It was true what they said–snooping doesn’t pay off.  You get more pain than satisfaction out of it.  But I just couldn’t help myself, could I?

I sit at the breakfast table, picking at my plate of eggs and sausage.   He shuffles towards the coffee-maker, rumpled and yawning.  The man I love.  The man I know.  The man I thought I knew.

But then I remember that I’ve seen his browsing history.  The websites he went to late at night.  Those pictures of strange men.  I have to ask, even though I realize it will wreck everything.

“Honey, did…did you vote for Trump?”

He turns around and stares.  “What?”

“Don’t lie.  You’ve been reading Breitbart.”

“And you’ve been checking up on me.”  With a sudden burst of energy, he strides out of the kitchen.  “That’s an invasion of my privacy.”

“This is for your own good,”  I plead, getting up and following him.  “You’re only hurting yourself.  The first step is to admit you have a problem.”

“I don’t have a problem.  Conservatives have a right to their opinions, too, you know.”

Conservatives?  But he’s a progressive!  Or…I assumed he was a progressive, because, because…this is the twenty-first century!  Everybody’s a progressive…right?

“What about the horrible things Trump said?  About Mexicans, about…”

“Oh, come on.  The things he said weren’t racist.  He’s only getting bashed for saying them because he’s a white man.”

Oh, dear God.  Not this shit.

“You don’t really think you’re oppressed, do you?”

“I’m not sure.  I do know that everyone gets offended if I speak up about something.  Does that qualify as oppression?”

Somehow, I should have seen this coming, and yet I’m so confused.  “Okay, I promise I won’t get offended if you’re honest with me.  Why did you vote for someone like Trump?”

“Well, all you hear about him on the fake media is the bad stuff.  There are a lot of good things he’s doing.”

“Like what?”

“He drove the media insane, didn’t he?  And the mainstream politicians.  I loved the way he gave it to that one annoying guy on Twitter, what’s his name…”

“Those are not achievements!  Attacking people is not an achievement.”  I look down at the napkin I’m tearing into little pieces.  “Would you ever attack someone like that? Call them names?  I can’t imagine it.”

He shrugs and turns to the window.

I take a deep breath.  I have to hear the very worst of it.  “What about his comments about grabbing women by the pussy?  Are you okay with that?”

Exasperated sigh.  “Stupid boys talk…”

“He was talking about sexual assault!”

“Women are so sensitive.  Everything is sexual assault these days.”  He turns to face me for a moment.  “Look, I don’t want to talk about this right now.  And I’m not going to let you tell me what to think.  I’m not a fucking cuck.”  Then the bedroom door slams shut behind him.

We live in the same house.  We sleep in the same bed.  We’re a family.  How did I miss this?  What didn’t I notice?

Maybe we’re no longer really talking to each other, each of us focused on our own personal screen, posting our own version of the world.  Too busy telling our story to listen.

I want to scream at him to go fuck himself.  I want to walk away, but I can’t.  Neither one of us can make it alone.  We’ll have to find our way back to each other somehow.

Sooner or later, I’m gonna have to knock on that door.

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They wouldn’t send real Americans away to be stored.  Radical Muslims, sure.  Illegal immigrants, yeah.  Maybe welfare queens.  But not just…regular Americans.

That’s what Judy had nervously told herself for that entire six weeks, between the day she was first called in for questioning and the day when she was, in fact, sent to one of the country’s resident storage facilities.

She was young and stupid when she took those pictures.  Since then, she had turned her life around.  She was born again and regretted the things she had done when she was lost.  She was no longer that woman.

But in President Pence’s America, that didn’t matter.  Pictures “of an inappropriate nature” like hers meant she was a defective citizen.  A friend found the pictures somewhere and submitted a complaint…because of course they did.  Everybody did that.  If the situation were reversed, she would have done the same.

Defective Americans went to storage centers, where they could be stored away from society–and, most importantly, where they could be used for free labor.  Because hard labor was the one sacred thing which made America better than any other country in the world.

