Some twenty years ago, I made the aspirational purchase of two volumes in the American Guide Series, (c. 1938, Federal Writer’s Project of the Works Progress Administration) for imminent — IMMINENT — road trips I planned to take.
It was the cover of The Ocean Highway that gave me the idea in the first place. I wanted to see how well the points of interest defined by the WPA would hold up after 60-ish years, so a few weeks later, I meandered from my home in Alexandria, Virginia to Wilmington, North Carolina along what is mostly U.S. Route 17.
Turns out 65 years can do either absolutely nothing or entirely too much of everything to towns that line a highway.
A memorable experience I fully intended to replicate with the second book, but could not carve out the time to pursue.
U.S. One: Maine to Florida.
Route 1: Every town’s favorite place to put an Arby’s. Or a “gentleman’s” club. Or 10 car dealerships in a row. Where the speed limit, I’m told, can reach up to 50 mph!
I have traveled parts of this road up and down the coast for donkey’s years. I have cursed in summer traffic many a time along Route 1 between Bath and Belfast, Maine.
I have driven my kid to doctors’ appointments and my pets to the vet on Jefferson Davis Highway (U.S. 1 in Alexandria, VA) for a decade. I just took it up to Baltimore this summer to visit the National Great Blacks in Wax Museum, in fact. But never have I had the time to drive Route 1 in its entirety.
Well now, thanks to a generous leave program at my job (and the time I put in to earn it), I am taking this dusty-ass book and my dusty old self from the tippy top of Maine to the southernmost point of the continental United States in Key West, Florida. Just in time for hurricane season!
I will NOT be using GPS, but paper maps. Maps from when Route 1 was just about finished (c. 1932). Maps from when Route 1 was just about to become a secondary road (c. 1955). Maps from a couple weeks ago that I got from the AAA up the street. I will be following the actual road signs on the actual road and reading turn-by-turn directions that I previously scrawled on an index card like my mother taught me.
After twenty years of maybe, someday, this trip finally begins September 7, 2021.
According to people at the Big Board and with 100 delegates of the 2376 required distributed, Bernie Sanders is going to be the Democratic nominee for president in 2020. Personally, I’d like to wait until at least Super Tuesday to concede that point, but with all this conventional wisdom flying around, I had to sit with the idea for a couple of days. There are other candidates I like less than Bernie (and would also vote for in the general) but a Sanders nomination makes me the most uneasy.
Why is that? I agree with most of his platform. I love that he inspires so many people to embrace the progressive ideals that so many of us have fought for over over the years. I even occasionally find his crotchety frankness appealing. So what would be so bad about a Sanders presidency?
The answer is nothing. He would be fine. In fact, the best-case scenario is pretty enticing: Bernie beats Trump, helps the House stay Blue and flips the Senate — including Mitch McConnell’s seat (critical) — and rides the Blue Wave to advance as much of his agenda as he can. If he is truly better than the “establishment” Democrats, he will fight for his agenda in the first midterms. As head of the Democratic Party, which he, as president, would be (unless there’s some other goddamned thing I have to worry about) he will need to work with the party to support candidates down-ballot in 2022.
Of course, this is true for any Democratic candidate. It has been a longstanding failure of the Democratic Party to keep up the fight after a presidential election, and if these are the elites Bernie is railing against, I am with him. Republican elites are great at it and have been for decades. They work hard all the livelong day taking over state houses and governorships, using right-wing think tanks to create legislative templates for GOP legislatures to enact, handpicking young rightwing ideologues for lifetime judicial appointments, and coordinating voter suppression efforts nationwide. ALL candidates need to explain how they will #BeBetter at this.
Question 1: Does Bernie support all the Democrats running for House and Senate in 2020?
The next-best scenario for a Sanders candidacy is that he beats Trump and holds only one branch of government or McConnell keeps his seat, blue Senate or no. Very little changes legislatively, but Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg (87) and Stephen Bryer (82) can retire and be replaced by jurists who care about maintaining civil, reproductive, and voting rights in this country.
Question 2: Does Bernie have a plan to restore the judiciary post-Trump?
Another sort of not-apocalyptic scenario is that even if Bernie loses the presidency, we succeed with a Blue Wave at the local level — as we did in 2018 — and stymie Trump with Democratic Senate and House. But Trump continues to radically reshape the judiciary for a generation, pardon more creeps and grifters, and run out the statute of limitations.
But that leaves us with the worst possibility of all: we lose it all. The campaign unleashed against Sanders depresses turnout down-ticket.
Question 3: Is Bernie ready to combat the inevitable attacks on his character, philosophy, and record?
This is why Bernie Sanders makes me so nervous. What others are calling “consistency of message” I see as an inability to even entertain another way to get a message across. When his more strident supporters accuse those of us not feeling the Bern of tacitly supporting corporate corruption or ignoring racism, poverty, and the struggle of the common man, I am reminded of how poorly this rhetorical stance went over in 2008 with California’s Proposition 8.
