American Consequences - December 2020

Did COVID Kill the Mall Santa? That's Not Really Socialism AMERICAN CONSEQUENCES The Exploding Debt Crisis DARLING WENSINK ISKYAN


E D I T E D B Y P. J . O ’ R O U R K E



DECEMBER 2 0 2 0


H appy Holidays, readers! From everyone here at American magazine is packed with the riveting political and financial stories you need to read... with some humor sprinkled throughout of course. In this month’s Letter From the Editor, P.J. O’Rourke looks into the light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel and writes about life after the virus, good and bad. And this year was so upside-down, we decided the usual holiday songs just wouldn’t do... So P.J. cleverly rewrote some of the classics to capture all of 2020’s charm. It wouldn’t be a proper December issue Consequences , we hope you have a safe, joyful holiday. Our December without some mention of the big guy in a red suit... Best-selling author Patrick Wensink investigates has COVID has killed the mall Santa? (Hint: Santa is apparently quite innovative.) Executive Editor Trish Regan has Georgia on her mind... The stakes couldn’t be higher for this state and its elections next month. With the prospect of a long, cold, and possibly locked-down winter, the American Consequences staff and writers offer some book, TV, and family game recommendations on how to pass the time.

Distinguished economist Richard Vedder tackles the tough topic of student-loan debt and makes his case on why forgiving these loans is a terrible idea... Speaking of debt, how about this country’s staggering trillions of dollars owed? Brian Darling , former counsel and Sr. communications director for Sen. Rand Paul, explains that this exploding debt is actually the No. 1 threat to America’s security. And yet, even with all our debt and the global pandemic affecting everything, somehow the stock market keeps going up... Robert Shiller , Laurence Black , and Farouk Jivraj from Project Syndicate help us make sense of sky-high stock prices. Globe-trotting journalist Kim Iskyan says fears of socialism taking over America are unfounded (and he’s had firsthand experience with actual Soviet-style socialism). And in an unusually optimistic Final Word from Buck Sexton , he says goodbye to 2020 and holds hope that next year will be brighter and better for everyone. Regards, Laura Greaver Managing Editor, American Consequences


December 2020


How Biden’s “Day One” Promises Affect Your Money

President-elect Joe Biden has made lots of promises starting on “Day One” or early in his presidency…

He’s promised to undo many of Trump’s tax cuts, boost workers’ rights to unionize, ban natural gas leasing on federal lands, pass new anti-discrimination protections, rescind Trump’s travel bans, and much, much more. There’s no doubt that the next few years are going to see massive changes to our financial system. And this is why Stansberry Research Founder Porter Stansberry

says there are 3 critical steps every American must take with your money, starting immediately. You don’t have to pay a penny to hear Porter explain more about all three steps. Just take a few minutes to check out his presentation on the subject, which we’ve posted on our website, right here .

check it out


Most people are celebrating the return of this red-hot bull market. But there’s a dark side to Dow 30k that no one’s talking about. What comes next could be the greatest financial shift in a decade – and it’s going to take 99% of Americans by surprise. Here’s how to prepare yourself . OF DOW 30K


70 42






Inside This Issue BY LAURA GREAVER

32 Brother, Can You Spare Me a PhD?



Letter From the Editor BY P.J. O'ROURKE


Editor in Chief: P.J. O’Rourke Publisher: Jamison Miller Executive Editors: Trish Regan, Buck Sexton Managing Editor: Laura Greaver Creative Director: Erica Wood Contributing Editors: Brian Darling, Kim Isykan,

42 Making Sense of Sky-High Stock Prices BY PROJECT SYNDICATE

10 From Our Inbox

16 Baby, It's COVID Outside BY P.J. O'ROURKE

46 The Exploding Debt Crisis BY BRIAN DARLING

20 Has COVID Killed the Mall Santa? BY PATRICKWENSINK

54 That's Not Really Socialism BY KIM ISKYAN

62 Georgia on My Mind BY TRISH REGAN

28 Winter Lockdown BY THE AMERICAN

Richard Vedder, Patrick Wensink Advertising: Paige Henson, Jill Peterson Editorial Feedback: Published by:


70 The Final Word



American Consequences


From Editor in Chief P.J. O’Rourke


December 2020


and scope of government will grow faster than you can say “$900 billion coronavirus stimulus plan.” The last prediction will certainly come true. Government loves an emergency. And in this current emergency, government discovered that it has all sorts of emergency powers that no one had ever thought of before. Government will be itching to exercise those powers again. Expect bars and restaurants to be closed and lockdowns to be ordered next time there’s an outbreak of toenail fungus. (Also, gatherings of more than 10 barefoot people will be banned.) About the other predictions, I’m not so sure.

