This Is What It Feels Like to Live Under Minority Rule

The powerlessness is the point.

OCTOBER 26 2020 9:50 AM

When Judge Amy Coney Barrett was being vetted for her lifetime position on the highest court in the land, she declined to answer even straightforward questions about presidential powers and voter intimidation. She declined to give serious responses to the follow-up Senate questionnaires probing even the simplest legal issues. She would not say, for instance, whether it’s a crime to vote twice, or whether Article II allows Trump to “do whatever I want,” or whether a judge’s ethnic or racial heritage constitutes bias. She wouldn’t answer questions about whether women seeking to terminate their pregnancies could face capital punishment.

The refusal to answer even the simplest yes/no questions about what black letter law means, and who it binds, has the effect—intentional or not—of unsettling what was once widely accepted and understood. It’s the judicial equivalent of “flooding the zone with shit“ and the result is the same when it’s done in law as it is when it’s done in media—it renders all that was known to be certain as indeterminate and up for grabs. It puts us all at the mercy of powerful deciders and consolidates the power to decide those newly open questions in an authority figure. It recalibrates both truth and power as emanating from someone else.

It is easy to feel powerless when you are constantly being told that the powerful will decide what matters.

It’s hardly surprising that Barrett won’t tell us what she thinks of even settled constitutional cases—including, for example, the long established right to birth control. There’s no reason for her to enlighten us. She tells us only that for all past and future disputes, she will decide something fairly. We are instructed to trust her without any indication that she trusts us, or even trusts what has come before. Indeed, she has taken the position that what judges believe matters more than precedent anyhow. So we have to just trust her, even as we are still learning new information about her. Since her confirmation hearing alone, we have discovered that Barrett sat on the board of a school that turned away same-sex parents and that Barrett’s church has a history of sexual abuse of young women that was suppressed. None of the new information about her is meant to matter because all information about her is immaterial. Our judgments are immaterial, while hers are to be eternal. That is what we have learned during these hearings: Her opinions matter so much, and ours so little, that we don’t even deserve the courtesy of being told what she thinks before she ascends to the bench.

I have been thinking a good deal about the creeping cynicism that comes with this kind of powerlessness. And it is easy to feel powerless when you are constantly being told that the powerful will decide what matters, and also that they alone will determine what you can know about that decision. The stripping of power is part of the project. Senate Democrats never had any real power to stop the coronation of Amy Coney Barrett, but when they did try something—boycotting Thursday’s Judiciary Committee vote on Barrett—Lindsey Graham changed the quorum rules to push the vote through regardless. Before her 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals seat is even empty, the White House has announced a nomination to fill it, just like the GOP announced that it had the votes to confirm a judge before she was even named. Her name was extraneous information for us, because we were powerless to stop the nomination. It’s hard to know what to do in the face of this kind of behavior that kneecaps opposition and grabs power wherever possible. It leads to the sense that perhaps one should do nothing.

It’s increasingly clear that the U.S. Supreme Court, which will be newly reconstituted just a week before a federal election in which more than 50.3 million Americans have already cast ballots, will decidedly not be weighing in on the side of the right to vote nor will it be expanding the right to vote. It turns out the Supreme Court has many more options to interfere with a free and fair election than many of us previously understood, and also the power by which to do so. Federal judges around the country are ruling against efforts to make voting easier, whatever the merits.

It’s easy, in the face of all of this degrading devaluing of majority opinion, to want to tune out—to look at everything happening to undermine the will of the majority and your own power to cast a vote and say “whatever.” And if you find yourself face-planting into a pit of whatever, you’re certainly not alone. But your whatever is in fact the mirror image of what Amy Coney Barrett has now told us about the rule of law. Whatever is what Lindsey Graham—who asked us to hold him to his pledge about not seating new justices before an election—has done with Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Supreme Court seat. To answer him in kind is to accede to that logic. Whatever is the nihilism they want to seed in the world. The response to their whatevers just cannot be more of the same.

If nobody in any position of authority feels the need to provide information, it’s a decent bet you aren’t in a functional democracy anymore.

