The time draws near for the annual Lieberman Award winner, the world's foremost award for being the absolute worst human being in a calendar year. And while I could (and do) plausibly say this every year, looking at the past 12 months leaves me wondering where even to begin.

No, seriously. How do I even start to sort through all the bad things that happened this year and the people responsible for them.

It is too easy and too trite to simply do Trump every year. I am of the school of thought that Trump is a symptom of all that's wrong with our politics and our society, not a unique or aberrant manifestation of something that had to be forced on (at the very least) a large minority of Americans.

To focus exclusively on Trump is to suggest – wrongly – that ridding ourselves of Trump solves the fundamental problem. It does not, and I think the actions of a lot of people over the past four years (and especially recently) demonstrate how much bigger than him our problem is.

Similarly, it seems a major stretch to give the award to anyone in opposition, no matter what mistakes or misjudgments they're responsible for. To say "Well the Democrats didn't do a very effective job of fighting Trump"…it may be true, but the structure of the sentence alone is enough to show where the real problem lies. Yeah, they need to get their heads out of their asses quickly and figure out how to prevent Trump or something worse than him from returning to power in 2024. But truly the worst people? Not in the running.

There's also a temptation to start casting around the media, since the elite end of that industry did such a comprehensively terrible job in 2020. It's as if they set out to prove how little they learned from 2016. However, a substantial part of the media was committed to providing accurate information about the pandemic; as low of a bar as that is, the non-right wing media certainly could have made things worse by indulging the kind of both-sidesism they bring to their political reporting. As for right-wing outlets like OANN or Fox, what's the point. They did nothing more or less than what they always do and what anyone could have expected them to do.

The strongest temptation is to point the finger at millions of Americans who refused to take the pandemic seriously for their own ignorant or selfish reasons, but I found myself pulling up at the last second. Yes, people are idiots. But there are people in this country whose job it is to keep this ship afloat notwithstanding how dumb people are. I believe that people were as dumb as they were permitted to be; you can't have state and local governments (to say nothing of the national) telling people "Be safe" while issuing mask "recommendations" and reopening bars and restaurants because nobody wanted to pony up to provide financial support to businesses or individuals. When basic public health precautions are "recommendations," you have left the door open for people to be idiots. When you permit bars and hotels and vacation resorts to be open and eventually full of idiots, the idiots did nothing more than what idiots could be expected to do. The more important question than "Why are these people so dumb?" is why we made it so incredibly easy for people to do the dumbest possible things throughout all of this. To call the signals governments sent during the pandemic "mixed" is an understatement.

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So, ultimately that is where I ended up focusing, where my gaze kept falling over and over: on state and local elected officials, the people most directly responsible for the rules that dictated what would and would not take place, what individuals could and could not do. For better or worse, neither the president nor Congress has the power simply to order everyone to stay home, to open or close the schools, to let people go to bars, to require certain public health precautions.

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They blew it. You can point to examples of people who did a better job than most, or even a few who did legitimately well. But as a group, they failed miserably, torn between the desire to "be safe" and also to reopen everything as fast as humanly possible. They did what universities did – for financial reasons they brought undergraduates to campus under ridiculous – like, patently ridiculous – plans to prevent contagion and then when the plans that obviously were never going to work did not work they wagged their fingers and said "Gosh, you students blew it." No, the decision-makers who came up with such an abysmal plan that it relied on tens of thousands of 19 year olds behaving completely responsibly at all times blew it.

Blaming individuals is easy and often makes people feel good. But it's misguided. The people who define the choices and the options available to people, they are where we should focus.

16 thoughts on “SPOILED FOR CHOICE”

  • Well stated. I don't envy "The people who define the choices and options available to people." I respect what they are trying to do. However they should, above all else, walk their talk & set an example. California's Governor Newsom being the worst offender in the worst way possible. Dining without a mask, inside a restaurant, in a group (lobbyists) without masks or social distancing. It has only made small business owners (of all political stripes) who were following state guidelines, more livid and rebellious than they were before. And justifiably so. This will be remembered long after COVID disappears – if it ever does. His political career is rapidly going downhill. I do not foresee him being re-elected and worst case scenario, it may also turn California red. A very stupid, self-centered mistake.

