Disorienting but comfortable…

I’ve lived through the four presidential transitions as an adult. They all come with the same basic features – mostly the victorious and defeated parties trying to figure out the shape of their brave new world.

What I wasn’t mentally prepared for in 2021, though, was just how quickly Donald dropped off the radar (unless you’re steadfastly tuned in to “alternative news” sources).  After hearing his steady drumbeat for 4 years, waking up each morning and scrolling Twitter before my feet hit the floot to see what batshit crazy thing happened overnight, the last few days have been a remarkable return to politics being just politics. 

It’s like having walked through a foggy landscape only to emerge, unexpectedly, into a bright, clear upland of well-known surroundings; disorienting, but comfortable.

I’ll be railing against President Biden’s agenda soon enough, but I’m kind of determined to take the weekend and really just appreciate the wonder of how completely different it feels.

Catching my breath…

I had the privilege of attending two inaugurations in person during the opening years of this century. It’s an experience – one I’m glad I had when I was younger and more tolerant of crowds, necessarily intrusive security screening, and standing around for hours in the cold with no access to coffee and limited availability of restroom facilities. It’s a bit of unique Americana I recommend everyone do if they’re able at least once in their life.

Today’s inauguration of President Biden looked different, even from the toasty warm vantage point of my home office. As it turns out, during the Great Plague era, even pomp and ceremony ain’t what they use to be. I suppose whatever poor bastards were stuck planning the thing did the best they could within the confines of virus-constrained procedures. I’m happy beyond measure for their sake that the big show is over. The Treasury doesn’t have enough cash on hand to convince me to want their job. 

Here we are on day one of the Biden Administration. I could try waxing philosophical, but honestly, I’m just trying to catch my breath a little after the last two weeks, so I’ll just congratulate, again, our new President and Vice President… and we’ll just have to pick up with any necessary ranting and raving tomorrow. 

Taking stock…

With less than 18 hours left to run in the Trump administration, it’s time to take stock. 

Besides firing off tweet-storm broadsides and creating a few new words, what’s to be made of this president’s time in office?

– Appointed a shit ton of vaguely originalist judges not just to the Supreme Court but across the federal bench

– Ended American participation in the appeasement of Iran

– Asserted that a rapidly strengthening China is an increasing threat to America’s global interests

– Entered into a new and improved free trade agreement with Canada and Mexico

There are more, but those are fine exemplars of the modest improvements, mostly around the margins, that we can attribute to the Trump Administration. The question, then, is what was the cost?

– Abandoning the centuries old traditions of American political life by subverting the electoral process and attempting to raise and insurrection

– A general foreign policy legacy best labeled “America only” that badly damaged relationships with our most important global allies and empowered some of our most bitter enemies

– An inexplicable failure to respond to the dangers of a new and deadly pandemic as it swept the globe and the United States

– Ratcheting up government spending and driving up the national debt to unprecedented and unsustainable levels

Even leaving out the sedition, historians would have eventually filed this administration away as inconsequential at best and a failure at worst. There was simply too little forward motion on priority efforts when weighed against how much was guided so badly off the rails.

The damage done to America’s standing in the world and the mortal division of our internal politics will be the work of generations to patch up – if the job can be done at all. The alternative, though, is simply unthinkable, so let us begin.  

I’m a sucker…

I looked in on the news this morning. We’re apparently having a national fist fight about paying for the Department of Defense and sending out bigger and better stimulus checks. 

This is where my old fashioned small government, fiscally conservative roots will undoubtedly show. 

Having lived as a very small cog in the vast machinery of the Department for the best part of two decades now, I can tell you that it is vastly over funded in order to account for the unimaginable sums that are pissed away on pet projects, systems that don’t work, or things that have absolutely nothing to do with maintaining or improving the national defense. I’d cut the budget with an ax if someone made me king for the day… but since we don’t have time for that, just override our goofy-assed president’s veto of the National Defense Authorization Act and move on. 

Next up, we want to chuck another $500 billion onto the $900 billion second round stimulus that’s already been approved. Sure, the cause of giving “everyone” another $1400 is a feel-good story, but holy hell. I know that no normal person really grasps just how big a number a billion is, but sweet little baby Jesus, that’s a shit ton of real money that we have to borrow from somewhere (or call into being from thin air) when we’re already $25 trillion in debt. At some point, even good (or feel-good) ideas become unaffordable, right? Right.

In the last decade, we’ve bailed out everyone – banks, home owners, the auto industry, renters, big business, small business, state and local governments. Soon enough they’ll tell us that we have to throw billions more at anyone with a student loan. We have to save everyone and everything from every possible negative consequences and to hell with the price.

I’m the dumbass who took tens of thousands of dollars to the closing table so the sale would go through when his house was underwater. I lacked the foresight to just make minimum payments on my student loans forever in hopes that someone else would just pick up the tab. The tax man didn’t even have the courtesy to send me a picture of whose $3200 stimulus I’m carrying the freight on since momentarily being “rich” after selling the condo last year disqualified me from getting my own cash back. Sally Struthers use to do that if you sponsored a child for “less than the price of a cup of coffee a day.” Getting the same treatment from Uncle doesn’t feel like too big an ask.

