywhere between half and 90% of those deaths. But our president covered up what he knew because he was worried about maintaining his personal power after the election. It's more than just that, though. He didn't just leave out the part where he knew what was going on to avoid panic but go on encourage everyone to take precautions. No. He deliberately downplayed it, misled the public, AND PROCEEDED TO THROW HIS HAT IN WITH THE PEOPLE CALLING IT A HOAX.

It's one thing to leave out the part about how bad it is. It's quite another to lend the most powerful podium in the world to the voices of people who are saying things you KNOW are not true. But that's what he did by amplifying anti-shutdown, anti-curve-flattening, and anti-mask behavior. Because the instant politicization of what should have never ever EVER been political by the anti-science, anti-expertise, anti-education, anti-media right wing meant that most people Trump absolutely knew were wrong had a huge overlap with those who loved him. Trump doesn't care if you are spreading a pandemic, are a Nazi, are in a Catholic cult, throw in with people who want to "hunt" half the country, or have no moral compass whatsoever as long as you are loyal. Like The Backstreet Boys, he doesn't care who you are or where you're from.....as long as you love him.  

So instead of the return to some tiny semblance of normalcy that we see in so many countries that have been guided by medicine and science in their response, the United States has instead basically decided to live with an entirely preventable 9/11-caliber loss of life twice every week (coming mostly from the most vulnerable populations). Frankly, anyone too good to vote to stop an extension of policies that have killed hundreds of thousands needlessly—because of some idea of a "higher cause"—needs to have their higher cause system recalibrated. 

Because elections have consequences, a single president (who lost the popular vote*) is about to shape a third of S.C.O.T.U.S. for perhaps 30+ years, and he has made being anti-abortion an increasingly important rubric in his decision.

(*Bringing the total number to five—or over HALF the sitting court—who have not been nominated by a president who won a majority of votes. Yay for democracy.)

Now the fight to preserve body autonomy and medical care will reach a fevered pitch. Far from being a single up or down case (as the last forty years of Roe v. Wade challenges illustrate), the moves and countermoves through the honeycombs of federalism will be an ongoing series of battles in which executive allies (and perhaps the next couple of S.C.O.T.U.S. appointments) could make or break the overall war.

Trump supporters are the oozing abscess of white supremacy, hate crimes, literal Nazism, and weaponized bigotry. They have created an uptick in hate crimes. They are showing up to first amendment assemblies with semi-automatic long guns, and are chummy with law enforcement. They are killing people. (A few at a time and in a way that the actions of multiple "lone wolves" can be dismissed, but they are killing people.) These people will not shrug at a single lost election and say, "Welp, we lost the war of ideas. Pack it in, boys." Their infection will remain long after Trump is gone—literally for as long as they experience no real consequences for their perfidious views. 

But the worst of their ACTIONS can be halted. The wound can be stanched. The bleeding can be stopped. The abscess can be drained and bandaged. They can be pressured to settle down instead of blatantly and openly having their violence egged on in Tweet form without consequence by the most powerful person in the country from behind his cloister of political, social, economic, and military power. 

However, this may be our last chance to issue a mandate against the homophobic, xenophobic, racist, transphobic, anti-science, anti-expertise, megalomaniac and his cult army. 

Remember how the concentration camps at the border are absolutely still a thing? The administration backs off every time there's an expose and/or a scandal and then goes right back to it as soon as the news cycle or the attention of activists shift to something else. That situation will only get worse if this administration's policies are given tacit approval. 

Oh hey, I know it's been a minute, but do you also remember the impeachment? Remember how Trump was so spectacularly, breathtakingly, obviously, absurdly guilty that even the best lawyers in the country couldn't come up with anything better for the GOP Senate to say than, "Yeah, he obviously did what he's been accused of and it was TOTALLY illegal, but we're not going to remove him from office because reasons, so let's let the voters decide this election. And with my remaining four minutes, let's talk about this OTHER thing...."

Well, here we are—though it feels like twenty years of Covid ago, this is the election in question. This is the election where, if we don't vote him out, we've essentially said that as long as the party of the President holds 51 seats in Congress, POTUS is above the law. If we give power, or by inaction cede power to someone who flouts the checks and balances of the government (on the rare occasion he even understands them) and demands to be the King of America, we won't get another chance to stop him.

The A.C.A. is not Medicare for All. And health care should be a human right instead of a for-profit industry—a for-profit industry with a spectacularly predatory and exploitive middleman. (For an entire decade I've had to listen to the talking point about government death panels killing grandma, as if no insurance agency ever denied a procedure—or, in fact, denies procedures as a matter of their business model because a certain percentage will give up on the bureaucracy [or die] before filing an appeal.) But if we want to save what little health care millions have (insufficient as it may be), we have to vote in the party who wants to expand Medicare and Medicaid benefits and bolster the reach of the A.C.A. 

And if I'm being totally honest, the leftist tendency to be willing to see millions of people lose access to their healthcare because they can't get the whole MfA in a single election runs a close second on the "Pragmatically-Hugely-Fucked-o-Meter" right under the hundreds of thousands of Coronavirus deaths that are considered less important than "sending a message" to the DNC. (One they've never gotten and never will get from a group as small, capricious, and intentionally uncoupled from mainstream politics as the far left.) 

