In which a real American explains the election to Australians

[Note: I wrote and submitted this essay on Nov. 12, which explains why it is, even for an essay by me, unusually obnoxious. Read at your own peril.]

When The Catholic Weekly hired me a few years ago, they made a few things clear: We’re really Catholic; we’re not terribly uptight; we spell things weird sometimes; and most of all, we do not want to hear about American politics. All of this was fine with me, especially that last part. Even in those innocent days of 2016, American politics was already just about intolerable, and I didn’t want to hear about it, either.

But here we are in 2020, and I’m getting a steady stream of Australian friends and readers helpfully giving me the inside scoop about what goes on in these United States. So either you’re all a bunch of masochists deliberately exposing yourself to our political system as some kind of elaborate form of penance, or else there is some part of you that can’t look away.

So be it. I will indulge your unholy fascination with this ominously pulsating egg sac we’re calling an election season. You want to hear about American politics? Hold onto your butts.

The short version is, Trump repeatedly promised his followers that, if they elected him, they would get tired of winning. And so it has come to pass! They are so tired of winning that they, in fact, lost.

Really, that is what happened. I know it hurts some of you to hear this, for some reason, but he lost. Lllllllooooosssssssttttt, lost, lah-lah-lah-lost, L.O.S.T., as in “lost the election,” as in “did not win the election,” as in “failed to secure victory in the election,” as in “you can take those ridiculous flappy flags off your boat now, you weirdo.” He lost because, even though a shamefully high number of people did vote for him, one cannot win an election simply by being shameful. No, not even with the help of the [haunted house music] electoral college.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly

Image: by Jericho on Deviant Art Creative Commons

 

Blessed are the rats, for we are all rats

Last night I stepped into a madhouse. I had driven to a local town to snap a quick photo of the election results to send to a numbers aggregator. A quick job—no need to talk to anyone or do anything but stay out of the way until the official results were in. I told the kids I would be back in time to put them to bed.

But 20 minutes before the polls closed, there was still a line stretched out the door of the polling place. A giant moon rose in the frigid air, and a mixed crowd of young and old chattered excitedly in the dark as they waited to cast their ballots. Feeling like something of an impostor, I told the police officer on guard, “I’m with the press; could I squeeze in here?” and he quickly cleared a path so I could get inside. One man shouted out, “Watch out, Jerry, she wants to talk to you!” and everyone laughed.

If I had had my wits about me, I would have stopped and talked to Jerry. But as it turned out, lots of others had plenty to say.

It was, as I say, a madhouse inside. People were clamoring to get in and cast their ballots, and I quickly realized that many had never voted before. They were not familiar with the process, and they weren’t sure how to do it. And there were so many of them that the line from the little curtained booths to the counting machines was all backed up. The machines themselves were full, and every third ballot or so got spit back out, and a cranky man named Paul had to open the machine and feed them in manually.

When I was growing up, election night felt like a party as we stayed up late snacking and joking, watching the electoral map fill up with numbers. I was baffled to discover the other kids in third grade weren’t wearing their Reagan/Bush pins every day and did not have strong opinions about taxes or Palestine. So at the polls last night, I was delighted to find a bustling crowd turn out for one of the most important elections in memory. Paul told me he had never seen so many voters before, and that hundreds of people had registered that day, most of them in the last hour.

“Good for us!” I said

He pulled a sour face. “I smell a rat,” he said.

And he kept on saying it. I questioned him and any other official who had time to talk. They all agreed: This was unprecedented. No one expected this many voters. They thought the bulk of citizens had gotten their duty out of the way with absentee ballots, and they were completely unprepared for this crush.

And no, they did not think this flurry of enthusiasm was a good thing. The same man who, in a lull, complained about how few people turned up for the town meeting every year was disgusted and suspicious to see so many people coming out into the cold to sign up to vote. I saw democracy; he smelled rats.

He was so sure it was a bad thing, I began to doubt myself. Maybe all these people shouldn’t be here. Maybe they didn’t really belong. What if they were scamming the system, somehow, even after showing their IDs and proof of residency? What if they were legit but voting for all the wrong reasons?

It is hard to talk about these things without sounding naïve. I know full well how ideas like “inclusiveness” and “welcome” can be exploited. We have all been in situations where people who really do have bad intentions take advantage of the open-hearted and take cover in a crowd of honest people. And once they are let in, they do the harm they came to do.

Read the rest of my latest for America Magazine.

Image: (cropped) April Sikorski from Brooklyn, USA, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Pray for our country, but try not to get too attached

“I felt so sad that I groaned aloud an Old Testament lamentation AAAAIEOOOOOW! To which responded a great silent black man sitting next to me on the blocky couch: ‘Ain’t it the truth though.’ After that I felt better.”