R eturning to a world where a global plague isn’t killing people by the million, sickening millions more, and endangering practically everyone will be a great improvement on dying or having a ventilator thrust down one’s throat. But what will this post-COVID world be like? Some of the most common predictions are that work-from-home setups will replace the Scranton, Pennsylvania, branch of Dunder Mifflin in the reboot of The Office ... in-person retail shopping is dead as disco... cities will de-gentrify because millennials are fleeing from their confinement in yoga-mat-sized apartments stinking of kombacha to the spacious fresh air of suburbia... and the size A LITTLE CLARITY ONWHAT STAYS ANDWHAT GOES

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Working from home turns out to be... work. A question that could have been shouted over the top of a cubicle divider and answered in 10 seconds turns into an e-mail thread as long as the works of Proust. Reply All. There’s no going “out” for lunch – which should be good for our waistline if we weren’t “in” all day raiding the refrigerator. One of these days, consumers are going to realize that Amazon is just a Sears and Roebuck The whole household is underfoot. The kitchen sink is the water cooler, but the kids don’t have any good gossip and flirting with the dog is pathetic. Furthermore, there’s no 9 to 5... Coworkers are scattered around time zones and across the International Date Line. When it’s time for an after-work drink in New York, it’s already tomorrow morning in Singapore. Plus, drinking alone is also pathetic. Which brings me to the one upside of working remotely – no one can smell your breath in a Zoom meeting, so I fill my entire coffee mug with scotch. As for the future of retail... One of these days, consumers are going to realize that Amazon catalogue that can’t be repurposed in the outhouse. is just a Sears and Roebuck catalogue that can’t be repurposed in the outhouse. Then, somebody’s going to get a bright idea... “What about a place where you can buy things?” A place where the things you want to buy are there already. A place where you

can look things over, try them out, and get information about what’s for sale from helpful “salespersons” – real people who are actually, physically present. You can try on clothes, see if they fit, and find out how you look in them (even from the back due to these places having special three-way mirrors). No more UPS trucks running over your dog. No more using the nail file to try to open boxes sealed with miles of shipping tape, which then spill Styrofoam peanuts all over the house. No more disappointed exclamations of, “What the hell is this? It’s six sizes too small and the color of baby puke.” No more packing it back up and waiting for the UPS truck to run over your dog again. If you don’t like an item at the place where you can buy things, you can just leave that item there and pick out something else because this place has lots of other items in storage. Let’s call the place... Oh, I don’t know, a “store.” And city dwellers buying a house may find that they’re getting more than they bargained for. Many years ago, I had a first wife. She was a confirmed urbanite whose idea of the outdoors was the corner of Fifth Avenue and Central Park South. In the 1980s, she and I moved to my house in rural New England. The furnace went out. My first wife took a big metal soup ladle from the kitchen and began banging it on a radiator. “What are you doing?” I said. She said, “I’m calling the man.” I said, “What man?” She said, “The man who comes and fixes things.” I said, “The who?” She said, “You know, the building supervisor man who lives in the basement.” (My first wife has returned to living in the city.)


December 2020


Some COVID-19 customs will persist, of course. I hope one of them is electing a president because he never left his home. More politicians should never leave home. In fact, come to think of it, all of them should stay there. Quarantining when we’re sick is here to stay. I’ve awakened on many a Monday morning feeling like I should spend the next 14 days in bed. This past year has produced a lot of scientific research about illness. And somewhere in all that research, I’m sure I can find science that proves that hangovers are catching. Neckties are gone forever. What were neckties for anyway? Other than something to wipe your nose with when you thought your laptop’s camera wasn’t on during Zoom meetings. And, sorry Generation X, but it’s going to be impossible to get your Baby Boomer parents into nursing homes. Those places are death traps. You’ll be stuck with us drooling in front of the TV at your house. (And – case in point – the White House.) But things will mostly return to normal… Americans will not start routinely wearing masks every time they’ve got the sniffles the way Asian people do. There’s far too much crime in America for that. As a friend of mine put it, “What is it about going into a bank wearing a mask and asking for money that makes me slightly nervous?” Business travel will resume its dreary course, probably with rectal thermometers added to the panoply of TSA screening.

Once more, we’ll be conned into conferences with pointy-headed PowerPoints presented by colleagues whom we wish were leagues away. And our hotel room will be – as always – located between the elevator and the ice machine. The trend for trendy restaurants will return, serving us foods we’ve never heard of at unheard-of prices. I hope one COVID custom never left his home. More politicians should never leave home. In fact, come to think of it, all of them should stay there. that stays is electing a president because he We’ll have to drag our tail to cocktails with no way to object to objectionable parties or decline invitations no matter how invidious. And we’ll have to hand out invitations of our own again, singing in lament... Drunk Uncle Louie and crazy cousin Sue Will be back at Thanksgiving and at Christmas dinner, too. When Pfizer, BioNTech, and Moderna announced the success of their coronavirus vaccine trials, my friend, the esteemed British journalist Ivo Dawnay – in the happy seclusion of his isolated home in the wilds of Exmoor – phoned me – in the happy seclusion of my isolated home in the wilds of New Hampshire. Ivo said, “Oh dear. We have just lost our excuse for everything .”

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Re: Love us? Hate us? We want to hear from you! American Consequences is an absolute must- read in our house! Thank you for all of these great writers, PJ ! Have been reading you since the beginning of Automobile Mag. David E was a great friend of ours! All the best to you & God bless you all. –Wanda & Greg S., from the Commie Republic of Ann Arbor P.J. O’Rourke Response: Thanks, Wanda and Greg. Sorry about Ann Arbor’s pinko infestation from the oh-so-prestigious University of Michigan. Otherwise, it’s a great town. And this year you didn’t even get the annual Michigan-Ohio State football game where us dim-bulb Buckeyes come and pound some sense into smarty-pants Michigan’s head. (Aside to readers who aren’t car aficionados: David E. Davis Jr. (1930 to 2011) was one of the all-time great automotive journalists. He was the editor of Car and Driver and then of Automobile , which he founded in 1986. David E. was famous for replacing “buff book” hack writing with articles that had true literary merit, enjoyable whether you gave a damn about cars or not. Both publications were headquartered in Ann Arbor.) Keep up the good work PJ!! I go back to National Lampoon days with you... – Bill H. P.J. O’Rourke Response: Which makes you almost as old as me, Bill. Sorry about that. But “what we’ve lost in youth, we’ve gained

