What a Hell of a Way to Die podcast and how 2020 is radicalizing The Normies
A leftist veteran perspective on where we’re pivoting politically
Earlier in the month, I chatted with the two hosts of the podcast What a Hell of a Way to Die. The podcast is lead by two former Midwest dudes who are veterans that now espouse leftist ideologies. It probably shouldn’t be such a surprise to find men who’ve served in the military who can accept progressive positions and react with regret toward their former service, but it still comes off as something of a unicorn situation.
In 2018, I became obsessed with the show. A longstanding conceptual issue I’ve harbored has been “Why does only The Right own Patriotism?” Shouldn’t it be patriotic to do everything that exemplifies the concepts of our country including, say, kneeling in peaceful protest at the anthem and thinking that we all deserve universal healthcare?
Nate and Francis and their work at the show help show what I think even Midwest folks can believe is a responsible, better, leftist future. With the protests and uprising occurring right now, I wanted to chat with them about what the pandemic and new civil rights movement might be awakening folks to new political possibilities.
Here’s our conversation from earlier in July:
Brock Wilbur: Francis, I don’t know if you saw the piece we put up this week, but our home state of Missouri, it turns out, is the number one importer of fireworks in the entire country.
Francis Horton: Before my wife and I lived together, I lived in a duplex with my buddy Roy and you could walk from her house to my house in about ten minutes or so. Her street was a small one-way street, and that year it seemed like everyone on her street spent a thousand dollars on fireworks. I was on my porch watching the plume of smoke coming from her street. Nothing was on fire, they just shot off so much stuff. The next day, they were all out there with snow shovels, shoveling up stuff and dumping it into trash cans. So, I am surprised but not surprised by that, that’s a statistic I’ve never thought about. Just around here, we consider 4th of July going from the 10th of June until sometime in early August. That’s when fireworks finally taper off. I don’t get mad about fireworks until it’s, like, September. Then I’m like, “What the fuck, guys? You should’ve used all this stuff up.”
Brock Wilbur: We are starting to see the same that’s happening on the coasts, where our various counties around Kansas City are being like, “There are no fireworks because of Corona concerns.” I was like, “Yeah, you can just cancel everything. Everyone I know has this big armory of big sky bang-bang lights. It’s fine. We’ll be fine. Cancel the city versions of this and we’ll be okay.”
Francis: Oh yeah, and even last night they were out shooting the big mortar tube things and it’s like, what are you going to do? Call the cops? The cops aren’t going to come out. Here’s what you do: you give the dog their tranquilizers and you enjoy the show. Hey, these people spent a bunch of money to shoot off stuff, and—for me, I partially want to see what’s going on, and partially I’m trained in trauma/medical so in the event that I suddenly hear and explosion and screaming, I want to be already outside ready to run and already have a tourniquet coming out.
Brock Wilbur: Gentlemen, what is your history with the military, and how did you get where you are now?
Francis: I joined when I was seventeen years and three months old, mostly because I had no real plan for post-college. I spent a lot of time in high school smoking weed and not studying, so you can imagine the scholarships weren’t exactly pouring in. Everybody else in my family joined the military at some point or another, so I figured it was my duty. I joined during peacetime before 9/11, when the military budget was being slashed and there wasn’t a whole lot going on. Maybe you’d catch a deployment to Bosnia or something but nothing beyond UN peacekeeping missions. Then, of course, war was declared, and I kept re-enlisting because I had no better prospects at the time. I finally decided to start using my GI Bill but it was easier to do it while I was in. I did a deployment to Afghanistan in 2004, in 2009 I went to Iraq and re-enlisted because I only needed another 6 years before getting to retirement. I’m at retirement, and my heels are dug in and I’m getting out. Between coming back from Iraq and today—which is roughly nine or ten years at this point—obviously, my politics have vastly morphed.
You see enough of your friends get messed up and you see enough of yourself get messed up, you look back like, “We did it all for a good cause,” and you discover that no, we actually didn’t. Nobody knew what they were doing and a bunch of assholes are getting rich while people who may not have seen themselves having any other prospects get hurt or killed or have damage mentally or physically. You just think, “Well, that was pretty fucking stupid.” So, it took a long time for my reality to get slapped into play. My life just revolved around smoking, drinking, and a constant low-grade depression that never went away. Once you start paying attention to things, you start to realize that things are fucked up and I’m actually a part of that problem. I started to move to being more of a solution instead.