The customer service representative whose job it was to interrogate her grinned when he saw the printouts of her photos.  “You should’ve known better,” he admonished her, the grin still in his voice.  “Don’t worry, ma’am.  The place I’m sending you is a great deal, and you’ll only have to stay for four years…”

***

She remembered how she wanted to scream at her neighbors:  “I’m not a bad person!  I’m just like you!  I voted for Trump and Pence too!”  But she was suddenly on the other side of the fence, and they didn’t really want to talk to her or look her in the eye.

How she had wished back then that they would see her side of the story.  Now it was four and a half years later, and she didn’t care anymore.  She was tired.  This was her old neighborhood, but it didn’t feel like home.  She limped slowly up the sidewalk to her house.  There was a child she didn’t know playing in the driveway.  His mother stood nearby, watching.

The house had been confiscated and sold while Judy was locked up.  The walls had been newly painted a bright pink, and a magnolia tree had been planted by the front steps.  There was another, smaller house being constructed in what once was the backyard.

The mother finally noticed Judy and started walking towards her.  “Can I help you?”  Her question was made softer by her accent.

“I used to live in this house,” Judy said.

The woman’s face hardened.  “We don’t want any problems.  We bought this house all legal.”

“Right.  I know.  I was in a center.”

The woman shrugged.  “So was my brother.”  She picked up her child and went inside, locking the door behind her.

***

A couple days before, Judy had gone to see Mr. Rodriguez, an attorney who was working with storage center survivors.  Just a few years ago, she would have viewed him with suspicion–was he in the country legally?  Now she only wondered if he could help her.

Mr. Rodriguez shook his head sympathetically.  “It’s going to be very difficult to get any compensation for you.  It’s pretty obvious from your online record that you were an avid supporter of the Pence regime in its early years.”

She fidgeted with her paperwork.  “Well, I believed him when he said he would bring back the jobs and all that.”

The lawyer sighed.  “I don’t want to get your hopes up.  The new government has focused on specific groups of Americans which were harshly targeted by the Pence administration.  It will be hard to make a case for you.  I will file an application…but I doubt you will get any results.”

She did not argue, as something in her sensed he was already being kinder to her than he needed to be.  She picked up her papers and stood up to go.

But she felt a twinge of desperation and bent down to him again.

“You had friends in…the resistance?  Yes?”  she whispered.

“If I did, what makes you think I would tell you who they are?”

***

Her nephew, Nick, lived at his mother’s place, in a suburb on what used to be Judy’s side of town.  Their last conversation before they fell out of touch was on Facebook, and it had ended with Judy mocking him for being a “snowflake.”  He had been whining about his gender identity or some such nonsense.

She thought about all of that again on the long bus ride to see him.  She hadn’t called or texted him about her visit.  What if he didn’t want to talk to her at all?

But Nick gave her his usual quiet, easy going nod when he opened the door.  “Hi.  Mom isn’t here right now.”

“That’s okay.  How are you doing?”

He let her in.  He was still very pale and very skinny.  Maybe a little skinnier.

“I’m fine.”  He perched on the side of the sofa.  “I should be asking you how you are.  Mom said you got locked up.”

“Yes.  They let me out not too long ago.”

“That’s rough.  I was arrested a few times.  I never went to a center, though.  I guess I didn’t have much they wanted to take.”  He chuckled.  “Was it bad?”

“It was…”  She found that even after all this time she didn’t want to talk about or think about what it was like.  The house–that was what she wanted to think about.  Her house.

Nick’s dark eyes squinted a bit.  “Do you still believe the people in the centers brought it on themselves?”

“No, no.  I was wrong, and I understand that.”  She was lying.  It had all been a mistake with her.  She only took a couple of pictures.  She wasn’t like those types who protested every week–she never blocked traffic or burned anything.  And she wasn’t a terrorist.

“We should put it all behind us, anyway.  I’ve forgiven you for what you said about me,”  Nick announced.  So full of himself, she thought.  “You’ve always been my favorite aunt.”

She hesitantly accepted a hug from him.

“If you need any help…Mom sometimes gets extra stuff from the church pantry.”