As soon as same-sex marriage became legal in California in May 2008, conservative groups rallied to get an initiative on the November ballot amending California’s constitution to recognize marriages only between men and women as valid. This was Proposition 8. Supporters of the measure saturated the state with ads that ran the gamut from “GAY MARRIAGE WILL TURN YOUR KIDS GAY AAAAAAGGGHHH!” to “We love our gay neighbors Bob and Ted, but they already have domestic partnerships and we have strong feelings about marriage as an institution.” Theirs was an organized, motivated base that tailored its message to anyone who might be receptive.
The opposition launched an expensive, celebrity-rich “NoH8” campaign that basically called everyone who supported Prop 8 homophobic idiots. There was no other lane. While I agree that proponents of Prop 8 were homophobic idiots, I’m not sure it’s true of all the people who voted for it and it’s even less likely of the people who didn’t vote at all. But Prop 8 passed, putting me and about 18,000 other recently married same-sex couples in legal limbo for years. Turns out calling people who simply don’t understand the stakes of a given issue bigots and haters does not persuade them to your point of view.
Question 4: Does Bernie have another lane?!
To recap, if Bernie is to succeed as the Democratic nominee he will have to:
Prepare for to the onslaught of attacks from a Republican opposition that has been poised and ready to drop ads (mis)using and using Bernie’s own words to scare suburbanites and Fox viewers who might not otherwise vote into keeping “communism” at bay. They’re already doing it. He has not been attacked in any real way by his primary opponents either now or in 2016. He has a good line in “we already have corporate socialism,” but he needs more arrows in that quiver.
Help Democrats down-ballot, even if they are moderate. Not all of us live in Blue states or have similar approaches to solving America’s problems. Problems, p.s., that all Democrats agree are problems: accessible, affordable healthcare; criminal justice reform; reproductive freedom; free, quality education through at least community college; fair taxation; massive infrastructure improvements, immigration reform; protections for LGBT citizens; fighting systemic racism.
If Bernie is to succeed as president he will have to:
Work with Democrats in office. Like “established” in office, some of whom might be called “the Establishment.” At the very least, he will have to disambiguate who those people are for his current supporters. Is the Congressional Black Caucus “the Establishment?” I know he walked it back, kinda, but does he still think that about Planned Parenthood? Who is everyone supposed to be mad at?
Work with Republicans. Frankly, I am less worried about Bernie in this regard. His legislative accomplishments during his time in Congress have been almost exclusively through collaboration. On measures he’s sponsored, the record is less impressive: in the House only one of the 256 bills he initiated became law and in the Senate, only two of 678 bills Bernie sponsored were signed into law. This is not a slam on Bernie, it is a fact of government:
Bernie Sanders has enjoyed the “outsider” brand after roughly thirty years in government service. He has railed against the establishment of both parties, but would be the head of one of them if he becomes president. What does Bernie Sanders look like as Commander in Chief and Leader of the Free World?
Who are we supposed to stick it to if Bernie becomes “the Man?”
“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance.
UPDATE: It has been brought to my attention that the term “Bro” has problematic connotations. Since I have been called a “neoliberal shill” by men and women equally, I cede the point. Therefore I have changed every instance of “Bro” in this piece to “Bernsplainer” and trust that will resolve any controversy. – BD
This morning, The Hill, eager to inflate their comments ratio, giggled about Hillary Clinton’s poor opinion of Bernie Sanders, his leadership team, and his record in Congress. Not only is this “hot-take” irrelevant to anything happening in the primary generally or in the impeachment trial today, it provides another opportunity for Bernie’s most avid supporters to pile on Hillary Clinton (who, it should be noted, is neither running in the primary OR currently on trial in the Senate) for alleged warmongering, pizza-pedophilia, corporate Shrillary K$llton rigging of EVERYTHING. And of course it’s working: the comments are aflame with rage.
Unfortunately, Clinton’s well-earned and, in my opinion, correct position will be overshadowed by the gleeful hand-wringing of the punditry that this “controversy” is evidence that the Left is deeply divided at its core. Good golly, how many times must we hear that old tune? Since when has any Democrat been unable to articulate its party’s positions? I’ll go: Yes to decent, affordable health care for as many people as possible. Yes to living wage, affordable college for those who want it. Yes to reproductive freedom. Yes to sensible gun legislation. Yes to equal justice under the law. There’s more, but we all say the same stuff. We can also articulate the Republican platform: No to alla that, plus yes to tax breaks for the wealthy, yes to punitive policies toward the poor, and yes to protecting their power at all costs.
