Own vine and fig tree
Last week, I picked Older Teen up at school in Meadville. The drive back here is through some of the emptier parts of New York State1 and we had five+ hours to bond, which looks a lot like listening to Broadway musical soundtracks. She finally introduced me to Hadestown.2 Then we decided to kick it old school and queue up Hamilton. During her early high school years, it was always playing — but neither of us had heard it for at least three years.
In case you wondered, it’s still very good and iconic and resonant.3 King George’s songs remain a hoot; Philip’s death is gut-wrenching; “Burn” distills fierce emotions into a potent-yet-lyric blast. The reasons why it won all the awards are unchanged.
What has changed is my response. The past three years have been chaotic.4
Back in 2016, after the presidential election (and after I wrapped my head around its consequences and decided to get in the game5), I indentified hard with Hercules Mulligan, the tailor/spy. Or, at least, with these lyrics:
See, that's what happens when you up against the ruffians
We in the shit now, somebody gotta shovel it!
Hercules Mulligan, I need no introduction
When you knock me down I get the fuck back up again!
Three years on, tho? Somewhere east of the Seneca reservation but before Bath, I started quietly weeping during “One Last Time.”6 I’m ready for my own vine and fig tree, too, George. This giving-a-shit-about-democracy thing is exhausting. My upright zeal has slumped.
I don’t know that a country could achieve the lofty goals Washington outlined7 in his Farewell Address but we could do a much better job at actively reaching toward them. The least we could do is to stop falling into every single trap he warns of, like regionalism, partisanship, and foreign entanglements. But here we fucking are. And here I fucking am dusting off my Hercules Mulligan again and again and again, to do my part of the shit-shoveling.
Which brings me around to Uvalde.
Not the shooting itself, mind. I just … there’s nothing I can say that hasn’t been said a million times. The Onion nails what I would say about the shooting itself. 10/10. No notes.
But what I can speak about is all of the folks on social media grousing about how they voted in 2020 and, like, why haven’t those people already fixed everything? What was the point of casting a ballot if the country is not a paradise?
I get it. I do. Here’s the thing: this isn’t a movie. If it were, the big bad would be defeated once Biden8 was declared the winner. You played your part by getting to the polls. Now it’s vine and fig tree time while Mr Smith Goes to Washington or whatever.
Created narratives have their uses. They show us that dragons can be beaten, for one. But they can’t be swapped like-for-like with reality. There will always be another dragon.9 The empire will always strike back.
Every election is important. Every. Single. One. Sometimes, you’ll get your preferred outcome and it won’t be enough. Sometimes, it will be. Sometimes, you will lose and you will vote again the next time. The reason the forces that want to control women’s access to healthcare or put an AR-15 in every kid’s Christmas stocking are in control is that they show up every single time. If you want change, you have to do the same. This is the shit we have to shovel.
Which brings me around to January 610.
I’ve sung the praises of Andrea Bernstein in general and the Will Be Wild podcast in particular. Even if you have zero interest in the whole series, you own it to yourself to listen to “The War on Pineapple” episode. Much like George Washington was able to predict the big three pitfalls for our young nation, our national security apparatus was able to see exactly how dis- and misinformation would be deployed to wreck havoc on the election. They put a power point together and everything.
The problem is that you can’t counter amplified lies with the actual truth. If that were the case, we’d be in a much better place. The only way out is to call out the bad actors for their bad actions and to protect against future attempts. Right now, it feels like that is all happening off-stage. We’ll likely see some of it soon — but not enough and not with enough showmandship.11 We’re just going to have to work with that.
There is one thing12 every single voter13 can do, however. When candidates from any party ask for your vote, ask them one single question: Did Joe Biden win the 2020 presidential election? If they can’t say a simple “yes,”14 don’t vote for them — and convince as many others as you can to not vote for them either.
I know, I know. There are so many issues to focus on. So. Many. But none of those will matter if we keep electing folks who only believe an election to be free and fair if they win. Keep them away from any positions of power, from the sewer board on up. If you want gun reform or bodily autonomy, start with getting rid of the elected officials who won’t accept reality and prefer to live in a fiction that comforts them.
For the uninitiated, the bulk of New York State is rural AF. How else do you think people in Manhattan survived in the days before food preservation, long-haul trucking, and Instacart?
It’s not that I was opposed to Hadestown, mind. We just didn’t get to it the last time we made the drive.
even moreso after January 6 (which I’ll circle back to in a minute so put a pin here.)
I know you know, because you’ve lived them, too.
I picked this version of the song because it’s subtitled — and for the moment where they cut to Mnuchin, whose face will never not be punchable.
Washington is problematic in many ways but the ideals he states can expand to all Americans in 2022, even if he as a 18th century white guy believed all kinds of things 21st century people find abhorrent.
or Obama or Clinton or Nixon or whomever your ideology approves of
and our real-life dragons tend to be systems that started out well intentioned but were corrupted or grew stagnant or maliciously bent so that they are now hydras that can’t be killed, only beaten back
Democrats and lawyers are bad at the old razzle-dazzle.
Other than voting, natch.
who will vote every single time, yes?
An enthusiastic yes would be preferable but let’s work with what we have