Impeach Him. Now.

I’m not much of a crier, to be honest.

I hardly ever cry at movies — though on a recent rewatch of The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King I definitely teared up at the “you bow to no one” moment. The occasional episode of The West Wing gets me bleary-eyed, but who doesn’t tear up at good governance? (That’s a rhetorical question — please don’t answer that.)

All this to say, it takes a lot to move me to tears. And yesterday, for the first time in my life, I cried watching the news.

Leah Millis/Reuters

I cried because the country that I love — despite all its sins, its transgressions, and its deep, deep flaws — is teetering over the abyss. I cried because the most fundamental part of our democracy — the peaceful transfer of power — had been squandered by politicians who thought this was all a game. I cried because in four short years, Donald Trump has taken a blowtorch to the most resilient democracy the world had ever seen.

The man has done more than enough damage. It’s time for him to go. Not in two weeks — right now. Draw up the impeachment papers, hold the hearings, and send the man back to Mar-a-Lago as a historical failure and an unprecedented disgrace.

The actions of yesterday warrant immediate action. The sitting president of the United States incited his own supporters to march on the Capitol building in a misguided attempt to overturn a legitimately-held democratic election. It is at the very least criminal, and at worst treasonous.

There’s already talk of using the 25th Amendment to oust him. That’s not good enough. If he’s impeached and removed from office, he cannot run for president ever again. If he’s impeached and removed from office, we force every single Representative and Senator to make their position clear: are you with the terrorists, the seditionists, and the mob, or is there a scrap of decency left in your desiccated body to stand up for what remains of our democracy?

Andrew Harnik/AP

You need more convincing? Consider this. During the Civil War, arguably the most dangerous four years in US history, the Confederate flag never made it to Washington, DC. Yesterday, it was paraded through the halls of Congress by a Trump supporter.

When the terrorists got to the flagpole of the building, they took down the American flag. It didn’t represent their interests. Neither, too, did the Confederate flag, though the hateful racism of this mob would make even Jefferson Davis blush. No, they hung the flag that most embodies their misguided, delusional beliefs.

They hung a Trump flag.

There are questions aplenty to be asked about yesterday’s events. Why were there so few police officers guarding the Capitol building, when they knew a large pro-Trump rally would be held that same day? Why were cops seemingly so chummy with insurrectionist, white supremacist looters? Why were enemies of the republic calmly escorted out of the building, when just this summer Black Americans were teargassed, curb-stomped, and run over for peacefully protesting for their right to exist? What in the name of sanity was this guy wearing?

Those are all important questions that deserve careful investigation and inquiry. But there is one question that we should not be asking ourselves: how did this happen?

The answer is all too obvious: Donald Trump is how this happened. He has been sowing distrust in democracy for years, driving a wedge between his supporters and patriotic Americans, all in preparation for this moment.

Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP

At a rally yesterday morning, Trump told his supporters, “We’re going to walk down to the Capitol.” He reminded them, “You’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength, and you have to be strong.” He marshalled his forces and then commanded them from the rear, hiding in his bunker in the White House and smirking at the damage he had sowed.

Before the tweet was deleted, Trump called yesterday “a day which we will remember forever.” He’s right. We’ll remember it as the day the evil sparks of Trumpism burst into a terrible flame, burning right to the core of our democratic institutions.

For four years, Trump has poured kerosene over the United States. It will take years, perhaps decades, to clean up the mess–if there’s even anything left to salvage. But before we can begin, we have to take the match away from the maniac. We have to impeach Donald Trump.

Five Thoughts: What Is It Going To Take?

This should have been so easy.

This should have been a lay-up, a tap-in, a chip-shot, a meat ball, pick whatever sports metaphor you want. This election was here for the taking for the Democrats, and while they managed to reclaim the White House they will spend the next four years ruing missed chances and could-have-beens.

Donald Trump was a historic failure as president. His approval rating never got above 50%, according to Gallup. At no time did a majority of Americans look at President Trump and think, “Sure, he’s doing a good job up there.”

And how could they? His incompetence has been staggering. It has been comedic, like Trump’s appraisal of Hurricane Florence as “one of the wettest we’ve ever seen from the standoint of water” or his lurid obsession with toilets. It has been insidious, like his characterization of African nations as “shithole countries” or his fulminations about a caravan of migrants before the 2018 midterms. At times it has been truly bizarre — think of the time he launched paper towels at impoverished Puerto Ricans like a cheerleader with a T-shirt cannon, or the time he considered buying Greenland, or the time he excitedly announced his idea for stopping hurricanes: “Why don’t we nuke them?

And then coronavirus hit. He could not bluster and attack and rage-Tweet the virus into submission; it was a problem that required empathy and good governance. He possesses neither. Coronavirus ripped through the country, taking our sense of security and Trump’s big beautiful economy with it. We are living in a psychological nightmare. 242,000 Americans have already lost their lives. Many of them were our loved ones, our friends, our family. The mundane trappings of normal life have been taken from us. The scars of this year will take decades to fade.

All along, the Republican Party enabled him, encouraged him, goaded him on. Tax cuts for Trump’s rich cronies? Sure, why not. Strong-arming Ukrainian officials to dig up dirt on a foreign rival? Okay, maybe that wasn’t great, but we can’t be too hasty or too harsh on dear Donald. Economic relief for an American public crumbling under the stresses and anxieties of a raging pandemic? My god, that would require us to spend money! We can’t do that!

It was a landscape perfect for vengeful repudiation; instead, voters tentatively opted for a partial change. Sure, they voted out Donald Trump — while the margin falls well short of a total landslide, it does represent a clear and safe victory for Joe Biden. But Democrats missed a golden opportunity to retake the Senate (pending two special elections in Georgia), and in an environment conducive to expanding their majority in the House, they instead lost ground.

What the hell is it going to take to win?

One easy answer is democratic reform. Democrats want to expand the Voting Rights Act to make voting easier and more accessible for all Americans, particularly voters of color. Doing away with gerrymandered districts to create a group of legislators more representative of voters’ true wishes will also restore balance to American democracy. Eliminating the filibuster will remove obstacles for legislative reform and allow Congress to enact meaningful change for American voters. The pinnacle of Democratic ambition is to reform or abolish the Electoral College, that ugly stepsister of American democracy which gives rural Americans outsized power in electing the president.

All of these reforms are necessary, but none can be made until Democrats actually gain power. They need to beat the system as its currently constructed before reforming it to create a more perfect union. So how do they do that? There are two things I think Democrats need to improve on. These are by no means the only changes to be made, or magical silver bullets that will guarantee a dominant Democratic coalition. But both ideas will expand Democratic voter blocs amongst moderates and progressives, and neither involves fundamental policy or value changes.

Economic Messaging

Much of the Democrats’ 2020 messaging focused on character and decency, particularly in the presidential election. When they did run on policy, they focused on healthcare and the coronovirus. Those were good choices, but they should have added a third: economic prosperity. The economy was the most important issue among voters, according to exit polls; on that issue, voters tended to prefer Donald Trump. As the progressives’ memo argued, Biden was able to overcome that deficit with strong messaging on combatting Covid-19; Congressional Democrats were less fortunate.

The problem runs deeper than a single election cycle. There is a perception that Republicans are good for the economy, and Democrats are bad for it. Democrats will supposedly raise your taxes, taking money out of your pocket and plugging it into poorly-run and inefficient government programs. Republicans, on the other hand, actually care about reducing the deficit. Their tax cuts for corporations supposedly increase economic prosperity for all Americans.

These perceptions are divorced from reality. In the last year of Obama’s presidency, the budget deficit was $587 billion. This year, the last year of Trump’s presidency, the deficit is $3.13 trillion — an increase of more than $2,500,000,000,000. Sure, the necessity for economic relief due to Covid-19 threw the budget out of alignment, but even in 2019 the budget deficit was $984 billion, $400 billion more than it was under President Obama. Republicans only care about the deficit when they can wield it as a sledgehammer against Democratic reforms.

Additionally, the myth that Republican governance inevitably leads to economic prosperity may have been true under Ronald Reagan, but it has not been true in my lifetime. Every economic recession since 1980 has occurred under Republican leadership, including two of the most damaging economic downturns in US history. Republicans love to attack Obama for somewhat anemic economic recovery under his administration, but it took time to rebuild the house that the Bush Administration charred to a crisp.

Democrats need to recenter their messaging around economic prosperity and reeducate voters held captive by the pernicious simplicity of conservative economic arguments. Don’t focus on the big economic ideas like the deficit; instead, focus on kitchen table issues like wages and unemployment that matter to everyday Americans. Better still, Democrats should tie their economic message to issues of social justice and climate change that resonate with their base.

Right now, it too often feels like voters cast their ballots for Democrats in spite of economics – they like their social policies, and dislike Republican norm-breaking, but they fear that the Democrats will be bad for the economy. Until Democrats can reposition themselves as the party good for Americans’ economic prosperity, they will always be fighting uphill.

Digital and In-Person Voter Contact

Once Democrats have their message, they have to figure out how to reach voters with it. This has been another attack line from progressives like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who pointed out on Twitter that many of the moderates attacking progressive ideologies underinvested in TV and digital advertising in their campaigns. They’ve also argued that the lack of in-person campaigning and door-knocking depressed turnout among Democratic voters.

The decision to abandon in-person voter contact is a complicated one. The progressive wing of the party is correct that it did limit turnout — no amount of digital interaction can replicate in-person communication. After months of Zoom happy hours and long-distance friendships, I think we can all agree on that score. Yet in-person contact is also risky during a pandemic that continues unabated throughout the US. One of the Democrats’ main messages was that the Republicans were not taking the pandemic seriously; door-to-door campaigning, no matter how safe, risked undercutting that message. If anything, the 2020 campaign should remind Democrats how important in-person voter contact is for future election cycles.

