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Intermission 3: On 2020 politics...
The last note that I hope to write on this topic this year.
Earlier this week, I had an unfortunate online interaction with a relative that I hope to avoid repeating. We’ve been going back and forth in a simmering argument about 2020 politics and during the vice presidential debate and I jokingly sent them a Facebook message saying “Man, Mike Pence got spanked in the debate tonight!” and following up a minute later with “Just kidding - he did fine.” (For folks keeping track at home, I do think that Pence’s performance at the debate was on-par with Harris, and they both did okay for the tops of their tickets.)
The next morning, they sent me a Facebook message demanding an answer for why Harris wouldn’t answer the question about whether the Biden/Harris administration would pack the court or not. I answered back that that packing the court is as legal and fair as pushing through a judge during an election year, and I followed up with a simple question of whether my relative knew how many judges there were on the Court in the first place, only to be met with a response along the lines of “Obama did it too”. I explained that before I would engage on the topic of court packing, I wanted to know if this was going to be a productive conversation on the topic (I enjoy SCOTUS-related topics, and spent a decent part of my education and career on SCOTUS-related activities) or whether I was going to be playing a crappy game of telephone while my relative relayed shallow post-debate spin from YouTube. We decided to take the conversation to the phone, and I made the mistake of laughing at the situation where I’m arguing court packing long distance via phone, and my relative hung up on me, accusing me laughing at them personally. Calls back to explain that was not the case were like talking to a wall, and that’s where the conversation remains at this point.
This is an interaction that I don’t care to repeat, so this Intermission will lay out where I stand on this stuff. If folks want to talk politics, they can read this first, and we can continue. Otherwise, I’ll do something else with my time for my own sanity and for preserving the sake of whatever relationships I have with folks who think that they think differently than me and are ready to deploy some pwnage.
We probably agree more than you think once you stop casting everything in terms of the FOX News Cinematic Universe.
I don’t recall where I first saw the term the FOX News Cinematic Universe (FNCU) a few weeks ago, but it seemed like such a perfect description of what I experience when I’m engaged in these conversations. What it means is that the folks contacting me are not there to argue with Chris And What Chris Thinks, but rather they’re there to argue with Chris As A Stand-In For A Progressive Strawman. It doesn’t matter to what extent that I state that I’m against fraudulent elections (I put in a lot of work and time as an Election Judge for Xenu’s sake!), I must secretly in my heart think that Biden and the Democrats are cheating, and that’s okay. When it comes to judges and the Supreme Court, I must be one of those baby-killing pro-abortionists because I don’t support Trump and think that the Pro-Life cause has beclowned itself throwing their mulligans behind him. (While flat wrong - more on this below - it also ignores that Trump has likely donated more cash to Planned Parenthood (“I don’t know. It’s possible.”) than I have ($0 for folks keeping score).
The close cousin to being asked to serve as the Strawman is the idea that because I think that Obama was a better President than Trump, I’m automatically an Obama Stan. For the scorekeepers, here’s my entire presidential voting history:
2000: Harry Browne, Libertarian Party.
2004: Likely John Kerry (certainly not Bush at that time), Democratic Party. I don’t recall supporting a third party that year, but can’t rule it out.
2008: Barack Obama, Democratic Party
2012: Gary Johnson, Libertarian Party
2016: Evan McMullin, Better for America / Independent Party
Of all the races where my vote was closest to going to their opponent, it was in 2008 when I voted for Obama. I started the election out as a John McCain fan, including donations during his primary campaign. I wasn’t anti-Obama in that election, having voted for him as my Senator in Washington in the crazy Illinois 2004 Senate election. (I was down to vote for Mr. Seven-Of-Nine, until it was revealed what an uncontrolled horn-dog Mr. Borg was.) The fact of the matter is that John McCain lost my vote late in the election when the economy started falling down around our ears, and McCain demonstrated that he was out of his depth on the crisis. Obama earned my vote that election, but I remained a proud McCain Stan as long as the good Senator stuck around.