Dear readers,

We wish you joy whatever you’re celebrating this holiday season – Christmas, Hanukkah, Buddha’s Enlightenment Day, Pancha Ganapati in honor of Ganesha the Hindu God of wisdom, Winter Solstice, Saturnalia, Festivus, or just getting through 2020. Let us stipulate that Santa Claus is ecumenical, universal, and all-inclusive and that he comes to everybody’s house (as long as you’ve been nice and not naughty). Never mind if you’re in a grass shack or an igloo with no chimneys available, Santa will find a way. To be on the safe side this year, the reindeer are wearing N95 bridles, sleigh runners have been sterilized, and the jolly fat man is wearing a hazmat suit. May he bring you and all your friends and relatives back together again with handshakes, hugs, and kisses. But be careful when you pull on that stocking hung from the mantle. There is (ouch!) a hypodermic needle full of COVID-19 vaccine in the toe. At least we hope there is. And among the other presents you’ll be getting is a great big THANK YOU from the writers and staff at American Consequences .

Happy Holidays!


December 2020

Consequences, we’re real people doing our real best to report and analyze reality. You are the best website ever, keep up the good work doing great things. – Glen T. P.J. O’Rourke Response: Of course I think you’re right, Glenn. But would you please come over to my house and get my kids to quit watching TikTok and start reading American Consequences ? Ad: Do This BEFORE Biden Takes theWhite House Surprisingly, only roughly 10% of people in the U.S. have made this move… yet it’s already created tens of thousands of millionaires. And with Biden and company about to occupy the White House, this could prove to be the No. 1 most important financial step you take between now and the end of this year. Get the details here. I was surprised and puzzled when I found Trish Regan had left Fox. So I am glad to find her at American Consequences . Keep up the good work. – Ralph M. P.J. O’Rourke Response: We were surprised and puzzled too, Ralph. But Fox’s puzzling loss was our surprising gain. And if you’re wondering if Trish is as engaging in person as she is on camera and in print, quit wondering... She is. Just excellent. So much positivity!! I love what you folks are doing. Keep writing about the “good news” and we’ll be just fine. – Phil J.

in wisdom.” That’s my position, and I’m sticking to it. Meanwhile, the wisdom of the National Lampoon was to stick it to everybody . Back in the 1970s, humor wasn’t about virtue signaling or showing the world how “woke” you were. We had every bit as much fun at the expense of Jimmy Carter as we did at the expense of Richard Nixon. Heard any good Biden/Harris jokes from today’s comedy writers? Me neither. Trish Regan, Buck Sexton, Seb Gorka are the only 3 reporters for American Consequences who tell the truth, the facts and keep their personal opinions out of it. I hope they will continue to bring more of their reporting to us. Thank you very much.– Dr. Joyce M. P.J. O’Rourke Response: You’re welcome, Dr. M. And I share your hope. But I beg to differ with you on two points. Trish, Buck, and Seb are not the only American Consequences reporters who tell the truth. We do our best to make sure that every writer (including me, even when I’m trying to be funny) is telling the truth to the best of his or her ability to discern it. Also, one of the things I love most about Trish, Buck, and Seb is that we do get an idea of their personal feelings. (Though, you’re right that they don’t let those feelings get in the way of the facts.) I think it’s important that readers know something about the people whose work they’re reading. I don’t believe in an “Olympian” style, like the New York Times has, where omniscient judgment is delivered from on high by some supposedly all-knowing source of wisdom. At American


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Thank you for your honest assessments. In a sea of fake news, honesty shines! – Anne M. P.J. O’Rourke Response: As we get tossed around in storms of B.S., let’s hope that what we’re shining isn’t a distress signal. Anne, please know we appreciate your assistance in keeping our heads above water. I’m a reader of American Consequences and I enjoy it a lot. I first learned about it when Sebastian Gorka mentioned it in his radio show America First. This along with some other newsletters and online magazines are the only reliable sources of information that we can get. Even commonly known Republican news outlets, such as Fox, are leaning more liberal. I just wanted to write to you to let you all know that you are doing a great job with your articles and issues, and don’t give up. Thank-you so much for this great website! – Daniel A. P.J. O’Rourke Response: Daniel, to continue Anne’s nautical metaphor, we’re not about to abandon ship. And, while the sea of fake news may cause other media outlets to list to port or starboard, we try to keep an even keel. Reality isn’t left-wing or right-wing. The forces of nature (including human nature) haven’t read Karl Marx – or William F. Buckley either. Our job is to navigate reality, not bend it to a particular ideology. Re: An Article That Wasn’t Supposed To Be About Politics P.J., I’ve been a fanboy since your days with Lampoon, and while I agree with your

P.J. O’Rourke Response: Thank you for your words of encouragement, Phil. It’s the positive things so many Americans keep doing that give us good news to write about. Therefore, it’s you who’ll make us just fine! So, as Ralph M. says above, “keep up the good work.” I find your articles refreshingly true with facts and practical insight. Your contributors are top notch... I will spread your word. Thank you. – David J. P.J. O’Rourke Response: And speaking of keeping up the good work, David, spreading the word about American Consequences is beneficent employment of the best kind!