You know that payroll tax deferment given to people in a laughable moment of pandering?  One party wants to make that permanent and pay for it by terminating Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. Do you have any idea how many people's lives become pragmatically, measurably, demonstrably worse if those three social safety nets go away for a payroll tax cut? Tens, maybe HUNDREDS of millions. 

Because our current P.O.T.U.S. has absolutely no concern for how the economy is going other than the Dow Jones Industrial Average, which he values to the exclusion of any other bellwether—perhaps because it is a simple concept that up is good and down is bad and doesn't require any further understanding of the subject of economics—we have to vote for the side that has a better sense historically of how to stimulate a robust economy (and has actively pursued more relief funds for people) so that anyone who doesn't own extensive portfolios might actually not be in absolute financial shambles by the end of a pandemic. 

Sadly, when Trump said he would run the country like a business, he meant one of HIS businesses, which have either gone bankrupt (that we already knew about) or done so poorly that he didn't pay taxes in ten years (recently broken by The New York Times). The man couldn't make a casino profitable, and he probably could figure out how to fuck up a machine that just prints out money. And yet his grift fooled the GOP who are now struggling with the sunken cost fallacy in real time. Those of them who are not fully cultish in their insistence that he can do no wrong.

Anthropogenic climate change is the single biggest issue humanity faces. One party isn't doing enough. That is a simple, demonstrable matter of fact. However, the other party still says it's a hoax and does nothing. In fact, they do worse than nothing. They roll back sensible regulations that even the industries tell them not to roll back in a grand gesture of "fuck the environment, fuck any regulations, fuck climate change, and fuck your feelings" to liberals. 

Yeah, the two-party system is balls. These two parties have entrenched themselves and consolidated their power and ensured that no one else can really do anything to stop their dual-hegemony. And that is a tower of bullshit sandwiches being served with cookies and tea. Also, it's all there is. The way to get it to NOT be balls isn't to just keep thinking this time Lucy won't pull the ball away and tossing votes on third-party candidates. (It's to find a candidate that will run on breaking the duopoly and then hold them accountable.) In the meantime, we really only have two choices. And they are nothing alike.

More than that though, a huge contingent of liberals and leftists never vote. 100,000 people sat out the 2016 election. Most of them held liberal views. If we would just PARTICIPATE, the conversations we have could be about how to institute U.B.I. or pay for universal health care instead of Abortion-Redux and whether or not to just leave the whole country to the tender ministrations of insurance companies.

If votes didn't matter. If they couldn't change real lives in very real ways, the GOP wouldn't be trying so, so, so hard to lie, cheat, and steal the ones from certain people.

Our choice is to not harm, or by inaction allow to be harmed, all the people who will have their lives negatively impacted if we consider ourselves above damage control.

Only one of the two (in any way plausible) choices would consider the diaspora of needs in a pluralistic society over which they govern. Only one would change things if many people demanded it. Would negotiate. Would allow the debate. Would be okay with the Overton window shifting to the left. Would allow liberals to affect him, his platforms, his policies (and has). The other would (and has) shut such conversation down, moved further to the right, surrounded himself with sycophants, and increasingly uses power to "hurt" the half of his own citizens he believes aren't loving him enough. Call in federal armed agents on anyone who complained.

But perhaps the best reason to vote is the most obvious one of all. If we don't stop what's happening right now, we won't get another chance to do so. Not for years. Maybe not in our lifetimes. I want to stress that I already understand the freeness and fairness of our elections are subject to no small amount of cynical laughter.  We've never had truly free or fair elections. We're 25th on the Democracy Index and are rated a "Flawed Democracy." Studies say that no matter what jingoistic pride fills up our chest when we hear the word "democracy,' we are actually an oligarchy.

But what will be left, if Biden doesn't win, will be so so so much worse. Possibly more akin to Russia or South Korea and the dictators that Trump openly praises. We will slide down the chart and be rated "Authoritarian." And you don't get authoritarian despots for one election, and then it's back to normal. Once someone with authoritarian power has a way to make their opposition a criminal act, imprison their political opponents at a whim, and rule rather than govern a pluralistic society, that's the ball game. No more democracy, no matter how "flawed." No more fixing things from within. No more legal recourse when shit goes pear-shaped. No more civil liberties and rights. One by one they'll all be plucked away because the Constitution isn't a document that transforms into a 60-foot-tall armored mecha with particle projection cannons if it senses it is being violated. 

Our president openly and actively subverts democracy. He pushes oft-debunked narratives of fraud to disenfranchise people. He preps his stochastic terrorists to intimidate voters and violently maintain his hold on power. He makes jokes about a third term that are getting more and more serious (in exactly the same way his other "jokes" got serious right before they came to pass). He treats his political opposition as enemies to be imprisoned. He treats the government as an extension of his personal power. He openly admits that he will not commit to a peaceful transition, regardless of the election's outcome. 

It matters. It matters to so many things and in so many ways. It will matter if we give away our power on a protest that will never be noticed. It will matter if we cede that power through our inaction. It will matter to millions—to their lives, livelihoods, health, civil liberties, civil rights, and democratic voice for decades to come.

This is why we vote.