I think the “Obama Lover” trope comes into play as a case of classic psychological projection. The folks deploying this are Trump fans, and admitting that Trump hasn’t been the Best President of All Time and could do something wrong is akin to outright apostasy from Trumpism altogether. In 2020, you’re either on the Trump Train 100% or not at all. As much as I’d like to say that this is me engaging in the MSNBC Cinematic Universe, I haven’t seen too many counter-examples to suggest otherwise. On the flip side, I’m happy to talk about a ton of stuff that Obama and the Democrats got wrong during their tenure in office: not holding financial institutions responsible for the 2008 recession, using executive orders to skirt the lawmaking process, working with Harry Reid to abolish the judicial filibusters first, etc. If you’re going to cast me as a “lover” of anything, my voting record suggests that you lump me in with the Globalist Libertarian Free-Marketers instead of the Progressive Left. (Kind of like how the Brotherhood of Mutants are not the same thing as Roxxon, even though Captain America may find himself fighting both at different times.)
Moving forward, if I suspect anyone’s playing in the FNCU sandbox, my first question is going to be to have them explain what they think I think before proceeding. This should save me a lot of time.
Where I agree with the GOP and #MAGA in 2020
So, rather than be coy about my beliefs that the FNCU crowd get wrong, let me lay down a few to avoid any confusion:
I’m a constitutional and legal textualist who believes that the law should be applied and interpreted as written. If we don’t like how the law is being written, it’s on us to write better laws. I’m not a fan of judges inventing “penumbras and emanations” where they are not written down. At a federal level, where there’s ambiguity in the law, that should be punted down to States to decide. Where it’s ambiguous at the State level, let people decide on an individual basis. (We call this Federalism.)
Given #1, I won’t shed a tear if the following SCOTUS decisions are overturned:
Griswold v. Connecticut: The original “penumbras” decision. In discovering a broad-ranging right to privacy in the context of contraceptive use, this decision has single-handedly stunted the development of actual statutory and Constitutionally-protected privacy rights that Americans so desperately need in the age of Surveillance Capitalism.
Roe v. Wade: Griswold’s sequel. Abortion is not mentioned once in the Constitution, so it’s gross Constitutional malfeasance to remove this issue from the purview of the States given the Tenth Amendment, which is in the Constitution. I also believe that abortion as an issue has severely poisoned American politics and the sooner that culture war(s) can be fought at the State levels, the better.
Obergefell v. Hodges: While I’m an enthusiastic supporter of same-sex marriages (SSM) and would vote to enshrine protections for those unions in law in a heartbeat, Obergefell is sloppy Constitutional interpretation that short-circuited the progress that SSM advocates were making at more local levels winning hearts, minds, and (most importantly) local legislative policy battles.
I think that McConnell and the GOP senators are within their rights to push Amy Coney Barrett into the Supreme Court. I’m also not worried about ACB as a Justice - my Constitutional issues are not the same as the Progressive Left’s (see above) - and I think it may be good for the nation with some younger blood on the court. Note that I’m also not that worried about court packing - if we’re playing in the world of what’s legal is what is right with election-year SCOTUS appointments, it would be inconsistent for me argue that Congress employing its Constitutional power to resize the Supreme Court is somehow wrong.
I’m not a fan of the wave of equity and diversity indoctrination that’s sweeping the commercial, educational, and governmental sectors. I don’t oppose it because I don’t think that there are not problems to be addressed, but rather because it’s based on very flimsy theory that falls apart if you don’t come in as a True Believer. Just like the taint of Trumpism will likely end up setting good conservative causes back decades, current woke thought and fashions will set us back from moving past race and ethnicity as something that’s relevant in our society as soon as we might with a more solid and defensible underlying framework.
I’m an Election Judge and believe that we should have fair and transparent elections where every eligible vote is counted. I put in quite a bit of my own time to do my part to achieve this goal, and wouldn’t waste that time if I felt otherwise.
While I can go on, I think that these five items are sufficient evidence for why I’m a poor candidate to serve as a villain in the FNCU.
Why I voted for Biden/Harris in 2020
Now, while I may not be a FNCU villian, I also don’t expect to be cast as an Avenger in that universe as well. (Moon Knight may be a better analogy these days.) I already voted for President and I cast my lot with Joseph Biden for one very simple reason: Donald Trump is a uniquely bad person to serve as President and he hasn’t been an acceptable leader for this nation.
