Harsh Your Mellow Monday: Wailing and Gnashing of Teeth Edition
Welp, that was some week, and the weekend was just as nuts. As we start to careen into the Fourth of July holiday, we need to handle a bit of business from the week and weekend that was. Let’s get to it, this week’s edition of Harsh Your Mellow Monday.
Anecdotal Evidence, But Admissible
Having traversed from the Carolina house down in the pines back up to my mountain Up Yonder brought a few things into focus. Because it’s just how life works, immediately upon arriving in my hometown, I discovered what I thought was a fix for the laptop had, in fact, become a fatal wound. Thus, off to the only place in town where one can acquire high-end technology on short notice in a town of 2800 folks at 8pm on a Saturday night.
Off to Walmart.
I know this Walmart well. I worked here when it first opened, the large Gateway Supercenter having replaced the smaller one across the street 20-odd years ago. It’s a job I enjoyed so much that after 6 months of it I enlisted in the military just to get out of there. But it was a valuable interlude between the college dropout/thrown out and the turning around of my life that occurred some years later. It was also eventful, as I recounted with Ruby, who had been there nearly 30 years now she reminded me, going back to the original store. We swapped stories and “remember whens” as she checked me out at the electronics register, having scoured the secured shelves for the laptop I am now typing this on.
Good memories mostly, laughing as her much younger assistant, a teenager newon the job and just learning, listened with a mix of “did that really happen” and “when will these old people shut up?” Her eyes widened at the confirmation that yes, the now legendary story of the deer wounded by a car getting into the store and wreaking havoc really did happen. Until it was horse collared and brought down by three of us crashing through the set up outdoor display in front of the registers. Or the time someone whose name will be withheld punched out his arrogant, very obnoxious co-worker right in the middle of the store, leading to both getting fired on the spot. That was a long night, as it left just JJ and me to throw three more trucks in receiving short-handed. The list goes on, until she said what I knew was coming.
“But I’ve never seen anything like this.”
By “this” she meant the current social environment. Maybe, probably — definitely, if I’m honest – we were sheltered in the pre-millennium small West Virginia town, but the idea someone would walk in and cuss you out, spit on you, and throw stuff over not having an item, or social distance guidelines, or what have you would have been a foreign concept. Almost everyone here knows each other, to the point you walk into this Walmart as an out-of-towner – a frequent occurrence with a major highway and tourism in this area – and the locals will stare and look at you. They can tell. Just how it is. To the point that being gone more than being present the last 20 years means it takes a day or two for my accent to come back and even I are sometimes thought of as among but not of. Which makes what Ruby told me all the worse.
“I’ve been yelled at and cussed out just for wearing a mask at the store. It’s mandated, what do they think we will do, get fired over a mask?”
“We are hiring everyone that walks in and passes a drug test. Maybe 3 out of ten do. Then the half of those that actually work a shift usually last a week then quit after someone goes off on them.”
“I had someone I’ve known for 30 years throw stuff off the aisle at me because they didn’t like the guidelines.”
Over a month ago I wrote a piece over at Arc on masks, and it is – by far – the most reaction I’ve ever received for writing something. You get used to the odd troll or general-purpose jackasses sending you hate mail; that’s part of the deal. Vitriol from otherwise normal folks because you dare say something like “If you need to wear a mask wear a mask and don’t burn down civilization over it” was new. Someone I generally considered a respectable account blitzing me with “you have no idea what your talking about with ventilators” about a piece that included a photo of me on a ventilator just makes you shake your head in disbelief.
Even in my own extended family, having been on this land since before this was even a country, through revolutions, Civil War, depression, crushing poverty, tragedy, abuses of various kinds, how is it this is the great crisis that has folks fighting more than anything I’ve ever seen in my life?
Why, though? Why is this ripping folks apart so bad?
There is a scene in The Green Mile where Paul the prison guard in charge of the death row cell block is trying to talk some sense into Percy, the younger and vicious guard who is abusing everyone just for his own amusement.
Paul: “Men under strain can snap. Hurt themselves. Hurt others. That’s why our job is talking, not yelling. You’ll do better to think of this place like an intensive care ward in a hospital.”
Percy: “I think of it as a bucket of piss to drown rats in. That’s all. Anybody doesn’t like that can kiss my ass.”