Yet while Democrats can excel at in-person voter contact in the future, they do need to increase investment in digital outreach — and do so smartly. Pumping money into ads on Facebook and Twitter does not a digital campaign make. Only one in five Americans uses social media as their main form of news; more traditional forms of media are still incredibly effective forms of voter outreach. Additionally, they can double as social media efforts — think of Pete Buttigieg’s appearances on Fox News that quickly went viral on Twitter.

The golden rule here is this: meet voters where they are. Yes, this involves going into communities that might not have high voter turnout and increasing political engagement in order to grow the base. But it also involves engaging in good faith with as many media sources as possible to amplify your message and reach voters that are still persuadable. Democrats need to expand the coalition in both ways in order to overcome a democratic system that increasingly favors white rural American voters.

This won’t be easy. Breaking an unfair system never is. But Democrats have all the tools and policies at their disposal necessary to sweep into power and enact meaningful change for American voters. They missed their chance in 2020. May they learn their lessons and strike hard in 2022.

Five Thoughts: Slide to the Left, Slide to the Right

There’s an old Greek proverb: After the war is over, make alliances.

Ancient proverbs, however, are all Greek to the Democrat Party. Rather than forming new friendships in the wake of a hard-fought 2020 election campaign, the members of the Democratic Caucus have turned their swords upon each other. Even before all the ballots have been counted, the sniping has begun.

The first shots were fired during an all-hands call on November 5. Moderate Democrats pointed the finger at progressives, claiming that their radical agenda had driven away key voters. House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn cautioned that “we’re not going to win” if Democrats run on a platform of “Medicare for All, defund the police, [and] socialized medicine.” Freshman Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger was more direct: if we run too far left, she warned, “We will get f***ing torn apart.

Other moderates soon took to public airwaves to spread their gospel. The far left “almost cost [Biden] this election,” charged erstwhile Republican John Kasich, who spoke in support of Biden at the Democratic National Convention. By focusing on “guns,” “abortion,” and “gay marriage,” argued former Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill, the Democrats “left a lot of people behind.”

Their arguments are disingenuous and downright false. No candidates ran exclusively on a message of “defund the police;” some progressives merged this plea with calls for intersectional economic reform, but no candidate made defunding the police their central message. Republican operatives will pain the Democrats as radical, no matter how moderate their beliefs. Liberals don’t need to cave to the center; they need to provide more resonant arguments defending their position.

The myth of the universally-appealing moderate Democrat is simply not true. As a memo released by progressive leadership groups demonstrates, liberals decisively outperformed moderates in 2020. The nine Democratic Congressional candidates who increased their vote share hold more progressive views; the nine who lost the most votes from 2018 to 2020 are more conservative. All the swing district Democrats who co-sponsored Medicare for All won re-election. Only one swing district Democrat who co-sponsored the Green New Deal lost in 2020. Meanwhile, four of the Democrats who lost re-election rank in the top ten most conservative members of the Democratic caucus.

Progressives argue that instead of caving to the center, Democrats should try to push policies that appeal to their base. In an interview with the New York Times, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez pleaded with moderates to understand that progressives “are not the enemy. That their base is not the enemy. That the Movement for Black Lives is not the enemy, that Medicare for all is not the enemy.” Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib echoed her fellow Squad member. “If we truly want to unify our country,” she told Politico, “we have to really respect every single voice. We say that so willingly when we talk about Trump supporters, but we don’t say that willingly for my Black and brown neighbors and from LGBTQ neighbors or marginalized people.”

So is an avid embrace of progressive policies the solution for Democratic woes? Not necessarily — though their memo does include numerous insightful recommendations, some of which I will get into tomorrow. Democrats need to increase voter turnout by turning out their base and registering new voters, particularly voters in minority groups. But Republicans can expand their own electorate, too. What develops is an arms race where the vote count gets progressively higher and the margin remains razor-thin. There is still a place for persuasion in politics.

Broadly speaking, the “moderates vs. progressives” dichotomy in Democratic politics is a woeful way to view the situation. It sounds counterintuitive, but politics often isn’t political. It’s personal. Think of the 15% of Bernie Sanders supporters who said they preferred Trump over Biden if Sanders lost the Democratic primary. The two could not be more incongruous politically — but both have a message of populism and anti-elitism that resonates with some American voters.

The Democrats — particularly the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee — need to let local politics dictate national priorities, not the other way round. Some districts might be more amenable to a candidate with a progressive vision for the United States. Indeed, progressives could well expand their influence within the Democratic caucus in the coming years. But other districts, like those in the rural Midwest, might prefer candidates with a more moderate streak — or, at the very least, candidates that pitch their progressive policies within a more moderate message.

Ideological purity tests, particularly on a national scale, are pointless exercises designed to rile up partisan passions rather than solve substantive problems. Instead of defining oneself on an arbitrary political spectrum, Democratic politicians should focus on what matters: the voters. How can they reach them? How can they win them over? And how can they persuade them to support a Democratic vision for a brighter America? That will be the focus of tomorrow’s essay.

Five Thoughts: What a Load of Poll-S**t

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

That’s how a lot of Democrats are feeling about pollsters and election forecasters. In 2016, polls suggested that Hillary Clinton would defeat Donald Trump — albeit narrowly. In 2020, polls pointed towards a Democratic victory. This time, they were right — but Trump again outperformed his numbers, and due to the increase in mail-in ballots Democrats had to wait until Saturday to celebrate Joe Biden’s victory. Additionally, polls favored Democrats’ chances in both the Senate and the House, but as election night wore on liberals saw their chances at the Senate slip away, and they’ll end up losing seats in the House (though they’ll maintain a majority).

What gives? Why have the pollsters been wrong? And why is it a problem?

First, we should withhold extreme judgment until all the votes are counted and we have all the data. Right now, Biden leads Trump nationally by around 3 points; given that many of the outstanding votes are in California and New York, we can expect that margin to increase, perhaps to as many as a 4 or 5 points.

That still leaves us with a polling error in Trump’s favor — FiveThirtyEight’s final polling average had Biden ahead 8.4 points. Additionally, as Nate Silver wrote on Twitter, only one swing state had a polling error that favored Biden. All others favored Trump — Wisconsin favored Trump by whopping eight points.

The situation is worse in the Senate. Polls in South Carolina suggested a close race, even if the fundamentals favored incumbent Lindsey Graham. Far from being a tight race, the contest was one of the first to be called on election night as Graham trounced Democratic challenger Jaime Harrison by ten points. In North Carolina, nearly every poll conducted gave Democrat Cal Cunningham an advantage over incumbent Thom Tillis — the usually reliable Marist College poll even had him up ten points. Tillis topped Cunningham by over 90,000 votes; Cunningham finally conceded yesterday.

Perhaps the most egregious error came in Maine. The last poll showing Susan Collins ahead of Sara Gideon came all the way back in July, though polls suggested that the race would be close. The race was not close; Collins blasted Gideon by nine points.

There’s a saying that the only poll that really matters takes place on Election Day. And yes, voters saying they’ll vote for Biden matters far less than voters actually voting for Biden. But polls measure more than the status of the election. Opinion polls are a valuable means by which to measure the sentiment of the American people. Presidents including Franklin D. Roosevelt, Richard Nixon, and Bill Clinton all used opinion polls when weighing policy decisions — no one wants to enact a policy hated by a majority of Americans.

Progressives, for example, are quick to point out that their keystone policies including Medicare for All and a Green New Deal are broadly popular among Americans, according to opinion polls. What if these opinon polls, like the polls in the 2016 and 2020 elections, are undercounting conservatives? Then these policies are perhaps more of a 50/50 bargain rather than a popular policy initiative.

Election polls also dictate spending patterns. National committees, PACs, and small-dollar donors alike want to put their money where it can make the most impact; they look for winnable races where their influx of cash can tip the race. Two polls in August showed Democrat Amy McGrath just 3 points down on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Maybe, Democrats thought, they had a chance to oust the second-most hated man in Washington. McGrath raised $88 million. She lost by 19 points.

South Carolina offers a similar story. Throughout October, polls showed Harrison neck-and-neck with Graham. Democrats nationwide jumped at the opportunity to win back a deep-red Senate seat and stick it to one of Trump’s top toadies. Harrison smashed fundraising records, raising over $100 million. He lost by ten points.

Of the top seven Democratic Senate candidates by fundraising, just one won their election. The six losers collectively burned through $400 million and have nothing to show for it. Perhaps this is a case of overeager Democrats desperate to retake the Senate, but their eagerness was fueled by poll after poll offering an imperfect view on the state of the race.

How did the polls get it this wrong, again? Perhaps some conservative voters came back to Trump at the end, but this doesn’t seem likely given the relatively stagnant nature of the polls throughout the race. The myth of the shy Trump voter doesn’t make sense either — there would have to be shy GOP Senate voters as well to explain the widescale polling error.

One reason pollsters might be missing Trump voters–and right-leaning voters in general–is the distrust those voters tend to have for institutions. GOP voters tend to be more skeptical of big government and big media. A small segment even believe in conspiracies like Pizzagate and QAnon. Voters that are so distrustful of “mainstream media” might be less likely to speak to pollsters, and would thus be underrepresented in the final tallies.

