Our Weekly Discontents, 11/16/20

I regret to inform you that we live in hell.

The last few months feel like a fever dream. There was a brief, beautiful time—in New York City, at least, and probably in a few other places—when I could see my friends outside, sit in a bar’s back yard, and try to live a relatively normal life. That’s all over now, or it’s about to be, and with good reason. Cases are on the rise basically everywhere. There’s probably going to be a massive post-Thanksgiving spike, and an even bigger post-Christmas one. We’re fucked.

Hi pals, it’s Gaby from BORDER/LINES, and I wish I had something more reassuring to say.

I saw these tweets from an ER nurse in South Dakota about how some of her covid patients think they don’t have the virus because they don’t think the virus is even real. I keep trying to figure out how we’ve gotten to this level of collective delusion: the virus truths, the Q people, the Million MAGA Marchers. It makes me unbelievably sad to think about. 

Pundits are obsessed with debunking “disinformation.” There’s always this sneering element to it, like, oh, these idiot rubes and their conspiracy theories. There’s this idea that we can Politifact ourselves back to normal, that as soon as Joe Biden is president everyone will stop believing in things that are untrue. 

Over the weekend, a bunch of pro-Trump people descended on Washington, DC, to, I don’t know, demand recounts? I honestly couldn’t tell you. They called it the Million MAGA March even though there weren’t a million people there. I didn’t follow most of the coverage because I figured it was the kind of thing that would be treated like another far-right spectacle; the only thing I know for sure is that three counter-protesters were stabbed, presumably by Proud Boys. 

A little over a week ago, when they finally called the election for Biden, I gave myself 24 hours to feel relieved. That relief is gone now. None of this is going to go away. Not the mass death, not the rampant conspiratorial thinking, not the right-wing violence, and definitely not the widespread immiseration that has only gotten worse over the last 10 months. Mostly I just feel a numbing, ambient dread. I wish I had something better to say.


Gaby Del Valle & Felipe De La Hoz

People are already talking about Biden’s cabinet picks, and although it’s very likely that some of them will be Bad, we decided to be optimistic for once. Last week’s newsletter focused on how much Biden appointees could affect immigration policy, all without Congressional approval. (As a reminder, Trump managed to completely upend the immigration system without getting a single piece of legislation through Congress; the executive has a ton of power here.) 

We didn’t talk about who he’d appoint, because it’s kind of ridiculous to play that guessing game. Instead, we focused on what Biden’s appointees could do at every level of immigration policy, from the border to the behind-the-scenes bureaucratic work required to process hundreds of thousands of visas, green cards, and naturalization applications. The incoming Biden administration could feasibly end the use of for-profit detention, scale back detention altogether, severely restrict immigration arrests, end workplace raids, take in an unprecedented number of refugees, build a better asylum system, reverse the shitshow at USCIS that has led to a massive slowdown in legal immigration, and so much more—assuming, of course, that it has the political will to do so. We’re not optimistic, but let’s wait and see.

Wars of Future Past

Kelsey D. Atherton

The violence will continue regardless of whether or not it’s safe to go back to brunch. Of course, it’s unsafe to brunch virtually anywhere in the United States, which has spectacularly failed to manage a pandemic in a way that will be textbook for decades, but there is a sense that despite that, it is brunch time again in America. Trump accidentally tweeted a confession that he lost the election, in the midst of a long rant about how his defeat is illegitimate. That’s good enough for masks and mimosas, right?

There is the weird shuffle of leadership at the Pentagon, whose most likely outcome is to see if Trump can speedrun a rapid withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan. The US has now spent over 19 years fighting to create space for a different kind of politics in Afghanistan, though it’s long been forgotten by presidents and Congress as anything other than a place for aspiring politicians to do a three-month-stint to burnish their military credentials. It is hard to know what a just and equitable end to the US role in the war looks like, though one may be impossible.

The far-right held their largest gathering in DC in decades on Saturday, and while there was some action to document their intrusion, and to dissuade them from returning, the overall approach had changed. Earlier rallies, heavy against the backdrop of an indefinite Trump presidency, saw mass mobilization of people just out in the streets or the parks, proving by virtue of basic arithmetic that all the fascists were, in fact, bound to lose. Trump has since transformed into a totem of a new lost cause to the right; in their eyes the votes of the wrong people robbed him of his second term.