Even though she didn’t answer any of her questions, we know who Barrett is and what she will do on the court. She is exactly who she has always been, who she was seated to become, and if you are worried for your children, for the planet, for the future of anti-racism and LGBTQ rights and voting rights, your worry is not misplaced. Barring court reform, the coming years will be marked by attacks on government agencies, court-endorsed rollbacks of progressive gains, and a steady series of wins for business, oligarchs, and inequality. It will come dressed as neutral “originalism,” but it will be neither neutral nor originalist. And as Adam Serwer brilliantly details, this is not simply a conservative project; it is a project to beat back changing demographics and to suppress the power of the majority. The whatever that powerlessness engenders is a feature, not a bug, of the conservative legal movement’s efforts to tell majorities that they are of no moment.

Like Barrett’s appointment, the project of Donald Trump’s entire presidency is to remind you that you don’t have a say in your governance. And because you don’t have a say, you don’t need any actual information from which to decide. This is what we learned again last week in an interview with CBS’s Lesley Stahl in which Trump announced that he won’t disclose his new long-promised health care plan to protect Americans dying from a pandemic until after the Supreme Court strikes down the Affordable Care Act. It doesn’t matter what his new plan is, anyway, he implies. The very definition of flooding the zone with shit is that nothing matters, because you have no choices left to make. That is because the new justice, who will be elevated without a hint of popular consensus will—as he has pledged—vote to dismantle the ACA without a hint of popular consensus. You don’t need to know about the new plan because you don’t have a say. Mike Pence has no obligation to answer sober questions. Your very powerlessness is the point. The cruelty is the fringe benefit.

Rule of thumb? If nobody in any position of authority feels the need to provide information, it’s a decent bet you aren’t in a functional democracy anymore. And I am not here to tell you how to fight the cynicism that comes with being lied to or told you can’t change anything. I am just here to note that the inchoate rage and despair are real, and that even the possible resounding defeat of Lindsey Graham in his race for his Senate seat may not be enough to cure it. I am also here to remind you that some of the reflexive reaction to the daily reminders of your own powerlessness—including your possible hopelessness, blame-shifting, and the ritual saying of “who cares”—really is the reaction they are trying to elicit. It is the object of the exercise. You’re now in the autocracy trainee program. Mitch McConnell’s court coup is designed not just to decrease your political power but to teach you that you should expect yet more political powerlessness. That is how they are trying to ensure that even though there are more of you than there are of them, it doesn’t matter and they still get to call the shots.

That’s where the fight lies. In understanding that however systemic the suppression of truth and trust might feel, there are still more of you than there are of them. The effort to say you are nothing and deserve nothing isn’t actually erasure. It’s actually their fear showing. And that fear in turn suggests that you still have more power than you may know.


The $5.00 Grocery Bag

I grew up in a frugal household. During my earliest years I’m told we often didn’t have food in the pantry for the night’s supper but to be honest I never became aware of the desperate straits my parents were coping with. Later in life — by the time I was ready for Junior High School — things were better and I guess we were pretty much like most folks — though I learned recently that numerous of my Jr. High friends were also from impoverished families.

How many groceries can you cram
into a paper grocery bag?

Through Junior and Senior High Schools I brought with me memories of mom going grocery shopping, of her helping out a friend who had farm acreage and sold at the local farmer’s market in return for which help we were blessed with summer’s worth of free-in-exchange-for-labor vegetables. We ate good those summers with amazing veg and flavors that still linger on my palate.

The shopping memories, however, are among the most vivid and in 2020 the most poignant of memories. Why? You ask.

Well, take for example today’s shopping trip. We picked up our weekly order of groceries. Admittedly we bought from a store we infrequently patronize because of higher prices, but I knew we could get several items there that have been out of stock at our normal outlet. So, we bit the bullet on other items and also paid the $5.95 service fee to have the groceries pulled, paid for, and delivered to our car.

That being said…

The bill was $81.00 for three (3) not very full bags of groceries. That’s $27.00 per paper grocery bag of food.