Yet aren’t we all less likely to speak to pollsters? Calling voters has long been the gold standard in data collection, yet more and more voters are eschewing landlines for cellphones, and fewer individuals are willing to pick up a call from an out-of-state number. Pollsters may need to consider revolutionizing their collection methods — though more research needs to be done to understand the mode effects changing media will have on survey results.

While pollsters take a good, hard look at what went wrong with their methodologies in 2020, it would be wise for us to reflect on our own errors as well. Polls cannot give us certainty — no matter how accurate the polls may be, they cannot guarantee the outcome of an election. We treat pollsters as oracles when they should be treated as meteorologists. If the weatherman says there’s a 70% chance of sun, and it rains, do we discard meteorology? No — we accept the uncertainty of an unpredictable world, and move on with our day.

The parlorization of politics has vaunted pollwatching into the realm of sport. We are all gambling addicts, watching the polls like degenerates chasing 20-1 odds on the filly at Saratoga. Polls are not scoreboards. We need to stop treating them as such.

Five Thoughts: Trump (Un)Deterred

Donald Trump was never going to go gently into that good night. “Rage, rage against the dying of my presidential grift and exploitation of American democracy” was always going to be his exit strategy, however begrudging the exit might be.

Oh, sure, he’s launched legal challenges in a handful of states. But those challenges are dead on arrival, more legal theatre than proper jurisprudence. The grand pronouncements of his lawyer Rudy Giuliani given from a lectern located between a crematorium and a dildo store offers a new twist on the classic cliche “between a rock and a hard place.” I’ll let you decide which is which.

The pathetic end of Trump’s presidency suggests he was resoundingly thumped at the ballot box. If only it were so. In 2020, Donald Trump received the second-most votes ever in a US presidential election, beating the marks set by Obama in 2008 and 2012. If the Democrats’ goal in 2020 was to demonstrate that 2016 was an aberration and that the American people would thoroughly repudiate Trumpism, they failed.

To everything, there is a Four Seasons — even presidential defeat.

Back in August, I wrote that if Trump was soundly beaten in November, the Republican Party might try to clean house and move in a new direction. After record GOP turnout, any thought of turning from Trumpism has been abandoned. Damn the torpedoes — full speed ahead.

Indeed, it’s hard to find where Republican ideology ends and Trumpism begins. The two have become perilously intertwined in the past five years. Trump has declared grievance the watchword of the day. Every institution exists to be distrusted. Every tax represents a cruel tyranny on hard-working Americans. Every immigrant or minority group is an “other” that is instinctively opposed to freedom and liberty.

The next four years will offer more of the same from America’s conservative party. If anything, being in opposition will merely increase the shrillness of their complaints. They will obstruct Biden at every turn, saying that his plans are too radical, even un-American. They will call him a socialist for spending even one cent of the taxpayer’s money. They will say he is inciting radical antifa terrorism that destroys the lives of hardworking Americans. They will attack, attack, attack.

But what are their counteroffers? What is there plan to solve the coronavirus crisis? What is their plan to make healthcare more affordable? What is their plan to finally, after years of inaction and half-measures, extend the full blessings of liberty and equality to Black Ameircans?

They don’t need plans — not if the other side is illegitimate. That’s why Republicans have been so willing to condone Trump’s baseless claims of election fraud. They’re undermining Biden’s legitimacy before he even takes office. Fraudulent presidents cannot be reasoned with or compromised with; they can only be opposed at every turn.

Their success in 2020 has taught the Republicans that Trumpism can work, despite Trump’s loss. The formula is simple: 1) claim to be aggrieved; 2) attack Democrats/media/government/”other” for perpetuating that grievance; 3) repeat ad nauseam to widen the partisan divide and incite your own supporters.

But what of the man who perfected that formula? What of Donald J. Trump?

“The best…is yet…to come!”

Trump’s claims of election fraud will undermine trust in Biden and trust in government writ large, but they will not extend his lease over the White House. He will be back in Mar-a-Lago by January 21st. He has hinted that he might run again in 2024, but this beggars belief — multiple reports suggest that Trump didn’t even want the presidency to begin with, and he has repeatedly demonstrated his distaste for fulfilling the actual duties of the job. Trump’s days as a presidential candidate are over.

His days in the spotlight, however, are not. Trump is an addict fueled by the adoration of his fervent supporters. He is already planning rallies to try his case of voter fraud before the only judge and jury that matters to him: the MAGA crowds and the sycophantic faithful. He will continue to spew whatever nonsense comes to his mind on any conservative radio or TV station that will book him — and if they stop booking him, by God, he’ll make his own.

Trump’s continued presence on the political scene will eventually become a problem for a GOP looking for its new leader. They will be trying to win over voters who are still in love with their ex-boyfriend, all while that same ex-boyfriend keeps sending them plaintive “U up” texts. It’s a recipe for bitter jealousy.

Maybe someday the dream of a new Republican Party led by the Never-Trumpers will be realized. But until then, they are the biggest losers from this election. They bet big on a full-scale repudiation of Trump; instead, the party they once called home is doubling-down on the leader they so despise. The Republicans detest them; the Democrats distrust them. They are political ronin, dishonorable operatives with no master and no loyalties.

They wanted to reform the Republican Party. The American people didn’t; by supporting Donald Trump with such fervor, they sent a signal to GOP leadership. Obstructionism works. Democratic norms don’t matter. Party means more than country.

Expect more of the same.

Five Thoughts on the Election: Restoration

The passage of time has been distorted in 2020.

March took a century. April and May collectively lasted nine hours. And last week, Tuesday night dragged on for four extra days, until finally, on what should have been Saturday morning, the calendar was restored to normalcy.

America’s long election night was over. And Joe Biden was elected President of the United States.

I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking over the last week (alongside doomscrolling, and worrying, and panicking). I didn’t want to publish anything immediately after the election — the political waters in those seas are polluted by knee-jerk overreactions and unwavering loyalty to one’s preconceived notions. But this week, I want to take a look at what happened, and what comes next. It will be analytic; it will be somber. But first, it will be celebratory.

Because Joe Biden is the President-Elect of the United States.

Take a moment to appreciate the magnitude of his perserverance. He was first elected to the US Senate in 1972, but with great triumph came unbearable tragedy; his wife and one-year old daughter were killed in a car accident just weeks before his inauguration. He was a single parent raising two boys while working one of the most demanding jobs in the United States.

He’s faced professional setbacks as well. He ran for president in 1988, and failed. He ran for president in 2008, and failed — though serving as Barack Obama’s vice president was a hell of a consolation prize. As he contemplated another run at the presidency, tragedy struck once again; cancer, that remorseless killer, took the life of his eldest son Beau.

He faced more adversity as he announced his 2020 presidential campaign. President Trump saw Biden as a threat. He called him “sleepy,” suggested that he had lost a step, and–most egregiously–tried to strongarm Ukrainian officials into investigating Biden in the hopes of digging up any sort of dirt on his rival. Trump’s antics led to his impeachment (though not his removal). Deterred from directly attacking Biden, Trump launched broadsides against Biden’s son Hunter, weaving stories of a global cabal with Biden’s only surviving son at the center of the intrigue.

But this election was never about Biden, or Hunter, or nebulous allegations of “corruption.” It was a referendum on Donald Trump. His incessant demand for the spotlight made it so. The Republican Party is his cult of personality, its policies a ketchup-stained napkin with “whatever Donnie wants” scrawled upon it in thick felt Sharpie. Trump’s America is a cesspit of infighting, insults, and proclamation-by-Tweet. On November 3, voters got to decide if they wanted more of the same.

Biden is, to his very core, the anti-Trump. Where Trump scorns advice, Biden cherishes it. Where Trump craves attention, Biden gives it. Where Trump divides, Biden unites.

Trump had no political experience before assuming the presidency. His incompetency has a price: 237,000 American lives have been discarded like poker chips (with the number rising every day), and democratic norms and institutions have been tattered into confetti for Donald Trump to toss in the air and celebrate his own greatness. Biden, meanwhile, has over 40 years of political experience and a deep respect for American democracy and the American people.

In those 40 years, Joe Biden has made mistakes, like voting for the 1994 crime bill and supporting the war in Iraq. In his presidential campaign, he advocated for some policies that made Democrats–particularly those on the left–turn up their nose at the septuagenarian. But no one policy dominated the primary campaign; instead, voters begged for electability.

What even is electability? In 2020, it was Joe Biden. It was a message of restoration, not revolution. After the Charlottesville demonstrations, Biden wrote that America was in “a battle for the soul of this nation.” He’s talked incessantly about bringing people together to heal the wounds inflicted by Donald Trump. He may as well riff off Gene Kelly’s line from Singin’ in the Rain: Unity, Always Unity.

Those hoping Joe Biden will storm the barricades with revolutionary progressive fervor will be disappointed over the next four years — not just because Biden is a lifelong moderate, but because the institutional barriers to real change remain. The Senate will, barring an upset in the runoff elections in Georgia, likely remain in Republican hands. Progressive dreams of ending the filibuster and restoring the Voting Rights Act will die on the desk of Mitch McConnell. Expectations of a big blue wave were doused with cold reality as the Democrats actually lost seats in the House. Voters sent a signal that they’re tired of Trump — but not, however, that they’re fully on board with the menu of ideas proposed by the Democratic Party.

But there’s time enough to worry, and analyze, and understand. Indeed, I’ll be doing that throughout this week. Right now is a time for celebration, for the sweet release of four years of anxiety and tension. The United States has a decent man in the White House again, and despite repeated assaults by a wannabe authoritarian, our Republic–flawed though it may be–remains unbowed and unbroken.

