Sloppy Joe

If a sexual assault allegation against Joe Biden falls in the New York Times and no one reads it, will it stop Biden from being elected president in November?

On April 12, while America was understandably preoccupied with other matters, the Times printed the account of a woman named Tara Reade, who claims that in 1993, while working as a staffer in Biden’s Senate office, the future vice president—and now-presumptive Democratic presidential nominee—“pinned [Reade] to a wall in a Senate building, reached under her clothing and penetrated her with his fingers.”

Reade first publicly accused Biden of untoward behavior last year, when more than a half—dozen women recounted a panoply of inappropriate touching, hugging and kissing Biden had engaged in over the course of his career—some of it right out in the open—in anticipation of Biden’s entry into the 2020 Democratic primary. Reade’s own accusation at the time entailed unwelcome physical contact such as neck-stroking and hair-grabbing, but not sexual assault. When asked why she waited until now to lay her most serious charge, Reade said she was afraid following “a wave of criticism and death threats” in response to her initial disclosures.

The Times reporting found that Reade mentioned the alleged assault to several people shortly after it occurred, but also that neither the Senate nor Biden’s office has any record of a formal complaint Reade claims to have filed at the time. Biden himself, through a spokesperson, has denied the incident ever took place.

And so here we are, forced to regard Joe Biden as we have previously regarded the likes of Brett Kavanaugh, Woody Allen, Donald Trump and every other public man whose alleged past sins (i.e., crimes) have been brought to light at a moment when the truth about what happened in the past has a singular power over what happens in the future.

As with Christine Blasey Ford during the Kavanaugh hearings, one of three things must be true. One, Reade is a liar. Two, she has a severely distorted memory. Or three, Joe Biden is a sex offender. And as with so many other chapters of the #MeToo story, with no definitive proof on either side, it’s up to each of us individually to decide which party to believe—him or her—and to act accordingly.

What makes the Biden case different—and arguably the most high-stakes iteration of the #MeToo era to date—is that how Americans judge Reade’s claim may well determine the outcome of the 2020 election—and, by extension, every action by the federal government through at least January 20, 2025. At this point, it would be political malpractice for the Democratic Party to blithely assume otherwise.

The potential trajectory of this electoral powder keg is not difficult to game out: Reade sticks to her story. Trump and/or his backers believe her loudly and unconditionally, seizing on the allegation as a 10,000-ton albatross to sling around Biden’s neck 24 hours a day. A not-insignificant number of left-leaning independents—and maybe even a few Democrats—decide they cannot in good conscience vote for someone credibly accused of sexual assault, and ultimately leave their ballots blank, bequeathing a second term to one Donald J. Trump.

Don’t tell me this can’t happen. Don’t tell me a presidential election cannot be swung by the 27-year-old recollections of a heretofore anonymous former Senate aide. Don’t tell me there isn’t a sizeable chunk of the electorate who might otherwise vote for Biden—despite his known flaws—but will think twice when presented with as explosive an accusation as Reade has now presented. Don’t tell me that, when faced with the ultimate hypothetical—If you knew, for a fact, that Biden had once committed sexual assault, would you vote for him anyway?—even the most loyal Democrats would not give themselves at least a moment or two of pause.

And whatever you do, don’t tell me that because Donald Trump has been accused—indeed, has admitted to—behavior that is demonstrably worse than anything ever said about Biden, there is no moral compromise to be made in choosing the latter over the former.

Sorry, folks. It turns out that, in 2020, life is not going to be that simple.

Barring a sudden confession from Reade that she made the whole thing up, every Biden supporter in America—most of whom, one presumes, have been cheering on the #MeToo movement for the last two-and-a-half years—will be forced to reckon with the fact that on November 3, they will be voting for a man who has been credibly accused of sexual assault, and that the only true rationalization for this decision—the alternative would be worse—is a rationalization all the same.

Liberals have spent the past four years excoriating conservatives for supporting a president whose very existence is an affront to nearly all of their so-called principles—honor, dignity, family values—but whose promises of tax cuts and a right-wing judiciary made the tradeoff both justified and unavoidable in their own minds.