“Nearly any [candidate] would be the most progressive president in decades on issues like health care, the economy and government’s allocations of resources. Where they differ most significantly is not the what but the how… “
I am a left-wing Democrat. Always have been. In high school, after Jimmy Carter resumed the draft, I advocated for our school to bring in a conscientious objector to provide a counterpoint to our annual, mandatory Army-recruitment assembly. Like any white, middle-class teenage “radical,” I felt perfectly comfortable shouting my arguments at the conservative principal of my purple-district, suburban school and even accused him of being a tool of the government war machine. And yet, he was unpersuaded. Since then I have learned to read the room, to tailor a message, to listen to opposing points of view, and even to reconsider some of my positions based on evidence. Never in so doing has one ounce of my colossal reservoir of outrage been diminished. To me, this is a sign of maturity; I don’t have to scream at anybody. To the vocal cadre of purists, however, a nuanced position is evidence of a deep-seated neoliberal corporatism that undergirds a misguided insistence on an agenda of identity politics that will only get Trump reelected.
This year will mark my ninth vote in a presidential primary and election. Over three-dozen years, five states, and one foreign country. In spite of deeply-held views on LGBT equality, the barbarism of capital punishment, wanting sensible gun legislation, opposing the attack on unions, racial disparities in sentencing, demonization of the poor, systematic voter suppression, and the dismantling of women’s reproductive freedom, I have had to vote Democratic in every single election. HAD TO. Clinton (the handsy one, not his wife) enacted policies that had direct negative effects on me personally and were anathema to me politically, but I voted for him. Why? Because George H. W. Bush was objectively worse on everything else I cared about. Am I still enraged by Joe Biden’s treatment of Anita Hill during the Thomas hearings? Boy howdy. Will I run to the polls to vote for him in 2020? Hold my beer.
What the hardcore Sandernistas fail to grok is that Bernie, for many people, is depressingly old school. Does he remind me of some activist white men of his generation who treated women in the movement as coffee-getters, stenographers, envelope stuffers, and only considered liberation in terms of sexual availability? Sure does! Does it surprise me that Bernie gets annoyed when he is forced to acknowledge that systemic racism will still be a Thing after millionaires and billionaires pay their fair share? Sure doesn’t! Am I grateful that he is a pain in everybody’s ass in the Senate when it comes to getting legislation I agree with passed? Sure am because that’s where this curmudgeonly, progressive old grand-pappy does his best work.
Will I vote for him in the general election? Of course.
But, Bern Units, this constant haranguing has got to stop. My lack of enthusiasm for Bernie Sanders is based on my own lived experience and observations as a human on this earth, not because I haven’t heard the Good News of his Mystical Perfection and Rightness in All Things. Yea, though I have borne witness to the miracle of the bird, I do not care.
I feel for the New York Times Editorial Board. They took the unusual step of endorsing two candidates instead of rallying behind just one and are getting some pretty amusing blowback for it. Of all the primary candidates left, I have to agree that Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar are worthy of endorsement, imperfect though they may be. Sure, Warren has a golden-retriever-like enthusiasm I find both adorable and irritating* and Klobuchar has, like, anti-charisma, but whatever; they have a good legislative track-record and policies I support.
What the New York Times did not do is endorse Bernie Sanders and I am here for it. While I agree with a lot of his positions, I am concerned that Bernie has never been seriously vetted over his legislative record or how he’ll pay for his plans. Nor has Sanders built a grassroots movement of any consequence, even though he insists such a movement will be critical to advancing his national progressive agenda. What I do see is an unchecked, cult-like following that not only refuses to acknowledge even the slightest flaw in their candidate, but attacks en masse any criticism of Bernie or policy disagreement with a viciousness, toxicity, and divisiveness rivaled only by the MAGA crowd.
No thank you.
We already have a chief executive whose followers took him seriously but not literally, who can’t take criticism, and who has not changed his political beliefs in 50 years. Again, I agree with Bernie on many things, but he clings to the idea that class is the source of all our problems, despite tangible evidence to the contrary. He has a tendency to dismiss racism, misogyny, and homophobia as “social issues” less deserving of his attention. All are vestiges of a 70s progressivism that does nothing to inform the moment we are in.
Trump has proven that there is a significant portion of the electorate that has no idea how our system of government works or why our republic is unique among all nations. Team Sanders, for example, was profoundly ignorant of the primary process, the existing rules of the Democratic Party, and the workings of the electoral college in 2016. They didn’t get the memo, so they called it “rigged.” The MAGA crowd believes anything Fox tells them about the limits of executive power, even if it is the exact opposite of what they were told about President Obama. Worst of all, one of our two political parties is willing to abdicate its power as a co-equal branch of government to a lawless administration for the sole purpose of tilting the balance of the third branch of government toward a theocratic, anti-poor, anti-labor, white-supremacist Constitutional worldview. Against the will of the majority, for at least a generation.
