Thoughts from an empty office

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The author, on the day he was hired for his first mortgage job

I am sitting in my office right now. My desk is bare, only my laptop, my monitors, my phone, and a pineapple coffee mug full of ink pens left. I’ve taken most of my decorations down. Pictures of friends and family have been taken home. The mug my best friend’s daughter bought me for Christmas is packed away. Posters and prints and a Charlie Brown Christmas tree lean against a wall—the last remaining indication that this corner office in this old bank-cum-office-building was once occupied by Skylar Baker-Jordan.

I only worked here for just over a year. I started in June 2018. I will leave in September 2019. It’s the first time I’ve had my own office since I was Student Body Vice President in college. When I had that office—a small, cinderblock cell with fluorescent lights and cheap tile on top of concrete, I thought having an office like I have now—spacious, possibly the biggest in the building—would be a sure sign that I had made it. That I was successful.

I never imagined having an office like this would make me feel trapped.

As most of you know already, I am leaving North Carolina, a state I’ve only called home for 18 months. I put in my resignation at work two days ago after calling my grandparents and confirming that yes, as we discussed, I can move in with them in Tennessee. I’m going to apply for graduate school, try to make some money writing, and cross my fingers that I can figure out a way to find a career that brings me more joy than grief, which is a lot more than I can say for the mortgage industry.

I was never meant to be in mortgages. I moved to Chicago in the summer of 2011 and started applying for any and every job I could find. Six weeks later, I had an interview at Guaranteed Rate, at the time billed as America’s fastest growing mortgage company. I thought it was for a position as a receptionist. I was 25, though probably as naïve as a 20-year-old, fresh from Kentucky and a very dark period in my life. I put on a tan suit jacket, pastel pink dress shirt, and teal tie—all of which I had picked up at a thrift store the week before the interview. I went over to my friend Sara’s apartment to print off my resume, which took longer than expected. Her then-boyfriend sped through the North Side so that I wouldn’t have to take the train (I couldn’t afford a cab). He dropped me off outside this giant brick warehouse which had been reclaimed as a loft-style office space.

It was cold inside, both in temperature and décor. I waited for a nice young woman—no older than me—from human resources to interview me. She explained that it wasn’t a receptionist position, but an interview to be either a sales assistant or an underwriting assistant. Which would I prefer? I had no idea what either of those things meant, but I knew I didn’t want to do anything with sales, and underwriting at least had the word writing in it, so I picked that. Later, a matronly middle-aged woman with a nasally Chicago accent interviewed me. She would later tell me she knew she would hire me the moment she saw me because of my outfit. I stood out, I was bold, and I was charming. I got the job.

That was eight years ago. This was all supposed to be temporary. But over the past eight years I have, but for one nine month exception when I actually launched my writing career, been employed in mortgages. I have risen from an underwriting assistant to a senior, seasoned processor. My loan-level knowledge is, if I do say so myself, profound. Ask me about FHA guidelines, or what Fannie will allow but Freddie won’t. I’m good.

I’m also desperately unhappy.

The only reason I stayed in mortgages as long as I did was because I lived in Chicago and didn’t want to leave. Even though Chicago itself brought me a lot of misery, I relished being in such a cultured and exciting place, and I loved my friends. But there was something else keeping me there, too—the fear of flunking out of the big city. I am a small-town boy from the hills of eastern Kentucky. There’s literally a song about how you never leave there alive. But I did. And my biggest fear was having to go back.

So I stayed in the mortgage industry so I could stay in Chicago. I didn’t want to leave. Leaving meant failure. I didn’t want to be a failure. Finding a writing job was hard, and I could never manage to save enough money to step out on faith and freelance full time. So I kept doing mortgages.

By the end of 2017, though, it became clear to me that I was not going to be happy staying in mortgages and that, at 31, the time had come to shit or get off the pot. I had a choice—try to make it as a writer, or embrace this career I had tripped into quite by accident which I loathed but which I was good and pays pretty well. It’s a choice a lot of us face: excitement or stability.

In 2011 I chose stability. I had been in college on and off for six years, finally graduating in 2010. I was working at a café, living with roommates in an apartment two doors down from my college campus, and dating a closeted fraternity boy. I was stunted. So when I left Chicago, I wanted to make it as a writer, but I also wanted to have a fucking income. My own apartment. A trip to London. A dog.

I got all but the dog. I have two cats instead. Don’t ask.

By 2017, I began to realize I had made the wrong choice. What I should have done when I left Kentucky is go to grad school, get my MFA, and figure out a plan from there. I didn’t do that. Instead I helped rich people buy their third house. For a socialist who believes property is theft, that felt like shit. For a Millennial who thinks healthcare is nice to have, it felt good.