Is that not the moral bargain that today’s liberals will now need to make about Joe Biden? Will the never-Trump crowd not be spending the next six months talking themselves into the idea that one sexual assault is a fair price to pay for universal healthcare and debt-free college education? And given the essentially binary nature of U.S. presidential elections, will they not, in some horrid sense, be correct?

St. Mark asked, For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?  I guess we’re about to find out.

Then There Were Two

I don’t know which candidate is the most electable. I don’t know which one would make the better president. I don’t know which one I like more.

Like Cosmo in “Moonstruck,” I don’t know where I’ve been, and I don’t know where I’m going.

Having spent my Super Tuesday voting for Elizabeth Warren—an act of such earthshattering import that she dropped out 36 hours later—I am now left with Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders as the only remaining contenders for the Democratic Party nomination in 2020. And much to my surprise, I find myself in an uncomfortable state of uncertainty about which of those candidates to root for.

I’ve happily voted for both men before: Biden for vice president in 2008 and 2012, and Sanders in the presidential primary in 2016. While I couldn’t quite bring myself to fill in the oval for either of them last week—not Sanders because of his repulsive cult following, not Biden because of his evident cognitive decline—I nonetheless retain great affection for both and, given the alternative, would be entirely comfortable with either as the next leader of the free world.

Accordingly, like the New York Times editorial board earlier in the year, faced with a stark ideological divide between two equally-pitched factions within the Democratic Party, I have decided to come down firmly on both sides. In the battle of ideas between these two feisty septuagenarians and their most rabid fellow travelers, I will stay neutral between now and the convention in July.

Partly, this is out of sheer exhaustion with the whole process. After more than a year of comparison shopping my way through the dozens of would-be challengers to Donald Trump, I have long resigned myself to the fact that the party’s eventual nominee will be a highly imperfect vessel for the values of the American left (such as they are) and that defeating Trump in November will be a monumentally difficult task regardless of who that nominee is.

To my thinking, any Democratic voter who believes his or her preferred candidate is a sure bet in November is necessarily living in a fantasy world, which makes it all the more striking that the respective cores of the Biden and Sanders campaigns have so fully convinced themselves of their own infallibility. Indeed, if there is one thing about which partisans of both would-be standard-bearers agree (albeit with varying intensity), it’s that their own guy is the republic’s One True Savior, while their counterpart is the second coming of George McGovern, fated not just to lose, but to lose in crushing, spectacular fashion.

On the night of November 3, one of those assertions will be proved correct, while the other will remain a mystery forever. Until then, this whole “electability” argument will function as the parlor game that it has always been—unknown and unknowable until it’s too late.

As for the real argument in this contest—the one that asks, “How far to the left is the Democratic Party prepared to go?”—well, that exhausts me, too. While there is simply no way around the fact that Biden and Sanders represent two distinct visions of liberalism and the role of government in our highly unequal and disjointed society, I am as wary as ever that the upcoming three-month intraparty war to resolve that question will ultimately drive a portion of Sanders loyalists into the arms of Donald Trump—or some third party candidate-to-be-named-later—believing, as many of them already do, that in the grand scheme of things, Biden is a fate worse than Trump.

My own view is that Sanders is correct in believing that the wealthiest nation on Earth should be providing more services to (and collecting higher taxes from) its citizens than it currently does, but that Biden—whose own philosophy is similar, if watered-down—better understands how to wield the levers of power to bring that kind of bright, equitable future about.

While it would be nice for Sanders to possess more executive experience and for Biden to harbor more socialistic views, you can’t have everything you want all of the time. Someday Democratic Party voters will understand that. Until they do, they will continue to tear themselves apart, ensuring a photo-finish result on Election Night 2020.

But not to worry: Only the fate of the House, the Senate, the Supreme Court and all of Western civilization hangs in the balance.

The Lady of 10,000 Lakes

This week marks the one-year anniversary of the moment I knew I would never vote for Amy Klobuchar for president. To mark the occasion, I am—for the first time—entertaining the possibility that I should reconsider.

