Fixing the Roof: The Apartness Problem
How’re we feeling about tomorrow, everybody?
Personally, I’m at about 56% panicked relief, and 47% anxious dread, for, indeed, fully 103% of total feelings.
The anxious dread I feel is in anticipation of a possible repeat of January 6th but better organized and more deadly, perhaps for not having been coordinated in part by Your Boyfriend’s Ex-Girlfriend Who Used To Start Fights With People at the Bar Just For Making Eye Contact With Him and Has Also Very Definitely Slashed the Tires of Several Former Bosses and/or University Professors.
That woman is the wrong kind of crazy. It’s frightening. She belongs behind the bar at a combination gas station/karaoke bar/steak dinner restaurant, not in the halls of Congress.
Those of you who’ve never lived in South Carolina might think I invented the idea of a combination gas station/karaoke bar/steak dinner restaurant, but: Wrong! Harold’s Country Club is all too real. And it’s a pretty good time, if you are in the correct frame of mind to drive 45 minutes out into the middle of nowhere and walk past a gas pump to croon Patsy Cline into a microphone that is, on a molecular level, more Miller High Life than audio circuitry.
By the way, I noticed that one of the reviews on that link actually dares to complain about the quality of the steak dinner.
At the gas station.
That reviewer, bless their heart, actually walked into a gas station, sat down, thought “This steak, which I ordered on purpose and being of sound mind and body after having walked past a gas pump on my way in, is less good than I was expecting, and I will be telling the internet.”
I am not saying it’s wrong to order the gas-station steak. I am not saying I’m too good for it. If you’re in the correct frame of mind, such things are transcendent, or at the very least, a great story. I just also wouldn’t go into a gas station and be expecting to be served the finest quality steak dinner I’ve ever eaten. Complaining about the quality of the steak dinner at a gas station is like if you went on a cruise ship and complained about, like, not enough elephants.
(Or, frankly, about the quality of the steak dinner.)
Anyway, supposing someone with, like, tactical awareness attempts something nefarious tomorrow. That’s the concern. So many people have joined together in wishing for a secret inauguration, somewhere in an underground bunker with maximum security. Like the Ocean’s Eleven vault, if that had not been breached by, somehow, Matt Damon and Carl Reiner rappelling down an elevator shaft.
But they’re going to hold an outdoor inauguration, and there is nothing I can do about it. I appreciate that they don’t want to cave, in appearance or in reality, to domestic terrorists. I’m grateful that they seem to have the entirety of D.C. on a lockdown-within-a-lockdown.
And I have to trust that Biden, who is about to save so many lives with his Covid plan — in that he is actually going to have a Covid plan — knows what he is doing.
Good riddance to the weakling who won’t even attend his successor’s inauguration because he has too much of a Sad after failing to steal American democracy. I look forward to never discussing the would-be dictator, the failed child-king, again. I will probably allot myself some future discussion of him for things like the day of his first criminal sentencing, but mostly, other than that: I don’t want to waste another minute on him. He can rot in ignominy, hopefully at the bottom of a well or some other kind of slimy, dank void where he can mock disabled people and brag about assaulting women to whatever other creeping parasites live down there with him.
Lord, hear my prayer.
By the way, I wanted to do a bit about his proposed statue garden, the baffling randomness of the selections and the fact that he unveiled this plan with 40 hours left to go in his failed presidency as perhaps the very first-ever typically statesmanlike thing he has ever done, but to be honest with you, it’s too exhausting. This is weird and only mildly offensive. I just want him to go away already.
Is everyone else so tired of living through humongous, once-in-a-lifetime news moments? I’m tired. We’re all so tired. This weekend, let’s go sit by a river and just stare at some leaves. We’ve earned it. We’ve earned some leaves.
CONGRESS? MORE LIKE… PRAWN-GRESS
One week after the coup and one week before inauguration, I began practicing my new anxiety-staving-off measure, which is: inserting ocean-related puns into politicians’ names and texting them, unbidden, to my friends. So far I’ve got Nancy Shellosi, Lindsay Clam, Beach McConnell, Bernie Sandcastle, A.O.Sea, and Elizabeth Shore-Wren.
You to your friends: Probably normal stuff about what you’re having for dinner or which recent TV show you saw.
Me to my friends: “I forgot John Cornhole and Kristin Gullibrand and Diana Harshbarnacle and Jim Skyburn. Thank you again!”
LINKS IN THE MIDDLE THIS TIME, BECAUSE I DO WHAT I WANT.
This chick and so many others: “We didn’t know we’d get aRRESTed! We just wanted to have fun and do a small TREAson!”
The newly uncovered fast food counter of Pompeii.
Here’s a live look at me on day seven of my ten-day juice cleanse:
And this here is just a very well-done noise generator.
AMERICA’S FIRST DEMOCRATIC ELECTION
I want to take a minute and say something serious about something important.
It’s gonna get uncomfortable, but let’s go for it, shall we? This far into the pandemic, I’m tired of having meaningless conversations about things that don’t matter.
