Our best work from a bad year.
I don’t really understand how we’re here.
2020 was bloody and bruising and hyper-charged and terrifying and enraging and overwhelming and barely believable, but it lasted approximately forever. 2021 was a grim slog through the mud, an endless, churning dirge, the world’s longest hangover, but it has somehow come and gone in what feels like the snap of a finger. What is going on? How can an electric shock keep us so weighed down while a bleak drizzle sends us hurtling forward so quickly through time? This is, I think, one of the reasons that 2021 has felt so dislocating for so many. That and the fact that it was supposed to be...better than this, right? We were going to shake ourselves free, rejoice in the liberation of the vaccines, get our lives back. We were going to even be a little hopeful about the world.
You don’t need me to tell you that this didn’t play out as planned. 2021 has instead been a rude reminder of just how deep a hole we find ourselves in. The euphoria of Trump’s defeat was replaced by a year-long display of the Democratic Party’s conservatism and incompetence. The power and promise of the George Floyd protests has been supplanted by a tough-on-crime freakout and the rise of the anti-woke grifters. We’re just letting climate change kill us. Abortion will be banned all over the country in a few months. The Republicans are somehow worse and more dangerous than ever. We’re seeing out the year with Omicron. More people died from COVID in 2021 than 2020. And the people in power have neither the will nor the capacity to do much about any of this.
2021 sucked, is what I’m saying. It was a really bad year. In such a bleak time, it can be hard to find sources of brightness, or things that make you think we might have a chance. But one of the reasons I’m so happy that Discourse Blog exists is that it is a proudly left-wing website, and I don’t think you can really be a leftist if you don’t have some hope that the future can be better than the past. This has not been an easy year to chronicle. It has not always been the easiest year for us personally. Yet the very fact that we are still here is, for us, a small triumph of hope, because the very existence of Discourse Blog is an act of hope. It’s a hope that there is room in our remorselessly corporate media world for a small independent leftist news site. It’s a hope that there are people out there who see the world like we do. It’s a hope that we can gain a little foothold just by telling you what we think about things, and what makes us angry, and happy, and what we’re scared of, and what annoys us, and what keeps us going. It’s a hope that, by being a place that cheers every time another workplace forms a union, and loses its shit when the malevolent forces who run this planet betray us yet again, we can try and ensure that the heroes of the world are uplifted and the villains pulled down just a little bit, and that things get a little better around here. It’s a hope that people are cool with all the weird things we do, and want us to do more.
It’s been a little while since we’ve done a direct sales pitch to you. We just got a little tired of doing them. But I’m going to do one now. Doing this blog with the support of our readers is a privilege beyond description. We don’t want much in this world—just to keep doing this blog, and doing it a little bigger and a little better every day. That’s where you come in. The more people subscribe, the more we can give you in return. If you read us but haven’t subscribed, please consider doing so by clicking here. Subscriptions start at just $8 a month—a bargain, I promise!!! If you have subscribed, thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Please tell your friends about us.
What follows is a little list of some of our best stuff from 2021. Going through the archives made me so proud to be working with the rest of the Discourse Blog staff, who are all talented beyond belief and each of whom infuses the blog with their own inimitable energy. I love that a Rafi blog is nothing like a Caitlin blog, and that a Caitlin blog is nothing like a Crosblog, and that a Crosblog is nothing like a Sam blog. I love that we have the freedom to be ourselves, and that some of you like who we are too. Once again, please think of subscribing. And thank you. Here’s to a better world in 2022.
This is in no particular order, except for the first one, because it happened at the beginning of the year.
"We're Not Better Than This," by Jack Crosbie.
Right now a large number of supporters of President Donald Trump are inside the U.S. Capitol building attempting to overthrow the government. This is ludicrous and horrifying, pitiful and disturbing in equal measure. The coup attempt is the last gasp of an ugly regime that has shamed every citizen of the country it led for four years. It is also pretty much what we all deserve. It is who we are. It is who we will be for decades to come. It is entirely predictable and fitting, a logical development of everything that has happened over the past few months and years and centuries that got us to this point.
“The Bitter Struggle to Form America’s Biggest Coffee Shop Union,” by Samantha Grasso
Pandemics have a way of clarifying things—and last March, as businesses across the country closed because of COVID-19, it became clear to the employees of the Colectivo Coffee Roasters’ Chain that their bosses might not do much to help them. So the workers did what workers have done since time immemorial: they started to organize.