Into the World of High Fantasy

Everyone needs a break from reality now and then — in 2020, perhaps more than ever. Picking up a novel — whether it by science fiction, fantasy, or any other genre — is an excellent way to avoid the news for a bit, and the lessons and ideas put forward in these novels often shape the way we view our own world.

One of my favorite fantasy authors also happens to be a dear friend of mine. Brendan Patrick Walsh recently published his fourth novel, The Century’s Scribe. I sat down with Brendan to talk with him about his newest offering and why this novel means so much to him.

Scott Wagner: This novel is your first foray into high fantasy. How did you go about the process of creating the two worlds that make up The Century’s Scribe?

Brendan Walsh: Well, that’s a good question because I haven’t tried to create my own fantasy world before. Each of my books before took place in the real world. Even Immortale, which was a fantasy novel, had world-building in it.

I had a lot of help. Around the time I started thinking about this story, I was reading a lot more high fantasy. Prior to that I was really exclusively just an urban fantasy reader. I took a lot of notes from Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn. That was the first one I read that I really latched on to and really loved.

I started out slowly. Because I don’t usually outline. I write what I first think about, then I review what I write, then I think, “Oh, this might be a neat thing to add on to that.” I start with a blank template and just add things to the world. I like that power! As a writer, you don’t always need to justify yourself, I’ve found. You can sort of do what you want. I just kept writing and the world began to make sense for me—both of the worlds, I should say.

SW: Did you ever have instances where you had ideas that didn’t really fit together? Or did it flow pretty easily from one idea to the next?

BW: It flew semi-well. It was quite a while from when I wrote the prologue of this book to when I finished. I started writing it in October of 2017, and by the time I made it to Chapter 8 or 9 it was already April of 2019. I was taking it very slowly, so I had a lot of time to think about it. Which meant that I had subplots that I was introducing that proceeded to go absolutely nowhere because I dumped them. And, in editing I had to get rid of them.

But I think about half the time I was successful. I would bring up a new thing regarding one world, regarding one character, and in the other world I’d bring up something with the knowledge that I was eventually going to bring these two worlds together. I thought, “if I introduce this thing here then that’s less work for me in the future.” At that point, around maybe Chapter 4 or 5, things started to better connect with me.

SW: You brought up these two worlds, represented by the cities of Kroonsaed and Brunswald in the novel. How would you characterize those two worlds?

BW: Well, there’s quite a few differences. The world of Brunswald, which is the capital of Skaltbard, the country where most of the action takes place, is more similar to the real world. I imagine it kind of looks like Victorian England. That’s been my vision for it. As far as what technologically exists in it, it’s maybe 1880s, 1890s London. Kroonsaed is a little bit harder to place, and that’s kind of my intention. It could be Enlightenment era, maybe 1700s. It could be even be the Renaissance based on what we know exists there.

There’s an early scene in the book where characters see guns for the first time, and they don’t know what they are. That gives you a hint of the technological differences between the two of them. In Kroonsaed, which is where our three main protagonists hail from, there are two sort of prominent species that live in the society. There are humans, and there are avehos, which are a humanoid species of avians that seem, in actions and in psychology, pretty similar to humans.

SW: I’d love to dive into that a bit more. The relationship between humans and avehos seems to be a central current throughout this entire novel. How did you go about crafting that interspecies relationship?

BW: To reiterate something that I said earlier, I didn’t really plan out a lot of things. I introduced the first aveho, which is one of the main characters, in Chapter 2, and at that point I didn’t know what I was going to do. I just thought, “Okay, here’s an idea,” and then I just put it in there. And as I went on and realized what I wanted to do with the book, it got a little more complex.

SW: Complex how?

BW: One of the things that a reader might find strange that’s revealed at a certain point in the book is that despite the fact that the humans and avehos of Kroonsaed seem comparatively backwards, they’re aware of the theory of evolution. It’s mentioned a couple times by some of the characters. I created this in line with the evolutionary ideas of vertebrate development over the last millions of years. The evolutionary chain for vertebrates goes fish, amphibians, lizards, birds, mammals. And I thought, “What if there was a species of bird that came before humans? What if civilization predates humans? If there was this other species that beat them to it?” I wondered, “What would happen when these two species met for the first time?” Probably nothing too productive, if I understand people at all.

A lot more information comes out in the second book, but in this one it’s definitely hinted that things aren’t perfect between humans and avehos. I think that’s sort of one of the things that attracts the three main characters to Brunswald, because they have this idea that there isn’t this conflict there, that it’s purer in a way. As we read in the book, that’s far from the truth, but from their perspectives, they’re in positions to be freely ignorant of the realities of their situation.

SW: I love that phrase – “freely ignorant of the realities of their situation.” It captures something I was thinking about with this novel. For the three main characters of the story, it feels almost like a coming of age novel cloaked in the mantle of high fantasy. As a recent university student and now young author yourself, how much of your own experiences went into drawing the characters of Dreden, Chanin, and Gerrika?

BW: Inevitably, a lot of my own experiences came up. I think its impossible not to, because pretty much every character I’ve ever written is influenced by someone I’ve known. And I think that’s what makes me have so much fondness for them. It makes my ability to relate to them that much stronger and it gets me more invested in the story.

I think you raise a good point about it feeling kind of like a coming of age story in a high fantasy setting. Even though this book pretty much only takes over the course of a week, the characters do come of age quite a bit by the end. In writing this I think I’m reflecting some of my own experiences as a university student, some of my own anxieties that I had about what I would do when I graduated. I asked myself, “How am I going to be able to adapt well enough after this setting that I was so fond of for four years?” You definitely see that in Dreden. I think as you learn more about the driving force behind the protagonists’ decisions, and why they each want to escape the way they do, each of them is very relatable.

SW: One of the characters even takes an interest in becoming a writer.

BW: Yes, Gerrika. At the start, he’s never been extremely fond of the written word. Nothing has been able to grab his attention until he reads the plays of Winds Wilk, who I imagine to be a sort of Terry Pratchett-esque figure. He writes satire, and is supposed to be very funny and clever – probably a bit ridiculously silly at times, but that’s part of the fun. But Wilk isn’t regarded extremely highly. Like Terry Pratchett when he first became an author – some people liked him, the critics hated him.

SW: He was seen as a “popular” author, not high literature.

BW: It wasn’t until his eighth novel, Guards! Guards! when people finally admitted, “Oh, this is a very smart book, this guy is very good at what he does.” And someone who is that passionate about the world, who’s heart comes out in his work like Terry Pratchett’s does…what people can go through for their own writing sometimes is humbling.

Now, with Gerrika, he connects with these plays because he wants to be able to be a writer, and to create what he wants. And what he wants to create are things in the similar spirit of these plays by Winds Wilk. However, nobody seems to want that. And that’s definitely a complication for him.

SW: Speaking of complicating things, The Century’s Scribe was originally much longer – you ended up splitting the novel into two parts. How did you decide where to split the narrative, and how did that affect the editing process?

BW: Yeah, it was originally 160,000 words. My publisher felt that was a bit too long. If they published that, a paperback would be maybe $23, instead of $18.95. They recommended that I either cut a certain part of it, or divide it into two books. I didn’t want to cut things, because I liked it how it was. I thought, “Okay, if I cut it into two books, I don’t have to do as much work. And, in the future, I could get more money, because people are going to buy Book Two if they like Book One.” I cut it to about 86,000 words.

The place I cut it was the best place I could, I think, because—well, I won’t say exactly what’s revealed, but the place I cut it deals a blow to the Prime Minister of Skaltbard, who is one of the secondary protagonists.

SW: It does end on a cliffhanger – some of the mysteries of the novel are revealed, but we’re left as a reader thinking, “Hang on, what’s going to happen next?”

BW: Exactly. We end with our main characters beginning to piece things together themselves. They have a fraction of the answers, enough to realize, “Oh, God, we haven’t been taking this seriously, what do we need to do? We need to figure this out.” I think that’s the best way the book could end because it summarizes everything that they know to the reader. And when the story picks up again, my hope is that those final questions that the protagonists are asking themselves will still be fresh in the reader’s mind once the sequel comes around.

SW: Besides the enjoyment of a narrative well-written and a story well-read, what’s one thing that you hope your readers take away after reading the Century’s Scribe?

BW: I think more than my ability to create a good intriguing plot or to be able to have interesting world-building, my preference would be that they think I write good characters. My favorite thing to read in a review is that I write character relationships well, or that I have three-dimensional characters. And I think the reason why is because these characters seem very real to me. A lot of them are based on a conglomerate of people that I’ve known throughout my life in the last ten years. Sometimes you intend a certain thing for a character, and they take on a life of their own, and they become their own person. But that doesn’t change the fact that they are very real. To me these characters feel as real as actual humans in my life.

I’ve said this many times – I don’t necessarily think that I write fiction. If it’s true that there are an infinite number of universes out there, then what I write is fact somewhere out in the vast cosmos. And if that’s true, I’m not a storyteller. I don’t make things up. I’m simply somebody who has the privilege of telling you what’s happening in one of those universes.

I do like what I did with the world-building, I do like the plot, I think there are a lot of things that are relevant in there. One of my favorite things in fantasy is when fantasy worlds hit a post-industrial society, like Skaltbard – I just think that’s really cool. But more than anything, I would like my readers to like my characters. To be able to relate to them, and almost care more about how it’s going to be resolved for them personally than how the story is going to be resolved for the world they live in.

SW: I think that’s really the strength of good science fiction and high fantasy – being able to ground this fantastic world in the humanity of the characters. What can readers expect from the second part of The Century’s Scribe? And does the sequel have an official title yet?