For professional reasons I won’t go into here, by December 2017 it became clear that my job would no longer exist in six months. My boss and I sat down at an Irish pub across from our office that Christmastime and began discussing what we would both do next. He wanted to go to Guaranteed Rate, the company that had first hired but which had laid me off years before and from which I came to work for him. I wanted to be a writer. And so, we decided, that was what we would do.

And then my 16-year-old brother got hit by a bus. And he almost died. Moving to North Carolina was one of the easiest decisions I’ve ever made. He needed me. Our mom needed me. Suddenly, leaving Chicago didn’t feel like failure. It felt like the only right choice. And so, I moved.

I stayed first at the Ronald McDonald House while my brother was still in hospital. When he was released, I stayed with my maternal grandmother. 1 June 2018 I moved into my loft apartment in downtown Jacksonville—a drab military town a few miles inland from the Atlantic. On 4 June of that year I started at my current job, deciding to stay in mortgages because the upheaval of moving and my brother’s accident was enough change for one year. Switching careers at that time seemed not only overwhelming, but also impractical. I was living life in a new town, and I needed to make money and connections quickly. So, here I am.

But over the past year or so, I have also found myself more unhappy and, frankly, more lonely than I have ever been. Processing mortgages in Jacksonville, North Carolina is not the life I want. It is not enough for me. It is not fulfilling. This is not a criticism of anybody for whom it is enough, or who likes this town, or who likes this industry. For some people, this is exciting stuff. For others, the money makes it worth the sacrifices and stress. But not for me.

Shortly after I moved here, I began rereading my high school journal. How hopeful I was. How eager. How I thought everything would be so easy. Seeing how 17-year-old Skylar though this life would turn out compared to how it actually had made me sad, but also angry. How had I wasted so much time? What did I have to show for my twenties except debt and a string of loser ex-boyfriends?

I started to think about what I want my life to be. I’m 33. I’m unmarried. I don’t have kids. The things people usually take comfort in when they realize their childhood dreams haven’t come true are not things I have. I come home to two ungrateful cats and a bottle of Jack Daniels. That’s it.

So I knew I had to make a change, and it was at that point I decided to go to graduate school. I wasn’t ready for the fall of 2019—I didn’t know how much my brother might still need, and I wasn’t sure I had enough money in the bank. So I decided to apply for fall 2020.

My brother has made almost a full recovery. He starts college himself this fall. In talking with my friends and family, I came to the conclusion that since he’s leaving, there is no reason for me to stay here in a town I don’t like and a career I don’t want. This job is stressful—more stressful than I can articulate. And frankly, it paid well enough in Chicago, but the pay here is shit. So, the decision was made to leave.

(I’ll talk more about how that decision was made at a later date, because it’s an interesting story. But it’s not one for now.)

I’ve spent eight years in an industry I hate because I was concerned about giving up the trappings of middle-class life, about being seen as a failure, and frankly, about failing. I’m terrified I won’t get into graduate school. I’m petrified I’ll never make it as a writer. I’m nervous about giving up my immediate financial independence and moving in with my grandparents, because as generous as their offer to support me during this transition period is, it’s still a massive sacrifice for me as much as them. (Okay, maybe not as much as them, as they’re footing the bill here.) To be completely honest, I’m absolutely shitting myself right now.

My decision to resign wasn’t spur-of-the-moment, but my decision to do it when I did was. Again, a story for another time. But despite my fears and insecurities and absolute utter fucking terror, it feels right. I’m more hopeful about my future now than I have been since I was 25. That’s something, at least.

Skylar Baker-Jordan is a freelance writer currently based in Eastern North Carolina. His work has appeared at Salon, HuffPost UK, The Independent, and elsewhere. Find him on Twitter @skylarjordan

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So you’ve elected a national joke. Now what?

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Boris Johnson is the new leader of the Conservatives. Photo: LBC/PA

Well, it was as expected. Boris Johnson handily defeated Jeremy Hunt to be the next leader of the Conservatives and, by the time you’re reading this—he still has to ask Her Majesty—will be Prime Minister. A lot of people to the left of Enoch Powell are understandably forlorn right now. Luckily for you, dear British readers, your American cousins have some experience with electing a national joke as our leader. After two-and-a-half years of Donald Trump, allow me to impart some hard-won wisdom:

