Some Birthday Reflections

37 looked to be a lot more fun than 38 is looking. The Times of Israel column still looked like it might take off, I was creating the best music I’d ever done, and I was falling in love. And now, it’s just two years from 40, and we’re all staring into the valley of the shadow of death.

We’re not all about to die from coronavirus, that’s certainly not the case unless you were already in the age and wellness range of people for whom death might well come anyway, but if coronavirus is going to be as serious as so many experts say, then this could well be the beginning of what is, for better or worse, a seismic shift for a world that I’ve always feared might come unmoored and takes a generation of death to settle into a new order. If a disproportionately large amount of death is truly coming for the elderly, then what leaves with them is their entire economic era, their demographics, the entire world of stability, security, and certainties in which they lived their adult lives. All too many people I know would read that and say ‘good riddance.’ You can’t help loving your friends even if they believe in the woo-woo. Sometimes you even love them because they’re woo-woos. What they seem to treat so lightly is that there’s no such thing as a sudden historical shift without lots of lethal chaos in its wake that could claim them and everyone they love. There’s no such thing as a sudden historical lurch without lots of people falling into holes from where they can’t get out. It’s as true for what revolutionaries believe as what reactionaries believe, and for the first time since 1945, this chaotic, tragic world seems run not by a stable, skeptical, vital, liberal center, but by reactionaries who want to unmoor the world to turn it back to the way they mistakenly think it was, and increasingly by the revolutionaries who want to help them unmoor it on the off-chance that the world will embrace a revolution that has about as much chance of working the way they want it to work as the arrival of a Messiah.

It would seem that we have ten more years to solve the planetary crisis. It’s hard enough to solve that with an economy like ours today that works so dysfunctionally, but wheezingly unequal as it is, our economy still works. It might be easier to solve global warming in the long term if the whole economic edifice comes tumbling down and the world must be rebuilt, but with that tumble comes a potential tumble into death for god alone knows how many millions around the world. It’s really, really not worth the price.

For the last 5-or-so years, the realization has gradually dawned on Americans, and on the world at large, that we’re dancing atop a volcano. The volcano may not blow this time, but just about everybody now realizes that in one form or another, it’s there, ticking away until some subterranean tectonic kindles its explosion.

We all knew this would be an unbearable year, even if we didn’t expect that the old and sick among us could be wiped clean like a slate, this year was always going to be brutal past even the last four. Barring his contracting coronavirus, which I suppose is quite possible when you’re campaigning, Joe Biden is going to be the nominee, and god forbid he’s incapacitated from coronavirus, so very well might Bernie Sanders, so very well might Donald Trump, and so might even Elizabeth Warren. But if this election is Biden vs. Trump, it will be ugly past any reckoning, made all the more so by technological manipulation, and all the more so because Trump correctly sees Biden as a much larger threat than Sanders. There will have been no election in living memory like this. However ungenerous we feel now to people who believe differently than us now, six months from now we’re going to feel much, much more angry. And that’s only if our candidates survive the year, along with all our grandparents and even, god forbid, some of our parents. Will all that grief bring people to their senses, or will it only make everybody more bitter and uncharitable to people who diagnose the problems of our world differently?

The problems of America have grown so large that nobody understands them anymore, perhaps least of all me. Here I am, correctly predicting 15 of the last 4 disasters to beset the world, but the uncertainty of what’s coming is making people do still worse things: Elizabeth Warren should absolutely be the frontrunner right now, she was clearly the best candidate, the one with the clearest path to victory, the one with the most obvious cross-party appeal if only she got far enough to pitch herself to Republicans, and quite obviously, would make the best President. I disagreed with a number of Warren’s positions, and in this era when Putin is mobilizing the far-Right around the world to do his bidding, I still doubt she’s given more than a moment’s thought to foreign policy, and until she gave it serious thought, most of her proposals would come to nothing. But the difference between Warren on the one side and the two frontrunners was that she, like Obama (and both Clintons) is an intellectual heavyweight who wouldn’t have needed much study to understand what’s at stake. She may have come to different conclusions than Clinton or Obama, but even Bill Clinton, whom I by and large agreed with on foreign policy, made calamitous mistakes. There’s no preparation for being President. A great president gets one out of three decisions right, a bad one gets one out of five, and that’s the difference between long-term improvement and long-term disaster.

I know nobody wants to hear what I have to say about this one way or the other, but… you can stop reading at any point because this is my page and I really don’t give a shit…. Of course it’s true that Elizabeth Warren, like Hillary Clinton before her, encountered virulent sexism during her candidacy, but what lost Warren the election was ultimately not sexism, what lost it was the country being unaccustomed to not getting what it wants. What lost her the election was a combination of that Bernie Sanders should never ever have been running, the medicare-for-all idiocy, and most importantly, the confused anger of many people in the party (mostly men of course) who feel entitled to get their views precisely represented on the party platform over other people’s views and still don’t understand how potentially dire the country’s situation is, and the politicians lying to all of them saying that what they want is possible. As foreordained as it sometimes seems, elections are utterly chaotic events, and what deposits a President in the White House is often pure luck. There will be a woman president; it may not be the one you want, but it will happen, and soon, and who knows, it may still be Elizabeth Warren.

