America in the age of permanent unease

Photo by nikko macaspac via Unsplash.

Everything feels wrong. The pandemic. Quarantine. Economic collapse. Unemployment. Racism. Violence by police. Violence against police. Outside agitators. Vandalism. Destruction. Theft. Curfew.

Hell, even Lady Gaga’s album is only so-so.

I live with chronic depression and acute anxiety.

And, friends, I’m cracking.

This shit is getting to me.

I’ve sworn off the news. Me. A 27-year newsman. I once got beat up in a Des Moines park after hours while covering violence in the park after hours. I wasn’t trying to be ironic. It just worked out there.

That was me.

Today, in a mess of free-flowing tear gas and pepper spray?

Hard pass.

Admitting that to myself makes me feel … lesser.

I’ve no call to be there. I’m still doing my journalism, but I’m independent now.

If you’re going to get mixed up with cops, protesters and rioters, you better have a good brand name with access to lawyers.

I don’t.

So, I’m sidelined like an everyday citizen.

These distress the big chuck of me that fears missing out, that wants to be in the thick of it and wants to lead from the front.

Yet a sizable chunk of me feels relief that I’m out of the game.

Just typing that sentence forces me to choke down bile. It disgusts me that I’ve lost whatever it was that sent me running toward the fray with a police scanner on my belt and my Blackberry (yeah, I’m that old) Twitter feed open.

But now?

Now I’m just a morbidly obese unemployed guy desperately seeking jobs along with 10 million of my fellow Americans.

If I’m not a newsman, what I am?

The confusion of self-worth and employment is an ugly side effect of capitalism on personal psychology.

We all more than our jobs. Yet, we spent a lot of damn time on those jobs. What value do I have if I’m not producing anything?

If I’m not making money, then I must be a lowlife skimming off the bottom of society, getting by on government subsidies.

I want to contribute. But Wall Street told me to take a hike because after 22 years full-time, I made a salary just big enough to be too big for an industry burning to the ground before our eyes.

I struggle to sleep. More accurately, I struggle to get to sleep. Around 7 p.m., I start getting so edgy you could cut cheese on my raw nerves.

I know in a few hours the city will shut down. The quarantine gave way to the curfew.

There was a time I would be headed out to sling sentences and stack paragraphs. But I’m sidelined, probably permanently.

And that hurts.

I can’t go to the bar. It’s closed. Hell, I can’t even order a pizza.

I try to give my life some purpose. I make daily contact with my friends. I check in with my parents a couple times a week.

I’ve asked my friend Paul to call me when he leaves home for work in Memphis.

I’ll get up at the same time and start my day. I look for jobs, set up interviews for future columns and maybe write something that is less whiny than this.

Yes, I could set an alarm. But I will ignore that alarm. When my friend calls, I’ve made a commitment to another person to participate in the day despite my desperate desire just to check out.

Even with my buddy’s help, I just can’t seem to settle in. I feel like a house cat that sees some ghost on the spectral plain and then randomly sprints out of the room.

Except I don’t run and even if I did, I don’t know where I’d go.

I try escapism, my drug of choice. I put on some of the new Looney Tunes cartoons on the HBOMax streaming service last night.

They echoed the classics I watched as a kid, but they weren’t the same. They felt more frenetic and neutered at the same time.

Yosemite Sam doesn’t use guns anymore because of course not. Yet, poor Sylvester the cat was skinned and had his muscles peeled down to the bone in the kind of gross-out comedy I would expect from Ren and Stimpy.

But I will never be able to watch and enjoy new cartoons the way I did the ones I saw when I was a kid.

That’s because when I was a kid, my responsibility was to have pants and a shirt on, eat a bowl of cereal, generally be quiet in the early morning and not make a mess in the kitchen.

It was just me, my dad’s Navy cap from World War II and my Pink Panther doll, who was my very best friend.

To a 5-year-old, that’s all there is to the world: Saturday morning cartoons and peanut butter and grape jelly sandwiches.

Growing up brings responsibility. Rent. Mortgages. Car payments. Insurance. Bills. Still, even with that responsibility, there’s a rhythm.

These days, everything is out of step and unpredictable.

Unpredictable, like spontaneity, is overrated. Give me consistency and calm. I am 45 and I long for slow news days.

Mostly I just worry. I worry I’m not going to make it. All these years into adulthood and I’ve never felt closer to failure.

People have been generous supporting this blog and every little bit helps.

I’ve picked up one or two freelance jobs, but not enough to make monthly expenses once my severance dries up.

Unemployment is increased at least through July. There may be more stimulus. There may be expanded unemployment.

The coronavirus may peak. The racial unrest may settle.

I remember the words of wise, old Randy Evans when I used the word “may” in a news story many years ago.

“Finney, do you know what the problem with the word ‘may’ is?” he said. “You could just as easily say ‘may not.’”