                                                                —Love in the Ruins, Walker Percy

 

For the last several months, I’ve slowly turned into Father Rinaldo Smith, and wish to spend my days in a tower, watching for fires, pooping into a bucket, and most of all not talking to anybody. It may not be helpful, but it feels like the least bad thing I can do in a most bad year. But today’s the day, so here’s my little speech:

If you’re a Catholic voting for Biden because you just love tearing innocent babies limb from limb in their mother’s wombs, don’t do that! That’s bad! Bad Catholic voter!

If you’re a Catholic voting for Biden because you think he has the guts and the grit and the vision and the know-how to turn this country right around, please send me your address so I may invoice you for your new bridge.

If you’re a Catholic voter and your parish has started playing the Star Spangled Banner at the elevation at Mass, and you definitely don’t want to vote for Biden, and yet HERE WE ARE, I’m with you. I’m going to vote for Biden, because I’m pro-life, because I still stupidly believe in the Constitution, because I don’t want war, civil or otherwise, and because some things are just not tolerable. It’s not a sin to do the best you can in a crappy situation, no matter what bozo told you what bozo thing, even if it was a priest. I’m with you. 

I’m going to a little town to pick up election results for an election night results aggregator, and I keep wondering if I should bring a gun in case someone flips out and gets violent (and despite the repeating riot loops you’ve seen on Fox, it’s many, many, many times more likely to be a far righter flipping out and getting violent than a far lefter). I doubt it’s necessary, but it pisses me off that I even have to wonder. Get it together, America. We will always have 99 problems but this should not be one of them. 

I guess before I leave, we will pray this litany to Mary under all her various titles as patroness of each state. (And get it together, Colorado!)

“You’re a fake Catholic going to hell” comments will be given the Mr. Tiddles the Obliging Kitty Cat treatment, so if you want to waste your time and mine, feel free. I’m just sitting here making meatballs anyway. 

Before I go back to my fire tower, what I really want to say is: Our duty today is the same as it ever was, which is: To keep our humanity, to remember the humanity of everyone we meet, to walk away if we’re having a hard time with that last one, and to remember our death. Pray for the dead. Pray for my friend Elizabeth who starts chemo today. Pray for my friend who’s having a very important disability hearing today.  Avoid useless fights. And pray for our country, but try not to get too attached. 

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Image by Royalbroil via Wikipedia (Creative Commons)

2020 election sign roundup and whatnot, thumbs up

In 2016, there was a guy who would park on the shoulder of the ramp to route 12 with Trump signs propped up all around his car. He would just sit there for hours, day after day, mutely promoting his guy.

The heroic part, though, was his thumb. The whole time, he had his arm stuck out the window, offering an everlasting thumbs up to everyone who passed. Thumbs up for Trump, thumbs up-thumbs up-thumbs up for Trump to all, including the commuters and the truckers and the motorcyclists and the state troopers and the crows scavenging the asphalt for squashed porcupine.

We laughed at the time at this man and his thumb. But I guess his plan worked, because now we all have squashed porcupine, I mean Trump. 

He was there again the other day! But this time around, his message is more specific:

No thumb, though. 

So I pulled up behind him to take a picture, just in case I want to remember the year 2020 for some ungodly reason; and then as we drove by him, my 13-year-old daughter rolled down her window and shrieked, “YOU’D LOOK PRETTIER IF YOU SMILED MORE!”

Then we laughed until we were dead. 

I’m warning you, this post goes downhill from here.

I’ve been so good this election, overall. Maybe not every last second, but in general, I’ve been twisting myself into pretzels trying not to think the worst of people who admire Trump, and, like Tobias Funke, with deep, deep concentration and great focus I am often able to achieve  . . . some modicum of empathy for people I disagree with about the president.

But last weekend I saw this flag on someone’s porch

and I was like, never mind. Like, even if you yourself wouldn’t fly a flag like this? You’re supporting a president who absolutely would, if Melania gave him the login for Amazon Prime. 

But truly, no one I can see is covering themselves with glory lately, and so elsewhere in town, we have the perennial “I’ll show you! I’ll mess up your sign!” wars, ably represented by both sides. Notice that someone appears to have taken a bite out of this Trump sign

whereas the response to this Biden sign is a kind of inarticulate yowl in black spray paint.

There are also Trump signs altered to read both “RACIST” and “RAPIST” at various intersections, which definitely helps people to think clearly about the issues.

