To paraphrase Shakespeare: Some are born great, some have greatness thrust upon them, and some bungle greatness when it’s handed to them on a silver platter.
There’s no question: this is a scary time. In a worst-case scenario, millions of people across the globe could die as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The world’s economy may be crushed, plunging us all into a dire situation. These are truly frightening thoughts. But it also presents us with an opportunity to step up into the moment and be great. To take personal responsibility for our actions and to look out for one another. To come together as a community at the local, regional, and global level. To make sacrifices. To show leadership. And to potentially save millions of lives.
Ever since Elizabeth Warren ended her presidential primary run, there’s been a deluge of articles analyzing what went wrong with her campaign. After all, on paper at least, Warren was the ideal Democratic candidate for 2020: brilliant, capable, experienced, compassionate, and female. She had real policies for fixing many of the problems that plague hard working Americans. She had a plan for everything. And after the near-miss in 2016, America seemed ready to put a smart, capable, qualified woman in the White House.
Political analysts looked everywhere for the reason Warren never placed higher than third in any primary — why she didn’t even win her home state of Massachusetts. Some argued she was doomed out of the gate by the mishandling of her claim of Native American ancestry and by allowing Trump to bait her into taking a DNA test. Others argued it was her public feud with Bernie Sanders over whether or not he told her that a woman couldn’t be elected president. One analysis laid the blame squarely at the feet of her chief campaign strategist Joe Rospars for softening her edges and trying to hide her image as a fighter, arguably her most compelling quality.
But most pundits came to the conclusion that, just like in 2016, the true reason for Elizabeth Warren’s failure was that we just don’t like women. Call it sexism, misogyny, testimonial injustice, or a double standard, the only logical explanation for why, in a campaign that began with a historically diverse field of candidates, the putative Democratic nominee for president in 2020 is an old white man.
But it wasn’t sexism that sank Warren’s campaign. Or Amy Klobuchar’s. Or even Hillary Clinton’s. It was invisibility. Elizabeth Warren’s problem isn’t that she’s a woman per se; it’s that she’s a middle-aged woman. And in our society, middle-aged women are simply invisible.
You can add Attorney General Bill Barr to the list of people happily enabling Trump’s demagogic tendencies. After blatantly mischaracterizing the results of the Mueller investigation, Barr’s most recent move has been to intervene in the sentencing of Trump loyalist, convicted liar, and self-proclaimed dirty trickster, Roger Stone. Barr’s interference has officially ended any pretense that American justice in the Trump era is fair and impartial, or that our criminal justice system is immune from political influence. This move has dramatically undercut one of the foundational tenets of the American system.
Like a crocus tentatively emerging through the late-winter snow, I have begun to awaken from the darkness of Impeachment Season, and as the blustery winds of the Democratic Primaries pummel my delicate spirit I search desperately for some warmth which will encourage me to bloom. Fortunately I see some rays of hope, and I turn gratefully towards them. The hope that I cling to is that, like the long dark winter nights, voter apathy is receding into the past.
This is the week that Donald Trump was acquitted of charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress by a Republican Senate so cowed by his bullying that they are willing to empower him to shred the very document that they have sworn to protect and defend. He has now claimed total vindication and is completely untethered from any real or perceived limitations on his self-enriching, autocratic, vindictive tendencies.
It’s the morning after the Super Bowl and as usual everyone’s talking about the half time show (faux outrage!) and the ads (Groundhog day was my favorite). But as usual, they’re not talking about the ad that I want to talk about.
I want to talk about Mike Bloomberg’s ad. Not about Mike Bloomberg specifically; I don’t have much to say about a Bloomberg candidacy. Except to say that I’m not sure that we need yet another old white man with so much money that he can simply write checks and bypass the entire nominating process. But that’s not why Mike’s ad is on my mind.
[January 29, 2020: While watching the sham of an Impeachment Trial today, I was reminded of this post which I originally wrote in 2016, shortly after the election. Sadly, I realized that we are now living in my nightmare scenario.]
I’ve been told that a good way to help with anxiety is to identify in detail the thing you are most concerned will happen. This is the Worst-Case Scenario approach, and the theory is that sometimes specifically identifying what we fear can help us realize that our anxiety may be unfounded. So I challenged myself to name the thing that I am most afraid of regarding a Trump Presidency.
I get a knot in the pit of my stomach when I listen to the current occupant of the White House. The rambling incoherence is bad enough, but I really get dispirited from the taunting and the belittling and the name calling. And from the way his loyal followers and trusted advisers stand behind him and give him encouragement. It’s so ugly. So familiar. It evokes such visceral images of high school that I can practically feel the acne erupting.
If you mentally superimpose an image of a school cafeteria behind him when he speaks, Trump’s behavior becomes crystal clear: The school bully, emboldened by his minions standing behind him. They snigger when he mocks the kid with the disability. The pretty girlfriend at his side smiles her bloodless smile when he calls the smart girl names. They all laugh when he cracks a joke at someone else’s expense. They whoop and encourage him.
Around them, the other kids stand uncomfortably, looking down at their shoes, not wanting to say anything, because then the attacks will surely be turned on them. Better to stay quiet and safe. Out of the line of fire.
The bully isn’t the popular kid. No one actually likes him. But there will always be those kids who are broken enough inside that they’re willing to latch onto him. Sad, lonely, unhappy people who find a sense of belonging with other sad, lonely, unhappy people. They like the security that comes from being part of his crowd. And the bully draws his power from the ugliness that they feed back to him, like some perverse super-villain. Without them, his power would vanish.
The concept of judgment has been on my mind a lot lately. Why are people so reluctant to judge? Why do we assume that we shouldn’t be judged by others? Why do we condemn people who judge? And why do we reject our responsibility to examine the words and actions of our elected leaders and to form opinions about their character?
Coincidentally, judging came up just yesterday in a conversation with my friend “Cynthia.” Cynthia supports the president (yes, it is still possible to have friends on the other side of the political spectrum), and our conversation was in the context of his idiotic rambling speech about wind. She defended him, once again — this time by saying that not everyone has the gift of oration and after all, aren’t we all misunderstood from time to time? She went on to say that in spite of all she’s seen and heard from him, she didn’t and couldn’t know what’s in his mind or in his heart. And then: “Who am I to judge?“