Welcome to February (2021)

The back-to-back traumas of 2021’s first month disabused any hope that the surreal horrors of last year would be neatly exiled to the safer confines of history. Less unique aberration than a preview of what lies ahead in our slog through millennia’s third decade, even 2020 would’ve been hard-pressed to predict the new year’s Capitol siege or a second presidential impeachment. 

Our national politics are completely dysfunctional, the democratic system through which they’ve long been expressed has frayed beyond total disrepair, the stock market has been exposed as a precarious fraud for the 38 millionth time, and America has jumped the shark. This is the new normal. This is who we are. And I was apparently too engrossed by yet another paralyzing TikTok binge to notice the moment we rampaged past the point of no return. 

Welcome to February. If tomorrow I’m accosted by a sentient killer robot newly escaped from some corporate R&D lab, my only question of it will be: “What took you so long?” Here’s my rundown of what January introduced: 


— Do you even 25th Amendment, Bro?

Despite your willingness to wax eloquent on the 25th Amendment, we both know neither of us has actually read it. Gimme a sec — OK; just skimmed it. Turns out only its fourth section is germane to recent events, and there’s a gaping ambiguity in it: if the 25th Amendment were ever invoked, who would be commander-in-chief of the armed forces? 

The provision details how the vice president would “assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President,” how the president then would “resume the powers and duties of his office,” and back-and-forth. But who’s in control of the military during this procedural chaos? Don’t presume it’s so straightforward.

Is it still the president, or does the vice president’s written declaration of the boss’s unsuitability somehow magically inject him/her into the chain of command as “acting” commander-in-chief, too? During such a tense period, which of these two can issue the lawful orders that the Defense Department is beholden to execute, and might carrying them out subject servicemembers to Nuremberg-style liability? 

The relevance of this inquiry is accentuated by jaw-dropping public dicta in The Washington Post on Jan. 3, 2021, by the 10 living former defense secretaries who reminded uniformed personnel that their sacred oath of service is to the Constitution, not to an individual. The necessity of that unprecedented maneuver should horrify you. 


— Despite architectural advancements, divided houses still cannot stand

I derive a perverse sense of pride from the fact that the gravest threat facing America is, well, Americans. Unable to dominate us militaristically, economically, culturally, or anything-ly, our most pernicious adversaries finally identified the weapon with which they could destroy us: ourselves.

Using made-in-America social media platforms and integrated network technologies, Russia spent half a decade sewing irreparable discord into the fabric of our national identity via fake news and incendiary partisan rhetoric while concurrently hacking its way into the deepest corners of our business and government sectors.

And we mindlessly swallowed the bait hook-line-and-sinker, retreating into ideological camps demarcated by pink pussy beanies on one side and red MAGA caps on the other. The enemy — gleefully incredulous as we sharpen our knives against each other — now whispers, “Divide and conquer” while we chant “U-S-A! U-S-A!” and crank out an unyielding torrent of progressively idiotic memes. 

Are you equally as appalled by the self-assuredness of a citizen populace whose approach to developing opinions is constrained by whatever information fits in 140 characters? Yes, I’m talking about you.

And I’m talking about me — because I haven’t read a book cover-to-cover since 2006, yet I spend hours a week scrolling through news feeds before publishing a monthly column wherein I convince myself that I know what I’m talking about.


— Facial recognition and our digital pocket spies

By the time Big Brother got his act together, all the patents on social control had already been awarded to the masses. Yes, I fully support law enforcement’s phenomenal policework operating hand-in-hand with everyday citizens mining social media accounts to identify the insurrectionists who desecrated the (barely beating) heart of global democracy.

But at least take a second to note the fraught implication of facial recognition technologies, the citizen database we’ve willfully erected on Facebook, and the ubiquitous permeation of video surveillance via our own devices acting in tandem to record and reveal our every move.

The government might mine this data, the corporations might store this data, but we’re the ones producing it — in fervent search of affirmation through clicks, likes, shares, and commercial convenience.

Whether prosecuted in the courts of law or the courts of public opinion, Americans build the case against themselves with every selfie, every tweet, every check-in.  

Only for want of a mirror did George Orwell misapprehend government as the future’s most nightmarish authority. And so it was that riotous conspiracists confident the government is implanting tracking devices into blood streams via the COVID-19 vaccine nonetheless forgot to disable their own phones’ “location data” settings before breaching the Capitol to flash duck-lips for the ‘gram. Faceplant.


— Right the wrong: Write the unwritten

Are you kidding me we don’t know for sure whether our nation’s chief executive has the power to pardon himself? Extending the benefit of the doubt to Founding Fathers who hadn’t imagination sufficiently cynical to anticipate something so craven, that still doesn’t explain why the issue hasn’t been addressed in a Justice Department memo as similarly dispositive as the one pronouncing sitting presidents immune from indictment.

Clearly, our government has outlived the days when it could run primarily on norms, traditions, unwritten rules, and shared values. 

Figure it out, someone. From the filibuster, to the pardon, to the release of a candidate’s tax returns, to tabulating Electoral College votes, to God knows what else was done according to handshakes before COVID came along and eviscerated that last symbol of decorum, get it in writing.

Step 1: Hang for 30 minutes in a Constitutional Law class. 

