pioneer cemeteries

A week ago I posted the following photograph of a dirt road leading back into field that held a pioneer cemetery. It sparked a number of folks to ask a perfectly reasonable question: Dude, what the hell is a pioneer cemetery? I asked the same question the first time I came across a pioneer cemetery. I’m here to give y’all the answer.

Road to Sams pioneer cemetery

Let me amend that. I’m here to give a couple of answers. I mean the obvious answer is simple: a pioneer cemetery is a plot of ground where pioneers are buried. But that leads inevitably to the question: Dude, what the hell is a pioneer?

Let’s start there. The term ‘pioneer’ comes from the French pionnier, which originally referred to a type of specialized foot soldier — troops who were furnished with digging and cutting equipment and sent into new territories to prepare the way for an army. The root term is much older, medieval Latin, pedonem, which meant ‘foot soldier’. That’s also the root for the term ‘pawn’. In chess, pawns always move first; they’re essential, but disposable. The same applies to pioneers; they go first, they’re essential, but disposable.

Sams pioneer cemetery is located on the rise by the trees.

In the US, the term ‘pioneer’ has a vaguely heroic connotation. I suppose that’s warranted because it takes a sort of courage — or maybe desperation — to take your family into unknown territory. And that’s what the early US pioneers were. They weren’t soldiers; they were mostly families of immigrants and first generation Americans. At the time, they were called settlers, or homesteaders, or sodbusters. They were families who loaded up wagons with their few possessions and pushed into largely unmapped territories, fording rivers and streams, in the hope they could find land they could farm. When they came to land they felt was promising, they stopped. They chopped down trees and built cabins out of the logs. They cleared trees and stones from the land by hand or with the help of livestock and created fields for crops. They planted and harvested, and they died and were buried.

Sams pioneer cemetery.

Pioneer cemeteries are plots of land, often on family property, that these small, loosely formed farming communities agreed was sufficient to bury their dead. They’re the graves of the thousands of unremembered, ordinary people who turned wilderness into settlements.

We have to acknowledge the pluckiness of these pioneers, but we also need to be aware there was a very deep ugliness in what they were doing. In the US, pioneers were the leading edge of the concept of Manifest Destiny. The idea was promoted initially by John O’Sullivan, the son of an Irish immigrant. He wrote it was the new nation’s “manifest destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions.” In essence, manifest destiny was a nice way of saying the expansion of white Europeans and their culture across the continent, displacing or killing the native tribes who’d actually lived there for centuries, was not only inevitable, it was also justified by god.

Raridon pioneer cemetery in the middle of a field.

There you have it. The pioneers were intrepid settlers struggling to create a life for themselves. And they were also sanctimonious invaders who were comfortable with the idea of pushing the indigenous people off their land, stealing it for themselves, and killing those natives who resisted.

That’s who the pioneers were — settlers who were almost as expendable as the natives they dislodged and supplanted. But not everybody buried in a pioneer cemetery was an actual pioneer. The pioneers created the conditions for permanent settlements; permanent settlements inevitably bring disputes; disputes require some forum for resolution. That means a bureaucracy, and bureaucracies demand definitions.

The Enterprise pioneer cemetery has only a single marked grave, a simple cross by a tree.

Which brings us back to the original question: Dude, what the hell is a pioneer cemetery? The bureaucratic answer depends on where you live; different states have different legal definitions of ‘pioneer cemetery’. In Iowa, where I live, the law defines it as a cemetery in which there have been no more than twelve burials in the preceding half century. In neighboring Nebraska, a pioneer cemetery is defined as an abandoned or neglected cemetery that was founded or situated on land “given, granted, donated, sold, or deeded to the founders of the cemetery prior to January 1, 1900.”

There is, I think, something weirdly admirable about a bureaucracy making a deliberate decision to recognize and honor the ordinary people who lived and died in small farming communities dating from the late 1700s. The bureaucracies may not care about the individual pioneer cemeteries, but they care about the notion that there are people buried and memorialized in remote, semi-forgotten patches of land.

This pioneer cemetery could only be reached by steep path through overgrown brush under a canopy of old trees. Yet it was beautifully cared for by a local Boy Scout troop.