BW: I am probably going to call it The Century’s Last Word. I don’t want the title to deviate from the title of The Century’s Scribe because I want to reinforce the idea that this is one story, that this is a direct continuation. It picks up right where The Century’s Scribe left off.

I’m currently going over it again and I’m doing some edits for my publisher before I send it to them. I’m going to add a couple new scenes before I do. I’m going to add a new Chapter One to catch the reader up on what has previously been revealed and what previously happened.

And what can they expect? They can expect things to start going downhill real quick. This second part is a lot more of a rapid fire, oh-crap kind of book than the previous one, because it’s completely building off and riffing off what has come before. A reader is going to be sucked in very quickly.

At the end of The Century’s Scribe, some characters aren’t in the greatest emotional state. We will see a sort of culmination of that and how each of the three protagonists deal with it afterwards. And we will see as things start to take a turn for the worst that help can come in some unexpected forms for them. That’s what they can expect.

The Century’s Scribe is available for purchase on Amazon now.

It’s Not Politics. It’s Humanity.

Note: This article originally appeared on Standing Room Only. It has been republished here in its entirety.

It was one of those days where I found myself constantly refreshing Twitter, constantly opening my phone to find the newest scrap of information, the most recent unenlightened shred of hot-takery the tempestuous maelstrom of the Internet had to offer.

Last Wednesday (August 26), the Orlando Magic took the court for Game 5 of their NBA playoff series against the Milwaukee Bucks. The Magic were warming up on their side of the court; the Bucks didn’t show. The starting lineups were announced; the Bucks were still in the locker room. Frazzled NBA execs rushed in and out of the locker room area like worker ants at a hill, frantically wondering what the hell was going on. The tip-off horn blared through the convention room as virtual fans moved in static synchronicity along the wall monitors. The event had all the pomp, but there was no circumstance. The Milwaukee Bucks were on strike.

They went on strike to draw attention to the plight of Jacob Blake, 29. He’s currently paralyzed from the waist down after being shot in the back 7 times by police officer Rusten Sheskey in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Just another chapter in the life of a Black man in white America.

We’ve seen this story before, far too many times. Most recently, the world watched appalled as George Floyd narrated his own death at the hands of Derek Chauvin.

“Mama…I can’t breathe…Get off me…I can’t breathe…Mama, help me.”

NBA players, like so many Americans, had had enough. They actively voiced their frustration, fear, and distress. They demanded action; they demanded change. The assault on Jacob Blake shows just how much work remains to be done.

The Milwaukee Bucks took it upon themselves to take the first step. After the Bucks went on strike, the players on the Houston Rockets and the Oklahoma City Thunder, also scheduled to play that day, announced that they too would refuse to take the court. Soon all NBA games that day and the day after were postponed.

The strike jumped from the hardcourt to the diamond. The Milwaukee Brewers, who play their home games just an hour’s drive north of where Jacob Blake was shot, joined the Bucks and refused to take the field. The Seattle Mariners, who have a league-high ten Black players on their active roster, also sat out in protest. The Dodgers and Giants joined them, with the league’s most high-profile Black player Mookie Betts taking a stand for racial justice. Other individual players, including Dexter Fowler, Jason Heyward, and Matt Kemp sat out for their teams that night. Many teams that didn’t strike on Wednesday refused to play Thursday to stand in solidarity with their fellow athletes fighting for racial justice.

It was a provocative statement from the players of Major League Baseball. Collective action is rare among the players unless contracts are involved. It’s even more rare from an ownership group and commissioner that vaingloriously shrouds themselves in the mantle of Jackie Robinson and the Negro Leagues while refusing to put forward anything but the most sanitary statements on racial justice.

Unsurprisingly, criticism for the strike was as swift as it was absurd. Right-wing sports commentor Clay Travis claimed it was another example of the “get woke go broke” NBA — though the connection between marginally lower ratings and political activism is specious at best. Bots took to Twitter in force as numerous accounts used the exact same language to announce their departure from NBA fandom. Never one to ignore a good controversy, President Trump got in on the action, claiming that the infusion of politics into sports would “destroy basketball.

But what the hell is political about any of this?

It would be political if Lebron James showed up to a Zoom press conference wearing a “No Malarkey” campaign hat. It would be political if Trevor Bauer wrote #MAGA2020 on the mound before every start. It would be political if Joe Maddon waxed poetic for thirty minutes about the minutiae of the United States tax code instead of talking about the deplorable state of his franchise.

Politics is about the partisan vitriol that often overrides desires and efforts for real legislative change in this country. And that’s not what the players are doing here. They’re not writhing in the mud with Donald Trump, nor campaigning for Joe Biden. No, what they’re doing is so much more important.

This isn’t politics. This is humanity.

This is a cry to value Black lives and treat them as equal, valuable, and worthy of respect. This is a demand to stop the violence — to stop the senseless, repressive killing of Black men and women, and to stop the violence and looting that has gripped a small minority of the protests. This is a plea to be seen as more than athletes, and rolemodels, for all of us to see past the logo and the uniform and the fantasy points to see the human underneath.

You don’t have to agree with the agenda of the Black Lives Matter organization. You don’t have to agree to Defund the Police — perhaps you support the idea that increased training programs will improve our police forces, or perhaps you’re even more radical and want to launch a campaign to abolish the Second Amendment. These are all political questions, all debates to be had over policy and legislative directives.

But the very fact that Black lives matter, the simple God-given value of their human life — that is not political, nor is it fair game for some partisan vanity competition.

I hear you. You hate politics. You hate the insincerity, the bluster about grandiose values without any consideration of the trials and tribulations of everyday Americans who are hurting, God they are hurting. And sports, sweet blissful sports, are your escape. You lean back in your favorite leather recliner, cold beer cradled in your calloused hands as the poetry of physical motion taking place on your screen eases the existential dread that has made 2020 so oppressive. And when the players go on strike over something like this, you can’t help but feel that your peaceful oasis of sports has been seized by the hateful rhetoric of politics.

But step back for a moment. Remember that sports are a part of our society. Sean Doolittle even called them “the reward for a functioning society.” The problems of our society indelibly affect the sporting world. When 9/11 happened, the sports world became a beacon of hope, an affirming sanctuary of normalcy in a world turned upside down by terror. When natural disasters happen, sports are there to rally us, to unite communities in the face of unbelievable anguish.

Why, when our society faces a long-overdue reckoning on racial justice and systematic discrimination, would sports not be there to help us confront our original sins?

Maybe you’re still opposed to this idea. Maybe you sit back and demand that the athletes play, and score, and dance, all for your entertainment. Maybe you refuse to allow any discussion outside of X’s and O’s into your personal sports bubble — but sure, let’s keep the National Anthem, that great pump-up banger that gets athletes ready to perform at the highest levels of their abilities. That’s an essential component of sports.

Or maybe, just maybe, you can’t see the athletes for what they are. For all their incredible accomplishments, those transcendent moments where they take flight, defy the odds, and display seemingly supernatural gifts of athleticism, they are as human as you and me. They feel the pain in our society, and they feel an obligation to use their platform to enact a positive change in the world.

That, more than any home run, any three-pointer, any goal, turns them into the stars we make them out to be.

Situation Normal: All Trumped Up

What does it mean to be a Republican?

Does Republicanism refer to the characteristic mistrust of a strong federal government? Does it entail a strident defense of individual liberties, even at the expense of greater societal advancements? Is it centered on a unifying foreign policy vision, perhaps tying back to Reagan’s concept of “peace through strength“?

File:Photograph of President Reagan giving Campaign speech in Texas - NARA  - 198551.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

Not anymore. Those are old values, dressed up and paraded about when convenient. The spectacle of the 2020 Republican National Convention has revealed the new central tenet of Republicanism in the United States: fealty. Fealty to President Donald Trump.

The 2020 Convention has been a carnival of Trumpism. Politicians accepting the party nomination — as Trump will do in a speech later tonight — typically only appear once during the four-day convention, usually as the keynote speaker on the final night. Trump has appeared almost every night. On Monday, he spoke for 54 minutes — more than double the length of Joe Biden’s keynote address at the Democratic National Convention last week.

But it hasn’t been a one-man show — the GOP wants to feature “everyday Americans whose stories are filled with hope and patriotism,” after all. We’ve heard speeches from such diverse figures as Melania Trump, Donald Trump, Jr., Eric Trump, and Tiffany Trump, and tonight Ivanka Trump will be taking the stage as the warm-up act to Donald Trump. Everyday Americans, indeed.

All of these campaign events at the convention are undergirded by the party platform, typically a long, policy-forward document outlining an extensive wish-list of legislative and executive actions for the next four years. They aren’t pivotal campaign documents–how many voters actually read 50+ pages of dense economic policy?–but they offer a useful compass to understand the direction of the party.

The GOP compass is locked on Trump. Rather than updating their platform to accomodate the new crises of the coronavirus pandemic, economic collapse, and racial tensions, the Republican party opted for a one-page press release stating that the party will “continue to enthusiastically support the President’s America-first agenda.”

But what is Trump’s “America-first” agenda? Even he can’t seem to say. When asked by Sean Hannity in June about his priorities for a second term, Trump pivoted to a rambling answer about experience, before launching into an attack on former National Security Adviser John Bolton.

A month later, Hannity gave Trump a second chance. This time, Trump talked about helping the US recover from the coronavirus pandemic. But how does he plan to do that? Is he going to work with scientists, hospitals, and laboratories to fund vaccine research? Is he going to use the federal government to organize distribution centers once a vaccine is ready? Is he going to promote mask-wearing and social distancing measures that nearly all medical experts agree are critical to preventing the spread of the coronavirus? He has not said.

