Joseph Mangano has been blogging for over 10 years in various forms. He once interned for Xanga as an editor and writer. He graduated with a BA in Psychology from Rutgers University, and an MBA in Accounting from William Paterson University. He resides in northern New Jersey, and has only once pumped his own gas. When not writing, he enjoys being part of an acoustic rock duo that never actually plays any shows, watching sports, and chasing Pokémon. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at @JFMangano. You can also find his writing on Citizen Truth, an independent and alternative media organization dedicated to finding the truth, ending the left-right paradigm and widening the scope of viewpoints represented in media and our daily conversations (www.citizentruth.org).
President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and the Democratic Party would have you believe the intention was always that a third stimulus check—which Americans have yet to receive—would amount to $1,400. The second stimulus check, totaling $600, was essentially a down payment. 600 plus 1,400 equals 2,000. You can do math, right?
The problem with this narrative is that Democrats like Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock ran on a promise that voters would get $2,000 checks—not $1,400 checks, but new $2,000 checks on top of the $600 they already received. They also said nothing about changing the eligibility rules for who would and who wouldn’t receive the checks in this new round of stimulus payments.
First of all, let’s get to those campaign promises. Ossoff and Warnock explicitly referenced $2,000 checks in their stump speeches. The idea even made it into official Warnock campaign literature. Biden, lending support for the Democratic Party candidates in their runoff races, said this:
By electing Jon and the reverend [Warnock] you can make an immediate difference to your own lives—the lives of the people all across this country—because their election will put an end to the block in Washington on that $2,000 stimulus check.
There was no consideration of a $1,400 check on top of the earlier $600 check, no delineation on this front. If the bipartite nature of this payment were implied, the message, ahem, has certainly been lost on the progressives using the #BidenLied hashtag which has been circulating since the Biden administration started pushing the line on $1,400.
One such critic, noted Bernie Sanders supporter Susan Sarandon, retweeted a compendium of Biden, Harris, Ossoff, and Warnock vowing that electing the Georgia Democrats to the U.S. Senate would yield voters $2,000 checks. Chuck Schumer is also included in the two-minute compilation expressly referencing $2,000 checks. In doing so, Sarandon highlighted how only 39% of Americans can afford a $1,000 emergency and that over 15 million Americans have lost their employer-sponsored healthcare since the start of the pandemic. As far as she and others of a like mindset are concerned, the difference between $1,400 and $2,000 is not just substantial—it may be a “matter of survival.”
Another element critically worth mentioning is the purported timeline for these payments. According to Biden, this money would go “out the door immediately—and that’s not hyperbole—that’s real.” At this writing, Congress has still not signed off on a third round of stimulus checks, $2,000 or otherwise. In fact, following a second impeachment trial for Donald Trump that ended in acquittal (and which now infamously didn’t involve witness testimony), the Senate is due for a week off. Gee, thanks, senators.
We would be naïve, especially in today’s jumbled political climate, to expect politicians to necessarily keep their campaign promises. By now, the trope is all too familiar. Politicians lie. They’re politicians. It’s what they do. We would be remiss, too, if we didn’t give a nod to Republicans for being the poor-hating obstructionists that they are as a function of their being. That we’ve only had two stimulus payments totaling $1,800 since the start of a deadly pandemic is owed in significant part to their willingness to throw essential workers to the wolves while disingenuously hemming and hawing about the national debt.
Depressing political realities aside, the pivot to $1,400 is a bait-and-switch move based on how the checks were initially billed—pure and simple. Democrats, once again, are capitulating to competing interests—real or imagined—without much pushback and in spite of their stated goals. Despite their attempt at revisionist history, progressives and non-progressives alike remember what was truly said, creating a very real concern for a possible backlash to be felt at the polls in 2022 and 2024.
What makes the Dems’ shift yet more galling is how even its more celebrated representatives from the “Sanders” wing of the party are toeing the line on $1,400 checks—even the man himself. Bernie went on CNN with Jake Tapper a week ago, trying to paint the situation as if $600 + $1,400 was always in the cards. Not only does this fly in the face of what Joe Biden et al. pledged on numerous occasions, however, as noted, but it ignores the fact that the earlier $600 check doesn’t even have the current officeholder’s signature on it. These new checks, very much still theoretical, would be coming from a new president more than a month after their predecessor. That’s quite literally not the same thing.
On top of this, Democrats have further bogged down stimulus/relief negotiations with talk of means-testing the now-$1,400 proposed payments. Previously, $75,000 for individuals and $150,000 for couples was the threshold for direct payments, but to the warnings of progressives, some party members have mused about lowering the income eligibility limits to $50,000/$100,000 depending on marital status or basing eligibility based on 2019 income levels, which may underestimate the present need of millions of Americans. A far more efficient path forward would be to get the checks out the door, as Biden put it, and claw back that money this tax year for those who don’t qualify. The emphasis should be on expediency based on urgent need, not on political calculations that ultimately fail to consider the damage broken promises and personal financial ruin will do to voters’ perception of the party.
Americans have started receiving COVID vaccine doses, but in the interim and in the weeks, months, and possibly years to follow, the ripple effects of this pandemic will continue to be felt. No ifs, ands, or buts—everyday Americans need help and they need it now. Not long into a period when Democrats control the House, the Senate, and the White House, the party seems set upon undermining its goodwill by failing to stand by its promises and prioritizing economic prudency and political expediency (and not even succeeding) over coming to the aid of its constituents, including the ones who put party members in office in the first place. At a critical juncture in the country’s history, the Democratic Party can and must do better.
Donald Trump, at the time the lamest of lame duck presidents, got himself kicked off of Twitter, Facebook, and other platforms. For many liberals and progressives alike, this was a real “Ding dong, the witch is dead!” moment.
Of course, the events leading up to Trump’s widely-celebrated ban were not particularly inspiring, unless we are talking about emotions like fear and abject horror. On January 6, Trump supporters, buoyed by the urging of their preferred candidate to go to the Capitol building in Washington, D.C., stormed the place, prompting an evacuation and a halt of the counting of the Electoral College votes. What under normal circumstances is characteristically a rather prosaic affair became a chaotic series of events, the fallout of which is still being reckoned with as details of how it got so out of hand continue to emerge.
Trump, for his part, didn’t do much to stamp out the proverbial flames, offering a weak condemnation of the rioters and the eventual deadly violence before ultimately giving a statement telling the mob he egged on in the first place to go home. All the while, he expressed his “love” for the protesters and repeated his absurd claims that the election was stolen. Since then, he has—surprise!—refused to take responsibility for his role in fueling tensions that led to the debacle. Welp, if there’s one thing we can say about our Donald, it’s that he’s consistent!
It was therefore perhaps unavoidable that a score of social media sites would make the decision to ban Donald Trump indefinitely from their ranks, while other companies, if not banning Trump specifically, removed servers frequented by his followers or dropped Parler, a messaging app known to be frequented by right-wingers—particularly conspiracy theorists—and a forum on which planning for the so-called “insurrection” at the Capitol was evidently discussed.
Perhaps most significantly for Trump following his electoral defeat, he and his brand have taken a hit. Shopify, for one, removed all official Trump campaign merchandise by disabling his online stores. The Professional Golfers’ Association of America also voted to terminate their relationship with the Trump name, which means his Bedminster course won’t be hosting the PGA Championship next year. I, for one, am despondent I won’t be able to wear my MAGA hat and watch golf’s finest tee off from Trump’s private golf club—I don’t know about you.
So, yes, Trump was banned and all is well, right? That depends on who’s answering and how the ensuing discussion goes. The American Civil Liberties Union, for one, while not explicitly condemning the decision to outlaw Trump and his ilk, nonetheless expressed reservation about Big Tech’s part in all of this. The ACLU’s senior legislative counsel Kate Ruane put forth these views in the wake of Twitter’s announcement of Trump’s permanent suspension:
For months, President Trump has been using social media platforms to seed doubt about the results of the election and to undermine the will of voters. We understand the desire to permanently suspend him now, but it should concern everyone when companies like Facebook and Twitter wield the unchecked power to remove people from platforms that have become indispensable for the speech of billions—especially when political realities make those decisions easier. President Trump can turn to his press team of FOX News to communicate with the public, but others—like the many Black, Brown, and LGBTQ activists who have been censored by social media companies—will not have that luxury. It is our hope that these companies will apply their rules transparently to everyone.
Predictably, conservative outlets like Breitbart, Newsmax and the Washington Times jumped on Ruane’s statement as justification for why banning Trump was the wrong course of action for Twitter et al. Look—even the liberal ACLU thinks suspending Trump was wrong! That tells you something! Meanwhile, the kneejerk reaction of some on the left bordered on incredulity. Are you kidding me? Trump’s ban is a godsend and long overdue! Don’t rain on our parade, ACLU!
On both sides of the aisle, these protestations lack nuance, a seeming hallmark of much of today’s political discourse. Such does not seem terribly shocking coming from the right given that misleading information and misdirection are standard operating procedure for news outlets sympathetic to Trump and increasingly so the further right we go. As noted, the ACLU did not enthusiastically get behind a global social media Trump ban, but it’s not as if they gave the man a glowing review either. Speaking for the Union, Kate Ruane said that “we understand the desire to permanently suspend him.” That’s not a ringing endorsement, and Ruane pointedly mentions his sowing seeds of doubt about the democratic process. Highlighting this statement as a defense of Trump or a rebuke of Facebook and Twitter for banning him is decidedly disingenuous.
Re criticisms from the left, meanwhile, they run the risk of failing to see the forest for its digital trees. Donald Trump’s reach, president or not, should not be understated. That said, the power of Twitter and other large communications platforms to shape politics in the United States and abroad should not be undersold. We’ve seen what impact Facebook can have in the negative sense for its role in helping to spread hate speech fueling genocide in Myanmar and for allowing Cambridge Analytica, a consulting firm with ties to Ted Cruz’s and Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaigns, to harvest the data of tens of millions of Facebook users without their explicit consent. That’s an awful lot of authority in the hands of a privileged few entities.
