As the ball dropped in Times Square a year ago, I remember thinking, “This is going to be a good year.” What is more, “this is going to be Matt Lewis’s year.” (Yeah, I think about myself in the third person. What of it?)
To be fair, the bar was set pretty low. In the Twitter era, it has become commonplace to publicly trash the present (“What? Danny Aiello died?!? 2019 is the worst!”) on the assumption that the future will be better. But then 2020 showed up all hungover in January—laughing, belching, and muttering, “Hold my beer.”
Let’s be honest, this year was the worst. Nothing in my lifetime (thus far) can top the WE’RE IN A GLOBAL PANDEMIC card. Not only have we experienced plague and pestilence (and wildfires and riots), we’re ending the year by not getting to see friends and family over the holidays. At this point, some glass-half-full wiseacre will point out that good things are on the horizon. And yes, a vaccine is on the way in (and Donald Trump is on the way out), but not until 2021. Spin it all you want. There’s really no way to sugarcoat the shitstorm that has been 2020.
You may think that I’m immune to all of this. After all, I’ve got a smoking-hot wife, two great kids, and the kind of job that is both glamorous and that can be done safely from home. To which I say, have you spent any time with my kids? I mean extended “virtual-learning” time. And are you at all familiar with the state of the journalism industry? (The part about my wife holds up, though.)
Sure, compared to struggling small business owners and blue-collar workers ravaged by the economic fallout from the pandemic and families ravaged by the virus itself, I hit the jackpot. And compared to the frontline workers (or folks out of a job), we’re all on easy street. But that doesn’t mean 2020 has been a piece of cake for the keyboard warriors. Indeed, have you considered what the last four years has been like for the heroic conservative columnists out there, who are just struggling to get on cable news? In the words of Jerry Maguire, “It is an up-at-dawn, pride-swallowing siege that I will never fully tell you about.”
You see, mainstream media outlets hire conservative voices like me to provide balance. Trump made that task virtually Herculean (for the intellectually honest commentator, anyway). You can’t duck him and just write about, say, occupational licensure or ethanol subsidies for the rest of your life—because he dominates every freaking conversation. But you also can’t really defend him, since he keeps doing and saying morally indefensible things. And if all you do is criticize him, well, that puts you in the same category as every other journalist. TAKE THAT, LIBERAL MEDIA! So what do you do to justify the payday?
In an attempt to face this challenge, a few of my industry colleagues (erstwhile NeverTrump conservatives) have swapped tribes and essentially become Democrats. And switched from “heel” to “face.” The problem for me is twofold: I can’t be a Trump fanboy, any more than I could be a lefty. So, I’m alienating both sides with my neither-fish-nor-fowl essays.
My strategy is simple: When Trump does something right, I say so. But there are only so many Amy Coney Barretts and Middle East Peace deals to go around. And on the rare occasion that I did get to write one of these pieces, people Tweet and send my editors e-mails about how they’d love to support the Beast if it weren’t for that right-wing sonofabitch Matt Lewis. Mainstream media outlets tolerate those complaints about us Bible-toting conservatives because they want to provide some diversity of opinion. By dominating every conversation (and by being such a jerk), Trump made it very difficult to consistently perform this important function.
Now, I realize that what I’ve done here is to commit the cardinal sin of breaking the fourth wall—revealing that this is, in fact, a business. To paraphrase Annie Savoy in Bull Durham, being a political columnist “may be full of magic, cosmic truth, and the fundamental ontological riddles of our time, but it’s also a job.” And to extend the metaphor, I’m “Crash” Davis, and my goal is to keep going out to the ballpark every day.
My next season is about to start. I can’t wait to start writing about how radical liberal Joe Biden’s administration is the worst… if he’ll only oblige! Go ahead, Joe, let your freak flag fly! 2021 is going to be my year. I can feel it.