Pressure and fear do strange things to folks. And make no mistake about it, most folks right now are under pressure of various kinds, and it is causing a lot of fear. Economic pressure, health pressure, societal pressure. Those political fringes that marinate in nothing but confirmation of their worst inclinations through technology that feeds their addiction better than any drug dealer rarely have their bubbles of isolation pierced.
But Covid did it faster and cleaner than any political movement. Viruses don’t care about your priors as a political observer, or your power structures as an elected official. It just comes. Crisis reveals character, and this crisis is revealing something about everyone from the president down to the cashiers and customers of small town Walmarts. When you can’t go to the store without being reminded of it, your kids can’t go to school, your actual in real life is interrupted, all the sudden your priors and ideology meet a reality check. Some folks are not fairing well with that reality.
Viral video and protests have done the same with issues surrounding policing, race, and how both communities and government have responded to it. Video is almost impossible to ignore in the modern age, and those folks who are very online have been confronted with a tsunami of videos of police behaving badly, chaos makers taking advantage of the situation to do their chaos and destruction thing, government that seems listless and worthless if not outright hostile, and the folks who actually want problems solved stuck somewhere in the middle. But you cannot ignore what is happening, unless you sequester yourself completely away, and such events demand you react. In many communities around the country actual real life is interrupted, and all the sudden your priors and ideology meet a reality check. Some folks are not faring well with that reality.
The pressure Paul was talking about, written ably by Stephen King and brought to life on film by Frank Darabont directing Tom Hanks in the role, was inevitability. The Green Mile was a play on “the last mile”, a nickname for the death row. It was a one-way mile. Once there the prisoners only left by way of the electric chair. The metaphorical and deeper meanings play out, but the lesson for this moment is obvious and universal: how do you react when faced with an inevitability you can’t control?
It’s going to get worse before it gets better. The shock of what looks to be a collapse of the school system that is going to be a mess of competing interests, public pressure, and a health crisis that does not seem inclined to be abating in time for back to school. Folks already economically hurting may be facing children home from school again, or some hybrid where they only go certain days of the week. Plans that sound great to health officials and government leaders sound impossible to working class folks trying to hold on to what income they have. The pending election in November is assured to be one of the highest volume and vitriolic we’ve had in some time. Covid doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon from the country or the news cycle, despite hopes that summer would see the virus being behind us.
The current pressure calls for talking not yelling. The country could well be viewed as an intensive care ward, a patient with many things wrong at once and no quick answer for them. The extremist is going to insist the country is a bucket of piss, and the opposing sides worst cases represent the whole of everyone that should be drowned in it. The latter will be loudest on social media, but they must be resisted, curtailed, and if necessary shouted down. Like Percy in The Green Mile, no matter what their reasoning their path is one that only leads to destruction, especially self-destruction. If you think no better of your fellow citizens than wishing destruction upon them, the problem isn’t society, or ideology, or even current events. The problem is one of your own soul, and beyond the means of your fellow man to fix for you. Not that those folks would let us. That would require more humility than they at present can muster.
Be more like Paul. We have enough Percys.
Landslides, Not Stevie Nicks Related
Just look at those headlines:
CNN: “Donald Trump is facing the possibility of a landslide loss”
Newsweek: “Trump’s dire week of polling show him heading for landslide loss”
Washington Examiner: “Democrats whisper: Biden landslide
National Journal: Prepare for Biden landslide
Nate Silver: “A Biden landslide is possible”
The Hill: “Biden could defeat Trump by an FDR-like landslide — here’s how”
And then there are these whispers going around the interwebs:
BREAKING— (thread)GOP operatives are for the first time raising the possibility that @realDonaldTrump could drop out of the race if his poll numbers don’t rebound. Over the weekend I spoke to a sample of major players; one described Trumps current psyche as “fragile.” I’m
— Charles Gasparino (@CGasparino) June 28, 2020
Our friend Luis Mendez breaks down the numbers, history, and election modeling of what is going on with President Trump for us — and the news at the moment for the president is all bad — but comes to the same conclusion I have at the moment:
Anybody worth their salt can also admit to the fact that since I last wrote about this race in April, the President’s chances have only gotten worse and a blue wave is now in play as much as is a Trump squeaker. The white heat of the summer campaign has lead to a pro-change and anti-incumbent environment that I haven’t personally seen in a presidential cycle since 2008 and that was an open seat election.