As I mentioned above, I’m a firm believer in the idea that our government should be predictable and understandable. Donald Trump is anything but that. When COVID hit, we had protocols and plans in place to deal with epidemics. We didn’t follow them, and Trump’s pig-headed ignorance weakened the credibility and ability of our governmental scientific apparatuses to do what they were established to do: save American lives. The last time I did the math on excess deaths in America and compared our deaths to our neighbor Canada, tens of thousands more Americans are dead than they would have been had we followed our plans and confronted the virus as a unified nation. There was always going to be some level of COVID casualties that were not going to be avoidable (and not Trump’s fault), but the last I checked, Canada had 254 deaths per million, and the US had 650 dead per million. If we did as well as Canada (with 254 deaths per million), there would be over 130,000 more Americans alive today. COVID is the kind of incident where America would have led the world in the past, but instead, we’re serving as the manual of What Not To Do for developed nations.
And let’s be clear, I wasn’t planning on voting for Trump before COVID. While COVID was an opportunity where he could have shifted my sentiment by proving that he could lead in a crisis (an opportunity that he outright failed), he was failing to demonstrate that he could lead when not faced with a crisis. He bungled the trade war with China (the trade deficit is higher now than when entered office), severely damaged the network of alliances America’s been establishing since the end of the Second World War, and racked up a larger national debt even before COVID hit. For the few good things that folks can cite as a result of the Trump Administration (some deregulation, maybe?), there’s an even larger list of things where we’re much worse off.
One of the reasons that I marked my mail-in ballot for Biden is that I also look forward to the day that the American conservative political movement means something useful again. Right now, it’s lodged in a nihilistic personality cult around Donald Trump. He’s conned an entire wing of American politics into believing what’s good for him is good for the nation. I recall having conversations with folks after the 2016 election. While there were one or two Trump True Believers, most of the folks I talked to who voted his way did so because they recognized he was a terrible excuse for a human being, but they thought Clinton would do much worse to the nation - the Flight 93 excuse. What’s not important there was whether they were correct (I think that Trump’s proven them wrong), but that in 2016 there was some level of self-awareness and independent thinking that they were choosing the lesser of two pretty bad evils. (It’s also very interesting to me that the folks who used Flight 93-ism as their 2016 excuse for supporting Trump are not willing to extend the same courtesy to me using it as my 2020 justification for supporting Biden. You’d think that like would recognize like.)
That independence and critical thinking was dissolved pretty thoroughly during the past four years, and folks whose political opinions I respected pre-2016 have become pretty pointless to talk to if you’re looking for a conversation with more nuance and introspection than a Charlie Kirk rant. So, if you come at me about court packing (or some other issue), and you get offended if I ask you a basic question about the context you’re arguing within, let me explain to you what I’m doing.
In the software hiring world, we have this thing called the FizzBuzz Test:
Write a program that prints the numbers from 1 to 100. But for multiples of three print “Fizz” instead of the number and for the multiples of five print “Buzz”. For numbers which are multiples of both three and five print “FizzBuzz”.
Since it’s very easy to lie on a resume and project more competence and knowledge than one has during a software job interview, the FizzBuzz Test is a very simple programming test that can be used to weed out the folks full of hot air from the folks that know how to program. If you have any competence as a developer, you can write this in your sleep. If you don’t, your inadequacy is readily visible.
So, if you come at me about court packing, and I ask you whether you know how many justices sit on the Supreme Court and how large the Court has been up until the present, I’m deploying a simple test to determine if you know what the hell you’re talking about or are poorly regurgitating what you saw on an online video. If you accuse me of supporting cheating at elections and you don’t have the foggiest idea what a provisional ballot is and why it’s used, I’m going to laugh at the idea that you think you’re ready to have a real conversation on the topic.
If you take that personally, that’s on you - if you’re coming to shoot me down, make damn sure you have a stocked quiver. And here’s the inverse of that - if you think I’m coming after you and you think that I’m full of shit, FizzBuzz me first. Just don’t be surprised if I pass your test and return the favor before we can start talking about what’s really interesting or meaningful.
If instead you’re looking at me to play the role of Bob, Agent of HYDRA in the FNCU, don’t waste my time and don’t waste your own time. Life’s too damn short.