Grant and I were playing Trivial Pursuit the other night, and this question comes up:
“Who was South Africa’s first democratically elected president?”
The answer, naturally, is Nelson Mandela, after apartheid ended in 1994.
But the phrasing gave us pause. We considered the question from a different lens.
Who was the United States’ first democratically elected president?
If you were to flop this exact question into Google, using that precise phrasing, it might surprise and alarm you to learn that the answer is George Washington.
Now, if you’d asked me, a few weeks ago, who the U.S.’s first democratically elected president was, I’d’ve said “George Washington” while looking at you like you had several heads.
But Holy Double Standards, Batman, am I right?
This is a very common oversight (oversight? I guess we’ll call it an “oversight” instead of “just the actual cogs of the machine that is white supremacy working as they were designed to work”) among liberal white folks in the U.S. and Canada.
A lot of us are comfortable to point fingers of blame at South Africa, while conveniently misremembering that right here at home in North America we had our very own apartheid, which we called segregation.
I’m not sure how common-knowledge the literal translation is, but the word apartheid, which as an American teenager I just knew meant something big, scary, and despicable, in Afrikaans means “to be apart,” or, literally, apart-ness. Besigheid is business. Lelikheid is ugliness. And apartheid is apartness.
But “apartness” isn’t a word in English. “Segregation” is our closest English approximation.
Segregation only officially ended, as a mandated governmental practice, in 1964. To learn when it actually ended — whether it has, yet — you’d have to ask a Black or an Indigenous person, since I am not qualified to tell you.
I have been as blind as anyone to this curiosity of historical misdirection. I only started to become aware of it when Grant and I started dating in 2013, and I began learning more about South African history, and began asking myself why white liberal writers in North America bluster about apartheid while ignoring segregation.
In the United States, *unlike in South Africa*, we’ve never dealt with our apartness problem. We couldn’t have, because we never fully admitted we had one. We never voted to overturn white supremacy. White South Africans did. In North America, meanwhile, our strategy was:
WHITE PERSON #1 c. 1865-onward
(looking dramatically all around while wearing a silken sleep mask and ear plugs)
Everything seems cool about racism now.
WHITE PERSON #2
(head fully inside of a large purple bucket)
You know what, actually, I…
WHITE PERSON #1
(talking over the last line)
I’m so glad everything with racism is solved.
WHITE PERSON #2
Let’s celebrate completing racism by going to a Garth Brooks concert, or whatever the pre-1988 equivalent of Garth Brooks is.
It’s time to reckon once again with the gross flag, after we all had to see our halls of Congress besmirched with it two weeks ago.
Since you all know what I mean by the gross flag, I need not specify, but did you know there are other gross flags out there in the world? Of course there must be many. But we don’t really consider them.
Why don’t we?
The shooter at the Black church in Charleston back in 2015 wore a pre-apartheid South African national flag along with his Confederate flag.
I witnessed Grant’s disgust about this at the time, and I learned something interesting about the pre-apartheid South African flag.
See, growing up in Virginia meant that the Confederate flag was a dishearteningly common sight on truck bumpers and t-shirts. It was so common that it was effectively normalized.
Grant, who was 15 when apartheid ended, says NO ONE in South Africa displays a pre-apartheid flag, even virulent racists, of which there are still some in South Africa. Perhaps a very tiny minority of ashamed racists would hang onto a pre-apartheid flag, but it is not something anyone would proudly or defiantly display. Effectively, the pre-apartheid flag is a complete taboo.
Grant says this collective disgust with the former national flag happened quick. The flag of his childhood was gone, and everyone bid it good riddance. There was no collective wistfulness for it, no nostalgia. In fact, it would be embarrassing if you suggested to a South African otherwise.
Yet in the U.S., fully 156 years later, we still have to reckon with our Confederate flag shame. And we are still reckoning.
So let’s really reckon.
Who was the United States’ first democratically elected president?
Do we know?
Can we admit it was not George Washington?
Let’s, just for a lark, assess ourselves by the same standards by which we assess South Africa.
In the election of 1789, you could vote if you were a ☑ tax-paying ☑ white ☑ male who ☑ owned property.
That was, at the time, about 6% of the population.
Look, I’m not saying George Washington shouldn’t have won.
Or that he wouldn’t have won.
But I am saying you can’t call it a democratic election if only 6% of the people got a vote.
The Civil Rights Bill, which technically guaranteed all Black men the right to vote, was passed in 1866.
So the first democratically elected president in the U.S. couldn’t have occurred before that.
Which would have made it the 1868 election, which Ulysses S. Grant won.
Hang a big asterisk on that. In 1870, the 15th Amendment legally prevented states from denying the right to vote on the basis of color, which was necessary to do because a lot of states were, surprise, not upholding the Civil Rights Bill of 1866. And then even after the 15th amendment was passed, voter suppression, intimidation, and disenfranchisement continued to be the rule more than the exception, particularly in Southern states.
Still, maybe we would call Ulysses S. Grant’s reelection in 1872 our first democratic election?