"The 'Teen Vogue' Mess Is What Happens When Bosses Don't Listen," by Aleks Chan
The online frenzy is real, but it also misses the point. Ultimately, this is not a story about a too-woke staff, or even about bad tweets. It’s about a fundamental failure on the part of Condé Nast leadership, including Anna Wintour, in understanding what kind of publication Teen Vogue is, and who might be the best person to lead it. That ignorance from media bosses is all too common, and the damage it has caused here has left everyone involved worse off than when they started.
"There's No Reason They Can't Give Us Free Tests," by Paul Blest
After a certain point, by which I mean the willingness to ignore the problem and hope it goes away, it doesn’t even really matter who’s in the White House. Whenever a public health crisis requires a coordinated national response, there will be obstacles that are unnecessary but inherent to having a system like ours. The dilemma is that even after five years of talking about Medicare for All, mainstream political discourse about American healthcare is disproportionately concerned with cost and short-term financial feasibility rather than providing care and building a system to last which actually works for people.
"The Bears and Me," by Caitlin Schneider
Among the items we threw in the fledgling embers was the flyer from the previous day on bear safety. I distinctly remember watching it burn along with the other information—the edges slowly curling over a simple black and white drawing of a serene bear—and thinking “I should have read that.”
"Another In-Depth Interview With My Sons About Today’s World," by Rafi Schwartz
DB: Okay, well what do you think of Joe Biden’s domestic agenda now that he’s passed the “Build Back Better” plan in the House?
G: I don’t know.
DB: Do you like Joe Biden?
DB: Do you think it’s disappointing that he’s turned his back on many of the progressive items he ran on?
G: [shrugs harder]
DB: What do you think about the January 6th Commission?
G: [starting to cry] I don’t know!
"Bari Weiss Mask Off," by Jack Mirkinson
Weiss is saying, very openly, that in her eyes, the Israeli slaughter of children is an unfortunate but inevitable and even necessary byproduct of Zionism’s mission. (As many have noted, this leveraging of identity in defense of Jewish domination is a darkly ironic departure from a supposed enemy of identity politics). Weiss calls it “an unspeakable tragedy,” but it is clear that, for her, the true tragedy would be if Israel’s dominion over Palestine were to be curbed. For Zionism to flourish, enemies must be subdued, and if children get murdered along the way, well, what can you do? It’s a breathtaking admission, but you can appreciate the honesty.
"'The Card Counter' and the Sins of a Nation," by Katherine Krueger
Filtered through Schrader’s brand of Calvinism-turned-secularism, what we did at Abu Graib can be understood as something like a new original sin for our nation, the stain of which will never be removed, even if America was interested in somehow setting out to do so. We’re leaving Afghanistan, but the War on Terror is nowhere near over; it’s a forever war not just in a temporal sense but a moral one, a dark mark on our national consciousness that falls in a lineage of all our country’s previous deadly imperial games and forward to those that inevitably lie ahead. Tell can’t escape what he did, and neither can we. We can’t hope for something as precious as forgiveness. The best we can do is to keep moving along between air-conditioned rooms, spending our money on games of chance.
"‘Music’ Repeats Some of Hollywood’s Biggest Sins," by Caitlin Schneider
Before I proceed to rip this movie to shreds in detail, I feel it necessary to say that I generally don’t think it’s all that interesting to dissect a piece of art that’s this egregiously awful. But Music made itself a worthy target of discussion when it held up an autistic caricature as its emotional center and then set her aside. I can affirm that Music is all the things that critics have said: it’s offensive, harmful, cringeworthy, and tone-deaf in its portrayal of autism. It’s also just an unbelievably bad movie.
"The Grassroots Movement to Unionize A New Orleans Charter School," by Paul Blest
“I hope that our story can help inspire other workers—especially charter school workers—because it’s incredibly hard to unionize a charter school,” Scofield said. She told Discourse Blog she’s also had conversations with colleagues at other schools in the city about the union drive and added, with a laugh: “They want to come work here now.”