The party platform would be the ideal place for Trump and the Republicans to lay out a positive vision of America’s future, to delineate their plans to address economic recovery, coronavirus prevention, and racial justice.

But they have no positive vision. What they have are misleading attacks and fearmongering rhetoric that paint Joe Biden as a bumbling oaf and the Democrats as anarchist sleeper agents devoted to Marxism and anti-Americanism.

In Joe Biden’s America, the economy will collapse and unemployment will skyrocket. In Joe Biden’s America, the pandemic will prevent you from enjoying your American dream. In Joe Biden’s America, protests for racial justice will shatter domestic tranquility and suburban security.

Yet all of these problems are happening right now in Donald Trump’s America. And his only response is flamboyant whataboutism, deflecting blame for his own failures by inciting fears of his opponent. He is an oppositional candidate leading an incumbent party.

File:George Floyd protests in Washington DC. H St. Lafayette Square on 30  May 2020 - RP1 3245.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

In that sense, Trump is a good fit for the modern Republican party: neither of them know how to lead, only to oppose. During President Obama’s two terms, the Republican Party railed against every action taken by the President, with special scorn reserved for Obamacare and Benghazi. Yet they offered no conservative alternative to address the woeful state of healthcare in the United States; they offered no conservative alternative to addressing climate change; they offered no conservative alternative to the frightening number of school shootings. They attacked, attacked, attacked, and had no position of their own to defend.

Amidst this crisis of conscience came a breakdown in party loyalty, as the populist Tea Party Movement motivated conservative voters with an anti-establishment, anti-government message. In 2016, Donald Trump played into this anti-establishment rhetoric while grafting messages of xenophobia and nativism onto a veneer of economic resurgence. Donald Trump did not destroy the Republican Party — he is the parasite attracted to the rot.

The parasite is now in control — and Republican Party members seem fine with that. They are passengers on the Trump bus. They’re along for the ride, and Trump is driving the bus wherever he wants it to go. The passengers can get off at any time, but if they do the bus isn’t coming back for them–unless the driver wants to reverse and run them over just out of spite. If the passengers see the bus driver veering off a cliff, they can convince him to hit the brakes and steer the bus back to safety — but they cannot pry his hands away from the wheel.

This much power concentrated in the hands of a single individual is not healthy for a liberal democracy. The free-flowing exchange of productive ideas is the engine that drives liberalism and ensures active participation in our political society.

Take the modern Democratic Party, caught in a battle between young progressives desirous for change and moderates watering down their progressivism with pragmatism. Both broad factions have their merits; both have their drawbacks. Though the moderate wing is in the ascendancy with the nomination of Joe Biden, progressive thinking holds considerable influence within the marketplace of Democratic ideas. Regardless of the result in November, the next four years will see numerous feuds within the Democratic Party regarding policy and purpose. Does this damage party unity? To a degree. But it also creates a vibrant outpouring of new initiatives and ideas.

The ideologies and beliefs of the Republican Party should be internally debated and vigorously questioned in the same way. American voters should have a positive conservative option for their future, one that addresses and attempts to solve the indisputable problems facing our country. You might not agree with these conservative solutions, and that is fine — that is the beauty of democracy and liberalism. But the American people deserve a choice between two respectable options. When both parties see a victory for their opponent as nothing less than apocalyptic, internal divisions widen, perhaps irreversibly.

The sorry state of the Trump-publican party is not permanent. Despite his tongue in cheek suggestions that he’ll serve for twelve more years, Donald Trump can only serve for two presidential terms. The Republican Party will eventually have to chart a course without Donald Trump at the head.

That course is far from certain. They could operate like a monarchy, appointing an heir-apparent to take on the role of party leader and lodestar. Donald Trump Jr. would seem to be a likely candidate for this position; he inherited at least some of his father’s magnetism, and has a strong rapport with the grassroots members of the GOP. Matthew Gaetz, the brash antagonistic Florida Congressman, is certain to throw his hat in the ring as well.

If Trump is soundly defeated in November, perhaps the Republicans will try to eradicate Trumpism from within the party and seek solace in the establishment. Former UN Representative Nikki Haley and South Carolina Senator Tim Scott would be likely players in this scenario, though Trumpism may be too fully laced into the cocktail of Republican ideology to truly repudiate it.

The most likely course if Trump loses in November is a balance, adopting some tenets of Trumpism while rejecting others. Mike Pence might be perfectly positioned for this. As Trump’s vice president, Pence can run on Trump’s record in much the same way that Biden is running on Obama’s. His evangelical credentials and experience in gubernatorial leadership should placate establishment figures concerned with a new Trumpist figure.

Pence’s position on the fence could backfire spectacularly, too. Establishment figures might want a clean break from everything associated with Donald Trump; his vice president would be the baby thrown out with the bathwater. While Mike Pence can speak to his time as Trump’s VP, he lacks the charisma and devil-may-care attitude that ingratiates Trump to the GOP base.

And there’s another, more troubling scenario. Should Trump lose in 2020, he would be eligible to run again in 2024. Even if he abstains, the fanatical support he receives from the base means he will be an influential figure in the party for years to come.

The Republicans have invited a parasite into their home. They’re about to find out just how hard it is to exterminate it.

“It’s Not About You, It’s About The Kid”

What were you doing when the world started to fall apart?

When coronavirus shut down American sports leagues, then the entire nation? When our lives devolved into endless PSAs promoting social distancing, flattening the curve, and sheltering-in-place? Where were you when the tsunami made landfall on the beach?

I was in the middle of driving across the country, as I wrote about at Standing Room Only. But many Americans were at work, wondering how their jobs would be affected by the coming pandemic. Some wondered if they would even have jobs to come back to once this was all over.

America’s teachers were doing what they do best; providing the best education they can for each and every one of their students. A monumental and crucial service, to be sure, but one that is too often underpaid, underappreciated, and under-supported.

The challenges posed to the fragile education system by the coronavirus pandemic have been monumental. Teachers have had to transition to educating students through online worksheets and Zoom lectures rather than in-person instruction. Grading scales, class structures, and standardized tests were jettisoned as attempts to shift over to distance learning were sewn together like Frankenstein’s monster. Above it all hangs the threat of funding cuts, the blade of the guillotine poised to clatter down with shuddering finality.

I spoke with four teachers across the Midwest about their experiences transitioning to distance learning; the challenges they and their students have faced; and the extent to which they’ve felt supported by their administrators and their district officials. I granted them anonymity so that they would feel comfortable speaking freely and, if need be, negatively, about their districts. Some aspects of the transition have been handled admirably, and many of the problems have been the result of the unprecedented situation more than administrative error. But across the board, as is so often the case in our education system, more can be done to support the teachers that give so much of themselves to support their students.

“That moment was the freakiest thing I’ve had to do…”

One of the most frightening aspects of the coronavirus pandemic was how fast the United States went from apathy to code-red. At the start of the work week on Monday, March 9th, there were severe outbreaks of coronavirus in Seattle, New York City, and a few cities in California, but for most Americans it was just a news story. That was happening over there, not here in our small towns.

By Friday, March 13th, President Donald Trump had declared a nationwide state of emergency; public gatherings had been cancelled with unprecedented alacrity; and schools around the country were hastening to develop a plan of action.

“For the staff, for the students, for the administration, it was all within less than twelve hours of, wow, this is getting serious, what’s going to happen, to: start preparing, we’re shutting down for a month,” said Rachel (not her real name), a special educator in an urban district in Wisconsin.

Steven (not his real name), a band director in a rural district in Michigan, also serves as the advisor for his school’s Drama Club. He and his students were preparing for an upcoming production of Willy Wonka as the coronavirus pandemic worsened. “I knew we were going to go have to cancel. I came up with a reschedule date, but I knew it wasn’t going to happen.

“Having to have that last rehearsal with [my students] on March 12th was just heartbreaking. Especially the seniors, who were not going to perform on that stage again…But, having talked to them on March 12th and in my heart knowing that that was it, it just broke me.”

By Friday, March 13th, most state governors had announced a temporary shutdown of schools to begin the forthcoming Monday. But while everyone knew they wouldn’t be going to school after the weekend, no one knew exactly what they would be doing.

“I was approaching classes of students who were asking me, ‘what’s going on? When are we coming back? What are we doing while we’re off?'” says Laura (not her real name), a math teacher at a suburban district in Michigan. “And I said, ‘I don’t know.’ I’m a younger teacher anyway, but nobody knew. This is unprecedented.”

Questions abounded, and answers were scant. Would classes be taught online? How would distance learning affect students’ grades? What about classes like music, art, or gym that don’t lend themselves to online instruction? Will students still advance in grade level next year? What about all the fun, frivolous things that make high school tolerable–the proms, the sporting events, the fundraisers, even commencement ceremonies? What was school going to look like?

As Laura told me, “It was just all these huge, big things that nobody knew the answer to.”

“…Everybody’s doing it different.”

When state governors made the decision to close schools for the remainder of the year, districts were forced to reinvent the wheel. How were they going to take a system, imperfectly crafted over years of in-person instruction and assessment, and recreate it in a virtual environment? What emerged was an ad hoc system that often left teachers with more questions than answers.

The first major hurdle was access; classes were going to be available online, so to ensure an equitable education system every student had to have access to the internet. Darren (not his real name), a high school history teacher in a rural district in Ohio, says his district looked at technological access immediately. “When we went on this break, one of the things we were required to do as teachers was call our first period classes, and we had to do a wellness check and analysis.”

