This is why2020Broke me

Popular comic character used to portray everything is on fire

Fair warning, I’m leaving all of my thoughts on the field. It’s mildly chaotic. You won’t be more joyful by the end. I’m mostly doing this as a visual archive of how awful this year was.

Honestly, you shouldn’t even read this.

part one red

I know litigating this presidency is painful, but we need to do it one more time.

...and during all of it they made millions of dollars in profits off of the American taxpayer. You would think that this leader would be crushed so badly at the ballot box for being one of the dumbest anti-American presidents in history. They would have no chance but to flee the country in shame to one of their private golf-resorts overseas or risk having their head put on a stick by the masses.

Alas, America did not fully reject any of this. Yes, Biden won the popular vote, thank god. But over 74 million people voted for more of this. That is an unfathomably large number of Americans and I don’t think we’ve fully grasped the enormity of that figure. That is more votes than what Obama received in ‘08, ‘12, and what Hillary received in ‘16. There is a level of mass-brainwashing that has happened in America and we don’t have a clear path to undoing it.

I am personally still stuck with the image of a relative of mine wearing a “Trump 2020” pin on his suit jacket to my grandfather's funeral in December 2020. Sure, his behavior is not quite as bad as plotting to kidnap a Democratic governor, or blowing up a telecommunications building because of wild conspiracies, but the wires inside the brains of even the average MAGA voter are clearly discombobulated.

Tens of millions of people, for a wide variety of reasons, voted for a party that is outright barbaric in nature. One example that never escapes my mind is how the Republican party on numerous occasions has tried to deny the first responders of 9/11 healthcare coverage for life saving cancer treatments, and this year the Trump administration tried to take money out of their healthcare fund. How much more evil can a political party be than to block lifesaving money from going to firefighters? And yet, America, the country that claims to love its first responders (we just don't care how our actions impact their mental health, or god forbid they need side income because they don't make a living wage), resoundingly voted for that barbaric party to stay in legislative power.

And then there are the conspiracies.

An old gaming friend of mine this summer popped up in a small Discord server I often frequent with other pals from our past gaming community. This old gaming friend started posting COVID conspiracies, and it was clear he had been “redpilled”. Soon, he went from posting links about fake COVID death rates to full-on QAnon “drops”.

I desperately tried every tactic imaginable for weeks, patiently trying to help break whatever spell he was caught under. Eventually, the community set a rule posting these insane conspiracies were no longer tolerated, and he rage quit the server. I posted a brief remark about the experience on Twitter, and at least half a dozen people reached out to me that night alone sharing similar experiences with people in their lives that were similarly brainwashed with deranged right-wing conspiracies. I had nothing to offer them other than giving them the comfort that I too was completely hopeless about what to do.

I wish this was all anecdotal, but a poll conducted in October found that roughly half of Trump’s supporters believe in QAnon, which makes sense given they elected a QAnon believer to Congress. Maybe worse, several surveys have found a majority of Trump’s base believe the November election was rigged. This conspiracy means you believe that a Democratic aligned group was able to covertly dig up lists of hundreds of thousands of dead voters in counties of swing states across America, that were still on the voter rolls, request their mail-in ballot, intercept those ballots at all of those mailboxes, filled them out for Biden but split the rest of the ticket for Republicans, and then dropped all of those ballots off without anyone questioning their truck load of ballots being offloaded. It is just absolutely preposterous and stupid to believe. And claiming a software vendor “flipped votes” that literally exist on paper ballots and can be audited by hand counting the paper votes is just as preposterous.

The wide-spread voter fraud theories are the equivalent of believing that the earth is flat. And yet, here we are nearly two months later after the election and somewhere around half of the elected Republican party is still in denial even after their attempt to secede from the union failed.

I have no idea if “QAnon” will survive post-Trump. But the breakdowns of society that have led to so many (predominantly, but not exclusively) Republican voters falling for ridiculous conspiracies, ranging from birtherism to anti-vaxxer, are not going to change overnight. The void of one conspiracy will continue to be replaced by another, thanks to all of the Murdoch's and Zuckerberg’s out there running platforms that are constantly poisoning the minds of Americans with absolute bullshit. I’m not sure what we can ever do about this.

Iphone playing viral videos of Karen's

part two white

As an avid TikTok consumer prior to the pandemic, I was already well familiar with the phrase “Karen” where it was widely used in the comments of TikTok videos. You’d often find it in the comments of a TikTok where a white woman would pull over to yell at teenagers on skateboards for absolutely no reason, or use their car to block someone from getting out of their parking spot because she was mad at them.