I want a president I can criticize without incurring the white hot wrath of the faithful telling me how wrong I am about Dear Leader. Look, no one feels that way about Amy Klobuchar or Elizabeth Warren. Neither one of them is anybody’s savior, they do good work, and they can take a punch. That’s who should be president: nobody’s favorite and nobody’s fool.
Meanwhile, the Bernsplainers and Bots are busy pushing #NeverWarren on Twitter right now, because she criticized Bernie for saying something that sounded like he thought a woman couldn’t win in 2020. Bernie claims he expressed concern because of how dirty Trump will play. Here’s the thing: a woman beat Sanders by 4 million votes and Trump by 3 million, and both campaigns were the sorest losers and sorest winners, respectively, this country has ever seen.
If Bernie is truly interested in the Office, he needs to come get his people.
Bernie Sanders is nothing if not consistent.
* as I would a Warren-like energy in a golden retriever
Yesterday, 207 members of the House and Senate filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court requesting them to reconsider the constitutionality of Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the two landmark cases that enshrined a pregnant person’s constitutional right to seek an abortion without undue government restriction. The definition of “undue burden” is one of the issues before the Court when they hear oral arguments in spring over June Medical Services LLC v. Gee, the text of which is identical in all but location to Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt, a case the Court already heard and struck down as unconstitutionally restrictive in 2016.
But that was before Brett Kavanaugh’s performative aggro blubbering landed him a spot on what was already the most conservative Supreme Court in recent memory. If the Court overturns 40 years of precedent, they would end the federal guarantee to legal abortion and leave the matter to the states. They would also, in effect, privilege the rights of a blastocyst over those of an adult living human whose womb is required to keep the little spark of heaven alive.
For anyone paying attention these last few years, there has been a concerted, organized, far-reaching attack on reproductive freedom in this country, including (but not remotely limited to):
TRAP laws: bad-faith, burdensome, medically unnecessary attacks on abortion providers couched in concern for women’s health
“Crisis Pregnancy Centers“: misinformation boutiques disguised as health clinics offering pregnancy “counseling” from non-medical professionals that steers “patients” away from abortion. “Literally.”
Until women started getting elected to local and national legislatures in greater numbers, many of these laws were passed without much pushback. In response to Virginia’s 2012 Transvaginal Ultrasound Law, for instance, state Senator Janet Howell (D-Obviously) introduced the pointed-yet-whimsical legislation suggesting that maybe men seeking Viagra should have to get a rectal exam before the government pays for their meds. The following year Texas state senator Wendy Davis held a Capra-esque filibuster to protest that state’s restrictive omnibus abortion bill before it was ultimately passed. Women in power are responding.
My most recent hero is Senator Mia McLeod, human woman, who introduced the South Carolina Pro-Birth Accountability Act just this month in response to her state’s proposed six-week abortion ban. McLeod’s bill highlights the very problem with defining anti-abortion measures as “pro-life:” If the state requires a pregnant person, by law, to carry a baby to term that they would otherwise not do, then the state is obligated to compensate that person for services rendered. The bill goes on to enumerate other budgetary, medical, emotional, caregiving, and educational expenses inherent in raising and caring for a child. McLeod reminds us that it is unconstitutional for South Carolina or any other state to take a person’s property without just compensation; and a womb is pretty personal property.
Why, you may ask, does this issue give you, a nominally Jewish, menopausal lesbian, an aneurysm every single time it comes up? For starters, I used to work for Catholic Charities, and while we were lock step on all matters death penalty and economic justice, we were never going to be together on abortion; however, what I did learn from the experience is that internally consistent arguments made in good faith deserve attention and respect. For all its faults, the Catholic Church (hoo-boy) recognizes, through its tenets of social teaching at least, that the sanctity and dignity of a child’s life — and that of its family — may sometimes require support beyond birth.
Apart from the blatant bad-faith assertions that “women’s health and safety” are what motivates these “informed consent,” forced-birth bills, what galls me to the core is the presumption that a person who seeks an abortion just hasn’t heard the “good news” or isn’t aware that mighty oaks from little acorns grow, or whatever.
BREAKING: We know. We’ve known since we were in 7th grade and every month thereafter for FORTY YEARS or so, that a little proto-acorn that doesn’t run into a tadpole knocks you on your ass with cramps for three days. We also know that letting every single acorn in your yard grow into a tree is both unmanageable and really bad for the plumbing. The kinds of people who promote informed consent bills either don’t have reproductive systems, don’t understand how they work, or never have conversations with people who do; or they simply don’t want anyone using theirs for fun.