To understand the near-futility of uniting the Democratic party, let’s very quickly go through the medicare-for-all debate. In order to appeal to progressives and social democrats, she had to endorse Medicare-for-all, I think she knew it was a ruse. I think both she and moderates knew it was an impossibility, but moderates believed her, so she alienated them. To appeal again to moderates, she had to explain how she’d pay for it and to show how practical she was, she admitted that the transition would be rough and that for at least a while, wait times and premiums may go up. Like in the ‘Pocahantes episode,’ she did exactly what she should have done, but she consequently angered demographics who demand the impossible from their leaders and of course, never get what’s impossible. If coronavirus had hit before the primary season, people might have understood the depth of what we all stand to lose, and would have thought more clearly about what they did.

Of the big four or five candidates, Warren had easily the best chance, and unlike Biden, the people who would have gone for Warren were a solid block of guaranteed votes from both the left and the center. Biden may bring in moderate Republicans, but Trump will do everything within his power to slime Biden in the eyes of swing voters who are currently fond of him. Winning this election will be daunting for Biden, and his Vice-Presidential pick is something he cannot afford to get wrong. He is not only choosing someone who appeals to demographics to whom he does not naturally appeal, he is choosing a potential successor in an election for whose victory he has to work so hard that the election might incapacitate him to the point that he cannot take office. The VP nominee will almost certainly be one of three people: all women – Kamala Harris, Stacey Abrams, or Tammy Duckworth. Any of the three would probably be a more reliable President than Joe Biden.

But Joe Biden seems the choice of all the people both Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren claim to speak for, but clearly don’t. Minorities and the working class, the people who stand to lose or gain most with every election chose Biden because they know better than we pointy heads what’s deliverable and what isn’t. Elizabeth Warren went to inordinate lengths to undermine Obama team policies, but Joe Biden was happy to stand in Barack Obama’s shadow and was only of help to the first black President. That is why he’s the first choice of most African-Americans and why Elizabeth Warren never could be. While Sanders stood on socialist ceremony, Biden presided over an auto-bailout that not only saved the car industry but let it thrive again. That is why he’s the candidate of working class voters – Sanders bases a lot of his candidacy on the idea that working-class Republicans will switch allegiance when presented with a socialist option, but he can’t even win over working-class Democrats. It’s not because he’s seen as electable, it’s because they know he is their supporter, and would have little hard evidence that either Sanders or Warren would improve their lives unless they became President. Even if Warren and Sanders are right about certain issues (and they are), it’s very difficult to claim to speak for the underprivileged when the underprivileged don’t want what you want for them.

America’s a huge country, it’s own continent even. It often seems that it holds as many constituent groups and contradictions as it has people, and it’s impossible to give all those contradictory constituencies what they want. But the internet is a place that can convince anybody that anything they want is possible, and that getting everything they want on every issue is a matter of life and death. Meanwhile, death stares us straight in the face, and we do everything we can to look away with the distractions of minor issues we convince ourselves are major. When the death of millions and perhaps even more is still at stake, it amazes some of us that the rest of you get worked up over issues less big than that. The main issue of life is not happiness, and it’s not even fundamental rights. The main issue of life is life, everything from happiness to liberty to equality to is either in the service of letting life keep going, or is at best a distraction from that and at worst an impediment. So long as life keeps going, there is hope that life will get better, but if life ends, there is no life to improve. The responsibility we all have is to keep life going, no matter how colossal the struggle. Death stares at us every day, but life always stares back. No matter who prematurely dies, no matter how few survive, life will go on – a struggle as it ever was, but the struggle, not the achievements, is both the nature of life, and the goal. And with every new life, life becomes a goal fulfilled.

What’s amazes me most about the last few years, and I’m sure it amazes you too, is that in this time when our country has tasted real pessimism for the first time in a lifetime, everybody I know had kids. In a scenario setting life and death before you, you all, bless you, chose life. And coronavirus, so it seems at least, will spare all your children. It feels so much like a miracle. The people after us will remain here, they will experience struggle and heartbreak and terror just as colossal as ours, but through it all, they will keep going just as we will. Death comes for everyone, but it does not, it will not, it cannot, come for everything at once. The struggle always keeps going.

I’m unmarried with no children and my near-to-mid-future in my vocations looks pretty stale, flat, and unprofitable. I’d certainly like to stick around and see how things develop, less so for me than for people I like, love, and am always proud of, but I have to imagine there are lots of great concerts and books in olam ha’ba (the next world). If death chooses me, in whatever form, what can I say but ‘Here I am’? But the longer we live, the more we thrive, the better chance those we love have too. Life begets more life, death begets more death, blessings beget more blessings, curses beget more curses. Our responsibility, then, is to always choose life, especially when living seems hardest.

Amen

About the Author
Evan Tucker, alias A C Charlap, is a writer and musician residing in Baltimore. He is currently composing music for all 150 Biblical Tehillim. A Jewish Music Apollo Project - because "They have Messiah, we have I Have a Little Dreidel." He is currently on #17. https://evantucker.bandcamp.com/ Evan also has a podcast called 'It's Not Even Past - A History of the Distant Present' which is a way of relating current events to history and history to current events. https://www.podomatic.com/podcasts/itsnotevenpast Most importantly, he is also currently working on a podcast called Tales from the Old New Land, fictional stories from the whole of Jewish History. The podcast is currently being retooled, but it will return.
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