But in 2020, “Karen” became the default label for white people being overtly angry and racist, most notably when a white woman was caught making a false 911 call about a black man in Central Park. The viral video showed how white America felt about Black America, and how white America viewed the police as a tool of oppression that they could wield at will. Videos of “Karen’s”, white women perpetuating overtly-obvious racism, started popping up everywhere. “Is this your property?” a white woman asks before calling the police on a person of color stenciling “Black Lives Matter” onto their sidewalk.

The pandemic brought an entire new dimension to “Karen”.

“Anyone who is harassing me to wear a mask, you are violating federal laws”, says Karen completely maskless in Trader Joes, harassing fellow shoppers while she shouts COVID all over them. Another maskless Karen “doesn’t give a fuck about these dumbass motherfuckers” as she throws a tantrum and makes a mess in a grocery store that an essential worker now has to clean up. Oh and there was this maskless Karen that walked over to other patrons in a coffee shop and coughed on them.

Is the average white American really this extreme of a Karen anti-masker, or a fool that thinks removing “blue states” would lower the COVID-19 death rate, or a COVID conspiracy theorist? Based on available data I don’t think that is the case. But it’s clear the average white American does not take COVID seriously, or we wouldn’t still be enduring such an unbelievable amount of excess deaths every single day and hospitals filled to capacity.

Open any internet video of people indoors not wearing a mask, and the internet turns into a debate with white people arguing it’s a personal choice to wear a mask, gleefully ignoring the patriotic & civic duty we have to protect each other. White america believes the death rate is “so low”, they don’t have to care if they get the virus, completely ignoring the fact this line of thinking has led to hospitals filling to capacity, as COVID patients can spend weeks in an ICU, which in turn means hospitals have to turn patients away, especially in rural areas, or build temporary emergency hospital capacity. To make everything worse, hundreds of thousands of people have wound up suffering long-term debilitating effects of the disease, often known as COVID long haulers, a group of people that are still poorly understood by the medical community but are across the spectrum in age and fitness prior to COVID exposure. Alarmingly, many of the effects are not only physically challenging but also mentally challenging, many categorized as having “brain fog”. But as this incoming white Republican Congressman brilliantly put it, “This looks like a group of people that get that this is a phony pandemic… it's a serious virus, but it's a virus. It's not a pandemic... You get it. You stand up against tyranny...” (but I guess he spoke too soon, because an incoming Republican congressman died of COVID this month).

But my apologies, maybe I’m being too stern about this because white America is just so tired of quarantining. They just had to squeeze in a massively packed indoor dance party, or an indoor Thanksgiving dinner, regardless of how likely it is to lead to superspreader events that kill people who were not even present at such events. My least favorite episode I recently read about was a groom that had tested positive for COVID the day before the wedding, but the wedding went on anyway because he didn’t have any symptoms. We are a year into this pandemic and white people are still refusing to understand the basics of the disease, especially when it inconveniences their special wedding day, regardless of how it might impact the underpaid staff and contribute to the wider COVID health disparities. Because at the end of the day, they know it’s fine, white America witnessed a President that caught the virus and never seemed to take it seriously.

My uncle invited our family to celebrate Christmas eve indoors, seemingly forgetting the pandemic never ended. My aunt asked us to take our masks off at her house. My cousin is never wearing a mask in his Instagram stories. Because in America we value individualism above all-else. Me me me me me. My needs matter more than theirs. “I don’t care if your grandparents die, I need to live my life” (I actually read this chilling quote in the comments of the Staten Island Facebook community). America doesn’t run on Dunkin, it runs on individualism.

And ultimately none of us will ever be a perfect collectivist. Maybe I held my breath under my mask and hugged a friend or two this year that I hadn’t seen in months, or enjoyed outdoor dining once with people outside my “bubble”. But the point is we could have tried our best as a nation to win this war, but we didn’t even put up a damn fight. It’s heartbreaking. At the time of writing this, over three hundred thousand Americans have been tragically lost this year due to COVID-19, often dying alone in a hospital, and there are so many white people who just don’t care.

In fact, America cares so little about COVID-19 they have spent this entire pandemic screaming about the audacity of state officials to close businesses in parts of the country where COVID is surging. And of course they have a right to be mad when it’s their livelihoods on the line, but they can’t find it in themselves to be vigorously outraged at the members of Congress who could put an end to all of the economic suffering. I guess that would be too socialist. It’s better to let Jeff Bezos pop a champagne bottle this year for being the first person ever to crack $200 billion dollars in net worth while every Amazon warehouse worker chugs along without hazard pay. So instead of demanding “socialist” economic redistribution in an economic crisis, white America points their rage at the officials who briefly closed the businesses to save the wider population from unnecessary mass death.