  • Go get drunk. The day following Trump’s election, I was in Sheffield. I began drinking at 9:00 AM and didn’t stop until the pub closed. The landlord and his girlfriend actually let me in a little early because they knew how I upset I was. Drinking numbs the many emotions you’re likely to feel—despair, anger, fear, annoyance, a dark sort of amusement at the shitstorm that’s to come—and allows you to, at least for a day, forget that you feel completely fucked
  • Keep some perspective. I didn’t do this after Trump’s election, and I regret it. It made my response to his election less effective and equated more to a temper tantrum than anything else. Don’t make that mistake. Keep calm. Trump is repugnant and Johnson is bad, but neither are Hitler. For now, they can both be defeated through democratic means. Despite how it may feel, this isn’t Years and Years. We’re still about four or five years away from that. Things may seem hopeless, but for now our institutions on both sides of the Atlantic remain intact and are functioning at some level, anyway
  • Avoid the “well I didn’t vote for him”/”not MY prime minister” nonsense. It’s tempting to distance yourself from Boris Johnson, especially since only Tory Party members got to vote for him. Talk about how that’s unfair, if you think it is, but don’t throw your toys out of the pram. It won’t win anyone on the right over and, while it will make you feel better, it doesn’t accomplish much, and this isn’t about you as an individual. It’s about the country as a whole. Keep your eye on the prize
  • Keep a journal. It’s hard to remember every outrage and every terrifying action. Keeping a journal where you mention “today Johnson compared Muslim women to letterboxes” or “he used a racial slur today” is helpful to look back on when you need to remember specific details about why your leader is so awful
  • Watch for entryism. You’ve seen it in Labour with the hard left, and it happened with the Republicans over a few years too, where an emboldened far right joined and changed the trajectory of the party. Keep a careful eye to make sure the Tories don’t tick so far right they end up as UKIP mark two
  • Organise. The Democrats were only able to take the House of Representatives back in 2018 because we pounded the pavement and made the case against Trumpism. Grassroots organising has been vital to helping curtail the worst of Donald Trump, whether it’s against ICE—I see regular social media updates from friends in Chicago about where ICE agents are spotted to help immigrant families avoid them—or against his latest dalliance with neo-Nazis. We don’t always win (Kavanaugh), but we always fight
  • Watch how other Tories respond. Tribalism is arguably worse in UK politics than it is in US politics (or, at least it was four years ago). Will Conservative backbenchers fall in line with every destructive policy Johnson introduces, or will the stand on principle when they really do oppose him? Our Republicans have largely rolled over for Trump, so watch to see how Nicky Morgan, Michael Gove, Jeremy Hunt, Dominic Raab, etc behave over the course of Johnson’s premiership
  • Build coalitions. Keep your eyes on the prize – defeating Boris Johnson. The internecine warfare in Labour needs to end and the party needs to coalesce. Given the real concerns with anti-Semitism, that seems unlikely (and look, hard to blame those against anti-Semitism for not backing down). So look elsewhere. Build electoral coalitions with the Greens and, yes, with the Liberal Democrats if you must. When you’re dealing with a Bannon-backed populist, as Johnson is, nothing matters as much as defeating him. Getting Johnson out of Number 10 and electing a centrist or left-of-centre government is most crucial right now, not ideological purity
  • Chin up. Despite what you might thing, the world keeps spinning. The sun rises in the morning. Ben Mitchell still picks fights on EastEnders. Life goes on, and your day-to-day life won’t change very much. If that sounds like I’m minimising what you’re feeling or the latest groundswell of populism in the Western world, I’m not. But it’s important to keep your wits about you and have some perspective

Don’t be too downtrodden after today. Go ahead and lick your wounds, but tomorrow the fight continues. 31 October is just over three months away, so there’s plenty of work to do in not a long amount of time. Get drunk, and then get to work.

My Dale Peck Problem

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Mayor Pete Buttigieg and his husband, Chasten Buttigieg. Photo: Michael Conroy/AP Images/Business Insider

I’ve had a few days to reflect on Dale Peck’s infamous piece for The New Republic. Bowing to pressure, the website deleted the article, but the internet is forever and you can read it here. Peck spends a full third of the piece speculating on Pete Buttigieg’s sexual role and says, in short, he is unfit for office because he’s going to be a randy old git once he gets to the White House. It was inappropriate, at best, and homophobic, at worst.

The article opens with an asinine and, frankly, pointless anecdote about a run-in with a stalkerish twink in 90s Manhattan. It’s only after this trip down memory lane that, whether you agree with them or not, Peck levels fair critiques of Mayor Pete and his policies. It’s after this, though, that we get into the controversial and problematic bits.

Before we talk about them, let’s state the obvious: Dale Peck is gay. I’ve seen people respond to this fact in three unique ways. One is to say it makes his homophobia even worse. Another is to claim it voids any accusations of homophobia. The final is to shrug it off entirely.

I don’t know if Peck being gay makes it any worse, but it doesn’t mean he can’t himself be an Aunt Mary, the gay version of an Uncle Tom and, ironically, what he accuses Pete Buttigieg of being. And it certainly matters that Dale Peck is gay. Because, whether we want to admit it or not, Dale Peck just spoke to America the way a great many gay men speak to one another, about men generally and about Pete Buttigieg specifically.

Mayor Pete’s historic run for the White House has, undoubtedly, inspired a great many gay men—myself included. I watched his announcement in South Bend and had tears in my eyes. As a gay man, only slightly younger than Mayor Pete, raised in a neighbouring state, I saw in him a lot of my hopes and dreams. The thought of the first couple, Pete and his darling husband, Chasten, moving into the White House, and them possibly adopting children while there, of the world seeing a loving gay couple represent the free world, was and is deeply moving in a way I cannot fully explain.

