Sofa Heroes

Our sofa was our front and our patience was our weapon. … This is how we became heroes, back then, during that coronavirus winter of 2020.

– translated from a German Covid ad

This week’s featured post is “The Electoral College, the Trump Coup Attempt, the Georgia Run-offs, and Other Post-Election Reflections“.

This week everybody was still reacting the election

I combined all my election reflections into the featured post. It’s not the well-organized essay I usually intend to write, but is more like a weekly summary devoted to a single topic.

Now that Trump will be leaving office, be sure to plan your virtual visit to the Donald J. Trump Library. Visit the Covid Memorial. Examine the Wall of Criminality (the only wall Mexico paid for).

Somebody put an enormous amount of work into this project, and it shows.

and talking about the exploding virus

Way back in the spring, doctors warned us that there could be another coronavirus wave in the fall. Well, here it is. Three weeks ago we were horrified that daily new-case numbers were reaching the previous records of around 75,000. Friday, we had more than double that number: 177,246. The trend line is still racing upwards, with no signs of a peak.

Hospitalizations are also at record levels. Hospitalizations tend to lag a week or so behind new cases, and they don’t depend on the number of tests, which is the usual denialist excuse for why new-case numbers are surging. in general, you get hospitalized because at-home care can’t stabilize your fever and/or blood-oxygen levels. It’s a serious thing, far from the “sniffles” Trump talks about.

Deaths, which lag about a week behind hospitalizations, are rising more slowly. The current daily average is around 1,200. (That’s like four or five major airline crashes every day.) The last two weeks’ surge in the new-case numbers wouldn’t have shown up in death totals yet. So we’re probably on our way to 2,000 deaths per day.

And Thanksgiving is coming. Large numbers of people will travel, spend hours indoors with friends and relatives, and then travel again. If you wanted to spread the virus, you could hardly design something better. By the time we get into the Christmas season, we might be seeing 3 or 4 thousand deaths every day.

Don’t do it.

Health officials are warning people to be careful this Thanksgiving, and for the most part that just means DON’T. Don’t do whatever it is you usually do.

The archetypal Thanksgiving — smiling faces packed tightly around a table in a warm and cozy dining room, with the family patriarch and matriarch at the center of attention and grandchildren arriving from every corner of the country — is exactly what you shouldn’t do if you want everybody to survive until next Thanksgiving.

The responsible thing is to cancel your plans. My wife and I just told the friends we have spent Christmas with for decades that we can’t make the 1,500-mile drive this year. It was hard and depressing, but it was necessary.

and credit/blame for the election outcome

Democratic centrists and progressives are arguing about how to split the credit and/or blame for the election results. This seems to me to be a particularly unproductive way to spend our time.

Here’s what I observed myself: Being a Michigan State alum, I spent many hours of the election’s final weeks watching Big 10 football on the conference’s BTN network. In spite of BTN having national reach, the ads were often aimed at local races in the states whose teams were playing. So I saw a lot of the GOP’s closing arguments in states like Iowa, Wisconsin, and Michigan.

Those ads did indeed target the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, and tried to associate moderate Democratic candidates like Iowa’s Theresa Greenfield and Michigan’s Gary Peters with progressive leaders like AOC and progressive policies like defunding the police and Medicare for All. (I don’t remember what they called MfA; probably a more pejorative name.) Clearly, Republicans believed that it was good for them (and not for Greenfield or Peters) if voters associated all Democrats with AOC and the progressive agenda.

So I get where moderates like Conor Lamb are coming from when they say that the outspokenness of progressives made their races harder.

And yet …

Imagine for a moment that AOC, Bernie Sanders, and the Squad never existed. No one ever said “Defund the Police” or “Ban Fracking” or proposed any trillion-dollar programs. Do I believe that in such a world, Republican attack ads would have nothing to say? They wouldn’t dream up some other policies they believed to be unpopular and claim Greenfield and Peters and Lamb supported them? They wouldn’t find some other public figure to demonize and hang around moderate Democrats’ necks in purple districts? (The ads I saw, in fact, did demonize Nancy Pelosi. I think she’s more progressive than many on the left give her credit for, but she’s no AOC.)