Most of the pioneer cemeteries I’ve visited are lonely places on patches of farmland or meadowland. They’re generally located on a low hill, most often with a small grove of trees. Some are only accessible by overgrown paths, or by vehicles with high ground clearance. A few pioneer cemeteries are well-tended; most aren’t. Many are overgrown with grass and weeds. Most have gravestones that are damaged, weathered, unreadable.

But all of them are full of stories. There are graves of soldiers — Civil War veterans, veterans of the world wars. You can tell by the dates which ones died in uniform. There are graves of wives who outlived their husbands, graves of mothers who died in childbirth, graves of the children they bore. There are lots of graves of infants, often with the number of months or weeks they lived.

Trester pioneer cemetery

All cemeteries and graveyards tend to be quiet. Pioneer cemeteries are more than quiet. They’re silent. And yet they’re full of stories. Untold stories. Forgotten stories. The first person buried in what would eventually become the Slaughter pioneer cemetery was eight-year-old Hester Slaughter, who died of ‘the fever’ in the summer of 1846. She was buried in a corner of the family farm. There was no lumber mill in the region, so there was no sawn lumber to make a casket. Instead, the family split the trunk of a tree that had been chopped down to clear the land; they hollowed it out, placed poor Hester inside, closed it back up, and buried her. A total of 69 people would be buried in that small plot of land, including three Civil War veterans and a veteran of the War of 1812.

Among them is Bluford Sumpter, who served in the 39th Iowa Regiment in the Grand Army of the Republic during the Civil War. We don’t know the details of his story, but we know the 39th was active from November 24, 1862, to August 2, 1865. We know they were involved in a great number of battles and skirmishes. We know the 39th helped chase Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest (who would survive the war and help found the Ku Klux Klan) into Tennessee and suffered many casualties. We know they eventually deployed with Union General William Tecumseh Sherman in his brutal and savage march across the South that essentially ended the war. We assume Bluford Sumpter survived the war (since it was uncommon then to ship bodies home for burial), but there are no dates on his tombstone, so we don’t know when he died. We only know he was eventually buried in the Slaughter cemetery in Jasper County, Iowa.

Slaughter pioneer cemetery in the grove of trees in the middle of a field.

Also buried nearby is William Wimpigler, who has his own story. Wimpigler served in the Iowa 48th Battalion during the Civil War, He was one of the Hundred Days Men — a troop of volunteers raised in Midwest during the final days of the war; they agreed to serve one hundred days in order to free experienced troops for combat service. The 48th spent its hundred days at the Rock Island Barracks in Illinois, coincidentally guarding Confederate prisoners taken during Sherman’s campaign.

Both of those Civil War veterans are buried near eight-year-old Hester Slaughter in her hollowed out log coffin on what was once an unused parcel of her family’s farm. Every grave has a story. But we only know about those stories exist because the graves exist, and we only know those graves exist because some unnamed person in a bureaucracy decided it was worthwhile to officially recognize and record the existence of pioneer cemeteries.

That unknown bureaucrat has a story too. We all do. Few of them get told, but all of them are worth telling.

stop playing the sap

There’s a pivotal scene in Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon where Sam Spade stands up to the beautiful but murderous blond Brigid O’Shaughnessy. “I won’t play the sap for you,” he says.

I’m waiting — hoping — for Democrats to say that to Republicans. The situations are similar. There’s a prize; an election in one instance, a jewel-encrusted statue of a bird in the other. Somebody is attempting to steal the prize; Trump in our case, Brigid O’Shaughnessy with the falcon. The attempted theft is abetted by others; Republicans in Congress, Kaspar Gutman and his international band of crooks. And there’s somebody trying to stop the theft; Uncle Joe Biden, Sam Spade.

Even though it clear the theft is almost certainly not going to work, the crooks continue to try to finagle it. Despite the fact that he lost the election, Comrade Trump is still trying to break democracy, even while grudgingly agreeing to a transition. Despite the fact that Brigid O’Shaughnessy killed Spade’s partner, she continued to try to get Spade to trust her and help her steal the Falcon. She wants him to help her get away with the crime.

“You’re a liar. Don’t brag about it. Was there any truth at all in that yarn?”

There are already political pundits suggesting Democrats need to let Trump get away with trying to steal the election. They say Democrats should find a way to ‘work with’ the complicit Republicans. They say Democrats need to be the adults in the room, that Democrats need to meet Republicans halfway, that Democrats should try to understand how angry and disappointed Republicans are.

Basically, they’re saying Democrats should play the sap. Well, fuck those guys. Fuck them in the neck.

