If This, Then What Else?

A MAGA party don't stop unless we stop it

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Two little birdies fighting over food while the third one is waiting to kick in at the back

It’s time to fight

Welcome back.

I forgot to tell you I was going to be off last week, so sorry.

Today’s essay is a bit of a departure — I just wanted to make super clear where I stand vis a vis the next eleven months.

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— Quinn

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If Donald Trump is one of the worst people alive, a logical person would ask how the hell he got elected president in the first place, and why — despite nearly a hundred felony charges and losing his re-election bid — he’s swept the GOP primaries already and is an extremely viable threat to regain the presidency.

The answer(s) are myriad and complicated, but working from the bottom up, it’s absolutely vital to remember that Trump was/is the manifestation of all of the years of increasingly-right wing Republican talk.

He is their Stay Puft marshmallow man.

The same people that created him have been desperately trying to walk the “return to the middle ages” walk for a very long time — they were one infuriating John McCain thumbs-down away from repealing Obamacare and have only become more “The Last Duel was a rom-com” ever since.

And while you say a quiet thank you for John McCain, and argue that the right-wing has seemingly only been partially successful at the national level, as young people, college-educated people, and of course, Black women have salvaged some otherwise-unwinnable races for Democrats, understand this:

A decision like Dobbs — even one cast down from Trump’s hand-picked Supreme Court — has much less of a practical effect on women’s health if those same right-wingers hadn’t spent the past twenty years accumulating most of the governorships and state legislatures, and then using those to not only pass their own horrifically draconian state laws and refuse Medicaid money, gleefully killing their poorest constituents, but also — simultaneously, it’s all part of the plan — to gerrymander the House to within an inch of it’s life.

In every single case, you have to understand that they have had a comprehensive plan all along and that it is still, in Jeff Bezos’s words, “day one”.

In the words of Dennis Green, they are who we thought they were.

So if Obamacare, immigration, and wetlands, if Trump, if Dobbs, if Mike Johnson — then what else?

And what comes after that?

This is what the 2024 election is all about. 

It’s easy to sign up for this newsletter and think that I’m going to exclusively preach about the next mRNA vaccines or brain implants or carbon removal, but you’d be wrong.

You and I are both excited about how well the HPV vaccine works, and the incredible potential of a real-life malaria vaccine in sub-Saharan Africa, gene therapy for kids who are deaf, and/or a nasal COVID vaccine, or even LFP batteries, but in the meantime, fucking measles is on the come-back not because of the science, but because of mass disinformation and consequently, declining childhood vaccination rates everywhere.

Sure, the sign on the door proudly says “science for people who give a shit”, but here we are, talking about politics.

Whether you’re an ideologue, optimist, nihilist, pessimist, or doomer, nothing gets done here without a realistic understanding of how the world actually works.

And — however much humans remain the same — the world is quickly and increasingly working much less like it has for the past eighty or so years.

Science matters, but for better or worse its impact varies dramatically depending on who’s in office and who’s riding high on the S&P.

For example, on the one hand, George W. Bush did PEPFAR. It is nearly impossible to undersell how important PEPFAR has been.

On the other, GWB set back crucial stem-cell research for a very long time because #pro-life.

You all said you want more global news and Action Steps, and while more voters are voting across the world than ever before this year, I’m here to remind you that — for better or worse — what happens at every level of American politics affects the whole world, too.

So yes, we’re talking politics more directly today than usual, but I have said it before, and I’ll say it again:

We’re biased here, but not towards a particular party, person, or company.

Instead, we often and specifically call out both good actors and bad actors who are measurably working towards or preventing progress at every level of power.

Understanding who, what money, and what policies are driving progress — or standing in the way — are key to bending the arc further and faster.

As author and Pulitzer winning journalist Ed Yong recently put it to Julia Craven:

“One of our most sacred responsibilities as journalists is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. Everyone talks about that. If you take that to heart, then often you’re going to be interviewing people who are very vulnerable, who have been ignored, neglected, and marginalized.