Lamb et al seem to be assuming that if other Democrats only behaved “better”, Republicans would have no way to distort their views. I doubt that.

and the Biden administration

Politico makes its best guesses about a Biden cabinet. It’s a distinguished cast, and lacks any of the I-play-an-expert-on-TV types Trump was fond of.

The question is whether Mitch McConnell’s Senate (assuming Republicans win at least one of the Georgia run-offs) will let Biden have a cabinet. If I were Biden, I’d be tempted to stretch the Overton window by making one or two nominations Republicans will absolutely hate — say, Hillary Clinton as attorney general or Al Gore as head of the EPA. McConnell could lead a charge against them and do a victory dance when their nominations didn’t reach the floor, but Biden’s other nominees would seem tame by comparison and might slide through.

The NYT draws attention to a looming problem: Just as career government officials in the State Department, Justice, the EPA, and several other agencies — the so-called “Deep State” — stood against Trump and sometimes frustrated his initiatives, Joe Biden may face resistance from Homeland Security.

To the extent that it’s more than just a conspiracy theory, the Deep State consists of career government workers who are more loyal to the mission of their agency (as they understand it) than to their ultimate boss in the White House. So, no matter what orders they get, generals at the Pentagon will drag their feet if they believe those orders endanger national security, public health officials like Dr. Fauci will resist policies that promote disease, NOAA won’t lie about the path of a hurricane, and so on.

Well, the Trump Homeland Security Department has accumulated people who believe the southern border is out of control. Many are hostile to asylum-seekers, and for four years their cruelty has been given free rein. That genie is going to be hard to get back into its bottle.

and “religious liberty”

Thursday, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito gave a virtual address to a Federalist Society meeting. Most of the media coverage of the speech centered on his statements about the Covid lockdowns, like: “The pandemic has resulted in previously unimaginable restrictions on individual liberty.” I think people who lived through rationing, blackouts, and the Japanese internment during World War II might debate that. So might Black people who remember Jim Crow and sundown towns. Or Native Americans who had their children taken away to Indian Residential Schools. But historical myopia and white self-centeredness are not what I want to talk about.

Alito also used Covid restrictions as examples of our problematic emergency laws, and yet somehow managed to ignore the most egregious recent abuse of emergency law: Trump’s fake southern-border emergency that allowed him to seize money to build his wall. But that’s not what I want to talk about either.

No, Alito spent a big chunk of his speech talking about an entirely phony issue: the threat to “religious liberty” in America. This is something I wrote about in 2013: “‘Religious Freedom’ means Christian Passive-Agressive Domination“.

I expect to come back to this issue sometime soon, but let me just say this: All of the cases he mentions — Little Sisters of the Poor, Ralph’s Pharmacy, Masterpiece Cakeshop — are examples of Christian passive aggression; there was no threat to actual religious liberty.

Passive aggression is when someone exaggerates a weakness or sensitivity in order to manipulate others and gain power over their choices and actions. Again and again in recent years, conservative Christians have constructed a greatly exaggerated notion of purity, and have used it to insist on an ever-greater distance between themselves and anyone who is doing something they don’t like. And the inconvenience this exaggerated purity causes should fall not on the Christian, but on whoever they object to.

Take Masterpiece Cakeshop, for example. There is no tradition in America in which a wedding cake has the slightest religious significance. A baker who refuses to sell a wedding cake to a gay couple is not in any way practicing his Christian religion. He is just acting out his bigotry. Alito complains:

For many today, religious liberty is not a cherished freedom. It’s often just an excuse for bigotry.

But in what way is that opinion wrong? Isn’t “religious liberty” the primary excuse for bigotry today?

and you also might be interested in …

Artist Robin French offers this response to the question: “What have you achieved in 2020?”

Michelle Goldberg is less than optimistic about Trump’s post-presidency prospects, and outlines the legal troubles he might face.