Daniel P. Finney, independent journalist

Cut loose and cashiered by corporate media, lone paragraph stacker Daniel P. Finney makes his way telling stories about his city, state and nation. No more metrics or Google trends, he writes stories about people and life ignored by the oligarchy. is reader-supported media. Please consider donating at

From quarantine to curfew, America compounds tragedy

Photo of the Humanity Wall in Ghent, Belgium.
Credit: Matteo Paganelli via UnSplash

This is the year of compounding tragedy.
Coronavirus pandemic for the plague of racism.
Medical quarantine for police-enforced curfews.
It’s all just so damn sad.

America — and Iowa — just started to open up from nearly two months of quarantine. Scientists told us it was too soon, but the economy continues to crumble with nearly a quarter of Americans unemployed.

Good idea or not, we went back out. We shopped. We sat down for a meal at restaurants. We grabbed a beer. There was talk of sports starting again. We attempted normal.

Then a Minneapolis police officer killed George Floyd. The officer shoved his knee into the back of Floyd’s neck. Three other Minneapolis police officers stood by like cowards and listened as Floyd pleaded for air and eventually died.

The justifiable outrage followed. People held protests and demonstrations. A police officer killed Floyd — on video.

Do you see it now? their voices cried out. Do you see what we face?

People protested, marched and demonstrated across the country. In Des Moines, groups held protests at the State Capitol and Des Moines police headquarters without incident.

That was during the day.

At dusk, a different kind of people came to express outrage in unjustifiable ways.

The after-dark crowd shot fireworks at police. They threw rocks and bricks at police. Adults handed lit flares to teenagers to throw at police.

Vandals spray painted buildings downtown and shattered windows at Johnny’s Hall of Fame, Spaghetti Works and the Hy-Vee.

The troubles rumbled up Court Avenue to the Polk County Courthouse to break more windows and spray more paint.

Sunday, scofflaws looted and destroyed at Merle Hay Mall.

Police broke up the crowds with tear gas, pepper spray and flash-bang grenades. The whole ugly scene played out on local TV and news websites.

After two nights of violence, destruction and looting, the Polk County Supervisors ordered a curfew from 9 p.m., Sunday, until 5 a.m., Monday. It is now on hold indefinitely.

And for the first time since my former paragraph factory cut me loose, I was glad not to be in the thick of it — not because I wouldn’t want in on the big story, but because I don’t know what the hell you’re supposed to say about this season of misery.

2020 has been the year of suffering and sadness the likes I’ve not seen in my near 45 years.

COVID-19 killed more than 106,000 Americans, including more than 550 Iowans.

We can’t visit our elders, the most vulnerable population. People wave from a distance, through windows or across video screens.

As former Los Angeles Dodgers announcer Vin Scully said recently, “This is a hard time to go without hugs.”

We shuttered businesses. We stopped going to the office. Ten million people lost their jobs, including me.

And just when we parted the curtain ever so slightly — BOOM! — racism punches us in our collective noses.

Obviously, I condemn the actions of the Minneapolis officer, who now faces a murder charge, and his three criminally negligent partners who allowed this gross depravity to occur.

Yet what comfort can I give? Everything I say seems hollow and trite. Everyone around me seems blessed with a clairvoyance or certainty I lack.

A friend in my right ear says it was extreme left wing anti fascists who whipped up the violence. A friend in my left ear blamed white supremacists for intensifying violence and destruction.

Charles Bukowski, the poet and novelist, once wrote: “Everybody has a different way, everybody has a different idea, and the are all so sure.”

There are a lot of people who are certain these days. Dead certain. Certain enough to be cruel, to threaten and even take lives, to revel in self-righteous fury.

But I’m not sure. I don’t know what the right thing to do or say is. I want to help, but I don’t know how.

The scourge of racism has been with this land since the first slave ships landed in the Americas in the early 1600s.

This nation was built on the backs of slave labor. It took the bloodiest war in the nation’s history to end the practice.

The Thirteenth Amendment ended slavery in 1863, but the open and aggressive efforts to exclude African Americans from society continued unabated for more than 100 years until the 1968 Civil Rights Act.

Since then, we’ve dealt with a more sinister form of racism — the kind that is easy for white people like me to ignore because it doesn’t happen right in front of us every day and thus seems remote given our own experiences.

Then something like the killing of George Floyd at the hands of police happens and we are all forced to confront this ugliness again.

I say “we.” I overstate. I mean “white people.” Most white people live blind to racism not present in their own lives.

I support the marchers but not the looters and vandals. I believe black lives matter. I understand that as a white man, I’ll never wonder if the reason I got pulled over was because of the color of my skin.

I try to treat my fellow humans with love, dignity and respect. I remember that we are all children of God, created in His image.

But my sadness over George Floyd and racism as a whole is great.

Racism runs deeper and is more destructive in this country than anything I can image.

I am lost. I have no wisdom nor course of action that will bring us — all of us, black, white or otherwise — together, which is an unimaginable misery of its own.

I am, at best, a marginal Christian. I am uneasy quoting the Bible, I believe the treatises on human kindness put forth by Jesus in the Beatitudes to be, at a minimum, great philosophy.

Almost daily, I am drawn to the Beatitudes, in particular this line from the Sermon on the Mount described in Matthew 5:7: “Blessed are the merciful for they shall be shown mercy.”