In the span of a short statement, then, we can appreciate how much there is to unpack regarding this thorny issue. An arguably better tack is to consider some of the questions surrounding the debate about whether banning Trump is the right move. So let’s give it the ol’ college try, shall we?
Did Donald Trump do enough to warrant expulsion from Twitter and other media?
Um, have you been paying attention for the last half a decade? As even those who side with the ACLU’s view on these matters would tend to agree, if Trump were a regular person without his stature and his following, he would’ve been banned years ago. Google/YouTube, in particular, was rightly criticized for, in delivering its own public statement on why it was suspending the outgoing president, essentially admitting it was applying standards that already existed but weren’t being enforced until this point.
For particularly salient perspectives on this dimension, we need to look no further than those who are the primary targets of Trumpian rhetoric. Dianna E. Anderson, a non-binary, queer author/writer, took to Twitter to voice her “strong disagreement” with the ACLU on the Trump blackout. As they reason, the ACLU tends “to lean on a slippery slope argument when it comes to free speech, which ignores the power dynamic that happens when all speech is allowed without any kind of moderation.” For Anderson, fascists and Nazi-adjacent types are “fundamentally eliminationist” and argue from the cover of free speech to limit the freedoms—speech included—of everyone else. From this vantage point, removing Trump is de-platforming someone with dangerous views and making the Internet that much safer for members of minority communities.
Doesn’t this just risk making Trump a martyr of sorts and fueling accusations of anti-conservative bias by social media companies?
If one is worried about conservatives playing the victim card, then they will be all but paralyzed to inaction because these right-wingers do it all the time. All. The. Time. Trump is undoubtedly the biggest, whiniest baby of them all, but for all the barbs about the “snowflakes” on the liberal end of the spectrum, it’s conservatives who are consistently crying foul over perceived slights.
Their assertions, it should be stressed, have no basis in reality. Going back to Facebook, conservative posts are consistently among the most shared and viewed. In a similar vein, YouTube has been a haven for some truly repugnant right-wing content creators. Professional blockhead Steven Crowder got little more than a slap on the wrist for repeatedly hurling homophobic epithets and other demeaning comments at video producer and activist Carlos Maza for his work with Vox. If these companies exhibit a liberal bias, they have a funny way of doing it by letting literal white supremacists run rampant on their services.
This is where Ruane’s point about censorship of activists from vulnerable populations really comes into play. Whether specifically to silence these voices based on their politics or to preserve the appearance of “balance,” the failure of social media companies to consistently and transparently apply their stated codes of conduct or their overreliance on algorithms and other automated systems of content oversight have made at times for an inhospitable environment for leftist content creation. For smaller, independent creators, this is an especially onerous reality.
These are private companies. Isn’t it their prerogative to say who can and cannot be allowed on their service?
Whether bans like the one on Donald Trump are “censorship” is a sticking point in the ongoing conversation about the role of social media in our everyday lives, and in some respects, may be a bit of semantics. As the ACLU itself defines the word, censorship is “the suppression of words, images, or ideas that are ‘offensive’.” It is unconstitutional when carried out by the government. Because a certain amount of ambiguity exists with respect to censorship and First Amendment rights, often necessitating the intervention of the courts, and because freedom of expression is among our most cherished rights, cries about the censoriousness of these companies often draw the attention of people irrespective of party affiliation or lack thereof.
This is usually the point when objectors will point out that companies like Facebook, Google, and Twitter are private companies and can restrict who they want however they please. True as that may be and despite the risk these tech giants run by operating in uneven or heavy-handed ways, the theory that social media apps/sites should be regulated by the government as an essential public service or “utility” exists in opposition to the absolute discretion of the Mark Zuckerbergs of the world.
To insist on the ability of these companies to self-regulate ignores the monopolistic power they possess, the scope of their influence, and their already-exhibited inability to prevent abuses of their platforms’ capabilities. It’s why calls to “break up Big Tech” have only gotten louder in recent years and will no doubt continue to crescendo in certain circles. Heck, Elizabeth Warren made it a key component of her campaign platform. Big Tech may not be a government unto itself, but left unchecked, it stands to wield its influence to further stifle competition and undermine our democracy.
Banning the likes of Donald Trump amid cries of social media censorship and concern for the political influence of Big Tech altogether makes for a thorny discussion without easy answers. Especially after a whirlwind Trump presidency that saw real harm done to the United States and further damage to its democratic framework—a framework that has been under siege for quite some time, mind you—this can be frustrating. The Trump era is over, man! Let us kick up our feet and relax for a moment! Stop harshing our post-Inauguration mellow!
Far be it from me to throw the wettest of blankets on this celebratory mood, but beyond the urge, nay, the need to hold Joe Biden and his administration accountable for his campaign promises and pursuing policies that will benefit Americans regardless of their socioeconomic status, discussion of the effects social media has on our lives, for better and for worse, is an important talk to be having as well.
I’ve heard it said that the focus on Trump’s social media status is a distraction because it takes away from the dialog we should be reserving about stemming the monopolistic domination of companies like Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Twitter. To a certain extent, I disagree, in that I believe the insistence of Dianna Anderson and others that fascists be de-platformed is also critical. At the same time, however, I do worry that ceding power to Big Tech, without due restriction, is a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul. Or, in this case, Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk.
Should Donald Trump have been kicked off social media? Yes, I think so. Is conservative backlash to be worried about? Perhaps, but not to the extent it precludes his removal. Lastly, is this or should this be the end of the conversation? Not in the slightest. Until the Internet becomes a place that is safe for users from minority groups and does not privilege the interests of corporations and certain influential individuals, we have a lot more work to do in ensuring a free and fair medium.
Online chatter is frequently inhospitable, but ever since the presidential election, it has been especially egregious.
Lately, checking trending political topics on Twitter has been a test of one’s mettle or, perhaps more aptly, a measure of one’s masochism. Democrats sniping at Republicans. Republicans sniping at Democrats. Donald Trump is deranged! The election is rigged! Depending on who you listen to, we either need to save the integrity of America’s elections from collapse—but only in the states where Trump lost—or we need to save the integrity of America’s elections from collapse—not by running better candidates, but pointing reflexively to RUSSIA! RUSSIA! DID YOU HEAR ABOUT RUSSIA?!?
For leftists, this would at least appear to be an advantageous situation. The election is over and Joe Biden won, so they can’t be blamed for the Democrat losing this time, right? And because leftists don’t particularly like Biden, that means they should be cool with the right, or at least not nearly the subject of the ire that Democratic loyalists are, right? Let the “vote blue no matter who” and MAGA crowds fight among themselves and focus on the issues that matter. Easy peasy.
Not exactly. Liberals, freshly emboldened by a Biden win, are feeling free to chide naysaying progressives for anything they may have done—real or imagined—to cost Joe a bigger victory or to hurt congressional candidates vis-à-vis the losses incurred in the House and the failure to secure a firm majority in the Senate. They’re the ones at the top of the heap—and the “far left” would be wise to get in line. Stop killing our post-election buzz, man.
Trump’s faithful, meanwhile, in their feelings about an election that they don’t feel they lost—rather, they believe it was stolen from them—blindly are lashing out at anyone who doesn’t support Trump in his ludicrous bid to overturn the will of the American people. As far as they are probably concerned, those who accept the results as legitimate are no better than the Biden and Harris stans who unapologetically are wagging their tongues at the losing side. And this is before we even get to the matter of the Proud Boys tearing down BLM banners, shouting “F**k Antifa,” and claiming ownership of city streets while toting assault rifles. They certainly are not taking the results of the election lying down.
Simply put, if partisan rancor was bad before, it has only intensified since the election has come and gone. Things haven’t settled down. Moreover, in the face of increasingly dire need from everyday Americans and at a time when progressives, a group most attuned to this need, should be well positioned to cut through the discord, they have their own demons and divisions to sort through.
The kerfuffle of the moment for leftists is whether or not progressives in the House should use whatever leverage they have to force a vote on Medicare for All legislation. With a narrow Democratic majority, members of the Progressive Caucus could refuse to vote for Nancy Pelosi for Speaker of the House. Such a stance is not without its immediate risk; if Pelosi does not secure the speakership, that puts GOP minority leader Kevin McCarthy, a climate change denier, a staunch Trump defender, someone who has threatened “action” against Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib for their criticism of Israel, an opponent of legal status for DREAMers, and an all-around shithead, atop the House pecking order.
What this debate essentially boils down to is a matter of strategy and how forceful progressives should be on compelling the vote on a bill (H.R. 1384, proposed by Rep. Pramila Jayapal) that is presumably dead on arrival in the Senate. On one side of the discussion, there are people like comedian and political commentator Jimmy Dore who insist that Democrats need to be held accountable, esp. if they insist people should not have access to health care in a pandemic. The merits here would exist with respect to putting pressure on elected officials to elaborate on why they don’t support a position popular with Americans across the political spectrum, and in doing so, flex their might.
On the other side of the discussion, you have people like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who insist the votes are not there for M4A to even make it past the House, let alone the Senate, and to instead put energy behind other progressive priorities, such as pushing for a $15 minimum wage and putting progressives in leadership positions within the Democratic Party. According to this view, all the demands made for a vote on H.R. 1384 which goes nowhere won’t speak to progressive power—and could make progressives look even weaker than some might suggest they already are.
To say that some participants in this debate have taken a contentious tack would be an understatement. Dore made waves when, on his show, he told AOC to—how should I put this in a more family-friendly context?—take a long walk off a short pier. From what some observed, this diatribe was less about politics and more about wanting to destroy Ocasio-Cortez for her perceived treachery. On top of the apparent ill will, there was also the matter of Dore’s factual inaccuracy: Jimmy insisted Ocasio-Cortez had voted in favor of the CARES Act, when it was reported that the representative from the state of New York had not.
The crux of the matter here is not so much what one side believes—you probably have your own opinion on the #ForceTheVote question—or whether the vote would garner the positive attention advocates for forcing the vote are hoping in the first place—some like Ryan Grim of The Intercept are pessimistic on this front, while others, like Briahna Joy Gray, the national press secretary for the 2020 Bernie Sanders presidential campaign, think “the Squad’s” ability to generate interest is understated—but how they express their beliefs.