Friday, August 28, 2020

Democrats are NOT "Just As Bad"

[Though this is a stand alone article, it is the spiritual successor (and part 2 of 3) of my last post about how people often say "They won't care" about Trump supporters when confronted with his latest behavior.]

“Dems are just as bad,” they say.

You’re going to hear this a lot more in the next two months.

You’re going to hear it from communists and anarchists and the very very far left (along with the occasional libertarian) because Democrats now have to focus on getting their message and the vote out, and the leftists who said, “Never shall I ever…” are now being ignored and worked around and struggling to stay politically relevant by going full saboteur on social media.

You’re going to hear it because, even though Biden’s current platform is more progressive than Obama’s in 2012, and even though Harris ranks in the top ten of progressive Senators (and usually the top five) no matter what medium is doing the scoring (or the top ten worst NOT-conservatives if it’s being scored from the other side), both have had histories that involve some harm to marginalized communities. And yes, people have legitimate axes to grind.

You’re also going to hear it because Russian psyops and right-wing “false flag” operations don’t just make shit up out of the aether to divide us, but instead gin up our existing fractures. And these bad actors will do ANYTHING to get us not to vote. They will be pushing this narrative through dank meme stashes and eloquent posts that somehow get picked up by left-wing communities and go viral. 

The “Dems are just as bad” may take the form of a sophist bumper sticker “X is a Y!” or a very complicated analogy about good cops vs. bad cops all working for the same corrupt system. Or a point by a prominent intellectual pointing out that both parties are contrite to business interests making their differences illusory in some contexts. But regardless of what form it takes, you WILL hear it. 

And no matter who is saying it, they are wrong. 

I don’t want to sound unkind. I don’t want to shit on the opinion of those who I would most accurately describe as having a different philosophical pragmatism about getting that which we both want. I certainly am not being prescriptive about how folks should vote. 

But they are objectively wrong.

It's true that our two parties share harmful assumptions, are all right of a global center, villainize any legitimately left views like redistribution of wealth, and have some real shitty overlap on things like colonialism and capitalism. The nature of our winner-take-all democracy requires an enormous umbrella to be able to counter the slavery-protecting rules of the Electoral College, and the fact that a Wyoming vote counts more than three times as much a California vote. 

Twice in 16 years, a Republican who lost the popular vote has become president. (It’s only happened five times ever since we started recording the popular vote, but twice in the five most recent elections.) It means that instead of an actually progressive party that can lean left, Democrats need to project the image of a moderate party that can (hopefully) build a big enough coalition to counter the Electoral College––along with gerrymandering, voter ID laws, voter purges, poll closures (almost exclusively instigated by Republicans and almost always disenfranchising marginalized  demographics [which happen to lean left]). And now we can add foreign interference, screwing with the Post Office because it’ll suppress mail-in ballots, and voter intimidation if Trump has his way. That “big umbrella” that is required to counter all this cheating means a lot of moderates on the national stage and a lot of marginalized communities getting pushed under the bus to go for the broader appeal. And that means a LOT of folks have absolutely legitimate grievances against Democrats.


That doesn’t make the Dems the “same” as Republicans.  It just doesn’t.

To characterize the legislation and action Dems in the House have been trying to pass for 18 months (including an impeachment, FAR greater Covid stimulus, the Paycheck Fairness Act, the Climate Action Now Act, the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act, the Consumers First Act,  and a host of democratic reforms), all of which either get voted down by the Senate (or are never brought to a vote by Mitch McConnell)……

**takes a deep breath**

To look at all of that, and conclude that Dems “aren't doing anything," or that both sides are “just the same” is the kind of reductive hasty generalization that is broad-brushstrokes enough for podium pounding at the communist’s club or the local anarchist’s meet-and-greet, but is outrageously inappropriate for a sophisticated, accurate, or precise read of our current political climate since the horrifying turn taken in 2016. We went from “not left wing enough for leftists” to the ADL jumping up and down and warning us that that the progression of Trump’s America was ALL TOO FAMILIAR. That is not “just the same.” The casual disregard for lives, health, prosperity (of anyone other than Wall Street), and the Grand-Canyon-sized chasm between parties in order to make a claim like “they’re all alike” has reached the point of its own deliberately obtuse brand of fanaticism. And I don’t say this to be invalidating to folks on the far left. (I am one.) I don’t say it because I don’t understand that capitalism as we know it is unsustainable. (I do.) I don’t say it without fully understanding that except for maybe “The Squad,” Dems too support oppressive institutions and share harmful assumptions. (They surely do.) What I’m pointing out is that folks who think this makes them “the same” completely invalidate some very real differences with very real consequences to very real lives. This isn’t just a matter of cosmetic differences––blues and reds and donkeys and elephants––and it's not just an intellectual exercise either, but in fact their differences are massive, affect real people’s real lives, real people’s prosperity, real people’s health and real people’s safety and security.