So yeah, I’m apparently one of those suckers born every minute. At least that’s something I know now. 

Two paths to a “good” December…

It’s the last day of November. That’s important for a couple of reasons – not the least of which is it means I only have 17 work days between me and a glorious 16-day weekend. That’s sixteen days to stow my laptop and neither schlep to the office nor work from home. It’s two weeks and change of just hanging out. Let me tell you, friends, even in a plague year that’s already been filled with time at home, I’m kind of living for the long end of the year time off.

Even if my standard two-week Christmas vacation wasn’t in the offing, there’s actually a different, and possibly mor important date fast approaching. The 11th of December won’t stand out to anyone who doesn’t draw a check from Uncle Sam, but that’s the date most of the federal government runs out of money and would be forced into another shutdown. 

Look, I have no idea what a government shutdown would look like in a plague year, but hey, what’s one more bit of fuckery in the mix? With a mostly useless congress and a president who clearly has no interest in governing (and has a propensity for last minute tantrum throwing), it feels possible, even if not likely, that we could have a as much as 40-day break between funds running out and the new president taking office. Even though Congress seems to be working to stave off the possibility, it remains a wildcard.

Now I’m not saying I’m rooting for a crippling Christmas themed government shutdown amidst a rising tide of plague… but hey, if it happens, I won’t be marching in the streets or anything. Obviously, everyone’s circumstances are different, but I should be able ride out a 40-day shutdown without resorting to cat food and tree bark soup… and from that perfectly selfish perspective, more than a month just dicking around the house hardly sounds like the worst thing in the world. 

That’s true at least if precedent is followed, meaning there will be back pay for the shutdown and they’ll restore the two weeks of pre-scheduled leave that got overwritten by the closure and add it in my bucket of vacation time for 2021. If a shutdown happens without those two key components, then I might just be tempted to take to the streets after all.

My eyes are firmly on the calendar for the next couple of weeks, either way.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. The yawning gap in medical care. I’ve blown off most of my own medical appointments since March but the animals have all hit theirs on time or as needed. That probably says more about me as a person, or at least my priorities, than I’d really like to think about. It’s probably a function of simplicity, too. I can pull up to the vet, hand off the critters for a bit of the old poke and prod, and find a nice shady spot to wait. My doc, on the other hand, wants me to schlep into an office, sit in a socially distanced chair, and wait around with other people who have God knows what plague spewing from their face holes. I’m sure it’s completely irrational, but I’d have to be quite near death’s door myself before I thought that was a good idea.

2. Failure to communicate. I’ve long suspected that the biggest problem faced in dealing with Great Plague is one of basic communication. Given the patchwork nature of our republic (combined with a relentless 24-hour news cycle desperate for things to fill air time), the public is presented with as many as fifty different, often conflicting bits of advice on mask wearing, the benefits of social distancing, and what businesses can be open and how many people they can service. There’s also the discomfiture when schools must close, but bars and restaurants can be open. There may well be fine, scientific reasons for why this is perfectly reasonable, but on its face, it’s a position that feels like it defies common sense.  Add in the fact that science, by definition, isn’t a static and recommendations change based on new data and it’s a recipe for public confusion. Frankly, I’m not even sure that cohesive national-level messaging and policy would do much in the face of how much conflicting “information” is available through every website that proports to carry the latest news or medical advice.

3. America’s Mayor. In September 2001 Rudy Giuliani was lionized as “Americas Mayor” for his grit and determination in leading New York City through the aftermath of the terrorist attacks that brought down the World Trade Center. His steady hand on the tiller and regular presence at press conferences, exuded a calm that almost none of us felt at the time. Fast forward almost twenty years and it’s hard to believe we’re even seeing the same person. From his presser live from the parking lot at Four Seasons Total Landscaping to his performance yesterday in federal court, where he seemed to forget the name of both the presiding judge and the opposing counsel, the mayor appears to be a poor shadow of himself. For those of us old enough to remember him as a masterful leader when we most needed one, it’s an awfully hard thing to watch.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Accessories. I’ve been using the same iPhone case manufacturer since sometime around the 3rd generation. It appears that sometime early this year, they’ve gone defunct. That means I have a new phone coming tomorrow and now have to go through the paces of finding someone else who makes as close an approximation as what I use to be able to get, because, let’s face it, I’m not going to be satisfied with the first two or three or dozen I try. They’ll probably all be fine cases in theory, but none of them will be exactly what I wanted.  Sigh. It’s going to be stupid and expensive and I don’t want to do it.

2. Vaccine. Reports this week are there’s a COVID-19 vaccine coming soon from Pfizer. Moderna seems to be hot on their heels with their own version. It looks like a footrace to see who will be first to market and able to make a supply chain work effectively. If your biggest concern is fighting back against the virus, this is all basically good news. My contrarian instinct, though, can’t help but remind me that the arrival of a vaccine is the beginning of the end of the golden age of working from home. Getting “back to normal” will inevitably sign the death knell of being home all day with the animals and give the upper hand back to bosses who value asses in chairs more than measurable productivity… and that’s not so much annoying as it is sad.