My memory of mom doing the shopping was her weekly budget. Most of my pre-marriage life the three of us lived on a grocery budget of $20.00 per week. And I remember with mixed emotions — depending each week on how well mom had done with her shopping — her reaction to seeing grocery bags heaped to the top with under $5.00 of groceries! Those times she got less into a bag than her targeted $5.00 she was very unhappy. Those times she got more into the bag she was delighted. It was a game.

Now, my mom was first generation American from a Polish mother who came to this country in her early teens. Grandma was shrewd. My grandparents at one time owned 4 duplexes in Milwaukee – prior to the Great Depression — when they lost all four of them to the bank on foreclosures. That lesson, however, taught grandma to be even tighter with her money and it was her practice to talk three blocks — each and every day — to Mitchel Street to do her daily shopping. She would walk from 7th Street where she lived to 13th street where the last of her favorite stores was located, stopping at any store of interest at the time. She always bought no more than she could eat in a day and always less than she as an aging adult could carry back home. There were no taxi rides. There was no convenient bus to be ridden. Those both cost additional money and she wasn’t about to spend what she didn’t have to spend.

So, mom had some training in frugality and she was a good mom and I trust a good wife. She passed about 5 years before my dad and in that time he never showed any interest in meeting or dating anyone else. She was the ONE for him and they had a happy, fulfilled life together. I’m sure I carry her genes. To this day I never buy anything without a good think about the price. We (Peg & I) have done a lot on a small budget but we have been successful because we never let our guard down and we refused to buy what we could not afford at the time we were making the purchase. We learned to wait for a lot of things — still, we had more interesting vacations and adventures than any of our friends. That being said, it still rubs me the wrong way to get more than $27.00 worth of food into a single grocery bag.

I’ve comment on the fact that I was a conscientious objector as a young man. When I was ordered to do my 2 years of alternative service Peg & I moved to Chicago and lived on the wages I could get as a C.O.. My first job at a downtown Chicago hospital in 1968 paid $1.98 / hour. We went apartment shopping and place we found that we thought we could afford was also literally the cheapest place we could find on the South Side of Chicago and it cost $60.00. Now, in 2020 we are paying $900.00 which is a pretty modest price for 2020 in the Milwaukee area. How anyone living on minimum wage in Milwaukee can survive (which I know they cannot) is beyond me. No one should be surprised that people are literally forced into crime when working an honest job 40 hours a week leaves you impoverished.

I am sure, knowing the price of homes my granddaughter is looking at, that she and her husband each make more than I did at my best paying job any time in my life. I’m not complaining — they need it to survive in this world, and I wish them well. But times certainly have changed. A regressive view of the world and government means that the new generation/s will face increasing difficulties just surviving and I grieve that the Boomer generation has done that to our children and grandchildren.

I have no idea how long Peg & I will be around. Our budget is ok for now, and for a few years, but I wonder about others who had even a harder time than we have. Our circle of friends is small at this time of life, and we don’t know many folks who are struggling really hard — that doesn’t mean they aren’t out there — just that our circle doesn’t include many of them.

I surely hope that the next four years will be more productive governmentally. We certainly cannot afford another four years of bottle neck and obstructionism.


I’m tired

I am sure I am not alone in this, but I find myself all worn out. Without doubt, part of it relates to COVID — the idea of being personally restricted in one’s actions for well over 120 days — a third of a year — is not all that different from the physical degeneration one suffers from an illness or an accident. Just as patients with broken bones need therapy to regain mobility and strength after being laid up while healing — so a lot of us are losing muscle mass and mental acuity by being side-lined by life.

Our situation is comparatively mild. Neither of us is suffering illness in combination with the COVID seclusion, but we are in our 70’s and no part of life is quite as easy as it was even 10 years ago. Not being the sort to ever read self-help books I don’t really know how many people are out there talking about the details of aging. I bring the subject up in passing but “aging” is certainly not the primary thrust of this blog. Still and all I find myself thinking more about the changes in the act of living than I have before.