But of course there are other elections going on besides the presidential one. Surely if we focus on more local issues, we’ll feel more grounded and more secure that the fires of democracy are still being well tended.

In our area, for instance, many new signs have recently sprung up, some that say “Aria DiMezzo for Sheriff” and some that say “Aria DiMezzo for Sheriff * Defund the Police” and some that read “Aria DiMezzo for Sheriff F*** the Police.” One of these appeared at the entrance to the county jail and nobody has disturbed it yet. 

If you look closely, you will see that DiMezzo’s logo is an anarchist star superimposed over a sheriff’s badge. This is because (?) Aria DiMezzo is a republican transexual anarchist satanist who is running for sheriff of Cheshire County, NH. I often see Aria hanging out in a spangled mini skirt at the parking lot where the pho truck and bitcoin embassy used to be. Now you know as much as I do. 

The “Write in Earl Nelson” campaign was launched a few weeks after DiMezzo showed up, apparently on the theory that [waves hands] SOMEBODY DO SOMETHING, but honestly everyone is going to vote for Eli Rivera like they always do anyway.  I don’t find myself thinking, “Dammit, why isn’t the sheriff doing his job?” very often, so I guess it’s fine.

Now if you would follow me into an entirely different aesthetic space, I present the Amanda Elizabeth campaign, which has a small number of carefully dispersed signs promoting their gal for state rep.

Amanda Elizabeth, who does have a last name but is keeping it a secret for some reason, is a progressive Kripalu and Jivamukti yoga instructor who wants to fight fiercely for you, and/or to be elected treasurer of the junior class, where she promised to get ALL the best Chumbawamba songs featured at prom, not just “Tubthumping.”

These are all the standard two party candidates, normal, boring, yawn. But we do have a libertarian running for public office, and he has got a message for you:

Because my life is ruined anyway, I went to his website to find out what the hell “an appeal to heaven” is supposed to mean, and it didn’t say. But I tracked down a Facebook comment where he clarified:

“the Appeal to Heaven on the early Pin Tree Riot flag which referred to armed rebellion as an appeal to a higher power when appeals to the government or courts yielded no easy to grievances. Today, this appeal to heaven is voting third party instead of armed rebellion.”  

Someone on my diocesan Facebook page stated today that it’s a mortal sin to vote for anyone other than a third party candidate, so you can see we’re all fine here, now, thank you. How are you?  [shoots computer]

Possibly in a similar vein, here’s an evergreen:

This is where the new Bitcoin embassy is going in.

There’s also this little passion project, which isn’t political, but I think someone noticed everyone was putting up signs and didn’t want to feel left out. The signs say “RALPH SMART ON YOUTUBE” and they have a nice stencil of a heart and a green sneezing dog.

I did look Ralph up and even watched five minutes of one of his self-help videos, which was mostly slow pans of Amazonian waterfalls, CGI of a car cruising down a city street at sunset, and Mr. Smart himself repeatedly saying “one love to all deep divers!” while grinning at his computer monitor just off screen. If you click on the “about” section of his site, it leads you to “upcoming events” which leads you to “buy clothing.” Now you know as much as I do.

For a palate cleanser, here’s something we saw last weekend in some dude’s driveway:

Well, thanks! I must drive away speedily now, but again, thanks.

But we’ve strayed from politics. What a shame.  Here’s someone downtown who’s been paying attention:

And why not? Wu Tang is for the children.

Then we have folks who have transcended voting for mere candidates and want to register their entire worldview with the universe, possibly while they rest up from a sprain incurred while patting themselves on their own backs. These two signs are on the same street, right across from each other, having a quiet little staring contest all day. 

On the left side of the street:

and on the right:

 

Amen I say to you, they already have their reward. 

My kids have declared that, if we ever get a self-righteous yard sign designed to impress strangers, it has to be this one:

And finally, someone went and had a number of these printed up:

To our credit, no one has defaced these particular signs yet. Thumbs up for that.  

 

Stop telling me Biden’s not so bad.

A little over twenty years ago, I got hired to do some grunt work renovating an old Kmart. This job was nobody’s dream, but I was pretty desperate. I was pregnant and trying hard to move out of town, and I needed to make as much money as I could before I got really unwieldy; and I needed to get hired somewhere before I started to show. 

The job was awful. Just awful. Nine hours under fluorescent lights on my feet in a windowless cavern, and I had two chief duties: shoving metal shelves over tile, inch after screeching inch, and scrubbing gummy residue off walls where the signs used to be. The smell of the solvent made me sick and dizzy, and I worried constantly that the fumes, and strain of pushing those metal shelves, would kill my baby. 

