Ultra Mandate 6

Ultra Mandate

I knew we were going to fight about it.

“It’s one o’clock, Anth,” my wife said. “You’re drinking already?”

You’re damn right I’m drinking, lady, I said to myself in my head (and only in my head). Standing in the kitchen with an unopened Ultra sweating in my hand, I wanted to shout that I had been waiting four years for kindness, decency, and strength to return to the highest office in the land, and now that it was almost here, got dang it, there will be a beer, or five, on my lips, woman!

“I’m just a little stressed” was what I actually said sheepishly, guiltily returning the bottle to the fridge. “The election, this holding pattern, nothing to do …”

“Work out,” D. shot back. “Go for a walk. You don’t have to drink.”

Oh, but how wrong you are. I do. I do have to drink. After four years of complete and utter bullshit, after four years of misogynism, racism, nepotism, cronyism, rascalism, the list goes on, on this Friday afternoon after Election Day, I was about to join more than 75 million other Americans and the rest of the developed world in welcoming a new era. Do you know, I thought, how nice it’s going to be waking up every morning and not having to worry about something dumb or false that your president said the night before while he was on the shitter? Do you know how sweet it’s going to be knowing that science and data will dictate our nation’s actions, not conspiracy theories and biased hackery masquerading as fact gathering? Do you know how wonderful it’s going to be seeing men and women work to reunite more than 600 missing children with their parents who were separated at the border by racist policy? Answer: It’s gonna be great!

You lily-livered sad sacks can sit there and be all mopey and bitter because President-elect Joe Biden isn’t progressive enough. You can warn me all you want about the gridlock in Congress to come. You can even say someone cleverer and younger from the right will come along in 2024 to take Donald Trump’s place at the helm of the S.S. SS. Me? I’m going to par-tay.

A little.

******

Ultra Mandate 7
Courtesy of iStock.com

My joy is especially sweet. Both of my hometowns went blue. Biden won Tarrant County thanks to Fort Worth, where I live now, and he also scored big in Pittsburgh, where I was born and raised. Seeing the map of Pennsylvania on TV Saturday morning, I couldn’t help but allow the Holy Spirit to move me into taking a pic — and promptly sending it to two of my Steelers-hating friends here in the Fort.

“Next time you hate on the Stillers,” I texted, “remember …”

“I love Pitt,” one wrote back. The other said, “I might have just converted.”

Though Donald Trump did not win Tarrant County, he took home Texas with about the same percentage of the vote that he whipped up in 2016. The good news, for us vile, baby-eating Satanists, is that Democrats managed to flip some Republican voters in the cities and suburbs. There’s still a ton of one-light towns spread across our great republic between Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, and San Antonio. These lovely pee stops will forever remain beyond the reach of Democrats. If Texas ever turns blue, or even purple, it will be because Dems focused on the kinds of progressive policies that cities and suburbs care about as opposed to leaning toward the center a la Uncle Joe. I’m talking crazy, wild, off-the-chart things like paying workers a living wage, and offering everyone health care no matter their employment status, and treating everyone like a human being instead of like a cog in a machine or a possession. Y’know, regular pinko-commie-bastard stuff straight outta China which we’ve come to believe is abnormal because late-stage capitalism has corrupted most of us and all of our politicians completely.

As severe a rebuke as the 2020 election was for Trump, a backward-facing-ring-fingered slap in the face essentially, Biden’s construction of a broad anti-Trump coalition cost Dems seats in the House and possibly/probably the Senate. The risk for Uncle Joe just must have been too great. Many Republicans, clearly, were fine with voting against DT. That still didn’t mean they wanted to turn over the rest of Washington to us blood-drinking, suggestively gyrating, mud-smearing-on-our-bellies Democrats.

We Dems sure did expect a better return on Texas. Our wish for more voters was certainly granted. Turnout was massive, the biggest it’s been since 1990, and Dems have always said that since Texas is a nonvoting state, allegedly, mobilizing voters would easily translate into a sea of blue from Beaumont to El Paso.

That didn’t happen. In Texas, Trump received 52% of the vote to Biden’s 46%. There’s still a lot of work to do.

I often wonder if my Republican family members and friends feel as if they’re surrounded by liberals, because I feel like 90% of the people I know in this town and back home are right-wingers. The older couple who stopped my wife at Kroger Sunday morning seemed nice.

“Ya think they’re gonna win?” the old lady asked D., who was wearing a bedazzled Steelers T-shirt because of course she was.

“I hope so,” my wife replied. “You know it’s sometimes the worst team that beats the best one.”

“I hope so, too,” the old man said. “We need something good to happen this week.”

