We live in the dumbest of all possible timelines.
Of the myriad Earths spinning their way through the multiverse, we’re stuck on the one where the Republican Party just cast aside the assiduously conservative Liz Cheney for championing (checks notes) representative democracy, while retaining the walking human resources complaint sent to Washington by the good people of Florida’s 1st congressional district.
In this world, the most popular anchor on cable news is a sentient critter-belt whose primary critique of the Third Reich was their excess of compassionate open-mindedness, yet millions of people hang on his every piece of public health advice concerning the role of vaccines in an insidious plot to something something hamburger gulags.
We are stuck in the reality where hundreds of thousands of Americans died avoidable deaths from a contagious disease because a distressing number of our fellow citizens needed Endless Shrimp™ more than open schools.
Just the absolute most deeply stupid timeline.
It’s no better closer to home, where we find ourselves trapped in a flat circle of everything being 2018 again but this time around instead of musings about whether Mexican restaurants should serve salad, we’re forced to reckon with the housing circumstances enjoyed by the Golden Girls relative to local zoning restrictions. And this is to say nothing of the spectral menace of bulldozers haunting the verdant spaces of our city, warded off only by an ocean of cardboard and hyperbole.
We’ve now had two high-profile mayoral debates hosted by serious journalists that have repeatedly lingered on issues like “are chickens bad” and “why did you pave this road wrong” and this would be silly if only it wasn’t so exhausting. When did Alexandria politics become an endless exercise in reductio ad absurdum? It is not in fact necessary to invent a whole-cloth new political identity based entirely around FOIA’d emails about classical music performances! Have we tried not doing that? We should try not doing that!
This fixation on various local versions of cancelling Dr. Suess is obscuring the fundamentals of a genuinely consequential mayoral race. Simply put – the former mayor should not be in this race. She has articulated no vision for Alexandria, shared no ideas to move the city forward, and barely acknowledged the ongoing public health crisis and immense responsibility of leading an inclusive recovery. She has reemerged in our civic life bearing little more than petty grievances, passing off conspiratorial whispers as a populist calling that she alone can wash City Hall clean with the righteous power of transparency and unceasing open mic testimony.
We are all trapped in 2018 because she never left it.
Listening to the former mayor these past two interminable months, the words that have most stood out are “me” and “my” and “I” and other manifestations of her ego. She frames past collaborative successes as “her” accomplishments, even when she voted against them (hell, especially when she voted against them). This race—by her estimation—is a referendum on her importance and stature, on her centrality to our shared narrative. If not the mayor, she’s just a person standing on your corner.
This is a meaningful contrast to how the current mayor talks. Not to say that he doesn’t talk about “his” accomplishments or have an ego—of course he does, he’s an elected official—but on measure he more frequently frames things around “us” and what “we” or “the city” did. And I think this reveals a deep distinction between how these two candidates view public service.
One of the enduring misconceptions in American democracy is that being a public figure is synonymous with politics is synonymous with public service. That a desire to possess one of these dimensions serves as an indicative proxy for all three, but this is just simply not true. Of these only one is genuinely necessary for the healthy functioning of the republic, yet public service is far far too often the one that is cast aside or neglected in pursuit of the other two.
Our current mayor is a public servant. The aggregate accumulation of his actions emphatically demonstrates his fixation on the “service” part of public service. He has shown over and over—from his psychotically responsive social media habits to his effective advocacy in Richmond—a tireless drive to help people and to solve their problems. He has shown time and again that he is for things and being for things at this particular moment in time—and in a race shaped and defined by those standing against so many things—feels revelatory. The former mayor talks a lot about listening, but listening is not the same as doing – and if you steadfastly refuse to actually do things you are not serving anyone other than those already well and comfortably served by the status quo.
We need a public servant if we are to truly put this plagued year behind us. We need a public servant to ensure we do not fumble away this city’s exciting and prosperous future just now nearly within our grasp. We need a public servant that holds in the core of their being a shared call to service that is the sustaining energy of the people and community that makes Alexandria the rare and uncommon place that it is.
So consider this my public service Alexandria – vote for Justin Wilson on or before June 8. Vote for tackling the issues that actually matter. Vote for being able to ignore local politics again.
Vote for living in a timeline that’s a little less dumb.
– P.C. Publius
May 14, 2021