It was, indeed, late February 2019 when the New York Times published a story, “How Amy Klobuchar Treats Her Staff,” that featured an alarming number of horror stories by former minions of the senior senator from Minnesota—some named, some unnamed—portraying her as something of a petty tyrant in her Senate office, complete with a hot temper and a tendency to embarrass and demean those whom she feels are not living up to her harsh, exacting standards.

While the most memorable and amusing nugget from that article involved Klobuchar ordering an assistant to wash her comb after she used it to eat a salad on an airplane (the assistant had apparently misplaced the fork), the truly disturbing details concerned Klobuchar’s penchant for hurling office supplies in the general direction of aides who had pissed her off, as well as her obsessive preoccupation with her public image, for which she seemed to take little personal responsibility (“We are becoming a joke!”).

Whether these anecdotes are representative or exaggerated—the Times reporting included a fair share of compliments and warm memories as well—Klobuchar has, in fact, presided over one of the highest staff turnover rates in the Senate throughout her dozen-plus-year tenure. By definition, she is firing or otherwise driving out employees at a record clip relative to her colleagues, and it would be downright negligent for voters not to take this into account when ascertaining whether she is a proper fit for the highest office in the land.

When these whisperings first came to light—and the pundit pontificating that naturally followed—many questioned whether Klobuchar was the victim of a sexist double standard. That is, whether a male politician with a comparable personnel record would be treated more forgivingly, as though treating one’s employees like crap is attractive in a man but unseemly in a woman.

Personally, I find abuse of one’s subordinates repulsive in any context—particularly by someone running for president—and I fully subscribe to the behavioral rule of thumb that, as Dave Barry put it, “If someone is nice to you but rude to the waiter, they are not a nice person.”

Hence my previous skepticism toward Klobuchar, an outwardly genial and nonthreatening figure—her 2015 memoir is titled “The Senator Next Door”—whose affable exterior apparently conceals much rougher edges that only surface offstage and after hours.

Why, then, am I now mulling the prospect (however remote) of voting for her anyway? Why, for that matter, did the good people of New Hampshire rank her their third-favorite candidate in last week’s primary, well ahead of so-called frontrunners Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden?

Partly, I suspect, it’s due to Klobuchar’s sheer doggedness in the face of long odds. Among other things, her ability to stick to her centrist talking points through thick and thin; to repeat her cheesy mom jokes endlessly and without embarrassment; to cut her opponents down to size without resorting to rudeness or infantility.

Her secret sauce, in short, is to be the very embodiment of friendly midwestern passive-aggressiveness coupled with steely D.C. competence and resolve. As a third-term senator, she has earned her reputation as an old-fashioned senatorial workhorse and dealmaker whom one underestimates at one’s peril. If these achievements have sometimes come at the expense of overworked underlings—well, you know what they say about making an omelet.

In truth, the list of exceptional leaders who have also been extremely unpleasant bosses is longer than we might care to admit, and that correlation is not always accidental. As seen in “The Devil Wears Prada” or “Whiplash”—not to mention in virtually every college football coach in the history of sport—sometimes driving one’s charges to physical and/or mental extremes is the way to bring out the best in them and generate excellence for the whole team. If tough love is purposeful and strategic, the payoff can be revelatory.

Of course, for every Miranda Priestly there is a Selina Meyer, and commentators weren’t wrong in having a little “Veep” déjà vu upon reading that Klobuchar once quipped to an aide, “I would trade three of you for a bottle of water.” There is no contradiction in being both an effective lawmaker and a poor manager of people, and it’s possible Klobuchar’s compassion and empathy—such as they are—simply don’t extend inside her own office.

That said, in a universe where the sitting commander-in-chief is both an inept lawmaker and so emotionally insecure as to fire Cabinet-level officials via tweet, even the worst possible version of Amy Klobuchar would seem to be a more-than-acceptable risk for the republic to take on November 3, particularly in light of her many obvious strengths.

More than anything, Klobuchar’s appeal lies in her personal and ideological inoffensiveness—her Goldilocks-like lack of polarities—which, while not particularly inspiring, seems tailor-made to put the maximal number of voters at ease in an age of never-ending hysteria and existential dread.

