Sunday, January 17, 2021

2021: Our story so far


"Trump still has nineteen days in office, and can still do some damage." I wrote those words sixteen days ago. They seem so quaint and naive now.

Donald Trump has simply refused to accept that he lost the election. Cannot believe it, so it must not be true, or he can make it be not true. Two weeks ago he tried to convince the Lieutenant Governor of Georgia - a Republican - to "find" for him enough votes to win the state, two months after the election. The Lieutenant Governor refused. Trump threatened him, stating that by accepting the results of the election, he was acting illegally. The Lieutenant Governor promptly released a recording of the call.

Trump had been rallying his troops on Facebook, on Twitter, summoning them to one big gathering in Washington, D.C. on January 6th, the day that the Electoral Votes would be officially counted and certified by Vice President Mike Pence. Immediately the word got around: prepare for civil war. This is it, this is what they'd been waiting for. The votes from swing states that had gone for Biden would be challenged. Mike Pence would overturn the results of the election. Trump would be certified as President. Or else.

They came. They came in great numbers, from all around the country. Local political gadfly and frequent candidate for public office Frank Scavo ran a bus trip down from Pittston with over 200 participants. The people who showed up in Washington, D.C. weren't bound by the rules that had applied to other gatherings that had taken place there. Many of them carried weapons, and flags, and signs. Many wore combat armor, helmets and bulletproof vests. Many of them looked ready for war.

Trump addressed his troops. He expressed hope that Mike Pence would do his job and overturn the election. He then directed his troops to march down from their gathering spot on the National Mall to the Capitol itself. He would be marching with them - in spirit, anyway.

The counting began, barely. The votes were announced from Alabama. From Alaska. From Arizona - and there came the first objection. Minutes after the counting began it was stopped for two hours so the House and Senate could separately debate whether to accept the votes from Arizona.

That, apparently, was the signal.

The gathered crowd surged on the Capitol. They knocked down the barriers keeping them away - in some cases, the barriers were moved aside for them by Capitol Police. They stormed the Capitol steps, off-limits to visitors since September 11, 2001. They scaled walls. They rushed the doors and battered them in. They smashed windows and poured into the Capitol. Some looked like excited tourists caught up in the moment. Others looked like soldiers on a mission to infiltrate enemy headquarters and assassinate the general staff.

Frank Scavo posted excitedly:

The next day, Frank Scavo would tell his story to all the local newspapers and TV stations: he was there, but not so close to the action as to see what exactly was going on - despite his photo from the off-limits steps above. He had heard about the incursion into the Capitol, but such a thing surely must be the work of ANTIFA disguised as Trump supporters - no true patriot would defile the Capitol in the way that these people had! A day later, photos emerged of Scavo inside the Capitol as part of a mob. Over the next few days, the news stations would publish the photographic evidence. Scavo hasn't had much to say about the incident since then, not that anyone would believe anything he had to say anyway.

Each day, more and more photos and videos of the Capitol Insurrection have emerged, many shared by members of the mob itself in generous acts of self-incrimination. Parents have identified and reported their children, and children have identified and reported their parents. One was identified by an old high school classmate. The FBI have begun making arrests. Many of the members of the insurrection had fairly obvious intent, equipped with police-issue zip-cuffs. In the videos you see them going from room to room, looking for members of Congress, Nancy Pelosi in particular (though they had also chanted "Hang Mike Pence! Hang Mike Pence!", clearly upset at his failure to overturn the results of the election.) 

While some members of the Capitol Police - the only force in position to defend the Capitol that day - welcomed the insurrectionists as friends and comrades, others did their jobs. One played Pied Piper, carefully leading a mob away from unsecured doors that would have allowed them access directly to the Senate. Others were severely beaten. One was killed, beaten to death with a fire extinguisher. Four members of the mob died - one, an Air Force veteran who smashed her way through a door and was shot by the police defending a secure position; another, a woman carrying a Gadsden "DON'T TREAD ON ME" flag, was trampled to death by the mob; two others died of heart attacks, including another local arranger of buses (and purveyor of the "Trumparoo," an adorable Trump/kangaroo hybrid.) Another member of the Capitol Police died by suicide a few days after the event.

Members of Congress and their staffers and family members engaged in an active shooter response - Nancy Pelosi ruefully noted that many of her staffers had learned how to respond in school. QAnon cult member Representative Lauren Boebert helpfully tweeted out the positions and movements of members of Congress, including Nancy Pelosi. 

Hours passed before Trump allowed the National Guard to go in. Reportedly he was watching everything unfold on TV, and enjoying it tremendously. Joseph Biden wasted no time declaring the insurrectionists "domestic terrorists."

Congress reconvened at 8:00 PM. There were several more delays, including one over the validity of the votes from Pennsylvania. But eventually all objections were overruled. Despite Frank Scavo's excited assertion, the Electoral Vote was certified, and Joseph R. Biden was officially declared the winner.

Within days Donald Trump, in recognition of his incitement of the gathered mob to storm the Capitol in an act of insurrection, became the first president in U.S. history to be impeached twice. He has been permanently banned from Twitter and Facebook, perhaps a greater personal blow.

A social media site, Parler, which was extremely popular with right-wing extremists and conspiracy theorists, was shut down after they lost both their hosting and the right to continue to use the "free trial" versions of software they used to run much of their site. Some enterprising soul managed to archive all Parler content while it was still available - which is where much of the video and photographic evidence from the insurrection was housed.

December 7, 1941. September 11, 2001. January 6, 2021.

