What the insurrection tells us about where we’re at

So, it’s been a little over a year since January 6th . Think pieces bloomed. TV specials aired. Harris and Biden gave speeches. I couldn’t care less. In this country, racists rioting to get their way ain’t nothing new and how this particular example is being handled just feels like a distraction. That may seem callous, but plenty of people agree with me, including the government. According to federal law:

“Whoever incites, sets on foot, assists, or engages in any rebellion or insurrection against the authority of the United States or the laws thereof, or gives aid or comfort thereto, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States.”

Seems like pretty light punishment for trying to destroy an entire country, doesn’t it? Don’t worry, it gets lighter. Did you know that most of the people at the insurrection haven’t been arrested? Did you know that out of those who have been arrested, most of them haven’t been convicted? Did you know that most of those convicted weren’t sentenced to even a single day in jail?

Does the coming fascist turn of this country frighten you? What exactly scares you about fascism? Is it the potential disregard of your vote or some other dissolving of your rights? Restricted access to resources? Something more pointed like false imprisonment or another form of state-sanctioned violence? I hate to tell you this, but you already live in that country—it’s just a little less obvious if you’re white.

It’s cliché to even mention it at this point, but we all know how last January 6th would’ve panned out had the insurrectionists been Black. We know this because all too often the penalty for simply being Black in any given situation is immediate state-sanctioned execution. Living in this country, knowing that and seeing even top democratic leaders’ complete inability to take any of this seriously, it is very difficult for me to see this as anything other than a distraction.

A distraction from what? Well, downplaying the Omicron variant just before the holidays seems like an obviously reckless thing to do, especially when the variant is certainly not as mild as the Biden administration has been implying. Then there’s the CDC changing its 10-day isolation requirement to five days without a test. Flying in the face of the medical science they’ve been telling us to trust, their admittedly economic reasons have caused a reaction that could very well be a terminal blow to the CDC’s rapidly declining reputation.   

It seems more and more of us see both the Democratic and Republican Parties functioning to serve the wealthy elite by maintaining an order for the rest of us to primarily provide for them. Yes, there are differences. Yes, our Republican 45th president objectively personifies professional, personal and spiritual failure more directly and thoroughly than any other person on record to have ever lived. And yes, his handling of COVID-19 was uniquely a cataclysm. And yet despite access to tests, vaccines and the clearest possible roadmap of what not to do, our Democratic 46th president is somehow handling the pandemic worse. Of course, we’re meant to believe that new variants predicted by all experts from the very beginning were somehow completely unforeseen. It seems almost patriotic to pretend that 2020’s anti-maskers becoming 2021’s anti-vaxxers was in any way surprising. We’re told to focus on the psychological effects closed schools have on children. At the same time, we’re never to consider the psychological effects of bringing home COVID to a vulnerable parent and joining the estimated 167,000 other disproportionately Black and brown American children orphaned by COVID.

Cases and deaths are surging yet again while shutdowns and stimulus are nowhere in sight. We all know that our 45th and 46th presidents and those in their class do not face unemployment, financial ruin or eviction. They will never face a lack of money, food or a single other resource. There are no circumstances that will force the children in their families into a COVID infected school. In the event that they face this illness, the rare medical treatments available to them are unimaginably beyond anything the average American could afford.

The immeasurable and ever-widening gulf between classes in this country is swallowing us faster than we can notice—but hey, maybe seeing some speeches and slapping a few insurrectionists on the wrists will take our minds off the fall.

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A double-dose of empathy?

I used to get road rage. Like, real road rage. It was bad. I mean, I’ve never gotten into a physical altercation with another motorist, but I’d be lying if I told you there weren’t several occasions on which I’d gotten out of my car. Not my proudest moments, hypothetically. COVID means I haven’t been on tour and since I’m not in my car all the time, you’d think my road rage would calm down a bit. The opposite is true. It turns out, being on the road all the time actually gave me a callus for bad drivers. Not being on the road rid me of this callus and on the rare occasions I found myself driving, my road rage was worse than ever.

The cause of my road rage is always the recklessness of other drivers. Always. It angers me to no end how thoughtless, selfish and even malicious some can be when others’ lives are at stake. But, you know, a Black man getting out of his car yelling in traffic is tempting fate, so I needed to make a change.

So, I did.

I figured if my problem was others’ lack of empathy, then I’d just double up on my own. I decided to grant everyone an assumption of emergency. That guy who stepped out in front of me at a green light? Well, he probably just received the worst news of his life. That guy who cut me off? He’s probably rushing to give a family member a ride to the hospital because they can’t afford an ambulance. The guy riding my tail? Same guy, with the family member in tow.

You know what? It worked. I’m not going to tell you it wasn’t a struggle, and it definitely took a minute, but it absolutely worked. Last night a BMW flew up behind me on a windy country road. He was less than a foot away from me with LED headlights so bright I’m sure the driver could see my skeleton. I thought to myself, this guy’s probably got a cooler with a beating heart inside trying to get to the hospital! I just pulled over, the guy rocketed past me and my heart rate didn’t raise a single BPM.

This country often thinks of its own problems around race similarly—single, problematic individuals who we need to empathize with. They just don’t know any better, right? If you’ve ever read this blog before, you know that’s wrong. Personally, as far as arguments with racist individuals go, I don’t have them. I don’t engage at all. If I’m going to argue with someone, they need to have a certain level of education on the subject. Education primarily comes from experience and/or study and anyone who’s ever tried to argue with me about race has never had either.

Also, when it comes to single individuals, the problems with race in America are perpetuated much more often by the less obviously racist.