Nate Bethea: So for me, I got offered a scholarship when I was a senior in high school. I signed the contract when I was a sophomore in college when I was 19. I also started to have some concerns about the way things were going not too long after. I was raised in a military family, my mother and father were both Army officers. My mom got out right after I was born, but my Dad stayed in until I was about 13. My mom’s side of the family, everyone had been in the military—her British family had also been in the military, her father retired as a Chief Master Sergeant in the Air Force, he was a senior enlisted guy. My dad’s father was an engineering officer at the intermediary period between the world wars. My grandfather was a battalion commander in Vietnam.
My dad was in the military but he never deployed to combat. He was at the axe murder incident in South Korea; the DMZ in 1976, he was there for that. So, I grew up with this influence of the military being a good thing. It was less that I was pushed toward being in the military than it was a natural interest. I was encouraged, and there was also never any pushback, like, “I think this is a bad idea.” I actually made up my mind to join the military before 9/11. I had planned on being a Navy officer, but I got turned down for a Navy ROTC scholarship, and I didn’t want to study engineering because my grades weren’t that good. The Army was like, “You’ve got a fucking pulse and you play sports—dude, you’re in.” I got offered a scholarship to Indiana University, and I took it. I really had this belief that, as an officer, I could make a difference, that the intentions were good and we were just trying to make the best out of a bad situation. I went to an Airborne infantry unit as an officer in Alaska in 2008, and a year later I deployed to Afghanistan. I was there for a little over a year, and I experienced a lot of things in Afghanistan that forced me to confront this idea that the institution was always trying to do the right thing. In one particular situation, I was in a position for me and one of my NCOs to triage a kid who had been wounded in a suicide bombing. But because he was a civilian, we were not allowed to call a MEDEVAC because they were like, “He’s probably going to die, we can see exposed brain tissue, we can’t save him anyway.” I was like, “Great, but I’m not a medic.”
So I’m not sure if the information I’m passing onto these people is correct. So they let him die, and that really shattered my faith in the institution. Three weeks after that incident was the deadline for me to apply to be a Green Beret. If you’re an officer, you can only go to selection during a particular period early in your career. I had a lot of encouragement from my battalion leadership and my friends, and I kind of gave in and applied. I got selected, I went to Fort Bragg for Special Forces selection in March 2011, then I went into the training program. What I discovered was that I had profound anxiety issues that kept getting worse. I hadn’t really felt them when I was getting deployed to combat, but it started when I came back for good in the beginning of 2010. They never got better, there was no real way to treat them in the military without– basically, if I got put on heavy-duty medicine, I would have to withdraw from the program. I kept progressing through the program and I finally had this epiphany that I didn’t want to do this. I had this realization that I was supposed to go to the group that pretty much uniformly in Latin America, and I’d worked in Latin America, I had done a six-month duty assignment before I went to selection. I realized that I would have supported the Sandanistas, and I was supposed to be the guy that trains the Contras. I realized that I was on the wrong side of things. There was no bell to ring, but I basically rung the bell and quit the program.
Weirdly, I had gotten home after they sent me back to Fort Bragg, I realized that I had quit three years to the day after that incident in Afghanistan, without ever knowing it. I hadn’t been keeping track of dates at the time. So, I went to Korea, I served a little over a year in Korea, and I quit the Army. I went to graduate school in New York City. I was in the unit that Bowe Bergdahl served in. I was there for his disappearance, I was part of the manhunt, and I got involved writing about the experience when there was a huge scandal. I guess the best way to describe it was, “more information kept coming out that kept revealing in summation just how much of an idiot you would have to be to believe that the institution would have ever intended on doing the right thing.
Obviously, that’s a very naïve thing to believe, but I’m an American kid raised in an American family where everyone is military. All I ever got was that the institution always does the right thing. So, my politics shifted towards left-ish. After I got out and the torture report got released, all of this stuff had happened that accelerated the war in Libya, the stuff happened in Syria, I saw the creeping fascism that I had been worried about since I got back from Afghanistan and the Tea Party thing was happening and metastasized into the Trump phenomenon. I gave up on the idea of a liberal center. I gave up on the idea of accommodating these forces and the idea that incrementalism could solve anything. I never really had any desire to go back; in April, I’ll have been out longer than I was in. I absolutely went from an All-American kid to being a leftist Antifa shit-poster. A lot of that was just borne of my own personal experience.