December 2020

P.J. O’Rourke Response: Steve, if I remember my Charles Dickens right, the answer Oliver got was, “The master aimed a blow at Oliver’s head with the ladle... “You’ll get no such unfriendly response from me. I’m glad to provide more political humor for as long as I can. (Indeed, with one kid still in college and another on his way there, I have no choice.) And I’m flattered to be compared to Art Buchwald, one of the first and most worthwhile influences on my writing. If any reader happens to be unacquainted with Buchwald’s work, I suggest Googling “Art Buchwald Thanksgiving Column,” a classic, written in 1953 where Art – then based in Paris – tries to explain Thanksgiving to the French.

idea to farm raise future politicians, that doesn’t do us much good when dealing with the current crop. But after some diligent research, I’ve come across a foolproof way to tell the difference between Good Politicians and Bad Politicians. It turns out that Bad Politicians all end up using the same phrase early on in their career, marking them as self-interested scumbags who should never be trusted. Good Politicians never use this phrase. Ever. The phrase? “I hereby declare myself a candidate for the position of ____________” (you can fill in the blank with anything from Short Arm Inspector to President of the United States. It works the same with all). If the politician you are considering has now or ever used that phrase, they should be instantly disqualified from ever holding public office. Those who remain should be politely asked if they wouldn’t mind keeping an eye on the shop for a couple of years while we run to the bank and maybe grab a burger on the way back. Good ones don’t mind helping out a friend in a pinch. – Jeff H. P.J. O’Rourke Response: Jeff, that’s going to be a tough test for politicians to pass. In fact, your test is so tough that every politician might flunk it. That would leave us with no politicians at all. What would America do without politicians? I mean other than be richer, happier, and more responsible and self-reliant? P.J. has always excelled at political humor, but this November 30th poke at politicians superseded anything anyone has written since the days of Art Buchwald. To quote Oliver Twist, “Please, sir, may I have some more?” – Steve M.

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It’s been a while since sitting in the woods waiting to drop a deer or shooting ducks on wing. PJ O’Rourke’s commentary on hunting, genetics, and politics was the laugh I needed right about now. – Ed E. P.J. O’Rourke Response: Thank you, Ed. Non- hunters may not understand, but there’s something about hunting that fundamentally makes for good storytelling. Which gives me an excuse to tell the story of the only time I ever shot a green-winged teal double. (They’re

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PJ: I’m told there are places where there’s open season on politicians, but it’s illegal to use cash as bait, so they still have a chance. Bird hunting with a good dog is the best sport there is. I loved your column. – Eric B. P.J. O’Rourke Response: Eric, I could have used a dog in that canoe! (We were able to paddle over and pick up the teal all right, but the dog could have swum to shore and retrieved a much-needed bottle of Chivas.) I don’t think baiting politicians is very sporting. Hunting them with packs of hounds would be more fun. As to bird hunting with a good dog, I think I’ve used up my allotted space for hunting stories so don’t get me started on my Brittany spaniel, Clio. She’s mostly a woodcock and grouse dog and just got her first pheasant hunting this year. I wasn’t sure how she’d do but she pointed sharp as a Buck knife and pinned them like a Backstreet Boys poster on a ‘90s teen girl’s bedroom wall.

small and fast and a notoriously difficult wing shot.) A buddy and I were in a canoe on a wild rice marsh, and rather than set up a blind, we had put our decoys on open water and paddled the canoe back into the reeds. It was a bluebird day – sunny and warm with nothing flying. In fact it was so warm that I took my coat off and unfastened the safety belt on my waders and rolled them down to my waist. We sat there in the reeds for hours with absolutely nothing happening. Then, all of a sudden, a pair of teal came straight in on our decoy layout. I’d been sitting there for so long that I had completely forgotten I was in a canoe. I stood up, shot both teal, and blew myself backwards right out of the boat. My waders filled with water and I would have drowned except the marsh was only about four feet deep. It took my buddy most of an hour to get me back into the canoe. And the weather didn’t seem so warm, sitting there soaking wet. But I got my double!



December 2020


P J, I love your sarcasm and wit. Your writeup on hunting grouse and comparing it to our politicians was quite entertaining, as usual. It provoked a thought that has been festering since viewing the election results in early November. We live in southern Wyoming (literally “out in the sticks”) and while watching the Salt Lake City news, the idea was presented/suggested that a very wealthy individual should/could pay people to move from a highly concentrated liberal state (California) to a state that might need help securing the electoral votes for that party. Both my wife and I thought, “Could that really happen?” Surely, there are laws that monitor how long you need to been a resident in order to vote, right? Georgia’s Senatorial vote being the next election in the crosshairs, our research into Georgia, uncovered that you need only to be resident of that state for “one” day in order to vote. After looking further into our state, Wyoming has more restrictive laws to hunt, fish and be a residential student than it does for voting. (One yr. to hunt/fish, thirty days to vote.) After randomly picking states and comparing voting requirements, (we believe) our curiosity uncovered that states could easily become victim of an

AD #0 I bring this up not as fact-finding but pose this as a question and want to believe that someone else has thought of this obscure possibility. I think every American wants to believe in our election process, but with all at stake, I would like to have someone else (outside the state of Wyoming that I would believe) tell me that I’m wrong. Thanks again, and keep up the good work. – J A Wyoming baby-boomer. aggressive attempt to stack the ballots for a wealthy party’s agenda. The longest length of time required to live in a state to vote (in the twelve to fifteen states we looked at) is thirty days. It would be impossible to prove that this was taking place and even more obscure to believe that someone would do such a thing but after what has transpired during this last election, nothing should be overlooked.

