Zach's PEN #15: A Cortisone Shot

2020 Week 45: In which I make a probably terrible analogy for what happened on Election Day.

Election Day morning around 7AM, I drove across Philly past long lines of chilly people outside polling places.

I was on my way to get an ultrasound-guided cortisone shot in my heel. I haven’t been able to comfortably walk more than from room to room for the past 4-5 months. While I can’t seem to get a straight answer on what this cortisone shot is going to do for me, I’ve been told everything from “That’s basically it, all fixed forever” to “Might make you feel better for a couple months and then you’re screwed again” to “Maybe it won’t even work.”

I guess I adequately demonstrated how much of a wimp I am so they gave me the freezy spray followed by the numbing shot followed by the cortisone shot. I can cautiously, tentatively report that after the presidential race was finally, mercifully called yesterday, I took the longest walk I have since springtime, across beautiful, exuberant Philadelphia with Allison and the babies. And my heel feels okay today. 🤞

There have been a lot of takes on this election, how much closer it was than some of us would have wanted, why it was that close, how polarization is increasing, etc., etc..

Now I’m going to say three things that are probably pretty different from how many Democrats feel:

  1. Both parties ought to be really embarrassed, because they have completely failed the country, and Donald Trump, for everything wrong with him, is glaring proof of that. I will never underestimate the establishment’s ability to stay in denial, but the emperor has no clothes. These parties are pathetic, and they deserved everything they got. The people, however, did not.

God, I wish it had been someone, anyone else who had stood up to the establishment first, and that the person had used tactics that appealed to our better nature. Alas, it was a clownish narcissist gameshow host with no ideology, no morals, and no governing ability beyond smelling the anger in the air and pointing it out.

It was supposed to be Barack Hussein Obama, a sacrosanct figure in most of my circles. Election night 2008 was one of the most electric nights of my life. Obama was the one who inspired millions, won states like Iowa, North Carolina, and Indiana, saying that he would stand up to the establishment and change how things are done in Washington. Then he turned around and filled his cabinet with Citigroup and Goldman Sachs appointees, bailed out the banks who destroyed our economy for their own greed while they foreclosed on millions of homes, installed the Heritage Foundation’s complicated healthcare plan written by the insurance industry, and continued the Bush era wars and tax cuts.

Both these parties have sold out their constituents to not rock the boat and to make their friends richer since before I was born. To be clear: Donald Trump continued the practice wholesale, but he said enough things to make the establishment of both parties look foolish that I can hardly blame people around the country for rooting for him. Polling shows that more than a decisive number of people who voted for Trump both times don’t actually like him at all, don’t agree with him on policy, don’t like his rhetoric, but they trust him more than they trust either party. While they continue to watch their communities crumble, their jobs get shipped overseas, and their kids increasingly unable to get married or start families, Trump was at least willing to call bullshit on the unanimous agreement of Larry Summers, Mitch McConnell, Elon Musk, George Bush, and Hillary Clinton that there’s no need to worry, it’s actually good for you that your jobs are now being done by people on the other side of the world, you’re going to benefit so much from that cheap labor…

  1. While I would love nothing more than a complete repudiation of the racist, authoritarian, anti-democratic, dangerously incompetent aspects of Donald Trump, the Democratic Party would have taken exactly the wrong message from a Joe Biden/Kamala Harris blowout here.

Indeed, they’re taking the wrong message from even this embarrassingly narrow victory. While I would love to see Donald’s sick, disgusting ass get blown out in every state in the union, I’ll settle for him getting beat by someone who didn’t even really campaign or take any policy positions. I actually think it’s better for the country that it was close, because we have a chance, a chance to get the attention of the Democratic Party and let them know that if they don’t deliver, and deliver big, for the 99% this round, get ready for president Tucker Carlson. And he’ll do it. And when he does, you can kiss every social issue we care about goodbye for the next 40 years.

  1. Lastly, I’m really hopeful about the country. I know a lot of people who voted for Trump or third party. I’m not afraid of any of them, and I think like the vast, vast majority of people I’ve met in my life, they are fundamentally good. And let me be perfectly clear: I trust voters. When they go into the voting booth, they are going to vote for who they think will best represent their interests and those of their community.

If Democrats fail to get enough of their votes to win, that’s Democrats’ fault. And you don’t win votes by meeting Republicans halfway or compromising on your values. You come up with real, understandable solutions, pitch them to the people in a way they actually believe you, listen to their responses, and for God’s sake don’t fucking talk down to them. No one likes being talked down to. No one. It doesn’t matter if your policies will help a constituency. If you have contempt for that constituency, they’ll never vote for you, and frankly you don’t deserve their vote.

The immediate pushback from friends on the left is usually “well Zach, that’s a really privileged position.” Of course it is. White people are privileged in this democracy to represent 75% of the population (and much higher in a lot of states). There are big drawbacks to democracy, and every once in while some anti-democratic shit needs to go down, like knocking out slavery (and killing 600,000+ young men to do it, all 100% worth it) and desegrating southern schools (which are more segregated than ever in the north, let’s not kid ourselves), but democracy is the best game we’ve got for handling our disagreements. It’s the game we have.

It may feel callous to call democracy a game because the stakes are much higher than any game. But games are really important. Without a game to play, where we can (mostly) agree on the rules, we’re left with nothing but violence to solve our differences. To those who are currently subject to unacceptable subjugation and violence, I wish that could be solved by violence in the other direction.

American Democracy got a cortisone shot in its heel this election. It remains to be seen whether it will work. If you need help keeping score, just watch wealth disparity, which has never been higher since the time of monarchies. If that trend doesn’t reverse, and seriously reverse, you can say goodbye to the Democratic Party. The Republican Party, what it was, is already long gone. It’s Trump’s party now.

Much love, PENpals,



P. S. This moment from Van Jones right after the election was finally called, sent to me by my friend and colleague, Newton Buchanan—it opened up a part of me that I hadn’t allowed to be there for some years. God I love the way Jones communicates. 100% honoring the feelings and values, calling out the hurt and pain that is caused by evil, disgusting policies and rhetoric, but then having the strength to acknowledge that some voters lost. Pitch. Fucking. Perfect.

P. P. S. And then I’m embarrassed to say it took my Aunt Val texting me and my dad last night to knock me off my bullshit and for it to truly set in that OMG there’s a woman in the White House!!! Speaking of embarrassing in two-thousand-fucking-twenty. I was not excited when Kamala was picked but it’s such a big deal she’s in there. I hope she and Joe listen a lot less to all the smart/fancy/impressive people around them, and a lot more to their Oakland/Berkeley/Scranton/Claymont instincts.

I wish my grandma, Geema, was alive to see this, but if I’m honest I’m a bit more glad she wasn’t around to see Hillary lose to Trump. She was an anti-war Eugene McCarthy Democrat. She and my grandpa, Gumps, are where I get my politics from (though I understand my deceased mother, who died when I was 5, was also quite the leftist). I don’t know how much I’ll be talking about politics in these PENs, but it’s been a lot recently. Guys, it’s just a particularly political time. Maybe next week I’ll take a break and write about Cincinnati chili or mechanical watches or some shit.