I have no reason to think I’m suffering from Alzheimer’s or any such clinical condition but that does not mean that I don’t notice changes like forgetfulness and the inability to “find” the words I want in my brain. It’s annoying. Nothing more. But it’s there, not nagging on my subconscious but not ever completely disappearing.

There’s naught you can do about the words you can’t remember, but there are things you can do about physical decline. Along with COVID, like most of us, we aren’t as physically active as we have been in the past.

Take the simple act of grocery shopping for example. I have only been in a grocery store 4 times since March. Our local grocery does not charge a surcharge for curbside pickups so instead of going to the grocery a couple times a week for bits and bobs of needful items, we place a single weekly order online and pick it up the next morning. The order is brought to the car and placed in the trunk by an employee and we are there and back in a few minutes. We used to enjoy the wander around in the store. Most of what we purchased was in the outer ring — the produce, meat, dairy, frozen sections but we often wandered the aisles just for the fun of it — to see what’s new, or perhaps to be inspired to tryin something we haven’t made in a long while.

In substitution, I find myself climbing stairs. We try to get out and walk a bit, although walking isn’t as easy as once it was. And like a great many of us the seclusion has not been good for my waistline and I feel the results of the in reduced energy and a tougher time getting exercise.

I, for one, am a bit concerned about what I / we are going to do this winter for exercise. Peggy in particular is concerned about slipping on ice. I seem to have a little better balance but I’m not cavalier about being outdoors in bad weather. We used to walk at the mall of a morning. I don’t know if mall walkers are still a thing but I’m not sure I’m brave enough to try that under current conditions.

All of the above I find tedious and tiring. I know I’m one of many millions feeling that way. But I also know that sometimes we need to know that we are among others — hence this blog.

I wish I could say that I found some inspiring pastime to fill my days; or some novel gardening idea, or a new hobby, or some such thing. I’ve not felt very creative and without doubt I’ve watched more TV than ever in my life. Not good. I know. But I haven’t felt like blogging very much. Oh, I still get out the odd post but not of a nature like the stuff I’ve done before. It’s all just too much work with the energy I have.

On the other side of the coin, we are both still healthy (in the COVID sense), both still mostly pain free, and both still kicking. We have a good, close relationship, we laugh a lot, we talk a lot, life is good — even if we are stuck on our own more of the time. Our family are all healthy — that is a double plus — we aren’t worried about them. And we have lived to see our first Great Grand Baby — a reality that too many people never get to see. Being retired our “income” such as it is, is more secure than many who have lost jobs. My point being that being tired, does not mean we are depressed. We are simply coping the best we can with circumstances as they are.



Ok — I’ll start off by saying I had no idea!!!!!!

I don’t actually mess around with many onions. I love them. But to be truthful I by yellow onions for cooking and I used the odd shallot and that’s about it. While a recipe may call for 1/4 or 1/2 an onion I’ll put the whole thing in — what’s the sense of smelling up my fridge with leftover onion when you really can’t have TOO much onion — specially if it’s cooked onion — which is what I usually use. War onions disagree with both of us — we really don’t eat them or garlic for the same reason — and while that’s a sacrifice — enjoying our food after we’ve eaten is more important than using something just because it’s a popular ingredient. The hardest part is ordering in a restaurant and getting foods that don’t have raw onion or garlick of any kind.

I apologize for the spelling boo-boo under “white onions” — the word should be “chutney” not “chitney” but the rest of the graphic is OK I think.


Sourdough Resurrection

My starter has revived! It’s not yet as active as I’d like to see, but there’s no need to start all over again. I can go on with experimenting with recipes!

My starter has no name. I’ve been pondering what to call it/him/her. Any suggestions? A lot of folks name their starters and some live multi-generational lives — if one considers living longer than the original baker to be multi-generational.

Because my bread machine doesn’t have a cycle long enough to utilize solely starter for leavening I am playing with hybrid recipes. The flavor is acceptable, as is texture. I’m still working on crust!

All in all I am glad for this result and we’ll see what new ideas we can come up with.

And just for a laugh