Cult of Personality

Bernie Sanders

It has been, without a doubt, a crazy roller coaster ride of a Democratic primary this year. Joe Biden’s campaign, which looked like it was on life support less than two weeks ago, has taken off, and he’s gone from also-ran to presumptive nominee. Buoyed by African American Voters, the same suburban voters that helped the Democrats retake the house in 2018 (including my ancenstral home in the NJ 7th, which has been solidly Republican for about as long as I’ve been around in this world), this is a result that only two weeks ago seemed impossible. So, maybe we need to look at the real question here: how did Bernie Sanders go from the obvious front-runner, outlasting annointed up and comers of the party, besting the other strong Progressive that was running, and shaking off not one, but two billionaires, including the one who spent an obscene amount of money to run, to being all but practically eliminated in early March? I mean, it’s a bit of a head scratcher in some ways, but not others.

It’s time for an honest admission from me. I’m not a Bernie fan. I’m not a fan of anyone who wraps not one, but two presidential campaigns up in the mantle of political revolution. I really hate to borrow the phrase from Biden, but most people don’t want a revolution, they want results. Plus, when you step back a ways and look at his supporters, it sometimes feels like he’s at the front of a personality cult, rather than a political movement. Consider the whole Warren snake emjoi thing that happened earlier in the year. Or the whole Twitter movement that sprung up that Warren needed to drop out and endorse Sanders because of course she did!* There is a troubling undercurrent of deism that surrounds a lot of Bernie supporters. Bernie is famous for his rigid views, and a lot of his supporters seem to really fall into this all or nothing rigidity in thier support of their man.

*Aside: did Warren’s aides see the writing on the wall for Bernie’s collapse and this is why she held off on endorsing him? If so, very smart. I think it’s both that and that she is not going to drop the whole "a woman can’t run" thing. I believe that happened no matter what his supporters try to refute.

At the same time, there’s the fact that a lot of Bernie Sanders’ key policy positions remain highly popular with voters. Take his signature issue, Medicare for All, which continues to prove popular with voters. Yet, a lot of people are clearly turned off by Bernie. So, what’s the disconnect? I think it’s pretty clearly that if the message is a winner, the problem is with the messenger. Bernie might be the only one in the eyes of his supporters, but that group is proving to be smaller than it seems. Like I said, people want someone who will get things done, not necessarily blow them up. Plus, there’s the fact that Bernie doesn’t seem to really want to reach out to people outside of his core group doesn’t help all that much. At some point, we have to look at who is delivering the message and realize that maybe we need someone else to deliver it. The fact that we had the perfect person who could have been that messenger? We’ve just hit the tip of the iceberg.

(Photo Credit: Σ on WikiMedia licensed under the CC by-sa 4.0 license)

Saturday Night Special

I started out writing this with the whole idea of structuring an argument around how the United States has an angry white male problem, and that’s the real driver behind all these mass shootings. It really does always feel like that’s a root cause of these things, doesn’t it? White guy is angry because he feels slighted by the world around him, hates that women, minorities, and the gays are getting everything, and needs to do something about it? Decides that the best way to fix the problem is to get a gun and shoot a bunch of people? I mean, it fits, but it’s a little too stereotypical for our needs here (although there is this interpretation which has some strong arguments about the anger issue). While I was trying to organize my thoughts on all of this–I mean, it’s kind of nuts that we keep having to do this every few months–I fell into a real webhole for about two days, just reading stuff so I could try to back up my arguments. I didn’t find a lot outside of the realm of opinions that could back me up, but I found so much other stuff that has left me kind of sad and a little numb. So yeah, here are some disjointed thoughts about all this shit, just to get them out of my head at this point.

Columbine happened in April 1999. That’s nineteen years ago. Nineteen. I was a senior in high school back in April 1999. That shit could have happened to my school. Yet, here we are nineteen years later (like the ending to the Harry Potter series), and it seems like we’re even farther away than we were then to any meaningful change. Also, let’s consider that we have now had a full generation of kids who have never known a world where a mass shooting at their school isn’t at least a possibility. Instead of laws that might make it supremely difficult for someone to carry out this sort of thing, they get mass shooter drills, and somehow we call this okay.

And how is that possible? Well, I found this very interesting piece by Vox that talks about how the NRA got overrun by conservative loons during that weird post-Watergate era in the 70s. Interesting to me is how legal thinking before this was pretty staid. The Second Amendment said militia, so they must be talking about an organized militia. You know, the state calls you to service and you have a right to be armed during that serivce. Today we call that shit the National Guard, and no one has a problem with them having rifles. They do get some training, right? It also brought up an interesting argument about how Southern delegates to the Constitutional Convention wanted this in place because they used militias to go after fugitive slaves. Oh, and also, it turns out that there was fairly comprehensive gun control that existed in Colonial times. So the loons at the NRA revolted in 1977 and took over the organization, fueled by God knows what (but probably a lot of that white rage that I started out thinking about, especially as a lot of inner cities really went to shit in the late 60s), and sprouting this idea that the Second Amendment was not meant to protect the government from disarming militias, but for allowing people to be able to rise up against government tyranny instead. And, fueled by extreme government distrust in the wake of Watergate, that message succeeded. And over the next 40 years, they chipped away at any sane notions about what to do about guns, to the point where you get laborious legal interpretations like this one, which helped lead to the Heller decision and fucking Scalia’s view that militia meant any individual person since any person could be called to serve in a militia. Great. This isn’t what the guys in that painting up top meant.