3. The Republican Party. Do I really need to even explain this one? As a (mostly) lifelong Republican, I’m embarrassed by the elected members of the party who are too cowed by the ebbing power of the president to say publicly that Donald Trump has not won reelection. The numbers tell the tale. I know that constituents will almost always rather hear sweet lies than hard truths and staying elected means not pissing off your base too badly. Even knowing that, I can’t quite get past the feeling that the Republican Party establishment is, perhaps as soon as the Georgia special election in January, going to be punished for its cowardice in a moment that begs them to tell truth to power.

If Nixon could go to China…

Joe Biden wasn’t my choice for president. He wouldn’t have been my second choice for president, either.

My own preferences notwithstanding, and subject to the convening of the Electoral College, Joe Biden is now the President-Elect of the United States. He was elected in accordance with the laws and customs of our country. In the fullness of time, votes will be certified, Electors will meet, their votes will be counted by the Congress, and former Vice President Biden will be inaugurated as the 46th President of the United States.

I can already hear the voices raging “Not My President” across the internet. In case you’re wondering, it sounds just as stupid coming from the right as it sounded coming from the left for the last four years. I didn’t vote for him, but at noon on January 20th, 2021, he will take the oath of office. He will be the president. My president. Your president. America’s president.

I congratulate him. I congratulate Vice President-Elect Harris. I wish them a term of unprecedented peace and prosperity and it’s my fervent hope that they lead our country with wisdom, openness, and integrity.

Sure, I fully plan to oppose 75% or more of the Biden Administration’s likely agenda, but that’s no reason I can’t be polite and take a moment to recognize the wonder of the world that is a peaceful transfer of power in our ever more contentious political universe. If Nixon could go to China, surely we can manage these small acts that help to bring back a touch of the old civility between our countrymen.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Apologists. Several times this week, I listened to the chattering classes on television solemnly opine that “America is no longer seen as a shining city.’” They’ve been trying to sell that story for so long now that I think they’re starting to believe their own hype. While it’s true that the United States isn’t the Guevaraist paradise they’d seem to like, there are still gobs of people knocking down the door to get here, so they can get the fuck out of here with that fuckery.

2. The popular vote. The national popular vote means exactly nothing when it comes to electing a President of the United States. The “abolish the Electoral College” crowd – including many so-called intellectuals who are certainly smart enough to understand the founder’s logic in removing the election of the nation’s chief magistrate from the hands of a simple majority – is out in force on Twitter this week. They’re joined, increasingly, by a sub-group who want to abolish the concept of having two senators for each state in favor of (if I understand their generally disjointed argument) allocating senators by population in the same way seats in the House of Representatives is allocated. Personally, I like the notion that the power of “the people’s representatives” in the House is checked by the interests of the states in the Senate, that together as a Congress, they check the power of the Executive Branch and the Courts, and that the Court checks the powers of the other two branches. That the machinery of government is complex is a feature, not a flaw. I have far more faith in the operational framework built during the Constitutional Convention than I do in whatever goofy “improvements” the collective brilliance a bunch Twitterers manage to come up with.

3. Pollsters. If we’re going to continue to report pre-election polling, we’re going to have to come up with a way to make the tale they’re telling more than a wild ass guess about what might happen. For months, the favored narrative was of a “blue wave” that would give Joe Biden a legendary victory and carry huge numbers of new Democrats into Congress. As I write this, it’s entirely possible that the former vice president may get his shot at the big chair, but his election doesn’t appear to come with coattails. His party is on track to lose seats in the House and while the Senate remains a toss-up. It’s entirely possible that Democrats will seize all the levers of power, but let’s not pretend it shows some kind of grand national realignment. If it happens, it’s more a blue dribble than a blue wave.

Not the first, nor the last…

Politics is one of those wonderful lands where how it looks is far, far more important than what it really is. As much as we like to think of our presidents as paragons of health and virtue, our history is filled with examples of dire medical conditions that were kept from the public because admitting the seriousness of their various conditions would have been an admission of weakness. 

President Trump’s forging ahead to return to the White House despite ongoing treatment for COVID-19 is hardly an exception to the age-old rules of American politics. Wilson’s debilitating stroke was hidden from the public through the last year of his presidency. While campaigning for a 3rd term, Theodore Roosevelt was literally shot in the chest, but refused to surrender the podium. Jack Kennedy was regularly jammed full of painkillers to relieve a chronic backache. Franklin Roosevelt was dying of heart disease when he was elected to his 4th term. 

There’s nothing new going on here, with the obvious exception of 24-hour professional and social media coverage that the American president receives day in and day out. Donald Trump might like to sell himself as the businessman president, but in the end he’s as much just another professional politician as the rest of them now… and in the last 30 days of an election, in a tight race, you’d be hard pressed to find a professional politician who wouldn’t rather die on the trail than stay in the hospital.

This isn’t the first time a president has pushed their health way past the breaking point in pursuit of their brass ring and I dare say it won’t be the last.