There are people with their own complicated reasons not to vote and not to vote for Biden, and I grudgingly respect many of them that don't smack of middle-class-white-cis-person-(who-doesn’t-do-much-activism-anyway)-wants-a-winged-unicorn-pony-in-one-election-cycle-or-will-post-guillotine-memes-instead-of-doing-harm-reduction. Also, lord knows there's salient criticism about both Biden and Harris. (Although, with that said and Triple Legit™ stamped, some of the talking points, I should mention, sure do sound an awful lot like they’re right out of that particularly rabid pro-Sanders camp in the primaries [who shall remain unnamed], and have a strange lack of downward drilling and nuance for ideas coming from folks who claim to actually care about both those things.) There will always be salient criticism about anyone with an actual political…you know….CAREER. Something that happened on their watch. Something that got added to a bill that had to be passed. Something that was politically popular at the time and now we have a greater understanding of its problems. And Biden in particular is a centrist Dem—a concession to that big umbrella, a particularly rabid right wing series of attacks that anyone left of Joe Manchin, and the fact that we can’t govern if we don’t win––and someone with a long career of calls that truly harmed people. I don't know what the political calculus of each decision was. I don't know what he would have risked to do otherwise. But I do know he has hurt people, and some of them have every valid and legitimate reason to be unable to participate in handing him even more power.

However, to say that the parties, their platforms, their offerings for POTUS, their SCOTUS nominees, their LOWER court nominees, their border policies, their international diplomacy, their tax policies, their social safety net concerns, their civil rights records, their policy initiatives, or even their Covid-19 responses are "just the same”….Well, it tells me only that the person saying so sees no difference in some of my friends’ deaths from from Covid-19 that a proper response could have prevented; it tells me that the laws passed (always by the right) against body autonomy or trans rights are meaningless to them; it tells me that a politicized Covid response that isn't "Fuck you. This mask is mildly uncomfortable and I want to go to Applebee’s again" isn't appreciably different so why bother; it tells me that MY being alive and healthy when the A.C.A. saved my life (or either dead or bankrupt and with a chronic medical condition) doesn't matter to them; it tells me that the death of one of my ex-partners to cancer rather than the A.C.A. saving her life would be "just the same"; it tells me that the party trying to raise the minimum wage and the party that blocks it at every turn are the same in their eyes; it tells me they don't care about the tens of thousands of regulations that were put into place over decades to protect people from predators, and that are now being gutted, are pretty much non-issues as far as they’re concerned; it tells me they have little or no sympathy for folks who feel like they have to flee the country because they and their children are no longer even base-level safe, from mass deportations, from the threat of nuclear exchange over Tweets, from a leader praising autocratic despots and alienating democracies, from stochastic terrorism, hate crimes, and ginned up alt-right mobs; it tells me that a border response where cruelty is literally spelled out in memos as The Point™ doesn't strike them as a moral imperative enough to even acknowledge that a difference exists (never mind to act upon it); it tells me that a six-figure death toll that every epidemiologist and most other countries responses told us didn’t have to happen is not a meaningful reason to delineate; it tells me that the difference between passing laws that disenfranchise marginalized populations and those who fight tooth and nail against such laws is considered a trivial difference; it tells me that the difference between not moving fast enough and STILL declaring something a hoax with regard to the greatest humanitarian threat of our age does not carry that much weight.

Also this might be a bitter pill, but ALL of that is exactly what a Russian psyop or “alt-right" false flag operation would WANT them to say. It is exactly the “stay home” message being crafted by everyone who finds liberal politics anathema. 

I do not say this to shit on those lefter than me, though lord knows they’d seem like they’d rather come full force after the labor class that they see as too centrist than actually take on the right or the monied class. And lord ALSO knows that the idea that they are going to WIN OVER that labor class by telling them all their pragmatic concerns in the US political landscape are meaningless might need to at least take a tour of the swing states and talk to some people who don’t already agree with them.

I say this because I have skin in this game. Trans family members who have been openly, and with legislative violence, ATTACKED by this administration. Dear loved ones who I will lose to basically an evacuation for the sake of their children. Friends who haven't seen their family (who last communicated from the southern border) in months. Family who can't afford to skip over five states for an abortion. And the memory of how I and someone I love are literally alive today because of the "just the same" Dems forcing through some vestige of a health care plan against every measure of resistance….from the GOP.

“Both the same” is a useful metonymy when everyone in the room has a big-picture lens on anti-capitalism or anti-colonialism, or maybe passingly understood when Noam Chomsky is being quoted out of context in an 11-year-old interview (that he has since repeatedly clarified). It's much less useful when some 3edgy5me white male libertarian who thinks they have the world figured out because 95% of the differences in the parties never affect them decides to whip up some dank memes. But it's positively disastrous when brought into a robust discussion of current mainstream U.S. politics, harm reduction, or how dangerous ceding power is in a (regrettably) two-party country, it reeks of breathtaking solipsism that blows off six-figure body counts, a southern border policy designed to terrify people as a deterrent, and rising fascism as something too minor to “get distracted by” on the way to “more important things.” 

They are not “just the same.” They demonstrably, objectively, are NOT.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

But They Won't Care

“BUT his followers won't care!” goes the shout every time we point out some new outrage. Whether it’s a brazen assault on free and fair democratic elections or some latest breathtaking display of naked racism. Even when the reason they followed him (his business acumen) proves to be based on lies.

They won’t care.

I know they won't. They don't.  He's hitting the notes they want him to hit, and they have demonstrated time and time again that they are more morally bankrupt than one of Trump's businesses, and that nothing––not values, not pluralism, not governance, not reputation, not even facts––matters to them more than winning and hurting "the right people." 