For me, the most rage-inducing element of these relentless, hypocritical, ignorant attacks on reproductive justice is the claim that it’s all about the unborn child. “What about the CHILDREN?” I see a lot of “It’s a child, not a choice” license plates on cars around here and would pay good money if my horn could beep out the names of every child in foster care whenever one cuts me off. If it were truly about the child, as Sen. McLeod’s bill lays out, the state wouldn’t squawk about funding Medicare, SNAP, TANF, a living wage, paid maternity leave — all the programs these so-called “pro-lifers” deride as liberal socialist giveaways for the mooching class.
They design these draconian, forced-birth bills as if they will only affect some “other” group of “takers” to teach them a hard lesson about personal responsibility, because surely none of their daughters or sisters or wives (or mothers) would ever find themselves in such a position. Oh, honeys.
My mother, for example, was nineteen when she got pregnant by a boy she met in college. Her father was a doctor, and, as was ever thus for middle-class white women, he offered to arrange for her not to have the baby. Since this was more than a decade before Roe, doing so would have put my grandfather’s medical license at risk. My mother didn’t want to be responsible for that, so she opted* to marry my dad instead. By the time my sister was born, it was clear that the marriage wasn’t going to last. She might have made a quicker getaway too, had she not got pregnant with me. Grandpa repeated his offer, which my mother seriously considered (a weird thing for me to know) then ultimately, obviously rejected.
Growing up in a single parent household before it was fashionable was no picnic. I don’t mean to imply that my childhood was a Dickensian hell-scape of unrelenting strife, but I won’t deny that being the object of my mother’s anger was scary, unsettling, and formative. But at least she was there. My father did the weekend thing for a couple of years, got married again, got divorced again, then disappeared for a while. As far as I know, he never paid child support and rarely looked back.
He did find Jesus (who, turns out, was in New Mexico), married for a third time, and had some very nice, new children and step children. Then he got divorced again. Naturally, he is a family-values, Christian conservative. A thrice-divorced conservative Republican who hasn’t been held accountable for at least one set of his kids? I have a pretty good idea who he voted for in 2016.
Which brings me to a rather obvious question: where are the fathers in these bills? Since everyone seems to be okay with letting the government tinker around with bodily autonomy, would it not be more efficient to give every male baby a reversible vasectomy when they are born rather than force an adult human to go through pregnancy and birth? Also, how come I know how the male reproductive system works, but they think an ectopic pregnancy can be, like, smooshed back up in there?
So here we are. The United States of America is poised to re-criminalize abortion and thereby suborn women’s full rights as citizens to the contents of their wombs. There is not a single legislator advancing a forced-birth agenda who believes it will put an end to abortion in this country. Not one. The point is to relegate it to the shadows; to make it dangerous and illegal, when America was great. The point is to shame. The point is to punish.
As for all these children saved from abortion, they are the gift of righteous punishment. And boy are they never going to forget it.
* This was but one of many factors my mother considered and should not be construed to be the only reason my sister and I are here today. The point is that a pregnant person weighs many, many things before choosing whether it is time to start a family.
Tomorrow is my 55th birthday. That means I can remember, in some detail, stuff from half a century ago. One such incident was the “Pin the Man on the Moon” game my mother made for my sister’s sixth birthday, which also happened to be the day of the Apollo 11 moon landing. We played the game on our grandparents’ garage door next to Mom’s Volkswagen Beetle. On the shelf in Grandma’s kitchen, she had packs and packs of playing cards tied with rubber bands stacked next to grandpa’s medicines, Pine Bros. cough drops, and the single-serve packs of castor oil my sister and I had to take for some reason when we visited. Grandma told fortunes with these cards, played 100 kinds of solitaire, and occasionally cheated at gin rummy. She was 56 in July 1969.
Fifty years is long time. I think about it constantly. In my grandmother’s lifetime (at least up to the moon landing) she had observed a breathtaking amount of change: When she was a little girl, for example, the United States entered the First World War a wealthy, industrialized, isolationist nation and emerged a world superpower. The Influenza Epidemic ravaged the country shortly thereafter, which, as a child in the crowded Bronx, she probably felt more keenly. Women won the right to vote when Grandma was eight years old and the fact that I knew people personally who were not born with the franchise makes my head explode.
Penicillin, though, that was a good thing. Also, radio, commercial air travel, Hollywood musicals, the Interstate Highway System, and the Civil Rights Movement. On the other hand, there was The Depression, Jewish quotas, the rise of Fascism, a Second World War, the Holocaust, Japanese Internment Camps, the BOMB, McCarthyism, the Kennedy Assassination, the King Assassination, and the other Kennedy Assassination. Such a long string of disasters and recoveries, revolutionary advances and depressing regressions: Segregation and the Salk Vaccine.