D. simply curled her lips and walked away. Smart move, I would later tell her. I could just see the headline: “Awkward Brawl Erupts on Aisle 5 Over Politics.”

******

This election was especially significant for my family. Our now-9-year-old son is Black, and even though Trump has disavowed white supremacists publicly, he’s still acting as if he supports them — and as one of my old college football coaches used to say, “Your actions are so loud, I can’t hear a word you’re saying.”

A political expert (read: a doofus who reads a lot out of nervousness), I found myself embroiled in a very important, very significant debate the other day about Trump’s responsibilities to minorities. (Read: I was in a flamewar with at least one other person on Facebook.)

My temp was rising like Jesus on the third day since Fort Worth police cruisers recently materialized calmly alongside a Trump caravan as it motored with its embarrassing flags through a historically Black neighborhood as residents marched peacefully to the polls. The Stop Sixers were not having it. They shouted down the Trumpers, forcing them to tuck their little baby tortoise tails between their little baby tortoise legs and turn around. The Monday after the incident, Fort Worth police released a statement saying officers were on the scene only to protect the integrity of the polls, not to “escort,” as some observers had said, Trump rowdies on their way to intimidate voters.

“On Oct. 30, 2020,” FWPD said, “Fort Worth police officers were asked to be present near various polling sites due to complaints of possible voter intimidation. A caravan of vehicles approached a polling site near Miller Street and was surrounded by a large crowd on foot. In an effort to de-escalate the situation, officers entered the crowd to allow the surrounded vehicles to exit the area without any further altercations. At no time were Fort Worth police officers escorting vehicles into any areas to allow any type of voter intimidation. Our goal is to keep everyone safe, including from fear and intimidation, while exercising their First Amendment rights.”

I support the police, in general, but even the coolest, most “woke” cops should be able to see why they are a source of mistrust here. Here is where I would insert the reems of data about police violence against unarmed Black men and women. I’m not because it makes me sick.

Biden won Black voters by an eye-popping 75-point margin, transforming key battleground states blue despite the massive turnout of Trumpers, who also were energized to pOwN dA LiBs. Biden won more Black and Latinx votes than any other candidate in history, including former president and current Black guy Barack Obama.

Whatever little appeal Trump may present to African Americans has to be based in the womb. Eighty-three percent of Blacks identify as Christian, and a September Gallup poll revealed that while Blacks have become “more liberal on abortion rights” over the past decade, they’re still less liberal than Democrats on the issue. As I’ve said of my beloved older brother L. before in these very pages, some people would vote for Hitler reincarnated if he were the only pro-embryo candidate on the ballot.

There’s a clear correlation between this summer’s marches and the increased number of Black registered voters. The Democratic data services firm Targetsmart said, “In May and June, when Dem voter registration had bottomed out due to the pandemic and GOPs were out-registering Dems, it was the George Floyd/[Black Lives Matter] demonstrations that created a huge Dem voter reg spike.”

The protests over police violence were a factor in about nine out of every 10 voters, according to preliminary data from A.P. VoteCast. The survey of more than 140,000 voters by NORC at the University of Chicago found that more than three-fourths considered the protests a major factor. A slight majority elected to rise against racist, violent policing. The rest went in the opposite direction, spurred on by the minimal looting and rioting that was blown out of proportion by Fox “News” and other right-wing media outlets. About 53 percent of NORC’s respondents voted for Biden. Forty-six percent said Trump was their man.

“Many Black voters,” The New York Times wrote, viewed the protests “through the lens of police violence threatening their lives, while many conservative white voters saw unrest encroaching on their communities.”

The idea of the Black male Trump voter was “a mirage,” said political scientist Marcus H. Johnson. “The old rappers,” meaning Trumpers like Kanye West and Ice Cube, “were irrelevant. Black voters did their job.”

They did it especially in Detroit and Atlanta, putting Biden over the top in both Michigan and Georgia. Minorities overall performed triple lindies in suits of armor to ensure the incumbent lost. In Arizona and Nevada, Latinx and Indigenous Americans flooded the polls.

“Pay attention, Democrats,” Wajahat Ali wrote. “Appreciate and acknowledge your base. Center them.”

What the New York Times contributor means is that the United States’ complexion is undergoing a massive overhaul. Trump, the Bushes, and Ronald Reagan all received about 58% of the white vote.

“What’s changing,” wrote political strategist Cornell Belcher, “are the demographics.”

Also, Biden-voting counties, according to the bipartisan think tank the Brookings Institution, equal 70% of the nation’s economy.