For myself I can’t believe that in this polarized an era that Biden’s current landslide margins will hold…But I do believe Biden remains, and will probably still remain the next time I sit down and look at this race, the likely winner.
If you think the 73 years of book we have on Donald Trump tells you he is going to bow out of the race and be tagged as the first president since Johnson to decline a re-election bid, your dealer is hooking you up with the really good stuff. It’s a nonsensical train of logic that the guy with so much ego he can’t stand to lose is going to quit and make that assault even worse. Better to lose and do what the Trump history tells us he will do, blame everything and anything else, than to do the one thing there will be no excuse for.
As for the landslide talk, let us qualify the term a bit. Nobody in this environment is getting into the 80s and 90s like Roosevelt, Johnson, and Reagan managed. Anything more than 5 point difference is going to be headlined as a landslide victory by the winner. The “shot someone on 5th Avenue” contingent of the president’s supporters that is somewhere between 30%-40% will ensure that doesn’t happen. Could Biden win by close to or just above double digits? Possible. Could Trump lose by 4 million votes and still squeak out an Electoral College win? Yep.
Biden’s campaign is one right now of inertia. President Trump has had about anything that can go wrong do so, some things of his own making and some out of his control. Team Biden’s best move is to just stay out of the way. That will work till about the end of August, but then Joe is going to have to change gears. How effective his campaign does that will likely be the difference in the campaign.
We know what Trump will do and be. The question is what is the country going to be in November. By then we will be three months into the great school experiment of 2020 that is going to upset nearly every adult’s life in America in some way, shape, or fashion, along with an economy that still has very choppy water coming as the ripples of Covid continue to make it’s way across the fruited plain. Then there is the very real threat that with America listless in leadership and utterly absorbed in internal matters one or more of the world’s bad actors decides to take advantage.
A lot can happen between now and November, and if the first 6 months of 2020 are any indication, if it can go sideways it will. So easy on the landslide talk, at least till after Labor Day and we see who is dealing with what going to the polls this fall.
The Fight Matters. So Does the Arena.
One of the reasons I’ve been banging on the Parler “Twixet”, besides a strong suspicion that the integrated grifting network pushing so hard for something means little if anything positive will come of it, is that taking your ball and going home doesn’t do any good. Of course you have a right to go start your own thing over there, as endless Twitter replies to my snarking at Parler kept reminding me. I’m all for their right to do that. But their stated goal is not accomplished by this tactic. There is no such thing as bravely running away in the arena of ideas anymore than trying to do the right thing the wrong way. It’s folly.
Folks love to quote Theodore Roosevelt’s “Man in the Arena” analogy:
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and 10 shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
But some context to that is needed. Most of the rest of that speech, given in France to a French audience in a speech titled “Citizenship in a Republic” is dedicated to fleshing out the differences between high ideals and practical efforts. One key bit from that speech sounds as if it was written for the Twitter generation:
Indeed, it is a sign of marked political weakness in any commonwealth if the people tend to be carried away by mere oratory, if they tend to value words in and for themselves, as divorced from the deeds for which they are supposed to stand. The phrase-maker, the phrase-monger, the ready talker, however great his power, whose speech does not make for courage, sobriety, and right understanding, is simply a noxious element in the body politic, and it speaks ill for the public if he has influence over them. To admire the gift of oratory without regard to the moral quality behind the gift is to do wrong to the republic.
An echo chamber will never have anything resembling moral authority. Even if everything said inside it is correct, no one outside will benefit. Twitter is imperfect, horribly run, and probably not long for this world in its present form. I’ve never in my life seen a company that understands so little about it’s own product and why it is successful. But that is where the fights that matter happen. Yes Twitter sets the rules, often arbitrarily and in some cases capriciously. But it’s their house. Want to prove your mettle, succeed anyway. Adapt and overcome.
Or at least quit complaining about it constantly. And if you say you’re leaving and had enough, actually have the integrity to leave and have enough. Otherwise you are just “simply a noxious element in the body politic” that no one will miss when gone anyway.