Democrats should NOT be vindictive. I’ll agree with that. But neither should they be sensitive to the feelings of a political party that spent the last four years telling Democrats, “Fuck your feelings.” We shouldn’t be looking for retribution, but we should enforce norms and laws. The argument that holding Trump or his family accountable for any crimes they may have committed would only further inflame partisanship is bullshit. The notion that we can only heal and unite the nation by overlooking the transgressions they’ve committed is bullshit. The idea that Sam Spade can trust Brigid O’Shaughnessy is bullshit.

We played the sap with Nixon. We did it with Reagan and we did it with George W. Bush. What did we get by playing the sap? Trump.

“I won’t play the sap for you.”

I want Democrats to play that pivotal scene with Republicans.

Dems: Well, if you get a good break, you’ll be out of the White House for 20 years and you can come back to me then. I hope they don’t hang you, precious, by that sweet neck. Yes, angel, I’m gonna send you over. The chances are you’ll get off with life. That means if you’re a good girl, you’ll be out in 20 years. I’ll be waiting for you. If they hang you, I’ll always remember you.
Republicans: Don’t, don’t say it even in fun. Ha, ha, ha. Oh, I was frightened for a minute. I really thought…You do such wild and unpredictable things.
Dems: Don’t be silly. You’re taking the fall.
Republicans: You’ve been playing with me. Just pretending you care, to trap me like this. You didn’t care at all. You don’t love me!
Dems: I won’t play the sap for you!
Republicans: Oh you know it’s not like that. You can’t say that.
Dems: Did you ever fight square with me for half an hour at a stretch since I’ve known you?
Republicans: You know down deep in your heart and in spite of anything I’ve done I love democracy.
Dems: I don’t care who loves who! I won’t play the sap for you. I won’t walk in Hillary’s – and I don’t know how many other’s – footsteps. You killed democracy and you’re going over for it.
Republicans: How can you do this to me? Surely, democracy wasn’t so much to you as… [crying]
Dems: When a man’s democracy is killed, he’s supposed to do something about it. It doesn’t make any difference what you thought of it, it was your democracy, and you’re supposed to do something about it. And it happens we’re in the politics business. Well, when one of your organization gets killed, it’s – it’s bad business to let the killer get away with it. Bad all around. Bad for every democracy everywhere.
Republicans: You don’t expect me to think that these things you’re saying are sufficient reasons for sending me to the…
Dems: [interrupting] Wait’ll I’m through. Then you can talk. I’ve no earthly reason to think I can trust you. If I do this and get away with it, you’ll have something on me that you can use whenever you want to. Since I’ve got something on you, I couldn’t be sure that you wouldn’t put a hole in me some day. All those are on one side. Maybe some of them are unimportant, I won’t argue about that. But look at the number of them. And what have we got on the other side? All we’ve got is that maybe you love democracy and maybe I love you.
Republicans: You know whether you love me or not.
Dems: Maybe I do. Well, I’ll have some rotten nights after I’ve sent you over, but that will pass. If all I’ve said doesn’t mean anything to you, then forget it and we’ll make it just this: I won’t because all of me wants to, regardless of consequences, and because you counted on that with me the same as you counted on that with all the others. I won’t play the sap for you.

Democracy. It’s the stuff dreams are made of.


Trump: I won the election!
GOP: Okay.
American People: Nope.

Trump: I won ALL the Red States and, really, the Blue States too so I won the election!
GOP: Sure.
Voters: Yeah, no.

Trump: I won the election but the fake news won’t report it!
GOP: I believe it.
FOX News: Trump says he won the election.
Legit News Agencies: Nope.

Trump: Fake polling tried to steal the election, but I won!
GOP: Probably, sure, okay.
FOX News: President says he won’t allow the election to be stolen. I mean, from him.
Pollsters: Nope.

Trump: I won the election but massive election computer fraud stole it from me!
GOP: Well, I don’t know, maybe?
FOX News: President alleges computers switched votes.
CyberSecurity: Nope.

Trump: I won the election but voter fraud stole it from me!
GOP: I guess it might be possible.
FOX News: President claims widespread voter fraud.
Courts: Nope.

“I won the election! I won! I did, I won! The election is mine! I won the election!

Trump: I got more votes that any Republican in history, so I won the election!
GOP: Well, you know…
FOX News: President makes unusual claim in bid to retain presidency.
Constitution of the US: Nope.