Brock Wilbur: Having known both of you and your stories, you’ve both had what I’d consider very middle-of-the-road experiences with the military, nothing terrible, but also, you’ve both had things that can cause PTSD and you’ve both had memories of tragedies and things that happened. What was the point where you were like, “Hey, we’ve got to go left on this, that’s the solution”?
Francis: I don’t think it was any one moment, it certainly wasn’t in the military itself. I’ve always been centrist in some ways, and I wasn’t doing the research to know exactly what was going on. In another world where I don’t pay attention to politics, I’m holding that sign that says, “We should be at brunch right now.” That whining Democrat-like “We did a protest! Everything is solved!” It wasn’t until you start doing the work—you get shown something here and there. My biggest catalyst was learning about Pat Tillman and really digging into the cover-up that the military did, the lying that the military did, the fact that Pat Tillman hated the idea of going to Iraq, he thought that it was an illegal war, and that if Pat Tillman was here with us today, he’d very much be a voice of leftist veterans.
Brock Wilbur: He’d have been a great co-host on your show right now.
Francis: I think he would be able to command a bit better. I remember when he died, and it wasn’t until ten years alter that someone was like, “Oh Pat Tillman was killed by friendly forces.” I was like, “Hm, so it was accidentally?” and they’re like, “Was it???” Maybe it’s that rabbit hole of conspiracy, but you start to see the cracks in the armor which is why now, twenty years in—what do we have in the news right now? Bounties, Russian bounties. There’s a lot of people who are very upset: how could the government betray us? How could they let this go? I was like, “I don’t know if you know anything about the history of the military.” Go back to the Bonus Army, when they sent the Army to shoot the Army. Go back to 2004 when they were forcing me to take anthrax shots that had horrible reactions and were not given the greenlight by the FDA. Look up MK Ultra, and MK Delta. While there are conspiracies around it, these are things that existed. These are things that happened.
You just start to realize that the government doesn’t care about you. It does in that handshake kind of way, let’s have the Blue Angels fly over. But if you stand and say, “Hey, I’m having problems with alcohol and drugs because of the war you sent me to,” they’re like, “You can go to this VA but we’re going to start defunding those. You can maybe do a VA choice thing, but those are always in flux.”
I have had good experiences with the VA, but I know a lot of people haven’t. And the VA has had their legs cut out from under them because people want to privatize it and make money off of it. When you start to see that and you start to see that—when you’re at a certain class level, which is us, the working class, a class that owns no capital, we own nothing that generates income. We have this podcast, but we’re not renting stuff out. We’re not owning businesses that have large incomes or anything. What exactly is it that I have to offer? It’s just your body. Your body, your time, and your labor. People are going to take advantage of that as much as possible. That’s where it clicked for me; I am a thing that helps generate money for other people. No matter where it is, no matter if it’s at my regular 9-to-5 job, whether it’s in the military, all of these things are done to make somebody else money. It’s making me some money, but it’s not making me a lot of money. What’s the point of the money? What’s the point of the military? What’s the point of my 9-to-5? That’s when you really get—you’ve got to be careful, because you start steamrolling yourself way too fast and start sliding into being an anarchist, which is not a bad place to end up, but you’ve got to slow your roll and get there at a gradual pace.
Brock Wilbur: Would either of you consider yourselves accelerationists or no?
Francis: I don’t want to see the country fall apart. I would love to believe that Joe Biden will get elected and maybe we’ll have four years of that, then he’ll decide he doesn’t want to keep running and we’ll get a Democrat who does have some kind of progressive values. I know the trajectory of humanity is towards progressive policy. It is towards being better, and sometimes it takes a violent revolution, and I don’t want that because while it’s cool to read about Russia in 1917, I would hate to be a Russian in 1917. No matter where I’m at, whether I’m a royal, a Bolshevik, a humble potato farmer trying to get by, you don’t want that because people are going to die. I want to hope that we don’t have this, “Well, we’ve just got to run the airplane into the ground so that we can rebuild it.” That doesn’t necessarily make something better.