Every fifty-year block no matter when it begins is historical, but whether one’s epoch turns out to be consequential is chance. Mine, for example, started with NASA and appears to be ending with Space Force, so I guess we know where I’ve landed. All I know for certain is that any long-overdue, teeny step forward will be met with a wholly disproportionate backlash and any sweeping advance in science or medicine will bypass some underrepresented demographic. Ask the Black veterans of World War I or any woman seeking maternal health care in the richest country in the world today.
For my part, I have lived through changes I never saw coming. I came out in high school at the height of the Moral Majority with very few consequences, but not many expectations. Not having a conservative or particularly religious family, the whole thing was met with relative unconcern and I was lucky. My gay male friends, however, got way more heat at the time and I’m sorry to say it did not “get better” for all of them. When I moved from upstate New York to the midwest, I found out that you could be arrested for going to certain gay bars and that your name and address would appear in the papers the next day. Today, they’ll print your engagement photos on the society page, and that is significant progress. Unless you want one of them Pizza Weddings.
At the same time, I never expected the Christian right to become quite so politically powerful. As one after another of their leaders got busted for sex scandals or graft, it just seemed unsustainable. I lived in San Francisco during a particularly effective consolidation of that power: right after Bowers v. Hardwick, just in time for ACT-UP. Lyndon LaRouche was advocating for the quarantine of HIV-positive people and Oliver North was lying to Congress about the Contras. They were crazypeople, but we were infighting. I remember getting blowback from my LGBT activist pals because I voted for Nancy Pelosi in 1987 instead of the gay candidate. Two intentionally divisive HIV-stigmatizing ballot propositions pitted mainstream gay activists against people of color and boy, howdy, it worked. Turns out racism and misogyny are not traits confined to conservatives. I just figured we’d get past it and they’d get bored — or indicted — but I was wrong.
We may not have had Twitter to keep the nonsense in our brains every minute of every day, but we did have Iran/Contra, Willie Horton, Anita Hill, Dan Quayle, the first Gulf War, the L.A. Riots and critical thinking skills. At the time (and bless my heart) I sincerely believed that George H. W. Bush was the devil.
Bush, Jr. and Dick Cheney put that notion to rest in short order. We didn’t even get much of a breather in Bill Clinton, thanks to his personal failings and Newt Gingrich’s delusions of grandeur. But from hanging chads to blowing the surplus to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Abu Ghraib, and Guantanamo, the whole neo-con enterprise was an eye-opener. Oh, and the Great Recession. And Karl Rove. And Swift-boating! I didn’t think it could get any darker, and yet…
You know what, fuck those guys; they’re still the Worst.
Writing all this down is giving me heartburn. Remember when we elected Barack Obama by huge margins and everyone felt great for about 15 minutes that the country had finally made strides in the right direction? Here’s a fun fact: in 1917 when Jeannette Rankin was sworn in as the first woman ever elected to Congress, the entire House burst into applause and they wouldn’t stop until she got up and took a bow. They did it because it was a big goddamned deal and they knew it was a big goddamned deal. You know the next time women being elected to Congress excited the national imagination? Seventy-five years later, when four whole women got elected all on the same day in 1992. They called it “The Year of the Woman.” Four women.
Progress and backlash — sometimes on the same day: President Obama / Proposition 8.
Our last president served two scandal-free terms, rescued the economy, saved the auto industry, and passed major health care reform in the process. Naturally, he was succeeded by a misogynist, adulterous, grifting, conspiracy monger with the temperament of a two-year-old and a cult-like following. What I like to think of as an astonished nation elected more women to Congress than ever in the 2018 midterms and Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi (you’re welcome), is moving ahead with the impeachment of a manifestly unfit president.
Forgive me for not doing back-flips just yet. Yes, a lot of good has come to pass these last 50 years. We have personal computers, email, the Internet, Phoebe Waller Bridge, and smartphones, but at least four out of five of those things are responsible for the situation we are in today. “History never repeats itself but it does often rhyme” said Mark Twain, and so very many cable pundits these last three years. I’m afraid it won’t even do that unless we all agree on what it sounded like in the first place.
Tomorrow is my birthday. For the record, we are NOT at war with Eastasia today.
…it’s easier to set up and knock down the specter of mongrelizing hordes than to do the hard, boring work required for taking care of people.
As I watch what is unfolding at our southern border — the forced separation of families at the hands of an indifferent government — I’ve been thinking about what it means to be a parent and what it’s like to be a child; about misplaced faith and breach of trust.
Parents are supposed to protect their children. They don’t drag their children hundreds of miles across dangerous terrain, relying on dubious strangers and known criminals on a whim. They do it because they’ve concluded that it’s better to undertake one terrible journey risking murder, robbery, rape, and kidnapping than to subject their families to a lifetime of it at home. I have a sixteen-year-old son. I have no idea what I’d do if he were threatened, shot, or beaten for not joining a gang, having only corrupt police and authorities to appeal to.