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December 2020

It’s Christmas 2020 and we’ve lost the plot... This year, none of our favorite Christmas traditions make any sense.

This year, the Grinch doesn’t steal Christmas. The Whos down in Whoville are having a super-spreader event and a bitterly contested election for mayor of Whoville, plus they’re rioting for social justice. “Cindy Lou Who Matters.” The Grinch wants no part of any of it and stays in his cave on Mt. Crumpit with his loyal dog Max. Not that the Grinch has much choice anyway, what with Whoville being under strict emergency stay-at-home orders. Also, don’t bother to watch A Charlie Brown Christmas . Charlie Brown’s friends get together to tell him the true meaning of Christmas... thereby infecting all their households with COVID-19. Everybody’s grandparents wind up in the ICU. And Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree gets stolen by looters. Likewise, you can close the book on Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol . Bob Cratchit is working from home and can set his own hours. Jacob Marley’s ghost is wearing an N95 mask and Scrooge can’t understand a word he’s saying. And the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come is busy distributing a coronavirus vaccine. Too late, alas, for Tiny Tim, who has a comorbidity.

And forget reciting “’Twas the Night Before Christmas.” Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound. He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot, And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot. He’s not an antifa vandal, apparently, because most of them are vegans and don’t wear fur. But he could be a member of some lunatic alt-right militia... Anyway, better shoot him. But worst of all, Christmas music grates on our nerves this year. “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” – emphasis on little. “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” – way too true. “Feliz Navidad” – wasn’t The Wall supposed to put an end to this sort of thing? And we can’t go out caroling, but if we did, we’d be singing “Stay Home All Ye Faithful.” What we need are some songs to suit the temper (I’m about to lose mine) of the times and capture the (lousy) spirit of holiday season 2020...


By P.J. O’Rourke

American Consequences


Baby, It's Covid Outside

To the tune of “Frosty the Snowman”

To the tune of “White Christmas”

I’m dreaming of a vote recount One like we’ve never had before Where the media listens About ballots missin’ That would have made my tally more I’m dreaming of a vote recount With every court case that I file May the polls be off by a mile And may I stay president for a while

Fauci the “no” man was an immunologist With predictions dire and a look of ire He’s a frequent TV guest

There must be some magic in The masks he makes us wear ‘Cause till now the NIH Was what? We didn’t care Experts on infectious Diseases rarely see This kind of attention On MSNBC

To the tune of “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” You better cash out You shouldn’t invest You better get a Cayman Islands bank account And bury the rest Joe Biden is coming to town He’s making a list, He’s counting your bling, He’s gonna find out who’s rich or Right-wing Joe Biden is coming to town

Fauci the showman, now he’s having lots of fun Until Covid’s gone and the world moves on Then his time in the limelight’s done

Fauci the “no” man He had to go away But as he passed He said, “Not so fast – Coronavirus will be back one day!”

To the tune of “I SawMommy Kissing Santa Claus”

He knows what you’ve been thinking He’s checked you with “The Squad” He knows if you wear a MAGA cap Better give political correctness a nod

I saw Mommy kissing Santa Claus Underneath the mistletoe last night She didn’t hear me whine To the CDC hotline

You better hide your guns You better wear a mask

The police came to our house Mom and Santa face a fine

You better donate Joe some funds Why? You don’t even have to ask ‘Cause Joe Biden is coming to town


December 2020

To the tune of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

To the tune of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” On the twelfth day of peaceful protests My looting got for me... 12 Oxycodone

Had a very runny nose And anyone who saw it Knew he had a viral dose All of the other reindeer

11 Rémy Martin 10 Apple iPhones 9 Rolex watches 8 Gucci backpacks 7 Fendi T-shirts 6 Prada handbags 5 carat ring 4 Nike sneakers 3 handguns 2 ATMs And a Cadillac Escalade

Used hoof sanitizer to prevent Rudolph from getting near them Even at a Trump event Then one foggy Christmas Eve Santa told them all “Can’t social distance with my sleigh Christmas is locked down anyway.” Then how the reindeer shunned him As they began to rant and spew “Rudolph the Runny-Nosed Reindeer We’re eating you for Christmas stew”

To the tune of “We Three Kings”

We three kings of Orient are Eating bats in a Wuhan bazaar... (Sorry... Parody was cut short by the fact that no one can ever remember the rest of the words to this Christmas carol.)

American Consequences


By PatrickWensink

By Patrick Wensink



December 2020

Has COVID Killed the Mall Santa?

When you step back and look at him from the right angle, Santa Claus is some combination of action hero and reverse cat burglar. The guy is fearless. Who else could land a team of flying reindeer atop a house in a snowstorm, only to roll up his red sleeves, tell someone to “Hold my cocoa,” and then benevolently commit 500 million cases of breaking and entering in a single night?

But then COVID-19 happened... Now, welcoming kids onto his lap is about as safe as defusing a bomb. And that’s where the star of our show draws the line. He may have nerves of steel, but Santa’s not suicidal. “A lot of Santas I know just aren’t going to do it this year,” says Fred Salinsky, chairman of the International Brotherhood of Real Bearded Santas. “Some of them, you know, they’ve got diabetes or health issues and don’t want to take the chance. I mean, I’m losing Santas all the time with strokes and heart attacks.” Salinsky is referring to professional Santa Clauses, those jolly, red-suited grandpas found at malls or grand marshalling

Christmas parades every December. However, their white beards, round waistlines, and all that close physical contact puts them in the crosshairs of the CDC’s riskiest COVID-19 categories. Of course, changes must be made. “About 25% of Santas are doing everything they normally do, about 25% are trying to do their normal schedule but making sure there are some kinds of protections,” one Santa from Tennessee tells Slate, “About 25% are not performing at all, and then about 25% of them will be doing nothing but virtual visits.” Once again, 2020 has thrown another industry into complete chaos... so much chaos that Gilbert Gottfried might just be their savior.