So a lot of gay people are extremely protective of Mayor Pete (and, by extension, Chasten), some of us so even as we are concerned with his politics. Reading Peck’s column, I found myself nodding along in parts. For the past 30 years gay men, and Americans in general, have been failed by the neoliberal policies of Pete Buttigieg and many of the Democratic candidates. There are concerns about his response to police brutality. There are concerns about his devotion to capitalism. There are concerns about his foreign policy (and lack of any true experience with foreign policy). All of these are fair critiques of Mayor Pete, and had Peck stuck with policy, I wouldn’t be writing this now.

Instead, Peck made it personal. The line that has gotten Peck in the most trouble is about whether Pete Buttigieg is a top or a bottom (and honestly, if I have to explain to you what that means, you’re reading the wrong blog):

The only thing that distinguishes the mayor of South Bend from all those other well-educated reasonably intelligent white dudes who wanna be president is what he does with his dick (and possibly his ass, although I get a definite top-by-default vibe from him, which is to say that I bet he thinks about getting fucked but he’s too uptight to do it)

Yikes. That’s bad. Other than President Clinton, I can’t think of another time there’s been this kind of graphic speculation about a president or presidential candidate’s sex life in a mainstream national publication. There is a reason for that: it is entirely inappropriate.

That doesn’t mean curious minds don’t want to know. Peck’s musings on whether Mayor Pete is a top or a bottom is something many, many gay men across this nation have wondered privately. The topic has undoubtedly come up from West Hollywood to Chelsea, Boystown to Little Montrose. I should know; I’ve had this discussion with gay friends myself.

But the key word, here, is privately. The discussions gay men have over thumping music in gay clubs or at private dinner parties in swanky condos are a far, far cry from the pages of a national magazine. Many gay men understand, as Peck clearly doesn’t, that some things we talk about amongst ourselves should perhaps not be discussed outside the community—and certainly not publicly.

It is also important to note that when most gay men discuss these things with their gay friends, it isn’t done maliciously. We’re not trying to weaponize gay sex against Mayor Pete. We’re not trying to be salacious for clicks or put in the forefront of the American consciousness what Pete Buttigieg does in the bedroom when what Americans ought to be concerned with is what he’s going to do in the Oval Office.

Are we being catty? Perhaps. Are we being crass? Yes. Are we being homophobic? No.

To me, though, that isn’t even the worst thing Peck said or did. Speculating on the sex life of a presidential candidate is sophomoric and tasteless, but the implication that a gay president wouldn’t be able to keep his dick in his pants is straight-up homophobic. Peck mentions the noted phenomenon of gay men going through a sort of “second adolescence” once they final come out. I’m going to level with you, I don’t know if there is any sociological or psychological evidence to back this up, but it is certainly a truism in much of the gay community—mostly older gays.

But it is not a truism to me.

Mayor Pete did not publicly come out until a few years ago. Relatively soon after coming out, he married Chasten. He hasn’t dated anyone else publicly. All of this, to Peck, is deeply suspect.

Is Chasten his first love, as Peck suggests? I don’t know, because I don’t know Mayor Pete. We’re not besties. We’ve never even met. Was he out to family or friends before 2015? I don’t know. Maybe. Did he date before that? I don’t know. Nor do I care.

And I think, here, we come to a great generational divide. I am 33, only a few years younger than Mayor Pete. I came out in 2001, when I was 15. My gay adolescence was my adolescence. To put that in perspective, I have now been openly gay for more of my life than I was in the closet. A lot of gay men Peck’s age couldn’t say that until they were in their 40s or 50s.

When I came out all those years ago, gay marriage was not legal in any state. But I still saw myself growing up, marrying a man, settling down, and having kids. That was what I wanted. Sleeping my way from coast to coast did not factor into my life plans. I came out after Ellen, after Will & Grace, while Queer as Folk was originally airing. Jack McPhee had a boyfriend on Dawson’s Creek. Bianca Montgomery had a girlfriend on All My Children. Gay was going mainstream, and I benefited from that. As such, my beliefs in what my life could look like were shaped by a burgeoning acceptance.

Peck’s… was not. He came out and came of age at the height of the AIDS epidemic. Homophobia was served carte blanche across this land, even in cities like New York. Gay men, and gay culture, was more subversive and immersive, and the rights of passage he and countless gay men experienced were deeply affecting. “I’m not saying I don’t want him to shave his chest or do Molly or try being the lucky Pierre… [t]these are rights of passage for a lot of gay men, and it fuels many aspects of gay culture,” Peck writes.