Trump: I’m the president and I’m telling you ‘I won the election’ so I need you Republicans to come across for me and tell everybody that I won the election!
GOP: Goddamnit.
FOX News: Goddamnit.
Democracy: Nope.

Trump: Hugo Chavez, George Soros, Cuban Marxists, Democrats, Antifa, BLM, Rachel Maddow, House Lannister, the Daleks, and Sauron the Corrupter of the Hearts of Men all conspired steal an election that I totally won!
GOP: Uh, listen, I’m late for a meeting.
FOX News: Well, that was certainly colorful.
Rationality: Still nope.

fuck this guy

This guy, I declare. This whiny, small-minded, pissy-pants guy. This privileged, lying, unworthy, lazy, ignorant guy. This vindictive, self-pitying, arrogant, despicable guy. This conceited, fuck-witted, always complaining, cowardly guy. This sour-souled, slack-eyed, gorbellied, muddle-headed guy. The fucking guy is still insisting he won the election.

I am SO sick of this guy. I’m sick of hearing his voice — his griping, carping, sneering voice. I’m sick of hearing his name and seeing it on everything from buildings to flags to signs. I’m sick of his hideous presence on television, which he haunts like some gross and malevolent spectre. I’m sick of his ridiculous hair. I’m sick of seeing his face — his slack-eyed, flaccid, pouty-mouthed, jaundiced face. I’m sick of knowing he even fucking exists. I’m SO goddamned sick of him.

I’m sick of his appallingly ignorant and loathsome adult children. I’m sick of his wife. I’m sick of ALL of his wives. I’m sick of his democracy-hating sycophants in the Senate. I’m sick of his ass-licking toadies in the House of Representatives. I’m sick of all his groveling and cringing ‘news personalities’ on television and in the newspapers. I’m sick of his apologists and enablers. I’m completely sick of his fawning, eyelash-batting, lickspittle Press Secretary. I’m sick of every single goddamned person in his easily-replaced, unprofessional, ill-equipped, odious, merry-go-round of a Cabinet.

Fuck this guy. Fuck everybody in his orbit. Fuck everybody who volunteered to work for him. Fuck everybody who campaigned for him. Fuck everybody who planted one of his yard signs in their yard. Fuck everybody who bought and flew one of his godawful flags. Fuck the people who made and sold the flags. Fuck everybody who voted for him. Seriously, just fuck this guy.

There. I needed that. I feel better now. Normally I read the news in the morning, then think about it for a while, calmly and objectively, before I say or write anything. But this morning that I WON THE ELECTION tweet just flat out pissed me off. It’s a bright sunny day and I didn’t want to let this fucking guy ruin it. So I decided to vent. Get the ugly shit out of my system. Now I can get on with my day and be happy and have fun.

Hope y’all have a good day.

something to look forward to

Okay, let’s just acknowledge this right up front — things are awful right now, and they’re going to get awfuller before they get better. I’m not any happier about this than you are, but facts is facts and facts don’t change just because we want them to. BUT there IS something to look forward to (wait…something for which we can look forward? No, that sounds wrong as well, so maybe it’s something to…never mind, you get my point). We can look forward to another White House Christmas!

2017 — the House Stark/Winter is Coming Christmas

Thanksgiving is going to be decidedly awful this year because of the pandemic. The butcher’s bill in the US will top a quarter of a million at some point today, and we’ve still a week and a half to go before the holiday. Earlier today, on the devil Facebook, I wrote that traveling a long distance to eat traditional foods prepared by somebody else, then infecting them with a virus that could very well kill them was actually the origin story of Thanksgiving. We’ve avoided talking about it mostly, but it’s long past time we recognize the fact that the first ‘Thanksgiving’ was a massive error in judgment on the part of the indigenous population of this land. They gave us food, kept us alive, and we repaid them by stealing their land, killing them in truly astonishing numbers, then turning their culture into a cartoon.

So maybe there’d be some poetic justice if we were forced to sit out Thanksgiving in 2020. Of course, a lot of us won’t do that because of ‘freedom’ and all that, so we’ll almost certainly end up killing a lot of our own family members. Which is also a sort of poetic justice.