The Dawes Act “granted” — LOL — American citizenship to the people whose land white folks stole, in 1887, which then, and only then, meant Native American men could vote. But, and what a cute caveat this was, only if they dissociated from their tribes first. Ugh, white supremacy is such a gross, gross void all the way down.
Anyway, if we were to count it only from that time, Benjamin Harrison was our first democratically elected president, during the election of 1888.
We’re forgetting a major one-half of our population.
Women, of course, weren’t guaranteed the vote til much later. Married women sure couldn’t vote, since they weren’t allowed to own property, and you had to own property if you wanted to have cast a vote for George Washington or Thomas Jefferson. Shout-out to New Jersey, which did early-on grant women voting rights, as long as they were either unmarried or widowed.
But in most states, no women could vote at all.
In 1920, women were given the right to vote by the passing of the 19th Amendment.
So perhaps the first democratic election was held later that year, when Warren G. Harding won.
Not until 1924 was the Indian Citizenship Act passed, which finally granted all Native Americans the right to vote, regardless of whether they disavowed their tribe or not.
1924’s winner was Calvin Coolidge.
So maybe he…
But wait. White People™ were, as always, on their shit, and they persisted in suppressing the Native American vote for another 24 years in some states in contravention of the 1924 Act. In 1948, this movement was finally officially quelled in Arizona and New Mexico, the last holdouts.
Only a bit earlier, in 1943, did the Magnuson Act grant citizenship, and therefore voting rights, to Chinese immigrants.
So then, really, our first democratically elected president can have been no earlier than Harry Truman in 1944.
Residents of Washington, D.C. were, incredibly, not allowed to vote for president until the passing of the 23rd Amendment 1961, which seems almost as nuts as the fact that D.C. residents STILL don’t have representation in the Senate. (Soon, though?)
So our first democratically elected president wasn’t even John F. Kennedy.
Our earliest democratically elected president might have been Lyndon Johnson when he won reelection in 1964.
The poll tax was finally abolished as a prohibitor to voting in 1964. But even more crucially, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 attempted to correct discriminatory election systems and districting that disenfranchised Black voters, particularly in the South.
So you couldn’t fairly call it a democratic election before 1965.
Richard Nixon, then? He was first elected in 1968.
Not until 1971 did the 26th Amendment grant adults aged 18-21 access to the vote, after Vietnam War protestors argued — correctly — that anyone old enough to die for their country was old enough to have a say in its governance.
So then, perhaps America’s first democratic election was Richard Nixon’s reelection in 1972.
But even still, not so fast.
Because the U.S. military and other citizens who were living abroad weren’t granted the right to vote until 1986.
So was 1988’s George H.W. Bush the very first democratically elected U.S. president?
It wasn’t until the period between 1996-2008 that some states, and only some, about half, reversed their laws on felon voting rights.
So maybe our first democratically elected president was Barack Obama?
States have gone back and forth on felony disenfranchisement, particularly post-2008, AND in 2013, the Supreme Court ruled that a part of the Voting Rights Act was unconstitutional. Further complicating the issue, how accessible is the voting process for Americans with disabilities? Are there sufficient federal protections for them? Not really.
And as you know, Senators under the leadership of Mitch McConnell have struck down the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act of 2020, which would restore the 1965 Act after it was gutted in 2013.
In short, I don’t know who the first democratically elected president of the United States was. Maybe we haven’t had one yet. As far as I know, we have yet to abolish the electoral college, which since the year 2000 has been disenfranchising every voter living in a populous state during federal elections.
I’m hoping the Trivial Pursuit folks will conduct a thorough and comprehensive audit and get back to me about the identity of the first democratically elected president in the United States.
In the meantime, let us pledge to remember that South Africa, which most South Africans will tell you is far from a perfect country, did something that the United States has still yet to do, when they voted in 1994 to abolish their white supremacist government.
Let all us white folks in the U.S. pledge to point all of our South Africa pointy fingers back at ourselves from now on.
I have renewed hope for what the next four years will usher in. Our eyes, white people, were made open by the last administration. No messes were getting cleaned up. More messes, greater in both quantity and scope, were being made all the time.
Perhaps some will be fixed starting tomorrow.
I feel hope, anyway, which has been absent for me, and for too many Americans, for far too long.
Trump’s presidency, particularly the way he chose to end it, taught us that American democracy was not the impregnable fortress some of us believed. It wasn’t quite as strong as we were taught, and that makes sense, since it was initially designed only to work for 6% of us.
To expand our scope of protected voters, we’ve been slapping on acts and amendments and bills like hastily executed home renos ever since.
Yet, our democracy held. Maybe just barely, but it held.
And it is worth holding onto. But the roof’s leaking. Rather than casting around at what other countries have done wrong, we should spend a while thinking about what we, individually, can do to make our democracy stronger, to make it work for every American.
Because if the 2020 election season has taught us anything, it’s taught us that we can never again rely, if we ever did, on the un-American belief that one person can’t make a difference.
Just look at Stacey Abrams.
Let’s fix our roof.
Happy Inauguration Day, #46.
Holy blog, batman. Thank you! :)