Except, it doesn’t anymore, at least not for many, many of us. I don’t even know what a lucky Pierre is, and frankly I’m kind of nervous to google it on a work laptop. For a great many gay men, our rights of passage include our first kiss. Our first date. Our first marriage. It doesn’t include tricking our way from Chicago to New York and leafletting in Times Square before partying at Fire Island.

There’s nothing wrong with leafletting or Fire Island. But it isn’t the only way to be gay. As I said, I don’t know what Mayor Pete’s story is. Maybe Chasten is his first love. Maybe he really wasn’t out before 2015. So what? The times have changed. Gays have been domesticated.

In fact, domesticated gays have always existed, living quiet lives in little houses with cute gardens in places like Knoxville and Spokane and, yes, South Bend. They’ve never been to a circuit party. They’ve never snorted cocaine off the belly of a go-go dancer. They’ve never had sex in a port-o-potty at Pride. And that’s just fine!

Just because Mayor Pete came out and married in his 30s doesn’t mean he’s missed out on anything. Not all of us feel like we have. I know that I have 14 years as an out gay man on him, but I see nothing in Mayor Pete that tells me he’s about to have a “gay adolescence” or, what we’d be calling it he were a straight man, a midlife crisis. That stereotype is reductive, it is harmful, and it is wrong.

There is this notion among some in the gay community that if you are not a political gay, you are not a proper gay. By political gay I don’t mean a gay politician—which Mayor Pete is—but rather a gay rights activist who is pounding the pavement and making sure everyone knows being gay is still goddamn hard and a fireable offence in many states. These types of gays are vital to the community, and I count myself as one of them. I am gay before I am just about anything else.

But there is, and long has been, another type of gay man. This type of gay man lives in the heartland, or at least outside major urban centres, and goes to work every day. He’s a cornfed, all-American boy, who marries the boy next door and raises his little dogs and hopes to one day start a family. Maybe he served in the armed forces. Maybe he went to college to study accountancy. He might go to the gay bar, but only if it doesn’t conflict with a family barbecue. He is the majority of gay Americans.

It’s what we ought to want. We didn’t fight for 50 years so that gay men can’t live happy, settled lives. That was the point. You can argue about whether it’s too heteronormative, about whether we’re losing community as a result of assimilation into straight society, about whether this is really liberationist. But at the end of the day we fought for gay men to live their truths out loud, and for a great many of us, that truth is personified by Pete and Chasten Buttigieg. If they’re not a testament to our achievements, I don’t know what is.

Boris Johnson just proved he is Donald Trump’s stooge

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Boris Johnson literally gets a pat on the back from Donald Trump. Photo: Reuters/The Mirror

There was a moment in last night’s ITV debate between Jeremy Hunt and Boris Johnson where the yellow-haired muppet told us exactly what kind of prime minister he will be. Poundshop Donald Trump refused to back Britain’s embattled ambassador to the United States, Sir Kim Darroch, by saying he would “not be so presumptuous” on when Darroch—scheduled to retire in six or so months—would leave his job and that “I alone will decide who takes important and politically sensitive jobs” – a terrifying thought in the best of times.

These are not the best of times, though. They are quite possibly the end times, with Boris’ all-but-inevitable move into Number 10 the opening of the seventh seal, behind the election of Donald Trump, Brexit, the fire at Notre Dame, California earthquakes, and, of course, Joe’s departure from Love Island. The world is already despairing. Yet somehow, the once and future clown of the Conservative Party has somehow made it all worse.

Sir Kim came under fire over the weekend when confidential diplomatic cables he sent back to London, in which he called Donald Trump “inept” and “insecure” and his administration “uniquely dysfunctional,” were leaked in that most reputable and esteemed of publications, the Mail on Sunday. Sir Kim managed to hang on throughout Monday and Tuesday, despite repeated personal attacks by Donald Trump. His position became untenable, at least in his eyes, though when his all-but-guaranteed future boss refused to publicly support him. Boris Johnson’s refusal to stand by Britain’s ambassador to the United States is said to be the driving force behind his decision to resign.

The relationship between Donald Trump and Boris Johnson has long been one of rabid speculation, with many feeling that the erstwhile mayor of London and the current charlatan-in-chief were too cozy. “Boris Johnson is a friend of mine,” Donald Trump said last year after Johnson resigned as foreign secretary. “He has been very, very nice to me, very supportive.” To Trump, being nice to him, being very supportive of him, is what counts. Not right or wrong, or good or bad, or smart or stupid. All that matters is that you kiss the ring.

Boris Johnson knows this, and so last night he gave Trump something he desperately wanted and rid him of that troublesome ambassador. By refusing to support Sir Kim, Johnson basically handed him a P45. Donald Trump could be laughing all the way from the White House toilet.

That Johnson would throw a career diplomat and one of the most senior members of the British Civil Service under the bus to appease the tangerine tyrant is enough to disqualify him from ever even stepping foot on Downing Street. But what’s truly terrifying is what it means further down the road. Last night, Boris Johnson demonstrated two deeply concerning qualities that make the notion of his premiership utterly terrifying.