She tried not to sound too eager.  “Thanks.  So, there’s that group of anarchists…they’re liberating homes, is what they call it…”

“No worries.  I don’t hang out with them anymore.”

“I actually wanted to meet with them.”

“Wow.”  Nick raised an eyebrow.  “Not a good idea.  They would hate you.”

Her face flushed with anger.  “Why?  Is this because of how I voted again?  Most of America voted that way–deal with it.”

“But you realize you hurt yourself with your vote, right?”

“Not true.  President Pence wanted to help the country.  The bureaucrats are the ones who came up with the centers and they made it all spin out of control.  It wasn’t his fault.”  She realized her voice had become shrill.

“I sense some unresolved guilt there in your response…”

God, how she hated it when the millennials went into their psychobabble.  Next, he’d want to talk to her about her self-esteem.

“I’m not guilty of anything,” she snapped.  “I’m one of God’s children, and He has washed my sins away.”  She turned and left before he could say anything else to her.

***

It was on the way back, the ride to her tiny rented room, that it hit her hard.  She would never get her house back.  It was so unfair.  All because of one mistake she made.  One little mistake!

And, for the life of her, she would never figure out what that one mistake was.

“My Secret Service men are unattractive.  Why can’t I have cute Secret Service men?”

“Please, Melania.  I got enough problems.”

“Oh, Donaaaaaald…”

King Donald sighed.

“It’s so cold today, Donald.”

He hated them.  He hated them bigly.  Not only had the Democrats gained control of Congress, but the very first bill they passed was the cruelest blow of all.  It required that he had to spend at least 80% of his time every year right here in D.C., and so did the rest of the Royal Family.  No more Trump Tower.  No more Mar-a-Lago.  Just the dinky old White House.

There were some misgivings about how much that would limit King Donald’s overseas diplomatic travel, but then everyone remembered that he embarrassed the country that much more when he went on foreign trips.

His first impulse was to shout “Off with their heads!”, but despite his stunning re-election victory, he didn’t quite have the power to do that yet.

“I really don’t like living here.  The decor is so drab.  It’s so…there’s not enough gold.”

Queen Melania was right.  But did those lowly Congress-sheeple appreciate all the work he had done in Florida?  His Palace was going to be the best and the biggest.  Like one of those old French ones, or maybe ancient Roman.  Didn’t matter to them–they kept whining about how staying at the White House was a “national tradition.”  They gave dramatic speeches and quoted that “of the people” bit about the government.  He was totally acting like a ruler of the people!  He could help Americans even better from a Palace!  Why didn’t they understand that?

“It’s time.”  The Queen took his hand stiffly.  “Let’s do this right now.  I want it over with.”

Yeah, there was that–one more little stab at his self-respect.  It was a small amendment inserted into the bill.  It stipulated that he must meet with at least one citizen who had voted for him every day–chosen by random lottery, to ensure he didn’t simply select his wealthiest supporters.

They took the elevator down to the tiny room they had set aside for audiences with their subjects.  The couple was already there, waiting for them.

The woman was very excited.  She had poofy hair and was wearing an ill-fitting business suit.  She grabbed Melania’s arm.  “You’re so beautiful!  I love you so much!”  The Queen wrinkled her nose in distaste.

The man was wearing a baseball hat and a shirt with an eagle on it, and King Donald could swear he was staring at him with suspicion.  He nodded at the King.  “Nice to meet ya,” he drawled.  “Lookin’ forward to you finally buildin’ that wall someday.”

That’s when the break came.  The small, wary eyes of that man–one of his constituents–caused the King to make one of his infamous impulsive decisions.  He couldn’t deal with these people anymore.  He didn’t care how anybody would feel about it.  He didn’t care about the Constitutional amendment he himself had pushed through, removing the term limits on his presidency.

This was urgent.  He would tweet about this first thing tomorrow.  No, today.

He was never running for God Emperor again.

So, it’s been a month, and progressives and Democrats have been hearing a constant refrain–that we need to reach out to Trump supporters, to try to understand the forgotten working-class base in the heartland of America which voted for him.