And there was something else. On the day I was hired, the manager’s computer kept freezing up, and he struggled to enter my information in his files. “I’ll have to enter her manually,” he said. My supervisor laughed and said, “I’d like to enter her manually.”

I was sitting right there, three feet away. Ten of my co-workers were sitting right there. All the men laughed. And then we went to work for the day. It did not occur to me to ask any of those men for lighter work, to accommodate me and my unborn child. I was 22 years old. It did not occur to me. 

This memory came back to me today, for the first time in years. The question of Biden’s fitness for the presidency came up, and a vocally anti-Trump man told me that, if it comes down to it, I should “choose wisely” and support Biden. He admonished me to remember those who do not share my privilege. Biden, you see, may feel free to put his hands on women, to smell their necks and hair, to come up behind them like a snake, to use his power and wealth and fame and security as a free pass to the body of any women or girl who whets his appetite.

But he’s nowhere near as bad as Trump. And so women like me need to remember our duty and once again roll over for the man who thinks we’re here for his entertainment. Because we are desperate. 

The truth is, I am privileged. When I got out of work at Kmart, I would scour the want ads, and pretty soon I found something better: a job making sandwiches at Subway. It was a pay cut, but I leaped at the chance, because I had to get out of that place where I never felt safe. There was another pregnant young woman working on the renovation, and I doubt she even realized she had another choice. She had no one on her side. The father of her child was long gone. Her face was blank and bewildered as she worked, and she didn’t even flinch when the men talked about her and her belly. 

When I gave my notice at Kmart and mentioned my fears about the fumes, someone said, “Oh, she just doesn’t want to work.” That was not true. I did want to work. But at my new job, my boss was a woman who expected us to do our jobs . . . and that was all. And it felt like pure, intoxicating freedom to be able to simply put on my apron, wash my hands, and begin my routine without that constant prickle of terror and shame that comes with being vulnerable for nine straight hours every day. 

How many anti-Trumpers spent a delicious season thrashing around in the warm, shallow waters of the #metoo movement, preening themselves on their righteous indignation in defense of the vulnerable? But when it comes down to it, if Biden raises enough money and grins his way into enough votes, they’ll give him the nomination and they’ll tell women it’s their duty to be quiet, it’s their duty to be docile, it’s their duty to be forgiving, it’s their duty to take one for the team. 

I talked about shame. That’s part of the power of the sexual predator: He knows his victim will feel shame, and that will make her less able to fight. Less willing to fight. More likely to tell herself, “It’s not so bad. I can put up with this. Why am I making a fuss? It could be so much worse . . . ”

Biden is just an old school perv who refuses to take responsibility for his perviness. Is he as bad as Trump? Of course not — not by magnitudes of awfulness. But the real question is, are democrats as bad as republicans?

I long ago abandoned the idea that the political party of family values actually cares for either family or values. The republicans have made it clear, over (Trump) and over (Roy Moore) and over (Kavanaugh) again, that women and their suffering and their alarm and their shame do not matter. What matters is power; and women are expected not only not to fuss, but to take part in their own degradation for the good of the party. 

But what about the DNC? Are they any different? Here we are, still months away from the nomination, and democrats are already clearing their throats to make exactly the same point as the GOP made: It’s power that matters, not the vulnerable. Biden isn’t so bad. You can put up with this. Why are you making a fuss? It could be so much worse . . .

Now stay still while we enter you manually. 

Pay close attention, women: The democratic party is not your friend. They do not care about your dignity as a person. They care about power, and if the fates invest an old school perv with that power, then that’s who they will nominate. Brace yourself, because another election bus is bearing down on us, and your friends in the DNC will throw you under. 

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Image by Ancho. via Flickr (public domain)

Dems Ditch Pro-choice Litmus Test; Secret Thoughts of Many Laid Bare

Well, that’s probably wishful thinking on both counts. We’ll see if it’s really true that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee will now be willing to support pro-life democratic candidates. Yesterday,

Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) said there will be no litmus tests for candidates as Democrats seek to find a winning roster to regain the House majority in 2018.

“There is not a litmus test for Democratic candidates,” said Luján, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman. “As we look at candidates across the country, you need to make sure you have candidates that fit the district, that can win in these districts across America.”

I’m under no illusion that there will be a sudden, widespread softening of hearts toward the unborn in the Democratic party. This is pure strategy. They finally figured out that they’ll never get Congress back if they don’t at least crack the door for pro-lifers. (I could have told them that twelve years ago, but I’m just a voter in a swing state, so who listens to me?) They’re not even pretending there is some kind of actual ideological shift. They’re just trying to keep up with the tide.