2018 — the Red Wedding Christmas

But Thanksgiving isn’t the only holiday horror we’re facing. Melania Trump will get one more shot at a White House Christmas. She takes a huge amount of shit over this, but I really don’t blame her. In fact, I actually respect that she has a very distinctive and thoughtful aesthetic vision. I respect that she’s been consistent in applying it. I admit I don’t share her aesthetic; it’s sort of like Tim-Burton-meets-Eraserhead-without-the-humor. But it’s rare for a First Lady to dip so deeply into the avant garde. So I sort of applaud her for that.

In 2017, she gave us a monochromatic House Stark Winter is Coming Christmas, which she followed up with the classic monochromatic Red Wedding Christmas in 2018. Last year Melania offered up a more toned down traditional monochromatic Christmas (you’ve probably never faced the difficulty of toning down something monochromatic — but then you’re not Melania Trump). This was almost certainly in response to the waves of criticism of her previous adventures in decoration. I think of it as her I-really-don’t-care-do-u? Christmas.

2019 — the I-really-don’t-care-do-u? Christmas

So this year, while you’re sitting alone in your home or apartment, shopping online while wearing the pyjama pants you haven’t washed in a week, you can amuse yourself by wondering just what fresh hell Melania Trump is going to inflict on the unsuspecting public for her farewell White House Christmas.

Maybe a traditional Slovenian Christmas with Grandfather Frost and trees decorated with delicate loaves of potica and a freshly slaughtered pig? Or maybe a Salute to the Wall Christmas, with unclimbable trees constructed from steel bollards and topped with tinsel and razor wire (if Mexico will pay for it)? Possibly a Climate Change Christmas of crispy burnt California pines in a bed of unraked leaves? So many possibilities.

It’s something to look forward to.

coin in his pocket

Four days ago I thought there was a chance that Comrade Trump’s refusal to concede the election could be a deliberate attempt to break democracy. I was wrong.

I’m not saying Trump loves democracy; he doesn’t. I’m saying he doesn’t care enough about democracy to do the work necessary to break it. Trump isn’t stupid. Wait…strike that. He’s fairly ignorant, but…wait, strike that too. He’s massively ignorant, profoundly and deeply ignorant, extensively and exhaustively ignorant. But he’s got a sort of feral business-oriented shrewdness that alerts him when he’s about to lose or when he has something to gain.

We’ve actually witnessed this several times. He’s got a business that’s about to fail in a spectacular way, and boom he’s got bankruptcy lawyers thick as ticks in every possible court making sure other folks get hurt while he walks away with some coin in his pocket. He’s got a building about to finish construction, and boom he’s got a wolfpack of carnivorous lawyers finding ways to stiff his contractors and leave him with a bit more coin in his pocket. He’s about to lose a lawsuit, and boom he’s got a squadron of legal Uruk-hai negotiating a settlement that will allow him to escape responsibility and keep some coin in his pocket.

Comrade President Donald J. Trump is all about coin in the pocket.

“Help me fight voter fraud and, you know, keep America great and all that. Gimme money.”

I feel pretty confident that’s what Trump is doing now. He knows he lost the election, so he’s turned loose the lawyers — partly in a desperate but lazy attempt to find some sleazy way to stay in office, but mostly making sure Trump walks out of the White House with a bit of coin in his pocket.

Trump, his ethically challenged brood of kids, his Congressional lickspittles, and his army of lawyers have been inundating his much-aggrieved citizen-supporters with fundraising emails, begging for money to ‘stop the Left from ripping power away from the American People.’ They ask for contributions to the Official Election Defense Fund which, contributors are told, will “increase your impact by 1000%.” It’s an OFFICIAL fund and increases impact…impact…by a full one thousand percent. Who wouldn’t want to get in on that?

Ignore the fine print.

It’s just that this is Comrade Trump. Who just lost an election. This is Trump on his way out of DC. And what does Trump want? To put a wee bit of coin in his pocket.

Careful readers (and c’mon, how many Trump supporters are careful readers?) would note the fine print contained at the bottom of the linked page. The fine print the lawyers put together to keep Trump and themselves from committing crimes. The fine print that tells contributors that 60% of their contribution (up to US$5000) goes to a political action committee called ‘Save America’. That money can be used in just about any way Trump wants; he can contribute it to other politicians, he can pay his kids, he can use it to weigh down his pockets. But wait…there’s more. A full 40% of money over the $5000 legal limit (up to $35,500) goes to the Republican National Committee’s operating account. The other 60% will go to offset the costs of recounts OR other legal expenses.

