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Day 248

Notes from the bunker

We passed a quarter million American COVID-19 deaths today. The virus is surging, hospitals are reaching capacity, the mortality rate is ticking back up, and the lockdowns are starting again. In a few days, an order goes into effect here in Philadelphia banning all public and private indoor gatherings until at least the end of the year. Gyms and museums are closing, indoor dining at restaurants and bars is halting. Outdoor gatherings are to have limited head counts and no food or drink. Masks, masks, masks.

For the most part, this doesn’t change much for Leah and me. We’ve had people over one or two at a time to share a distanced meal in the backyard and give them a quick tour of the house. We’ve had some distanced picnics in the park with friends. We’ve done timed-admission visits to the Art Museum and the Mütter Museum. But mostly we’ve kept to ourselves, worn masks when we couldn’t keep to ourselves, and avoided being indoors at non-essential businesses. We had already decided not to see our families for Thanksgiving and Christmas, but the government’s post facto validation of that decision doesn’t make it suck any less.

The good news is that two vaccines, from Pfizer and Moderna, are showing promising results in clinical trials. If things continue going well, large-scale distribution could begin in the spring. But a lot of people will die before then, and as far as I can tell, distribution details are still fuzzy and unproven. The refusal of the outgoing presidential administration to coordinate with the incoming one doesn’t help.

Right, so the election happened. As expected, the results were not known on Election Night, and when it was clear several days later that the incumbent president had lost, he predictably refused to concede. Eleven days later, that refusal continues, as does his barrage of furious tweets and lawsuits baselessly alleging widespread voter fraud. As a matter of political survival in a party whose bloodthirsty base is still in thrall to a vengeful tyrant, most Republican officials have likewise thus far declined to acknowledge that Joe Biden is the president-elect.

Meanwhile, in the reality-based community, the dancing in the streets following Biden’s victory was a wonderful catharsis, but it was more about the removal of an absolute travesty of a human being than the installation of a hero, and it’s truly disheartening that a massive amount of people voted for four more years of nightmarish bullshit, even if over 5 million more people voted against it. Through the magic of American democracy, Biden’s sizable popular vote margin translates to the same amount of Electoral College votes (306) won in 2016 by the guy who lost the popular vote that year by nearly 3 million. And thanks to that same crooked system, which values land more than people, the success of Biden’s agenda will require an outsized effort from Democrats to wrestle the Senate away from Republicans, whose representation of 15 million fewer Americans than non-Republican senators doesn’t keep Republicans from having a 53–47 majority. And so, just as an insurmountable popular vote margin in the presidential election mattered less than the whims of a few thousand people in battleground states, all eyes are now on Georgia, whose runoff elections in January have a slim chance of tipping the Senate to the Democrats. Even if the Republicans lose the Senate, their lopsided command of statehouses and the judiciary will continue the gerrymandering and retrograde court decisions they hold so dear.

I know, I know, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Having a leader of the free world who believes in something other than himself is a big step forward. It’s just infuriating that our system of democracy has allowed so much power to be amassed by people who—even with a minoritarian advantage—can’t win without suppressing votes, people who got us to the point where common decency in the Oval Office is cause for dancing in the streets.

I don’t mean for these posts to be such a downer. I guess they’ve become a repository for my negative energy. It’s a miserable year for everyone, to be sure, but I haven’t forgotten that my continued health and financial stability make me very fortunate. And I’m not moping around as much as my plentiful gripes would suggest.

Leah and I finally got our custom shelves to a state that allowed us to unpack our books, and it’s transformed our home immeasurably. I’m looking forward to sharing details about the process when the project is officially done.

We’ve also found some comfort in slowly working our way through Schitt’s Creek, which, in addition to being very funny, manages to be a champion for kindness and gentleness without being overtly corny or slight. Of the escapist entertainment I’ve indulged at a higher rate than usual this year (understandably, I think), Schitt’s Creek feels less like a fantasy than a reminder that, at the micro level, we’re more than capable of being good to each other. Now let’s just work harder on the macro.