The core problem, of course, is not the individual, but the systems that are designed to empower racists and their ideas throughout the country. For example, last week a Louisiana judge got caught on tape laughing and yelling the n-word. The systemic problems caused by a racist judge can be obvious, and so the solution can seem obvious: fire the judge. The deeper problem is that she comes from a community that allowed these ideas to flourish or flat out encouraged them. The same can be said of the educational institutions that accredited her and the legal institutions that enabled and rewarded her.

The problems with COVID-19 are frustratingly similar. Even though this is a systemic problem, we are led to blame the individual. The numbers go up and we’re told it is the fault of the unvaccinated. Well, we all started as unvaccinated and since then the majority of us have either been vaccinated or died. There are fewer and fewer unvaccinated people every day, as has been the pattern since the vaccines were made available. Clearly the recent enormous rise in COVID cases and deaths cannot be caused by the ever-shrinking number of the unvaccinated.

On November 26, 111 people went to a party in Oslo, Norway. Even though all were fully vaccinated and all tested negative before entering, the party ended with 80 of the attendees infected with COVID-19. Vaccines are not enough, tests are not enough, and blaming the unvaccinated is not enough.

Yes, assholes exist. As far as I can tell they always have and always will. We can bet our lives hoping that every single one of them will suddenly and permanently mend their ways—which absolutely will not happen—or we can find empathy within ourselves and demand systemic change. Despite test or vaccination status, you can still become infected and still put others at risk. Don’t do that. Don’t go to parties. Don’t go to restaurants. Don’t travel. Stay home. And while you’re at home push for mask mandates in your community. Contact your representatives and demand stimulus checks and shutdowns.

We know what to do. We’ve just got to do it.

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The process is bunk, but disengaging from it could be dangerous

People are disengaging with the political process. It’s happening fast and it’s incredibly frustrating to me. Don’t get me wrong; I totally get it. The world is spiraling pretty quickly in multiple ways right in front of our eyes and the people in charge seem helpless to do anything about it. I can clearly see how easy it is to become cynical with any part of the process. What’s so frustrating to me about it is that I totally believe in engagement. I just think the systems are bunk and all of the wrong people are in charge—especially among the democrats.

Please understand, I’m no republican. It’s just that they’re easy to comprehend. They’re bigots and liars and that’s it. Everybody knows. In fact, it’s so commonly understood that the Republican Party doesn’t actually have a platform anymore. Like, you know the thing where members of the party get together and debate priorities and direction? Yeah, they literally just don’t do that now. They don’t have to. They all know what’s up.

The move used to be that Mitch McConnell would block any legislation benefitting the wrong people. In so doing McConnell would shield the rest of his party who would just shrug and claim that they would love to do something to help, but leadership, amirite? Politicians like Susan Collins made entire careers out of this move.

How did McConnell continuously get away with this? Well, some of it is because Kentucky is a republican-run state through gerrymandering and the usual right-wing bullshit. But some of it was actually the democrats’ doing. For example, during McConnell’s last campaign then-Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer worked behind the scenes to make sure McConnell would have next to no competition.

From the New York Times:

The Senate Democratic leader repeatedly pressed some prominent Kentucky Democrats to help him squelch a primary challenge to Ms. McGrath, admitting privately that she would not be a top-tier candidate, but that they could use her to raise money against Mr. McConnell and keep him pinned down in his own race, according to officials familiar with the conversations.

Predictably, McConnell won his seventh straight congressional race, crushing McGrath by nearly 20 points.

But, as we know, the democrats won on the whole—the house, senate and presidency all theirs. So why can’t they get anything done? It’s not McConnell anymore, so what’s the problem? Wait! Do you hear that? What’s that sound? Is it John Cena? Oh. Nope. It’s Joe Manchin.

The putrid rot of the republican party continues to halt national progress in the form of one man. Can we end the filibuster? No, because Joe Manchin. End gerrymandering? No, Joe Manchin. Protect voting rights, codify Roe v. Wade, Build Back Better? No, no, no. Joe Manchin, Joe Manchin, Joe Manchin.

There’s only one small problem. In true McConnell form, Joe Manchin is just the face. The reality is that there are actually plenty of democrats just as fascist as Manchin, we just don’t see them. The rot is perhaps deeper than we are ready to admit.

It may be difficult to admit, but we know things aren’t working. We know a U.S. Congress that is still somehow 77% white isn’t really all that interested in voting rights. We know that regardless of what happens to Roe v. Wade, there isn’t a politician in the country that will have a difficult time finding an abortion for a partner or family member. We know that we’re no better at fighting a global pandemic now then we were a year ago or a hundred years ago. We are a country owned and led by the wealthy and when it comes to the problems of others, the wealthy are incentivized to inaction far more than action.

The systems we have were designed and are maintained for and by the wealthy. Mixing and matching which wealthy person holds what position of power may complicate things, but it certainly doesn’t deliver meaningful change. We had a Civil War that ended slavery, but corporations use the incarcerated as slave labor, Black life is criminalized and we’ve known since at least 2014 there are more Black men in the prison system than were enslaved in 1850.

I don’t know all the answers, but I do know when people disengage from the political process they don’t just all throw up their hands and silently sit down. Many seek other means of change and those means can often be violent. I hope we figure it out before it’s too late. Joe Manchin just announced that he will vote against vaccine mandates and Florida governor Ron DeSantis just publicly proposed starting his own personal army, so I guess we’re going to find out.

If this piece or this blog resonates with you, please consider a one-time “tip” or become a monthly “patron”…this space runs on love and reader support. Want more BGIM? Consider booking me to speak with your group or organization.

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