For some, this is yet additional evidence that AOC is a sellout or traitor or shill for Nancy Pelosi and that anyone who defends her now is a neoliberal bootlicker/hack. For others, Dore and likeminded #ForceTheVoters are crybabies who don’t understand political realities. Over a matter of political tactics on a theoretical vote, contingents within the broadly-stated Left are ready to go scorched earth on present and future alliances. For a mainstream media landscape eager to paint leftists as a fractured bunch, this feeds the narrative all too easily.
Beyond the optics aimed at a general audience, however, the significance of individuals perceived as leading voices of the progressive movement butting heads in an acrimonious way (Gray herself became embroiled in a bit of controversy when fellow progressive podcaster Benjamin Dixon came for her publicly for her stance on forcing an M4A vote) shouldn’t be understated. What amounts to mere performative antics for some can be taken seriously by those devotees within earshot of that soapbox—and the resulting bile spilled jeopardizes the engagement of those for whom politics is an acquired taste or whose natural inclination is to tune out at the earliest sign of contentiousness. In other words, it’s difficult to have a unified front when your forces can’t agree on a target—or lose the will to fight altogether.
In the 24-hour news cycle and amid the real and present concerns of Americans just trying to meet their basic needs—and for some, the global pandemic didn’t create their situation, but has only exacerbated it—this debate over playing hardball with House Democratic leadership and the Speaker’s seat over Medicare for All is a relative blip on the radar. Who cares about an M4A vote when they have no job and they’re facing eviction or they have loved ones sick and dying? What does it matter to me if Jimmy Dore said some bad words to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez? The Lincoln Project crowd, for one, would be more apt to turn the lens on Donald Trump and all he hasn’t done for the country during a time of hardship for millions. Trump bad. Bad, bad man.
As minor as this episode which is still ongoing may be, that it is illustrative of a larger trend in political discourse gives scrutiny of it value. On an anecdotal note, I’ve observed numerous instances of paid pundits and armchair critics alike ready to cancel AOC for her take on bringing H.R. 1384 to a floor vote. One commenter I saw even opined that they thought Ms. Ocasio-Cortez is the most disappointing politician they’ve witnessed in the last several decades. The woman hasn’t even completed her first full term in the House of Representatives after a surprise primary win against a 10-time incumbent and she’s already a major disappointment? The notion would be infuriating if it weren’t so laughably absurd.
Of course, not every “hot take” we read on social media is going to be well considered. (Frequently, they are very poorly considered.) Still, the people uttering these lines are likely prospective voters in 2022 and beyond. Maybe it’s fatigue after a long and hard year and an even longer presidential campaign. Maybe progressives are starting to become impatient after two failed presidential campaigns for Bernie Sanders and a seemingly endless barrage of attacks from the right and center-right.
Whatever the case, that some leftists would be so apt to throw AOC, one of the most sympathetic figures to their cause in Congress, under the proverbial bus seems wrong-headed. As it stands, the pickings are slim with respect to congressional allies on core progressive issues. Besides, it’s not as if she, while remaining skeptical about forcing a vote on M4A, is devoid of ideas on how else to apply political pressure on the people who need to be pressed on universal health care. We might not agree with her stance completely, but at least there’s the possibility of negotiation. This is not Joe “I Beat the Socialist” Biden we’re talking about here.
I’ve never been super active on social media, but of late, I’ve largely distanced myself from it completely, especially as intersects with the political and social issues spheres. Do I feel less informed? Sometimes, yeah. But do I miss the drama that accompanies a lot of the day’s political discourse? No, not at all. The title of this piece is intended to be ironic, but only to an extent. The insistence of moderates on civility toward people who actively do and wish harm on others is certainly problematic in its presumption that the center is always best, but perhaps a balance should be struck when dealing with individuals who are outspoken defenders of progressive values. It could get lonely on the left otherwise.
Democratic officials in Hudson County, New Jersey planned back in 2018 to phase out a contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement to jail immigrants. At a recent virtual meeting, more than 150 people made emotional pleas on behalf of the detainees, asking the county freeholders not to renew the contract. No one who called in advocated in favor of re-upping on the deal with ICE.
In spite of this, as reported on by Matt Katz for the Gothamist, whose beat is ICE detention and refugees, and others, the freeholders voted 6-3 to extend the contract. Ultimately, it seems, cash is king.
According to Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise and the other executives who voted in favor of the renewal, the county needs this money. Hudson Co. receives $120 in revenue per day per immigrant for jailing immigrants and, at present, houses about 100 people in its county jail. Without this revenue, taxes will increase—and you don’t want that, do you?
Of course, no one likes to pay more in taxes, least of all New Jerseyans, who already pay the highest property taxes of any state in America. Still, keeping undocumented immigrants locked up has its own obvious cost: a human one. At what point do financial considerations exceed moral concerns? What are the lives of these detainees truly worth to those in power?
What is especially galling to activists is the apparent bipartisan willingness to place profit over people as part of the immigration debate. DeGise, the county executive who proposed the reversal of the earlier phase-out, is a Democrat. The entire board of freeholders is populated by Democrats, which is not unexpected in Hudson County, a Democratic Party stronghold. Caridad Rodriguez, Anthony Vainieri, and Albert Cifelli, all of whom cited a belief in “Democratic values” as part of their re-election campaigns, voted in favor of renewing the contract.
How, then, does a partnership with ICE, an agency cited for a litany of abuses and which some in the progressive wing in the party have called for to abolish outright, align with Democratic values? What, pray tell, are those values?
Making matters worse is the notion that these detainees, already kept in suspect conditions (in Katz’s article, one of the attorneys representing the immigrants at the county jail cites their being kept in their cells for all but a half-hour of the day with absent or lacking medical care and sanitary supplies), only represent a fraction of the jail’s true capacity. Potentially, Hudson County can hold hundreds more immigrants, the capabilities of which are not lost on ICE, to be sure.
These substandard living conditions are not news either. Over the past half a decade, several detainees have died, over 100 medical grievances have been filed, basic quality of life provisions have been denied, and the use of physical force has been all too frequent. Throw COVID-19 into the mix and the picture is a bleak one—and not just for the detainees. Five employees have died since the start of the pandemic and dozens more have fallen ill, with accusations of insufficient PPE coming from the families of those workers. These people aren’t confined to the facility. They’re returning home, putting other members of their communities at risk of infection. In other words, it’s not as if the risk of spread is closed off herein.
These are legitimate human rights concerns. As several of the freeholders would characterize the reservations of Hudson County residents and immigrant advocates alike, however, they represent the beliefs of a small subset of the population or otherwise capture the views of individuals who are “just crazy.” This delegitimization of activist energy as some “radical” or illogical force is well familiar to leftists, some of whom see this as another turn in the battle for the soul of the Democratic Party.
Proponents of the ICE contract renewal also have used false or misleading justifications for maintaining the current arrangement. Tom DeGise’s office cited statistics of crimes once perpetrated by detainees in defense of the move, but they are now only being held for immigration violations, not crimes. Caridad Rodriguez, herself once an immigrant, likewise framed the issue in terms of keeping her community safe. For the non-violent offenders who haven’t committed major crimes, what is preventing the release you yourself have promised, Ms. Rodriguez?
All of this adds up to a grim situation that casts Hudson County and New Jersey as a whole in a harsh light when considering the other ICE detention contracts in place at other jails/detention centers in the state. With COVID rates spiking in and out of county jails, the outlook almost certainly will get worse. Meanwhile, NJ’s top politicians, notably Senators Cory Booker and Bob Menendez and Governor Phil Murphy, have been largely silent on the matter.
Once more, this begs the question: is it worth it? For all the human rights abuses recorded in the Hudson County jail and the elevated risk of infection the conditions within mean for detainees, employees, and the surrounding communities, perhaps most significantly for some members of the public, the revenue earned will not be so substantial. If current occupancy holds for 2021, Hudson County will only net $4 million from the ICE deal, a sum opponents of the extension argue can be made up elsewhere. Almost certainly, the replacement option would be a morally cleaner one.
On every front, the reversal of Hudson County’s earlier pledge to phase out its contract with ICE is a losing proposition. The Democrats vocally supporting this flip-flop or otherwise complicit in their silence would do well to consider how this “blood money,” as some advocates have labeled it, fits in with their definition of “values.”
I’m not sure if you’ve heard, but there was a presidential election in the fabled “land of the free and home of the brave.”
Though the final result is still being contested by the incumbent, Joe Biden is poised to become the 46th president of these United States. Word of Donald Trump’s defeat at the hands of his Democratic Party challenger began to circulate last weekend, giving rise to spontaneous celebrations in cities across the nation. For the millions of Americans who voted to oust Trump, Biden’s victory is welcome news. In a year that has seen sickness, death, and economic devastation for many, it’s a bright spot, to be sure.
Especially for members of the most vulnerable groups in our society, Biden’s win is an immense relief. CNN commentator Van Jones notably broke down in tears when reacting to his network’s call for Biden, relating how, on that day, it was easier to be a father, it was easier to tell his children that “character matters.” For immigrants to the U.S., too, having Biden in the Oval Office means not being openly vilified as they have been under President Trump.
With Kamala Harris becoming the first female vice president—and a woman of color, at that—there’s also ample room for inspiration. While identity politics is a double-edged sword, representation matters. For other children of immigrants, be they black, brown, or otherwise, Harris’s history-making ascendancy to the role of VP means they can hold their heads up higher and dream that much more sweetly about holding the same role—or better.
So yes, far be it from me to dampen the enthusiasm of scores of Americans about how, come January, the U.S. will have officially turned the page on one of the darkest chapters in a history that has seen its share of darkness. At the same time, it should be underscored that, while Trumpty Dumpty has taken a great fall, he still has his avid supporters. Additionally, looking at the results at large, while disaster was avoided at the presidential level, at other levels, the Democrats fell below expectations.
In the House, Dems will retain a majority, but a slimmer one. Control of the Senate remains a possibility, but is dependent on the outcomes of close races. Dems also lost control of a gubernatorial seat in Montana—to a man in Greg Gianforte who once body-slammed a reporter for asking a question he didn’t like, no less. A blue wave, this was not.