The Klobuchar proposition, then, is a variation of what her fellow senator (and former fellow candidate) Michael Bennet once tweeted about himself: “If you elect me president, I promise you won’t have to think about me for two weeks at a time. I’ll do my job […] so you can go raise your kids and live your lives.”

For a solid chunk of the American public, I imagine that sounds like a pretty good deal.

Gray Lady Splits the Baby

Lest you think I am in any way a well-adjusted individual, last Sunday night—when I could’ve tuned in to the season premiere of “Curb Your Enthusiasm”—I found myself spending an hour with “The Weekly” on FX, in which the New York Times editorial board met with seven of the leading Democratic presidential candidates, one by one, as it decided which one to formally endorse. (Two others were interviewed but not included in the show.) In the end, the Times opted for a choose-your-own-adventure approach to field-winnowing, selecting both Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar as its preferred nominees, leaving it to readers to figure it out from there.

Given both the import and weirdness of the Times’ verdict, this would seem the ideal moment to reflect on the broader question of how much impact endorsements of office seekers actually have in this third decade of the 21st century: Whether the recommendations of media outlets—newspapers in particular—directly influence people’s votes and, if so, how many.

The premise is sound enough: While ordinary citizens may be too busy or ill-informed to fully understand weighty matters of state and determine which candidates for office are best-equipped to handle them, newspapermen and women devote their lives to exactly that and are presumably experts in their field. Like movie critics, their judgement is theoretically deeper and more informed than yours or mine, and their recommendations—while hardly etched in marble—can serve as a useful exercise in edifying those who wish to be edified.

As to whether this works in practice, the honest answer is that we’ll never know for sure. The act of voting is complicated—the result of a million small considerations congealing into a particular shape at a specific moment in time—and generally not attributable to any one thing. This is especially true for the country’s impressionable swing voters, whose ultimate decision at the ballot box may well be determined by the last TV ad they see or the last tweet they read. To the extent that endorsements play a major—or even ancillary—role in some cases, few voters will explicitly tell a pollster, “I voted for Amy Klobuchar because the New York Times told me to.”

Recalling my own voting history in high-stakes races—which, if you count primaries, include four votes for president, four for governor, five for senator, and two for mayor—I can identify exactly one instance in which a newspaper endorsement actually swayed me from one candidate to the other. It was during the Massachusetts gubernatorial race in 2014, when the Boston Globe—an otherwise left-wing outfit—sided with the Republican, Charlie Baker, over his Democratic opponent, Martha Coakley, on the grounds that Baker, a former healthcare CEO, had proved himself a competent and effective chief executive, while Coakley’s most notable accomplishment was to have lost a U.S. Senate race—in Massachusetts!—to a conservative Republican who wore denim jackets and drove a pick-up truck.

Liberal that I am, it would’ve been the default move to vote for Coakley anyway; her Senate loss notwithstanding, she had served two perfectly respectable terms as the state’s attorney general. However, once the Globe made its case for Baker, I felt as if I had been given permission—and cover—to cross the aisle in favor of the guy who I suspected was, in fact, the stronger choice of the two. Had the Globe gone with Coakley, I doubt I would’ve had the nerve.

Of course, this was all predicated on the aforementioned idea that editorial boards are these faceless, all-knowing philosopher kings, smarter and more dispassionate than us mere mortals, endowed with the wisdom of the ages and concerned solely with the well-being of the republic.

Deep down, we know this isn’t entirely true—indeed, one of the delights of “The Weekly” is to see the Times editorial writers in all their quirky, bumbling glory—and I would be remiss not to mention that only two of the 100 largest American newspapers endorsed Donald Trump in 2016, and look how well that went.  Undoubtedly, the influence of the op-ed section of major publications has been on the wane for quite some time, and the pattern is likely to continue as such.