American Consequences



EVERYONE’S FAVORITE CHIMNEY- SLIDING SENIOR CITIZEN According to Christmas historian Bruce David Forbes, America began sitting on the laps of red-suited strangers in the 19th century. His book, Christmas: A Candid History , says that after Clement Moore’s poem A Visit from St. Nicholas and Thomas Nast’s classic illustrations of Father Christmas for Harper’s , “Images of and references to Santa Claus appeared in children’s books, games, songs, dolls, newly introduced Christmas cards, and magazine and newspaper advertisements.” He adds, “Department-store Santas appeared with standard red and white costumes.” So, that’s the genesis of everyone’s favorite chimney-sliding senior citizen... But how did he end up outside JC Penney, and what’s up with all the lap sitting?

SAFEGUARDING SANTA I call Santa Fred Salinsky the day before Thanksgiving, and it is immediately everything I’d hoped for: He’s laughing before he even says hello. Uncontrollably laughing. He doesn’t stop chuckling until the sound of the TV in the background goes silent. Santa Fred lives in Sun City, Arizona... and, unfortunately, he has time to chat because he had to cancel his usual gig as the main attraction at an elaborate North Pole workshop up in Flagstaff. “This year we aren’t doing it,” he says. “We had to close it down due to the virus.” But not all Kris Kringles have the luxury of taking the season off. Many are retirees who supplement their income by logging long hours on the red velvet throne each December. Others use the money to take

“This year, I’ll be behind a piece of plexi, talking to the children. And when it comes time to shoot the picture, they’ll be in front of me, and I’ll basically be photobombing them.”


December 2020

“There are actually some organizations doing drive-ins,” says Santa Lance Skapura, whose home base is Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Skapura is also no slouch in the jolliness department – his answering machine apologizes for not getting to your call because Santa is busy working on a flux capacitor to help him travel around the globe on Christmas night. “You bring your car, you bring your children, and you pull in like a drive-in movie. Santa does 20 minutes onstage in front of the car, and the sound is piped in via a small FM transmitter right into your car stereo.” Skapura – “Chief Executive Kringle” for You Sleigh Me, a fraternal club of Pittsburgh- area Santas, who also moonlights as a theater director – came up with his own solution to these challenging times: personal visits and contracts. Santa Lance is spending most of his holiday season individually visiting clients’ houses, but not before they sign a tour rider jam-packed with every stipulation short of a bowl of brown M&Ms. The contract demands strict mask-wearing, social distancing, and otherwise safety addendums. It’s a far safer environment, but all the legalese in the world doesn’t deliver a family’s biggest holiday desire. “We had to keep the children safe and still manage to get those family photos everyone wants,” says Santa Lance. “This year, I’ll be behind a piece of plexi, talking to the children. And when it comes time to shoot the picture, they’ll be in front of me, and I’ll basically be photobombing them.”

classes on craft (Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus University... several, actually.) and to invest in red suits that can run up to $5,000. However, if you talk to enough Santas, you realize that they don’t do this job for the money. It’s the interaction with people that fuels them. For some in the reindeer- jockeying game, making an impact on a child’s life is too much to give up, so they are forging ahead despite the risks, rethinking the traditional Christmas visit with social distancing in mind. “Some of the malls are putting Santas in plastic bubbles,” says Salinsky. “Some of them actually have shields that go up.” He’s right. Check the website for your local shopping center or holiday festival – chances are that they opted to still do something in person rather than scrap the entire celebration. Some have erected Popemobile- quality plastic walls or are sticking Santa behind a cheerful cottage window. One town in Nebraska even hoisted Saint Nick up into a deer stand to greet children from a distance. But, as expected, it’s awkward and a far cry from holidays past. “It certainly won’t be the same,” the Slate magazine Santa laments. Fear not, plexiglass shields are not the limit of Santa’s holly jolly creativity. We’re talking about a man who went from hammering together wooden trains and stitching dollies in a sub-zero workshop to delivering 21st- century tech under Christmas trees. Santa is an innovator.

American Consequences



THE EVOLUTION OF THE DEPARTMENT-STORE SANTA Sadly, I cannot track down photo evidence of the first department-store Santa, or whether or not he bombed the picture. Macy’s claims to have invented the idea in 1861 and bestowed their marketing materials with slogans like “The Home of Santa” for years. (In 2020, the store has opted to close down its famed Santaland and is offering a virtual experience instead.) However, a 1991 Yankee article uncovered the North Pole- shattering story of “Colonel Jim” Edgar, a Massachusetts merchant who claims to have beaten Macy’s to the punch in bizarre fashion. It says Edgar was actually the first department-store Santa... almost 30 years after Macy’s, in 1890. Confused? Me, too. The article clarifies that “Colonel Jim” merely updated Macy’s more rustic look and was simply the first guy to dress in the iconic red suit and beard made famous in those Thomas Nast drawings. We’re splitting some serious reindeer hairs here, but that evolution of the department-store Santa is important to note. One thing that hasn’t changed is how children react upon meeting him. As one man reminisced of his 1890 encounter with Edgar, “I remember walking down an aisle, and all of a sudden, right in front of me, I saw Santa Claus. I couldn’t believe my eyes. And then Santa came up and started talking to me. It was a dream come true.”