The analysis consisted of a survey of four questions for the parents. The first two questions: “Do you have access to technology at home? Do you have access to internet at home?”

While access to the internet has proliferated enormously over the past twenty years, accessibility is not universal. In 2019, Pew Research Center found that roughly seventy-five percent of Americans had access to broadband internet at home. That number drops, however, in urban and, more significantly, in rural areas. Three of the four teachers I spoke with said that internet accessibility was a problem in their district; only the teacher at the suburban district encountered no challenges.

Bandwidth also posed a problem, particularly in Steven’s district. “There are some families that really can’t even get on the internet because their mom or dad works, and they’re working from home. Or they have brothers and sisters who are in high school — you can’t have everybody on these devices all at the same time.”

Internet access is one thing; having a device with which to access it is another. Many of the teachers I spoke to have access to Google Chromebooks in their classrooms, allowing them to integrate online learning into their standard curricula. When schools transitioned to online learning, most districts distributed their Chromebooks to students who lacked devices of their own at home, meaning (in theory) that every student should have access to the internet and a device with which to access it.

Another major concern for district officials was ensuring continued access to free and reduced lunch for students in need. According to the School Nutrition Organization, schools across the United States provided some 20 million free lunches to students every day. Each teacher I spoke with said that their district continued to provide free and reduced lunches to students throughout the pandemic, for which districts and their support staff should be commended.

While district officials focused on providing internet access and nourishment to students during the closure, teachers were responsible for designing the structure of their online classes. That distribution of responsibility was intentional; one of the best parts of being a teacher, Laura tells me, is the independence that the job offers.

“A big perk of the job is the amount of freedom teachers have to set up their classroom the way they want, and as long as the students are learning the curriculum assigned, you have the freedom to do that however you choose.”

That independence comes with a potential downside; there can be a wide variance of educational methods across classes. During normal in-person instruction, that variety is refreshing; when applied to online learning, it can be confusing. Some teachers are relying on Zoom lectures; others are posting worksheets for students to complete. Students adjusting to new methods of learning have to come to grips with multiple models at one time. “It’s very sporadic,” Laura says.

The bigger problem is not a lack of consistency, but a lack of unity in educational purpose. What are students expected to learn in each of their classes? Normally those objectives are clearly defined by district and state curriculum guidelines. But to what extent have those guidelines been discarded during the pandemic? Are students still supposed to be learning new material? Or are these online assignments just enrichment activities meant to keep students engaged?

“My whole career is project-based learning. Every concert is a project,” Steven tells me. “So it’s ironic to me that now we have all these ‘enrichment projects’ which to me really aren’t projects at all, they’re just something to say alright, we tried to present some curriculum for you.”

Clarity was even harder to come by for special educators. “I wasn’t really given any instruction,” Rachel says. “We were just trying to get them to pass their classes and not overwhelm them with more work.” Her and her colleagues focused on holding meetings with their students mandated by the students’ IEPs (individual education plans), but the material covered wasn’t in service of specific educational goals. “It was just supposed to be enrichment work,” Rachel says.

When district officials did step in to make decisions, they sometimes flew in the face of ad hoc measures adopted by teachers at the point of crisis. When Darren’s school shifted to online learning, the history teachers at his school agreed to create a Google classroom for all the history students. “The theory was that all of us can monitor it to answer kids’ questions, so the kid could get rapid feedback,” he says

A few weeks later, the district decided to use a different educational platform–Schoology–as the primary platform throughout the district. The entire history department would have to shift over and retrain themselves on Schoology.

“We didn’t have any direction,” Darren told me. “There was nobody telling us this is the platform you need to use [at the beginning].”

District officials focused all their efforts on making sure that students had equitable access to education. These are important concerns, to be sure. But too little guidance was provided to teachers on what type of education the students were going to have access to. Left with no answers, teachers developed their own solutions, leading to divergent methods of online instruction and–more problematically–different learning goals.

“They just dropped off the face of the Earth. I don’t know what’s going on.”

When schools shifted to distance learning, local districts and state governments alike wanted to ensure that students would not be unfairly penalized during the transition. Online learning is challenging; students would be in an environment often unconducive to learning, and technical difficulties were going to be unavoidable. It would not be fair for a student’s grade to suffer due to the educational and personal challenges presented by the pandemic.

The solution? Do away with grades.

Every teacher I spoke to adopted a version of a pass/fail grading system. GPAs would be locked; whatever grade the student was receiving at the time of the shutdown would be the grade they received for the remainder of the year. Students who were failing classes at the time of the shutdown needed to complete the online work to raise their grade to a pass.

Students who were already passing, though? They were guaranteed to pass. And with GPAs locked (at least at the high school level), they had no incentive to complete any of the work.

“There’s not really a carrot that we can offer them,” Laura told me. “Some of [my students] have just said, ‘I’m not planning on doing the work,’ and I’ve said, ‘Okay. I can’t make you.'”

Laura is lucky. In her math courses, she’s seen around 90 percent of her students participate. She’s also managed to make contact with all but one of her students.

Other teachers haven’t been as fortunate. Rachel was able to work with just half of her students. “The kids who are passing just reached out and said ‘I’m good, thank you, I’m doing okay,'” she said. “But the kids who were failing were extremely, extremely difficult to get a hold of.” I could hear the frustration in her voice as she told me that. Teachers devote so much of their time to students, trying to inspire them, educate them, and help them succeed; it’s demoralizing when the students who need the most help aren’t even in the classroom.

“We can’t force them to do the work,” Steven says. As a music teacher, so much of his instruction is based on in-class participation. He set up a Google Classroom for his ensembles–choir, concert band, and jazz band. “I got probably sixty percent that actually accepted the invitation, but then once I got that I’ve been getting about twenty-five percent of the work. You’re talking about maybe fifteen kids in concert band, out of sixty.

Deadlines can be a powerful motivator, as Darren found out. Ohio adopted a slightly different structure; they still opted for a pass/fail system, but students who did not complete enough online assignments would receive a grade of “incomplete;” if the work remains unsubmitted by September 30, the grade will change to a fail.

“I wasn’t getting any of the assignments until the deadline. They were just procrastinating,” Darren told me. “I had eighteen or nineteen percent completion two days before the quarter ended and it jumped about twenty percent because all of a sudden kids just started logging in.”

“The last two days of school I had one hundred and fifty-eight assignments turned in.”

The adoption of the pass/fail grading system was a smart accommodation in the midst of an unprecedented crisis in education. Most states eliminated standardized testing for the upcoming year, and public universities including California State announced that standardized test score requirements would be suspended for forthcoming application cycles. Such changes may signal a much-needed shift in emphasis away from grades and test scores as primary evaluators of student potential and mark the start of a more equitable and holistic means of assessing a student’s learning ability.

However, teachers and students alike need some sort of incentive structure. “They’re having a really hard time being motivated,” Steven says. Encouraging students to learn can feel like a fruitless, thankless task. The adoption of a pass/fail grading system removes both the carrot and the stick that teachers can use as a motivator for students, making their jobs even more challenging.

“I feel like I’m working more than I ever have when I was standing on the podium…”

The coronavirus pandemic has forced all of our houses to become more than homes. They have become our offices, our conferences rooms, our gyms. For teachers and students alike, their houses have become classrooms. It is a role they were never meant to play.

Online learning is hard in the best of circumstances. The lack of structure and guidance requires students to become self-disciplinary, and if any questions arise teachers are not readily available to provide assistance. Online learning while at home multiplies the difficulty. Daily structure disintegrates like moist cotton candy, and distractions cry their siren songs to students disinterested in another droll worksheet. The absence of the little social interactions that provide a break from the monotony make those distractions all the more alluring.

“The high schoolers can adjust a little more, because they’re already on social media, they’ve got devices,” Steven told me. “But the younger kids who don’t have phones and don’t have all that access, it’s got to be tough for them. You’re stunting their social growth right now by not being able to interact with anybody.”

Laura has similar concerns. “They don’t know what to do, they’re feeling lost, their parents are asking them to do things, they don’t have any energy. And it’s not them. It’s a very social age.”

“I don’t think they connect the dots to it, but I think at least in some of them that’s kind of a sign of depression.”

The teachers I’ve spoken with have been doing their best to reach out to students, conduct wellness checks, and ensure that their students are at least staying healthy, if not happy. “Obviously in person you can be a little more goofy or a little bit more sarcastic,” Rachel told me, “whereas over the phone or in email especially, you don’t want to cross that boundary. It’s just like any other relationship or friendship: in person is always better.”

It is wonderful that teachers are checking up on the students; but who is checking up on the teachers? According to Darren, no one.

“I never got asked once by an administrator, ‘Oh, how are you doing during this time? How’s your family? How are you coping? Are you getting to the store okay?’ Not once.”

With the shift to online learning, teachers had to completely reimagine how to perform their jobs. Younger teachers grew up with access to technology and exposure to early initiatives towards online learning, making the transition a bit easier, though certainly not seamless. Older teachers, however, have been teaching with pen and paper for years. What professional development these teachers have done was meant to use technology as an augmentation to their standard curricula, not as a replacement.

Overnight, teachers were expected to become proficient in online learning platforms. Such a steep learning curve is a tall ask even for the best of teachers. “The teacher is supposed to be the expert,” Laura told me, “and their kids would be coming to them with all these questions and they wouldn’t know the answers.”