At noon on January 20, 2021, Donald Trump will be handing President Joseph R. Biden a country in flames. A collapsed economy. Over 400,000 dead of COVID-19. Trump himself won't be there; having broken the longstanding tradition of peaceful transitions of power, he intends to slink off early. He wants to be honored with a military sendoff, complete with a band and a twenty-one gun salute.

And he still has two and a half days to go.

We'll see what happens between now and then.

Friday, January 01, 2021

2020: A brief review

We knew it was coming.

I wish I had saved the tweet. That tweet that someone posted from when the news was just starting to leak out of China in December or early January, news about a highly contagious respiratory disease, a sort of superflu with deadly consequences, rapidly spreading beyond the major city (and international airline hub) of Wuhan. Someone wrote "THERE. That's it. THAT'S what was missing."

On Sunday, January 26, 2020 I was coming back to Nanticoke from a quick afternoon shopping trip. I decided to come through the newly-reopened new road that runs between Route 29 and Kosciuszko Street. Driving past all the newly-built warehouse distribution centers, I thought about all the low-to-middling-wage jobs that had been brought to the area, and wondered how long we would be able to hold onto them - and what it would take to disrupt them. I got home and was greeted with the news that Kobe Bryant, his daughter, and several others were killed in a helicopter crash. The next day, USA Today ran this on their front page:

Even then, we knew. 

We watched through February as the disease raged through Seattle, and New York, and Los Angeles, and San Francisco. We heard about the special affinity had for nursing homes, chewing its way through the captive resident populations. Prisons, too. We watched the first cases appear in Philadelphia, and then in the counties bordering New Jersey. We knew it was here in Pennsylvania. It would just be a matter of time.

One of the first deaths in the area was a man from Hanover Township - or was it the Hanover section of Nanticoke? - who had just come back from a trip to Italy, where the disease was burning through the highly sociable population. 

Saint Patrick's Day weekend came, and suddenly people realized there was a stark choice to be made:  go out like nothing was wrong, or stay home. A lot of people made one choice, a lot of people chose another. Everybody went back to the office on Monday, one big happy workplace family.

Las Vegas shut down, and we knew things were very serious.

Later that week we had a meeting. We would be leaving the building, going home to await further instructions. As I left the office on that last night, I told my friends we would be seeing each other in two weeks to eighteen months. I whistled "The End of the World" by Bob Geldof as I hobbled out on my slowly-healing stress-fractured leg. 

Two weeks later we were back to pick up our computers and headsets. We would be working from home for the indefinite future.

The Spring ground on, became Summer, all feeling like a unending slog - the Long March, some called it, because the world seemed to be frozen as it was when last we had believed ourselves safe and secure. Racial conflicts arose, fueled by a series of police abuses and outright murders. Protests were met with more abuse of authority, and the use of what could generously be called "irregulars" to supplement official forces. The police and their mercenary allies took particular delight in exercising their abuse against members of the media. News crews were attacked and arrested. A photographer was shot in the eye and blinded with a rubber bullet.  A Navy veteran who approached a line of mercenaries in Police gear to ask them on whose authority they were engaging in their unlawful behavior was beaten and pepper-sprayed for his audacity. An assault rifle-toting teenager who had crossed state lines in the hope of engaging in conflict shot and killed several protesters during a confrontation. Another individual was shot and killed by a private security guard for a media group after he attacked the guard and the reporters.

John Lewis died. Ruth Bader Ginsburg died. Over 345,000 Americans died of COVID-19. 

COVID-19 forced a rethinking of how elections would be run. Paper absentee ballots became the norm. But at the same time, Trump appointee Louis DeJoy took steps to destabilize the US Postal Service and reduce its ability to handle mail in a timely manner. Millions of voters took their votes to drop boxes. Hundreds of thousands of votes, perhaps more, were likely lost or delayed in the USPS system and never got where they were going. (DeJoy's trumpery would have long-lasting repercussions: I sent out three packages on December 14. One got to Florida on December 18. One got to Columbia, MD on December 26. And one did not get to Dover, PA until December 30.)

Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump by the same electoral margin that Trump had defeated Hillary Clinton. Biden also received the largest number of popular votes in history, and defeated Trump by a margin of over seven million votes. Trump, who had declared his defeat of Clinton to be a "landslide," refused to accept (and still refuses to accept) the results of the election.

...and that's pretty much it. Working from home. Ordering what we need online. Making furtive trips to the grocery store and elsewhere to buy the things we can't get online. Going to church online. Not letting my mom out of the house except for trips to the doctor and visits to the cemetery. My leg got better, since I wasn't hiking from the parking lot to my desk every day anymore, and was able to give it time to heal. 

The dying keeps going on. The Trump administration's response to COVID-19 has been a series of failures and disasters. Trump's failure to provide leadership has turned mask wearing into a political issue. The same people who are denying that COVID-19 is a real disease are also furiously denying that Joe Biden won the Presidential election.

The best guesses at when things might return to some sort of normal range from July to October. Other countries have been able to wrestle the disease into submission through stopping social transmission, through the use of bubbles and masks and public compliance with scientific guidance. Not the United States. Our spread is out of control. And still millions had no problem going out and partying to see in the New Year.

The dying isn't over. Trump still has nineteen days in office, and can still do some damage. Things won't magically change January 20, any more than they changed January 1. But we have hope.

Sometimes it feels like that's all we have.

Something old is ending, something new is beginning

The first Moon of 2021 looks down on Nanticoke - waning gibbous, two days past Full. What will the coming twelve Full Moons see?

2020 is done.

2021 is beginning. 

The U.S. COVID-19 tally of 2020: (data actually lags a few days)