this !-ing world, part 1

I do not care for how 2020 has chosen to present itself. I suppose in the grand scheme of things I should be happy we’re a third of the way through it, given how much I dreaded this year showing up – and if nothing else, the c19 pandemic did a really good job shortening the horizon for about three or four weeks. When the imperative is “win the day” you don’t worry too much about, say, November. In the last couple of weeks, though, the long-term has started to open back up, because there are things that are coming whether we’re prepared for them or not.

Like, obviously, an election. In light of the fact that the federal government is in the hands of people whose life’s work consists of (in David Frum’s deathless formulation) stealing, loafing and whining, it’s reassuring that a presidential election is actually an aggregation of fifty state elections. The trick now is going to be what sorts of Southern ratfucking might be exported afield to try to bend the curve in favor of the incumbent, given that you can expect no federal oversight at all except to lend aid and comfort to efforts to suppress the vote in whatever form they take. And this is the 21st century rat-fuck in its purest form: what matters is less that one side’s version of truth prevails but that the very notion of truth is devalued and diminished. That’s been the story of American political media for thirty years now: the notion that there is no longer objective truth, to the point that there is no longer objective fact. So you just cover the horse race.

And if there was one lesson learned from 2016, it’s twofold: 1) if one side stonewalls and the other does not, the side that doesn’t stonewall will have anything and everything about it worried like a pit bull with a soup bone, and 2) if things are going badly for Republicans, the media will fall about itself to find something about Democrats that it can use to generate false equivalence.  This is why I have no problem whatsoever with the way Joe Biden has essentially been sat on the sidelines since virtually clinching the Democratic nomination: he holds no elective office, has no formal responsibility, and cannot really do anything to improve the world right now – anything he might say or do can be seized upon by a Washington press corps desperate to have something to cover other than the daily senility hoedown at the White House. Ultimately, that’s what has given the Tara Reade story a foothold with the press: not because there’s any there there (which does not appear to be the case) or because it deserves an airing (which it does), but because it’s something else to talk about other than how more Americans have died of c19 than died in Vietnam and how April basically consisted of multiple preventable September 11s.

Other, smarter, and more suitable people have reviewed the bill of charges against Joe Biden on this front. What stands out to me most is not the changing story or the way it’s being driven largely by parties of suspect motivation, but the argument that “if there were anything there, Team Obama would never have green-lit this guy as a VP pick.” I suspect that in all likelihood, we have some untoward conduct that while odious did not rise to an actionable level, especially in the early 1990s, and that the Axis of Dirtbag has chosen as their final Hail Mary attempt to elevate St Bernie/rat-fuck the 2020 election, depending on where you are on the axis. Which then leaves you on the “well, there is still odious and untoward conduct.” And yes, there is. But here we are. The choice is no longer between odious conduct and Barack Obama, the choice is between odious conduct and the Antichrist.

And this is a problem we have to grapple with, and will have to continue to grapple with for as long as the Baby Boomers are with us: this was the last generation in which the whole panoply of casual racism, casual sexism and the misconduct stemming from same was not considered socially objectionable by America as a whole. There was no de-Nazification after the Civil Rights Act, after women’s lib, after the Anita Hill-Bob Packwood era of the early 90s. The Kennedy misconduct was swept under the rug, while whatever Bill Clinton did was weaponized in such bad faith that it made it difficult to separate out an appropriate response from the political hit-job it was intended as. Hell, when you have Boomer-age women decrying snowflake millennials for getting bent out of shape about workplace sexual harassment, it’s easy to see how we got to this point. 

Until we’re willing to finally take a ball bat and smash the fingers of the pre-1970 cohort clinging to the levers of power like the aforementioned pit bull to a soup bone (and I don’t repeat that accidentally), it’s possible that the best we can expect of those politicians is what we expect of our rappers who used to sell drugs and pack guns and maybe bust a few shots off from time to time: “yeah, it happened, I’m sorry, I don’t do that shit no more”. Snoop Dogg went from being on the hook for a first degree murder rap to hosting The Joker’s Wild a quarter-century later. If you can make a case that yes, someone was that way, and yes, they repented of their sins and they don’t do that shit no more…well, America loves redemption, especially when it’s not wholly merited. But in the larger scheme of things, there are no good choices. Call it dystopia, call it late stage capitalism, but there comes a point where there are only bad choices and it’s about making the best one. Hell, what is cyberpunk but the last gasp of capitalism in its purest form? No wonder William Gibson looks like a prophet.

Ultimately, that’s when it all comes down to intensity. When there are no good choices left, you have to decide what is the least bad. That’s where purity politics runs on the rocks, and I’m sure people looked at Al Franken and thought they’d get an easy one-shot kill on a Democrat because they misunderstood what #MeToo was about. But if you want to talk about inappropriate conduct with women, and compare Joe Biden with his opponent in November, there’s no comparison there. None. And consider the ideology each side would empower with their win – one side gets you the Squad and Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren in positions of power, and the other gets you red pills and incels and people pining for the days of Mad Men without the 70% top marginal tax rates. 

Nothing should take anyone’s eye off the ball in November: the fact that this election is a referendum on whether we’re all right with America as the Florida of the world, with going into the future as the United States of Alabama. Maybe it’s not a 180 turnaround (spoiler: it’s not, this is a generational fight if not longer). Maybe all we can do is stop the bleeding and then spend the next decade learning to walk again. But it’s a choice: we can keep doing what we’re doing, or we can try to pull on the reins. Which option offers the most hope of getting where you want to go?

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