TGIF: A Report From Waukesha
Plus: the brothers Cuomo; teachers against teaching; crime on the rise; and good news.
Welcome back to TGIF. This week we’re reporting to you from Waukesha, Wisconsin, which is reeling from an attack that has largely disappeared from the headlines. We also have our usual fare: the stories we’re watching and what happened on Common Sense.
To the news:
Teachers unions have already used the pandemic to keep American schools closed longer than other developed countries, shirking their most basic responsibility to children. Now the unions are trying to make these changes permanent. One can imagine an almost funny political horseshoe: the increasingly progressive union becomes so focused on #selfcare for its members and so astute at explaining that schooling and testing are racist that it talks itself out of existence (the best self-care is all-week-self-care!), thus establishing a conservative utopia of a #tradwife-no-public-school nation.
But until the progressive/trad rapture, the teachers’ unions’ long weekends would mean kids from poor and middle class families will be put in front of iPad games for many more hours each week. The rich will get Friday tutors.
→ What a fast swimmer: A University of Pennsylvania swimmer who competed for three seasons at the college level as a man is now absolutely dominating the sport as a woman, breaking record after record in women’s swimming. “Being trans has not affected my ability to do this sport and being able to continue is very rewarding,” Lia Thomas said.
→ The Cuomo brothers: Both Cuomos are out of a job. Chris Cuomo has been suspended from his role at CNN after it was revealed that he was managing Andrew Cuomo’s crisis PR and digging up dirt on the women that accused the ex-governor of sexual impropriety. In other prominent creep news, the Daily Mail is reporting that Jeffrey Epstein visited the White House to see Bill Clinton at least 17 times.
→ Some good news: I focus here too much on the bad. Here’s some good: Lithium-ion batteries have gotten extremely cheap. This has allowed for a real revolution in energy storage and an explosion in powerful portable goods. Think: that popular handheld massage gun you’re probably thinking about for Christmas. Or the cheap tiny battery pack I use to jumpstart my janky car. This is a good thing.
WAUKESHA, WISCONSIN — One week ago, a man got in a red SUV and drove through a Christmas parade here and killed six people, injuring dozens more. Witnesses say he drove slowly at first and then sped up, zig-zagging through the crowd with the apparent goal of hitting as many people as possible—bulldozing three grandmothers, a grandpa, a mom, and an eight-year-old boy.
The story of what happened that day was covered but downplayed by the mainstream news, which showed little of the usual vim in figuring out a motive. The Washington Post described it as a sort of terrible car accident, a “tragedy caused by an SUV” (the paper later apologized), and USA Today ran a cover front page story focused on how cars have been used to disrupt Black Lives Matter protests. A rumor circulated early that the killer had been running from the police. So, if it wasn’t about SUV safety regulations, then it was the cops’ fault.
It was somewhat inconvenient for reporters to cover since the suspect, Darrell Brooks, seemed to be a supporter of Black Lives Matter and posted pro-Hitler content. But it was much more inconvenient that, thanks to progressive reforms, he was out on $1,000 bail for a different vehicular assault at the time of the alleged rampage. Joe Biden hasn’t announced plans to visit Wisconsin and sit with the victims, some of whom are still in the hospital.
And so it’s quiet in Waukesha.
Downtown, the statue to honor the community’s veterans killed in Korea or Iraq has been transformed into a memorial for those killed right down the block. At the memorial’s base are flowers and notes, teddy bears and Christmas presents for the child who died.
A local contractor, Brock Held, is building wheelchair ramps at the victim’s homes. His best guess is that the killer might have been mad about the Kyle Rittenhouse verdict, but he’s really not sure why it happened. Held was at work this week on a ramp for Erik Tiegs, a high school junior.
Tiegs had been playing the trombone when he was hit. The 16-year-old came home from the hospital expressionless, stunned, in a wheelchair up the almost finished ramp as his parents covered him in blankets. “Shorts! I knew you’d be in shorts,” his grandma said.
Don Tiegs, a firefighter and Erik’s father, is confused how Darrell Brooks was on the streets in the first place.
“He was on bail for already trying to run over someone,” Don said, standing by the new ramp. “Are there people in jail who shouldn’t be? Oh yeah. Are there reforms needed? Oh yeah. But there’s gotta be a happy medium.”
“Even the DA himself put out a thing saying it’s too low a bail. Well, he’s the one responsible. He’s responsible for letting this guy on the road. There’s a funeral for a little boy tomorrow, little 8-year-old,” Don said. “How does he sleep?”
Erik, who is healing now from skull, femur and cervical fractures, hasn’t talked much, even with his dad, about what happened. Don is hoping Erik opens up to his little brother, Tyson, since they went through it together. Tyson was playing saxophone in the parade but wasn’t hurt.
“It’s something both of them will have together for the rest of their lives,” Don said.
Downtown Waukesha’s main drag is all small businesses. There’s a cozy coffee shop packed with locals and decorated with wooden signs with hokey jokes painted on them. The theater is putting on “Sister Act,” a gospel-filled musical based on the Whoopi Goldberg movie. It’s Christmas all up and down Main Street, with lights and wreaths on the storefronts, though now also signs saying #KenoshaStrong. The #strong motto has become the standard for American towns after a mass killing.