They shouted, “fuck your feelings.” And just in case we didn’t understand just exactly what they meant, the minute they were in power, they showed us.

And anyone who might stand against Trump abandoned integrity to make a Faustian deal. They deliberately look away and pretend they can't see what's happening while the GOP stacks the courts, shoves children in concentration camps, milks the wildest and most hurtful conspiracies for cheap political points, rams through tax cuts for the rich, and sabotages healthcare. They are, pragmatically speaking, indistinguishable from a cult. NOTHING will get through to them until they are separated from the cult for a time. 

Yes, I totally understand that he has a mid-70s approval rating in the Republican Party (far from the mid-90s he chronically lies about on Twitter). I understand that they're all having a laugh at how apoplectic he makes the "snowflakes" on the left. Considering that pissing us off and fucking our feelings and triggering us was the closest thing they actually had to a unifying, cohesive ideology in 2016, that's not super surprising. 

I also understand that he overtly manifested the racism, bigotry, and hatred of the poor–– most of which they barely, if ever, concealed––into an avatar who came out and said all the hateful shit they got tired of having to be "so PC" and tiptoe around. It is obvious that––not DESPITE his mob connections, undisclosed finances, and financial fetters to foreign powers but BECAUSE of them––he symbolizes to them that it is better to be absolutely anything (even a tax evading conman obviously wading in criminal corruption) than to not be rich.

We don't share these stories for "them." They have cast themselves as the victims in their own persecuted narrative and think Obamacare is tantamount to concentration camps (while they ignore ACTUAL concentration camps). We don't think we're finally going to hit the proof or the bridge-too-far moral depravity that makes them turn around and say, "Oh holy shit. What have we done?" Most simply do not demonstrate that kind of self-reflection. 

Nothing could be more emblematic of the ongoing and escalating erosion of democracy––first through voter suppression and gerrymandering but now onward and upward to all-but-proven collusion between Russia and his entire staff, collusion with Ukraine that basically even the GOP had to admit totally happened (but just didn’t remove him from office because that would be letting the Democrats win), and now an open and shockingly admitted attack on the USPS to fuck up mail-in ballots…**deep breath**

Okay, you probably forgot where that sentence started since there are so many examples of attacking democracy to list. Let me recap.

Nothing could be more emblematic of the ongoing and escalating erosion of democracy than the GOP's cheerful willingness to ignore–not just ignore even, but to MOCK–a giant and growing body of evidence that Trump will absolutely cheat to win an election. Nothing could be more indicative of their hypocrisy than to spend a decade lauding themselves as fiscally responsible and howling about every penny out of a balanced budget, only to turn around and drop 1.5 trillion on tax breaks for corporations and millionaires in their tax code followed by $500 billion in corporate stimulus for the pandemic––regarding which, Trump assured everyone he would be disregarding any attempt at congressional oversight. Even their patriotism falls apart like wood eaten out by termites. It's little more than a shallow jingoistic facade, a flag draped over discarded veterans, and the seething contempt for the institutions and values (be it law enforcement or democratic pluralism) that they claim to love when the anthem is playing, but turn on like an abusive spouse the minute they're stopped from doing just exactly what they want.

So no, I don't particularly expect they will witness some bit of proof or consequence of their policies and suddenly see reason. They still strongly believe the emperor is wearing full regalia. 

But they're not who I'm talking to. They're not who YOU should be talking to either. They have relinquished their right to reasoned engagement. They have abandoned integrity. They have lost all sense of a moral compass. What they defend is indefensible, even if they don’t claim to be capital-B believers themselves.

They are unreachable. No bridge would ever be sufficient. At least no bridge constructed with so much as a shred of compassion for those on the other side who they’ve taken a twisted delight in hurting and killing and laughing at (calling them “identity politics or social justice warriors”) for having the temerity to point out they are part of a group being treated with state sponsored, systemic, systematic violence. 

No, they’re not who I’m talking to. They are lost and if they're ever coming back, it will be up to factors I cannot control. 

1- Who I am talking to is the  30% of people who COULD vote but are apathetic, and who every poll in the fucking world says lean left. (But who just kind of hate the DNC so much that they sit out civic engagement.) Add a few thousand votes in the right state, and that’s the ball game. [In 2016, the Michigan vote was so close that TWO votes per precinct would have flipped the state. That’s two. One….two. You don’t even have to take off BOTH your gloves to count that high.]

I’m talking to the anti-political machine-rager who might realize that SCOTUS appointments really will have a direct impact on people's lives and rights, expanding them for “religious convictions” and curtailing them for anyone who isn’t a cis, het, white man. I’m talking to those who are (justifiably) incensed that their vote isn't going to fix a system that was built with bigotry baked in, and I’m talking to those who might be convinced that elections still have OTHER consequences––ones that matter. I am talking to folks who don’t realize that unless the revolution is scheduled for the first Tuesday in November, those of us who haven't (yet) been disenfranchised can at least help choose between “politicians who might move the timbre of discourse to the left and make it easier to be a local chapter of a grassroots socialism movement” and “literally fascism that will crack our heads and make survival take most of our time and energy.” I’m talking to everyone who maybe doesn’t realize that even though civic engagement doesn’t always make things better, apathy, always, always, ALWAYS makes things worse. And I’m talking to people to remind them of other avenues to political power and action than MERELY voting––because voting is literally the least we can do.