In DT’s cheap reluctance to pack up his shit and go, he sure has done well to say that Atlanta, Detroit, and Philadelphia can’t be trusted to determine the fate of democracy or, in his case, that Hot-lanta, Detroit, and Philly are not honorable enough to be where his white-power-fueled wannabe dictatorship dies in an avalanche of ballots. Just another dog whistle. Just like continuing to separate migrant children from their parents at the border. Just like issuing a Columbus Day proclamation while the rest of the planet is clamoring for Indigenous Peoples Day. Just like the “Muslim ban.” Loud actions, these are. Very loud.

******

I’m surprised my phone hasn’t turned into a dishrag by now. By Friday, I had been wearing its ass out since Election Day, going and back and forth from my Apple News app to Twitter to the New York Times app and CNN, desperate for some definitive good news. I largely avoided Facebook. One of the first posts I saw when I reluctantly opened my news feed on Thursday morning was about a “coup d’etat,” and I just couldn’t. You just can’t with these people. As one woman I agree with tweeted the other day, “Why are you still cleaning Trump supporters out of your life is what I would like to know after four years.” Unfollowing has been great, smooth and easy. Unfollowing family is a little less inconspicuous and way harder to pull off.

Avoidance has been key for me right now. My older brother L. and I text constantly, mostly about football, hockey, and family but occasionally about politics. I just can’t with him right now, either. My comeback, burning all aglow, awaits in my quiver: “So, if I understand you correctly, all of the downballot votes count, and Lindsey Graham’s votes count, and Mitch McConnell’s count, but none of the ones for Joe Biden do? Even though they’re all on the same ballot?! Got it. Makes perfect sense. How could I be so stupid. Please forgive me.”

I just need to hold on to what little remains of my respect for the Trumpers in my life because while presidential administrations last only a few years, family and friends go on *gulp* forever. A good brother, a good son-in-law, a good friend, I need to be there for them to shepherd them through their disillusionment and, frankly, their madness. As the president-elect said, “I’m a big proponent of mental health.” And so am I.

I’m still dying to gloat. I won’t, because like I said, I’m an awesome person and, to L., a kickass bro. However, I cannot guarantee a “new president” or “Inauguration Day” is not going to slip out like a rusty shiv in our text threads.

What we should be doing is logging off Facebook for good and petitioning Jack Dorsey to do an even better job of reining in misinformation on his platform. Twitter has flagged numerous bullshit tweets from Trump since the vote. The reason you may be seeing so many friends and family members talk about dramatically exiting to something called Parler is because it’s apparently right wing-friendly. So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, good night.

I’m not saying I’m not worried that some rabblerousers may have infiltrated the voting system to sink Trump. All it would take is one tiny slipup for the right wing commentariat to pretend it’s something bigger, something it’s definitely not. There would be gunfire for sure. In both directions. The echo chamber into which some of my friends and family are trapped is a kind of disease. I’m here to hold their hands through it. Not sure they would do the same for me, but here we are.

******

I still have no idea how any of us managed to sleep. For me, maybe it was the Molson Goldens, my bleeding heart seeking fortitude and good vibes from our kinder, gentler, smarter — and less COVID-wracked — neighbors to the north. Maybe it was the exhaustion of another Tuesday-night deadline lingering through the rest of the week. Maybe it was John King’s soothing, 8-a.m.-history-professor-with-the-flu voice. Whatever the reason, I slept a little. More than shitting my pants over the fate of democracy, I had to be up at 7 every morning to help my third grader learn remotely.

“Deserts are the driest place on Earth!” A.’s teacher was saying to the class Friday morning. “It has nothing to do with eating!”

And I needed to doomscroll. I love/hate my doomscrolling.

Things were looking pretty sketchy there Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, when that “red mirage” that we all read about but still did not believe began to spread, well, like COVID across our oddly yet beautifully shaped nation. Since GOP legislators in some key battleground states suspended tabulating mail-in votes until Election Day, Trump appeared to be winning. On this past Monday, some pro-Trump protestors asked CNN where their man’s mail-in ballots were — “We got Joe Biden’s,” the guy growled. “Where are Trump’s?” — believing wrongly that Donald’s mail-in ballots had been trashed by counters or, as seen in a widely debunked viral video, burned. (It’s like a pile of 30. Not 30,000. Not even 300. Thirty.) What Mr. Trump Guy did not acknowledge was that Dear Leader instructed his followers not to vote by mail and instead to go risk catching the COVID by hitting the polls on Election Day, which is exactly what they did. And they came out in en masse, earning DT a larger amount of votes than in 2016. It just wasn’t enough. Uncle Joe landslided him. (It’s a word. Now it is.)

