“When they crowded around my table and started demanding that I raise my fist, it was their insistence that I participate in something that I did not understand that led me to withhold my hand.” -Lauren Victor, diner and reluctant fist-raiser.
Top photo: Sit-in at the lunch counter of the Cherrydale Drugstore, Arlington, Virginia, 1960.
Apart from the historical irony, I can’t help wondering which of these tableaus is worse. That I should be asking this question in 2020 says a lot about how far we have strayed from e Pluribus Unum and where we are inevitably headed.
If one can only be either fully woke or stand accused of being a white supremacist then our public space has become awfully small in a very short window of time. Most of us choose the path of least resistance, which precludes sitting alone on principle. The intimidators are banking on this.
We reported to our normal polling station today, with the familiar poll workers and trays of supermarket cookies and easy parking and the short lines, to find it…closed. I was vaguely aware the L.A. county polling system was undergoing a few changes, including early voting, but I didn’t realize this meant the neighborhood polls had been consolidated in favor of regional ones.
So we drove a couple of miles north to the new location only to find a line snaking around the building and no parking. We walked a few blocks, and settled in at the tail of the snake, fell into civic conversation with the people next to us, (one of them a refugee from the long lines at Sherman Oaks) and after about ten minutes…we noticed something: The line had not moved atall. I followed the snake around the corner and into the gym to find a dozen unoccupied polling machines and two poll workers doing intake, issuing ballots. Slowly. Only two people were voting.
Someone vaguely authoritative announced it would be a two-hour wait, and we might have better luck at Sepulveda Middle School, up in Mission Hills.
Exodus, take three. To Mission Hills we raced, and as promised, greeted by a mercifully short line. We also found ourselves standing next to the guy from Sherman Oaks, to our mutual amusement. At check-in, they issued a blank paper ballot with a QR code that you feed into the machine, then complete by touch screen.
No more chads. No more ink dot. Lots of gooey fingertips caressing the names, sharing cooties. Bacteria and democracy together at last. Not a germaphobe, I found it both recklessly intimate and weirdly impersonal. Our ballot may be secret, but a pandemic we can share. Here is a dystopian movie plot just waiting to happen.
The machine prints your ballot, offering a moment to double-check your answers, then you “cast” it by reinserting it. Under the new VSAP system, the ballot is read electronically but retains a paper backup in the event of a recount. Suspenders and a belt, in theory. There is a bit of wrinkle, though. Your vote is converted to QR code in order to be counted. See that matrix of pixels on the left side of the page? Those are your choices, all of them, squeezed into a 1.5 inch grid of dots. Do the dots and names match up? Let us hope so. Does the printer ink ever smear, even slightly, altering your intent? Could you recognize your own name in QR code?
A few things to consider as you fall asleep while wondering if anyone from your precinct recently visited China.
Ever notice the eerie physical resemblance between 1970’s era Joe Biden and Peter Boyle in the “off-the-hippies” exploitation film Joe? I was thinking about this last night, watching Iowa .
If you haven’t seen it, Joe was a pop waystation between Easy Rider and Death Wish. Cartoonish and heavy-handed, it flattered the conceit of liberals thus: after a couple of drinks, blue-collar white guys are homicidal bigots. You know they are.
Fifty years on, this most comforting cultural template has moved from being an art-house movie plot to the factory setting for much of the American media.
Now both of these guys are now running for President, in a manner of speaking.
Joe (the character) is not Trump, but he is a stand-in for Trump supporters, as viewed from the ramparts of power.
Since 1972 Biden has positioned himself, less credibly with the passage of time, as a representative of the white working class. Amtrak Joe. Joe from Scranton, Pa, but with a facelift and veneers and family members living large by way of his connection. Only now, in his emeritus years, there is little room left in his party for Les Deplorables, the very people who once put him in office.
In a last attempt at the presidency, he seeks the blessing of an electorate that has been counseled to scorn what he represents. He will be running against his own history. Which is to say, not well.
Which might explain why the morning after the Iowa caucuses, we have no “results”, even with hard precinct numbers in hand indicating a fourth-place finish.
Bernie, on the other hand, has Jack White. Whatever your politics are, this will be entertaining.
2020: Rushing headlong now are we toward a conclusion half of us will dread. A snap trap four years in the making. There can be no happy ending, though there may be a divorce. Too many of us have made friendships contingent upon the outcome. We tolerate each other just so long as we consider the current ugliness to be transitory. November will correct/affirm the wisdom/insanity of our neighbors. I knew it all along! They really are that bad/sensible. That settles it. Let the celebration/vilification begin.
I suspect the underlying facts will prove secondary. Dow 30,000, full employment, USMCA, handshakes at the DMZ, the Supreme Court, the public option, Iran, a looming recession, all background noise.
This is about who we are. You can believe in the nation-state or you can believe in a borderless world. Either the people are sovereign or corporations are. Either we are sovereign or the media is. Either your vote counts or it is nullified by the administrative state.
America is closely divided, horrifyingly so, on matters only a short time ago not under question.
We’ve reached a point in Los Angeles where we are no longer telling the truth about ourselves to ourselves, so we unfriend our neighbors instead. We threaten to turn each other into memes.
Politics until recently was played between the 40-yard lines. Claims of catastrophe if the other side prevailed were generally bullshit. Beneath the hyperbole on cable news, an undertow of bipartisan consensus held: on Wall Street rescue packages, trade with China, techno-utopianism, deficit spending, the forever war in Afghanistan. Not this time. The competing claims are too irreconcilable.
So how to share space with each other after the shock of discovery? We can start by practicing good manners now. That begins with listening well.
In Fryman Canyon, they no longer allow you to park on the streets to the public trailhead, but they love their Harvard socialism.
There is a small pay lot on Laurel Canyon that has perhaps 1/3 of the capacity needed for weekend hikers. In the event of overflow, we would use one of the many empty streets nearby and partake of the public good known as the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, an accommodation the gentry has done away with. First by guile, and now by civic order they’ve persisted.
There are three houses on this street for sale, all over $5 million. Is this in keeping with Elizabeth’s claim to be capitalist to her bones?