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2020, the Year of the Drunken Uncle

This election is going to annoy people on Twitter, and there are few callings higher than that

March 4, 2020

11:20 AM

4 March 2020

11:20 AM

How in the world did Chris Matthews get himself fired? To be sure, the man did stick his foot in his mouth so often that the word ‘Keds’ is probably embossed on the inside of his cheek. But hadn’t the good people at MSNBC heard? Brand Matthews is hot right now! ’Tis the season for motor-mouthed men who begin sentences with ‘Now this isn’t something you should say around your mother but…’

2020 is shaping up to be the Year of the Drunken Uncle. And according to my astrological observations of the planet Jupiter as well as a star that just moved and might actually be a plane, that augurs great nuttiness ahead. The reason is the current cast of presidential candidates, which is less a rainbow coalition than the louder end of a Thanksgiving table where the red wine and gravy keep getting held up. That’s especially true following Bloody Monday and then Super Tuesday, when the less slurred voices in the dining room were unceremoniously ushered out.

Who remains? There’s Joe Biden, who’s been the source of awkward pauses over dinner since long before he became an uncle. Biden was the biggest winner on Super Tuesday, or ‘Super Thursday’ as he put it in one of his more irresistible gaffes. Those gaffes are quickly becoming his hallmark — even more than they were before, I mean. The Biden way seems to be to demand in crystal-clear Scrantonese that everyone else shut up so he can get a word in edgewise, only to descend into indecipherable gibberish about Amtrak trains smoking weed and Nelson Mandela learning to code.


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He interrupts like this because another uncle won’t stop dominating the conversation. That would be Donald Trump, who doesn’t drink, but whom everyone else wishes would down a little absinthe laced with melatonin already. Trump is that infamous relation who shows up at the family reunion and babbles about his business ventures, stopping only to insinuate that he slept with this G-list celebrity or that. You think it’s all made up, until he steps out of the room to take a call and you verify every last word he said on Google. He’s a tiresome devil, yet there’s something about him you can’t help but like. He can certainly talk rings around the guy with the hair plugs.

Bernie Sanders is less an uncle than he is the great-uncle. He sits between the others and mediates their disagreements, occasionally interrupting with some gem of wisdom that’s both markedly insane and still somehow more reasonable than much else that’s been said. All our problems can be solved, he insists, if only the ‘muckety-mucks’ will get out of the way. Halfway through dinner, he gestures too emphatically and spills his wine. Three-quarters of the way through, his head sinks to level with his shoulders. His grandchildren love him because he promises to buy them gifts he clearly can’t afford. He’s always turning up with little jars of jam and honey, which he claims to have stolen from various New England bed-and-breakfasts.

It can be exhausting to sit at this end of the table, what with the same stories on repeat and Uncle Donald’s noisy squeezing of the ketchup bottle. But it’s still far more interesting than the people at the other end: the overachieving Rhodes scholar mayor, the son-in-law who works in tech, the brother on Wall Street who glares disapprovingly if you pour a second glass of wine, the crazy aunt who keeps fabricating things about the family lineage, the mom who tries to be nice but clearly just wants to throw a plate at her children. The uncles don’t have any filters and that makes for great conversation. And it isn’t Thanksgiving until old Joe starts shouting about the gun problem (they’ve killed hundreds of billions of people, he insists), as well as some guy he knows who could probably fix it all in a day.

The rest of the family listens in with amusement, and maybe a little embarrassment. After all, if good bourgeoisie morality dictates one thing, it’s that old white men who talk off the cuff are on their way out. The future, they’ve been instructed by their guidance counselor friends, is multiracial, multicultural, probably multispecies, a young generation set to infuse the country with fresh ideas while somehow adhering to ever-narrowing speech codes enforced by social media. Yet how’s that working out? Donald Trump is in the White House. Bernie Sanders just won California and Joe Biden took Texas. I’m not sure any of these men can solve our nation’s problems, but if nothing else, the Year of the Drunken Uncle will make voting a rush of transgression. This election is going to annoy people on Twitter, and there are few callings higher than that.

Besides, these guys have endurance. Long after the rest of the family slinks off to their Candy Crush and their tryptophan comas, they remain at the table, pouring Merlot, crackling with laughter. Yes, ‘OK, Boomer’ is our (increasingly boring) epigram du jour. But it may be that the older generation has a little rebellion left in them yet.


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