Without any deadline pressure, just this story to write, I could only focus on coffee with my wife out back every morning for, if we’re lucky, 15 uninterrupted minutes and helping my son A. as he begins to learn multiplication and, apparently, about deserts. These distractions, they were good, and they were just as big a distraction as checking my phone every other second for some definitive news.

Whatever sleep I nabbed was restless, fitful. As much as I wanted to check my phone for an update every time I turned over, I knew I had to be fresh in the morning. And this knowledge locked me in a kind of techno-hell where my two options — check the phone and stay awake out of shock or not check the phone and stay awake out of the unknown — remained just beyond the grasp of my tiny brain. I still don’t know what the right answer would have been.

What we do know now is the result of the election. We also know that we have never been more divided. Seventy-five million people voted for honesty, decency, and strength, a plus. A minus, more than 70 million others voted for the other guy, the one who cares only about himself and does nothing to unite us, the one who goes out of his way to divide us every day along racial and socioeconomic lines, the one facing precisely 26 credible sexual assault accusations, the guy who bankrupted a casino, a place where money literally flies around. There are actually 70 million people who want more of that, more division, more us-versus-them, more fear, more incompetence. And if you’re like me, you know and love a lot of them.

It’s telling that a united country is not important to them. What is? Shutting out poor asylum seekers and separating them from their children? Protecting the unborn at the cost of letting born children and their parents die of poverty? Mostly because of the non-white color of their skin? An unwillingness to spread the wealth, despite knowing that everyone needs to pay their fair share of taxes to keep taxes from getting out of control?

I just feel spent. And I know I’m not alone.

“Mute your mics,” A.’s teacher was snarling. “Mute your mics. Mute. Your. Mics!”

Our son has been shining in remote learning. Regular school was terrible. A., who battles anxiety, spent more time in the principal’s office than his classroom. With remote learning, he’s a star, and we couldn’t be prouder of him. So that’s one reason why D. and I do not want to send him back to in-person learning. Another is that we don’t want him to catch the COVID. It’s gotten so bad that Tarrant County is about to shut down sports, and there’s a chance that Gov. Greg Abbott may institute another lockdown. What everyone needs to understand is that we would not be in this position if we had solid leadership at the top. Donald Trump failed us, and he failed, in particular, nearly 240,000 dearly departed souls and climbing and their families. Only some of us comprehend this. Some of the places hardest hit by COVID in this country voted for Trump. It almost goes against my excellent upbringing to say, “What are they smokin’?”

Dan Rather put it rather nicely when he recently said, “I won’t minimize the challenges or dangers before us, but I believe America is more broken in politics than in heart. There’s ugliness and hate — systemic and historical — but I think we can find common ground on important issues if we could get tribal politics out of the way.”

I’m sorry, but as far as I can see, “tribal politics” is a one-way street, and it’s headed right. The disease of the echo chamber is particularly acute among Fox “News” watchers and Washington Examiner (?) readers. As long as you’re willing and able to save one — a beloved older brother perhaps or an in-law — you’re doing the Lord’s work, and God bless you.

******

It happened before I knew what hit me. I had been sitting out on the back patio working, also checking my phone every other minute for some sort of real, good news, and then I set down my laptop and popped inside to refill my water bottle. That’s when I saw D. standing in front of the TV with her phone in her hand. Scrolling across the top of the screen was “Joe Biden Elected 46th President.”

“Is this for real?” I asked her.

“They just called P-A,” she answered, awestruck.

And at that moment, I felt as if I had been fed a heaping spoonful of vomit. He’s not gonna concede, I thought. That son of a bitch is going to drag this out until the United States Marine Corps physically remove him from the White House, and in the interim, he’s going to whip his base into a frenzy with false information and dishonesty. And they will gobble it up because they are suckers. No offense, folks. You may be smart and Christlike, but when your only source of information is the guy who’s committing the crimes and his enablers on TV, you’re being sold something. Just glance at the Times every now and then, for fuck’s sake. Or even this rag occasionally. We’re all here to help.

This moment was when I took that picture of the TV. Allegheny County was smiling back at me as a ragged square-triangle thingie of deep blue surrounded by bright red.

This was also when I thought about cracking open a celebratory cold one. I didn’t because I figured A.’s piano teacher probably wouldn’t appreciate the kid’s father showing up to the studio buzzing. I did have my share of suds later, and after five days of waking up with a throbbing head — not only from the Molsons but from staring at a tiny screen constantly and the stress, oy vey, the stress — I greeted Sunday morning ready to, I dunno, work out, go for a walk.

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