Nonetheless, for those of us who still read the paper every morning and believe a free press is all that stands between the United States and tyranny, news publications will remain a beacon in the search for truth and justice in the world and a bulwark against the corruptions and obfuscations of public men. If their views on presidential candidates don’t come directly from God and no longer count as the proverbial last word on the matter—if, indeed, they ever did—they should nonetheless be taken seriously and with the deference owed to an institution whose core mission—guaranteed by the First Amendment—is to ensure the survival of liberty and freedom in our society, now more than ever.

In the future, though, it would perhaps be most prudent to endorse only one candidate at a time.

Twitter and Cheese

Perhaps you’ve heard the joke. A married construction worker on break opens his lunch box and says, “I swear to God, if it’s ham and cheese one more time, I’m gonna jump off this building.” Sure enough, the next day it’s ham and cheese yet again and, true to his word, the man leaps to his death. At the funeral, his wife remarks, “I don’t understand. He packed his own lunch.”

I recount this silly, if morbid, little yarn in light of Americans’ gradually-escalating freak-out about our various modes of social media—in particular, the blue menace that is Twitter, whose darker, louder, more hateful corners seem to be sending all of us to the proverbial ledge.

Over the weekend, the New York Times published its latest exhaustive (read: exhausting) deep dive into some aspect of the Trump administration—in this case, the president’s use of Twitter as a blunt instrument against his political enemies, real and imagined, both within and without the executive branch.

While I would love to engage with the piece’s most compelling and insightful conclusions, I must confess that I haven’t actually read the damn thing and have no immediate plans to do so. Though I have no doubt the Times investigative team has produced valuable and enlightening analysis of how the 45th president’s Twitter habits have shaped the course of recent history—which they most assuredly have—the truth is I just can’t bring myself to care about what Donald Trump types into his phone while he’s sitting on the can.

Frankly, I don’t care what most people tweet most of the time, and I dare say the feeling is mutual. At present, I “follow” a grand total of 22 individuals and organizations on the platform, which is to say I don’t follow roughly 330 million others, including Donald Trump, yet—oddly enough—I have never once felt I’m missing out on anything of any consequence.

In the decade since I first joined, I have only ever used Twitter as a means of keeping up with the nooks and crannies of American culture that truly interest me, and blissfully ignoring everything else. What’s more, my account is private, meaning no one can read my own 280-character brain droppings without a formal request. My current group of loyal followers could fit comfortably inside a telephone booth, and that suits me fine. So far as I’m concerned, I’m the consumer and Twitter is the product—not the other way around.

Which returns us to the construction worker and the ham sandwich. When it comes to Twitter and its many analogues across the googlesphere, we all pack our own lunch. Online, our “friends” and “followers” are entirely of our own choosing and can be done away with through a single tap of the finger. If we don’t want ham and cheese appearing in our newsfeed 24 hours a day, we have the power to pick a different sandwich, or none at all. Apart from the advertising that pays our meal ticket, the menu is entirely within our power to curate.

It begs the question: Why, exactly, are so many of us threatening to jump off the ledge? Why is our entirely voluntary participation in this virtual town square causing us so much unnecessary agita? If each of us has near-total control over which social media personalities to invite onto our pages—and which ones to block—why all the bellyaching about how these platforms have become toxic dumpster fires of intemperate partisan hysteria?

Are we simply a nation of masochists? Do we secretly enjoy rolling around in the rhetorical muck, self-righteously claiming we don’t? Are we so addicted to the dopamine hit that outrageous online behavior provides that we are destined to be sucked into the vortex of hate no matter how hard we resist? Are we a species that just enjoys complaining any chance we get?

Here’s a thought: Stop complaining and start acting.  If the ugliness of social media genuinely repulses you, try removing the sources of that ugliness from your field of vision and see if conditions don’t improve.  Don’t blame others for that which you yourself brought forth.  Take responsibility for your own life.

And don’t forget to vote on November 3, 2020.

From the Inside Out

Last September, the New York Times published an op-ed, titled, “I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration.”  Its author, described by the Times as “a senior official in the Trump administration whose identity is known to us,” opted to withhold his or her name and job title from readers, for what could only be described as obvious reasons.