But I can imagine it.
I can imagine children trusting their parents throughout the journey and getting to our border only to see those parents handcuffed and taken away, then finding themselves alone in shelters hundreds of miles away. We, in the United States of America, have deliberately placed thousands of children with living parents in foster care, children who trusted their parents to protect them, who now only know that they failed.
We have made failures of these parents and orphans of their children. Why? Because Donald Trump’s exercised base believes he is protecting them from the (nonexistent) threat of brown and black people overrunning the country. He is also protecting them from decent wages and health care, but it’s easier to set up and knock down the specter of mongrelizing hordes than to do the hard, boring work required for taking care of people. Like a parent should.
We’re also doing this because our country has had a long and terrible history of complicating other people’s parent-child relationships. We used to buy and sell black people’s children. We used to force Native children into boarding schools to educate their culture out of them. We stripped the livelihoods from and interred whole families of American citizens in camps during World War II. We allowed conversion camps to “cure” LGBT children. We’re still not entirely on board with women choosing when to have kids at all, which, as everyone knows, is awesome for unwanted children.
I was one of those pre-Roe children. My twenty-something mother was raising two girls by herself, working full time and finishing college in the late 1960s. But as the second child, the anchor, the underfoot, I was often the object of her wrath and resentment, such that it was clear to me by the time I was five that my mother was never going to be a source of protection or safety. And I was right! But I had my aunts, my uncle, my grandmother, and my sister. We are white and middle class. We speak the same language. I have been able to lead a good life with a loving family and have a fine, if complicated, relationship with my mother today.
But what is going to happen to these children we have imprisoned now? Who will be there to help them and keep them safe?
How easy it is to create policy for people whose real-world experiences mean nothing to you, when you are completely indifferent to the facts of their lives. You have the added advantage – when disinterest is tempered by animus against women, people of color, foreigners, queer folk — of racking up political points with the racists and incels who’ve always been a solid voting block for whiteness since the nation’s founding. Jeff Sessions has eliminated domestic violence as a qualification for asylum. Big points against “anchor babies.” Donald Trump is pretending that toddlers belong to MS-13 and is claiming that their terrified crying is “fake news” invented by triggered elites.
I admit, it is a bit triggering for me. It’s terrifying to be small and to feel completely unsafe. My life experience has made me wary of authority and critical of their promises; vigilant over government interference in people’s wombs and bedrooms; suspicious of laws that require good people to do terrible things, like carry out executions or imprison toddlers.
When I look at Donald Trump, I see a desperately unhappy man who has visited the same authoritarian parenting upon his children that he received at the hands of his own father: “Achieve this and I will notice you.” “Reflect poorly on me, and I will humiliate you.” Ivanka probably figured out how to manage her father as soon as he started objectifying her in public: Stay pretty and make money, preferably for me. Eric seems to have adopted the strategy of floating just under the radar, popping up occasionally to offer a sturdy defense when called upon. Don Jr. just tries too hard, which I’m certain his father views as weakness. And poor old Tiffany doesn’t even register, at 24 years old, as one of his “adult children.”
Is this the kind of parent his base relates to? A man who doesn’t like hard work? Who doesn’t admit mistakes? Who is proud of the fact that he never changed a diaper or otherwise tended to his own children? Donald Trump is indifferent to everything but praise, and like a spoiled child, lashes out when he doesn’t get what he wants. For now, he’s lashing out at the snowflake liberals, much to the delight of his followers. A careful observer might note that he likes to pit his children against each other and to turn on them when they disappoint.
Coal isn’t coming back. Retaliatory tariffs are heading for Red states. Maybe if they keep going to rallies and chanting, if they keep telling him he’s a genius, that he deserves the peace prize, that they don’t mind that their farms are failing, that they still have no jobs and have to pay more for goods and gas, maybe he’ll tell them how much he loves them.
The president likes to use it to stoke anti-immigrant anxieties among his followers, and the press reports on it that way. Personally, I think he’s just softening the ground for when all his crap comes to light, but for now, let’s take his advice: when a comedian from a late-night, left-leaning comedy show tells you, word-for-word: “This is who you’re getting tonight” and “Yeah, shoulda done more research before you got me to do this” don’t be shocked when she bites! Michelle Wolf‘s performance at the White House Correspondents Dinner — an outdated, pointless DC event that EVERYONE hates — was not so much an attack on President Trump’s terrible values and corrupting influence, as it was just one more example of his Administrations’ inability to properly vet candidates for anything and its overarching disdain for expertise.
