In every chronic illness/traumatic event survivor’s story where we know the exact moment we’re going to make it. The journey will be terrible, and there will be more pain and strife, but we will see it through: We wake up and our pain is not the first sensation we feel. The grief and anger and fear are all still very much there, but it’s now in the background, not the foreground.
We’ve turned a corner. We can focus on something else. In America’s case, we can have a debate about having coherent domestic policy and universal insurance, universal voter registration, and paid maternal leave — all things they don’t have to worry about in Norway, which might be why we’re 30 years behind most other industrialized countries. But, my point is, we get to have that debate! It’s not a great one; but, in chronic illness terms, the discussion has shifted from, “Can I offer you a glass of water,” to, “I have some interesting treatment options.” The work will be long, thankless, and costly, but we will get to be here to do it.
My parent’s generation loudly whinged about “participation trophies,” which, yeah, I wasn’t wild about, but it does kind of underscore an important, lost message; “This was an optional thing, you didn’t need to do it, but you showed up despite the odds.” And we overlook all the numerous ways people might not show up or reasons thereof — abusively negligent parents (I have a host of Little League Stories from Hell about what happens when abusively negligent parents sign up to coach their intolerable off-spring)(in retrospect, in their attempts to give me a relatively normal childhood, my parents unwittingly did the near-complete opposite). But here’s the thing no one ever mentions that’s so important about participation: it means you showed up when you could have stayed at home.
Joe Biden is sort of the ultimate political participation trophy: we’re not league champions, we’re not going to State, and we’re not going to get immediate universal healthcare and housing. Believe me, all of my friends on the left wing of the political spectrum are under no illusions that Biden very much still largely represents the moneyed investor class in America. But, there are enough stories floating around about him randomly calling transgender kids to tell them they will have a place in 21st century America to make us a little hopeful. And he’s openly calling for bipartisan cooperation and coordination in his administration. My more-communist inclined friends, are, of course, disheartened not to be told to get out the guillotine and stand by for revolutionary justice, but we’ve just had a reign of terror that killed 300,000 citizens. To frame that for R. Giuliani; that is 100 9/11s this year. We can talk a lot about how far from the ideal the man is, as a politician and candidate, but he ran on a very simple, bumper-sticker-worthy platform: Stop the bleeding. From an able-bodied perspective, that’s not really a solid plank in party policy, but, if you’ve just had a run-in with a bandsaw, that sounds like a superb plan. In that situation, not bleeding is pretty much all you can think of.
I think that for 81 million Americans, the “Stop the bleeding” message resonated more than “American carnage” did. I obviously can’t claim to know exactly what’s happening for the 74 million Americans who voted the other way, but, if it’s any consolation, I haven’t heard anyone framing the Biden Administration as a roaring rampage of revenge story in the same way we were hearing four years ago (just a reminder; this time four years ago, we all learned about the Steves Mnuchin, Miller, and Bannon; each one more exotic and terrifying than the last. I think most leftists have had their eyes opened abou the GOP’s double-standards about their own behavior and everyone else’s, and that will undoubtedly shape approaches to policy and cabinet picks, but, let us celebrate for a brief moment. We’re going to have another election in two years. There will be more democracy, and, now that the Republicans have realized that paper records and voter turn-out is important, there might be calls to increase participation and access to voting — something fans of democracy in general should be enthusiastic about.
The last four years have been deeply traumatic to the American psyche, and this election felt like it could be the season finale for the country. Which is probably why there was massive voter turn-out in this election; everyone collectively realized that the Presidency is like indoor plumbing. If everything’s functioning as it should be, you’re not really aware of it. We were constantly bombarded from Minute 1 from Dear Leader’s stumbling into the mantle of power, and we were made uncomfortably aware of how much power the presidency wields, simply as a PR device. To my unAmerican friends, the Queen, your local PM, Angela Merkel, and António Guterres (the current secretary-general of the UN) can all, presumably, call a massive press conference whenever they want, for any reason. In most cases, they reserve this power only during particularly strenuous negotions or crises, and don’t insist on the sort of Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow (the leader of Turkmenistan, seriously, Google him and be prepared to have your mind immediately destroyed at the sight of what near-unlimited power and attention can do to the wrong person) antics that require them to be in front of the television cameras more frequently than a local news weather forecaster. And, if they are in front of the camera, they’re likely to use long, boring words like “negotiation,” or “demographics,” or, “logistical challenges.” They don’t usually speak in 180-character Twits that rely on adverbs to do the heavy lifting.
Robert Tipf (again, damnatio memoriae starts right now) grossly and repeatedly violated that behavioral norm of leaders traditionally staying out of public sight the vast majority of the time, and insisted that he be at the center of our national attention for far too long. It was a weird superpower, and like most superpowers, highly-specific — the ability to get the lights consistently focused on him, all the time, and I think we’d all had enough of that by November. One of Biden’s campaign ads was, recall, literally just a promise that, if elected, we could go, nationally, for days or even weeks without thinking about politics. And it resonated, on some level.
