Songs w/ Substance #9 – Nick Lowe – “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) – Peace, Love, and Understanding?”


I was watching an episode of “The Great” the other night on Hulu—an “anti-historical” dramedy loosely based on the rise and reign of Catherine the Great of Russia.  It’s a great show.  And while sometimes I’m annoyed of what I believe to be unnecessary creative liberties in regards to the actual historical narrative, the series does tell a story that’s both fun and educational, and strikes a masterful balance between the comical and the captivating.  At the end of this particular episode, Catherine (played by Elle Fanning) is despondently staring out one of her palace windows at what looks to be a forest fire, but what viewers know is the burning of a serf village (serfs included!) that was suffering from an outbreak of smallpox.   This burning was ordered by Catherine’s despotic emperor husband, who rather than testing Catherine’s “enlightened” solution of variolation, decided to murder an entire village (classic antivaxxer behavior).  The scene concludes with Catherine’s tear-filled eyes “searching for light in the darkness of insanity” midst Sharon Van Etten’s cover of (What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding?” 

This cover by Van Etten and Queens of the Stone Age frontman, Josh Homme (I know, right?!?), was released in May of 2020 during the heart of the first COVID lockdowns.  The artists “wanted to share something universal…A feeling of home, safety, insecurities and love.  That we are all in this time together.  All of us, doing what we can to be our best—even during hard times.”  They certainly picked an apropos tune.

The original, of course, was written and performed by Nick Lowe (who makes a brief cameo in the above video), in 1974.  The song is a product of its time.  According to Lowe, the song started out as a kind of a joke—a 1970s post-mortem of the decade prior when “everyone sort of slipped out of the hippie dream and into a more cynical and more unpleasant frame of mind.”  And it’s pretty easy to picture—the jaded, used-to-be Woodstocker mockingly laughing at the naivete of his dreamer buddy still clinging to the tie-dye, flower power, and “sweet harmony” of the 1960s, as Nixon resigns and Saigon falls.  But as the song began to materialize, Lowe realized that what was “originally supposed to be a joke song” had to be something more.  That “there was a little grain of wisdom in this thing, and not to mess it up.”

The genius of the song is its simplicity.  As Lowe said, “The one clever thing I did with that song was to not mess it up in the verses by making it too complicated. I thought to myself, This is a great title. Let the title do all the work for you.  He was right.

And despite its ironic idealism, the song is also relatable and true.  We’ve all “felt like this inside.”  We’ve all felt it “slippin’ away”.  We’ve all had moments where the world or our world seems to be a place solely defined by “pain, hatred, and misery.”  But like the song, the solution is simple.  The world is a complicated place, but it’s hard to imagine a problem that is immune to the medicine of “peace, love, and understanding.”  Three things we all want.  Three things we’re all capable of.  Three things that if universally embraced, really would make this world a better place to be in for the brief moments we’re here. 

And what’s so funny about that?

Follow me on Twitter!!!

P.S. Following the example of Van Etten and Homme, here’s my own home movie set to this song featuring a compilation of videos I made over the last two weeks while stay-at-home-dad-ing and starring my beautiful daughter, Lenin.

P.P.S. I cannot conclude this blog without sharing the cover that made the song famous. Take it away, Elvis:

Education, History, Race, USA

What Critical Race Theory looks like in my Social Studies classroom

One of the last units of study in the high school U.S. History course I taught this year was the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s.  This unit functions as somewhat of a culmination of our study of the racial/racist history of the United States—a study that includes the colonization/extermination of indigenous peoples, the importation of the first black slaves, the debates over slavery at the Constitutional Convention, the growth of that institution through territorial expansion, the Civil War that abolished it, the system of Jim Crow that replaced it, and all the other ways that race and racism have manifested themselves as important historical phenomena in this country’s history. 

Our study of the Civil Rights Movement focuses predominately on the non-violent protests of those decades that lead to both concrete judicial and legislative victories as well as sweeping changes in the racial attitudes of white Americans.  However, my students and I conclude the unit by confronting a sobering reality: The Civil Rights Movement made significant progress, but it also left a lot of unfinished business. 

To illustrate this point, we read an article that enumerates the significant racial disparities that still exist today, particularly in regards to economics and education.  These disparities are not ideological inventions.  They are measurable and objective facts, and as I say to the kids, there are two ways to explain them. 

Explanation #1: The racial inequality that still exists today exists because there is something wrong with black people.  There is something about their race or their culture that prevents them from achieving educationally or economically at the same level as whites. The problem with this explanation is that it is literally racist.  It literally ascribes to black people some sort of shortcoming or inferiority that is rooted in the color of their skin.  Luckily, for those who believe in the inherent equality and potentiality of all human beings regardless of skin color—who believe that, everything else equal, black people, white people, and people of any race or color would all succeed and struggle at roughly the same rates—there is another explanation. 

Explanation #2:  The racial inequality that still exists today exists as a result of the historical and/or modern-day societal forces that produced it.  The racial disparities that exist in our country are not and have never been “natural”.  They were intentionally manufactured by a country literally founded on the idea of white supremacy—an idea that was built up and fortified over centuries through the history outlined above.  And while achievements during and since the Civil Rights Movement have dealt great blows to the system of white supremacy, we still very much live with that system’s legacy, and live with a current system that, despite many well-intentioned actors, continues to produce racist results. 

The above paragraph is a great representation of what Critical Race Theory looks like in practice—seeking to explain how structures and systems work to produce the racial inequities that have existed throughout history and that continue to exist today.  It also shines a light on the absurdity of one of the primary attacks levied against Critical Race Theory by its opponents: That it teaches white students that they are all a bunch of racists. 

In my classroom, this could not be further from the truth.  I don’t teach my white students that they are perpetrators of racism any more than I teach my students of color that they need to feel like victims.  Instead, I am trying to help all of my students understand the systemic nature of why people of color—particularly blacks—are more likely to live in poverty, to struggle in school, and to be incarcerated than people who are white.  As writer and researcher Clint Smith said:

“Critical Race Theory is not…thinking about an individual and their relationship to race or racism or their own relationship to their skin, necessarily.  It’s not concerned with what’s in their heart or their interiority.  What it is asking of us is to recognize the ways that racism has shaped what…the contemporary landscape of inequality looks like.   To understand that the reason one community looks one way and another community looks another way is not because of the people in those communities, but it is because largely of what has been done to those communities—the resources that have been given or taken away from those communities generation after generation after generation.”

In this sense, an understanding of Critical Race Theory can actually be quite liberating for the not-racist individual.  It can help not-racist cops and judges understand how they can be part of a criminal justice system that disproportionately targets black people.  It can help not-racist elected representatives and government officials understand how they can be part of a political system whose policies and legislation perpetuate racial inequities.  And it can help not-racist teachers (like me!) understand how they can be part of an educational system that continues to underserve its black students.  Critical Race Theory does not assume our complicity as individuals in any of the racist results that these systems produce.  It does, however, beg the question of what we as individuals and as a larger society should do about it. 

To answer this question, I have my students participate in a Socratic Seminar in which we discuss potential solutions.  The beliefs and attitudes shared by students run the ideological gamut, but they all start with an acknowledgement of the problem—an acknowledgement that racial disparities are a fact of history in this country, and they continue to exist today. 

And while opponents of Critical Race Theory often label it as inherently ideological or a form of indoctrination, acknowledging racial disparities is not an ideological act, no more than it is ideological to acknowledge that George Washington was our country’s first president or that World War II happened.  Acknowledging racial disparities—both historical and modern—is simply a recognition of an objective reality.  

Which is probably why I have never thought of myself as a teacher explicitly teaching Critical Race Theory.  It was part of my graduate school training, and definitely informed my philosophy in regards to the teaching of history, but it is not something I have actively or consciously considered since my official arrival to the classroom, and certainly has not been a term that I’ve used or shared with students.  That’s because to teach Critical Race Theory is simply to teach history and the role that race has played in shaping how individuals and groups have experienced this country in the past and in the present. 

I will concede that it’s not difficult for me to imagine unproductive attempts at teaching Critical Race Theory and teaching about race in general.  Not all teachers are currently equipped to tackle and teach a topic that requires so much knowledge and so much nuance.  I know I have been to plenty of social justice workshops and trainings myself that have not been done well or at times left me rolling my eyes.  But all that means is that we should continue to have conversations about how to best carry out this work, not if we should carry it out.  I also don’t think that school districts should run from the terminology.  Critical Race Theory is something that students should be learning in their Social Studies classrooms, and school districts should demonstrate both a commitment to equity and a backbone and stand by that. 