In other words, if one of his supporters contributes $5001, only sixty cents would go toward stopping the Left from ripping power away from the American People; five thousand dollars will go toward filling Donald Trump’s very big pockets, forty cents will go to the RNC.

The longer Trump draws out this post-election drama — the longer he can keep his followers believing he’s really fighting for them — the more coin he can stuff in his pocket. This isn’t about breaking democracy; it’s about keeping the grift alive as long as possible. Hell, he can keep this grift going even after he’s left DC and established himself at Mar-a-Lago. He can tell his believers they’re funding his 2024 re-election campaign. A lot of them will fall for it.

Credit where it’s due: Comrade Trump’s priorities have never wavered. He is now, just as he was before, just as he always will be, about coin in the pocket.

breaking democracy

I’m not an alarmist by nature. I’m not one of those people who worry a lot. I’ve never spent much time fretting about things over which I have little or no control. I can’t recall ever waking up because I was worried about something.

Until this morning. I woke up a little after 0500 this morning, worried. Why? Because Donald Trump is trying to break democracy — and I genuinely don’t know how alarmed we should be about it.

The more rational part of my brain is saying, “Dude, chill the fuck out. This is Donald Trump we’re talking about. Ain’t no way this guy could pull that off. He’s too stupid and too lazy to break democracy.” And I believe that to be true. If it was just Trump, I wouldn’t be worrying. But Trump has surrounded himself with venal, amoral, self-serving, dishonest, corrupt assholes. In other words, he’s surrounded himself with people just like himself, but smarter, more competent, and more energetic.

Even with that information, I wasn’t really worried. And then a friend — Sue Wilkinson, living in what I like to think is a small idyllic village in England — alerted me to this:

It’s a long video — sixteen minutes. If you skipped right over it and kept reading, I understand. But I’d encourage you to make the time to watch the whole thing at some point. It will scare the holy shit right out of you, but watch it anyway.

Because this is a thing we actually NEED to think about. Trump is actually PULLING THIS SHIT RIGHT NOW. He’s refusing to concede the election. He’s encouraging his followers to disrupt the election process and reject the results. Even though he has no evidence of fraud, he’s suing various states to overturn their election results. He’s actually accusing state governments — some of which are governed by his own political party — of committing crimes. He’s trying to stop the states he lost from certifying their results. And he’s got his pet Attorney General, Bill Barr, to ignore the Justice Department’s longstanding tradition of staying out of election investigations until after the results are in and certified.

But there’s more. Trump’s head of the General Services Administration has refused to sign the paperwork releasing the money and resources for Uncle Joe Biden’s transition team. In fact, throughout the federal government, Trump’s political appointees have ordered their staffs NOT to work with the Biden transition team. It’s like every Trump appointee in the entire government has their fingers stuck in their ears so they won’t have to hear that they’re out of a job. They are deliberately dodging their responsibilities to the America people.

And there’s still more. While he’s pulling all that other selfish undemocratic shit, Trump is also actively dismantling the US national security system. Yesterday Trump fired his third Secretary of Defense, Mark Esper (who replaced Trump’s second SecDef, Patrick Shanahan, who replaced Trump’s first SecDef, James Mattis). When asked about the possibility of being fired, Esper said this:

“I could have a fight over anything, and I could make it a big fight, and I could live with that. Why? Who’s going to come in behind me? It’s going to be a real ‘yes man.’ And then God help us.”

To be clear, Esper was about 75% a ‘yes man’. Still got his ass fired. Lots of people expect Trump to also fire Christopher Wray, his third FBI Director (after Andrew McCabe, who replaced James Comey — and it’s worth remember that the FBI Director is appointed for a ten year term in order to keep the director separate from politics). Trump is also said to be considering firing CIA Director Gina Haspel (who is, that’s right, his third CIA Director).

None of this is a surprise. A lot of us thought this was a possibility. Even a probability. But even knowing that Trump was likely to pull this shit, I still wasn’t really worried. Until that video taught me something I didn’t know. I knew that if the election mess ended up in the House of Representatives, they could hold a contingency election. They could ignore everything that happened before — the popular vote, the electoral vote — and elect a new president all on their own. But I DID NOT KNOW how a contingency election worked.