The past month has been the perfect metaphor for 40 years of de facto Republican leadership — the losing side didn’t quietly slink off to lick their wounds and ask about positions with lobbying firms or NGOs. They clung to power and filed lawsuit after lawsuit after lawsuit (for my unAmerican friends, the laws in the US are such that you can “sue” — petition the judicial system for a hearing or set of hearings — for any reason, in almost any matter — whether the courts are interested in intervening or hearing your case is another matter entirely, as this administration has handily proven multiple times). So, even though there was never a high chance of Beloved Leader getting a second more-dangerous term, we always had that outside, slight chance that Donald, Rudy, Mike, and the rest would somehow hang on to power.
I think the national moment of catharsis — apart from R. Giuliani literally-not-metaphorically melting down on-camera (seriously, look it up), apart from R. Giuliani loudly farting on national television, apart from R. Giuliani showing up to court with a combative, clearly-inebriated witness (I will admit, in my weaker moments, I’m going to miss Rudy and his weird, NC-17-rated antics) — the, “This is going to be utterly miserable, but we can do it” — moment was on Friday, when the Supreme Court — a menacingly regressive body for every one of my minority friends (which, thanks to AYA brain cancer, is now also me) — rejected one of the last, best-funded, most-publicized cases — was rejected by the Supreme Court of the US, because Rudy spent the last week running around with drunken soccer moms and infecting people with COVID. The creaky, rickety hand-rails we put up to safeguard the processes that govern the peaceful transition of power — the beating heart of democracy and rule of law — worked. Not well, and there are ongoing, bizarre demonstrations and counter-protests to get Rupert Tab another term, but they are not actually a substitute for showing up with proper filing paperwork, competent legal counsel, and, come to it, actually running a campaign. The delicious irony here is that for decades, the GOP have been skilled and adept at manipulating the interplay between the judicial system and the executive and legislative branches to retain power. And, ludicrously, even in a system they’ve stacked in their favor, they failed spectacularly.
A lot of commentators will point out that the GOP did attempt a coup, and, regardless of its outcome, we should be concerned for the long-term implications.
I think they’re right that we should be concerned about the sorts of inequities that lead to the bizarre rise of Herbert Fleek, but, at the same time, it’s worth noting that in his bizarre bid for power, he made another, immediate attempt in the exact same style quite impossible. We are a country of shiny brightly-coloured, high-gloss paint atop a rickety frame of ugly truths and uglier histories, but Jim Hamm effectively destroyed that, which is why he lost. He insisted on saying the quiet bits out loud. Yes, we have a questionable history with race, gender, and land rights. Yes, we have gross educational disparities and wealth distribution that we will need to address soon. Yes, we are nationally addicted to violence as a tool of the state at almost every turn. Yes, we’re going to have to discuss all of these issues very soon, but Beloved Leader’s tactical blunder was that his entire platform was based upon not only highlighting these discrepancies, but widening them. In a metaphorical context, this is like setting date for a neighborhood Christmas party, and then getting caught up in the general chaos of the holiday season, so you only remember your party two days before it happens, and you haven’t done any shopping. Beloved Leader is like your local eccentric, who shows up with a cheap bottle of wine, greets you with, “That dress looks like hell. And the kitchen is a wreck.”
That assessment may be 100% accurate, but it’s still unhelpful to voice it. COVID is like your toddler waking up and throwing a tantrum half-way through the party; it makes a strained situation much worse (if we were talking about other countries, if you heard that a quarter million Mongolians died in the last year, your first response wouldn’t be, “I bet the Deep State was involved,” it would be, “What the hell is happening in Mongolia?”). And Beloved Leader is that jerk who insists on giving the kids a piece of cake in the middle of it all — it’s just accelerating the deterioration of the scenario. Biden is the equivalent of your long-suffering aunt showing up, rounding up all the party-goers, wishing them well, and rushing them to the door. It’s still a bad situation — there are still dirty dishes stacked up on the table, incomprehensible energy policy, and a literally-crippling lack of health access — but now, we can get a few hours of sleep, make a pot of coffee, and return to scrubbing the dirty pans of the body politic when we’re feeling a little more-rested. Four more years of Beloved Leader would’ve been an invitation for him to pass out M-80s to the little ones — disastrous does not even begin to cover the potential damage. My country has a lot of work to do, no doubt about that, but, hopefully chastened at the thought of how deeply wrong things go with President Joe Exotic, we went ultra-bland this time. To quote you a truly great American figure — far worthier of monuments and movements than Dear Leader;
“My dear spouse would say that the true symbol of the United States is not the bald eagle — it is the pendulum. And when it goes very far in one direction you can count on its swinging back.” — Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Again, we all have a lot of work to do — starting with playing cards with our grandparents and learning about being magnanimous victory and gracious in defeat — in short, America needs to stop fixating over trophies and focus a little more in the participation. I realize that politics in the US gets tribal, so, if your team lost this time around, I’m almost sorry, but this is not the end; get out and vote; register people to vote, run for office, let this whole thing be a call to get more-involved at every level. Democracy actually works best when everyone in society is invested in it, and participates in it.