I’ve always told my students that in order to change the world, you first need to understand where that world comes from.  History gives us that understanding.  It teaches us that the world that we were born into did not fall from the sky—that the present that we inhabit is a product of the past.  This is true about every modern-day phenomenon that you can imagine, and race is no exception. 

Critical Race Theory provides students of all races with knowledge that is essential in understanding the legacy of racism that still lives and breathes in the United States today.  Critical Race Theory helps students to cultivate a true sense of patriotism that recognizes the country for both its virtues and its flaws, and sees criticism of those flaws as something that comes from a place of love that challenges the country to be better.  These are the reasons that I will continue to make Critical Race Theory an essential component of what I do in my Social Studies classroom, and I won’t apologize for doing so.  And if you’re a teacher teaching Critical Race Theory in your classroom, you shouldn’t either. 

Follow me on Twitter!!!

Animals, Minnesota, USA, World

Confessions of a Fraudulent Vegetarian

“So, what made you want to become a vegetarian?”

Anyone who’s been a vegetarian for more than a few years has certainly encountered this question countless times.  Even though the running (and sometimes true) joke about vegetarians is their perceived eagerness to preach about their ethically superior eating habits—“How do you know if someone is a vegetarian?  They’ll tell you.”—the reality for most vegetarians that I know is quite the opposite.

Many people choose to become vegetarians for highly personal reasons, and inquiries into those reasons can lead to some pretty awkward conversations, especially considering the circumstances under which questions like the one above are almost always asked.  The question of why you became a vegetarian almost always comes from people that don’t know you all that well, otherwise they’d probably already know the answer.  What is more, the question is almost always asked in a situation in which food is being served, meat is on the menu, and everyone is eating it except you.  Mix these factors together, and it’s not exactly the ideal situation for an explosive diatribe about animal rights and ethical eating, at least if you don’t want to ruin the dinner party.

My go-to response has always been that, “I watched too many documentaries”—a halfway honest reply which usually suffices to elicit a chuckle and put the topic to bed.  But for those who pry, there is more to the story.

I was in my mid-twenties, living in Minneapolis and attending grad school at the University of Minnesota.  My studies and city life in general were forcing me to really grapple with a lot of the world’s injustices for the first time, as well as my complicity in some of those injustices.  Meat-eating was one of them.  Over a number of months, it just seemed to become more and more clear to me that the vast majority of meat that is produced and consumed in the United States is the product of animal suffering, and particularly as someone who has always considered themselves to be a lover of animals, it became more and more difficult for me to justify meat-eating as part of my lifestyle.  So, on December 31st, 2012, I made the one real New Year’s resolution of my life.  A few hours before midnight on my New Year’s Eve shift at Stella’s Fish Café in Uptown, I asked the kitchen for a steak and an order of dry-rub buffalo wings with extra sauce on the side (surprisingly among the best buffalo wings in the Twin Cities).  I savored every last bite and went back to serving drinks, and after the clock struck midnight, I never ate meat again.

For two years.  On New Year’s Day of 2015, I decided to celebrate my second anniversary of vegetarianism by treating myself to a buffalo steak from Hell’s Kitchen.  It was delicious, and it made me horribly sick.  Nevertheless, what was originally supposed to be a one-time thing ended up representing a shift in how I approached vegetarianism from there on out.  I was still vegetarian on a day-to-day, week-to-week basis, but on special occasions—be it turkey on Thanksgiving or buffalo wings on my birthday—I decided to give myself some leeway.  As the months and years went by, those “occasions” slowly started to become less “special”, and instead became more random and regular.  What started as carefully planned meat-cations a few times a year turned into spontaneous carnivory a few times a month or week—rarely in the form of a full entree, but enough bites here and there to disqualify me from true vegetarian purity. 

Unlike my decision to go vegetarian, the relaxation of my self-imposed meat-eating restrictions didn’t result from any kind of philosophical shift.  Most meat consumption, to me, seemed as unethical as ever, but as much as I liked black bean burgers and Tofurky dogs, there were still some meaty dishes that couldn’t be replicated by plant-based proteins, and I wanted to occasionally be able to enjoy them.  Buffalo wings didn’t become any more moral, I just wanted to eat them more often.

A certain level of fraudulency wasn’t new to my dietary philosophy.  Even during my years of strict vegetarianism, I always felt that vegans were the true moral heroes. After all, if the goal is to reduce animal suffering, it can be hard to rationalize the consumption of eggs and dairy.  Conditions on dairy farms and in hen houses can be just as miserable as farms geared towards the production of beef and poultry.  In fact, you could make the case that some dairy is even less ethical than meat.  Chickens and cattle brought to slaughter are at least put out of their misery, whereas laying hens and dairy cows are expected to keep producing.

I’ve tried to overcome this ethical dilemma by only buying the most free-range, grass-fed, locally-produced, certified-organic eggs and dairy that the grocery store has to offer.  Still, many in the animal rights community will tell you that there is no such thing as ethical eggs or dairy considering the reality of what it takes to keep hens and cows producing, and what inevitably happens to the males of these species, as well as the females that can no longer produce.

So, why haven’t I become a vegan?  Because egg whites and whey are staples in my high-protein diet.  Because almost all baked goods contain eggs and/or milk.  Because it’s hard for me to imagine my life without ice cream and pizza.  Despite my reservations about what the production of these foods entails, the pleasure and convenience that they bring me is more than I’m willing to give up.  In short, I haven’t become a vegan because I’m selfish. 

I thought I had learned to live with the discrepancy between what I believe and how I behave.  When I set out to write this blog, I didn’t anticipate these “confessions” to lead me to any kind of moral epiphany.  But choosing to confront these truths about my dietary choices has left me feeling much like I did in grad school nearly a decade ago.  I’ve found myself Googling things like “pea protein” and “almond milk” between paragraphs and seriously considering what it might look like to eliminate milk, cheese, and eggs from my refrigerator and move closer to a more purely vegan diet.

I remember listening to a Sam Harris podcast a while back in which he was speculating about how societies of the future might look back and evaluate the societies of today.  In particular, he was considering beliefs and behaviors that are widely accepted at the moment, but that future societies might retrospectively view as massive moral failures.  Factory farming looms large as a potential candidate.  The vast majority of animal food products in the United States comes from intensive animal farming, and for anyone who is concerned about the welfare of those animals, this is hardly the way to maximize it.

That’s not to say that factory farming is the modern-day equivalent of slavery or colonialism, nor even that factory farming is the greatest moral failure that we tolerate today.  I personally believe that future societies will be most abhorred by our tolerance for such immense inequality both within and between nations, and the willingness of some (myself included) to live lives of such great comfort while so many others live lives of such enormous struggle.  Nevertheless, if you believe that farm animals are sentient beings capable of feeling and suffering, then factory farming is wrong.  It’s clearly wrong.  But society at the moment makes it pretty easy to pretend that it’s not. 

I’m still not convinced that animal farming can’t be done ethically.  Whether it’s slaughter-free dairy farms or the chickens that wander my parents’ backyard, there are plenty of examples of farming practices that seem to satisfy my expectations for the humane treatment of animals.  And while I’m still uncomfortable with killing, I think a certain level of ethicality could also be extended to some meat producing farms as well, assuming they provide their animals with happy and healthy lives up until slaughter.  This also goes for hunters who only eat wild meat that they kill themselves.

The problem of course is that these methods could never meet the demand that Americans currently have for animal food products.  Nor could they produce these products at the prices we’ve become accustomed to paying.  There’s a reason that farms have been turned into “factories”.  The whole factory model is based on maximizing the efficiency of production in order generate a large amount of product at a minimal cost.  Unfortunately for the animals involved, efficient does not mean ethical.  In fact, it usually means the opposite.

The fix for this problem is the same as its source—product demand—and it’s also where I feel that I have the most power as an individual.  Every time I spend my dollars at a grocery store or restaurant, I am in a sense casting my vote for the food system I want, and the role that animals will continue to play or not play in that system’s existence.  When I opt to buy vegan sausage patties, I am also casting a vote of dissent against the continued production of pork.  When I pay higher prices for “ethical” eggs, I am sending a message to producers that animal treatment is important to me as a consumer.  Even if I were to buy the same old factory farmed meat but just buy it less often, I’d still in a way be incrementally lowering the demand for that type of product and the insane level of slaughter that comes with it.  I once had a friend who referred to a version of this practice as “meat-minimizing”—a term that I thought had a lot of potential.  Most people in the world aren’t anywhere near ready for vegetarianism, let alone veganism, but if we could somehow facilitate a paradigm shift in which meat were to become more of a once-in-awhile luxury instead of a one/two/three times a day staple, that would save a whole lot of animals, and a whole lot of ozone layer to boot. 

