Political journalists, commentators, pundits, and flacks often engage in their work in a year like this with a world-weary, if not depressed, attitude. And given the oddly low metabolism of our presidential campaign, who could blame them? Donald Trump isn’t able to do the rallies that energized him and his supporters four years ago. Joe Biden is mostly locked in his basement, emerging occasionally to shoot an ad in a Corvette. The race is shuffling along at the pace of an early-bird dinner. In a way there’s a kind of convergence. Both candidates are thin-skinned and set in their ways, and have trouble staying on topic. Neither talks coherently about a plan for dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.
The result is a faintly metallic taste in their air. On the left and the right, political resentments are heating up as if in a pressure cooker, with the pandemic lockdowns serving as the lid. Not all of these complaints match the evidence, but that doesn’t stop them from being widely shared and motivating. If you’ll allow me, I’d like to take a moment to channel each side’s grievances.
Left: There was enough evidence to know President Trump was a buffoon when you elected him, and this is what happens when you elect a buffoon! MAGA? America has a higher COVID-fatality rate than most modern nations. There are outbreaks across important Trump-friendly states like Texas, Arizona, and Florida, all of which are run by governors trying to impress the president! Aren’t Christians supposed to protect the vulnerable? Stop going to these renegade church services! Because we can’t act like a first-world nation, my kids can’t go back to school. This idiot knows he’s losing, so he’s trying to suppress the vote and make people distrust the mail-in results. And we’ll have to mail in our ballots, because instead of doing what every other credible leader did, he told us the virus would magically disappear and started prescribing drugs during White House press briefings.
All you do is whine about being the real victims of cancel culture. I remember your trying to shut down plays in high schools. I remember your running bulldozers over country-music albums after 9/11. You canceled Ellen when she came out. You care more about mean tweets than mass shootings. You’re supposed to be conservatives, but you won’t defend our elections, our democratic norms, or even our Constitution if they get in Trump’s way. Go to hell.
Right: It’s really one rule for you, and one for us, huh? Trump questions the mail-in ballots and you lose your mind? Who withdrew his concession in 2000? Al Gore? Who spent the 2004 election crying that Diebold would steal it? Democrats. Then Democratic reporters reacted to Trump’s win by dropping a fake dossier. If they’d actually looked into it, they’d have discovered that the source was a do-nothing, know-nothing junior staffer at a liberal think tank. But instead, we spent three years trying to impeach the president based on a lie.
You blame us for every gun crime in liberal big cities. You pin political violence on us. You blamed Oklahoma City on Rush Limbaugh and the shooting of Gabby Giffords on Sarah Palin. Hell, you even blamed the city of Dallas for JFK’s assassination to avoid blaming that Commie Oswald. But when a Bernie Sanders supporter tries to shoot up congressional Republicans, that just gets memory-holed.
Churches? I haven’t been to one in months. Masks? I wear them all the time. I can’t go grocery shopping without this stupid thing pulling on my ears until they’re sore. My grandfather was buried with just ten people at his funeral. We couldn’t even use a church. Meanwhile, John Lewis gets a massive funeral in a church. The Democratic mayor exempts the politicians in attendance from quarantine orders. You claim red-state governors have botched their response to the pandemic, but never mention that Democratic governors in New York and California have done as badly or worse.
And don’t even get me started on the protests. Apparently, state social-distancing and mask mandates are a matter of life and death right up until the moment that liberals want to take to the streets to bash cops, when they cease to be mandates at all. Your politicians forbid contact tracers from even asking about the protests, yet you claim to believe in science. Liberal journalists are trying to get liberal lawyers off for throwing Molotov cocktails, for heaven’s sake! Seattle’s Democratic mayor tolerated protestors’ “autonomous zone” and two kids were murdered in it, yet you seemed more bothered by a kid in a MAGA hat smirking at a Native American. You complain about Trump, but the Biden campaign just leaked a war-game scenario in which he tries to take office by stealing Electoral College votes as states threaten to secede. How is that following the norms and rules?
A heady, toxic brew, isn’t it? And while it does its work on millions of American partisans, the nation is conducting an election in which neither candidate has made a forceful public case for his agenda, and neither candidate has demonstrated much energy or vision. The absolute vacuum in American politics is being filled by anger and scabrous resentment. One shudders to think what comes after November.