Even with Biden’s win, there are some red flags. Despite what numerous national polls might have suggested leading up to Election Day, the Democratic challenger currently only has about a 3.5% lead with 97% of the vote counted. In terms of total votes, Biden’s margin of victory is 5.5 million. These are comfortable margins, yes, but not quite the repudiation of a failed president many left-leaning optimists envisioned.
In fairness to Joe, national polls do not appreciate that electors are decided on a state-by-state basis, so the final results were always liable to be skewed by virtue of this indirect comparison. Still, Biden arguably underperformed with constituencies that are at least superficially more favorable to the Democratic Party. Trump made significant gains with black and Latinx voters, not to mention he had the backing of many of the rank-and-file union members casting their ballots in 2020.
Ostensibly, these should be solid bases of support for Democrats against a party that has all but conceded its rejection of multiculturalism and which favors the wealthy and big business over the middle and working classes. Gains among women, people of color, and the intersection between by a Republican candidate should be concerning to Democratic Party strategists and liberal commentators alike.
Regrettably, self-reflection doesn’t appear to be a hallmark of the Democratic Party’s approach of late—if it ever was. Despite what the actual data suggests, center-left critics have cited the party’s shift too far leftward as a reason it has ceded territory to Republicans in key areas. All the while, party leaders and sympathetic media outlets have lauded the pair of Biden and Harris, characterizing the former as the man for this moment and the latter as a bridge to a new generation of political aspirants.
The reality of the situation, however, is that, while we should be encouraged by America not shooting itself in the proverbial foot, more than 73 million people opted for the clearly inferior option this election. That’s more than a little disturbing.
As Donald Trump and his campaign have gone indiscriminately throwing around accusations of fraud, filing lawsuits of questionable merit (and I’m being charitable here), enthusiasm for his brand of politics hasn’t died down. In fact, if anything his devotees seem more demonstrative and more vocal in their support than ever.
For one, conservatives have been flocking to apps like Gab, MeWe, and Parler following Election Day, apparently of the belief that major social media platforms are “censoring” right-wing voices and that FOX News (!) is becoming too liberal. While it may not truly have lived up to the name by the numbers, that a Million MAGA March even occurred and that Proud Boys went galumphing about the streets of Washington, D.C. shouting “Whose streets? Our streets!” and “F**k Antifa!” is vaguely frightening. If YouTube comments sections are any indication, too, a good percentage of Americans truly believe the election was stolen from the now-lame-duck incumbent. They also see fit to poke fun at my last name. Mangina. Man-jerkoff. Thank you. Very witty.
Not that it’s exclusively the byproduct of anti-maskers’, QAnon’s, and other groups highly correlative with voting for Trump’s actions, but COVID cases are going up in, like, 52 of 50 states. (Yes, I know how numbers work.) It makes the efforts of front-line workers like Jodi Doering, an emergency room nurse from South Dakota whose tweets about Trump supporters literally dying of COVID-19 and not believing they have the disease went viral, all the more commendable.
For those of us who dabble in schadenfreude, it’s tempting to respond in less-than-sympathetic terms. It’s their fault for believing the likes of Trump and Alex Jones. They didn’t heed the warnings. Fair enough, but they’re still average people like you and me. They shouldn’t be dying in record-high numbers day after day. Not to totally excuse their actions, but their leadership has failed them. This is the danger of Trumpism. Even after the dust has, for all intents and purposes, settled on the 2020 presidential election, scores of Americans will still reject science and the scientific accumulation of data.
We talk about a divided America politically speaking, but perhaps most dangerously, we’re living in what has been referred to as a “post-truth” era, in which the value of experts is derided and in which false and misleading news travels faster than the genuine article. For the most progressive among us who realize it will take a commitment of Americans from all walks of life and across geographical boundaries to save the country from a widening chasm of income and wealth inequality, it becomes that much more challenging to build a movement when it feels like you live in two separate Americas.
Joe Biden and his campaign won this election. That much shouldn’t be disputed. How they were able to win, meanwhile, should be part of the discussion moving forward. To a certain extent, Biden won in spite of himself. Without turnout from constituencies loyal to the Democratic Party (like African-American women—hello, somebody!) as well as contributions from new voters and grassroots organizing by the left, we very easily could’ve had a repeat of the debacle that was the 2016 election.
So, yes, Biden’s bipartisan approach to politics and his fidelity to certain moneyed interests ultimately didn’t cost him. As some would argue, however, he is poorly suited for a moment in which the Republican Party has seemingly gone off the deep end and in which Americans regardless of class, ethnicity, gender, or other identifier(s) are fed up with the status quo. Donald Trump may have failed in his bid for re-election, but Trumpism isn’t dead and buried. A refusal by Democrats to recognize this state of affairs and continue to offer milquetoast policy goals in the face of widespread, genuine need of voters could result in worse losses in 2022.
I advocate voting strategically for Joe Biden for president, especially for those voters for whom their vote potentially stands to make a difference in a so-called “battleground” or “swing” state. I feel as though anyone who can vote should, barring legitimate concerns about one’s health or risk of infection specifically from voting.
What I won’t do, however, is lie for Biden or try to bully or shame people into voting for him. Furthermore, I won’t try to sugarcoat the position of many who will be casting their ballots for the former vice president: they are voting for Biden specifically to prevent Donald Trump from winning a second term, to avoid disaster and not because they truly engage with Biden’s vision for America—full stop.
For some Democratic Party supporters, however, this stance seems insufficient. It is not enough merely to cast one’s ballot for the Biden-Harris ticket—you get the sense that they want you to “bend the knee,” as Jon Snow would bend the knee to Daenerys Targaryen, too. The time for raising concerns about policy goals has passed, at least until after the election (to be picked up again at an unnamed and mythical future occasion). It’s time to be ridin’ with Biden. Any negativity about the Democratic candidate evidently goes into the political aether, to be immediately absorbed by the opposition and added to his life force or vote tally or something. Don’t ask me—I’m trying to understand the same as you.
Leftist YouTubers inhabiting the space colloquially known as BreadTube have lent their voices and influence to coaxing their American viewers into voting for Joe Biden, and increasingly so now that Election Day is fast approaching (early voting has been underway for weeks, but some remain undecided or haven’t voted). The political satire channel Some More News, hosted by Cody Johnston, produced by Katy Stoll, and written by David Christopher Bell, recently published a video essay titled “Vote! (For Joe Biden (Who Sucks!)).”
As the name implies, the segment is a frank discussion of the importance of voting for Biden in this election, as unpalatable as it might be. It also reinforces the ideas that A) even if Biden wins, he should be held accountable for his campaign’s promises at a minimum and that B) we should not accept a return to “normal,” whatever that looks like this year and at this point in history.
In the aftermath of the video’s release, Johnston related that it wasn’t Trump supporters who reacted the most harshly to the video, but rather those on the left and center-left. On October 16, he tweeted the following:
Made a video that observably persuaded people to vote against Trump by voting for Joe Biden, a guy that I think sucks, and the most aggressive and obnoxious reaction has been from liberals whining that I didn’t persuade people in a way that they liked.
The reactions to Johnston’s reaction to, ahem, his post’s reactions were intriguing in their own right. Many defended him because, at the end of the day, he still comes to the same conclusion as full-throated Biden supporters, but some chided him for making it seem that voting was a “disgusting” act when it should be regarded as the very least an American should aspire to as a means of civic engagement. Others suggested that, well, you said their candidate sucks, so what else did you expect? Or they insisted that viewers were just as likely to not vote having watched the video—if not more so. Or kids in cages, kids in cages, kids in cages. You can probably fill in the blanks with your own examples of liberal refrains which vary to their degree of legitimacy.
This debate over the merits of Some More News’s effort to encourage its viewership to vote for Biden are a microcosm of a tension between wings of the Democratic Party that has existed for some time, but has really gotten a jump start in the post-Obama era. Do robust primaries help or hurt the eventual winner (which isn’t always but frequently is a more moderate incumbent)? After the primary, is it fair to continue to criticize the nominee in good faith, pointing out their shortcomings so as to shore up potential weaknesses in the general election as well as to highlight important issues to address after the votes are counted, or should critics hold their tongues indefinitely for fear of providing the opposition with a line of attack?
I specify good-faith criticisms of Democratic Party candidates by leftists under the assumption these critics don’t actually want the Republican Party candidate to win. Of course, I would be naïve to think there aren’t some lefties who believe that we might as well vote for the worse candidate to add fuel to an activist fire that has been burning for decades but has seen its intensity grow in the wake of the recession of the 2000’s and the progressive movement spurred on by the likes of Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Or they believe that by voting Republican, they’re somehow sticking it to the Democratic National Committee, an entity which well merits scorn.
In this particular case, though, we’re talking about Donald Trump, someone who not only would seek to stamp out that activist fire, but the activists who started it and anyone who dares to cross him, at that. The accelerationist argument, for any and all positive long-term intentions, loses luster when considering this position’s short-term consequences, of which the brunt is to be borne by the most vulnerable among us.
As for the DNC “learning its lesson,” I would point to Joe Biden in 2020 being the nominee as reason enough to think voting for #45 as a protest vote is an exercise in futility. The Democrats haven’t learned anything from 2016, or if they have, they’re actively ignoring it. If you want to protest what you perceive to be poor stewardship of the Democratic Party, I submit your best option is simply to tighten up those proverbial purse strings. Whatever you do, don’t vote for Trump. Don’t cut off your nose to spite your country.
To reiterate, for the majority of discerning American lefties, a Biden victory is the desired outcome of the 2020 presidential election, a reality seemingly lost on some Democratic Party loyalists who see valid criticism of their nominee as tantamount to helping the enemy or imagine that “Bernie or bust” types represent a larger part of the electorate than they actually do.
On the former count, if progressive criticisms of Biden have been weaponized by the right, um, Trump and his team are doing a poor job of utilizing them. Instead, despite obvious evidence to the contrary, the bad orange man has doubled down on the assertion that Amtrak Joe is a tool of the “radical Left” and has tried to tie Hunter Biden’s business dealings and personal failings to his father’s supposed unsuitability for the presidency, a move which has failed to garner traction if polling numbers are any indication. For that matter, it may be actively hurting Trump and his campaign, making Biden all the more sympathetic for treating his son with dignity and love.