And as imperfect people in an imperfect world where definitions of moral virtue can be unclear and elusive, I think this is a pretty good principle to live by, not just in deciding what we eat, but in guiding how we behave in general.  If you can live your life in a way that lowers the mean of the world’s suffering for people, for animals, and for the planet, you’re probably doing at least okay.  Certainly, you could be doing worse.

As for me, I think I’m going to become a “weekday vegan”—a term I thought I invented until I Googled it (not only that, but literally the first search result that appeared also revealed the unoriginality of what I thought was a pretty clever title…). What this means is that I will try to fill my grocery store shopping cart exclusively with foods that are animal-free, and limit my consumption of cheese, eggs, and ice cream (and occasionally meat) to restaurants and takeout on the weekends.  It’s a far cry from pure, and still flies in the face of some of my professed moral philosophies, but it is one step closer to where I’ve always thought I should be, and where I may someday summon the moral fortitude to go.  In the meantime, when I order pizza this Friday, and maybe help myself to a drumette or two from my wife’s order of buffalo wings, at least I’ll feel a little bit less like the fraud that I still undoubtedly am.     

Follow me on Twitter!!!

Economics, Minnesota, Politics, Race, USA

Marijuana Legalization: Why aren’t Republicans leading the charge?

Once again, marijuana legalization is on the agenda at the Minnesota legislature—a proposal that would end the delaying of the inevitable, and unite Minnesota with fifteen other states in giving the drug full legal status.  However, once again, Minnesota Republicans are promising to stand in the way—a feat they can accomplish thanks to their slim majority in the Senate.  But even though Republican obstruction is hardly surprising on any legislative issue at any level of government, the politics of it still don’t make sense.

On a national level, the Republican Party is a mess.  They’ve just wrapped up losing their fifth presidential election in eight contests, and if we lived in a country where we actually elected the popular vote winner, they would’ve lost two more.  Also, the way that Republicans lost in 2020 is particularly troublesome for the future of the party, with formerly reliable red states like Arizona and Georgia turning blue, and other Republican strongholds like Texas and the Carolinas not trending too far behind.  There might have been reason to believe that Republicans could regroup and regain ground in 2022 or 2024, but that seems more difficult to imagine following the events of January 6th, which exacerbated some already problematic divisions within the party.  And when you’re in a party that represents a significant but—by definition—outnumbered minority of the American public, divisions are not something you can afford.  Even though they represent the “conservative” wing of American politics, the Republican Party needs to find a way to change with the times if they want to remain relevant in future national elections.  In that sense, support for the legalization of marijuana represents an opportunity, and they wouldn’t even need to abandon their principles to take advantage of it. 

It’s hard to identify what Republican values even are following the Trumpist takeover of the party, but the GOP is supposed to be the party of limited government and individual liberty.  So, why does the Republican Party continue to support policies that allow the government to incarcerate individuals for choices they make about what to put in their bodies?  Why shouldn’t people be given the freedom to legally purchase and consume a substance that by almost all measures is less dangerous than alcohol and more healthy than McDonald’s?  And as supporters of free markets and entrepreneurship, why wouldn’t Minnesota Republicans support the legalization of an industry that in five years could generate over a billion dollars in sales, 20,000 jobs, and 300 million dollars in tax revenue?  The creation of a legal market would by definition reduce criminal activity—a perpetual concern of Republican politicians—and they could even paint the revenue as the product of a stoner sin tax that they could use to address other Republican priorities like paying down the deficit and giving tax breaks to millionaires. 

Marijuana legalization would also give Republicans an opportunity to finally be on the right side of an issue in regards to racial justice.  Racism is the main reason that marijuana was criminalized in the first place, and that racist legacy lives on today.  Despite roughly equal usage rates between black and white Americans, black Americans are over three times more likely to be arrested on marijuana related charges, and in Minnesota, that disparity is almost double.  Morality and justice aside, the issue presents a great political opportunity for Republicans to appeal to voters of color.  Shifting demographics means that this country gets more black and brown every day, and if Republicans continue to insist on being the party of white supremacist nostalgia, they have no future in what is destined to be a majority-minority country in the next few decades

To be sure, even if the Republican Party performed an about face and threw its full weight behind state and national legalization efforts in the name of individual liberty and racial justice, Republican candidates would still struggle to earn my vote.  I may have an intellectual respect for libertarian and laissez faire attitudes, but I don’t subscribe to them.  What is more, I don’t smoke weed.  I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve used marijuana in the last half decade, and half of those times were random joints passed my way during live concerts at crowded music venues, and those don’ t even exist anymore (#COVID-19).  But even though this issue does not affect me directly, it’s clearly an issue that is moving in one direction, and moving that way for good reason.    

I guess what I want more than anything is just a competent second party.  In general, while Democrats have been far more supportive of legalization efforts than Republicans, they have hardly been advocates.  That’s because, politically speaking, there is no need to be.  When the other party is always the party of “no”, there’s no need to be anything other than the party of “maybe”. When the other party is the party of dog whistles, conspiracy theories, and science denialism, there’s no reason to be anything other than the party of anti-racism, truth, and facts—all things that are good to be, but also things that represent a rather low bar for what we should expect from our political parties in the 21st century. 

Aside from being a failing party itself, the other big failure of the Republican Party is its inability to challenge its rivals to be better.  They’re always the party of regress rather than progress, always the party of yesterday rather than tomorrow, and for that reason, the Democratic Party needs to project nothing more than the most minimal competence to maintain its superior status in a two-party system where the other party is so backwards and unreasonable.  The issue of marijuana legalization is an opportunity for Republicans to begin changing that narrative.  But they won’t.  And we’ll all be worse off for it.    

Follow me on Twitter!!!

Politics, USA

Make America Democratic Again – Why Democrats should make democracy their #1 priority

The U.S. is not a pure democracy.  This isn’t Ancient Athens.  We the people don’t take a bus down to D.C. every time a piece of legislation needs an up-or-down vote.  Our representatives do that for us.  That’s what makes us a republic. 

In a republic, democracy has its limits.  Unlike a pure democracy, republics don’t make decisions purely by majority rule.  As James Madison argued in Federalist Paper #10, a system in which the majority always wins means that people of minority groups or opinions—no matter how wise or just their cause—will always be vulnerable to the prejudices of an “unjust and interested majority.”  For this reason, our government employs various measures for the protection of minority rights—like requiring supermajorities for constitutional amendments, or the fact that all legislative decisions are made by a small group of 535 legislators “whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of the country.” 

Also, unlike a pure democracy, our system of federalism ensures protections for the rights of states, particularly by preserving a level of representative equality between states regardless of their population.  This is best reflected in the structure of the Senate, which unlike the House, does not consider population when allocating representation, helping to head off some of the dominance experienced by smaller states at the hands of larger ones.  This also carries over to our Electoral College, and helps to explain how a small state like Wyoming with only 3 electoral votes (1 vote per ≈ 192,920 people) actually has greater proportional representation than a large state like California with 55 (1 vote per ≈ 718,404 people).  

I don’t want a pure democracy.  In a republic, democracy is a question of degree, and for the most part, I think our system has appropriate checks on many of the most harmful impulses of democratic government.  However, I also believe that our republic isn’t democratic enough.  It’s never been democratic enough.  We have never lived in a country where the true voice of the people—ALL the people—has been adequately reflected in our elected leaders.  Which is why I think that with their newfound power, the big-D Democrats in Congress and the White House should make it their most important priority to inject more small-d democracy into our democratic republic.  

For many, this project starts with the Electoral College.  Democratic candidates have won the popular vote in five of the six presidential elections that have taken place this century, but have only won the presidency in three of those elections.  That’s a problem, and if not for less than 50,000 combined votes in the states of Arizona, Wisconsin, and Georgia, it would have happened again in 2020, despite the fact that even in that scenario, Joe Biden would have still won the popular vote by over 7 million.

I wouldn’t protest against the abolition of the Electoral College, but when it comes to potential democratic reforms, it’s not at the top of my list.  One reason for that is I’m not entirely opposed on principle to an electoral system that values some equality between the states.  After all, as a Minnesotan, I actually live in one of the states whose voice is slightly augmented as a result of that system.  Another reason is that due to its need for a constitutional amendment in which ratification requires approval from ¾ of the states, the abolition of the Electoral College seems pretty unlikely.

Instead, what seems more possible is not abolishing the Electoral College, but adjusting the way we use it.  For example, the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact is an agreement that already exists between a significant number of states to reward their electoral votes to the national popular vote winner, no matter who wins the vote within those individual states.  If enough states were to sign on to this compact—more than 270 electoral votes worth—it would effectively eliminate the ability of the Electoral College to award the presidency to the popular vote loser. 