That is a very good point.  We do need to do that if we want to win the next election.  There is only one problem for me:  I don’t really want to know or understand the Trump voters.

This is not the wisest attitude to have, and I guess it marks me as an elitist of some sort. But I don’t care.  I don’t want to know why people continue to support Trump and overlook all the things he’s already said and done when it comes to women, immigrants and Muslims. When I recently visited a website where the deplorables gather to chat, I saw plenty of caricatures of yarmulkas and hooked noses, and references to Reichsfuhrer Trump. Blaming the Jews for your own economic woes is an age-old tradition.  The Trumpsters clearly feel the need to scapegoat someone for their own miserable situation.  What can I possibly say to them about that?  How would I change their mind?  I could suggest changes to the political and economic system which would make their life better, but these are the same people who thought Obama was a Marxist and the ACA was a government assault on their liberty–and frequently voted against their own health insurance coverage.  What does one do when faced with such ignorance?

Not to mention that in order to reach out to the Trump voters, I would have to find them where they live.  Thing is, I love my urban bubble.  I have little interest in going too far beyond its protective shield.  I’ve lived in the rural world before and I’m grateful to have escaped it.  I have no desire to move to a place where my neighbors give me the side-eye just because I don’t attend the same church they do and behave in ways they don’t consider “normal.”

Again, this does not bode well as a political strategy.  Democrats did get the popular vote in 2016, but the Democratic electorate is clustered in a few major metropolitan areas, mainly on the two coasts, and that’s not the way the American electoral system works. Hence the idea that progressives should transplant themselves to swing states.  If only I could convince myself to be enthusiastic about a midwestern or southern swing state….

The progressive movement certainly needs ambassadors right now to take its message across the country.  Unfortunately, I’m not that person.  And I wonder how many of my fellow liberal bubble-dwellers are willing to do the difficult work of outreach.  And if that work doesn’t get done, what will 2020 look like?

This blog post dedication goes out to a very special presidential candidate…and the way he’s changed my life.

As some of you may know, I work in the health insurance industry, for a local company which shall remain nameless.  Yes, it feels paradoxical to be working in that field when I’m a supporter of a single payer system, but that’s life for ya.  Working in insurance may seem like the most boring career path ever–I’m like Kafka without the brilliant novels–but over the years, I’ve enjoyed my job and found some good friends among my co-workers.  It’s been a nice stable paycheck, and I was hoping to keep working there for years to come.

And now the company I work for is imploding.  Why?  Well, there are multiple factors, but a major one stands out.

When insurance companies agreed to join the Obamacare exchange, the government promised them payments from something called a risk corridor program.  This was meant to compensate them for the fact that they would be taking on a large number of new customers who had been uninsured for a long time, and thus would be very sick and would need costly treatment.  This turned out to be true, and costs for the industry have been even higher than expected.  If anything, this is evidence for just how broken our healthcare system was previous to the Affordable Care Act.  All these newly insured Americans are now finally receiving care for medical conditions they were often forced to neglect because they couldn’t afford to have them treated.

I certainly do not expect sympathy for insurance companies in this scenario.  However, the risk corridor payments were supposed to make the transition to Obamacare smoother and keep the health care infrastructure from falling to pieces.  Supposed to.  But only 13% of the risk corridor money which was promised has been paid out.  And it’s all because of that one very special guy.  Yep, Marco Rubio.  Marco cut most of the risk corridor money out of the budget, and he’s very proud of it.  He brags about being the only conservative who has truly succeeded in damaging Obamacare.  Because it’s so much more important to stick it to the President than to allow Americans access to health care…

So now, insurance companies across the country are going out of business, employees are facing layoffs–and the truly frustrating thing is that Obamacare is getting the blame.  I’m hearing it myself around my own workplace.  It’s easy to think that it’s Obama’s fault, if you haven’t heard all the facts.  Rubio knew what he was doing.

Okay, so saying that I’m not voting for Marco for President is a bit of an empty threat–it’s not like I was going to vote for him before.  Still, I’m definitely never voting for him now. Not for dogcatcher.  I’d gladly vote for Bernie over him.  A shoe could be running against him and I would vote for the shoe.  Call it a personal grudge.