On the latter count, Democratic supporters—and even the nominee himself, who has told people at various points in the campaign raising objections to his plan for America to vote for the other guy if they don’t like it point blank—have treated dissenters to the party platform as all but heretics, castigating them for wanting more than the “most progressive presidential party platform in history,” (which may or may not actually be implemented—fingers crossed!) pointing out much to their chagrin that “their guy lost,” (gee, we had forgotten Bernie lost—thanks for reminding us!), and telling them not to be such stupid, uncompromising babies and suckle at the teat of incrementalism. Amid the beating drum of vote shaming and lame pro-Biden slogans (what the hell is “build back better” anyway?), there is the refrain that not voting for Joe Biden is a vote for Donald Trump.
First of all, from a logical standpoint, this is not true. The only vote for Donald Trump is—not to be a dick about it—a vote for Donald Trump. By this logic, not voting for Trump could be considered a vote for Joe Biden. In turn, belaboring Biden’s susceptibility to losing due to poor turnout is a bit of a tell that true enthusiasm for your chosen candidate is lacking. It’s also an admission that you need the Left’s votes if you want to win—despite, you know, telling them they’re not welcome all the time.
The solution, therefore, is apparently to browbeat progressives into submission rather than genuine voter outreach, even when they’re not suggesting people shouldn’t vote, because it’s easier than coalition building. In fairness, progressives often struggle with this in their own right. There are so many problems to solve, so little time, and so many individual groups formed around specific geographical regions or pet causes. So, so many groups. And re turning out the vote, might progressives be similarly not so charitable to their closer-to-center counterparts were the roles reversed? Perhaps. Without the historical precedent, though, who’s to say?
In his closing, Cody Johnston makes this point about the motivation to vote for Joe Biden:
Every attempt I’ve seen to be, like, “Vote, and vote for the not-fascist!”—it has just seemed obnoxious or condescending or, like, not honest about Biden or about the situation. ‘Cause it sucks. We should be able to say that it sucks, and hold the nominally left party to not the lowest bar ever. Criticism is healthy. F**k Joe Biden, but f**k Donald Trump way more.
Alas, some liberals don’t agree. They want to have our vote and eat it too, as mixed a metaphor as that is. But a vote is not necessarily an endorsement and there’s a reason why people invoke imagery of holding one’s nose and pulling the lever or choosing between the lesser of two evils when describing the voting process. For those who can and do vote, many do it begrudgingly, without a strong attachment to either candidate. Pretending otherwise only makes it harder, and in a year which has seemed to have no limit to the perils it has thrown us, that’s harder than it needs to be.
Ever-present concerns about COVID-19 and hurricanes and poisonous hairy caterpillars (yes, that’s a thing now, apparently) notwithstanding, the subtext of the enthusiasm gap for prospective Joe Biden voters is glaring.
The people most enthusiastic about Biden as their nominee of choice tend to be those for whom the failings of either major-party candidate won’t matter all that materially or those who already have positive associations with the Democratic Party and voting in general. Less psyched about casting their ballots for Biden are the Americans who have struggled regardless of the party affiliation of the president and/or who hold the Obama-Biden administration in lower esteem than those fervent Democratic cheerleaders.
Herein, matters of age, class, and race are all highly relevant. For Gen Z and millennial voters especially, and those of a progressive mindset especially especially, Biden’s legacy as vice president doesn’t hold the same positive connotations as it does with liberals who swoon at Barack Obama’s smooth talk or who regard the Obamas as something closer to royalty than to the family of a former president.
These are voters who are living through a pandemic, a recession, and a period of social and political unrest, and, in some cases, came of political age during another recession. These are also voters who understand that, despite glowing visions of hope and change, Obama’s track record didn’t match his rhetoric. The Obama administration largely eschewed the energy from progressives which helped its namesake reach the White House and populated its ranks with the same kinds of neoliberal hacks that led us to a financial crisis in the first place. It’s no wonder, favorable comparisons to his successor and predecessor aside, a relic of the Obama years like Biden should be regarded with distrust.
This is all before we get to Biden’s history as a legislator prior to receiving the vice presidential nomination, a checkered history to say the least. Particularly on the topic of race, Biden’s legacy as an author and strong advocate for a crime bill that did discernible harm to communities of color as well as a centrist who has extolled his ability to work amiably among Southern segregationists does him no favors as the head of a Democratic Party trying to separate itself at all costs from a Republican Party plunging full tilt into a white supremacist agenda.
To his credit, Biden has at least acknowledged that supporting the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act was a “mistake.” For some, however, this apology is weak sauce, as the kids say. Moreover, amid calls to defund and demilitarize police departments across the country, Biden’s team, while embracing some aspects of police reform, have been clear that Joe doesn’t support defunding the police, despite Donald Trump’s protestations that he has called for this measure. If anything, Biden wants more financial assistance for police forces. Progressive on this issue, he is not.
I get it—Joe Biden is a charmer. The warm smile, the working class appeal, the ability to convey a sense of empathy. His profile is tailor-made for a career in politics. For many voters rightfully skeptical of leadership across the political spectrum, meanwhile, appeals to “decency” aren’t enough. We’re in the midst of societal upheaval on top of global climate and health crises, and Biden’s milquetoast centrist policy stances are less than ideal to meet the challenges of this moment in time. Biden, in upending Bernie Sanders in the Democratic Party primary (with a lot of help from the other candidates and Barack Obama himself), boasted that voters don’t want a “revolution”—they want results. For the primary voters who fueled his comeback in the primary, that may well be the case.
For a growing number of Americans, however, a revolution is not just desired, but needed. It’s something that would benefit all Americans, not just the socioeconomically downtrodden, too. Unfortunately, Biden either doesn’t get it or pretends otherwise, and at the end of the day, that’s not on everyday people should he lose the election (though, to be clear, they should vote if ready, willing, and able)—that’s on him for not making the stronger case to elect him.
So you’ll have to excuse us if we don’t endorse Joe Biden or even like him all that much. It’s strategic voting, after all, and even if he wins, as Cody Johnston emphasized at the end of his aforementioned video, brunch is still cancelled. Sorry, liberals.
By now, you’re aware that Donald Trump, Melania Trump, three Republican senators, and other members of Trump’s circle have tested positive for COVID-19.
The president was hospitalized at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and has since left. At this writing, though, he still seems to be pretty darn sick. It’s hard to know what to think when the White House is less than forthcoming on matters of his health and, you know, has a penchant for lying. Still, while the battle against COVID hasn’t been easy for Trump, it doesn’t appear that he will die from contracting the virus—much to the chagrin of liberals and other conscientious objectors to his presidency.
Noting how Trump and his enablers play fast and loose with the truth, some public figures, Michael Moore among the notables, suggested he could’ve been faking it, that this all could’ve been some sort of elaborate hoax. While I was not inclined to make that leap—mostly because I don’t think Trump et al. are competent enough to orchestrate something like that—I could pardon those dabbling in conspiracy theories, especially after the utter debacle that was the first (and hopefully last) presidential debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden.
If you watched the debate, I’m sorry for your sake, though I suppose there’s some solidarity to be had in the shared pain we experienced. At only 90 minutes, it still felt too long, and watching with other leftists, we felt a communal longing for some sort of drug to make the proceedings more bearable.
If you skipped the debate to watch something with more redeeming value like, say, playoff baseball or paint drying, what was so bad about it? Well, dear reader, let’s delve into it, though I warn you, it’s not for the faint of heart.
The dashes on the transcript denote stops and starts
Before we even to get to the topics raised by moderator Chris Wallace of FOX News fame, let’s address the prevailing theme of the night: crosstalk. There was an untold number of interruptions during this debate, mostly on the part of Mr. Trump, and when he did insert himself in the conversation, it was usually for the purpose of digressing or redirecting the discussion in some disingenuous way.
Mr. Biden, though not rattled by Trump’s disregard for debate convention, was clearly irritated by it, referring to his opponent as a “clown” at one point and asking him point blank to “shut up, man.” If any children were watching, they certainly did not receive a lesson on how to interact with others in a respectful way.
Re the Notorious A.C.B. (yes, some people are trying to make that a thing)
With that behind us, let’s get to the, ahem, substance of the debate. Wallace’s first question got right to the topic on the minds of many: the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to replace the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court.
Trump, speaking first, basically defended her nomination by saying that Republicans won and they had every right to fill that seat. He then stuck his tongue out and made antlers with his hands, waving his fingers in an instigative manner.
Biden, in his rebuttal, replied that the American people should have a say on how that vacant seat is filled by who they elect to be president and vice president. He didn’t really iterate why Coney Barrett’s nomination was wrong insomuch as he speculated what doom her confirmation might mean for the Affordable Care Act and the precedent set by Roe v. Wade (and deservedly so).
Trump and Biden then basically quibbled on how many millions of Americans would be disadvantaged by the other’s health plan until Wallace finally and mercifully moved onto the next topic.
Let’s talk about our crappy healthcare plans that aren’t Medicare for All
With the ACA already on the lips of the combatants, the moderator pivoted to their healthcare plans. Starting again with Trump, Wallace asked the Republican Party nominee, like, do you have a plan? Trump, taking umbrage was all, of course, I have a plan: lower drug prices. Apparently, that’s it. Cheaper drugs.
Biden wasn’t off the hook either. Wallace followed his pointed inquiry of Trump by asking the Democratic nominee why his public option wouldn’t destroy private insurance. Biden responded by saying that the public option would only be for those people who qualify for Medicaid. Trump tried to say that Biden was in cahoots with Bernie Sanders and his socialized (!) medicine, but Biden inferred that because he beat Bernie in the primary, he couldn’t be promoting such a plan. Because that’s how that works.