Step 2: Write down every inane hypothetical the sharp-shooting troublemakers pose in a bid to stump the professor. 

Step 3: Answer those supposedly implausible scenarios in a statute somewhere and let the political pundits get back to shrieking about the week’s latest hashtag.


— Online gambling, a.k.a. “The Stock Market”

I can’t even right now. I’m sorry, but I just can’t even. We’ll talk about it later.


— With age comes wisdom — but, like, to a point

President Joe Biden was first elected to the U.S. Senate at age 29, six years younger than would be legal to serve in the office he now holds. Meanwhile, on Jan. 12, 2021, California Senator Diane Feinstein filed re-election paperwork with the Federal Election Commission in advance of her campaign for a sixth Senate term in 2024 — when she’ll be 91. Ladies and gentlemen, that is demented.

Leaving completely aside the issue of term limits — I said enough on that two years ago when The Altamont Enterprise published my call for a 24-year term limit on all legislative and judicial federal offices — we should be uniformly shocked into a disbelieving silence that there’s a minimum age to run for office, but not a maximum one.

No one whines “ageism” when a coed is carded before buying cigarettes, or — for that matter — in requiring presidential candidates to have been born before 1987. But somehow it’s impolitic to suggest that nonagenarians consider retiring from Congress four decades after first qualifying for AARP membership? There are “Old Men of the Mountain” young enough to be Senator Feinstein’s sons. 

You know what hadn’t been invented in 1933, the year Senator Feinstein was born? Take a look around you: about 90 percent of all that. I apologize for permitting my irritation to get the better of me here, but why give someone the keys to Congress when you wouldn’t hand over keys to the car?

I’m sorry, that was gratuitous. But I wouldn’t have gone there had Senator Feinstein just gracefully bowed out after 30 consecutive years in the chamber. Good lord. Maybe America’s most populous state should finally give the Baby Boomers a chance, am I right? 


— The imperiled impotence of implausible impeachments 

When Richard Nixon resigned from office in 1973, he avoided membership in what is, therefore, just a three-person club. Presidential impeachment has occurred just four times in our nation’s history — Andrew Johnson (1868), Bill Clinton (1998), Donald Trump (2020, 2021) — but has resulted in zero Senate convictions.

It never will result in conviction. This month will assuredly unmask impeachment as an utterly toothless charade as insignificant as “governmental censure,” which a quick google search will reveal as even more pointless than you could’ve possibly imagined. (With reference to my above call to formally codify certain protocols of government, censure is one of those things they should actually take off the books.) 

In function, the only utility to impeaching a president at this point is to spice up the American History category in Trivial Pursuit; you’ll never secure accountability against a person whom approximately half the populace perceives as their ideological standard-bearer.

If we can’t even trust a binary to assign gender anymore, why do we still see value in a two-party system? Our government was not forged atop the premise that acknowledging the validity of an opposing team’s argument was tantamount to surrender.

Yet here we are, irreconcilably divided by party because blind rage fuels campaign donations and makes us more susceptible to targeted ads. 

The saddest truth of the Capitol Siege is that the insurrectionists were too late; Congress had already been ransacked by the people we sent there to represent us. But sclerotic paralysis and tribal discord wasn’t their fault; it was ours. We’re the ones who demanded combat over compromise. Own it.


— Ain’t no First Amendment in Twitter’s terms of use

In 2021’s first of presumably many “this is why we can’t have nice things” moments, Silicon Valley banned Donald J. Trump from his social media accounts. And, according to research by Zignal Labs, this deplatforming almost immediately resulted in an estimated 73 percent reduction in blatant misinformation. For those of you celebrating this attempt to sanitize the factual record, consider this: You’re next. And my god, you should be.

Last month, The Enterprise published a column wherein I called on local officials to mobilize an effort to do something about Albany’s decrepit Central Warehouse. That conversation immediately migrated to local radio, social media, and email, where it devolved into partisan bickering.

Online, any guess as to how many messages attributed the revolting state of Albany’s Central Warehouse to either Donald Trump or Joe Biden? One out of two. One out of two! Fifty percent of the people who publicly opined on the merits of demolishing the Central Warehouse believed the titular leader of one of the country’s two (relevant) political parties was directly responsible for an otherwise small and unremarkable matter of municipal mismanagement.

Instead of a reasoned analysis of the pros and cons, instead of community discussion about budgets and concerns, I bore witness in real-time to infighting for its own sake, because what used to inspire debate now elicits the only reflex around which we all rally: trolling. 

Welcome to February, where even pessimism is a luxury to which you’re no longer entitled. The order of the day now is pragmatism, and an exploration of what yet can be salvaged. Pick your metaphor: Is America the Central Warehouse, ugly yet enduring? Or is it the coronavirus, lethal yet nearly subjugated? 

Or is there one of you out there who will please, please just email me about a small, simple act of kindness you performed for an American wearing the other team’s beanie, or the other team’s hat?

Because right now I’m going to bed each night believing that the greatest threat to America comes from within, and that Mexico probably wishes it had paid to complete the border wall when it had the chance.

Captain Jesse Sommer is an active duty Army paratrooper and lifelong resident of Albany County. He welcomes your thoughts at .