Another solution that is probably less practical but to me more appealing is replacing the winner-take-all system of the Electoral College for one that allocates electoral votes proportionately.  This means that rather than all of the electoral votes being allocated to the popular vote winner within a given state, the electoral votes would instead be allocated based on the proportion of the vote that each candidate received.  Rather than being the swing states that decided the presidential election, Arizona, Wisconsin, and Georgia would have split their electoral votes equally between the two candidates (6-5 in Arizona since it has an odd number).  Donald Trump would have won electoral votes in New York, Joe Biden would have won electoral votes in Mississippi, and in states with the largest number of electors like Texas and California, it’s possible that even Libertarian candidate Jo Jorgenson could have picked up an electoral vote or two.  This system would not eliminate the possibility of the popular vote winner being the Electoral College loser, but it does seem that it would make it less likely, particularly in situations like our two most recent presidential elections in which the Democratic margin of victory was in the millions. 

But regardless of what happens with the Electoral College, there are other more practical and principled measures that Democrats should be pursuing to enhance and protect democratic participation, and that starts with making sure that all people are represented. 

In 2016, D.C. voters overwhelmingly approved the measure to turn Washington D.C. into the state of New Columbia, and there is literally no good reason not to grant them that wish.  There are plenty of bullshit reasons that Republicans will certainly espouse should this debate be revisited in Congress, but at the end of the day, the only reason that Republicans don’t want D.C. to become a state is because it will result in three relatively safe Democratic seats in Congress (one in the House, and more importantly, two in the Senate).

But politics aside, granting statehood to D.C. is the democratic thing for a democratic republic to do.  This country was founded on the idea of “no taxation without representation”, a principle not reflected in D.C.’s current arrangement, as their license plates will happily remind you.  What is more, D.C. has a higher population than both Wyoming and Vermont, and in spite of its absurdly high median income, also has one of the highest poverty rates in the country, which uncoincidentally corresponds with the fact that its population is nearly 50% black.  I don’t know about you, but if there’s anyone to whom I do feel comfortable denying congressional representation, it’s not poor people from a historically marginalized group.

The situation with Puerto Rican statehood is a bit murkier. While Puerto Rico doesn’t suffer from the same constitutional hang-ups (also bullshit) that D.C. does, I personally would not feel comfortable pushing for Puerto Rican statehood without more democratic input from the people of Puerto Rico.  Puerto Ricans already voted to approve statehood in a 2020 referendum, but participation was extremely low (only 23%), and there’s reason to believe that was due in part to the fact that what Puerto Ricans really want is not statehood, but independence.  Either way, democratic self-determination is the solution, and if it were to become clear that Congress would act on the results of a free and fair election to determine Puerto Rico’s political future, perhaps Puerto Ricans would show up at their polling places to make that decision once and for all.  

Some say that focusing on statehood for D.C. and Puerto Rico is a waste of legislative energy, as Senate Republicans would almost certainly use another tool of the minority—the filibuster—to block any action seeking to add another star to the flag.  However, there is an interesting argument that because statehood is not really a legislative matter, the filibuster should not apply.  Ironically, it would be the Republicans themselves who opened this can of worms when they changed the filibuster rules a few years back to push through Trump’s judicial appointments.  Either way Democrats should push the conversation in Congress, because even if Republicans are successful in their endeavors to deny representation to unrepresented Americans, they’re going to look terrible doing it. 

Lastly, in addition to working to extend representation to those who don’t currently have it, it is equally important for Democrats to secure the rights of those who do, particularly their right to choose who represents them.  Voter suppression in this country is as old as the vote itself.  The methods have changed, but the targets—predominately poor people of color—have remained the same.  Literacy tests, grandfather clauses, and poll taxes have been replaced with things like registration restrictions, voter purges, and felony disenfranchisement—all written in race-neutral language, but all with the same effect (and in many cases intent) of preventing some of the nation’s most marginalized people from being able to vote to change the system that marginalizes them. 

Legislation already exists to address these issues.  The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act proposes a replacement for the recently expired Voting Rights Act of 1965, and would force state and local jurisdictions with a history of voting rights violations to seek federal approval for any changes to their voting requirements, particularly if those requirements would effectively result in racial discrimination.  The For the People Act is another example of ready-made legislation geared towards combating some of the modern-day voter suppression tactics mentioned above, and facilitating elections that are fair, equitable, and accessible for all

It is undeniable that when it comes to winning elections and controlling our government, the reforms mentioned above would tip the scales dramatically in favor of the Democratic Party.  Altering or abolishing the Electoral College would eliminate a significant Republican advantage, statehood to D.C. or Puerto would add reliable Democratic seats in both houses of Congress, and protecting or encouraging the vote of the historically disenfranchised would inevitably mean more voters voting for Democratic candidates.  But the reason to do these reforms is not to help the Democratic Party.  The reason to do them is democracy. 

When we look back on significant reforms that extended democratic participation to more people, we don’t mourn the partisan casualties.  We don’t feel sorry for racist politicians after the Civil War who struggled to win support from newly enfranchised black voters, or candidates that lost elections after the ratification of the 19th amendment because they failed to win the votes of enough women.  We celebrate these reforms for the people they empowered.  We celebrate these reforms because they made our republic more democratic.

It won’t be possible to separate these reform attempts from the partisan politics of the day.  Republicans will certainly frame this as a Democratic power-grab, and technically, they won’t be wrong.  But if the Republicans can only win the White House through an Electoral College system that denies victory to the popular vote winner, perhaps they don’t deserve the presidency.  If Republicans can only be competitive for Congressional control through denial of representation, partisan gerrymandering, and modern-day voter suppression tactics, then perhaps Republicans shouldn’t control Congress.  And if securing democratic participation for more people makes it more difficult for Republicans to win elections, perhaps they should consider why their policies struggle to attract the young, the poor, and people of color.  Rather than whining about another partisan power-grab from “radical” Democrats, perhaps Republicans should take a long look in the mirror, and instead figure out a way to win elections in a country that actually takes small-d democracy seriously.    

Follow me on Twitter!!!

Politics, USA

The Insurrection & the Outlook for a Post-Trump America

If there was a silver lining that I hoped would result from last Wednesday’s insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, it was that FINALLY Congressional Republicans would begin the long overdue process of divorcing themselves from Donald Trump.  It wouldn’t even be a display of courage so much as one of self-preservation.  I mean, the guy already lost them the White House, cost them the Senate, and nearly got the Vice President lynched by a mob that he incited. 

Unfortunately, just like every other time I’ve mustered that hope over the last four years, Republicans have once again confounded me with their befuddling loyalty to a man whose only loyalty is to himself.  Only hours after an insurrection of which they were the targets, over 140 Congressional Republicans still objected to the certification of the Electoral College vote in various states, perpetuating the very lie that had them hiding under their desks in fear earlier that day.  And while Wednesday’s impeachment was the most bipartisan in history with ten Republicans “courageously” voting to impeach a president from their own party, it wasn’t nearly as bipartisan as it should have been. 

The Republican Party sticking with Donald Trump after the insurrection feels like sticking with the Titanic as the last lifeboat is lowered from the deck.  There is clearly no future for a Trump-led Republican Party, but Republican politicians also know that there might not be a future for them either if their Trump-crazy constituents catch them being too critical of their hero.  This also highlights the sad reality that no matter how many Republican leaders in Congress decide to suddenly grow a backbone or a set of principles, the challenge facing both the Republican Party and the nation at large will remain the same—no matter what happens to Donald Trump, a substantial minority of the country will remain committed to him and the warped worldview he helped to cultivate. 

Different people have different reasons for remaining loyal to Trump.  Some are just pure believers in Trump-spun conspiracy theories.  They truly believe that this election was “stolen”, and thanks to years of Trump’s “fake news” campaign against journalists and facts in general, they cannot be shown any evidence that will convince them otherwise.  In their minds, it was not the insurrection that threatened the foundations of American democracy, but the constitutional process of certifying a presidential election that their guy lost.  This is the kind of upside-down thinking that helps to explain how thousands of people can believe that they are committing an act of patriotism by committing an act of treason. 

Others feel that the insurrection was no different or worse than the “leftist” riots that took place over the summer, but that’s a dumb comparison for a lot of reasons.  Violence and destruction should always be condemned, but motives matter, and the very real racial injustice that motivated last summer’s unrest is different than the made-up story about a stolen election that motivated last week’s insurrection.  Also, there’s a distinction worth making between the looting of a Lake Street Target and the armed seizure of the U.S.-fucking-Capitol.  Both are bad, one is worse.   

Others are convinced that all Democrats are “radical socialists” hellbent on creating a police-less police state void of civil liberties and high school sports.  For them, the incoming Biden administration and extreme leftists that control him pose a far greater threat to the country than any right-wing militia.

And this is where they need to be proven wrong.