"The New York Times Won’t Stop Gaslighting Its Unionizing Workers," by Jack Crosbie
Let’s break this down. Kopit Levien’s general point is that the Times management is attempting to respond to the union in good faith and proceed with a standard National Labor Relations Board election process, but that the union is, essentially, throwing a fit and not engaging in constructive “dialogue.” According to sources in the News Guild and the Times Tech Guild, the truth is, well, basically the opposite. Here is a rough timeline of events, per these sources.
"Listen to MSNBC Bosses Smoothly Trying to Bust Their Staffers’ Union," by Samantha Grasso
On Thursday, MSNBC executives held one of their regular quarterly virtual town hall meetings with their employees. A big part of the meeting focused on the cable news channel’s 25th anniversary, but during the town hall, the executives, including MSNBC president Rashida Jones, were asked about something much more current: the effort by hundreds of MSNBC staffers to form a union. Audio of the meeting, which was obtained by Discourse Blog, shows the subtle, skillful, but nevertheless unmistakable ways that MSNBC’s corporate bosses appear to be trying to stop the union drive in its tracks.
"The System Works," by Jack Mirkinson
In the year since his rampage in Kenosha, Rittenhouse has become a ghoulish folk hero of the American right. The glee with which conservatives have celebrated him has been one of the most disturbing signs of the fascist tide sweeping across the country, something that feels like a clear harbinger of worse things to come. Now that lionization carries with it the imprimatur of the American legal system, the overt signal that Rittenhouse did nothing wrong and that, if others want to do the same, that is all to the good. The greatest country in the world, everyone.
"Don’t Expect Us to Say Thank You When You Give Us Crumbs," by Katherine Krueger
Democrats ask the people who voted for them to subsist on crumbs that fall from the table. They claim the ration is more than we got before and that that is a momentous achievement. And, what’s more, they insist we thank them for the privilege, put on a smile, and stop asking for more. Enough. Fuck your crumbs. We want a feast.
"Is Madison Cawthorn Incredibly Dumb? A Discourse Blog Investigation," by Rafi Schwartz
Since assuming office this past January, first-term North Carolina Republican Rep. Madison Cawthorn has proven himself to be many things: a habitual fabulist, an unapologetic antisemite, an enthusiastic bigot, someone you should definitely not have around any woman, and a shameless seditionist, to name just a few. He’s also the future of the Republican Party, and the mold through which the GOP will inevitably pump out more and more conservo-fascists in its tiki-torched march toward overt ethnonationalism. While a lot of ink has been spilled across many column inches to explore Cawthorn’s dubious personal narrative and the implications of his frequent dalliances with racism, there’s another, more fundamental question to be asked — one which, to the best of my knowledge, has yet to be addressed in any meaningful way: is Madison Cawthorn incredibly dumb?
"State Flags, Ranked," by Caitlin Schneider
This is the navy-ish-background-with-a-seal-at-the-center section (not a perfect description for all of them, but an apt enough umbrella category). This section was difficult for me because it includes my home state (Michigan) and for the most part, I love them all! It’s simply a solid design aesthetic. It reminds me of the design on National Park signage—it might not light your brain on fire, but it’s classic and unassailable. Many of these rankings would change if I’d done this on a different day, that’s just the truth. This Nevada one only kind of counts, and I don’t really understand why they put the main feature in the corner?? This is a flag, hon. Don’t shrink yourself.
"Bird of the Week: Great Bittern," by Jack Mirkinson
I cannot get enough of this!!!!! Not only the sound itself, but the little warm-up clacks the bittern makes, before going into that tuba-foghorn-wow sound that literally takes its whole body to produce. And then it raises itself up again and kinda preens??? Incredible. A look at multiple videos shows that this routine is not a one-off. These birds are doing this exact thing all the time!
"Henry Kissinger Is Right There, But We’ll Take It: Donald Rumsfeld Edition," by Jack Crosbie
Donald Rumsfeld, one of the key architects and lead salespeople for the Iraq War, died today at the ripe old age of 88, surrounded by people who ostensibly cared for him, in Taos, New Mexico, roughly 7,240 miles from the country that he bombed, desecrated and ransacked for the better part of a decade. He was outlived by his family, who I don’t particularly care about, and by his chief rival in villainy Henry Kissinger, who I care about only insofar as I wish the two of them a speedy reunion.