Pro-choice dems are already furious at this softening of the DCCC stance,  predictably. For many Democrats, abortion truly is the holy grail, and if you compromise on abortion, then you’re treyf.

But guess what? Republicans are also furious, because their free meal ticket is suddenly not their exclusive property. I’ve long since shed the illusion that the Republican leadership is rife with tenderness and compassion toward the unborn. “Vote for me or the baby gets it,” as Mark Shea frequently puts it, has been a quick ticket to success for republicans for decades now. All a republican candidate has to do is say, “I’m kinda pro-life, and the other guy isn’t,” and good-hearted Catholics and evangelicals will believe (and tell others) they have a moral obligation to vote for him, and will turn a blind eye to every other hideous personal and ideological flaw that would normally be intolerable in a paperboy, never mind a governor, a congressman, or president.

If Republicans were truly pro-life, they’d all be rejoicing at the idea that Democrats are rejiggering their platform to let in even the possibility of more pro-life representatives.

But they’re all . . . not. LifeNews reprinted a column that gives a pretty balanced assessment of the dem strategy and reactions from the left so far; but the comments on social media are filled with mockery and jeers. “Yeah, right! Don’t fall for their LIES!!!” We’re too smart to vote for some lying politician just because they say they’re pro-life!

Yeah, right, indeed. We’re too smart for that.

Meanwhile, as Fr. Pavone bids us “rejoice” in our “pro-life victories” following the 2016 election, Planned Parenthood is still fully funded, and it’s only sheer incompetence that’s saved Medicaid, the go-to source of prenatal care for poor women and their unborn children, from being axed by a “pro-life” Congress. Hoo-ray, we have a conservative on the Supreme Court. So far, he’s oh-so-pro-lifely refuse to stay the execution of eight guys who had to be executed right away for the very serious reason that the lethal injection drug was about to expire, so.  Even LifeSiteNews is not terribly impressed at Gorsuch, who was not so long ago touted as the reason Catholics not only can but must vote for Trump. (I actually like Gorsuch; but I liked Merrick Garland, too. Remember, SC justices aren’t supposed to be pro-life or pro-choice; they’re supposed to be pro-Constitution.)

The part I’m interested in is twofold:

First, I want to see just how many Democrats really are pro-life, even a little bit, but they haven’t felt free to say so. I know there are some, and I know they’ve been treated like crap for far too long. I expect to see more of it among young up-and-comers, because young people in general are increasingly pro-life. Decades of 4D sonograms’ll do that to you, I guess.

Second, I want to see just how many Republican voters will suddenly recall they care deeply about other issues besides abortion. I cannot count how many times during the election I heard: “Abortion is the only issue that matters. I’m a one-issue voter. If a candidate even just says he’s pro-life, then I have to vote for him, no matter what else he says or does.  And you also have to, or I’m telling your bishop.”

This is why we got Trump: Because he was smart enough to flick the pro-life worm right into the spot where all the conservatives were biting, and then he reeled them in, easy peasy, no actual action necessary. Throw ’em in the cooler, flick again.

So what happens when Democrats are allowed to say they’re pro-life, eh? Will that be enough for Christian voters, since it was enough when Trump was the candidate? Will they say, “Well, this democratic candidate is spouting all kinds of crap that I find personally repugnant, but he says he’s pro-life, and the other guy isn’t, so I guess I have to vote for him“?

We’ll see.

Maybe I’m just dreaming here, but if the Democrats will eventually maybe be allowed to admit that some of them are not crazy about infant dismemberment, will it eventually come about that our Republican overlords will feel more free to admit that some of them care just as little about unborn babies as they do about post-womb babies?

The renegade numbers are small on both sides. I get that. Most dems do harbor pro-choice ideas as a core part of their beliefs, and most republicans do feel pretty strongly that murder is wrong. But there is a hell of a lot less purity in both parties than we’ve been led to believe.

I am a conservative. I’m no longer a Republican, but by every sane and rational measurement, I am a conservative. If you think I’m crazy to say so, you need to make friends with the late William F. Buckley (if you can make him stop spinning in his grave long enough), or my pal Winston Churchill, because you MAGAs don’t even know what a conservative is.

I and most of my truly conservative friends haven’t had the luxury of voting for someone we actually believe in for years and years and years. Could it be that, maybe in the next election, or the next one after that, we’ll be allowed to assess and elect a candidate based on his individual principles and merits?

All I want is someone I can vote for without dying inside. I’ll probably never get it. But if we’re moving toward an era when “pro-life” or “pro-choice” lose their magical power to summon campaign funds and principled votes, then maybe at least we’ll see who really believes in what, and why.