By the way, quick sidebar. I do love how court conservative politicans and jurists love to rail against legislating from the bench and preach the gospel of “originalism”, but had no problem doing it when it helped their pet causes. Fun, right?

Oh, here’s another thing that popped up since I started writing this. As it turns out, there was an armed security guard at the high school the day of the shooting. So, the theory the gun nuts love is that “a good guy with a gun will stop a bad guy with a gun”, right? Guess not. Turns out the guy hid outside while the carnage was happening. Some rounds at the range against a paper target, or spray and pray against a defenseless deer might get your juices flowing, but it isn’t going to steel you to actually put hot lead into another human being, is it?

Anyway, the biggest takeaway is all the research that comes to one conclusion: limit access to guns, stop a lot of gun violence. Illegal guns may play a big role in shootings in places like NYC, Chicago, and LA–and that is going to be difficult to fix–but when it comes to these mass shootings? Research shows that most of these people got their guns legally and easily. I mean, maybe we need to look at this. The kid who did the Parkland shooting could not have gotten a handgun legally at his age, but there was no problem getting a fucking AR-15 style semi-auto. What the fuck is that?

Lastly, let’s return to that white man anger problem. I mean, you can kind of piece together how that is very possible. Did you hear about Wayne LaPierre’s CPAC speech which basically said that any regulation of guns means the end of Western Civilization as we know it? Or the idea that having one of those semi-autos in your hands brings about a very inflated sense of power? Or how maybe, just maybe, you feel like society has declined and that AR-15 is your only defense against wild chaotic left wing anarchy? Yeah, you can see how angry white people might think they need to shoot first and ask questions later. And if that’s not enough, there’s always the gun manufacturers themselves, letting you know that you’re not really a man unless you have a gun. Fuck, no wonder we are where we are today.

(Header Image: Declaration of Independence by John Trumbull)

Down With the Sickness

Let just say something because I need to say it. You know who is getting hurt by Donald Trump cutting subsidy payments to the ACA exchanges? Me. I’m getting hurt. And I’m pissed.

Let me explain. I lost my job earlier in the year. I hopped onto a ACA plan because we need insurance. And my plan is actually pretty good! It actually covers more out of pocket costs than my previous employer insurance did. Stuff that had copays doesn’t have copays anymore! The only real downside? I make too much money to qualify for any sort of subsidies. Do you know what that means? You guessed it! I’m the asshole on the hook for the inevitable premium spikes that are going to result from this decision. Now, I can absorb the cost increase and cut elsewhere and likely be fine, but how is that fair to me?

Look, I agree that the ACA was not a perfect solution to our nation’s healthcare needs. There’s a lot that needs to be fixed. Maybe the way this plays out and pushes us towards a more universal system is better in the long run. For now though, I’m expressing my right to be fucking angry that my healthcare situation is about to get much more expensive so a bunch of assholes in DC can drink salty liberal tears while placating an orange man who wants to fuck over anything the black man who came before him did. That’s goddamn fucked up.

My Country Tis of Thee

A bit of honest truth. I haven’t been sure how to sum up my feelings from the election. It’s already February 2017. Trump has been in office for about a month and is steamrolling our country towards a cliff it may not be able to avoid tumbling over. My anger towards asshole purists on the left who ate up the same bullshit lies about Hillary Clinton that the right has peddled in for so long has not abated. People who thought they were making some grand political statement voting for a third party candidate or staying home have not stopped pissing me off. Susan Sarandon is still full of shit. I really can’t read a lot of the political drivel that ends up on Medium these days. There’s a lot of places I could go here and we could go off the rails for a long while. Instead, I thought I’d tell a story.

I live in a very ethnically diverse blue collar town. My local polling place is at the local elementary school. It’s a consolidation of three voting districts in my town in the school’s gym. In the five years I’ve lived in my town, voting has been a mostly sedate affair (and yes, I vote every year. If only you Bernie Bros had that level of dedication). You’re in and out in only a few minutes. I think the longest I waited was for maybe three voters in line ahead of me in 2012. Voting in the Primary in June of last year was equally sedate. So, naturally, when I showed up to vote on Election Day, I expected the usual in and out speed of voting.

Imagine my surprise when, upon entering the gym where the voting happens, the line for my precinct was out the door. Seriously. I always hear those stories of people in big cities who wait for a long time to vote (especially when they’re in heavily Democratic cities in a state with a Republican leadership, because voter suppression and all). I’ve never actually had it happen to me.

And who was in line? A whole hell of a lot of minorities who suddenly had a very strong urge to exercise their voting rights. And, can you blame them? The candidate who won the election was advocating a policy of racial and religious purity. Scary words that whose fear has been proven since Trump’s inauguration. In a place where you can usually vote in under 10 minutes, it took over an hour to get the deed done. And this was with a hungry child who did not want to be held or wait this out (and why the one precinct worker who offered us pretzels for said hungry child was the real saint in this affair).

At the time, it was a bit annoying to have to wait this long, especially with the hungry kid. But when I think back on this, it matters a lot more. This is where the future of a progressive movement is. While the Bernie Bros want to keep the focus on white folks (and face it, this is the case), there are a lot of people who are just cutting their teeth on this forthcoming political movement. It’s easy to lose focus and backpedal where the Democrats need to go next. Looking at all these people get out and vote makes me hope they don’t lose sight of where life is taking us next.