  • some outside possibilities —

    John Jenkins (president of Notre Dame, poo-poo'd COVID until he caught it himself, covering up multiple rape and sex abuse stories by football players)

    Jimmy Dore — never funny liberal "comedian" who thinks AOC should be primaried from the left

    Jacob Rees-Mogg — impossible to pick one Tory Brexiteer, but this guy shows his contempt for Democracy by literally laying down in Parliament — https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/rees-mogg-admits-supine-error-b9sx8hh3w

    Scooter Braun — another good "liberal" choice, stole Taylor Swift's copyrights to her own music, rather than sue she's going to re-record _all her shit_ to spite him, which is a great story in itself

    Bari Weiss — anther good "liberal" choice (her Twitter feed is 90 links to right-wing bullshit if not outright fascism, with a wink-wink "I'm just a curious little girl in a great big world of ideas is all!" flavor), she's just so fucking insufferable.

    Anyhow, you certainly won't be starved for choice Ed!

  • Excellent rundown of possibilities. Personally, I'd go with the 2020 Trump voter, the seventy-five million people who took a look around, in a year of death and destruction and chaos, all completely unnecessary, and said, yeah, I want four more years of this.

    There should be a special place in hell for those people. Perhaps that's what the US is at this point.

  • Had a debate elsewhere with someone who thought minorities would vote more if they really understood what was at stake. He referenced a native friend who said Clinton or Biden wouldn't have changed much on coronavirus, that we simply cannot do what Japan or Italy has done. To him this seemed self-evidently nuts, that it was a matter of "leadership" and "competence." You've summed up perfectly why he was wrong.

    There is no political leadership in america that even wants to do what would have been needed, much less posses the political will to make it happen. A few rogue Dems might have been for it, but no "serious" person was interested in paying everyone $2000/mo to stay home, suspending loans, etc… Even doing so to just bars and restaurants, nationally, is seen as simultaneously authoritarian and too expensive.

    This is a problem that goes beyond the strictly political. This country has developed a sclerotic political-economic culture in which many urgent measures are considered literally impossible.

  • @mojrim:

    You and I occasionally disagree–but on this I think we agree.

    The problem isn't really political (although it expresses that way, these days). The problem is that a far too large %age of U.S.ians feel that the world should exist to service their needs and desires. It's an imperialist notion that will have an empirical solution.

  • Mitch McConnell. It's always Mitch McConnell. Killer of any attempt to ever solve anything with government, ever, other than the non-problem of rich people not having quite enough money. He is living proof of the non-existence of God, because if God existed, Mitch would have been struck down multiple times over.

  • Governor Kristi "Sturgis rally? Great idea!" Noem of South Dakota must certainly be a front runner for worst person.

  • I "like" FL Gov. Ron DeSantis for the award. Though my own Gov. Bill Lee (TN) screwed the pooch pretty badly too. Dark horse: Barack Obama for foisting the obviously corrupt, mendacious, and mentally declining Joe "Cornpop" Biden on the Dem electorate.

    Hell, it's a wide open field this year!!

  • Elysian is correct. McConnell is the objectively worst choice. The difference between Trump and McConnell is the difference between McCarthy and Cohn—an idiot lout versus a shrewd, slithering viper. The lout is monstrous and obnoxious, but so FUCKING STUPID that he’s relatively (RELATIVELY) pardonable; the viper sees clearly the harm he is doing, and does it anyway. (See also: Bush and Cheney.)

    But that being said: Stephen Miller. For sheer, bottomless evil, surely no one else comes close. See, I know this guy—not personally, but I grew up when he did, where he did. He is one of a very special type that only grows in a world of slimy entitlement and the kind of racism that only targets the absolutely vulnerable. There were a LOT of Stephen Millers in my youth. We went to the same schools, the same hangouts; I KNOW this guy, and let me tell you: there is no difference between this man’s worldview and that of Heydrich. No exaggeration, no hyperbole. Or, to put it bluntly: he is a Jewish man who thirsts to send people into camps. Can anything adequate be said about him?

    Can’t wait to see what his Chapter Two is!

  • Clayton Llewellyn says:

    I have been a fan for years and this is excellent, Ed! Exactly what I have been thinking during this whole mess. I am in Florida and it is a perfect example of this shit.

  • As most all have remarked, it’s a tough choice with such a large field of candidates. I’m nominating Pompeo the Pompous for the running because no one else here has to so far. I’m not thinking kindly of Pelosi at the moment either. (Spare the boos and invectives, the rot in the political class is all pervasive.)
    Happy New Year. May we have good things in 21. Heh heh, one can hope.

  • The problem is that a far too large percentage age of americans feel that the world should exist to serve their needs and desires. It's an imperialist notion that will have an empirical solution.

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