Nate: Yeah, we can always get worse. I may be a little more hardline than Francis, I do wat a revolution, but I don’t want a violent revolution. My goal in American politics is to end the suffering, to end the indignity and misery everyday people are experiencing. To answer your question, I had a lot of things. I was in combat, it was a rough deployment, but nowhere near as rough as the one they had in Iraq during the surge. What I experienced was pretty radicalizing, and it’s weird because I had this soul-crushing black pill sensation of what my future would be in the Army.
Bear in mind, I continued in the Green Beret program until I quit but a lot of that was just peer pressure and inertia. When I came back from Afghanistan and we had 30 days of vacation after deployment, we had to do a bunch of inventories of people’s protective gear because there was a bad lot. There was a bad series of ballistic helmets that we had worn in combat. So we had worn these things, they had done an inspection when people had rotated through Kuwait for mid-tour leave. We got back and we were like, “You need to check your helmets because this lot of helmets was released without passing the standard of protection and this is part of a joint investigation with the DoD and the manufacturer of the joint prison-defense industries.”
What I realized was that the fucked up helmet I used in Afghanistan had been made with prison labor in America. It felt like I needed to sit down and not stand up for the rest of the day. That, I think, was a moment that clicked with me as to how toxically fucked we were, in so many ways. My mental health got worse and I ended up being the sole financial caretaker for my brother when he was recovering from a severe mental health crisis. I was the one thing keeping him from being homeless. He was living in New York City because on Medicaid in New York, he could get the care he needed without going into debt, but the cost of that was living in one of the most expensive places in America. So I suddenly went from being a contented grad student to someone who was caught up in a situation where you realize that there is no way to come out ahead. Then Trump got elected three months later, so it’s been one nonstop freak-out since then.
Brock Wilbur: The thrust of this article was the idea that holy shit, in the last few months, America has been catalyzed in a way that—I thought we were going to be radicalized at the start of quarantine and everyone realized healthcare and everything else here is fucked in a way that there’s no support network—maybe socialism? But it didn’t happen then, and it’s starting to happen now with police protests and the realization that everything that I care about in the world is tied to one thing, and that’s why everyone cares about it. Do you guys see this is an opportunity for America to get better or smarter, or is this a non-starter?
Francis: I think COVID-19 is showing us that America will never become smarter on purpose. The amount of people who can look at a chart and say, “Look, our line goes up and everybody else’s line is going down. Our line is up but people like you are saying that you’re not going to wear a mask. So you should wear a mask, right?” They’re like, “Ah, I don’t think that. I can smell a fart through my mask therefore, could it really be stopping anything?” But the lines, man, the lines are doing the thing because you’re not doing the thing. So I don’t hold out any hope for America getting any smarter.
Nate: I think that you’re starting to see the waves of evictions that are going to start happening. That’s going to be more radicalizing because, in a lot of ways, people who are already on the precipice because of medical condition and the whole fucking medical system in America are pretty much already radicalized, even I they don’t have a particular doctrine to follow. They already realize that the system is a charnel house. I think that the government refusing to support people with the bailouts or money to say home—the fact that states opened up early and now they’ll have to close again, the death toll, and the fact that folks are going to start getting evicted by the cops who are going to throw flash bangs and are going to abuse them in service of capital, that’s going to radicalize a lot of people. I think that you are seeing changes in opinion very quickly, but over the last forty years, there’s been this retrenchment of [political reaction, if you will. By that, I mean reactionary hard-right “restore the right of feudal lords” kind of shit.
There’s so much power and so much money, every institution and apparatus and every charity, they’re all tied into capital. I hope, at least, that America’s results in the pandemic will make it very clear to people that this notion of American exceptionalism is not going to save people. It’s not going to stop this. I have seen things changing from afar of course—I’m here living in the UK where things are going pretty fucking badly with COVID. We have one of the highest excess death rates in the world. If you took the British death toll and adjusted it for population size for the United States, the United States would have 350,000 deaths. This might be the only country that’s having anti-Black Lives Matter protests. The forces of reaction are so entrenched here, you have a uniformly right-wing media, on the private side, it’s all owned by Murdoch and it’s stacked with reactionaries. You have a system that’s so tightly controlled that even though the ruling party is fucking things up day in and day out, lying, cheating, stealing, fabricating data, withholding stuff from local authorities, nothing is stopping them. They’re doing fine in the polls, the Prime Minister is fine, they’ve decided it’s Dunkirk spirit or some shit, never minding the fact that Dunkirk was a huge fuck-up. The only reason it wasn’t a huge fucking massacre is because a bunch of guys in boats came and saved them. I see that, and I see America, and I hope it’s an awakening. But I live in a country that’s been ground into fucking dust by austerity for the last ten years and is also faring worse than any other country in Europe, and it’s not sinking in to people because all of the forces of reaction and capital are aligned to make sure that the only people who get blamed for this fuck-up are citizens who just didn’t protect themselves enough. In a way, I’d like to think that America could come out of this better.