This mysterious official, describing him or herself as a conservative who “want[s] the administration to succeed and think[s] that many of its policies have already made America safer and more prosperous,” went on to describe a White House in which “the president continues to act in a manner that is detrimental to the health of our republic,” while insisting that “many Trump appointees have vowed to do what we can to preserve our democratic institutions while thwarting Mr. Trump’s more misguided impulses until he is out of office.”

Naturally, the column caused a sensation in the days following its publication, sending the White House into a white-hot panic and inducing every pundit in Washington, D.C., and on Twitter to breathlessly speculate on who the unnamed official could possibly be.

Eleven months after the fact, we still do not know the answer to that question.  Nor, so far as we can tell, does anyone in the Trump White House—a place, we might add, where the person in question may well still be working today.

Considering that we live with a media-political-industrial complex that generally leaks like a sieve and cannot keep a secret to save its life, it’s worth noting just how remarkable it is that this particular secret has been faithfully maintained for all this time.  As we sit here, the identity of the author of this explosive missive remains a mystery to all but a small handful of people, none of whom has spilled the beans—not even to the Times’ own reporters.  (The paper’s news and editorial pages are functionally separate entities.)

While I hadn’t paid much thought to this ongoing whodunit for quite some time, it all returned to me last week upon the resignation of Jon Huntsman, Jr., as U.S. ambassador to Russia—a position he has held since October 2017.

Huntsman, 59, is an interesting character in the American political milieu, having previously served as America’s chief diplomat in Singapore in the early 1990s under George H.W. Bush, and later as our man in Beijing under Barack Obama.  (Huntsman speaks fluent Mandarin.)  In between, he was elected governor of Utah twice—with approval ratings north of 80 percent at times—and in 2012 he even found time to run for president, albeit with extremely limited success.

As the most moderate of Republicans, Huntsman has long presented as something of an odd man out, having committed such party heresies as acknowledging the existence of global warming and the dignity of same-sex marriage.  Huntsman has always made a point of marching to the beat of his own drum, speaking freely—often curtly—about issues that every other member of his party would rather avoid.  (A tweet from 2011:  “To be clear.  I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming.  Call me crazy.”)

It’s a tribute to Huntsman’s intelligence and guile that he has accomplished as much as he has, considering how inhospitable the GOP must be to someone of his particular ilk.

Could he be the guy who wrote the Times op-ed?  It certainly wouldn’t be out of character.  Indeed, the more one thinks about it, the more sense it makes.

That was the feeling of William Saletan in Slate two days after the op-ed ran last fall.  In a piece titled, “The Obvious Suspect,” Saletan argued that when you combine the column’s overall style, tone and content, its (over)emphasis on U.S.-Russia relations, and Huntsman’s literal and ideological remove from the Trump White House and Trump himself, the case for Huntsman’s authorship more or less writes itself.  It persuaded me then, and it persuades me now.

Of course, all of this “evidence” is circumstantial and speculative at best, and in a way, it doesn’t really matter who wrote the damn thing in the first place.  The fact that somebody did—somebody who managed to slip into the Trump orbit only to announce to the entire world how dysfunctional and duplicitous the whole operation is—continues to be the primary, unalterable fact of the matter.

It begs the question:  How many of these democracy-loving, Trump-thwarting people are left inside the noxious tent?  Have they all since been purged and spit out, or are a fair number of them still lurking, protecting us from the president’s worst instincts on foreign and domestic issues alike?  Is it possible we’ve been living with a tethered, Diet Coke Trump all this time, with the unadulterated, full-flavored version still to come?

When it comes to the most amoral chief executive since Richard Nixon suggested bombing the Brookings Institution for sport, it’s worth noting that things can always get worse—which, in this case, they most assuredly will.  To the extent that not every individual currently working at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is an unqualified partisan stooge, the ratio has only grown more alarming with each passing week, as the administration hemorrhages competent, apolitical bureaucrats at a record clip with no signs of slowing down.

If the person who penned the Times op-ed is, indeed, still “a senior official in the Trump administration” (whatever that means), I think it is well past time for a sequel.  In the meantime, there is an election on November 3, 2020.  As a wise man once said, if you want something done, you just may need to do it yourself.