Trump replied by saying “Obamacare” is a disaster and that premiums are too high. Biden, in a nod to Wallace’s original question, pointed out that Trump still doesn’t have a healthcare plan. Trump countered by babbling on about the individual mandate and not wanting to be blamed for running a bad healthcare plan and wanting “to help people.” Evidently, that is why he killed the individual mandate and wants to tear the ACA down with nothing to replace it. Are you following? Good. Now please explain it to me.
On handling COVID-19, which totally has no relevance to Trump having to go to the hospital whatsoever
“Why should the American people trust you more than your opponent to deal with this public health crisis going forward?”
This was the question Chris Wallace posed to the debaters, and Joe Biden was up first. Biden, to his credit, gave a solid answer, though give Donald Trump an assist for, well, doing a terrible job. A key highlight was Biden’s attention to Trump’s admission that he knew how serious a threat COVID represented back in February, but that he downplayed the danger. Now, more than half a year later, his administration still doesn’t have a plan.
Trump, apparently of the opinion that more than 200,000 dead Americans is a great success, extolled his decision to close off travel from mainland China—a move that critics judged to be late in coming and haphazard at that. He went on to further toot his own horn, carrying on about how Dr. Anthony Fauci and various Democratic governors said he did a “phenomenal job.” I’m not sure who these governors are, but if they did feed Trump’s ego, they probably just said that so they would actually get the relief they requested.
From there, Wallace turned to talk of a COVID-19 vaccine and its potential availability. Faced with the insistence of CDC head Robert Redfield that a vaccine would not be widely available until summer of next year, Trump professed that, per companies like Johnson & Johnson and Moderna, a vaccine will be ready “very soon.” Biden was all, like, yeah, right, you dum-dum. And Trump was all, like, your college grades sucked. Really. He talked about Biden’s academic performance while in college. Because that’s relevant now.
Because this is 2020, the year without joy, even more about coronavirus
To reopen or not reopen? That is the question.
Trump said yes, citing hurting businesses, and expressed the belief that Democratic governors refusing to open their states back up are playing politics, intentionally hurting the economy to make him look bad. Biden, meanwhile, said no, not without a plan and without the money for PPE and sanitization measures.
Trump then said, well, Joe, why don’t you talk to Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer? And Biden said, shush (literally, he asked if Trump would “shush for a minute”), if you listened to them, you might actually know what you’re doing. Biden, as we all know, sternly opposed to malarkey over the course of the campaign, was having none of it.
Following the shushing, Wallace steered the conversation to the topic of masks and rallies. Trump was all, like, masks? Masks? I love masks! If I need to wear a mask, I do! Right now, I don’t need one. That guy over there, though? He’s kind of a mask freak, if you ask me. And Biden was all, like, masks and social distancing save lives.
Which is when Wallace interceded on the subject of campaign events, underscoring the different approaches these men have taken. And Trump was all, like, hey, man, my supporters are packed together, but I have my rallies outside. Ol’ Sleepy Joe doesn’t hold big rallies because he can’t get anyone to attend. And Biden was, like, nuh-uh. And Trump was, like, yuh-huh. If it seems like I’m being hyperbolic, I am exaggerating, of course, but only to an extent. Many of these exchanges were childish, especially on Donald “My Rallies Are Bigger Than Yours” Trump’s part.
The point at which Trump was probably very glad the debate shifted to the economy
“You gotta open the states up. It’s not fair. You’re talking about almost like being in prison.”
So said Mr. Trump, who, if he actually had to spend time in prison, might not be so apt to use that metaphor. The debate shifted toward talk of the economy, with Wallace asking each candidate to explain their concept of the recovery, whether as a V-shaped recovery (Trump) or a K-shaped recovery (Biden).
In Trump’s mind, he was instrumental in building the world’s greatest economy—and then came along the “China plague.” No, seriously, he called it that. Now Joe Biden wants to shut down the economy. And what will that do? Depression! Divorce! Alcoholism! Drugs! Look, I care about the people. Let’s open things back up.
Amtrak Joe from Scranton, PA, on the other hand, spoke to the existence of a K-shaped recovery in which millionaires and billionaires have made hundreds of billions since the start of the COVID crisis and small-town, working-class Americans have felt the pinch. Also, that guy only paid $750 in taxes. The nerve!
Trump, taken aback by such an accusation, insisted he paid millions of dollars in taxes in the first two years of his presidency. Biden responded by asking, well, can we see your tax returns? And Trump was all, like, welllllllll, these are very complicated returns. And then Wallace chimed in to the effect of come on, dude, tell us how much you paid in taxes in 2016 and 2017. And Trump was all, like, I just told you: millions. Besides, don’t blame me for the tax code. Blame Senator/VP Biden over there, he’s the worst.
Biden said, no, you’re the worst.
Chris Wallace then smacked his head repeatedly on the table, whereupon he blacked out briefly before regaining consciousness and continuing to moderate the debate.
More on taxes, because nothing gets Americans fired up like talk about the tax code
Wallace moved to asking Biden whether his proposed tax increases for high earners would hurt the economy. And Biden, seemingly waiting for the chance, started unveiling his economic plan. Whereupon Mr. Wallace sprayed Biden in the face with water, shouting, “Taxes, Mr. Vice President! Taxes!” Biden, newly reoriented, vowed to raise the corporate tax rate. Trump countered by professing that when he lowered taxes, the economy boomed. BOOMED!
That was when Wallace smugly drew from a freshly-lit cigarette, paused for a moment, smiled, turned to Trump, and said, “Actually, Mr. President—Obama’s economy was better.” And Trump was all, like, the f**k did you just say to me? And Biden, with a twinkle in his eye, was all, like, you heard the man! And Trump was all, like, let’s talk about Hunter and Burisma. And Biden was all, like, you’re full of beans! And then the moderator blew an air horn, signaling the end of the segment, while Biden got his brass knuckles ready, silently and unobtrusively.
The segment in which a bunch of old white guys talk about race
“Why should voters trust you, rather than your opponent, to deal with the race issues facing this country over the next four years?”
Such was the question posed to Donald Trump and Joe Biden. Biden, answering first, spoke vaguely of equity, equality, and decency. (If you had “decency” on your presidential debate Bingo card, you can mark that space off now.) He, unlike his opponent, did not try to “both sides” the events at Charlottesville. He did not authorize the use of tear gas against peaceful protestors so he could have a photo op.
Trump responded by—look, I could tell you what he said, but it’s a bunch of nonsense. He’s supported by law enforcement (not helping your cause, bub). Biden’s a tool of the “radical left.” (Does anyone have a Bingo yet?) The people want law and order. Sleepy Joe’s afraid. Are you going to cry, Joe? Huh? Are you going to cry? Waaaaah!
Wallace then steered the discussion to the Breonna Taylor case and none of the officers involved being charged with homicide, asking Biden if there is a separate and unequal system of justice for blacks in America. And Biden was all, like, duh! Biden, to be clear, called for accountability for police who have done wrong but prefaced this by saying that there are “some bad apples” among the bunch. He conveniently ignores the idea that, as the saying goes, a few bad apples spoil the bunch, but we wouldn’t want to upset the men and women in blue, would we?
Trump fired back all, like, so you’re cool with looting and rioting and burning things down? And Wallace was all, not so fast, bruh. You directed federal agencies to end racial sensitivity training. To which Trump replied, “Because bruh, that shit is racist!” And Wallace was all, like, WTF, mate? And Biden, unprompted, tearfully recalled the prejudice he felt as a young Irish Catholic boy in Scranton. Tired. Poor. Yearning to breathe free. Biden then lifted his lamp beside the golden door. America.
And then—sigh—this went on for another eight minutes. I’ll give you some quick notes. Wallace asked about the increase in homicides this summer, which Trump again tried to blame on Democratic leaders, except that it has happened in Republican-led jurisdictions too. Wallace asked about “reimaging policing” and Black Lives Matter, and Biden started talking about community policing, but that got sublimated into arguments about who was or wasn’t calling for defunding the police and who would or wouldn’t hold violent offenders accountable. Oh, and fun times, Trump refused to explicitly condemn the Proud Boys, a white supremacist group. Cool, cool.
Oh, wow—they’re actually talking about climate change
Yes—this happened! Wallace, recounting Trump’s greatest hits, so to speak, on the subject of the environment (arguing against the influence of climate change on the wildfires in the West, pulling out of the Paris Agreement, rolling back Obama-era environmental regulations), asked the president what he believes on this subject matter. Trump answered with his usual word vomit, blaming California for not managing its forests better and not really addressing the issue at hand.
Wallace, it should be noted, pressed Trump on why, if he truly believes in the science on climate change, he would roll back standards published during Barack Obama’s tenure. Trump, saying the thinking part out loud, justified his actions with the lower upfront price tag associated with certain types of energy. Because who needs a planet to enjoy those savings, amirite?
Biden, when confronted with Trump’s insistence that ending the use of fossil fuels and reaching zero net emission of greenhouse gases would tank the economy, rejected his rival’s position, emphasizing how a commitment to renewable energy would create jobs, not cost them. It would also save money currently spent on disaster relief by mitigating the damage done by the effects of climate change. Alas, when Trump tried to pin the spooky, scary socialist Green New Deal on Biden, Biden flatly rejected any allegiance to that framework. But hey, this line of questioning was more than I could’ve hoped for from this debate before it began.
Trump doesn’t know the meaning of the phrase “election integrity”
“How will you reassure the American people that the next President will be the legitimate winner of this election?”
Oh, boy—that’s a doozy. Biden was up first and basically rambled his way to an exhortation of the public to vote. As for Trump, well, he—sigh. He said, in his rambling way, that there is going to be “a fraud like you’ve never seen” and that the election is “rigged.” You know, presumably, unless he wins.
After a brief interlude in which Biden waxed philosophical on potential involvement by the courts, expressing his concern that any court would be invoked at all, especially a Supreme Court with the likes of Amy Coney Barrett on it, Wallace dropped the question on the minds of many: “Will you pledge tonight that you will not declare victory until the election has been independently certified?” Trump did not. Biden did.
I referred to this debate earlier as a debacle. Other critics were even less charitable. Dana Bash of CNN notably referred to it as a “shit show”—on live TV, no less. Her colleague Jake Tapper called it “a hot mess inside a dumpster fire inside a train wreck.” Man, these CNN personalities are so dang colorful with their metaphors!