To begin with is the obvious: when it comes to defending British values and people—whether they’re senior civil servants or run-of-the-mill citizens, as Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe would tell you if she wasn’t starving in an Iranian prison—Johnson will always choose self-interest. As of last night, part of that self-interest is in sucking up to the nectarine Neanderthal currently pretending to govern America.

That is deeply concerning for civil servants and the diplomatic corp. Nothing Sir Kim said was wrong, or malicious, or a lie. It was the stone-cold truth. If our diplomats cannot relay their frank and honest assessments without fear of reprisal, then the Foreign Office cannot function as it should. They perform a vital service, and part of their ability to perform that service is the knowledge that there will be no reprisals for their honesty. This is true not just of diplomats but across the civil service. When the women and men trusted with giving expert advice to the government of the day no longer feel confident doing so, something has gone very awry.

Beyond this, though, is the fact that Boris refused to defend his countryman. If Boris Johnson can’t, or won’t, stand up to Trump in defence of his ambassador’s frank assessment of the situation in Washington, it is unfathomable that he will stand up to Trump on foreign affairs or trade.

Trump is a man who has publicly said that he wants the NHS on the table during any US-UK trade negotiations. We already know that Trump wants to push up drug prices in the UK. Trump wants US companies to have more access to the NHS than they already do, which many fear would accelerate a privistation crisis which has been ongoing under the Tory-led government of the last 9 years.

Given what we’ve seen so far, there is no indication that Boris wouldn’t gladly carve up the NHS on a sacrificial alter of Trumpism just to secure a trade deal for his wealthy friends. His first policy announced during this leadership race was a tax cut for the most wealthy, which tells you where his priorities lie. It is entirely likely that Prime Minister Boris, eager to strike a trade deal with the United States after leading a no-deal Brexit, would do whatever it took to get Trump to the signing table.

Once there, I cringe to think what Boris will do to appease his new boss. What we know he won’t do is stand up for Britain’s best interests. He showed us that last night, and because of it, a career civil servant and one of Britain’s most prominent diplomats was forced to resign. Who will Boris throw under the bus next? Probably all of us.

Well, all of you. I live in America. I’ve had two and a half years to get used to being governed by a bumbling blonde baboon. You become somewhat numb to it after a while, probably because you start drinking all the time. Stock up on wine before you can’t get it through the Port of Dover.

The thing is, though, the British people will have it worse than the American people. Donald Trump is clearly the one calling the shots (though I still think he takes orders from Vladimir Putin – every boss has a boss, they say). Boris Johnson has made clear he’ll do as he’s told. You, in return, get Brexit and higher prescription drug costs. And Donald Trump gets a stooge in Number 10.

 

I’m American – but I want the Lionesses to beat USA in the World Cup

Martin Pengelly is an Englishman living in New England, and he wants you to know that he’s rooting for his adopted country over his home country today as the Lionesses (that’s the England national team for all you Yanks) take on the USA in the Women’s World Cup semi-finals. In some ways this makes sense—his daughters are American, his wife is American, and the American team is inspiring and full of amazing role models for his girls. But he also talks at length about how, frankly, America is a better country than the UK.

Utter rubbish.

I would never dream of criticising Mr Pengelly for cheering against his native land. After all, I’m American, and I’ll be supporting the Lionesses over my own country, just as I have done every time the two national teams have met and in every Olympics since I was old enough to know what the Olympics were.

Why? For the same reasons that Mr Pengelly cheers for Team USA. I think Britain is a better country. England, in particular, feels very much like home to me. I feel like I fit there better.

Much of Mr Pengelly’s argument falls on the fact that Americans can remove their leaders if they so choose, but that the British can’t because their leader is a hereditary monarch. A fair point, I suppose, except of course the crown exercises no real authority, as the power of the crown has for centuries now rested in parliament. It is true the people have no direct recourse to remove a intransigent Prime Minister, but the people’s representatives do, which is basically the same in the USA.

If you’re going to argue for republicanism, fair dos. There are plenty of valid arguments for abolishing the monarchy. That they are some sort of irretractable dictator isn’t one of them. Indeed, if either country is showing signs of an emerging tyrant with monarchical designs, it’s America. Just this past week Princess Ivanka represented us on the world stage—and no one elected her.

By almost every measure, the UK is a better country than the USA. Despite the perception that America is the “land of opportunity” where anyone can “pull themselves up by their bootstraps,” today the US is actually less socially mobile than the UK. The British have healthcare that is free at the point of access in the NHS, which even the Conservative Party has called a “national treasure,” while Americans have to beg strangers online for their lives, raising money through crowdfunding sites like GoFundMe to pay for lifesaving treatments.