If most of DC stayed back from the counter-protests, the right knew exactly what to target as their enemy in the post-Trump era. Under the watchful eyes of a passive Metropolitan Police Department, Trump supporters defaced Black Lives Matter Plaza and picked fights with the limited opposition in the streets. Cops, happy this summer to mass arrest DC residents protesting police killings, plead powerlessness in the face of stabbings by the right. I expect this energy, mobilized categorically, will come into play against the nationwide lockdowns, as the right lash out against governments and imagined foes much closer to their homes.

The pandemic winter will continue messily, with no clear resolution on the horizon. At some point in January, if all goes well, the nuclear football, as well as America’s many ongoing wars, will be handed off to a different set of hands.

The Flashpoint

Eoin Higgins

You've probably seen, over the past four or five years, a video or two by a guy named JP Sears sending up hippies and New Age lifestyles. With long reddish hair and a dopey, self-serious face, Sears did a good job of mocking the wellness movement. 

But I started noticing a few months ago that his videos, when they were suggested to me on YouTube, were starting to take a rightward turn. Sears was making content less about poking fun at spiritual trust fund kids and more about railing against social justice warriors, censorship, and casting doubt on public health warnings about Covid. 

On Sunday, a friend messaged me a tweet from Sears announcing that he was joining alt-right social media network Parler, confirming my suspicions. Sears claimed he was doing this because "it’s censorship free and I’ll be speaking my mind 100% freely!" 

It's unclear what "censorship" Sears was referring to that stops him from speaking his mind (I have no intention of finding out, either), but I was struck by how familiar it sounded.

At The Flashpoint this week, I'm putting together a new piece on the ongoing fallout from the Alex Morse scandal and finishing a profile of another Covid long termer. Stay tuned.

Foreign Exchanges

Derek Davison

As one conflict—the six week war in Nagorno-Karabakh—came to an abrupt but probably not permanent end this week, another—a civil war in Ethiopia—may just be getting started. The cosmic ballet goes on, I suppose, but between Karabakh, Ethiopia, and now new violence in Western Sahara, it seems 2020 is trying to revive a bunch of old hits on the way out.

In Karabakh, a war that killed over 2300 Armenian fighters and an untold number (because the Azerbaijani government isn’t telling) of Azerbaijani soldiers and mercenaries ended Monday with a peace deal amounting to an Armenian surrender. Russian peacekeepers have deployed to prevent what looked like an impending atrocity and protect the remaining Armenian population in Karabakh, while the Armenian government has agreed to return to Azerbaijan much of the territory its forces occupied during the previous Karabakh war in the 1990s. Public calls for Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s resignation have been deafening, but Pashinyan has defied those calls and his opponents have no apparent legal path to removing him from office. They may now be exploring extralegal paths.

In Ethiopia, meanwhile, ongoing tension between Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and the once politically dominant Tigray People’s Liberation Front erupted almost two weeks ago when Abiy ordered the Ethiopian military into the Tigray region. A media and communications blackout has made it hard to know how destructive the fighting has been, but we do know that some 25,000 refugees have fled the fighting into neighboring Sudan and we also know that the TPLF has fired artillery at the airport in Eritrea’s capital city, Asmara. So this situation may be moving rapidly from civil war to regional war. I’ll do my best to stay on top of it over at Foreign Exchanges.

Welcome to Hell World

Luke O’Neil

Last week I tried to process why I couldn’t share in the dancing and partying and carrying on that followed the election being called for Biden. To be sure I despise Donald Trump and his coterie of sulfurous worms as much as the corniest Joy Reid-ass lib and I am pleased to see him have his pants pulled down to his dry ankles but this is a moment I’ve been anticipating with a mixture of hope and dread almost every single day for four years and now that it’s finally here I feel no overriding or perspective-shifting sense of catharsis.

Elsewhere Linda Tirado wrote for the Last Normal Day series about her experience being shot and blinded by Minneapolis police in a stunning and beautiful essay.

I wasn’t allowed to have an orgasm for two months, nor to exercise or lift more than ten pounds. While my eye healed from the surgery I couldn’t put any pressure on it. Nothing that caused strain was the medical dictate. I still can’t be in bright sunlight even with the darkest glasses and I mostly live at night when I can control the light sources. Every day I condition myself to a bit more brightness and I wait for the day I can just go sit in the sun again.

And Dan Ozzi wrote about his home town of Staten Island, which has been in the news a lot of late for rather ignominious reasons.