2- Who I’m talking to is the few of them who aren’t a monolith. Elections are won and lost in swing states sometimes by 1 or 2 points or even less. Peel off one or two out of a HUNDRED from his approval ratings––convince them that maybe there are a few things worse than big scary Democrats running the show for four years––and you don’t need to reach this monolithic “THEY.” 

2.5- Who I am talking to is politicians (especially Senators) of “purple” constituencies who May realize that they are committing political suicide to support him through yet another ridiculous scandal.

3- Who I’m talking to is the people who haven’t realized yet that our silence is choice. Any sort of democratic non-blood-in-the-streets revolution that REALLY restructures our society isn't going to happen because we threw up our hands in the face of a tough election and said, "Whatever...THEY aren't listening." 

Because of course they aren’t.

We speak truth to power. That’s “them.” They are power. They don’t have to listen and they don’t have to care, but it’s still vital that we speak. We don’t have to be persuading them successfully to not let them us silence us (or more accurately, to silence ourselves and each other). We don’t even have to be talking to “them” to be strengthening and fortifying each other, because this is like a millstone, and it would grind us all to powder if not for each other.

4- Perhaps most importantly, I’m talking to us. I’m not even talking to “them.” I’m talking to anyone else who’s been a frog in the pot for too long. We’re talking to each other. We hold each other up and ground each other and remind each OTHER of the outrageousness we’ve been exposed to for four years. We remind each other, so that we don't grow desensitized to suffering. So that we don’t forget that today’s news cycle is built on a hundred other scandals and outrages before it that we are so tired of fighting but that all happened. So that we don’t succumb to the gaslighting that he did nothing wrong, and if he did then we deserved it. We do it to hold ourselves strong so that we don’t give up. Because "what's the point?” is what they want us to say. They want us to give up and let them monkey-throw feces all over every value we have without making such a fuss. 

Who I’m talking to is everyone who needs to be reminded that THIS IS NOT NORMAL. And that we CAN do something about it.

Friday, July 24, 2020

Ephemeral Affections

So I'm trying something a little different here. 

I'm writing two posts about the same thing. Not a two-part post (I do those all the time), but rather a two facet analysis of the same event. One is this one here: a personal, "navel gazing" post about a difficult situation and how I'm dealing with it. The other part I will put on
Writing About Writing: a breakdown of the same event but from a different perspective having to do with my proximity to my writing career and a place at the outer edge of fame that is beginning to become more and more familiar.

[In case you're just tuning in, I'm not monogamous. That's going to help contextualize some things that might otherwise be confusing about this story.]

A few years back, I had a terrible break up. And while I've had deep and incredibly meaningful relationships since then, I spent quite a long time carefully avoiding anything too serious. Honestly, I spent some time in therapy wondering if I was broken because all my relationships involved folks who were married, were half a continent away, or both. But after a while I processed through enough of my shit and got over the hurt and learned to be with myself. And I was ready to date again.

Let me rephrase that. I was ready to have a relationship again, and I really didn't want to date. I love going on dates with people I care about, but the interview process is phenomenally uncomfortable and I get awkward. Plus....there's that horrible initial phase you have to go through where it's like you're the clay pigeon in skeet shooting. With a lot of people, they say "Pull," you put yourself out there, and as soon as they get a good look at you, they shoot you down. It's not super great for the self-esteem. And when you're coded guy in our society, you're a lot more likely to be the clay pigeon.


Buuuuuuut that's life, right? It takes a special type to be able to announce their availability to the world and passively be inundated with a stack of resumes. So I signed up for OKCupid and took my lumps. I went on a couple of disastrous dates, chatted with several high matches who stopped replying without a word. I went through the motions. 

Then Shelter-In-Place started. Technically, that account is still active. And technically, I'm still open to the possibility of something falling in my lap (so to speak), but one thing kind of tangential to this story is that I decided to put all this effort and rejection and emotional energy on the shelf for a year. If no one has shown up at my door and said, "I am for you, Chris Brecheen" by next May, I'll get back out there, but for now I've decided to funnel my energy into other parts of my life. The timing sucks, since I really WAS starting to get lonely on Friday nights and feeling ready for something more serious. And now I'm Sh.I.P.ing alone when I much would have preferred to be stuck in here with someone wonderful and kissable, but they don't let me schedule the pandemics so.....

Anyway, for various reasons (mostly having to do with maintaining a high-profile public persona), I still get a lot of attention online even though I'm not trying to make a connection. And while I try to get to KNOW people first so that I'm not exploiting a power differential, I can still be kind of a "How YOU doin?'" target when people are feeling a certain way. (I also don't discourage people from flirting shamelessly with me because who knows what might happen.)