VIRTUAL SANTA Father Christmas is still making dreams come true today, even if that dream involves being insulted by Iago from Aladdin. For $150, you can get a personalized Christmas video from Gilbert Gottfried wearing a hilariously ill-fitting Santa suit that looks like something a Salvation Army bell ringer threw in the trash. For about three minutes, Gottfried’s distinctive vocal-chords-against-a-cheese- grater voice will wish you a happy holiday or even roast you with classic Christmas lines like, “I could fit all my reindeer up your ass.”

“I could fit all my reindeer up your ass.” Gilbert "Santa" Gottfried

Regardless of your taste in scatological Rudolph humor, Gottfried (and Cameo, the platform which hosts him) might actually be on to something. Forget plexiglass shields and drive-in St. Nick concerts desperately trying to rekindle some lost Christmas normalcy – the silver lining of our COVID-19 Christmas is online. Keeping Santa further away might actually bring the big guy closer to our kids.


December 2020

for the next visit with all the children’s information. I spend those minutes learning about them.” That personal touch is the unmatched upside to digital Claus. Most virtual Santa sites (of which there are several, online and local) ask parents screener questions, almost like how talk shows draw out small talk material from a guest before the cameras roll. The result, ideally, is a far cry from the conveyor- belt system of Christmas past. Instead of maybe one hurried minute on his lap, kids get anywhere from five minutes to an hour of one-on-one time with the big guy. And if things go right, there’s a chance for kids to feel like Santa really does know them, and a chance for the magic of this whole legend to make a deeper connection than before... a chance for memories to be made even sharper. Parents are likely skeptical, but kids seem to be digging the online experience. As one 10-year-old in Columbus, Ohio put it when she learned her family would be meeting Santa online, “Well, at least I don’t have to sit on a lap this year!”

In addition to Gottfried, Cameo has a stable of traditional Santas, as well as a singing Santa, a Spanish-speaking Santa, and even a Muppet-looking puppet Santa. The problem, however, is that while each video is unique for customers, they are prerecorded and not interactive. Times like these require innovation, and Santa has that box checkmarked. Luckily, we are living in a golden age of video chat. Believe it or not, that is actually something to be thankful for. Yes, a virtual Santa visit helps you stay home and avoid the inevitable super-spreader event that is the local shopping mall. And yes, you are skipping that particular circle of hell known as waiting in line for hours only to have your kid melt down right as it’s their turn in front of the camera. But what really makes online Santas something to embrace is their level of personal attention. Consider what Santa Lance tells me almost as an afterthought while he’s discussing the brief windows of time between his online sessions... “There’s five minutes off so I can get ready

In Christmases of yesteryear, there were no masks or social distancing and lots of questionable lap sitting...

American Consequences



COVID-19 cannot stop him. Santa is an innovator and, apparently, an optimist.

SITTING ON A STRANGER’S LAP Why the lap? Of all the traditions associated with Christmas, it’s sitting on a stranger’s lap that has aged the worst. Santa Lance has a hunch where this comes from, and the answer is... weird. Not Gilbert Gottfried weird, but the Pennsylvania Dutch finish a close second. “They have a character called Pelznickel, who was dressed all in fur,” says Santa Lance. “Pelznickel was normally played by one of the elders in the community. He was not the nice, friendly Santa who hands out presents. He was more like a Dutch uncle. He would give candy and sweets to those children who were good, and those children who were not doing what they were supposed to got threatened with a whip.” Whoa. Kind of makes a lump of coal sound like a sweet deal. “Pelznickel would come to town, come to people’s homes. Some children would sit on his lap, and that’s really where that tradition is derived from.” Cue my eureka moment. Cue me running through the streets in black and white, shouting, “Merry Christmas, Bedford Falls!” A weight has been lifted from my shoulders. I finally have all the answers! Except one: “Wait, what about the name”? I ask. “What does Pelznickel even mean?” “Fuzzy Nicholas,” Santa Lance tells me, but then pauses a moment. “Actually, a better translation is ‘Fuzzy Layabout’ or ‘Fuzzy Bum.’”

IN 2020, MAKE LEMONTINIS Who cares whether Macy’s or “Colonel Jim” or some whip-cracking Mennonite invented the modern professional Santa Claus... What we do know is that today’s Kris Kringle is far different than the man in that first poem. Santa Claus has evolved, and we’re watching that change in real-time. So, now might be a good time to stop grumbling about the way we visited Santa in our childhood and instead, embrace what makes Santa 2.0 really unique. COVID-19 cannot stop him. Santa is an innovator and, apparently, an optimist. “A wise man once said, when life gives you lemons,” says Santa Lance when asked about the hassle of retooling for COVID, “make lemontinis.” I interrupt our shared laughter, “Wait, did you come up with that or did someone else?” “I said he was a wise man, didn’t I?” PatrickWensink is the bestselling author of several books, including his last novel Fake Fruit Factory , which was named a best book of the year by NPR. In addition, his nonfiction appears in the NewYork Times , Esquire , Oxford American and others. He lives in Louisville, KYwith his wife, son, and fragile ego. Photos: AP.


