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The “secret inauguration” of Rutherfored B. Hayes

Today is Count Day. And Marsha Blackburn wants to party like it’s 1876.

Or so she professed last night on Fox News. I was channel surfing the Georgia Senate runoff election results. The coverage gets more sadly tribal with every cycle, but last night it was also oddly asymmetric; CNN and MSNBC hung on every precinct report, whereas Fox seemed to consider the accumulation of protesters in Washington more newsworthy than the accumulation of votes in Georgia. Thus I got a chance to listen to Sen. Blackburn of Tennessee explain why she and her colleagues are “completely within our rights under the Constitution to demand a commission to consider the electoral votes. …


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In 1981, televisions worldwide transmitted a tableau of a man and a woman standing before a crowd to announce their engagement. She’s in a blue dress, smiling coyly beneath a sweep of blonde bangs. He stands behind, smiling stiffly, his hands on both of her shoulders. In 2020, a similar image is projected. This time the woman looks similar, but the man stands almost sullen and barely touches her. Both are recordings of real people, posing for effect in order to tell a mythical story — acting. Both images are, at least partly, political. We consider one image to be history and the other fiction. …


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The stay-at-home protests in Michigan this week blew bugles all along our partisan trenchlines this week. After the call-to-arms at the Lansing rally and its answering echo of presidential tweets, the weary platoons of Fox, CNN, and MSNBC dutifully rose to their webcam gunposts and blasted — mostly bloodlessly — away. Sadly, the noise of the guns is drowning out an actual conversation we ought to be having: about how we can keep ourselves safe from this virus over the long term and still be free Americans within our tradition of civil rights and liberties. …


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(with apologies to John Prine)

When I woke up this morning
Things were not too nice
We’re called essential workers
But that don’t mean squat to ICE
We work the same shifts out there in the fields
No change
And all the streets in town are now deserted
How strange

Ah but fortunately, I am the key to your food security
And you won’t see me tonight
With my illegal smile
I’m out growing your crops
While you’re safe with your child
Won’t you please tell the Man
I didn’t kill anyone
No I’m just trying to fend for my…


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I write in a state of profound weightlessness. The Covid-19 crisis has sent the wealthy of the industrialized world like mice into their comfortable homes, while those without stable housing or financial cushion balance on the edge, or fall, into a deep unknown. Those whose jobs are deemed essential work quietly at them, torn between the fear of illness and the security of a paycheck. The newly unemployed are physically locked down, but emotionally blown loose like dandelion seeds in a stiff wind.

Our coping mechanisms have varied, but they loosely, and perhaps inevitably, track the Kubler-Ross stages of grief in the face of so colossal a catastrophe. We began with widespread denial. In a run-of-the-mill crisis this phase might have persisted indefinitely, owing to the disrepute into which the idea of objective truth has fallen. But it turns out there are such things as facts after all, if they are lethal enough. So denial has now given over to rage that our leaders did not better prepare us. Certainly such feelings are justified. But our situation is too dire even to let us dwell on our anger for long. …


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Across sudden fissures of social distance, how do we speak to each other?

Last weekend my wife mentioned that our old Highlander was within 500 miles of needing an oil change. What with all the businesses shutting down for the duration, I decided to nip out to Grease Monkey, along with the other not-actually-panicking, not-quite-hoarding errands on my list.

I pulled up to the service bays and sat in the shade of a bright winter morning, watching the three guys work on two cars ahead of me. Two were hooded and zipped against the chill, their hands in plastic gloves. But one dude wore jeans, a cutoff-sleeve muscle shirt and bandana headband — a cross between Bruce Springsteen and Sly Stallone. He perched on the running board of an F-250, leaning in to wipe the inside of its windshield with a rag extended from his bare fingers, one leg extending straight back, almost yoga-like, for balance. His head craned back to inspect the upper corner, breath fogging the cold glass. A weekend ago I’d have thought, “artful attention to detail.” …


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Well, it’s all over but the shouting. And it turns out that shouting is all it would ever be.

In the view of many, impeachment was a fool’s errand, useless or worse, further emboldening the president, forcing his party to demonstrate the depth of its feckless fealty, and supercharging our polar politics to the point of electrocution. With a result so starkly bleak, and so quixotically foretold, what can we possibly have gained?

Surely not knowledge. Everything we saw on display we knew, or should have known, already. Our politics are marketed so precisely as mold to us like second skins, which once worn, are impossible to peel. As a result our democracy, once a contest of ideas, is increasingly one of identities. The political implications of this are ruthless and dire. …


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As the world sighs with relief that Iran’s counterstrike against Iraq’s Ain Al-Asad air force base appears to have ended the most recent cycle of US-Iran escalation, many are now confident that there will be no war between the two countries — because neither seems to want it. But the question arises — can a war start by accident?

Accidental events can certainly drive us to the brink of war — or away from it. Nobody intended Iran’s shootdown last week of the Ukrainian jetliner that claimed 176 innocent lives — and yet this accident was the direct result of the escalated tensions between our two countries. Iran’s retaliation for the assassination of General Qasem Soleimani appears to have been accidentally bloodless — the post-strike analysis shows that it was only through happenstance and evasive action by the Americans that deaths were avoided. …


With the assassination of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, people are anxiously debating whether the situation will spin out of control. It already has.

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We talk about “spiraling conflict” and “escalation” as though, at a certain point, leaders simply lose their minds and start blindly pushing buttons. But that’s a false view: history offers a pageant of men marching calmly and rationally on to Armageddon. All it takes is the failure to think five, or ten, or fifteen moves ahead. If your decisions are too near-field, you will consider only the options visibly before you. Choosing one — in today’s world, usually the least bad one — will immediately present a new set of options, like the turns of a maze. If you proceed rationally choice-by-choice, or worse, on the belief that you must always turn one direction, you will soon hit a place where your choices narrow to none — the wall that forces you to turn around. …


Lately I’ve been thinking about impeachment — and soccer cleats.

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The former for obvious reasons. The latter, because of one of my most memorable domestic relations mediations in recent years. The parents were long divorced and had been back to court many times. Now, Dad was refusing to buy soccer cleats for the boys, and Mom had filed a motion to hold him in contempt of court, arguing that he was in violation of their agreement. It takes months to drag such cases through all the steps required to get in front of a judge, and mediation is one of the stations of the cross. …

About

John Tweedy

John Tweedy is a writer, mediator, and documentary filmmaker.

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