Volume 3, Issue 32: War On War

"You have to learn how to die if you want to want to be alive."

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This week, I am going to cast my vote for Joe Biden for President of the United States. This will be the seventh presidential election I’ve ever voted in, and I’ve voted for the Democratic candidate every time. I have a long history of choosing losing candidates in the primaries. I voted for Bradley in 2000, Edwards (oy) in 2004, Hillary in 2016 and Warren in 2020—even in 1992, before I was old enough to vote, I wanted Tsongas. I did get Obama right in 2008; I went on a two-week book tour that year and wore an Obama 2008 T-shirt at every stop, which feels a lot more obnoxious now than it did then.

Every presidential election feels monumental, but it’s probably not a coincidence that they’ve felt increasingly desperate and urgent as I’ve gotten older. Voting has felt life-or-death in each of the last four elections. 2004 was about ending the Iraq disaster; 2008 was about electing Obama; 2012 was about keeping Obama; 2016 was about avoiding the nightmare we all ended up living the last four years. But this is the first one that has felt truly apocalyptic. This is the first time the thought has actually entered my brain: Hey … is this the last one of these votes I’m going to get to cast?

My thoughts on Joe Biden are well-documented. I believe him to be a truly good man, one whose life has been marked both by tragedy and his ability to absorb his pain and channel it into a legitimate empathy. He is a man who knows how to heal, and there might not be an emotional quality more in need at this exact moment. As a politician, he’s a little awkward, and he’s gotten sloppier and slower as he’s gotten older. But in the last month-and-a-half, perhaps smelling the finish line, he has found a second gear that suggests he may be more ready to meet this historic moment than he has been given credit for. Never considered a great orator, he has given three truly incredible speeches: His DNC speech, which felt like it was beamed in from a different, kinder planet than the one we’ve been living in for four years; his Pittsburgh speech, best known as the “Really?” speech; and the one he gave in Gettysburg this week, a speech that was lost because of … uh … everything going on but one that was powerful and moving and one that pointed to a better future in a way that was actually concrete and convincing.

Joe Biden is not an idealist, and he is not dogmatic. He has shifted his positions many times in his 40-plus years in public office, and he has stood for things in the past that I and many others now find repugnant. But politics should never be a purity test: Turning it into one is one of the reasons we’re in this mess in the first place. Joe Biden is the sort of politician I like: One who is fundamentally decent and believes in the promise of what this country is supposed to be, but is flexible and open-minded enough to understand the tides of history and follow them. I know fighting about the Lincoln Project and the Green New Deal has become a sort of cottage industry among liberals these days, and I understand why: There are legitimate ideological differences among many different groups of people supporting Biden. But a candidate who has the support of both Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and George W. Bush is doing something right, and, more to the point, something that’s going to be vital in the years to come. It’s going to take us a long time to fix all that has been broken in the last four years, and I’d argue Biden is the precise right person to usher us into that era: Someone who is admired but not revered, someone who is respected and also respects others, someone who understands one of his primary purposes is to be a transition into new age, someone who is willing to hand the microphone to others and trust their judgment. (You may remember I was a big Kamala Harris supporter during the primaries.) He will do surely do things as president that I will disagree with, but I believe that he will always be trying to do what he can to make the world a better place. Mostly: I like Joe Biden because he is a legitimately good person and I believe he will try to do the right thing. And I, like I suspect the rest of you, am absolutely famished for that right now.

Let’s not kid ourselves though. The reason my presidential vote feels apocalyptic this year —the reason it’s the most important vote I’ll ever make in my life, by a wide margin—is not out of overwhelming love for Joe Biden.

It is incredibly difficult to talk about the things Donald Trump has done and said, about the way he is, without sounding deranged. Sometimes I’ll catch myself, describing something he’s done, listening to what I just said and realizing I sound like a crazy person. One of the most common complaints I hear from relatives back home in Central Illinois who support Trump is that “the media is always all over him,” and in a way, I kind of understand this. To simply list Trump’s offenses, in dispassionate black-and-white agate text, is to sound like the wildest conspiracy theorist: He is so absurd and venal that it is almost literally unbelievable. McSweeney’s has put together “A Catalog of Trump’s Worst Cruelties, Collusions, Corruptions, and Crimes,” and to read it, all 60,000 words worth (and counting!), is to be sucked down a rabbit hole of swirling monstrosities and stupidities. I mean, there’s even an Atrocity Key. An Atrocity Key!