In many ways, this acceptance of mass death by America is no different than how it has accepted & tolerated mass death from gun violence, or how it celebrated George Bush taking up painting after the Iraq war (and can we take a moment to appreciate that the Joint Chiefs of staff this year called the invasion of Afghanistan a “modicum of success”?).

America just doesn’t care when lots of people unnecessarily die.

part three blue

Please be advised, this section contains disturbing images and video of police violence that occurred during the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests. If you prefer, you may check the following box to read this section in a text-only format before you continue scrolling.

I would prefer to read the text only version

Growing up on Staten Island, I remember the day Eric Garner was killed by the police. I was 17, by no means fully versed in how systemic racism is enshrined in the foundations of our criminal justice system, but I knew intuitively in my heart his death was deeply wrong. It didn’t matter he was selling cigarettes illegally, or that he “resisted arrest.” He was a father, a man trying to provide for his family, he should not have died at the hands of the police. But I remember having a contentious debate in our white household about his death. And I similarly remember two years later having a contentious debate with my father, a Navy vet, about football players taking a knee in protest to police violence.

My dad does not wear a MAGA hat, and it’s hard to recall anything he’s hated more than Donald Trump. But buried inside him is the classic racial tropes that you might have heard time & time again from white America, “I didn’t grow up rich, I don’t have white privilege”, or, “we need some police reform, but the Black community should work on reducing black on black crime.” I’ve endlessly struggled to help him see the world in a more systemic, intersectional way, but I fear for many white Americans, like my dad, that the implications of this conversation are simply too large to accept, or that deep down they don’t want to accept it, because this notion of systemic racism and white privilege challenges the very core of how they’ve viewed their life.

When George Floyd was murdered this year, our household had no debate. I think America nearly universally agreed George Floyd was murdered by the police in one of the most cruel ways imaginable. But that didn’t mean white America was ready to admit racism was still a wider problem. My dad, like many in white America, seemed more animated about the broken windows of Macy’s on 34th street than the Kentucky Attorney General engaging in a cover up of Breonna Taylor’s death at the hands of the police.

It did not matter how many videos of brazen police violence went viral around the internet.

Yet, white people were more concerned about property damage than constraining the police state, even though it was later revealed that right-wing protestors were conducting the bulk of the property destruction. Regardless, the support for Black Lives Matter among white America fell swiftly.

For a few months this year, especially when the unmarked federal goon squads started showing up and later kidnapping people in unmarked vans, it felt like America was on the verge of becoming an authoritarian police state. If America was a middle eastern nation, there would have been an emergency UN security council meeting and Central Command would have been devising plans to invade and overthrow the Trump regime.

But after weeks of large confrontations between activists and the police, the media cycle began to move on, social media began to return back to normal, and white America moved on. But policing didn’t change, months after George Floyd’s tragic murder, police were still killing Black men at a disproportionate rate. Most recently, Casey Goodson Jr. was shot by police while standing at the door to his home holding a bag with a Subway sandwich.

Both political parties, at every level of government, failed to enact real change. The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020 introduced by Democratic house leadership, which was inadequate to begin with, never even made it out of the House. The Senate also rejected a bipartisan bill to stop retired military hardware being sold at surplus value to local police departments, equipment such as tanks and assault rifles. And almost no mayor or city council in this country found the gall to get their police in-check during the protests, push for a shift in budgetary priorities, or end “warrior cop” training.

All the while, virtually every member of the Democratic establishment took turns dunking on Black Lives Matter activists that engaged in the political process and dared proposing something bold & transformative that made white America feel uncomfortable and have to grapple with the pain Black communities are enduring.

In the present day, I think a lot about how a white bar owner here in Staten Island recently led a COVID-19 revolt against the governor's public health mandate, and in the process ran his car into a Sheriff trying to arrest him. The sheriff wound up clinging to the hood of the car for over 300 feet and obviously had to go to the hospital, but the suspect was released without bail. Yet, just a few weeks prior on the other side of Staten Island, a person of color who even had a reputation of donating to charitable police causes and did literally nothing wrong, was swarmed by over a dozen NYPD officers outside his family deli at 12AM and forcibly arrested.

The criminal justice system remains broken, and most of the politicians remain unwilling to fix it.

part four next

My first draft of this essay had concluded with a long, mildly-fatalist rant about the state of politics and media. But while 2020 might have made us see some of the worst in humanity, there is no good advocating for fatalism, nihilism, or any sense that change is not possible. We cannot succumb to our worst instincts, and we must believe a better future is possible.

Or as my former boss said, nevertheless, we persist.


Written by @itsjoekent.

You can find the source for this essay on Github if you're interested.