Internet Diary 1/2–1/9
1/9/2021 Chelsea, VT
Too often, dates at the start of chapters in fiction do less than the author imagines. The reader does not remember them until it is too late, and meanwhile the author believes someone is following along, and so does less than they should to convey context, story, meaning.
Anyway. Today is January 9th, 2021. It is 1AM.
I have been up late looking at old photos in my computer to cheer me up. I took the below when I was traveling across the South Island of New Zealand for 9 days before the Auckland Writers’ Festival, using a guidebook at first but soon going wherever the last person we met told us to go. The land was so beautiful it seemed like any photo you took was good.
Sometimes I would look at New Zealanders, just take them in on the street, and they seemed so calm, even when excited, even when angry or busy. What was it like to have a government that wasn’t constantly antagonizing you? I wanted to stay. But as I could not stay, I took panoramic photos like the one above as if my phone could take it all in. Is it a photo of a beautiful landscape? Yes, but also a photo of a place where people can live like that, something to remind me. Especially tonight.
The riot this week in the Capitol, incited by the president, was a super-spreader event like all of his rallies were. 400,000 Americans had been estimated to be dead of COVID by the time Biden is sworn in, but it seems to me the number may be higher now.
In the aftermath, my hands hurt, my knuckles aching from the inside inside out. All these years of clenching my phone during political crises have left me feeling like I’ve been slap-boxing with current events.
I keep reading tweets from other countries where I experience what feels like an immediate recognition — Yes, yes, my country is like this. Like this one, which so closely described what was happening in our country, I had to double check.
The Tweet in this case is from Kenya. Or it is the UK, or it is from some other country that isn’t my country. All of them showing signs of another global pandemic under the one we have named.
A recurring thought I had last weekend: all of this is happening in the US because most Americans are not taught the truth about the Civil War, Reconstruction, Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Movement. If you know America has a history of violently overthrowing Black electoral victories, you can anticipate them.
Kaitlyn Greenidge puts it very well in her essay, “They Say This Isn’t America. For Most of Us, It Is.”
Like so many of us, I started the morning hopeful. I woke up to the news that Reverend Raphael Warnock — a Black liberation preacher; a sexual health advocate; a man, in short, too good for U.S. politics — had been elected as Georgia’s first Black senator in history and only the 11th Black senator in U.S. history. I’d forgotten the knowledge my family had, the story we knew, the truth that every Black family knows in this country: that whiteness reacts with rage and violence whenever it feels Blackness has encroached on its space. This encroachment is always read as a threat, and the violence against it is always read as justified, as understandable.
We have spent the last four years watching this fact play out with the thudding obviousness of an object lesson. Reporters who work to find any reason other than racism for so many white voters’ embrace of Trump; the many implorations to understand white anger at former president Barack Obama and Black gains; the repainting of white supporters from the overwhelmingly wealthy demographic they have consistently proven to be to a more romantic, more empathetic story of poor and disenfranchised white people feeling left behind. In national politics, especially concerning race, white innocence is always presumed. White people, we are told, very rarely act in consciously racist ways. They are innocent of their actions, so it would be cruel to hold them accountable, we are led to believe. And since they are innocent, we must continually express surprise at their violence.
In the lead-up to Wednesday the 6th, many of us had tried in various ways to indicate this attack could happen. Many of us who follow scholars of right wing violence in the US knew they had been sounding alarms for years over the possibility of violence against the government, but especially over violence now, at the end. But as Kaitlyn’s essay points out, there are long-standing, predictable patterns about the political life of this country visible if you know what America is. Over the weekend, I had been thinking about how I was raised, for example, without a knowledge of the Reconstruction, something many Americans are raised without. Our educations in high school on the Civil War and its aftermath don’t usually include lessons on Jim Crow laws and the Northern Migration, and as we saw this last year and a half, through the popular culture teach-in that was Watchmen and Lovecraft Country, most of us didn’t know about the Tulsa Massacre. Or the Wilmington Massacre. If our leaders did, we’d know what Kaitlyn mentioned. We’d have prepared better. We wouldn’t have been surprised that the Capitol was attacked, or that state capitols around the country were also threatened.
But too many of our leaders have either no sense of this history or they lack the will to act on it. The fear of being a right wing target for violence of the kind enacted Wednesday is real, and so here we are, entering the weekend hoping impeachment can come again as Trump’s cabinet resigns to avoid having to vote on the 25th Amendment. Trump is at last banned on Twitter but is trying repeatedly, through as many as six other accounts, as of this writing, to Tweet, though Twitter keeps finding them and cancelling them also.
It is at least quieter. He lied so often on Twitter, it meant people were constantly fact-checking him, like a sideline each of us took on, taking turns, or just repeating the truth to ourselves and a few others so it could be known.
I want to go to sleep, but I don’t feel safe. The people who asked us to wait the president out are asking us to wait the president out again, but of course this is how we got here, and it is unlikely to finally be the solution to the problem that is the president. Not when it ever was before.
In my attempt to make sense of the week I turn back to the method I developed during quarantine in March: I look at my screenshots. I look back over my unsent tweets in my drafts folder, usually unsent because I didn’t have time. Or because I lost signal. Or because my ambivalence became too strong. This one for example, a reply to someone that was cut off.
You sound like someone paying attention.
— unsent tweet in my drafts folder
Sometimes it is a news item, like this one from the summer, where the unbelievable waste and decadence overtakes me. The link is to an article about the HHS spending 250 million on PR to “inspire hope,” all while people went hungry and were evicted, or left with COVID bills they couldn’t pay, or lost their access to benefits because of overloaded outmoded systems using software written in COBOL, a programming language developed in 1959. Fixing those systems requires hiring back retirees.
The PR of just doing the right thing has never once occurred to this administration.
May we pass safely through the next 11 days, into whatever country we become next.