Trump has done and said so many horrible things I’ve forgotten most of them. Remember the time he shoved Montenegro’s Prime Minister out of his way so he could get to the front of a picture? Or the time he said all Haitians have AIDS? Or the time he made a “Pocahontas” crack in front of Native American World War II veterans? And those are just from a random two-month span in 2017! It is difficult sometimes not to watch Trump and feel as if you are going insane. It took me a few days to get my bearings the time, after he was mocked for claiming incorrectly that Alabama was in the path of Hurricane Dorian, he literally drew on the National Weather Services map with a Sharpie. That is so actively stupid it’s tough to wrap your mind around it. That guy shouldn’t be running the country. That guy shouldn’t be running a Denny’s.

But as all the lies piled up, it became increasingly clear that the end goal of the lies was just that they could be made in the first place. It has become common for observers, upon remarking on whatever the newest Trump outrage is, to note that “this would be an earth-shaking, administration-ending scandal in any other administration.” But that has always struck me the point of Trumpism. The point is not that he would do all these horrible things. The point is that he could get away with it. This is a man who has never suffered any consequences for any of his misdeeds—he has in fact been rewarded for them—and anyone who has spent 74 years getting away with anything and everything is always going to push it as far as he can. Imagine if you, while sitting with a group of people, pointed at a dog and said, “This is a cat” … and then everyone in the room responded by saying, “Yes, that is a cat.” And that happened with every single thing that you did your entire life. The most shocking thing, four years into this, isn’t that Trump is who he is. It’s that so many people have allowed it to continue, out of fear, cruelty or just plain cowardice. If there is no one in the room who is willing to say, “man, that’s a fucking dog,” I am not sure what the rest of us are supposed to do?

I have written many times about the obligation I feel to my children to chronicle what it was like to live through the Trump era, because it will seem so inexplicable to them when they are adults. (“Dad, he actually said the country could “use some good old global warming” because it was cold outside that day? Really?”) But that of course assumes that there will be a time that we can look back on it, rather than still being in it. Or that there will even be a country left. Imagine if, after the wreckage that has resulted from his presidency, he wins, which, according to Nate Silver, still has a 14 percent chance of happening. (That is better than the odds of a coin landing heads three times in a row. Try that right now. How long does it take you to make that happen? Not long, right?) After his steroid-fueled meltdown this week—that Rush Limbaugh “interview” sounded like Brad Pitt in 12 Monkeys—it’s clear that he’s spiraling out of control. But that spiraling guy is still the president. He might be president for four more years. Could you survive that? Could anyone?

I know that there is a popular viewpoint now that Trump is just a symptom of the country’s problems rather than a driver of them, and while I understand this idea intellectually—certainly, this country’s history is full of atrocities, and we were hardly living in a blissful Utopia until November 2016—the fact remains that Trump is an assault on what are supposed to be this country’s values, not an exemplar of them. Political polarization will still be a problem when Trump isn’t president, and racism and poverty and late-stage capitalism and sexism and all of our country’s woes will not magically vanish. But I’m sorry: You are not going to convince me that this won’t at least be a slightly improved place without a guy who calls people “horseface” and refers to other countries as “shitholes” and is a racist monster and who has been accused of sexual assault literally dozens of times and doesn’t pay taxes and doesn’t give a shit about any human on the planet other than himself and 60,000 words of other horrible things … yeah, I think we’re going to be better off without that guy being president.

I have a suspicion that the vast majority of readers of this newsletter are probably with me on all this. I’m not even necessarily trying to convince anyone; this is mostly for posterity and my own sanity. But four years ago, I wrote a long and impassioned argument for voting for Hillary Clinton, and it turns out, the last four years have been worse than I even imagined they’d be. At the end of Trump’s first term, hundreds of thousands of people have died who shouldn’t have, children can’t go to school, the economy is in shambles, the world’s on fire, kids are being ripped from their parents’ arms and normal, everyday people have just become downright meaner to each other.

Everybody has their thing about Trump: He’s so awful that he’s offensive in a thousand different ways to a thousand different people. For some it’s the bullying. For some it’s the crassness. For some it’s the idiocy. For some it’s just how loud he is. For me, the thing that always gets me is how his behavior has become a model. If you just shove forward, if you don’t think about other people, if you just yell constantly so that no one else can be heard, if you make yourself the center of attention at all times, if the only thing in the world that drives you is you, if you lack the human capacity for shame … you will be rewarded. He has made us, little by little, in ways that sneak up on you sometimes, dumber, and nastier, and more debased. He has made us lesser. He represents, in nearly every possible way, the opposite of how I see the world and how I believe people should act in it. He has actively made living on earth a worse experience, and he needs to go away.

I will be voting for Joe Biden for president this week. I consider it one of the most important things I’ll ever do.