This week I discovered Blaire Erskine, who has done a series of hilarious wife-of-somebody-famous videos. In this one, she is the wife of Corey Lewandowski, reacting to him getting a Covid infection. A few months ago, she was the daughter of Jerry Falwell Jr., reacting to her parents’ sex scandal.

If you repost one, make sure to emphasize that she isn’t really who she’s claiming to be, because the Lewandowski one is so funny your friends will want to believe it’s genuine.

and let’s close with a message from the future

An elderly German man recalls how in his younger days, he became one of the heroes of 2020 by staying home and doing nothing.

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  • Eric L  On November 16, 2020 at 12:16 pm

    “Imagine for a moment that AOC, Bernie Sanders, and the Squad never existed. No one ever said “Defund the Police” or “Ban Fracking” or proposed any trillion-dollar programs. Do I believe that in such a world, Republican attack ads would have nothing to say?”

    This is the wrong question. Assume Republicans will say the exact same thing. The question is whether swing voters will be just as likely to believe Republican ads about what Democrats stand for if those ads are the only place they hear that Democrats stand for that stuff versus in the world we live in where AOC is popular among the Democratic base for some of those positions. I think it’s silly to believe that Republicans and Republicans alone define what the oh-so-gullible moderate voter believes Democrats stand for. I think it’s reasonable for Conor Lamb to be concerned that AOC, who gets a lot more attention than he does not only on Fox News and in attack ads but also on mainstream and left wing media and especially social media, might also be defining what voters think he stands for, and might be making Republican efforts to define what he stands for more credible.

    What should be done about this is less clear. Obviously AOC can say what she believes. But Democrats should also be free to say she’s wrong or even dangerous if that’s what they believe. If we expect to not be treated as a party of AOC clones, people need to see that we actually don’t agree.

    • Eric L  On November 17, 2020 at 7:38 am

      Interesting thread on how “Defund the Police” backfired and why so much of the mainstream left got behind a slogan that obviously would backfire:

      Yes, Joe Biden and Conor Lamb never endorsed “Defund the Police” themselves, and yes, Republicans will continue saying it’s what Democrats really believe for at least a few election cycles after everyone abandons the slogan, but it seems to me an obvious act of wishful thinking to think that actual Democrats endorsing the phrase have had no effect on perceptions of what Democrats stand for. Or the fact that pretty much anyone who has left-of-center facebook friends at all has seen some of them endorse “Defund the Police” and there’s a good chance the only people they’ve seen argue against them are Trump supporters.

      Normally the way you make slogans is you look for a catch phrase for your agenda that makes it sound reasonable, even obvious, like who would be against that? Now we take fringe slogans that sound extreme taken literally and were probably coined by anarchists holding views few agree with and insist on defending them and explaining how they could also mean the more moderate thing we support. This is terrible messaging and it seems to come from a place of fear of appearing to disagree with anyone to our left. And that’s not a good look.

      • Eric L  On November 17, 2020 at 7:42 am

        I was not expecting WordPress to copy the entire long reddit comment into my reply when I just put in the url. I’ll try to avoid that in the future, but I’m not sure how!

      • George Washington, Jr.  On November 17, 2020 at 12:32 pm

        If you need even a sentence to explain your slogan, it’s a bad slogan. No one needed an explanation of what “Make America Great Again,” “Build That Wall,” and “Lock Her Up” meant. The point of a slogan is to rally your base and maybe attract a few fence-sitters from the opposite side. “Defund the Police” does neither.

        I don’t know why conservatives are better at coming up with slogans than liberals are. It may have to do with liberals being more comfortable with nuance and ambiguity, while conservatives prefer black and white thinking. But I think when the post-mortem of this election is completed, it will be clear that Biden would have done much better if George Floyd hadn’t been murdered, the demonstrations hadn’t happened, and no one had heard of “Defund the Police.” Biden won in spite of that.