But I also recognize the risk that it could come out of it just crueler and meaner and more authoritarian. My hope is with protestors, with people who are fucking fed up, with white people waking up to the fact that literally everything you fucking touch from the day you’re born till the day you die is built on racism. I hope people wake up to that and I hope they don’t stop being radicalized from it. But I don’t think you can look at a situation like this and say, “It’s a given that this is going to happen.” The change can always be a change for the worse.
Brock Wilbur: You took note of who in your neighborhood wasn’t wearing a mask. You took note of who you saw at the local grocery store who was hoarding toilet paper despite the warnings that said “Don’t do this.” You see the people who are pricks right now, like, in my city, there are people who don’t wear masks who seem like they’re trying to get into a fight with anybody who is wearing a mask. I think we do come out of this bleaker on humanity. There are so many people that I actually know that I just want ot fucking punch in the face, and I’ve never had that experience before. Is this what revolution looks like? Does it take this level of anxiety to do this, or should we be better than this?
Nate: I mean, think about the American Revolution, if you really want to call it that. It was a revolution where people realized that they could make more money if they weren’t beholden to a tax authority. But a significant chunk of the American population di not support the Revolution. A lot of people forget this, but during the war, New York City was the capital of the Royalists. I think a third of people in America at the time did not support the revolution at the time and so I think in a way, similar to polling around Watergate—around 50 or 60 percent of Republicans thought that he had done nothing wrong. In any situation, there’s never unanimity, if you will. There’s not this dawning moment of realization where they’re like, “Well, this is fucked, I know who the good guys are, I’m going to be a good guy now.” That doesn’t happen. But I do think that there’s a shift, and I would posit that shift in the following way: Brock, do you remember what would happen if you said, “Black Lives Matter” on your Facebook wall in 2015?
Brock Wilbur: Oh please God, no.
Nate: Now contrast that to what’s happening now. Is that the solution? No. But there’s obviously a shift. There’s going to be people who are holdouts no matter what, and if this is what revolution looks like, I don’t know. The material conditions are going to get worse before it can confront a lot of people who are on the fence about their opinions. Their material possessions are going to get confronted very soon. Here, we’re forecasted to have the worst recession of all developed economies but in the US it’s looking fucking bad, too. In the UK, people rarely get shot with fucking machine guns when they’re getting evicted. So I have a feeling that stuff is going to get a lot worse in America, too. Will that change hearts and minds? I don’t know, but I do believe that a shift is underway.
Brock Wilbur: What do both of you hope that people will shift towards? Leftism/socialism isn’t a thing that a lot of people understand. What are both your lowest floors of, “The is the basic I think that we can come out of this with, this will definitely happen,” versus the sky-high version that you wish would come out of this?
Francis: I’ve had this conversation with my wife a couple of times. Like any political theory, right wingers will just say, “Oh, it’s the left.” The left will say that there are different kinds of leftists: there are Democratic socialists, there’s your anarchists, there’s your Marxist-Leninists, your Maoists. Everybody has different end goals. Some people want the Star Trek fully-automated space communism, some people want a horizontally—Everybody has a, “In five hundred years, what do you hope for?” For the most part, most leftists, on the “tomorrow front,” have the same kind of goals. Tomorrow, we want people to have a place to live. Tomorrow we want to make sure that people don’t go bankrupt because they have to go to the hospital for something.
For me, that’s my baseline. I want people to have some sort of common decency of acknowledging that the person next to you isn’t some person from a different world. They’re a person. They may be in your neighborhood. Maybe they’re homeless or transient person, but they are all still people and they all still deserve a measure of dignity. Nobody should be homeless if they don’t want to be homeless. People don’t live in their cars on purpose, they don’t live in tents on purpose. People don’t get addicted to drugs on purpose. There are reasons why people get into these things. A lot of times, it’s because we live in a hellish world where there’s past abuses or there’s things wrong with peoples’ brains and they don’t get to go things fixed so they can live content lives and be productive. For me, the bottom baseline, if you’re not for free healthcare that includes medical, dental, eye, and mental health, then I don’t have anything for you. We can afford that. It’ll actually be cheaper in the long run to do that.