GEORGIA

I’ll be voting early this week, and for the first time in my life, I’ll be voting in a swing state. Georgia is a toss-up right now, but it’s not just the presidential race: There are two Senatorial races in Georgia this year. So if you live in Georgia, I hope you vote for Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff. (In that order, I’d argue.) I’ll also be voting for Mokah Johnson in the State House District 117 race here in Athens. There are some exciting things happening down here.

Here is a numerical breakdown of all the things I wrote this week, in order of what I believe to be their quality.

  1. Why Are Pandemic Sports Television Ratings So Low? A Look at All the Theories, New York. I’m glad I never got into sports business writing, but this piece turned out really well: I might have been good at it, in another (sadder) life.

  2. The Story of Albert Pujols, Told in 10 At-Bats, MLB.com. I got to tell a story about my grandmother in this piece, which I was grateful to get to do.

  3. The Blissful Unawareness of Being Off Social Media, Medium. How do you get the bad man out of your life? Start by getting him out of your phone.

  4. Talking to Armando Iannucci about The Death of Stalin and Trump, GQ. Yeah, that movie has been popping up a lot lately, hasn’t it?

  5. In Praise of Brendan Gleeson’s Terrifying, Impossible Donald Trump in “The Comey Rule,” Medium. It’s a truly great performance and, as Grierson also wrote, the first time I’ve ever anyone really crack Trump.

  6. The Astros Were Never Going Down Easily, MLB.com. I am the baseball fan guy who doesn’t hate the Astros. Sorry. I know. I’m trying to delete it.

  7. The NFL’s COVID Problems Are Only Just Beginning, NBC News. This one has … not aged poorly.

  8. Introducing a New Feature About Micromorts, Medium. This is going to be a regular Friday feature. You should contribute! And tell others to do the same!

  9. The Braves Have Been Waiting a Long Time For This, MLB.com. Shoutout to my Braves people.

  10. This Week in Genre History: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, SYFY Wire. My favorite factoid from this: Tobe Hooper was trying to get a PG rating!

  11. Robert DeNiro Comedies, Ranked and Updated, Vulture. Updated with two bad movies with the word “Grandpa” in the title.

  12. Thursday Morning Storylines for All LDS Teams, MLB.com. Previewing games that are now already over!

  13. Tuesday Morning Storylines for All LDS Teams, MLB.com. Doin’ it again!

It was a busy week!

PODCASTS

Grierson & Leitch, three new movies, “On the Rocks,” “The Glorias,” “Dick Johnson Is Dead.”

People Still Read Books, with Spencer Hall, co-author of “The Sinful Seven: Sci-Fi Western Legends of the NCAA.”

Waitin' Since Last Saturday, previewing the Tennessee game, and recapping the Auburn game.

LONG STORY YOU SHOULD READ THIS MORNING … OF THE WEEK

“A mentally ill man, a heavily armed teenager and the night Kenosha burned,” Robert Klemko and Greg Jaffe, The Washington Post. This is an incredibly well-reported, fair and humane piece about Kenosha shooter Adam Rittenhouse, the three men he shot and what actually happened that night. This made me sad for everyone involved, and for all of us.

Also, this Olivia Nuzzi piece that dropped last night is hypnotic in its detail.

ARBITRARY THINGS RANKED, WITHOUT COMMENT, FOR NO PARTICULAR REASON

Athlete “Saturday Night Live” Hosts, Ranked by Skill at Hosting “Saturday Night Live”

1. Peyton Manning

2. Joe Montana

3. Charles Barkley

4. Walter Payton

5. Michael Jordan

6. LeBron James

7. Wayne Gretzky

8. Chris Evert

9. J.J. Watt

10. Jeff Gordon

11. Derek Jeter

12. Lance Armstrong

13. Andy Roddick

14. Ronda Rousey

15. Deion Sanders

16. Tom Brady

17. Eli Manning

18. Michael Phelps

19. Nancy Kerrigan

ONGOING LETTER-WRITING PROJECT!

Send your mail-in ballot first. But then write me at:

Will Leitch
P.O. Box 48
Athens GA 30603

CURRENTLY LISTENING TO

“They Want My Soul,” Spoon. Every few months, I hit the “man, Spoon might be the most consistent, listenable ban on the planet” mode. In one of them right now.

Remember that interview I told you about a couple of weeks ago? It’s running next week, I think, but here’s my favorite part of the interview that (understandably!) didn’t make it into the final cut. (I do not think GQ cares all that much about Central Illinois geography.)

Also, enjoy two William Bryan Leitches on a swing.

Be safe, everyone.

Best,
Will