Of course, you don’t need a GoFundMe campaign if you’re already dead; America hasn’t gone a week without a mass shooting since January 2014. Just last month, an armed militia threatened to shut down the capital of Oregon. Nothing says “shining city on a hill” quite like armed insurrection.

When it comes to acceptance of gay people (obviously important to me, as a gay man), Britain is also more accepting of homosexuality than the United States, which is much less tolerant than other Western nations (excepting Northern Ireland—or more precisely, the DUP and their ilk—of course). The recent rash of states curtailing abortion access is only the latest example of American misogyny manifesting itself. Britain’s had two female heads of government; America has famously had none. Both countries have problems with racism, and I’ve written about the intersection of racism and classism in the UK, specifically as it manifested in the Grenfell Tower tragedy. But American racism does seem to be more overt, and it is spreading like wildfire.

None of this is to pretend that Britain is perfect or America is some hellhole. Britain has its issues and evils just as any nation does, and America is still a far better place to live than most of the world. We have Trump, you have Boris. It’s not a Christmas cracker on either side of the Atlantic. But from where I’m sitting, the UK does seem to be leaps and bounds better for someone like me—a working class gay man who doesn’t want to get shot or have to beg strangers for money if he is.

That’s to say nothing about the British sense of fair play, of giving everyone a fair shake. Of British nerve and resolve, the famed “stiff upper lip” which I so admire. There’s that pride in the nation’s history without being beholden to it—something the United States could learn with regards to Confederate iconography. And, of course, there’s Danny Dyer. He’s a bleedin’ national treasure.

It’s for all these reasons, and more, that I want to move to the UK, and why today, I’ll be cheering for the Lionesses as they take on my home country. I don’t begrudge Mr Pengelly his love of America, and I’m sure he could write an article that counters every point I made. Honestly, at the end of the day, sometimes these things aren’t quantifiable. Home is where the heart is, after all, and matters of the heart are rarely rational.

We will kick his team’s ass today, though.

Forget winter. Farage is coming

The day after the 2016 EU referendum, I warned that Remainers needed to get on board with Brexit in order to avoid a swell of far-right populism. Looking back, I feel like a Stark on Game of Thrones, saying “Winter is Coming” during a long, sunny summer.

Few, it seems, were listening.

It has been clear for some time that the UK is in the midst of the greatest political realignment since the 19th century. The Conservatives and Labour parties dominated the 20th century, but there is no guarantee they will survive the 21st. This weekend’s European election results indicate they may be in more trouble than we thought. I have never been more sorrowful to be proven right.

The Brexit Party won big, carrying a 10+ point lead over its nearest competitor, the Liberal Democrats. The Conservatives and Labour suffered their worst defeats in living memory, and ChangeUK – the new party founded by former Labour, and then Tory, Remainer MPs – didn’t even crack five per cent.

There is a silver lining for Remainers, in that if you combine the explicitly remain parties (LibDems, ChangeUK, SNP, Greens), they’re practically neck in neck with the combined total of the Brexit Party and the seemingly now-irrelevant UKIP. Still, this doesn’t change the fact that a plurality of the electorate chose to vote for a party who is so adamant on leaving the EU that they put it in their name, led by Britain’s very own Littlefinger. If chaos is a ladder, as Lord Baelish once said, Nigel Farage is climbing it right to the top.

And therein lies the problem. Hearken back to the good ole days of 2015. After the General Election, one of the biggest questions in British politics was what would happen to Nigel Farage. UKIP did abysmally and it looked like his career was over. But like a reactionary Jon Snow, Nigel Farage rose from the political dead, and 2016 saw his life’s mission accomplished. It emboldened him, and today he can claim to be the most effective party leader in the UK.

The risk here isn’t Brexit. Not really. Despite being a lifelong Eurosceptic, I supported the Remain campaign because I couldn’t stomach the people leading the Leave Campaign – a group of hard-right goons who, as was once said of Littlefinger and is certainly true of Farage, would see the country burn if they could be kings of the ashes. I saw the writings on the wall then, and I see them even more urgently now: hard-right populism is on the rise in the UK, and Brexit is the dragon on which it will arrive.

So while most in the Westminster bubble argued over who would sit on the Iron Throne, some of us were frantically trying to get people to pay attention to the threat from the North (of England). A rising sense of disenchantment with the political establishment was emboldening a dangerous new reactionary politics. And now, that threat has arrived. The only thing that kept UKIP from gaining more than one seat in 2015 was first-past-the-post, a system in which the candidate or party with the largest share of votes in a constituency wins that seat. The Conservatives and Labour were the bulwark against such a threat, the two-party system, to beat this metaphor to death, like the Wall keeping out the White Walkers.

But now those two great political parties look like they’re about to fall. They were both decimated this weekend. The Tories are now involved in their own Game of Thrones. The Labour leadership is more interested in appeasing its members than winning an election, leading it to be unable or unwilling to formulate a cohesive Brexit strategy.