Say it with me, everyone:  elections have consequences.  Think there’s no difference between the candidates?  Think it’s not worth your time to vote?  Nope, nope, nope.  My future, and the future of almost 2,000 other workers, hangs in the balance right now because of the actions of one man.  Vote like the quality of your life depends on it… because it does!!!

If so, then that makes me very happy.

Oregonians are an independent bunch and we don’t take too kindly to out of state big money trying to come in and influence our elections. It appears the Koch brothers found our local Senate race between incumbent Jeff Merkley and Republican challenger Monica Wehby to be of interest to them. Over a million dollars has been spent on anti-Merkley ads by one of those shady PACs with a patriotic euphemism for a name–this one called Freedom Partners. No surprise here–it turns out the board of directors for Freedom Partners includes high-ranking executives with Koch Industries. The ads slammed Merkley for his support of Obamacare and the fact that he voted to raise the debt ceiling.

Well, the latest news is that Freedom Partners will probably be giving up their funding of the anti-Merkley campaign in October. Most likely because it hasn’t worked, the race isn’t any closer, and people in Oregon will continue to vote Democratic.

Good. This is a deep blue state, Kochs. Get the hell away from it and don’t let the door hit you on the ass too hard on your way out. If the Koch brothers consider Oregon a hopeless case, then that gives me another reason to be proud of my home.

It looks like my native country of Poland is just as politically divided right now as my adopted home country of the United States.  In last week’s EU parliamentary elections, the two main rival parties received the exact same number of seats–19.

The party which is the “winner” of the election–with only 32.8% of the popular vote–is Platforma Obywatelska (PO) or Civic Platform, a center right party.  And this may be the one time that I will be excited about the right winning an election.  Because PO is–there is no other way to put it–the sane party.  They are right wing in a very moderate sense–perhaps this is what the Republicans in America used to be like, or wish they could be like again.  They are interested in free markets, open to Poland being a part of the European community and the economic benefits that can bring to the country.  They have previously come out in favor of privatization and deregulation, but have been in charge for the last few years and privatization has only happened on a small scale.  They don’t seem to be interested in dismantling society.

On the other hand, there is the opposition.  Prawo i Sprawiedliwosc (PiS)–the Law and Justice party.  It’s a bit unclear to me if they would be considered left or right by American standards.  What they are, more than anything else, is religious.  PiS followers are fervent Catholics.  They are nostalgic people of the sort which wants to wind the clock back to a better time in the past, in this case possibly back to the Middle Ages, when the Church was safely in charge and the priest was the ultimate authority figure.  Hence their opposition to Poland’s involvement in the EU–they don’t want Polish culture to be influenced by all that Western moral decadence, with its pesky feminism and pride parades.  This would also be why some Catholic right talking heads have actually expressed support for Putin’s expanding influence.  Sure, Russia may endanger Polish sovereignty, but at least it doesn’t have gay rights.  The spiritual scene in Poland has become a lot more diverse since the fall of the Iron Curtain, with Buddhists and pagans popping up, and PiS followers are not big fans of that.  While we’re at it, they would also prefer it if women would step back into the kitchen where they belong, thank you very much.  This would mean no rights to abortion or contraceptives, and a proposed tax rebate for each successive child, to encourage Poles to continue following the Catholic big family model.  There is definitely a populist streak to the PiS platform–they are in favor of welfare programs and at one point made promises of a large-scale guaranteed housing project for Polish families.  This is where your average American observer might get confused.  PiS essentially combines social conservative values with some progressive safety net ideas.

Funny thing is, the Civic Platform party isn’t that terribly liberal about social issues either.  But they are closer to the middle, which has caused them to be accused by Law and Justice of being depraved and sinful heathens, ready to take Poland over the brink into heresy, which is enough to recommend PO to me.  And I guess there’s the similarity–whether in Poland or America, elections aren’t about voting for the party you love, they’re about picking the less crazy option of the two.