      • Eric L  On November 18, 2020 at 10:05 am

        To be fair, people actually employed in Democratic politics aren’t that bad at slogans, I think it’s mostly Twitter activists who are coming up with these slogans. I do think Twitter in particular has changed the way we talk about politics for the worse. It has us effectively speaking in bumper stickers. Which wouldn’t necessarily be bad except the hashtag system means all conversation is organized by bumper stickers, and if you haven’t tied your thoughts to a viral hashtag you’re not part of the conversation. Combine that with the basic problem with online viral dynamics* where both support and opposition contribute to virality, so the conversation is organized by the most divisive bumper sticker slogans rather than the most appealing ones, and you’re a long way toward explaining why so many people are trying to get crazy sounding slogans to mean reasonable things, when normally the reverse of this is expected. (* See “This Video will make you Angry” for an explanation of the viral dynamics I’m talking about.)

      • Guest  On November 18, 2020 at 12:58 pm

        “This is the wrong question. Assume Republicans will say the exact same thing.”

        This part of your analysis of Doug’s frame here is spot on, and it directly undermines the neoliberal/centrist effort to frame Defund the Police as the real reason for the underwhelming performance of centrist Dems in 2020. Did any Dem actually make Defund the Police their campaign centerpiece? The only one that comes to mind is Cori Bush in Missouri, but she won office so it’s hard to fault her for it.

        In terms of how to approach it, it seems like a marketing/PR issue more than anything. Per the long post above, a clear majority of voters see the injustice of our criminal justice system, and once you get down to explaining the actual policy solutions behind the slogan you start finding broad consensus.

        Abandoning those progressive policy solutions for the status quo seems like the worst way forward for Dems. It does nothing to abate the smears, and turns our back to the current consensus that the system is deeply flawed and that discrete progressive policy solutions are a decent step towards remedy. I don’t see how it is impossible to fight for real policy change while also working to better the PR side of things, stepping back from the holier-than-thou moralizing, etc.

        That said, short term we may be better served leading with left-economic populism anyway instead of divisive topics that, like gay civil rights not too long ago, don’t yet have unambiguous popular support. Doesn’t mean we stop fighting for justice, of course.

      • Eric L  On November 22, 2020 at 3:58 pm

        Once again, the question isn’t what will abate the smears, the question is what affects whether the smears stick.

        The focus group suggests that the smear did land. But vulnerable Democrats did not use the phrase “Defund the Police.” However so much of the left was using this phrase in traditional media and social media that it still strikes me as willfully naive to say that Republicans created the impression that Democrats believed this all on their own.

        And let’s not pretend that the slogan was invented to be a shorthand for some moderate police reform policies that people like when they are explained, as opposed to being a slogan invented to mean exactly what the people in the focus group thought it meant that was coopted by moderates because it was trending on Twitter.

        I do agree that this is a PR problem not a policy problem and I hope to see a lot of these ideas actually tried.

  • Guest  On November 16, 2020 at 2:04 pm

    Regarding the centrist/progressive split, easy agree, Doug, that bickering over blame and credit is silly. However, not learning any lessons seems an even bigger folly. To that end, and in the spirit of safe, open discussion that Frank called us to the other week, I have a few notes to share with the Sift faithful:

    Under a bastardized Electoral College system, Democrats running to take the presidency as centrists continue a 40 year track record that fluctuates between tenuous and disastrous. Does Bill Clinton win 1992 without a right-leaning third party candidate taking 19% of the vote? Despite ruling as a centrist, Obama won behind a convincingly progressive, anti-war campaign offering hope and change as an “outsider” so he’s the exception that proves the rule. Now, we can add Biden. Against an international laughingstock of a neo-fascist, a completely bungled 100-year pandemic with economic turmoil to match (in the election year, no less!) Biden’s margin of victory stands at a mere 45K votes across three states. That should be a big red flag for all of us, even more so given the 40 year track record.

    Efforts to run to the right to peel away (R) votes for the Democrats did not do well, from centrists generally to the Lincoln Project specifically. As The Hill reports, all races that the Lincoln Project targeted were lost to actual Republicans, and the percent of Republican voters that backed Trump was actually UP from 2016.