As one might imagine, some critical responses would seem to carry more weight than others. Professional lunkhead Sean Hannity seemed to relish a format that was more pugilistic than political. Journalist/author Jill Filipovic, meanwhile, grew nostalgic for the days when Hillary Clinton was the Democratic nominee, wishing she could’ve been the one to tell Donald Trump to shut up. #feminism
Regardless of who won—if you ask me, it was Biden in a landslide, carrying the day by not self-destructing—the whole affair was an ugly one. At one point, Chris Wallace had to reproach the Republican Party nominee for not adhering to the rules established for the debate. At another point, Trump went after Hunter Biden for personal issues he faced while Biden mourned the loss of his other son, Beau. If that’s not ghoulish behavior, I don’t know what is.
In all, the first presidential debate was widely panned, including its moderator’s performance. In deference to Mr. Wallace, however, I don’t know how much he could’ve done anyway. He didn’t have a gavel to bang or the ability to mute Trump’s microphone when he violated the rules. The man’s a reporter, not a miracle worker.
At the end of the day, President Trump’s health is still the biggest story of the past week and change. The disastrous parade of interruptions and digressions that was this debate, however, shouldn’t get buried, for it was an insult to the American people. We, the American people, deserve better, and sick or not, Trump deserves the lion’s share of blame for how it turned out.
I would like members of the “just vote” crowd to ponder if they, given the chance, would say the same to the families of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor if they met them face to face.
Despite what they may mean as catalysts in the push for change, the murders of Floyd and Taylor are tragedies. The victims are gone (at least in corporeal form) and no amount of “justice,” retributive or otherwise, could hope to bring them back. Accountability for all those involved and meaningful reform are only some measures of consolation.
In Floyd’s case, the four officers at the scene were charged and face an eventual trial, though at this writing, cameras have not been approved for use in the courtroom. Lest we forget, it wasn’t until the Attorney General’s office stepped in that prosecutors levied charges with teeth against these police in the first place. In Taylor’s case, the city of Louisville reached a $12 million settlement with her family and planned reforms, but no one has been arrested. As many critics have agreed, Breonna’s family deserves that much money and more, but that is not true accountability or justice.
What else do the deaths of Floyd and Taylor have in common? They occurred in jurisdictions led by Democrats. Minneapolis mayor Jacob Frey and Minnesota governor Tim Walz are members of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, not to mention both state senators. Louisville mayor Greg Fischer and Kentucky governor Andy Beshear are Democrats.
Beshear, Frey, and Walz may get some of benefit of the doubt having only started their tenures last year or in 2018, but Democrats have held the gubernatorial seat since 2011 in Minnesota and have controlled the Minneapolis mayoral seat since 1978. It’s not as if there hasn’t been ample time for action, even if we’re accounting for assumed Republican resistance to reform (and let’s not let them off the hook either).
Eric Garner. Rayshard Brooks. The list goes on. These people were killed at the hands of police despite living in places run by Democrats either at the municipal or state level. This is not to say that elected officials should be held accountable for every act of violence that happens on their watch. That said, their responses in these situations merit scrutiny, and regardless, that police brutality is so pervasive independent of party control flies in the face of the “just vote” mentality.
This is where I reassure the reader that, despite my misgivings, I believe fundamentally that everyone who can should vote. A free and fair vote is the cornerstone of any representative democracy (how free and fair it is merits further discussion, but I am speaking purely in the abstract) and elections matter, often increasingly so the more local they get.
Lord knows I have been told as much repeatedly by Democrats and other staunch defenders of Joe Biden. This presidential election is of utmost importance. I would tell you that “it’s the most important election of our lifetime,” except people always say that and, even if it’s true, I feel like I’m beating the proverbial dead horse by repeating this line. You probably don’t need convincing on this dimension.
Indeed, I don’t take issue with voting or, for that matter, who one votes for. I might tell you your vote is ill-advised, especially if you’re voting Republican, but that’s your choice. It is specifically the “just vote” mentality as a means of dismissing legitimate concerns that I seek to admonish here because it fails to appreciate the magnitude of struggles for marginalized people and because it gets weaponized against progressives as a means of quelling dissent within Democratic Party ranks.
The examples of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor are extreme, though salient, topical, and illustrative of how ingrained injustice is from a racial and socioeconomic perspective. Expanding the conversation beyond police violence, the theme yet applies. San Francisco, despite a reputation for liberalism, has been the site of high rates of homelessness mediated by a pronounced housing shortage. Seattle, likewise regarded for being more liberal, has suffered its own homelessness crisis.
Independent of the affiliation of elected leadership, widening income and wealth inequality underscore the hardships faced by so many Americans. The pandemic has only intensified these woes, exposing the fragility of our way of life after suffering a shock to the system like a global health emergency. New York governor Andrew Cuomo, for some reason asked to speak at the Democratic National Convention, referred to COVID-19 as a metaphor in a nod to this theme. Strictly speaking, if this all is a metaphor, someone forgot to tell the virus because it seems pretty real to me. That said, it does put existing societal ills under a microscope such that their existence and pervasiveness are easily visible.
Over 200,000 people have died in the United States as a result of COVID-19 infection, and more states than not are headed in the wrong direction in terms of the rate of increase of positive tests. Meanwhile, congressional leadership is fretting about the price tag of a second round of stimulus checks and politicians are extoling the virtues of “affordable” health care, including a vaccine which is still in its testing or theoretical phase. All the while, the richest among us are making bank off this health crisis. Our suffering is their opportunity. It’s downright deflating, but not surprising under a system in which capital is prized above all else—plant and animal life, people, the planet itself.
This is the world “just vote” has given us: a world in which engagement dies after the votes are counted and people wear their modest civic participation around like it’s a major achievement. Privilege that it is, voting should be an afterthought and not the sum total of one’s efforts. It is not a panacea. The party loyalists who insist otherwise seeking a return to normalcy and the ability to go back to brunch or back to sleep are standing in the way of progress, plain and simple.
Adding a new wrinkle to the sense of urgency surrounding the 2020 presidential election is the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Though anytime someone is regarded with iconic status, our recollection of that person tends to be rosier than their full record perhaps warrants, the “Notorious RBG’s” advocacy for women’s rights and personal crusade against gender-based discrimination can’t be ignored when discussing her legacy. Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a veritable trailblazer when it came to her service on the Supreme Court and she earned her place in history.
For the “vote blue no matter who” crowd, Bader Ginsburg’s seat was already a key component of their cajoling of uncommitted left-leaners into electoral acquiescence. Think of RBG! Think of the Supreme Court! In fairness, this is one of the more compelling arguments they could make. A strong imbalance on the court in favor of conservatives could endanger any number of human rights, notably reproductive rights. Coincidentally, Democratic causes and candidates have raised more than $100 million since RBG’s passing, and one might imagine a number of these donations were made with the fate of Roe v. Wade in mind.
That congressional Democrats and Joe Biden appear to be taking a stand against Republican efforts to try to ram a replacement through the confirmation process is encouraging. Though no one in their right mind would have wished for Bader Ginsburg’s death, that her passing could be the spark for a unified front by the broadly-stated “Left” communicates the sense that there is something worth fighting for within the Democratic Party structure. In a year that has been all but a bust for progressives on the national stage, this infuses the march to November with a new energy.
Of course, these gains won’t last forever and even if Democrats regain control of both the White House and the Senate, their feet will need to be held to the fire. We know “just vote.” We’ve seen it, heard it, and lived through it. There’s a better way forward. Our very future depends on it.
Much was made of the decision to only offer a 60-second speaking slot to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez at this year’s Democratic National Convention.
For some—myself included—what was especially galling was that Ocasio-Cortez got less face time than someone like John Kasich, who isn’t even a Democrat. Even among Democrats, her relative sparsity was confounding. Chris Coons? Catherine Cortez Masto? You chose these less-than-household names over someone like AOC, possibly the most exciting politician under the Democratic banner in decades? Really?
The inclusion which really rustles my jimmies, however, is the elevation of someone like Pete Buttigieg over AOC, precisely because he, like, Ocasio-Cortez, is young. On the whole, the Convention, a slow, solemn affair, was populated by politicians upwards of 50, capped off by an acceptance speech by the septuagenarian nominee Joe Biden. By this token, Buttigieg (38) and Ocasio-Cortez (30) were standouts.
That the Dems see someone like Buttigieg as more indicative of their future than AOC, a Spanish-speaking woman of color with a sizable following, is deeply concerning. Especially since “Mayo Pete,” as he’s derisively known in some circles, well, sucks.
Though the piece is almost a year old now, Ryan Cooper, national correspondent at The Week, has some valid insights about his fellow millennial as well as Joe Kennedy III, who he views in a similar light: that of the “entitled millennial” politician. As he makes explicit, Cooper does not have a problem with younger people running for public office—in fact, he thinks more of us should be doing it.
It’s Buttigieg’s choices, rather, that are damning in the author’s eyes. For one, there’s the matter of his employ at McKinsey, a consulting firm with a checkered track record, to say the least. As mayor of South Bend, Indiana, the relationship between his administration, the city’s police force, and the black community drew deserved criticism, a relationship that was further scrutinized after a fatal shooting by South Bend police last year.
In addition, his stint in Afghanistan, a conflict long since exposed as a quagmire of an occupation, seems designed more than anything to bolster his resume. All this on top of running for president of these United States despite a few years of mayoral experience in a small-ish city. As Cooper characterizes this last bit:
Being president of the United States is one of the most difficult, demanding positions in the world. It takes stupendous arrogance to think one can just pick it up on the job after running a city less than half the size of Spokane, Washington for a few years.
As for why Cooper takes issue with Kennedy, it’s not necessarily his politics or his vaulting ambition, but that he tried to take out a progressive in Ed Markey en route to a Senate seat and for no other apparent reason than his last name is Kennedy. Of course, Cooper wrote this well in advance of Markey’s sizable victory, but Massachusetts voters ultimately gave Kennedy their own rebuke that better decision-making on his part could’ve avoided.