The Prettiest Sight

In The Philadelphia Story, a lowly reporter played by James Stewart scornfully intones, “The prettiest sight in this fine, pretty world is the privileged class enjoying its privileges.”  For one week on Martha’s Vineyard earlier this summer, that’s exactly what I was doing.  And oh, what a pretty sight it was.

Certainly, the Vineyard—regularly ranked among the priciest vacation spots in America—screams “privilege” in any season, from its private beaches and golf courses to its posh restaurants and hotels to its A-list clientele.

In my case, however, the fact that I was among New England’s most well-heeled (albeit in a budget-friendly rental unit with no room service) was ancillary to the real privilege I enjoyed for eight days and seven nights on this triangular island seven miles off Cape Cod:  The privilege to not care what was happening in the universe beyond the shore.  The privilege to disconnect from current events and suffer no consequences whatsoever.

See, in my normal, landlubber life, I’m plugged into the global newsfeed about as deeply as any good American should be, monitoring Twitter and the New York Times with freakish regularity to ensure I am always in the loop about whatever unholy nonsense the president has gotten himself into today (among other things).

But while on vacation, I made a deliberate effort to disengage from the minute-by-minute deluge of copy that otherwise scrolls across my transom, and just try to relax for a change.  By and large, I succeeded.

To be clear, this did not entail a total 24/7 news blackout.  Rather, it meant checking Facebook two or three times per day instead of the usual thirty.  It meant scanning Boston Globe headlines without necessarily reading the articles underneath them.  It meant not watching a single segment of cable or network television.

Most significantly, it meant absolute abstention from Twitter, and all the nauseating, petty political catfighting contained therein.

It meant, in effect, that I still had a vague, general sense of what was happening across the seven continents, but without the fuss of getting bogged down in the details.

What I took away from this experiment—this voluntary, temporary withdrawal from the media-industrial complex—was how precious little I was missing.  How trivial such seemingly earth-shaking stories really are when viewed in proper perspective.  How oddly pleasant it was not to be waist-deep in the muck of political tomfoolery at every hour of every day.  And how much I dreaded returning to my usual routine in the real world—which, of course, I did with all deliberate speed.

It begged the question:  What’s so great about the real world, anyway?  Why do I burden myself with the minutiae of global happenings when I could just as well spend my free time going for long walks and plowing through the collected works of Agatha Christie?

Keeping on top of the news may make me conscientious and informed, but does it really make me happy?  Would I be any worse off, as a person, were I to harness the laid-back habits I picked up on the Vineyard and maintain them until the end of my natural life?

In all likelihood I would not be, and that, in so many words, is the true meaning of privilege in 2019 America.  It’s not a question of wealth or fame (of which I have none).  Rather, it’s about the ability to tune out.  To be mentally on vacation for as long as one’s heart desires.  To ignore such unpleasantries as war, famine, global warming and the Trump administration and be affected by them not one whit.

Deep down, of course, this is just white privilege by another name, since to be white in America is to know that, however bad things may get, there will always be a spot for you on the lifeboat.  And to be a white man, all the better.

Naturally, as a bleeding heart liberal (or social justice warrior, or whatever we’re supposed to call ourselves now), I can hear the angel on my shoulder gently reminding me that the role of the Woke White Person in Trump’s America is to support and agitate on behalf of the downtrodden—immigrants, Muslims, and pretty much anyone else who isn’t Caucasian and/or male and doesn’t have the luxury to take a mental health break from reality—which requires paying close attention to what is being inflicted upon one’s fellow countrymen—and aspiring countrymen—on our watch, in our name.

On refection, it seems like a fair price to pay for someone whose life is sufficiently charmed as to be able to spend a week of every June on a place like Martha’s Vineyard, watching the sun rise over Edgartown Harbor and guzzling beer and clam chowder without a care in the world.

After all, there is some happiness to be found in simply being involved—however meekly—in the national discourse, particularly when Election Day rolls around, as it is wont to do every now and again.  That’s to say nothing for the lowly blogger, who will sooner or later need to write about something other than lobster rolls and how to avoid being eaten by a shark.