    On the flip side, progressives had very encouraging results. It might be the biggest point that I’d like Doug and others to confirm: in the House, ALL dems who ran on M4A in red districts WON, while dems who ran against M4A in blue districts LOST. A Fox News exit poll had 72% of voters favoring a govt health care plan in 2020. While Biden comfortably lost the state, Florida overwhelmingly voted for higher minimum wage. Progressive, anti-drug-war ballot measures won a clean sweep, from legalizing marijuana in red states, to decriminalizing all drugs in Oregon. What can we learn from all this?

    • George Washington, Jr.  On November 17, 2020 at 12:36 pm

      The districts Democrats lost were for the most part Republican-leaning districts that they had won in 2018. Saying that those Democrats would have won by campaigning further to the left assumes that every district is like AOC’s. Democrats win in conservative districts by convincing their constituents that they can represent their concerns, not the concerns of liberals in other districts.

      • Guest  On November 18, 2020 at 12:04 pm

        As you know, George, my crystal ball remains cloudy, so I can’t say for sure that Dems would have won the districts you mention by embracing progressive bread-and-butter policies. All I can report is what happened, which is that Dems who ran in Republican-leaning districts by embracing M4A won, and the Dems who ran in Democrat-leaning districts by distancing themselves from M4A lost. This seems to accord with the Fox News exit polling data. In this case at least, and to your last point, it appears that constituents in these districts found that embracing M4A did indeed represent their concerns, and vice-versa.

        My guess is that we ignore this trend at our own peril. While unpopular slogans like Defund the Police and the often hollow moralizing of identity politics make for conservative smear fodder, the 2020 cycle lights a path forward. Namely, embracing progressive-left economic populism and, based on the resounding success of the ballot measures this year, even some progressive-left social issues that have already attained mass appeal like ending the drug war.

        On the flip side, abandoning progress for the status quo appears to give you the worst of both worlds. Candidates like Biden and HRC get no brownie points from conservative smear merchants and their audience for running to the ideological center, they are dismissed as “socialists” nonetheless. Meanwhile, it alienates the left ideological base, and, without the substantial bread-and-butter material assistance provided by progressive-left economic populist policy, independents and fence-sitters looking to better their lot see little incentive to jump on board with candidates looking to maintain a system that has left them behind.

        Not sure how to better communicate this to my centrist fellow Sifters.

  • jtf  On November 17, 2020 at 12:30 pm

    The “centrist” (aka right-wing) Democrats have it completely wrong in attacking the more progressive members of their party and blaming them for their losses. AOC pointed out how poorly the members who ran from progressive policies did in comparison to those who embraced them (though that could also be attributed to district-specific issues.)

    What these Democrats fail to realize is that Republicans will ALWAYS find someone to demonize. It’s what they do. It’s the only thing they have. So if they should be successful in purging members like Ocasio-Cortez, Tlaib, and the progressive ideas they support, then Republicans would simply shift the bar on what they tab as “socialism” further to the right.

    I’m originally from Michigan, but now live in NYC and don’t watch much television. My political advertising experience this year was also limited to Big Ten football. What I noticed in general was a tendency for Democratic ads to be the traditional “I’m ____ and I will ____ for you” while Republican ads fell into basically two camps:

    1. Attack ads full of lies to scare people away from candidates who might be attractive to people who hear their platform.

    2. Ads that actually say as little as possible about the candidate, instead filling the screen with nice pictures of the candidate and/or scenic shots, with lovely background music and repetitive narration of basically the candidate’s name + the state.

    Republicans don’t seem to want to run on their record or policies. They seem to just want to scare you into not voting for Democrats and providing a sense that they are the normal candidate. It’s like the woman (I think from Iowa) who said a couple years ago that listening to Ocasio-Cortez she had to keep reminding herself what was right, because Ocasio-Cortez made a lot of sense. This has to scare Republicans, because without the disinformation they have been relying on since fox “news” people might actually listen to the truth and find it makes sense.

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