All of that can strip them of agency and a feeling of control in their lives. It isn’t necessarily my job to restore that — although, arguably, that is part of comforting the afflicted — but I can do that. And I can do that in pretty simple ways that cost me nothing. And that doesn’t violate any of the tenets of our job.”

Thankfully, I can go even further than this because I am not a journalist, though I obviously stand on the shoulders of the great ones to do this particular job.

In my case, comforting the afflicted often means directly afflicting the comfortable, something that sparks enormous joy.

I have written extensively and gone on the record to clarify that our job is to help you understand what’s happening in the world by way of (what’s left of) the very best, most reputable journalists, and then detail exactly what the hell you can do about it.

So when I say we “specifically call out both good actors and bad actors who are measurably working towards or preventing progress at every level of power”, understand that for as sexy as fusion power or solar-powered desalination may be, “progress” very often means, simply, paid leave for hourly workers, heat protections for farmworkers, Medicaid coverage for kids, and clean air in schools and office buildings.

So, often, “what the hell you can do about it” is to help improve the baseline, the weakest links in our chain, by guaranteeing for many more people the absolute fundamentals: clean air, clean water, healthy food, shelter, education, and health care. And maybe even a little public transportation and access to nature, while we’re at it.

So in the biggest global election year in modern history, these are all why the contest between two for president matters.

It’s why the Senate matters. It’s why the House REALLY matters.

But in reality, because our federalist system is designed like Jenga from hell so that one directly affects the other and then literally everything else, including Israeli hostages, Palestinian children, and coffee farmers in Uganda, it’s why state and local races matter more than anything.

It’s not just because climate change is the heat you feel on your back and the saltwater intrusion into your local aquifers, it’s also called “reverse coattails” and our friends at Run for Something have some brand new research to back it up:

New research by BlueLabs, commissioned by Run for Something and For Our Future, shows that Democrats contesting state legislative seats induces a meaningful increase in top-of-the-ticket Democratic vote-share.

This is a phenomenon that we refer to as “reverse coattails.”

Essentially, it means that the folks running for state and local offices were responsible for increasing turnout for statewide or national candidates. Across states and cycles, we found an estimated 0.4% – 2.3% bump in top-of-ticket vote share when every local state legislature seat within a precinct is challenged.

In 2020, Joe Biden beat Donald Trump 306-232 in the Electoral College.

He even “won” the popular vote 81,283,098 to 74,222,958, the first candidate to get 80 million votes.

But America doesn’t choose presidents on a popular vote, and of the Electoral College states that put Biden over the top — basically Arizona, Georgia, and Wisconsin — Dark Brandon actually won by less than 45,000 votes.

In eight states, his margin was within 3.5 points. So when Run for Something says we get a “0.4% – 2.3% bump“ in top-of-ticket vote share when we compete in every local and state seat — well, then it really fucking matters that we do that, finding out what people really give a shit about when they say the vibes aren’t great.

As I have written ad nauseam, the kitchen sink approach is the only one that works. Our candidates, campaigns, GOTV, and messaging must reflect that if we want more people to have more access to the things that will make them healthier and capable of inventing and pioneering and distributing really cool shit.

We cannot simply win local races, we have to defeat the worst person in America. We cannot simply win Senate races, we have to take back the House so Mike Johnson doesn’t get to turn America into a fascist-religious fever dream. We can’t just fund Planned Parenthood, we have to win state races to make sure Planned Parenthood can still actually operate in those states.

We can’t just invent new science, we have to advocate for it and fight for everyone to have access to it. Cancer drugs simply cannot cost a gazillion dollars and people should not have to hide that they are sick at work. It’s self-defeating. If you disagree with me here you are at the wrong blog.

If we want the vibes to be better, to rein in regulatory capture in basically every arena, to guarantee clean air, water, healthy food, shelter, and health care, we have to walk the walk and chew gum at the same time.

Let’s talk about how we measure vibes in 2024.