It works like this: there are 50 states with 435 voting members — 232 Democrats, 197 Republicans, and a single Libertarian (5 seats are vacant). Each state gets a single vote. The individual members of the House vote to determine how their state will vote. For example, the 53 members of California’s delegation would vote to determine how California’s single vote will be cast. Montana’s three members of Congress decide how Montana’s single vote will be cast. Nebraska’s three members of Congress decide how Nebraska would vote. It doesn’t matter that California has eight times as many representatives as Montana and Nebraska combined, and represents nearly 40 million US citizens, whereas Nebraska and Montana represents a total of about three million. What counts is that Montana and Nebraska would get two Republican votes and California would get one Democratic vote. Democrats may have more members of Congress and represent more citizens, but Republicans control more individual states.

So IF Trump and his people fuck up the post-election process to the point where the decision has to be made by the House of Representatives, a minority of Republicans in the House could literally override the electoral college vote and the popular vote and install Donald Trump as POTUS. That’s fucked up, right there.

That could actually happen. I’ve no idea how likely or unlikely it is. I’d like to believe it’s highly improbable. But I believed Trump’s election in the first place was highly improbable. The thing is, it COULD happen. I’ve no doubt at all that Trump wouldn’t hesitate to break democracy if he thought it would help him. And IF it happens — IF Trump somehow retains the presidency — it would shatter the notion of representative democracy into thousands of tiny misshapen pieces. It would probably be impossible to put them back together again.

That’s why I was awake at five o’clock in the morning.

donny and the joyful finger

I wish I knew who took this photograph. I saw it this morning and I had an immediate emotional response to it. It’s a powerful photo. It’s not art, but it documents something critically important about yesterday’s announcement that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris had won the 2020 election.

The finger is a gesture that’s been around since the Greeks and Romans. It’s a universal gesture of contempt, of anger, of disrespect, of defiance. It means Fuck you, it means Go fuck yourself, it means Shove this up your ass. It’s NOT a polite gesture.

We’ve seen this gesture a lot during the Trump administration. We’ve often seen it at Trump rallies, when Comrade Trump would point out the ‘fake news’ journalists. For these Trump supporters, the finger is an expression of rage and resentment and hatred. It’s Fuck you for who you are and for not supporting Trump.

We’ve also seen it used by folks opposed to Trump. Because Trump rarely appears in front of people who don’t support him, the finger has most often been displayed metonymically (yes, that’s a real word). People give the finger to some thing or object that represents Trump (like one of his properties). In this sense, it’s usually an expression of defiance as well as anger. It’s case of Fuck you and what you stand for.

There was, of course, the case of Juli Briskman, who was famously photographed in 2017 giving the finger to Trump in his motorcade as they passed her on her bike. She said,

“It was just sort of like, here I am on my bike. I’ve got nothing, right? This is pretty much the only thing I had to express my opinion. He wasn’t going to hear me through bullet-proof glass… So that was pretty much how I could say what I wanted to say, right?”

Ms. Briskman was subsequently fired from her job as a government contractor for taking advantage of the opportunity to say what she wanted to say. Her finger was an expression of Fuck you, you don’t represent me or my values. Happily, she was later elected to the Loudon County Board of Supervisors. There’s a bit of poetic justice for you.

The finger in all its manifestations has been a constant during the Trump years. But take another look at that first photograph. Look at the faces of the people. Notice the absence of anger. That’s what makes this photo important, I think. This finger isn’t an expression of “Fuck you, I HATE you, get out!” This is a joyful Fuck you, Donny. This is an expression of “I’m SO happy you’re leaving, now you can just fuck right off.”

To me, the the spontaneous celebrations were the most amazing and delicious aspects of yesterday. The unplanned, impromptu eruptions of joy and happiness and relief. It was an organic response to the release of four years of tension. It was the dancing and the laughing and the shared sense that years of darkness and horror and sickness and death and despair were giving way to a brighter future. Yesterday we weren’t just saying Fuck you Donald Trump, we were also saying Fuck you to ugliness and racism and hate and Covid and the constant weight of the gloom of Trump.

Yes, there’s a shit-ton of work to do. Yes, there are going to be ugly times ahead. But man, let’s not forget how we felt yesterday and how many of us still feel this morning. Let’s hang on to that joy. Joy is nourishment and it will sustain us through the coming months and years.

EDITORIAL NOTE: The photograph was taken by AP photographer Evan Vucci. Thanks to Patrick Power for alerting me to this.