The switch to online instruction has foisted added stress onto special educators. They are, by law, required to meet the proscripts of each of their students’ IEPs. In a standard school day those requirements are manageable; trying to track down multiple students during a pandemic to fulfill their IEPs, however, requires added diligence. “They actually added more paperwork for us to do, of course,” Rachel told me. If students don’t meet the educational requirements enumerated in their IEPs, their families can sue for compensatory services. Nothing like a lawsuit to add panic to a stressful situation.

Other teachers have struggled to adapt to the structure of online instruction. Teachers are used to working in the classroom from eight in the morning until four in the afternoon. In the evenings, they often have to grade assignments. Some also advise extracurricular activities like athletic teams and arts groups. The line between work and personal life was always a bit blurry; now, it’s evaporated entirely.

“The hardest thing has been the kids aren’t working during the school day,” Darren told me. “I would log off for the day at 3, and then right around dinner time I would be getting messages and emails from kids and parents wanting help from me on their work.

“It was an ethical dilemma: I need to help them, but I also need to be done for the day so I can get my mind off work.”

Laura had a similar experience. “It’s not our normal routine,” she told me. “When are we supposed to be working? When are we supposed to be responding to emails?”

Pressure mounted when emails from parents went unanswered. As Darren explained, “A parent or a kid would email me around 9pm, and I wasn’t checking my email; I was asleep. And I would wake up the next morning to an email from the guidance department saying that this parent says you didn’t contact them back.

“There’s this expectation, this idea that we’re going to be helping them at all hours of the day, all hours of the night.”

Amidst all the pressures and the added stress, the feeling that came through across all my interviews was how much the teachers miss their students. “There’s no live interaction with these kids,” Steven said. “And when you’re in a medium that’s entertainment, and you can’t be in front of those kids…it’s very challenging.”

He went on to share a story of two of his high school trumpet players. The annual Memorial Day parade in town had been cancelled, but they wanted to perform Taps at the local cemetery to honor America’s fallen soldiers. They went out of their way to contact the Village Council and conduct a ceremony, while still respecting social distancing regulations. “That just…you know…that just made me so proud.

“It’s those kinds of little things that I really miss. I miss giving out all the awards, I miss hearing those kids play for the last time, I’ve missed recruiting for fifth grade band…So, yeah, I guess the word I would say is its heartbreaking.”

The best part of teaching–working with the students day in and day out–has been taken away from educators. In its place is added paperwork, endless technical difficulties, and angry late-night emails from parents wondering why their teacher isn’t awake at two in the morning. One of the hardest jobs in the world has only gotten harder.

“…I don’t know if we’re going to be completely free of cuts.”

The economic downturn brought on by the coronavirus pandemic has taken a machete to government budgets. Revenue streams have gone dry, and requests for bail-outs and relief funding have drained the rainy-day funds. Teachers know that education cuts are almost certain.

“If you talk to the administrative side,” Steven told me, “they’re very doom and gloom. ‘District’s going to burn down, can’t pay anybody’ — same old dance.”

In Michigan, where Steven works, Governor Gretchen Whitmer has been supportive of educators. Their salaries were guaranteed through the remainder of the school year, and they’ve worked hard to avoid massive cuts to education. However, some of the decision is out of their control; unless the federal government provides an additional stimulus package to the states earmarked for education relief, some downsizing in the budget seems inevitable. Dire projections could see state funding per pupil fall from $8,000 to as low as $5,600.

Whitmer protected the school’s budget for this year. In Ohio, Governor Mike DeWine took a different route, slashing $300 million from the K-12 budget. Importantly, the cuts applied to this year’s budget; school districts like Darren’s had to scramble to find ways to cut money that they had already allocated. Further cuts to next year’s education funding are expected.

Education funding has long been a political hot-potato. The benefits of a good education system aren’t often felt until long after the politicians responsible for the decisions have retired or been voted out. That short-termism coupled with years of conservative governance inspired by Tea Party ideologies has left education gutted in many states. There are no more easy cuts to make; we’ve long since trimmed the fat, and are now hewing straight to the bone. The threat of the coronavirus to both educational structure and funding may rattle American education to its very core.

“Do what you have to do to survive.”

June is often a celebratory time in the academic calendar. This year, though, it rings hollow with the ghosts of graduation parties not held, commencement ceremonies not celebrated, and goodbyes unsaid. Teachers are decompressing from a stressful end to the semester, each of them wondering: what is this going to look like in the fall?

Unfortunately, they receive few answers there either. It is hard to say how coronavirus will progress over the coming months. Every state has started to reopen in some form, though coronavirus cases have risen at an alarming rate since stay-at-home orders were lifted. States have put together task forces of bureaucrats, administrators, and–thankfully–teachers to develop plans to address the beginning of the 2020-21 school year. Three plans are in circulation: one calls for a full return to in-person learning, though with social distancing protocols; one calls for a hybrid system, where students would be in class two days a week, and engage in distance learning the remaining three days; and the final calls for a continuation of full-time distance learning.

But as with so many issues in the era of coronavirus, the solutions are almost more problematic than the original dilemma. Take the proposal to return to in-person learning. That would remove the challenges of online learning, to be sure, but it would raise a host of questions related to social distancing. The teachers I spoke to expressed myriad concerns related to a return to normalcy.

“There’s no guarantee that we’re going to have enough cleaning supplies, toilet paper for the bathrooms,” Darren told me. “How are kids going to move through the hallways to ensure social distancing? How are we going to let kids go get a drink from a community drinking fountain?

“There’s just so many little things.”

Laura had similar concerns. “Gym class, you can’t do team sports because you’re sharing equipment; choir, you’re projecting your germs; band, they share instruments. They’re talking about the hallways, if kids can use their lockers, because they’re so close to everybody else.”

And what of communal lunches? What of shared desks? What of enforcing social distancing in classrooms, in hallways, in bathrooms?

“When you start thinking about it,” Laura said, “you think, it’s never going to happen. But then, in reality, it needs to happen. It’s just when, and how safe is it going to be.”

Hanging over it all is the spectre of disease; what if there’s a coronavirus outbreak in the building? Will schools get shut down again? How will students be kept safe? How will teachers?

The hybrid plan offers its own challenges. Splitting the student body into two groups would solve problems of social distancing in classrooms and ease the burden of social distancing in common areas. But they create additional educational challenges, for which the burden always falls upon the teacher.

As a band director, Steven has a unique dilemma. “I probably can’t have the whole ensemble together at any given time,” he predicted. “And who knows if they’re going to let me perform? Who knows how many kids they’re going to let perform at a time? So maybe I have a Band A and a Band B, I have no idea.”

Splitting up core classes seems more realistic than splitting up a concert band, but that suggestion puts an massive increase on the workload for teachers. “Say you have three different classes,” Laura explains, “you now have three different classes in person, and three different classes sitting at home that same day. So, somebody that taught three different classes, in a way, teaches six.”

And what would be gained from this hybrid system? Not a whole lot, Darren suggests. “I can’t do a group project. I can’t do pair-and-share, talk to your neighbor. All I can do is videos, lecture, independent work.” Teaching methods, in short, that are already available in online formats.

Which leads back to the beginning: online distance learning. More Google Classrooms, more Zoom meetings, more late-night emails from irate parents. Teachers might have to endure more distance learning, but it shouldn’t mean they have to endure a system that doesn’t give them the support they need.

“It’s not about you, it’s about the kid.”

Education systems weren’t built with global pandemics in mind. The fact that districts across the country rapidly shifted to online learning, worked to ensure equitable access for students, and provided at least some form of curricular activity should be applauded. That does not, however, mean the ad hoc systems instituted in this panicked state of unrest should become the standard forms of education. Too often, teachers bore the brunt of the crisis without receiving an adequate amount of support.

Administrators should ensure that their teachers remain healthy and secure in their roles. They should communicate clear educational goals so that teachers have a roadmap for designing their own curricula. A grading system should be reinstituted, one that ensures fairness for the student yet gives teachers a motivating incentive in their assignments. Most importantly, teachers need to be a part of the conversation in constructing a new online educational system.

Unfortunately, in Darren’s district, that does not appear to be happening. “The [teacher’s] union has not been engaged on any of those conversations,” he told me. “We don’t know if the grading policy is going to be the same, we don’t know what the load is going to be, we don’t know what any of this is going to be, we have not been approached.”

Special educators, too, need to be brought in from the cold. “SPED is rarely mentioned in staff meetings, SPED is often not taken into consideration for professional development,” Rachel says. “I didn’t really expect them to prioritize SPED, because SPED is never…”

She trailed off in frustration, before continuing. “It just really brought to light how little the district really wants to see their most challenged students thrive.”

“I know they want to make changes on the teacher’s side,” Laura told me. “But if they add too much, I don’t know if a lot of our teachers can sustain a lot more put on us.”

Darren told me a story from a district near him, about an interaction between a teacher and an administrator. The teacher raised concerns about having to migrate all of their work from the online platform into paper formats for students who needed to attend summer school. The administrator responded to the complaint curtly, “It’s not about you, it’s about the kid.”

Education is about the kid — that is the main purpose of a healthy and strong education system, to inspire students with knowledge and give them the tools to become thoughtful and engaged members of our future society.

But isn’t one of the best ways to do that to support the teachers who give so much of themselves to support the students? Think back to your time in school. Remember that teacher, or coach, or advisor, who pushed you to do your best? Who inspired you? Who you could turn to when you needed advice, who helped you grow up and become the person you are today?

A viable education system needs equitable access; it needs students who are in class, whether that class be in the school or in their own homes. But a great education system, an education system that produces thoughtful and engaged students–that requires good teachers. Teachers are the best asset a district has; it’s time we support them as such.