The problem is, this sort of attention is often kind of ephemeral. And my heart has been getting its ass kicked. I get soft-ghosted a lot––that's when the person doesn't block or unfriend you or anything and might even reply if you say hi, but they are clearly NO LONGER INTO YOU. The daily chats and steamy selfies are over. I don't like to assign motive, but people flirt shamelessly with a kinda, sorta semi-famous writer for a lot of reasons. I've had folks who slid into my inbox when they were lonely and then "soft-ghosted" when they got asked out by someone in their area code. I've had people tell me they were non-monogamous and then hubby found the chat open one day and maybe not so much. ("Oops.") One time I was the "symptom" of a broken marriage. I'm glad she and her husband fixed their shit and have a better relationship now, but the fact that it was the trip we were scheduling to see each other, after MONTHS of chatting, that led him to realize there was a problem.....that she was lying (to BOTH of us) and planning on cheating....well it sort of sucked on my end. I've had people establish long-distance relationships with me when they were lonely and needed a self-esteem boost who just stopped replying when they found someone local...who happened to be kind of the jealous type. I've had people come at me at WARP NINE with "I want YOU!" energy, and everything was going absolutely great, then stop one day without the slightest warning or explanation. 

Sometimes I find out later what happened. Usually though, I'm just left to wonder and feel a little bit like the clay pigeon. This has been my reality for a few years now. 

Everyone gets their heart Riverdanced on, especially during that initial bullshit period of dating. That's just the way the cliché crumbles. But sometimes having an online life and a high-profile public persona can put the ol' blood pumper out there for a little extra stomping. Add in the OKCupid stuff, and....yikes, it sure is tough. I didn't want to get jaded and start treating genuine people in shitty ways. Particularly if the only thing they could really be accused of is a well intended dabble really only flawed by emotions that hadn't been fully unpacked. (I mean I'm actually the weird one for doing hours of introspection and writing out my feelings to process.) Still....it fucking HURTS, and I didn't want to keep opening myself up to be hurt over and over.

But I recently WAS able to use my fabulous set of hard-earned therapy tools to craft a solution. It was kind of cool because that's the goal, right? You don't just want to work out solutions to the problems you have. You want to be able to solve new ones as they come up with the same set of guidelines. (Like taking care of your heart.) I mean it's not exactly free and accessible here in the US, so it's nice to have something to show for the four years and twenty grand. 

So I thought about ways to engage people who were doing the WARP NINE approach in ways that took my own feelings into account but didn't shut down those feelings either. To enjoy the attention RIGHT NOW without expectation or presumption. To enjoy the exchange without putting up walls and hiding myself away, but also without exposing myself to the hurt of yet another ephemeral pass. To just be fully present in that moment without cynicism or naivety. Well....maybe a LITTLE bit of cynicism because you kind of can't take folks completely at their word––not that they're lying, per se, but you have to sort of keep a heavy dose of "they meant it at the time," on standby.

And it worked! Someone slid into my PMs, dropped all number of salacious ideas (and pictures), and broke the just-flirting barrier at Mach 3. We even started talking tentative scheduling for some possible future rendezvous. I had fun. I enjoyed the moment. I told myself not to get carried away. I took it for what it was and not a particle more. I enjoyed the shit out of it and never considered for a moment that it was going anywhere. Three days later a nurse hit on her in meatspace and within a week I was getting the call: "It just felt so right. I have to see where this is going."

Fortunately, I was okay. It didn't feel great. I wouldn't want to do it three times a week. But it didn't hurt the way it did when I put all my weight down on the soon-to-be-pulled-out rug. I didn't wonder what was wrong with me or fling myself into a pillow regretting that I ever opened my heart to love. It just became a nice moment––a beat that was as over as soon as it began.

There's a metaphor for life here somewhere.

[I think writers in the public eye, or really any artist or entertainer who has a public profile, has a particular dimension of this to navigate. I'll write about that in my other blog.]

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Fascism: You're Soaking In It

If you've missed the headlines over the last week, Trump is sending his federal enforcers, who answer only to him, to cities run by––in his own words––"liberal Democrats." (Which is any Democrat, in case you've been on vacation for the last four years.) He's so locked into his narcissistic "everyone's against me" thinking that he isn't even attempting to stick to the ostensible bullshit about "law and order" (which, just so I'm mountain-lake clear would be laughable if it weren't so terrifying, given that the best "defense" the lock-armed GOP was capable of mounting during his impeachment was, "Sure he broke the law, but that doesn't mean we should remove him from office.") I mean he tries, but he keeps screwing up and blurting out the quiet part too.  

He can dress this shit up like a dog in a little tuxedo, but when you burn away the euphemism and rationalization in an anti-bullshit crucible, what you get is that the President of the United States is mobilizing his military forces, answerable only to him, and invading cities of his political opponents, kidnapping their citizens without charging them or reading them Miranda rights or even identifying themselves. This to attempt to intimidate the shit out of them essentially because they were part of (or somewhat near) a protest IN WHICH PROPERTY DAMAGE OCCURRED, and using an ever more violent and deadly tier of crowd suppression weaponry in an attempt to curtail the constitutionally mandated right of free assembly. 

That's pretty much what you see on your TV from some other country when you shake your head and say "Damn shame about [XXXXXXX]. Poor bastards. Shoulda gotten themselves some sweet, sweet democracy."

You know how in some RPG video games you get a prompt before you do something massively unwise? 

"Are you sure you want to doom the galaxy to destruction?"