By a lot of measures, the US economy is completely out of control — in a good way.

In a great way, even!

We simply cannot stop adding jobs, it seems. Our late-COVID recovery blows nearly every other wealthy country’s recovery out of the water. Biden’s shitty approval ratings are actually less shitty than nearly every other Western president or prime minister’s.

Old man Biden, it seems, is not really the problem in most cases (the horror show in Gaza and, to an extent, immigration, being outliers here).

But why, then, is the delta between economic measures and vibes so, well, enormous?

On the one hand, it’s important to dive into various polls and understand that self-identified Republicans say the vibes are way worse than self-identified Democrats, skewing the overall number.

Fine, sure.

But I also don’t really believe in scoffing at how people say it’s going for them, especially when the world is changing so quickly and when we are connected to world events more than ever before.

We have to update how we measure things when the world is changing so quickly.

Maybe the delta keeps showing up in polls because we are trying to rate “quality of life” and “success” and “vibes” on out-of-date system of measure.

Quick story:

In January 2013, my wife’s cult-favorite network comedy Ben & Kate was cancelled by FOX. This, one month after our first kid was born and barely 13 episodes into what would have otherwise been a 23-25 episode season.

I wrote this in my journal:

Ben and Kate ended last night.

I should say, FOX pulled it from the schedule earlier this week and officially cancelled it yesterday. So last night was the last day of shooting, and a series so dear to us and so many, so funny and full of heart ended.

It's just so sad. Dana worked so hard to build a warm, supportive, successful show and it really was all of that. These actors - none of whom knew each other in April - were told to play a fake family. So they made it as real as they could, and just when they really started to hit their stride, someone up top said "stop".

Because our numbers weren't good. They weren't. It's the truth. But neither are anyone else's. And while we might have been lower on the totem pole, it's all relative, and there will never be traditional rating highs for single camera comedies like those that Modern Family pulls these days. And even the multi-cams are in trouble.

So we're the sacrificial lamb, the last to go. And it's heart breaking.

What could have been.

I wrote that a week after Obama started his second term, and months before the Senate passed comprehensive immigration reform and the GOP House refused to even discuss it.

Ben and Kate was cancelled a week before House of Cards premiered on Netflix, heralding a new streaming future, and months before HealthCare.gov crashed on arrival.

Donald Trump and Prime Video both technically existed that week, but there was no HBO Max, or MAX, or Peacock, or Apple+. Both insurrection and a nationwide right to gay marriage were pipe dreams.

For my wife and TV in general, it was still too early into a future that was clearly coming soon for decision-makers to risk their jobs on keeping her beloved little comedy on the air.

Now, twelve years later, it’s been an eternity.

Premium cable has come and gone, FOX doesn’t really exist anymore, and neither does journalism as a career or business model.

The Avengers and voters both turned out and then burned out as studios bought back all their rights from Netflix to build up their only catalogues and their own streamers, fighting off Apple and Amazon and their unlimited cash in the process, absolutely hemorrhaging money on the whole project.

And now they’re back to selling their best shows to Netflix again and it’s Biden vs. Trump round two and we’re still trying to measure vibes with the same tools.

Studios announce, cast, and shoot entire shows, and then remove them a year later so they don’t have to pay residuals and rights fees.

They announce, cast, and shoot entire movies and then don’t even release them, valuing the tax write-off more than whatever meager revenues they might have gained, threatening to use AI for everything, eventually driving the WGA and SAG to strike for half a year and rekindle the labor movement in America.

It’s all happening so fast, and it’s happening live, and even the smartest among them basically have no idea what they’re doing.

Sound familiar?

Biden has been a mostly good president, providing stability and normalcy where there was none and desperately trying to revitalize American labor and industry.