This train-wreck end to the Trump presidency has left Democrats with a pretty tremendous opportunity.  With control of the White House and both houses of Congress, Democrats have the ability to do something that Donald Trump refused to do for four years—govern, preferably in a way that will help to win some of these people back.

Even though the calls for “healing” and “unity” from Republicans during the impeachment vote were laughably disingenuous, they are right that once Biden is inaugurated, he must make good on his promise to bring Americans together.  Impeachment was necessary, but if the first order of business of the Democrat-controlled Congress is launching an investigation into the illegal activities of the Trump family, I’ll be extremely disappointed.  That’s not to say that Trump and his people should not be held accountable for any crimes they may have committed.  I’m sure there are courts and committees to carry out those types of investigations.  But to make this the centerpiece of the Democratic agenda would only breathe new life into the spirit of a presidency that the American people desperately need to put behind them. 

Instead, Biden and Congressional Democrats need to show that they are the purveyors of policies that make people’s lives better.  They need to show what it looks like to have a government that actually takes the pandemic seriously, listens to medical experts, and can prioritize both saving lives and ensuring people’s and business’s economic well-being.  They need to show how the fight against racial injustice is a fight that benefits all Americans, and how things like progressive taxes, higher minimum wages, and expanded public healthcare options benefit many of the white working-class voters who left the party for Trump.  They might think they hate socialism now, but they’ll find it a lot less terrifying if it increases their paychecks and reduces their medical bills.

Republicans have an important role here, too, because while a Republican Party in disarray might be good for the fortunes of Democratic politicians, it is not good for the country.  We need brave conservative leaders to step up and forge a new Republican Party for the post-Trump era.  A party that is committed to intellectually defensible conservative values like free markets, state’s rights, and fiscal responsibility.  A party that doesn’t use racist or xenophobic dog-whistles in order to earn votes, and instead seeks to build an inclusive platform more attractive to an increasingly diverse electorate.  A party that actually challenges Democrats to be better as opposed to just less bad. 

Even as I write this, it all kind of sounds like a pipedream.  The reality is that the Democratic majority in Congress is slim, and significant reform on many of the issues I mentioned is not super likely.  What is more, a significant rebuild of the Republican Party will take more than a few years, and many of this current collection of Congressional Republicans have already demonstrated their unwillingness to stand up for the good of their party, the good of their country, or just good in general.  I also fear that no matter how much “unity” the country is able to foster over the weeks and months ahead, right wing extremism will continue to be a threat to the health and safety of this country and its citizens well-into the future. 

But to end on a positive note—no matter what challenges the future might hold, I believe there is reason to be hopeful. This has been an ugly end to an ugly four years, but last week I believe that we finally hit rock bottom, and when you hit rock bottom, there’s nowhere to go but up. The Trump presidency is coming to an end, and the vaccine distribution is underway. The days are getting longer in Minnesota, and the weather will soon be getting warmer. 2021 thus far feels a lot like 2020, but the year is young, and I’m optimistic that it won’t end that way.  That doesn’t mean it will be a great year, and that the year won’t have its low points and its setbacks. But if Democrats can be competent, and Republicans can be decent, and the American people can gain a reminder and an appreciation for what competence and decency look like, even that would be something worth celebrating.  Even if 2021 doesn’t end with McConnell and Pelosi mask-less and holding hands commemorating a record year for bipartisan legislation, it could at least be the year in which we rebounded from a historically bad pandemic and a historically bad presidency, and made some solid progress on our shared endeavor to…sigh…make America great again.

 Follow me on Twitter!!!


The Top 15 Christmas (& anti-Christmas) songs that you’ve never heard of

Looking for some new tunes to spice up your Xmas playlist?  You’ve come to the right place.  While I like the holiday classics as much as the next guy, part of my Christmas tradition is also to blast some songs that don’t traditionally get played at a lot of Christmas gatherings.  Despite their sometimes questionable content, these songs are no less qualified as Christmas music than Die Hard is as a Christmas movie (Full disclosure: I just saw Die Hard for the first time last weekend, but I can nevertheless confirm, it’s a frickin’ Christmas movie #BruceWillis4Santa). 

What follows is a list of some of my personal favorites of lesser-known Christmas (& anti-Christmas) songs that can perhaps provide a soundtrack to your upcoming holiday festivities. And with a week-and-change to go until the big day, there’s still plenty of time to learn the lyrics and impress all your friends and family at your holiday gath…I mean, Google Meet! #COVIDChristmas


Honorable Mention: Tom Waits – “Christmas Card From A Hooker In Minneapolis”

The title of this tune provides a bit of foreshadowing for the style of songs that you can expect to find on this list—songs about festive, holiday things like a hooker sending an ex-client a Christmas card to notify him of his impending paternity.  But, hey, at least you know this list will be objective.  The song is set in Minneapolis, and it didn’t even crack my top 15! #ObjectiveAnalysis #NotAHomer

Honorable Mention: Billy Squire – “Christmas Is The Time To Say I Love You”

A song full of holiday cheer that provides the unsolicited response to the rhetorical question, “Who says Christmas songs can’t rock?”  Side note: I once saw Billy Squire perform live as part of Ringo Starr’s All Starr Band, and I rocked out so hard that I made the Star Tribune concert review.  I am the air guitar player in the front row!!! #TrueStory

Honorable Mention: Spinal Tap – “Christmas With The Devil”

Leather-laden elves, rancid sugar plums, and flaming stockings?!?!  Christmas with the devil sounds frickin’ sick!  Like, literally, if you eat those sugar plums…And no invitation necessary!  Your ticket is your SOUL!!!

Honorable Mention: The Handsome Family – “So Much Wine”

Read my past write-up here!!!


15. Fountains of Wayne – “I Want An Alien For Christmas”

It’s a song about a kid that wants an alien for Christmas.  What more do I need to say?

14. The Band – “Christmas Must Be Tonight”

For those of you that insist on putting the “Christ” in Christmas, this is the best I can do for you.  I’m more of an Xmas guy myself, but it’s the frickin’ Band.  Only they could make the three wise men cool. 

13. Matt Costa – “I Bet On Flying High”

This song would be “high”er on my list if Matt Costa sang about drinking something other than martinis.  How about a gin and tonic or a mezcal margarita?  Or anything that comes in a real glass?  Whatever.  As long as we’re getting wasted, I guess I’m down. 

12. blink-182 – “I Won’t Be Home For Christmas”

This song is me summoning my seventh-grade self (#DudeRanch #WhatsMyAgeAgain?).  I actually love most of my relatives, so I can’t relate to the lyrics all that much, but I’m a sucker for immaturity.  And for those of you for whom this song isn’t immature enough (I know you’re out there), allow me to recommend another blink-182 holiday hit, “Happy Holidays, You Bastard”.  

11. Adam Sandler – “The Chanukah Song”

If you don’t want this song on your Christmas playlist, it’s probably because you’re one of those xenophobes that gets pissed off when someone wishes you a “Happy Holiday” rather than a “Merry Christmas”.  If you haven’t figured it out yet, this list isn’t for you.  I hope you have a terrible “holiday” (purposely trolling), and that your Bing Crosby record gets scratched to shit. 

(HOWEVER!  If the reason you don’t want this song on your Christmas playlist is because you’re a former Seattle Supersonics fan and any reference to that team gives you PTSD, then that’s totally fair.)

10. She & Him – “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”

Sometimes the best deep cut Christmas songs are lesser-known covers of certified holiday classics.  “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” has received some fair albeit overblown heat in recent years for its creepy/rapey undertones, but some modern remakes have offered a different spin that could help this catchy tune maintain its popularity in a culture that’s passed it by.  My personal favorite is the She & Him version in which the girl plays the creeper, but for those who can’t stomach these lyrics no matter who’s singing them, allow me to recommend the Lydia Liza and Josiah Lemanski version which hilariously turns rape culture on its head.

9. Tom Petty – “Christmas All Over Again”

What’s that you say?  You’ve already heard of this song, and therefore do not believe that it belongs on a list of Christmas songs you’ve never heard of?  Well, get bent.  I love Tom Petty and I will put him on any goddamn list I want. 

By the way, if your Christmas playlist doesn’t have every single song from the Home Alone 2 soundtrack—including and especially the theme music—then it’s not a real Christmas playlist.  #JustSayin

8. John Prine – “Christmas In Prison”  

Also a suggestion for your “RIP 2020” playlist, and any playlist that you make for any reason ever.  John Prine is the frickin’ man.  Of the 300,000+ lives that COVID-19 has claimed thus far this year in the U.S. alone, there’s no doubt as to who was the best songwriter.  “Christmas In Prison” is my personal favorite, but “Everything Is Cool” and “Silent Night All Day Long” should make your holiday playlist, too.  It’s Christmas at my house, there’ll be John Prine tonight, your songs are forever, I’ll miss you, goodbye. 