Also, some kind of “If you need housing, we will get you into housing. If you need to break an addiction cycle, we will help you do those things.” Not some twelve-step program necessarily, juts options. Because you’re worthwhile, you’re not somebody I want to see dead. That is where my baseline is. I don’t care if you end up becoming a socialist down the line or if you just maintain yourself as a centrist lib, but you should knock the whole “affordable” out of it. It’s affordable because it’s free. Everybody gets it for free. The way to end homelessness is to put people in houses or to do things or people who need a house. Like Nate said, we’re going to be seeing waves of eviction coming. It’s already starting. The government gave us $1200 for three months of this outbreak, which doesn’t really help anybody in the long run. It’s a small little thing that is nice, but people are going to get kicked out of their houses. We’re opening things up and people are going to die because of that, and if they don’t die, they’ll get slapped with hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical bills depending on how sever their cases are.
They’re going to pass it onto people, they’re going to pass it on, and they’re going to pass it on. My biggest baseline is if you don’t believe ewe should shut everything down and give every American $4000 minimum a month, no questions asked, everybody stays at home, essential workers get hazard duty pay and all of the PPE they need. If you don’t think those things are feasible, I don’t have anything for you. People are going to say, “Oh Francis, what you’re talking about is radical,” but it’s not. We already see that these things aren’t radical because we didn’t do them and look where we are now. We are the big line that goes up while everyone else is the big line that goes down. Now, beginning of July 1st, the president has come out like, “Oh, I love masks. They make me look like The Long Ranger.” We’re slamming the door on the barn while the horse is already gone, but then we’re also dousing it in kerosene and throwing matches on the barn because well fuck it, we might as well burn the whole thing down because the horse is gone. For me, we should ot have these tent cities popping up because people shouldn’t be getting evicted. People shouldn’t be going hungry. Restaurants shouldn’t’ be getting pushed out of business. Our economy is dying. If everyone just stayed home for six months, we could eliminate this and probably eliminate a lot of other things we keep passing around. This is the ground floor of what we should be doing and if you don’t agree with that, if you’re going to look me in the face and say, “Nope, we should be opening up everything,” no.
Close everything, because people are dying. The DOW-Jones line is not as important as the people next to you. I’m sorry. There’s nothing else to it. We can recover an economy. We can dig ourselves out of a hole, we’ve done it before. We can do it again, but you can’t bring somebody back to life. At least I understand the people who just deny it and think COVID is made up—you’re insane, but I understand that you think that these things aren’t real.
But if you’re a person who looks at these things, who looks at people dying, and just say that Nana and Grampa just have to suck it up and shuffle off this mortal coil because we’ve got to get the big line to go up,” you are literally my enemy and I have nothing else to say to you. You have arrived at a conclusion that is based in ignorance, fear, and basic hatred of your fellow man. I’ve got nothing for you at that point.
Nate: I saw an article that was reported from the end of 2019, that I had never read before about the law that was passed under Clinton in the 90s for something called Medicaid estate recovery. Basically, if you use Medicaid in later life for things like nursing homes and social care, the government has not just the right, but the literal obligation to repossess your estate to pay off the debts. It’s mandatory; the government literally holds Medicaid dollars hostage in states unless they agreed to do this. The best state for Medicaid estate recovery was, I want to say, recovers about 1 percent of debts. In most cases, they recover nothing. It’s just wanton cruelty. But if you look at the stories of Black Americans who have fucking fought blood sweat and tears to won their own homes, this is a means of the government to destroy that. Of course, when this passed, Newt Gingrich was like, “We don’t want to continue the cycle of dependency on welfare.” I wish Americans would ask: what the fuck do you pay taxes for? What are you paying for? Everything you do fucks you over, and that money goes to cops in the military and new ways to degrade you and make you suffer because you’re not rich. I want people to come out of this and say, “I refuse to go back to that standard in which everything about the American economy and structure is built on exploitation and is built on the idea that you should be punished for using the things your taxes pay for.”