"Kinda Seems Like We're Screwed," by Paul Blest
What’s heartening is that even though the political conversation surrounding climate grows more and more detached from reality, there are people fighting for a less dystopian future. You can see it in coalitions of community groups battling for years to stop the Atlantic Coast pipeline and winning, and in young activists so often ridiculed by liberal and conservative pundits alike who are willing to risk their lives for the movement. As cliché as “don’t mourn, organize” may be, our government’s pitiful inaction continues to stress it’s the only real option we’ve got.
"Texas Is a Failed State," by Samantha Grasso
The state has virtually shut down. On Sunday, restaurants and stores across Austin closed early, and many workplaces and universities have closed Monday through Thursday, anticipating more frozen streets, road closures, and power outages. Early Monday morning, I saw friends in Austin tweeting that they had gone without power most of the night. A friend north of Austin with a toddler and elderly parents had her power out for 12 hours, then went without power overnight after it briefly returned. Other friends and parents of friends went to sleep on Monday night without electricity, with their apartments and homes chilling amid freezing temperatures.
"RIP to the World’s Greatest Poster of All Time, @RealDonaldTrump," by Katherine Krueger
This story is not about weighing the moral implications of Trump’s use of Twitter, or his reprehensible actions just in the last two days. It’s also not for expounding at length about the free speech implications (hint: not good!) of a private company being the arbiter of what’s acceptable, protected speech. This is simply about acknowledging that, through years of increasingly mind-crushing tweets, Trump ascended the mountain to become possibly the most iconically brain-poisoned poster of all time.
"So Hot Right Now: Quitting," by Rafi Schwartz
I couldn’t tell you if now is the right time for you to quit your job. That’s between you, your god, and your bank account. What I can tell you is that if you’re thinking about giving your boss one final “fuck you” before pulling a full-blown Jerry Maguire, at least you’re in good company these days.
"It’s Time For the Social Media Workforce to Organize," by Caitlin Schneider
I’ve been a full-time social editor in media for years, and have done social work in some capacity for pretty much my entire career, for both brands and news outlets. You could slap a giant “It’s Complicated” status on top of the entire field frankly, but the problems plaguing social media workers have become far worse in the hell of the pandemic. But with that turmoil, I think, has also come a kind of progress. As the larger workforce is slowing down, demanding more, and quitting altogether, it seems that social media laborers are starting to join the chorus.
"How Much Money Would Make Accidentally Pushing Your Hands Through a Glass Door Worth It, and Other Questions," by Paul Blest
There are still several months left in 2021 but I’m going to go ahead and nominate this blog for the most deranged thing you’ll read all year.
"We Don't Need Another Death Cult," by Jack Crosbie
After all of this death and depression and isolation, I too have lost a lot of sympathy for the people who are making it harder for us to go back to some semblance of normal life. I’m angry at them. I get so fucking angry every time some dumbass I went to high school with posts anti-vax shit on Instagram. But as angry as I am at them, I am angrier at the people and forces that got us here.
"For the Last Time: We Didn’t Lose SCOTUS Because of the Left," by Katherine Krueger
Now, don’t get me wrong. Could the Supreme Court effectively be lost for a generation? Sure. But even now, with the Democrats in power in both chambers of Congress and the White House, the person to blame is…. the woman who played Louise in Thelma & Louise.
"The Lies the Pundits Keep Telling Us About Afghanistan," by Jack Mirkinson
But let us not pretend that the outrage of so many media and political elites truly stems from concern for the plight of Afghans. This is about American humiliation, and a fundamental unwillingness to grapple with the truth about what the U.S. and its allies have been doing in Afghanistan since 2001.
"St. Vincent Thought She Could Treat Prisons Like a Game," by Samantha Grasso
St. Vincent’s interview with journalist Emma Madden could have been a big pile of nothing, a deflated press tour interview that was just enough to plug musician Annie Clark’s upcoming album Daddy’s Home. But instead, Clark’s apparent attempt to stop the interview from running has turned into a whole saga about who controls narratives, and a lesson in why, in 2021, you probably shouldn’t market an album about your experience with prisons if the most you can muster up are a few statistics on the subject.
"Scrambled Eggs Suck," by Rafi Schwartz
There are much better, more fulfilling, more sophisticated ways to enjoy chicken fetus than just scrambling it all together like a preschooler who refuses to color inside the lines. Over easy? Terrific egg. Poached? Now we’re talking. Scrambled, though? Grow up.