7. Steve Earle – “Christmas In Washington”

Steve Earle had a rough 2020, as well, losing his son Justin Townes Earle to causes you’re probably well aware of it you’ve ever listened to more than a few Justin Townes Earle songs.  But this politically charged Xmas anthem is a great example of why Steve Earle is one half of one of the most underappreciated father-son duos in rock-n-roll history.  The lyrics can cater to the politically disaffected of various ideological leanings, but with references to historical figures like Woody Guthrie, Joe Hill, and Malcolm X, the song is primarily directed at socialist sympathizers like myself.  But if you think that means you can’t play this song at holiday gatherings full of your conservative family members, fear not…It’s a country song! Plus, I’m confident that your MAGA hat wearing uncle will have no idea who Emma Goldman is.

6. Weird Al – “The Night Santa Went Crazy”

I go back and forth on Weird Al. Sometimes I think his songs are too dumb. Other times I think his songs are not dumb enough. But in “The Night Santa Went Crazy”, Weird Al gets the dumbness recipe just right, and that recipe includes reindeer sausage.  The holidays are all about bringing joy, and there is nothing on my Christmas playlist that brings me more joy than the idea of a drunk and disgruntled St. Nicholas terrorizing the North Pole with an assortment of military grade weapons. In spite of the bloodbath that ensues, the story does have a happy ending. The elves get new jobs, Vixen’s therapy seems to be going well, and psycho Santa has been sent to prison (unless, of course, you’re listening to the “extra gory version”).

5. OutKast – “Player’s Ball”

Even though I’m more of a rock-n-roll guy, I wanted to include at least one rap song on this list, and it also happens to be a song that put one of the most legendary duos in hip hop on the map. OutKast’s “Player’s Ball” doesn’t sound like any Christmas celebration that I’ve ever been a part of, but I can think of worse ways to spend a holiday than rolling around Atlanta in some gangsta-ass rides.  And while there may not be any chimneys in the ghetto on which to hang your stockings, there’s apparently no shortage of smoke.  #WhenInRome

Post script: If you’re looking for a hip hop flavor that’s a little more family friendly, give a listen to these classics by some of the genre’s pioneers:

4. Kacey Musgrave & Willie Nelson – “A Willie Nice Christmas”

How about a great American songwriter who didn’t die this year? At the ripe age of 87, Willie Nelson is still cranking out the hits, including this tropical Christmas carol recorded with Kacey Musgrave in 2016.  For those of you who have found my list thus far to be entertaining but distasteful, this song might be an exception. The Mariah Carey formula suggests that it might not be possible to create an immediate Christmas classic, but a few decades down the road, it would not surprise me in the slightest for this inclusive tune to receive some regular radio play on the KOOL 108 of the future (#LocalRadioReference, #Homer). Maybe Willie will still even be around to witness it.

3. The Killers – “Don’t Shoot Me Santa”

Back to the distasteful. It’s hard to imagine a Christmas song more quintessentially American than one that so seamlessly intertwines our national love affair with both Santa Claus and gun violence. This is not a repeat of the cartoonish massacre depicted by Weird Al, but instead a much more (unfortunately) believable narrative of a young victim of bullying who has reached his breaking point and decided to seek revenge on his antagonists. But in spite of his attempts to justify his violent behavior, the actions of this tortured soul have also landed him on Santa’s naughty/hit list, hence the title of the song. Weird Al is silly. The Killers are art.

2. Rockford Mules – “Merry Christmas South Dakota”

This song hits deep. There’s a big part of me that wanted to put it at #1, but I’ve begrudgingly accepted it as the runner-up. I know very little about the Rockford Mules (I mean, they don’t even have a Wikipedia page), other than the fact that they’re from Minneapolis (#DefinitelyAHomer), and that they wrote one of the most sadly relatable and sentimentally powerful Christmas songs of all time. Everybody has lost somebody, and as much as we love being around our loved ones during the holiday season, we also feel the absence of those who are missing. A good Christmas playlist should reflect the spirit of the holiday. It should be celebratory, cheerful, and fun.  But it’s important and therapeutic to create moments to honor that longing for those no longer with us. “Merry Christmas South Dakota” gives us that space. It’s four-and-a-half minutes of soulful, southern rock in which we can wish a “rest in peace” to those passed on, and pray a silent night for all of us still here. We wish you were here, too.

  1. The Kinks – “Father Christmas”

This song always makes me think of the scorching criticism I’ve received over the years from friends and family regarding the decision I’ve made not to subject my own kids to the charade that is Santa Claus (if you’re reading an air of superiority into the way that I wrote that previous sentence, then you can probably empathize with their hostility). “How can you be so selfish and cruel,” they say, “robbing your children of the magic of Christmas just to give some comfort to your own unbearable ego?!” (#FairPoint) My defense is always something to tune of the billions of children and families around the world who don’t even celebrate Christmas (cause they’re not Christians), let alone get a visit from Santa, and they seem to be doing just fine (cue *eye roll*). Also, even for many Christians that do celebrate Christmas, Santa might not visit their households if they live in a poor neighborhood (cue *even bigger eye roll*). And while by this point in the conversation my adversary is too annoyed with me to even continue, I take solace in knowing that the Kinks have my back.

“Father Christmas” is a reminder that there are a lot of boys and girls in the world who “Santa” will not visit this year. What is more, it’s a reminder that if Santa were to visit those households, toys would not be the first thing on their Christmas lists. They would want money for their impoverished families. They would want a stable job for their daddy, whose got a lot of mouths to feed.

But aside from allowing me to preach from my anti-Santa soapbox, the main reason that “Father Christmas” takes the place of top song on this list—other than the fact that it frickin’ rocks—is its ability to speak to the true meaning of the holiday (at least for the secular), that being the spirit of giving.

There are plenty of reasons to criticize the commercialization of Christmas (and I’m confident that I could do it with the utmost condescension), but underneath the exchange of those gift-wrapped material goods lies an earnest desire to make others happy.  No one should have to apologize for having the economic means to earn a visit from Santa that puts a smile on the faces of their children. Even a Scrooge like me can admit that opening presents on Christmas morning created some of the fondest memories of my childhood.  But in the spirit of “Father Christmas”, what if those gifts also carried with them something for the families so often forgotten? What if every toy gifted to our children was paired with a donation to a charity for the boys and girls of the world who aren’t quite so fortunate? What a great lesson to teach to our kids. What if every Amazon Prime purchase for an adult family member or friend was accompanied by a contribution to their favorite nonprofit? What a great way to fulfill the spirit of giving for those people on Earth who are truly in need. 

I don’t think that the Kinks intended “Father Christmas” to be read into as a serious song, particularly with the pretentiousness that I’m employing here. The song is fun, funny, and ironically festive. However, the sad truth remains that there are many children/families who won’t have what they want or need this holiday season, unless some kind of “Santa” steps in. What a better holiday it would be if we could all use the Kinks as an inspiration to be somebody’s “Father Christmas”.  But remember, if you’re going to donate this holiday season, don’t mess around with those silly toys. That’s not what the poor kids need most. Instead, give ‘em some money. Or they’ll beat you up. #MerryChristmas

Click here to access my ever-evolving Xmas playlist in its entirety

Follow me on Twitter!!!

Politics, USA

A Guide to the Rigged Election

What follows, as best as I can imagine, is a list of the beliefs that a person would need to hold in order to believe that the 2020 presidential election was rigged by Democrats in order to produce a Biden victory:

  • First, I suppose you’d need to believe that a majority of the American electorate truly supports Donald Trump.  I guess it wouldn’t need to be a majority.  It wasn’t in 2016.  But nevertheless, you’d need to believe that support for the president is significantly greater than what the reported election results currently suggest.
  • This would mean that you’d need to believe that the polls were wrong.  Which they were.  Once again, the polls seem to have dramatically miscalculated Donald Trump’s popularity.  So, I suppose you’d need to believe that the Democrats successfully rigged the polls, too, but then failed to rig the election results in a way that would reflect the fake polls that they created.
  • What is more, while successfully rigging the presidential election, you’d need to believe that Democrats were for some reason not as successful at rigging important races for the House and Senate, which would’ve actually allowed Biden to carry out his presidential agenda.  You’d also need to believe this in spite of the fact that those Congressional elections, in theory, should’ve been easier to rig.
  • Or, perhaps you believe that Democrats purposefully allowed Republicans to pick up seats in Congress to throw people off the scent of their rigging of the presidency.  Quite the sophisticated plan.
  • But also, the plan couldn’t have been that sophisticated, as Democrats also forgot to tell their ballot-filler-inners not to fill in their fake ballots on camera, and to tell their late-night-illegal-ballot-truck-drivers not to deliver all 130,000 illegal ballots at the same time!  Maybe somebody else was in charge of that part of the plan.
  • But again, there must have been some level of sophistication to organize all that rigging in states that literally have thousands of polling places that employ tens-of-thousands of election judges.  As well as to coordinate the rigging effort between states since there is no one swing state that could flip the electoral college back in Trump’s favor.
  • Perhaps you believe that coordination took place amongst the “Blue Wall” states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, considering their proximity to one another.  These states would’ve given Trump the presidency, and he only lost them by about 200,000 combined votes, which really isn’t that many.
  • But this might be difficult to reconcile with the fact that you didn’t have similar concerns when Trump won these states back in 2016 by only 77,000 votes—states which are historically difficult to win for Republican candidates, hence the name “Blue Wall”.
  • Of course, your focus is on Pennsylvania, which would’ve been impossible for Joe Biden to win (even though that’s the state of his birth) if not for the cheating of the Democrat-controlled city of Philadelphia.
  • This is because you believe that for some reason only Democrats are capable of cheating, even though the Republican Party has spent decades trying to make it more difficult for Americans to vote (it’s not cheating if you make the rules).
  • But you also must believe that a significant number of Republicans are in on the rigging, too, especially in Republican-controlled states like Georgia and Arizona. 
  • And don’t forget Fox News!  They were the first ones to call Arizona for Biden!
  • Or maybe you’re just against mail-in voting, or question the legitimacy of states counting ballots received after election day, even if those ballots were postmarked by election day.
  • But this would also complicate your belief that the majority of the country is actually for Trump, since it would basically mean that your guy’s election victory would depend on depriving countless Americans of what, according to the rules at the time, were supposed to be legally cast ballots.
  • But what everyone seems to agree on is that Trump has a right to bring evidence of election irregularities to the courts—a fairly normal procedure in the aftermath of a close election.
  • But if the judges were to rule against him, that would mean they must also be in on the rigging, despite the fact that one of the most important accomplishments of Trump’s presidency was his record-setting appointments of conservative judges to the federal judiciary.

This, to me, seems to be at minimum what a person would need to believe in order to believe that the 2020 presidential election was rigged by Democrats to produce a Biden victory.  That and that most of our political and journalistic institutions at a local, state, and national level are so thoroughly corrupted that, no matter who’s president, our democracy is beyond saving. 

The only other alternative is to believe that Donald Trump—one of the most controversial and divisive presidents in history—narrowly lost a democratic election, fair and square, to a Democratic candidate who was slightly better than the Democratic candidate that Trump narrowly defeated four years ago, fair and square.  And that, obviously, sounds impossible.

Follow me on Twitter!!!

Politics, USA

Election 2020: Reacting to the Results

Let’s start with the most important thing—Trump lost.  They may not have officially called it yet at the time of this post, but they will.  And that’s huge.  For many voters, that was their #1 issue.  Certainly, that was the #1 issue for me.  I have friends who said the Senate was more important.  I disagree.  Trump’s presidency was too toxic and too dangerous, and I’m so relieved that it’s soon to be over.

But I’m also disappointed.  Not because I thought this was going to be the second coming of the Blue Wave.  I was skeptical about Florida, doubtful about Iowa and Ohio, and never really believed that Democrats were poised to flip Texas this time around.  But I did expect Florida to be closer, and I didn’t expect Michigan and Wisconsin to be close.  I may not have expected a Biden landslide, but I did expect a more definitive Biden win. 

I expected that because of the polls, which once again, proved to be garbage.  And I don’t want to hear about “margins of error” or how even an 89% probability of a Biden win—as projected by 538—leaves an 11% chance for a Trump victory that didn’t even happen anyway so technically the polls were right!  Wrong.  Just like in 2016, the polls grossly misled Americans on what we were to expect from the 2020 election, and in doing so, again helped to validate the misleading narrative propagated by Trump that otherwise credible journalistic institutions are purveyors of “fake news” and not to be trusted.  I should also add that I have no idea what’s wrong with the polls or how to fix them.  But it’s not my job to know that.  It’s the pollsters’ job, and their bad at it. 

Like many Americans watching on election night, I began to feel that this was 2016 all over again—hope flaring up and then slowly burning out in swing state after swing state as polls closed across the country.  Safe to say that when I passed out drunk and despondent on my couch a little before midnight, I was terrified that I would awake to four more years of Trump’s America.

In hindsight, I should have been more patient.  After all, I can’t even count the number of times in the weeks leading up to the election that I was told that we probably wouldn’t have a clear winner on election night, and that those early results might be skewed towards Trump due to the politics around mail-in voting.  But when you combine the terrible polling, my 2016 PTSD, and the fact that I’ve been anxiously anticipating this election for a few days short of four years, it was kind of hard to be chill.

So, while Biden’s next-day emergence did eliminate the realization of my worst nightmare, a significant part of me is still really disappointed with what are now mostly the final results.  Here’s why:

Donald Trump may have been defeated, but Trumpism was not.  My hopefulness that this election would result in a resounding rejection of the toxic ideology of which Trump is both a cause and a symptom, proved to be overly-optimistic.  Barring a sudden surge of integrity from the Republican Party, Trumpism is probably here to stay, if not as the dominant ideology of the modern American right, certainly as a powerful and influential strand.

The razor-thin margins in so many states also enabled Trump to carry out what is potentially the most destructive outcome of this election—the further subversion of public faith in our democratic institutions.  Trump’s Thursday night press conference was despicable, but it was hardly surprising.  He’s been transparently laying the groundwork of this ploy for months, calling into question the validity of mail-in voting, particularly in the “Democrat-run” cities that would predictably turn out against him.  He is now seeking to reap the benefits of his own propaganda, and unfortunately, his supporters are buying into it, and establishment Republicans are shamefully going along with it.  A sad irony from a man who kicked off his presidency under the slogan “American First”, and is now selfishly doing everything in his power to leave the country cripplingly divided in his wake.

It’s also worth noting that the antics we’re seeing from Trump and his supporters are different and much more damaging than anything we saw from Democrats after Trump’s 2016 victory.  Democrats certainly weren’t happy with the results of that election, and remain frustrated with a system that continues to give the electoral advantage to their political opponents, but they did not conspiratorially question the system that produced those results.  The electoral college may be bullshit, but it’s the system we got, and Trump won it fair and square.  Most Democrats could admit that.  And while the impeachment and attempted removal of Donald Trump was perhaps a bit more conspiratorial, evidence-based allegations against an individual president and his campaign team are not nearly as unprecedented or dangerous as Trump’s evidence-less indictment of our entire democratic process (For the record, I never supported the Trump impeachment.  I always preferred to remove Trump from office the same way he got in—democratically).

Speaking of democratic institutions, it brings up what I think is one of the biggest questions that we as a country need to answer following this election—do we want to be a real democracy yet, or what?  If we truly believe that the right to vote is so goddamn important, are we ready to start treating it that way?  I’m not even talking about the electoral college.  Don’t get me wrong, I’d be happy to get rid of it, and based on some of the demographic shifts we’re starting to see in states like Arizona, Texas, and Georgia, perhaps Republicans should be considering getting rid of it, too.  

But what I’m talking about is making voting easier and more accessible for all. Mail-in voting should not be controversial.  It has been and continues to be a convenient and reliable way to extend greater opportunity to vote to more of the American electorate.  That is not to say that we shouldn’t work hard to ensure its authenticity and security.  We should, and despite the president’s baseless claims of widescale fraud, we do.

And how is Election Day not a federal holiday?!?!?  What a joke.  That legislation should pass Congress tomorrow without so much as a combative blink.  I mean, how can we call ourselves the world’s greatest democracy when people still need to rush to the polls over their lunch break?  Unless, of course, those people can instead vote early.  Or by mail…

And this one is on Republicans.  That’s not a partisan take—it’s just a fact.  Republicans want to make this country less democratic (small “d”), which, to be fair, can be a defensible position.  I for one am not one of those, “no matter what, make sure you vote” people.  I want you to vote if you think like I do, but if you don’t, I’m perfectly happy to let you stay home.  I’m also not a fan of uninformed voting.  If you don’t feel qualified to vote in a particular election or on a particular race, then maybe you shouldn’t?  Like, if I don’t know anything about the two people running for judge in District Random Number-Random Letter, then I probably shouldn’t put my thumb on the scale.  Yet, how many local races were swung this year by uninformed voters randomly circling the names of candidates due to some misguided sense of civic responsibility?