December 2020


P.J. O’ROURKE As my wife Tina recently said... “I was going to be fluent in French

by now.” She’s gotten as far as “Excusez-moi, je ne parle pas français.” And I was going to read Milton’s Paradise Lost . But I can’t seem to find the Garden of Eden anywhere... Maybe I should look behind the couch cushions. Like the rest of the world, we’ve been reduced to less daunting forms of self-amusement. Tina has been on a murder-mystery kick. She says, “The great thing about murder mysteries is that the minute you finish them, you forget them. So you can turn around and read them again with absolutely no idea of ‘who dunnit.’” Tina is on her third go with Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express . “Do you think,” she asks, “it’s possible that all the murder suspects are guilty?” As for me, I’m whiling away the time in my basement’s carpentry shop. The only problem is that I’m not a carpenter. My woodworking skills are pretty much limited to building rickety shelves in the garage. And I have built lots of rickety shelves in the garage. The following is what our other American Consequences colleagues have been up to. (Meanwhile I just heard a large crash. I think all the gardening tools just fell on my car.)



December 2020

ALICE LLOYD I highly recommend Processed Cheese by Stephen Wright... a new

TRISH REGAN With all this extra time at home, I’ve dug out some of my favorite board games to play with the

and very strange novel from early 2020 that doesn’t seem to be on too many of those year-end “Best Of ” book lists – probably because it’s too bizarre... A satire of American consumerism and its insane appetites, and as such potentially a tonic to temper your longing for life as it was, it’s the one work of fiction so far that really truly fits the Trump era. Speaking of American consumerism, the Christmas movie Jingle All The Way (1996) is the seasonal favorite of AP reporter Marina Villeneuve, who covers Andrew Cuomo’s state house daily and is a committed connoisseur of 1990s mass culture. A send-up of the holiday’s hyper-commercialization, featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sinbad, it is “the single-most underappreciated Christmas classic,” said Marina, who also happens to have been my college roommate. “Plus,” she added, “Sinbad is in it!” If you liked the HBO series The Undoing , or if you didn’t, or if you haven’t seen it and plan to, or if you haven’t seen it and don’t plan to, you might like its source material – Jean Hanff Korelitz’s You Should Have Known , an understated thriller from 2014. Both follow a psychotherapist and her handsome husband as their expensive uptown lives come apart under the pressure of a mysterious scandal. But, beyond that, the show and the book don’t have a whole lot else in common! Other than entertainment value, that is, and the power to make you glad your problems are at least predictable.

kids. Scrabble is a big hit and Monopoly is another. As awful as this pandemic has been, it’s helped all of us focus on what matters most... family. Simple things like board games after dinner on a Friday night – these are memories I’ll always cherish.

JAMISON MILLER I’ve read a ton of books since the COVID lockdowns started and even re-read some “classics”

like Michael Lewis’ Liars Poker and Jon Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven . I recently finished a must-read book called Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann. This non-fiction story is a haunting true- life murder mystery about one of the most monstrous crimes in American history that became the center of a major FBI investigation involving J. Edgar Hoover. Netflix and Amazon Prime also do a pretty good job of passing the time… The Crown, The Queens Gambit, Ozark, Last Kingdom, Peaky Blinders and Yellowstone all have my two thumbs up.

American Consequences


JASON MATTERA I have two sets of twins... four kids under the age of three. Pandemic or no

pandemic, my free time is nonexistent. But if I did have the ability to binge watch a show (oh, what a glorious thought!), I’d probably watch all seven seasons of FX’s The Shield ... for the third time. This police drama, which debuted in 2002, established an entirely new set of boundaries of what was acceptable on cable television. The show is entertaining and gritty as they come, but be forewarned... it’s also addicting as hell. So be sure you’re not in my current position of never-ending bottle feeds and round-the-clock diaper changes... because you’ll need to carve out hours at a time to watch it. And if you decide to press the play button at 9 p.m. while in bed, brace yourself for an all-nighter. If only we could unleash The Shield ’s main character Vic Mackey on the black bloc Antifa weenies destroying property with impunity: “Good cop and bad cop have left for the day. I’m a different kind of cop.”

especially today – you can see them yourself in Technicolor. This is an applied poli-sci degree in a nutshell... and well worth your time. Stuck at home, can’t go to the gym, packing on the pounds, and feeling out of shape? This might be the answer: The X3 Bar (that is, a bar that’s a short steel pole... not as in, “I’ll have another round”) is a home workout system that requires no more space than an airplane bathroom (if you remember what those look like), but gives you a quick and intense weight workout. It’s kind of like resistance bands on steroids... with an inventor and marketing frontman who’s frighteningly well-built. DR. DAVID EIFRIG I highly recommend Factfulness by Hans Rosling. This book will make you rethink the way you see facts and fear. It’s such an essential read, I sent copies to my whole team.

KIM ISKYAN I worked in political-risk

consulting for several years, I studied international relations

in college, and I have a graduate degree in history. But I could have saved myself a lot of trouble – and been way ahead of everyone else from the get-go – if I’d read a book published in 2011 called The Dictator’s Handbook: Why Bad Behavior is Almost Always Good Politics , by two savvy political scientists, Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alastair Smith. The premise of The Dictators Handbook is that all of politics is a function of individual motivations and desires and ambitions. Institutions don’t act with single-minded objectives or goals... They’re a bubbling cauldron of individuals, each who has his own agenda that may or may not overlap with that of the institution. It’s a simple idea... but far more nuanced in practice than you might think. De Mesquita and Smith pack the book with vivid stories and examples. And –


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