Pro Tip to whoever is really the Chief of Staff (because this thin-skinned bunch had to have final approval): Comedy is a profession. It takes a performer years to perfect a routine, to craft and structure a joke so that it lands, no matter who they’re in front of or where they are. They do this in bowling alleys, dinner theaters, restaurants, small rooms in large towns, big rooms in small towns. They bomb, they kill, but most of all, they work and they have a point of view. Michelle Wolf doesn’t care if the room was cold; she was at work. She is a 32-year-old woman who writes and performs “observational” comedy and what she’s observing in the Trump Administration is a venal, handsy grifter in the highest office of the land, served by sycophants, liars, and a political class that is happy to overlook his myriad failings, both as a person and a public servant, in order to advance an agenda that is harmful to women, people of color, and poor people.
She did her job.
Good comedians are honest with themselves and their audiences. You can be a good comedian and not appeal to everyone’s taste. Michelle Wolf was good.
Wolf ragged on herself, on Congress, on the press, on the president, and on the situation we are all in. On the whole, a pretty solid set, with a few minor vulgarities of the type the president himself apparently uses in the gold-plated locker rooms of his many golf properties. But oh, the outrage! The hollow hand-wringing over decorum and (god help us) norms of behavior, with a goodly dose of willful misinterpretation.
I actually heard some woman on one of the Sunday shows interpret the following joke as a slam on Sarah Huckabee Sanders that implied she is a “fat lesbian“:
We’re graced with Sarah’s presence tonight. I have to say I’m a little star-struck. I love you as Aunt Lydia in “The Handmaid’s Tale.”
Mike Pence, if you haven’t seen it, you would love it.
Just…what?! How partisan do you have to be to interpret a pretty accurate reading of Ms. Sanders’ position as mouthpiece for a misogynist White House as a dig on her looks or orientation? Or rather, how top-of-mind are your own feelings about Sarah Sanders that you just assume any joke about her would be about her appearance?
I have to hand it to the Press Secretary: she sat there and took it. Her job is difficult and I loathe how she approaches it, but she took the lumps, unlike her boss, who was far, far away, stepping on his tongue and the rule of law all the while basking in applause. Like all bullies, he is a coward who can’t take a joke.
Look, if the Administration really wants to go through this again next year and wants a comedian more in line with Making America Great Again, they can find one. Any morning DJ show, or in Howard Stern’s contact list, or most male headliners from the 80s. One time I saw a guy in Los Angeles in 1984 talk for close to an hour about trying to get laid, finally getting laid but the girl was ugly, and how hard it was to poo sometimes. Oh wait. That was every time.
The point is, pick one that speaks your truth. I’m pretty sure this guy is available:
What do you want, Joe, my life’s history? Here it is in four words: big ideas, small results. — Barbara Stanwyck, Clash By Night (1952)
It’s been ages since I woke up with an earworm, but I had a lulu the other day that took nearly 48 hours to shake: “Don’t Cry Out Loud,” Melissa Manchester, 1978 — a song I hate and only the refrain. It’s the kind of tune I might hum to snap myself out of stiff-upper-lipping a situation unnecessarily, something my subconscious, apparently, was trying to tell me to do.
I’ve been in a mood lately about what I think about doing compared with what I actually get done. Eighty-five percent of the time, I’m content to dip in and out of writing, research, and art projects; happy to pick things up, turn them around, then misplace them forever. At 53, I am unlikely to develop a greater attention span or a more capacious mind or a sudden drive to achieve. I was just hoping this would quit bothering me — when it does bother me — at some point.
Plus, the things I like to do are silly. About a decade ago, for instance, I kept a record of my (then) daily earworms for 18 months, categorized them, and ran some numbers. Looking at the spreadsheet now, I see that some of the numbers don’t add up, so I have spent my lunch hour messing around with data that 1) no one needs analyzed and 2) is old and poorly organized.
Some Pointless Charts
One thing I notice right off the bat is how much Excel charts and pivot tables have improved in 10 years. Astonishing! After that, it appears that the mean year of origin for my earworms was 1973: when I was nine-ish and picking my own AM radio stations (probably). There are two mode years: 1965 (I was born in late 1964); and 1979, around the time I started buying my own music on the regular.
I divvied up the earworms by genre (rock, jazz, soundtracks) and type, such as Kid Stuff (“L-Y”, 11/22/09) Comedy Bits (“Day-Oh,” 7/3/08), and Words (“Salamander,” 2/23/09).
Of the music, 61% were songs I like, 18% songs I don’t like, and 21% songs I wouldn’t turn off the radio if they came on. There’s more, but I’m already bored.
I don’t know.
Anyway, Carole Bayer Sager (still alive) wrote “Don’t Cry Out Loud” with Peter Allen (not alive), an Australian singer-songwriter whose father committed suicide when Allen was 14. Turns out this was the advice given by his mother in order to encourage Allen to keep his “best face on” for his baby sister and the world. Terrible advice that turned into Billboard’s 26th biggest hit of 1979.
It also snapped me out of my little midlife crisis.