But Republicans are antidemocratic for all the wrong reasons.  They know that the poor and underprivileged are less likely to vote for them, so they purposefully make it more difficult for those people to vote, mostly by exploiting the fact that they’re poor and underprivileged.  Again, how can we call ourselves the world’s greatest democracy when the people most screwed by the system are the same people who experience the most obstacles in casting a vote to change that system?

Unfortunately, opportunities for electoral reform—or any other Democratic initiatives—may be limited due to the underwhelming performance of Democrats in down-ballot races.  And while I’ll maintain that the presidency was the most important prize for Democrats in this election, their probable inability to flip the Senate dramatically limits what they can do with that prize (still holding out hope, Georgia!!!)

But I want to end on a positive note—something that’s got lost midst all the noise of rollercoaster results and Trump temper tantrums.  That something is Kamala Harris.  Kamala Harris is the daughter of immigrants.  Kamala Harris is a woman of color.  And Kamala Harris is the first female vice president in the history of the United States of America.  That deserves to be celebrated.

If nothing else, I hope we can all recognize that.  That just for a moment, we can take off our partisan hats, collectively rise to our feet, and give that American accomplishment the standing ovation it deserves.  No matter what you think of Kamala the politician, she represents progress for this country.   She represents the long overdue culmination of a decades-long effort by both parties to put a woman on a successful presidential ticket.  For millions of young girls across the country and the globe, and especially for young black and brown girls, she represents a transcendence of what is even possible.  You can oppose Kamala’s agenda tomorrow, but tonight, you should celebrate her.  If we’re able to do that, especially for people who did not vote for the Biden-Harris ticket, perhaps we can begin the work of healing this country after an incredibly divisive end to an incredibly divisive presidency.  It’s my sincere hope that a significant slice of the 69 million voters and counting that went for Trump can demonstrate that ability.  But if not, things might get uglier before they get better. 

Follow me on Twitter!!!

Economics, Immigration, Politics, Religion, USA

Don’t Vote For Trump: A Final Plea to Potential Republican Voters

This blog post is not a Biden commercial.  I mean, if you’re asking me who I think you should vote for in the upcoming presidential election, I think it’s Joe Biden.  But I also realize that if you’re a lifelong Republican voter, a Biden vote might not be something you’re considering.

But that’s okay!  I’m not here to convince you to vote for Joe Biden.  Vote for Independent candidate Brock Pierce!  Vote for Libertarian Jo Jorgensen!  Vote for Kanye West!  Write in Mickey Mouse!  Leave all the bubbles in the presidential part of your ballot blank!  But, please, just please, don’t vote to re-elect Donald Trump.

I write this post only because I have faith in most conservative people.  I firmly believe that Trump’s 2016 electoral victory couldn’t have happened without the support of a significant number of kind-hearted, rational-minded conservatives who—in spite of their skepticism towards Trump—voted for him because he was the only Republican on the ballot.  My hope is that after the disaster that was the last four years and the potential reclamation opportunity that lies ahead in the post-Trump Republican Party, those people are willing to consider doing something different in 2020.

I should mention here that if you’re considering voting for Donald Trump not in spite of his racist dog-whistling but because of it, then this blog post isn’t for you.  If you truly believe that this country is being destroyed by Mexicans, Muslims, and urban blacks hellbent on burning down suburbia, then give your vote to Trump.  He’s certainly worked hard for it.

But if you’re one of the conservatives that’s more representative of the conservatives that I know and respect in my life—the conservatives who believe in things like traditional Christian values and limited government—then I’m here to tell you that Donald Trump not only is not the lesser of two evils, but is instead the gravest threat to the ideals you hold most dear. 

I’m not a Christian myself, but I have a lot of Christians in my life, most of whom are better people than I am.  They’re kind, compassionate, and committed to living a life modeled on the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.  But knowing what I know about Jesus, it’s hard for me to understand how any self-proclaimed Christian can vote for a candidate like Trump. 

If you’ve ever asked yourself, “What would Jesus do?” the answer is, “the opposite of Trump.”  Can you imagine Jesus doling out mean nicknames on Twitter?  Can you imagine Jesus demonizing the frightened human beings seeking refuge at our borders or the non-violent activists crusading for social justice?  Can you imagine Jesus interrupting Joe Biden’s tribute to his dead son in order to mock his other son’s past struggles with substance abuse?  Jesus was a humble servant of the poor and the oppressed. Donald Trump is a self-absorbed narcissist who has repeatedly demonstrated an inability to empathize with the plight of the less fortunate.

I mean, do we even believe Trump is really a “Christian”?  He mocks evangelicals behind their backs, he can’t quote a single Bible verse, and when it comes to perhaps the most important issue to many devout Christians—the issue of abortion—Trump used to be pro-choice!

But even if he has “evolved” to a more staunchly anti-abortion stance, Donald Trump is not pro-life—not for struggling Americans, not for desperate refugees, and not for the unnecessary victims that have died from COVID-19 under Trump’s abysmal leadership during the pandemic.  Donald Trump will say what he thinks he needs to say and do what he thinks he needs to do in order to win votes—whether that’s throwing red meat to his racist supporters or tear-gassing protestors to clear the way for a photo op in front of a church that he doesn’t attend.  But for these reasons, even if Donald Trump does believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ, his words and actions still make him one sorry excuse for a Christian.

But not all Republican voters are devoutly religious.  Many are motivated by a secular ideology based on free markets, fiscal responsibility, and limited government.  Once again, I’m here to tell you that while Joe Biden may not be your guy (unless you want him to be 😉), Trump is not your guy either. 

Trump can’t go a day without screaming about the “radical socialists” that he believes to be in control of the Democratic Party, but the truth is that the size and scope of government has only expanded under Trump.  After three years in office, Trump had already ran up nearly double the deficits of second-term Obama, and that was before he signed the $2 trillion coronavirus relief bill—the largest economic aid package in American history.  Just the other day, Trump tweeted his support for anothergo big or go home” stimulus package that could be just as sizable as the first.

To be fair, I support both of these stimulus packages, and I’m glad our president does, too.  But I’m not a fiscal conservative, and clearly, neither is Trump. 

Donald Trump’s demonization of “socialism” is also comical considering that he has more authoritarian tendencies than any president in modern history.  Remember the days when Congressional Republicans used to excoriate Barack Obama for signing treaties with Iran or shaking hands with Raúl Castro?  Where the fuck were they when Trump was sucking up to Vladimir Putin or exchanging love letters with Kim Jong Un

Trump’s expressed admiration for dictators abroad and constitutional abuses at home are far more dangerous than anything coming from the “radical left”.  I mean, I have a certain respect for libertarian ideology, but honestly, when it comes to the things threatening our liberty, what should we be more afraid of—Biden using tax dollars to give healthcare to poor people or Trump ordering unsolicited federal troops to invade American cities?  As Joe Biden would say, “C’mon!”

And all this stuff barely cracks the surface of the deep trench of terrible that is Donald Trump.  I haven’t even got into his incessant lying, his baffling ignorance, his promulgation of conspiracy theories, and his subversive attacks on journalists, scientists, and soldiers.  And even though I think most sensible conservatives agree that at the very least Donald Trump has moved the Republican Party in an undesirable direction, I still fear that too many of them will hold their noses for another Trump vote in 2020.

And that would be a huge mistake.

A vote for Donald Trump would solidify the Trumpist takeover of the Republican Party, launching them further down the terrifying path of authoritarian populism and dog-whistle politics.  It would also be a potentially lethal blow to the Republican reclamation project that would almost certainly take place in the event of a Biden victory—a project aimed at returning the party to a more honorable brand of politics like those practiced by small-government libertarians and compassionate Christian conservatives.  It would be a heck of an opportunity, too, considering the likelihood that Joe Biden would only be a one-term president

And I would be so happy to see the return of that Republican Party.  Not because it would turn me into a regular Republican voter—I’m too big of a “libtard” for that—but because I’d be so happy to return to the days in which both of the dominant parties can at least occasionally feign legitimacy.  The days in which, in spite of my differing opinions on certain issues, I can at least claim to have an intellectual and philosophical respect for the leading voices on the other side of the proverbial aisle.  But that cannot happen without first getting rid of the man whose illegitimacy makes that impossible. 

A third-party candidate or a blank section on a ballot is not a wasted vote—it’s a protest vote. It’s sending a message to the two dominant parties that if they want to earn your support in the future, they need to nominate candidates that better reflect your values.  The Republican Party needs to hear that message this year, and they need to hear it from their own.  They need to hear it from you.  The stronger the disavowal of Trumpism, the more swiftly the Republican reclamation project can begin.  I’m going to use my vote to help make that happen, and whether it’s Biden, Brock, Mickey, or Kanye, I hope that Republicans will, too. 

Follow me on Twitter!!!