In this regard, the author sees a stark contrast between the likes of Buttigieg and Kennedy (“men who think it all should just be handed to them”) and AOC (someone “attempting to actually stand up for her generation”). That contrast unfortunately also extends to how she is treated by some members of the media and members of her own party.
Ocasio-Cortez, for all her popularity, receives more than her share of abuse from establishment Democrats and right-wing provocateurs alike, the latter in particular alternating between jabs at her past work as a bartender (which isn’t anything of which to be ashamed, mind you) and her supposed elitist tendencies (and I guarantee you they wouldn’t be going after her like this if she were a man).
That Democrats see more in Barack Obama knock-off Pete Buttigieg than Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (or Julian Castro or Stacey Abrams) when younger voters and/or voters of color have told you pretty much all you need to know about him is therefore striking. For a party that at least pretends to give a damn about progressive politics, on the national stage, the Dems really seem like they’re taking a step backwards.
Pete Buttigieg is clearly an intelligent guy. That he achieved even a scintilla of success as an openly gay man campaigning for president is certainly laudable. For the record, too, I don’t wish ill upon him. He’s free to chat with Preet Bharara or anyone else he wants to chew the fat with on his new podcast. I won’t be listening, but you do you, Pete. If you can get people turned on to politics, more power to you.
That said, Mr. Buttigieg, I don’t want you anywhere near a position of influence within the Democratic Party. For all Former Mayor Pete’s trailblazing as a member of the LGTBQ+ community and his intellect, his pitch to voters was nothing but word salad and platitudes.
And the Obama allusions. On the campaign trail, Buttigieg didn’t just seek to emulate Barack Obama, with whom he has drawn comparisons for being similarly young and articulate at the point of his rise to national consciousness—he copied his manner of speaking right down to Obama’s cadence.
Pete the presidential candidate was an, ahem, pale imitation at a time when millennials, renowned for being better bullshit detectors than their progenitors, had already soured on the unfulfilled promises of Obama’s tenure and zoomers, just coming of political age, were less likely to have the same reverence for 44 as older party loyalists. Young people see right through Buttigieg. In case you were wondering why his cohorts would flock to Bernie Sanders instead of him despite his being some four decades Bernie’s junior, there’s a hint.
And yet, the Democrats look at Buttigieg like he has a real future in the party. He’s part of Joe Biden’s White House transition team and is among those being considered for a place in Biden’s Cabinet should he seal the deal in November. At a campaign event in April, Biden said he is a “transition candidate” whose job is “to bring the Mayor Petes of the world into this administration.” It’s clear that Biden views himself as a bridge to more candidates like himself who talk a better game than their record dictates rather than as the kind of leader who will usher in a new progressive direction for the Democratic Party.
I don’t doubt the Democrats want to win in November and would relish the chance to expand their base at a time when the Republican Party, despite its utter defiance of demographic realities, is registering more voters and generating more enthusiasm for its objectively worse candidates. That said, they can do better than President Joe Biden and Secretary or Ambassador Pete Buttigieg and they have to know that much.
Instead, they’re force-feeding us these men as the genuine article and expecting us not to be able to tell the difference or not to care. In the dumpster-fire year that is 2020, that’s an awfully cynical path forward when Americans need all the optimism they can get.
In the universe of the TV show The Leftovers, based on Tom Perrotta’s book of the same name, one day, suddenly and without provocation, 140 million people disappear. If you think people are affected by this “Departure,” ahem, you’d be right.
The first season picks up three years after the Sudden Departure, but in that time, things haven’t returned to normal—far from it. Organized religions, already struggling to stay relevant, have further ceded territory to cults like the Guilty Remnant, whose members wear white, smoke, and don’t talk. Dogs, apparently driven insane by the incomprehensibility of 2% of the world’s population up and vanishing, wander the streets in wild packs. In the fictional town of Mapleton, New York, Kevin Garvey Jr., has taken over as police chief for his father, who is institutionalized and claims to hear voices. So, yeah.
The events of The Leftovers are fictional. Still, amid this pandemic, we’ve seen scores of people leave us over the past half a year in real life, or they or we have contracted COVID-19. While not so inexplicable or sudden, it nonetheless leaves a mark on us survivors, be it physical or emotional/psychological. Coping with this is difficult, and trying to carry on with any semblance of normalcy is damn near impossible.
Simply put, these are strange times. Hell, unless you’ve also lived through the Spanish flu—and if you have, God bless you—these are unprecedented times. Consequently, acting as if each day is just another day seems out of step with the peculiarity of it all and sets the individual up for a significant amount of cognitive dissonance, not to mention it arguably doesn’t prepare them well for how long these “uncertain times” (stop me if you’ve heard that phrase before) might last.
In The Leftovers, the craziest characters seem to be the ones who act as if everything is the same or as if they’ve moved on. The series begins as Kevin Garvey the Younger, the symbol of law and order, tries to remain rational and preserve the status quo during the three-year commemoration of a Rapture-like event. It doesn’t go as planned. The anniversary vigil, disrupted by the Guilty Remnant’s protest, ends in violence as fights break out.
At this writing, more than 25 million positive tests for COVID-19 infection have been recorded and more than 840,000 people have died as a result of infection. More than half of the world’s reported cases belong to the top three countries in terms of total cases and deaths: the United States of America (“We’re #1! We’re #1!”), Brazil, and India. Major world economies like those of the U.S., Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the United Kingdom have reported steep drops in gross domestic product in 2020’s second quarter.
In the U.S., over a million unemployment claims were filed last week. A housing and rent crisis looms with tens of millions of people facing September obligations due and a stimulus deal not close. To top it all off, it’s hurricane season and protests for racial justice continue while African-Americans are still getting gunned down with regularity by police and protesters themselves are subject to police brutality and violence from counter-protesters. This is not standard operating procedure, by any means.
With all this in mind, to think and behave as if to “keep calm and carry on” is straightforward feels as quixotic as Kevin Garvey’s quest to keep the peace in Mapleton. I keep thinking back to a Tweet back in March from comedian Rob Whisman regarding the relative meaninglessness of all the minutiae with which people concern themselves. He ends with the quip, “‘DO I look good in yellow?’ Who cares when doorknobs are poison?”
Seriously, though. For better or for worse, COVID-19 has changed the economic, political, and social calculus in the short term, and with the idea that the concerns of the present could be more durable than many of us would like to admit, this seems like as good a time as any to reassess our priorities as a society. On one hand, this moment, stripped of many of the usual distractions, can help sharpen our focus and imbue us with a newfound sense of purpose.
On the other hand, however, the changes we hope to see won’t happen overnight, and what’s more, the forces that benefit from an unequal and unjust society have become that much more entrenched in their resistance to transformation, even in a pandemic. As dramatic as it sounds, this is the fight of our lives, and in the fighting, it will take inner strength on top of what we’re already expending coping with a loss of life and a sense of loss for the world we are leaving behind.
Because there will be setbacks. There will be pain. There are times when we’ll feel deflated and we’ll have to pick ourselves back up again. You already may be feeling like this, a sense of dread hanging over the mounting number of cases and deaths. And while business leaders and politicians alike may aver “the best is yet to come” or treat COVID-19 precautions like some exciting new feature, you might feel depressed. That’s called being a human being.
On top of an economic crisis, leadership crisis, and overall health crisis, we’re facing an authentic mental and psychological health crisis. Sure, it’s something we must overcome—the alternative is not a good one, to put it mildly. But, yeah, if you’re not doing OK right now, it’s understandable and OK to admit that. Don’t let people tell you it hasn’t been that long or that the number of deaths is “acceptable” or that COVID-19 isn’t *that* deadly or that things have gotten that much simpler as a result of the pandemic. Shit sucks right now and you’re not crazy for feeling how you feel. Pretending otherwise is the real craziness.
If I sound like a cheerleader for The Leftovers, it’s only because I am. Its premise requires perhaps more buy-in from its viewers than some shows because of its supernatural elements, but that investment pays off beautifully. The show gets better as it goes along and stays strong despite an end to the source material (unlike another HBO show we all know, am I right?). I’d like to believe that has something to do with Tom Perrotta’s direct involvement with the series, but regardless, I feel it’s a criminally underrated show, especially in light of its increased applicability to today’s real-world circumstances.
I should note that The Leftovers received middling critical reception for its first season. While some of the criticism was reserved for its deliberate pacing and what was seen as an incoherent or confused narrative, a number of detractors focused on its grim or depressing tone. As if to say that in a world where 140 million people suddenly vanished without explanation or provocation, maybe it shouldn’t feel so “bleak” and “oppressive.” Right, but how would you personally deal with an event like that? Besides the notion that the show has its clear moments of lightheartedness and optimism, wouldn’t you imagine that some characters aren’t handling it all that well? What did you expect exactly?
As the series goes along, though, replete with additions and subtractions to the cast and shifts in location, the Kevin Garvey of Season One undergoes his own dramatic transformation, turning from a man who tries to preserve order amid chaos into someone who plunges himself headlong into uncertainty, even as it may concern the space between life and death itself. At first, his encounters with his demons are unsolicited, but confront them he does, and the result is a more complete and nuanced character. By the end, questions still linger for the central players and the audience alike, but we understand that Kevin has come to terms with aspects of his existence as part of our fundamental search for meaning and purpose. Again, I think viewers are richly rewarded for their investment, but I recognize The Leftovers isn’t for everyone.
It’s been less than a year for the world dealing with COVID-19. While we’ve seen some incredible instances of selflessness and service from essential workers and everyday people of every make and model to meet the need created by such widespread human suffering, we’ve also seen incredible greed from corporations and the wealthy, brutality from those who have pledged to serve and protect, and inaction from our elected representatives. Presented with its demons, the U.S. has only begun to confront them, and for many people, delusion and denial still prevail. After all, we’re either going to elect Joe Biden or Donald Trump in November. Progress, that is not.
At some point, America is going to have to rip the bandage off and truly expose its various wounds, some of which run deep. And it’s going to hurt. There will be more sadness and pain on top of what we’re already feeling. However, if we’re going to make real positive change in this nation, we’re going to have to—pardon the expression—take the mask off. And we need to be honest with how we feel and what we think in the process.