All this while Farage and the nefarious policies he represents gain massive political inroads.

It is no longer worth discussing what happens if authoritarian populism becomes mainstream. It already has. So how to nip this in the bud? The answer is simple.

The UK must leave the European Union on 31 October, deal or no deal.

In another Westerosi turn of events, as Theresa May falls, her house words become clearer and more relevant than ever: Brexit means Brexit. It must, no matter the cost.

There are dire consequences to exiting the European Union without a deal, I know. And in some ways, it means Farage and the Brexit Party have won. After all, this is what they want – the UK to exit the EU and default to World Trade Organisation rules. There’s the issue of Northern Ireland and the border. There’s the issue of the millions of EU citizens living in the UK and the millions of British citizens living in the EU. Leaving these issues unresolved is the worst possible scenario, next to not leaving at all.

The alternative is just too grim. If Brexit doesn’t happen, and soon, it won’t just be the European Elections the Brexit Party wins. Every day the country remains in the EU is a day Prime Minister Nigel Farage becomes more likely. Think of what that would mean to the working classes, who would suffer under his economic policies, or to immigrants and people of colour, or to LGBT rights, the feminist movement, or trade unions. It would be devastating.

The only way to turn back the tide of authoritarianism is to give the people what they want and put this issue to bed once and for all. The only way to stop Farage from winning in Westminster is to let him win in Europe.The only way the country can move on from Brexit is to Brexit.

Not doing so is to risk everything. It is clear the British voters want the UK to leave the European Union. A second referendum was held, in a way, and Remain lost again. The choice was the squabbling of the past three years or to just get on with it and leave, and “just get on with it and leave” was so appealing that the country just voted for the Night King.

Skylar Baker-Jordan is an American writer. He writes about British politics and culture and has covered every British election since 2010. His work as appeared at The Independent, HuffPost UK, Salon, the Daily Dot, The GayUK Magazine, and elsewhere. He lives on the coast in North Carolina.

 

Theresa May resigned. There must be a general election

After the 2015 election, I appeared on a political web show as an American journalist covering the British elections. When discussion turned to who would succeed David Cameron, I stated that “after a nuclear holocaust there would be cockroaches and Theresa May.” I wasn’t trying to compare the then-Home Secretary to a cockroach, but rather comment on her staying power. She is the longest serving Home Secretary in more than a century. She seemed an unstoppable force.

Then she became Prime Minister. Number 10—or perhaps more accurately, Brexit—proved the boot which finally crushed her political career. Theresa May has been an abysmal Prime Minister, losing the Tory majority in an ill-planned (for the Conservatives, anyway) 2017 general election and being utterly unable to unite a country deeply divided on Brexit. Indeed, her premiership will be remembered more for tinned soundbites (“Brexit means Brexit,” “strong and stable”) than any actual accomplishments.

Now, a bevvy of unsavoury characters (Boris Johnson, Andera Leadsom, etc) are poised to fight out a tumultuous Conservative leadership contest. The winner will ultimately lead the country out of the European Union. But they shouldn’t, at least, not simply by ascending to Number 10. They must have a mandate from the people, and that means the new Prime Minister must call a general election.

To be certain, technically, they don’t have to call an election. John Major didn’t go to the country until nearly two years after he succeeded Margaret Thatcher. Gordon Brown took nearly three years after he took over from Tony Blair. The next election doesn’t have to be held until 2022.

Certainly, there are sound arguments against calling an election. The country is already in tumult thanks to Brexit. A general election could add to the chaos, especially if the voters return a hung parliament (that is, no party has a clear majority). We more-or-less know what a Conservative Prime Minister will deliver (most likely, a no-deal Brexit), but simply by virtue of being in opposition, we know less what Prime Minister Jeremy Corbyn might negotiate.

But here’s what we know. The next Tory leader will likely be an arch-Brexiteer. The Brexiteers campaigned on returning sovereignty to the British people. How, then, can they possibly justify a Prime Minister with no mandate from the people leading the country out of the European Union?

To be sure, there are plenty of constitutional arguments to make this point null and void. Technically, Prime Ministers aren’t directly elected (well, not by anyone but their constituents, who elect them as an MP). The Conservatives are still the largest party. The Westminster system is functioning as it ought to.

All of this is true, but it betrays a more basic fact. Boris Johnson, Andrea Leadsom, and those who campaigned to leave the EU did so in large part because of the “unelected” EU making decisions on behalf of the UK and that these decisions should be made by the British parliament, elected by the British people. How, then, can the most monumental peacetime decision be, if not made, than certainly executed by someone to whom the British people never had a chance to say aye?

The Labour Leader, Jeremy Corbyn, and the Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon have already tweeted their support for a general election. The new Leader of the Conservative Party must follow suit. If Brexit is about democracy—both being restored and being honoured—they would be hypocrites not to.