"You will not be able to return to The Capital Wasteland for some time. Are you sure you wish to proceed?"

"Killing this person will end your quest and destroy the threads of destiny. Are you sure?"

You're not going to get that when it comes to fascism. (And just in case it doesn't go without saying, we can't restart from an old save point either.) No prompt will come up saying. "This is your last free and (kind of) fair election. Are you sure you want to play purity politics?" or "If Trump remains unopposed, you will lose abortion, free assembly (except for neo-Nazis), BLM protesters will be rounded up, southern border camps will become a final solution, and there will be a seven-figure death toll due to Covid-19. Are you sure you want to ignore this latest symptom of encroaching fascism?"

You'll never get that. You just won't.

Everyone thinks they are going to know when they see that clear and unambiguous moment when the nuanced politician's eye twitches and they announce the concentration camps (**checks notes** Oh wait, we already have concentration camps). Everyone thinks THEN they will stand up and do something genuinely patriotic about it. Like it's an action movie. ("Time to get my strangely NOT-anachronistic bow and arrow, and end this.") Actually, it's usually historians looking a decade or more in the rear view who come to some absolutely un-unanimous consensus about the tipping point moment. 

Do they LOOK like they're here to DEescalate the fighting?

But fascism isn’t a toggle switch. It’s more like a slider. The US has had "more fascist" moments in its history––like imprisoning protestors of WWI for years without commuting their sentences after the war. And arguably, unless one dismisses the lived experiences of marginalized communities (which most do), the U.S. has always had one foot in the clinical definition of fascism (beyond just the "bad guys" in a WWII movie). Certainly it's been on the rise since September 11th, 2001, and has had a marked upswing since the the current leader of the Republican Party took the highest office. 

But we won't ever get a prompt that we've hit the point of no return. For us, in real time, it'll just get worse and worse and there will ALWAYS be some justification for it and some scapegoat group like "liberal Democrats" who make one more and one more and one more step acceptable in the mind of those desperate to rationalize their own apathy.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

A Year Without Love ("What Would it Feel Like.....?")


Many of my personality traits come through in their own distinctive voices. The voice of caution is my mother's. Patrick Warburton encourages me to go for it. Chris Hemsworth's voice tells me I'm still worthy. Mr. Rogers reminds me to be kind. 

I also often hear therapy things in therapy language in my therapist's voice. She used to hip check my bullshit with "What would it feel like if...."

What would it feel like if you let yourself have a day off?
What would it feel like if you didn't accept that behavior?
What would it feel like if you just let them walk away?

It was....a theme. So even though I wrapped up my last session nearly a year ago with her looking at me and telling me that she thought I was going to be okay and I had her number if I ever wasn't, I still think of things like my boundaries or asking for what I need in a very "What would it feel like...." kind of way. In fact, I think she might have said, "What would it feel like if this were our last session unless you have a specific need in the future?"

Anyway, I was driving home the other day, thinking about how hard any semblance of dating is during Covid-19, how lonely I’ve been living alone with only really my nanny clients for company, and how long it seems Shelter in Place will remain a factor in our lives. And then, I heard her voice...clear as if she was sitting shotgun.

"What would it feel like if you just planned for a year without a primary partner?"

Now...I should pause here. I have a very active imagination, and I can **practically** hear a lot of things. Voices. Sound effects. Morgan Freeman narrating my life with just a twinge of disappointment at my every choice. But except for a few phantom strains of music when it's very VERY quiet, I don't often break out the full-fledged auditory hallucinations. And I've been having just a weird enough couple of months because of isolation to worry about this. So I spent a few minutes on the phone getting grilled about mania and blood clots by my doctor so I could be extra peace of mindy. (Probably no big if I don’t hear it three times a day, I have a full conversation with it, or it doesn’t suggest violence––if you were wondering.)

But in the moment, I just started answering. Like, literally talking to myself in the car. THAT part is pretty normal for me…when I’m not acting out entire scenes from my stories in the car. 

With Oscar performances.

But anyway, I answered: ”Well, I'd probably get more writing done. I would be free of some distractions with figuring out what the hell is going on in my spiritual life. I'd have a little more bandwidth for job two. Gaming. Working out."

"But mostly," I told 'her,' "I think it would just kind of be this emotional expectation lifted. Like, I could just fucking concentrate on other stuff. Like it would actually bother me less to be alone if I were more actively engaging an idea that that's just not a thing. I'd have this year where I'm just like, that's not what I'm doing with my life right now. Wouldn't hiss at it if it showed up, but just put that energy somewhere else. It would be nice just not to feel so…disappointed all the time.” 

And suddenly that felt SO comfortable. That was...IT. That was the answer. In a flash and a moment, I was excited about my next year (“Oh the places I will go!”), and just taking the time to put energy somewhere else. Just letting all the pressure and expectation float away. Put all that crap on pause. Maybe next year I'll worry about noodling my OK Cupid profile, if I’m putting enough effort into flirting, or spending time  facing a mirror and thinking about my desirability quotient. For now I just have other shit to do, and I'm going to do it, and unless someone shows up at the front door saying, "I am for you, Chris Brecheen" (hopefully holding a pizza), I'm just not going to worry about it.

So thanks, my therapist. You're still helping me out. Even if it’s a little spooky.