This is something I’m sure about: Every one of us at some point in our lives will need mercy. I have many, many, many times.

Our African-American brothers and sisters need mercy now as they long have.

We must find a way to make mercy the beginning and ending of our lives, for mercy is the only cure for misery.

Daniel P. Finney, independent journalist

Cut loose and cashiered by corporate media, lone paragraph stacker Daniel P. Finney makes his way telling stories about his city, state and nation. No more metrics or Google trends, he writes stories about people and life ignored by the oligarchy. is reader-supported media. Please consider donating at

Content on is available for reposting and reprint for free to any news organization. Links to the republished piece are appreciated.

Des Moines rioters echo violence, but fail to generate empathy

Photo: Daniel P. Finney

Smartphone video broadcast on one of the local television stations showed a handful of African-American boys. They walked in front of the Embassy Suites in downtown Des Moines. They smashed lights and threw things at windows. They shouted profanities as they ran along their destructive path.

I am supposed to believe these young men had joined a wave of protests nationwide about the grisly killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.

I do not believe this. The people who marched and spoke earlier in the day at the State Capitol and other venues did so in solidarity against the ongoing, systematic injustices against African-Americans that have been with this land since the 1600s.

The 250 or so who showed up at dusk on the Court Avenue bridge between the downtown drinking district and the Des Moines police station at 25 E. First St. just wanted to raise hell.

They put on a show of violence and used the killing of Floyd as a veil to hide their anarchic intentions.

What did Des Moines police have to do with the death of Floyd? Yes, they’re police officers.

In the simple-minded vernacular of all good vs. all bad, police are cast as the villains in this morality tale. But which police?

There was no Des Moines officer with his knee on Floyd’s neck. If you’re truly moved to protest, get in a van with the members of your church or community organization and go to where the tragedy took place. That’s Minneapolis, not Des Moines.

That’s how Martin Luther King Jr. did it. He took the masses to the sites of injustice. He did not assume all to be unjust and protest wherever he could assemble a group.

I am not fool enough to think there are no race problems between Des Moines police and African-Americans in the capital.

But I am fool enough to believe you should yell at the people who committed the inflammatory offense rather than just anyone who has the same job.

Des Moines police sometimes have bent coppers, as they say in North Ireland. In 2013, well before the age of body cameras for every officer, former Des Moines Officer Colin Boone kicked a suspect who was already on the ground in the teeth.

The next day, 12 officers who were at the scene showed up to report to supervisors what they saw and asked the department’s Office of Professional Standards to look into it.

“The message was clear: They were not having that,” one of the supervisors told me of the dozen officers who came forward to speak out agains their fellow officer.

The officer was fired. He was eventually sent to federal prison for 63 months.

Am I fool enough to believe that Des Moines police always get it that right? No, I’m not.

But I’ll tell you this much: I believe in Des Moines Police Chief Dana Wingert. He is exactly the man you hope is your police chief. He is hard-nosed, hard-working and upholds the highest standards. He also happens to be kind-hearted and funny.

Wingert has let the department fall below full strength rather than force candidates through the police academy that might be trouble later. He’s known to give a speech at the academy in which he lays out his expectations for cops.

Recruits can be at the front of the pack, the middle of the pack or at the back of the pack, Wingert tells them.

“Be in the middle of the pack,” he says, “because if I know your name before you graduate, it’s not going to work out for you.”

Wingert likely has booted more academy candidates than any police chief. He does not care how much money has been invested in their training. If he gets an inkling a cop is going to break bad, he kicks them loose.

But Wingert was at police headquarters Friday night. He heard the obscenities. He absorbed the anger. His officers did their best to maintain peace when it was clear many assembled intended only unrest and destruction.

Even Ako Abdul-Samad, the state representative from the Drake University neighborhood, pleaded for peaceful protest. People put hands on him and rustled him.

This is not the action of people who will garner more sympathy, more empathy and more action by idle white Americans in confronting our national racism problem.

What these petty riots in Des Moines do is turn well-intentioned people away from the injustice. I confess my privilege. I know I will never know what it is like to be pulled over by police and wonder if it was because of the color of my skin.

I get that. I promise you, I do. I vote against those who stoke the fires of racial hatred. And if I thought Des Moines police were riddled with bent cops on white supremacy jags, I would stand on the lines and shout them down, too.

But breaking lights and throwing objects at cops? I’m out. I’m going to bed. I’m grabbing a book off the shelf and putting the phone on “do not disturb.”

Please spare me the “with us or against us mentality.” Any logical person can oppose both the killing of George Floyd and the violence of riots. They are separate acts, both wrong and both harmful.

Friday’s riots mimicked the violence in Minneapolis, but they failed to generate an ounce of empathy.

When you fight fire with fire, eventually everything burns.

Daniel P. Finney, independent journalist

Cut loose and cashiered by corporate media, lone paragraph stacker Daniel P. Finney makes his way telling stories about his city, state and nation. No more metrics or Google trends, he writes stories about people and life ignored by the oligarchy. is reader-supported media. Please consider donating at