Francis and I recently talked about this on an episode of What a Hell of a Way to Die, about policing and the ninety different little fucking fiefdoms in St. Louis county. It was widely reported that they made their money off of vexatious traffic tickets and court fees of which the overwhelming majority of victims were Black people. People looked at that I horror, but that’s just the American economy in miniature. I hope people see that. This permanent state of exploitation and violence is the norm and has been since this country was fucking founded. You have a right to refuse. We can afford to take care of everybody who lives in America whether a citizen or not, and the reason we don’t do it is because lots of people with fancy degrees and great haircuts are paid a lot of money by people with more money than fucking God to tell you that it’s impossible, and that you’re crazy to believe that a better world could exist. Don’t get me wrong, I saw what happened in Britain with the last general election, and I’m still kind of in a psychic death spiral from that experience, and I saw how they would bend reality to tell people what they want is impossible, when it’s absolutely possible. I hope Americans realize how they are being fucking had by the ways in which power dominates their lives in America. Capital controls their every breath and I hope, with time and the very obvious proof of thesis that we’re seeing play out, people say no and they refuse.
Brock Wilbur: Do you guys both regret supporting Elizabeth Warren as hard as you did?
Nate: [laughter] No.
Francis: This is libel and slander! This is both spoken and will be in print [laughter]
Brock Wilbur: If this isn’t about socialism or great awakening, do you think that COVID and the protests and the general things that are happening right now either a last great poke at empathy? Is anyone who comes out on the other side of this the best version of what we could possibly be?
Francis: I think that, for all of the pissing and moaning we’ll do about dumb people, obviously that Black Lives Matter movement is gargantuan right now. I see people saying that the cops really are out of control. I see people who were sitting on the fence, off at brunch, as it were, they’re seeing that things are bad, there are changes that need to happen. As much as you’d love to see every revolution be like, “Okay, here it is, this is it, we’re on the precipice of change,” it’s a long hard fight. It always is. People thought Ferguson was going be the big thing, and in 2014, it was. But it was a precursor to something bigger. We see actual change happening. Yes, the establishment is going to do everything they can do to—what do we want? Police reform. What are they doing? Removing episodes of 30 Rock and Confederate monuments. Yes, remove the monuments and blackface, but there is a meat and potatoes thing that we’re still looking for. While it’s going to be harder to get your elected officials to do anything and it always will be, we do see things getting better. We do see people waking up and saying, “This is not right.” When we have a pandemic and historic unemployment, we have very violent police officers that we’re seeing every day, and we see people standing up to these things. We see protests of tens of thousands of people.
That’s not going to be the glorious 1917 Russian revolution some people are hoping for, it does show that, compared to five years ago, more people are yelling about this. Nobody’s a leftist because they aren’t hopeful. Leftists stay losing, constantly. Did we get Bernie? No. Are we moving towards Medicare for all? Not with anybody we can vote for president. Are we moving towards a more just world? When you look at it on a timeframe of twenty years ago versus now, what are we going to have in twenty years? We have something that is a lot better and the hopeful leftist I am believes that in general, everybody wants something better. One day, we will have something better. I wish it could be tomorrow, I want it to be tomorrow, but it’s not going to be. We’ve got to keep working for it, and I think people are willing to do that.
Nate: You’ve got to fight back. That’s what we’re trying to do. I recognize that we’re not super young and in America but I’ll tell you, man: I hear from a lot of people who are military or veterans, and they tell us that the show has kind of radicalized them. We do have people that have reached out and talked to us because they agree, and they’re where we were ten or fifteen years ago and they’re not alone. They realize the wrongness of what they’re doing, and the truth of the system that they’re a part of . We’re not on the show telling them to kill themselves, we’re telling them to be honest with themselves about what they see and what they do, and get out or don’t join so that they can extricate themselves from the machine. All it will do it continue to grind bodies into dust to the tune of a trillion dollars a year. We want to stop that.
I’m not proud of my service, I did the bare minimum. But I am proud of the fact that we’re trying to parlay that experience into an opportunity to reach people and maybe get more people radicalized and politicized so they, too, get out, and that in time, the numbers grow. Whether or not that happens, I don’t know, man. We recently hit a million downloads for the show, which is not huge but for a show as incredibly niche as ours, it doesn’t mean something. We’re going to keep doing it until our voices get out or until we achieve the communist paradise of the future and we don’t need podcasts anymore.
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