Since 2020 has been such a dumpster fire, I thought it might help to recap a few accomplishments. One of the big ones is my latest book: Better Politics, Please.
I came up with this idea before the pandemic struck, but really fleshing it out and making it happen was a total pandemic project. I needed that. I needed something to focus on in the midst of all the chaos.
A project I worked on for 15 years came to an end at the close of 2019. I went into 2020 not knowing what was next (whoa, boy howdy!). Better Politics, Please was a fun way to try something different. It gave me a lot of hope, despite a real lack of hope in the rest of the world.
I’m grateful for all the help that made this project a reality. I couldn’t have done it without the many people who supported it.
It’s always hard to judge the impact of my books. I self-publish my stuff, and I’m not exactly a best seller. So the impact is pretty limited. I always second guess if that’s the right way to go, but in this case I think it made sense to get something out during the 2020 election. I think that was the best chance to break through, which in hindsight was probably severely underestimating the sheer volume of noise in 2020.
In terms of success, that’s not really a question. I did a successful Kickstarter campaign and created the book. That’s a win, no matter how many copies the book sells.
(And seeing the book on the shelves of my local library? Well, that’s a pretty great bonus.)
But in terms of political impact, given the 2020 election, I think it’s important to reflect on the entire idea of “better politics.” (This section gets a bit long, but I think it’s helpful to process all of this, so I hope you’ll bear with me.)
Cuz if you haven’t noticed, we’re kind of going in the opposite direciton.
I approached this project, somewhat naively, with the idea that politics could be vastly improved if we just slowed down and listened to one another. I had no illusions that would happen easily, but I had stubborn hope that it was possible.
Yes, even in the midst of Donald Trump.
I purposefully ignored most of the 2020 presidential election in the book. I mentioned Trump as he related to the people I profiled, but I didn’t want to focus on Trump or Joe Biden or any of the trappings of the 2020 presidential election. Not only would it seriously date the book, but it felt like a distraction. That’s what we fight over, and it makes better politics harder.
So even ignoring Trump, I thought better politics would be possible by seeking common ground and finding things to celebrate in people we disagree with.
I didn’t anticipate the sheer denial that would grip the Republican party in the aftermath of the 2020 election. With all the absentee voting, it was a weird election night where we didn’t have a lot of certainty (and you can thank Republican legislatures who refused to allow absentee ballot counting to happen before Election Day). But as those votes were counted, it became pretty clear Biden would win. By Saturday, it was clear enough to call.
Yet Donald Trump cried fraud the entire time, without a shred of evidence. Bizarrely, Republicans joined that cry. Nevermind that most of those Republicans won their own elections and had no problem declaring themselves victors while putting on a show of ‘let’s review the evidence’ before admitting Biden won.
We’ve gone through nearly two months of this garbage. Nearly every complaint brought up in court has been dismissed. There was no voter fraud. The election wasn’t stolen. Joe Biden won. Donald Trump lost.
Yet it continues. We had over 100 Republicans sign on to a lawsuit (which was dismissed by the Supreme court). We still have some Republicans talking about declaring martial law, and Trump openly discussing it. Yikes.
But what this revealed is something I should have known all along: Most politicians don’t care about fair.
That’s a pretty normal part of politics. We’re seeing it now with Republicans balking at a COVID-19 relief package because of the deficit, yet they passed Trump’s tax cuts without caring at all about how it increased debt. We see those examples all the time. And it definitely goes both ways. I watch Democrats clutch their pearls when Republicans call someone names, only for Democrats to do the same thing. And both sides usually justify it by saying the other side did it first.
I knew all that, but I figured people could still rise above it. I thought better politics could overcome that.
But 2020 has shown we can’t. Or at least a lot of Republicans can’t.
There’s no finding common ground when we can’t even agree on an election result. Sure, we fight tooth and nail for the election win, but when it’s over you’re supposed to shake hands and move forward. Win or lose, you accept the result. That doesn’t mean you have to like it. It doesn’t mean you can’t fight back. But you still accept it.
But if that norm is out the window, well, I don’t know how we find common ground after that.
To get back to the point, this is where I’m worried about the potential impact of my book. The premise of my book assumes we can find common ground. If there’s no common ground to be found, if fairness is out the window, if party is greater than country, then my book is at best wishful thinking and at worst hopelessly aloof.
I guess we’ll have to wait and see what happens.
Some Republicans are starting to come around. As we approach Inauguration Day, we’ll see how it goes. We’ll see if Trumpism continues when he leaves office, or if his influence starts to fade away. If this party over country approach to politics has staying power, then I don’t see much hope.
What does give me hope is listening to Joe Biden. He was pretty low on my list of Democratic hopefuls. Not my first choice. But his incredible empathy and genuine desire to bring this country back together could possibly change things.
It’s a long shot, I know.
Many Democrats reach for their pitchforks when you talk about bringing people together—and I get it.
But we need a return to fairness. We need a return to country over party. We need that better politics. If anybody has a shot at getting us there, even partially there, I think it’s Joe Biden.
This whole thing has made it a lot harder to spread the ideas in my book. It’s hard to promote common ground when there is none. The post-election world has made this book feel irrelevant in ways I didn’t expect. In fact, it’s the opposite. I thought this book would be exactly what we need in the post-election world. But instead of grudgingly coming together, we’re even further apart.
So in light of all that, it’s hard to talk about the impact of this book. We’ll just have to see where things go.
OK, that was a lot. What’s next for the book? I don’t know.
I had a lot of wild dreams about the book. I enjoyed the writing process and I’d love to write more profiles. I envisioned starting a website and finding some funding source to do more of this. Maybe that’s still possible. But given the lack of blockbuster sales, I’m not seeing a way to fund that dream.
And that’s OK.
Especially since the election, politics has been about the opposite of hope. I don’t know if one more political site spouting ideas is what we need. Maybe it’s better that this is a one-off thing.
I’ve had a lot of ideas over the years and I’ve brought many of them to fruition by sheer force of will. That can be exhausting. This is one that needs something beyond me to happen, and I’m OK with that.
I’ll continue to be idealistic and hope for common ground and better politics. I’ll push for it when I can, champion it when I see it, and try not to become too disillusioned when it doesn’t work out.
In the Books
Despite the post-election hellscape that is 2020 (because, of course), I’m still proud of this book. It’s probably my most book-like book. I made a book of tweets and another book about how to read more, but this one feels more like a straight up book. That’s maybe a weird accomplishment to be proud of, but it’s something.
This book was also a great collaboration with artist Carolyn Swiszcz, and I’m really proud of that part of it. She pushed me to make the launch of this book something more, and ultimately the whole book became so much better thanks to her involvement. I wish she could have illustrated all 35 profiles. Maybe next time.
The other thing I’m proud of is how this book starts conversations. In the introduction I talk about how my grandma always asked who I was voting for. Politics is often the thing you’re not supposed to talk about, especially in our hyper-partisan age, but I think that’s where we find common ground. If we can’t have those conversations with our grandmas, our friends, our neighbors, then what are we doing?
So 2020 may have been a mess and we’re glad it’s almost in the books, but I’m grateful 2020 also gave me the opportunity to create Better Politics, Please.