But that latter stuff just takes time. Meanwhile, every day:

  • Two huge wars, again, which might explode even more

  • Immigration problems everywhere

  • The energy transition

  • Inflation which turns out mostly to have been corporate gouging

  • Private equity buying and stripping down everything

  • Low unemployment but it sure as hell feels like there are never enough bus drivers, nurses, primary doctors, electricians, teachers, etc

  • Unaffordable and inaccessible childcare and summer camps etc

  • Unaffordable and inaccessible preschool

  • Being watched all the time by companies and police departments and Ring doorbells

  • Late COVID, everyone you know has been sick for months

  • Institutions are completely untrustworthy

  • Corruption

  • California is under water for the second year in a row and still 90% of homeowners don’t have flood insurance

  • Meanwhile, rent is unaffordable for half of the nation’s renters

Vibes matter, man. And contextually it’s helpful to know that, right now, across the world, live, they are similar (presidential ratings, anti-semitism, war, etc), and immediate. They are live.

And while vibes show up in polls, freaking out pundits and campaign managers alike, only when we cast a vote are we actually presented with a meaningful, irrevocable decision — the single opportunity to actually choose “the lesser of two weevils”, as my mentor Jack Aubrey once preached.

A poll commits you to nothing. A vote could lead to PEPFAR, or a child tax credit, or a national abortion ban.

It is why I am so passionately in support of organizations like our friends at Environmental Voter Project, who focus on getting out would-be voters aligned with a single issue, not any particular candidate.

The math is simple: messaged correctly, voters who really give a shit about something will figure out the right candidate to vote for.

Sure, it helps to have an all-time antagonist, and especially one with a criminal track record, whose future actions are no longer simply theoretical, if no longer fresh in our mind because, again, two new wars.

But despite how evil that fucker is, and how cartoonishly terrifying Mike Johnson is, the name on the ballot is only half the story.

Donald and Mike are the freak-show frankenchildren of generations of GOP scheming that will never ever stop.

Sure, Trump is unique: he will swing some voters again. Somewhat similarly, there are definitely people who will only vote for Biden or someone younger like Newsom, and not the other.

But the vibes are what it’s going to come down to.

Messaging is everything. If it’s what gets the job done, talk about heat or pollution, not emissions or climate change.

We fear Trump because we fear the practical implications he’s been tasked with and clearly capable of setting in motion.

If he wants to pander to evangelists and take credit for Dobbs? Great.

But you need to remember this: whatever he says, he was only partially responsible for Dobbs. All of the thousands of state legislators who were born ready to criminalize abortion are the ones who rushed to put it into effect.

MAGA isn’t some theory or set of values. It’s a game plan that’s actually still running at the state level, it’s a partially-operational Death Star.

So, if this, then what else?

Do you want MAGA, and everything it entails, or not?

There’s no halfway. Stay Puft didn’t stop at 52nd Street. The fellas had to cross the streams — another irrevocable move — to stop him.

You’re tired of donating and voting, but Mike Johnson is the tip of MAGA religious fundamentalism in America and you have only glimpsed what they are capable of.

If this is what they’ll say in public, what the hell are they saying in private?

Here is one way to win and prevent The Long Defeat:

Do what you are elected to do at every level and tell people how you’re doing it and show them how it’s affecting their every day life.

Not an elected official? Your job is to tell their story for them, to stand up and say how their actions have affected your life.

Consider that in 2022, the two places that suffered Democratic losses (and consequently, lost us the House) were California and New York.

If abortion won everywhere it was on the ballot, you know where abortion wasn’t under threat? That’s right.

And this is why it matters that we build and vote from the bottom up, but simultaneously don’t ignore that Trump and Mike Johnson and everyone that comes after them will absolutely ban abortion and vaccines nationwide the minute they are able to.

They will start with states, and having taken advantage of momentary complacency in blue strongholds like California and New York, go national.

Top to bottom, bottom to top, this is what HYDRA/MAGA has done for almost two decades and it’s why, despite losing many of the most recent national elections, they still have so much power in so many places and so much potential to accrue even more.

There has never been a better time to pick a side, and I hope in 2024, you’ll choose the one that doesn’t have Nazis.

✏️ Recommended Reading

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