Almost as soon as I arrived in Waukesha, news broke of the next American catastrophe, a school shooting, in Oxford Township, about 45 minutes northwest of Detroit. This one had a more manageable moral arrangement for the country’s reporters (deranged white teenager from a seemingly pro-gun family).
What Philip Roth called “the indigenous American berserk” is everywhere around us. Pictures are going viral of San Francisco’s entire downtown boarded up this holiday season in hopes of staving off mobs of robbers. The same day of the Oxford shooting, Tuesday, a woman in Corpus Cristi was arrested for brandishing a gun in a H-E-B parking lot. Portland, Oregon, recorded its highest homicide rate ever this year.
There are a lot of stats I could cite here showing rising crime in American cities. But at this point many of us have personal stories: While in Waukesha, two young robbers stalked a mother and her child in broad daylight in Los Angeles just a couple blocks from my own house. It’s all on video. The pair slowly approach the mom as she works the stroller up the front stairs of her home. I become mesmerized, watching the mom try to decide if she can escape with the baby or not, before she gives up, their hands coming around her.
Many of our politicians are busy telling us it’s not happening. Or, if it is happening, it’s a necessary growing pain on the way to justice. But the Bay Area homicide map, where so many more dots are in poor black communities, doesn’t look much like equity to me.
The people I met in Waukesha talked about supporting prison reform, even those parents whose children were coming home to wheelchair ramps. They talked about the practical challenges now.
“Policy’s not on my radar,” said Kathy, a single mother of four children, who were all injured in the attack. “Concussions, broken arms, femur, all different injuries per child. I’m not making sense of it now, I’m just making appointment after appointment.”
The parents also talked about priorities. As soon as a lot of people feel physically threatened or worried for the safety of their children, stopping that danger becomes the only political priority. A common sense Democratic Party would address that reality instead of trying to convince voters that they are bad people for wanting to be safe. And yet it has become a party that not only entertains policies like defunding police but passes bizarre, jocular laws like San Francisco’s Caren Act, which criminalizes 911 calls city officials deem racist.
The Waukesha killer did not target the strong or the rich. He took the lives of three members of the Dancing Grannies, the older Waukesha women who dance together and put on shows for the community. He took the life of 8-year-old Jackson Sparks. The youngest person he injured is three years old.
“This guy hit the two softest targets in our society—older people and young children,” said Ryan Kohnke, an Army veteran whose niece was hit by the car’s grill and is still in the hospital. Soon, the doctors are going to see if Ryan’s niece, Jessalyn, can breathe on her own. “We’re still very much in the woods.”
“It’s obscene to think this was allowed to happen.”
A snowstorm trapped a group of English folks in a pub for days with an Oasis tribute band. It’s a classic Times story. Would make a great movie.
Leaders of the Tenement Museum in the Lower East Side are trying to make a few anti-racist tweaks to history. Instead of dutifully showcasing the real life apartments of poor Irish immigrants, they are adding a more diverse cast of members to a building to give the old hard times a more equitable spin (even though it’s fake). A whistleblower wrote about it for the Spectator. I, for one, never believe anything I see in a museum anyway.
This Week on Common Sense
Jack Dorsey stepped down as CEO of Twitter. Dorsey was decidedly woke: He gave Ibram X. Kendi $10 million dollars; he wore a #StayWoke shirt; and he kicked the president of the United States off of the platform. And yet: Dorsey tried to keep Twitter as a relatively open platform. You got the sense he was pushing against the extremism of his workforce. The venture capitalist and writer Mike Solana wrote about why and how Twitter is going to get worse—and offered a begrudging thank you to the bird king.
We at Common Sense are very pro-vax. I was so eager to get mine that I drove across town and sprinted into the garage of a retirement home for a jab that was about to expire, months before my official turn. But a lot of Americans—including, surprisingly, healthcare workers—didn’t get vaccinated. They don’t want to. To understand this mindset, Suzy Weiss talked to the frontline workers who are refusing and are willing to lose their jobs over it.
Gabriel Katz, a political conservative who recently graduated from Worcester Polytechnic Institute, wrote on the first night of Hanukkah about getting kicked out of Moishe House, a network of communal homes for young Jews. The email his ex-roommates sent is pretty good: “If you cannot unequivocally say that you are anti-racist and support gay rights and women’s reproductive health and prison reform and defunding the police, among other important platforms, then we have an irreconcilable differences that would not lead to a harmonious living environment.”
Leah McSweeney, star of “The Real Housewives of New York” and a successful streetwear designer, remembered Virgil Abloh, the groundbreaking fashion designer who died this week, as a mensch.
And the best headline goes to Bari with: “Women’s Tennis Has Balls. Does Wall Street?” As head of the Women’s Tennis Association, Steve Simon earns a fraction of what Wall Street titans do. But he has demonstrated more courage in a matter of weeks than others have in decades.
Thanks, as always, for reading.
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See you next Friday—and have a great weekend.