This is the Staten Island mentality in a nutshell, a dangerous combination of willful ignorance and misguided arrogance that will eventually lead to its own destruction. Scientists and doctors don’t know shit, elected officials and newscasters are bums, and anyone trying take any helpful, preventative action that might be a minor inconvenience can go fuck themselves. It is a borough working as hard as it possibly can against its best interests and its residents are people who will cling to their misguided ideas of blue-collar “common sense” until it kills them. 

Perspectives: Past, Present, and Future

Patrick Wyman

A bit more than 5,000 years ago, a guy got shot in the back with an arrow way up in the Alps. The arrow had cut the subclavian artery in his shoulder, and it didn’t take long for the blood loss to kill him. His body stayed there on the mountain, more than 10,000 feet up, until the summer of 1991, incredibly well preserved through the millennia thanks to the cold. He’s a natural mummy, a window onto a world that’s been gone for thousands of years.

We call this poor guy Ötzi - he was found in the Ötztal Alps - and he’s both a murder victim and the most studied ancient person in history. We know where he was from (a little ways east of where he died), where he lived as an adult (closer), what he ate for his last meal (red deer and ibex meat, probably smoked), how many tattoos he had (61), what color his eyes were (brown), and much, much more. In my newsletter this week, I talk about Ötzi, what we’ve learned about him, and what he tells us about his world.

The Insurgents

Jordan Uhl & Rob Rousseau

In this episode we’re joined by Kyle Kulinski to talk about how moderates and centrists got to work the day after the election blaming AOC, The Squad, and BLM Activists for the disappointing downballot results the Democratic Party saw on election night. Probably once that’s settled they’ll start working on pushing Biden left though. Any day now. We also talk about the foreboding signs of Biden’s transtion team, Trump’s refusal to accept the election results, the Million Maga March, and we’re once again forced to ban Ken Klippenstein from the show.

A Lonely Impulse of Delight

Connor Wroe Southard

So I’ve been promising I’d write something about Ulysses since I started reading it way back in September. That hasn’t happened yet, but I anticipate it happening this week. The reason is simple: I’ve been trapped in a dingy studio in Downtown Missoula doing not much. I’ve been playing Ghost of Tsushima and making mediocre pasta. I’ve been keeping up with exactly one TV show—The Mandalorian, which I already wrote about. I’m fortunate to be doing better than many people in this Winter of Our Discontents (get it?), but that doesn’t mean I’m producing anything. Solidarity with everyone who finds themselves slacking in these trying times.

One thing I have accomplished in the past couple months is finishing Ulysses. It’s folly to have a big-picture take about that novel—anything you could say would be simultaneously true or false, depending on your angle of approach. In anticipation of the paper I need to write on it, I think I’ll home in on just one chapter: Nausicaa, in which Leopold Bloom shall we say “voyeuristically” watches Gerty MacDowell on the beach. So sign up and let’s do what little we can, as eloquently as we can.

Be The Spark

Kim Kelly

Hello again! It’s been awhile since I updated my newsletter thanks to a cavalcade of deadlines and general disorganization, (though I did have a really nice chat with Pennsylvania’s memelord Lieutenant Governor and his extremely inspiring wife for Teen Vogue). I needed to get something off my chest this week, though, and it’s all Anne Hathaway’s fault. (Remember when hating her was a whole Online Thing for what must’ve been a good 2-3 year span?)

Anyway, in this essay, I got a bit personal about disability, representation, and the film industry’s continuing failure to portray disabled people in a neutral - let alone positive! - light. There are also some thoughts on witches, if you’re into that sort of thing or looking to hold onto those last dying vestiges of spooky season.

Discourse Blog

New week, new blogs. We’re starting to slowly ramp up how much we’re publishing at Discourse Blog, and since there’s eight of us in the newsroom we’ve definitely outgrown the newsletter schedule. That said, if you still like getting our posts to your inbox, you can sign up here.

Otherwise, here’s a rundown of the best of the site. I wrote about the overhyped and underperforming Hyperloop, which got me some of my first hate mail thus far at Discourse Blog (we love it!). Sam Grasso wrote about the insanity of opening up an indoor waterpark in the age of COVID, which is something an actual company is doing right by her house. Caitlin Schneider wrote about how the Girl Scouts' weird apolitical schtick just isn’t working anymore. Paul Blest, meanwhile, wrote AGAIN about the need for another direct aid stimulus package, and about the ineffectiveness of Democrats in finding a way to get us one. And Jack Mirkinson wrote about Justice Samuel Alito being a complete psycho on the bench. Also, we found time to blog the big gator. Have a great week — as always you can join us in the comments for office hours every Tuesday at 4:20.