It’s Saturday, September 19, 2020. It’s 45 days until Election Day, and one of the last days of summer.
It’s the 100th birthday of Roger Angell, who is still around to celebrate it.
Unfortunately, what he can’t do is attend a Major League Baseball game. No fan can, thanks to this damn pandemic.
But few writers match his eloquence about my favorite sport, one of the greatest contributions America has made to civilization. His recaps of the seasons and the occasional leisurely story about a game or an aspect of the sport are why I subscribed to The New Yorker in the ‘80s and have since.
I know the Mets put a cardboard cutout of him in Citi Field this weekend. They mean well – but Roger Angell needs a full body. He makes baseball whole. His centennial is something to celebrate.
Of course, today is anything but a day for celebration.
At some point, either today or tomorrow, the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 tracker will turn over at 200,000 deaths in the United States. MSNBC’s counter has already reached the grim milestone.
And there’s the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsberg. In a sane, civil society, her passing would only be cause to celebrate her remarkable life and her contributions to equal protection under the law for all Americans.
But normal left town a long time ago.
Within two hours of the announcement, Mitch McConnell said he expects there will be a vote on Trump’s nominee – word-twisting his statement four years prior that the Senate shouldn’t take up a Supreme Court nomination before a presidential election.
There’s two ways of looking at that.
One is McConnell knows he has the Democrats over the barrel and has the opportunity to cement the nihilist Republican legacy no matter what happens on Nov. 3.
He might be right. If he picks a calm-looking nominee – a woman like Amy Coney Barrett – it’s going to be hard for Democrats to mount a scorched earth defense and not look bad in the process, no matter how obscene her judicial record.
The other way to look at it is that McConnell took the Democrats’ bait.
Yes, he might get his nominee – and that’s a big deal. But the price might be control of the Senate and the White House.
Forget the hypocrisy of McConnell’s position. He doesn’t give a damn – and neither does Trump or his knee-jerk Republican followers.
But focusing on a Supreme Court nominee while ignoring the other crisis – remember that COVID-19 thing – can’t be a good look.
McConnell has been sitting on proposals to help the millions of unemployed people, the small businesses getting crushed to death, and the states and cities on the brink of financial ruin from the COVID-induced recession.
Voters care about the court. They care more about whether or not they can feed themselves and their families.
If McConnell proceeds now, Joe Biden and the Democrats need to scream bloody murder – an expression my Democrat-to-her-last-breath Mom used to use – about how the Republicans are more interested in power than people.
Now, there’s always the chance McConnell can choose option C – take a Trump nominee, hold hearings and then not vote until he sees what happens in 45 days.
That’s a risk. If the Republicans hold the Senate, he gets his nominee passed, no matter what happens in the Biden-Trump race.
But if they lose control, he’d be condemning the remaining Republicans – including himself, assuming polls are right and he holds off Amy McGrath’s challenge – to pariah status.
And if the Democrats are smart, they work with what passes for moderate Republicans – Mitt Romney and Lisa Murkowski, for example – and develop a legislative plan that gives them something for their constituents.
Actions matter. We don’t know how the next six and a-half weeks will play out. But it’s what happens, not what’s said, that will determine the America of the rest of the first half of this century.
The immigrants worked as miners for the Union Pacific Railroad. In their testimony to the Chinese Consul to the U.S. in New York, the Chinese miners said they were targeted because they refuse to join their white counterparts in a strike for higher wages.
The white miners – men, women and children – chased and murdered the Chinese, who fled their soon-set-ablaze homes for the safety of the nearby hills. Eventually, U.S. troops quelled the rioting.
A grand jury refused to indict any members of the lynch mob, although the railroad did fire 45 of the white miners.
I picked this event over another significant milestone, the 75th anniversary of Japan’s formal surrender in World War II.
Because I wonder if we’re closer to the America of Rock Springs than the nation that united to win the fight against fascism.
We should be the latter. Since late February, we should have been in war mode against COVID-19. We should have treated this like the threat to Americans – to people everywhere, of course – that it has proved to be.
We should have been more like the nation that rationed sugar and butter and meat and oil. More like the nation that made sure the lights were out at night so would-be bombers couldn’t see us. The nation that shattered social norms by sending women into factories so men could go into battle.
Instead, a significant chunk of us still can’t be bothered putting on a mask. And nearly 185,000 Americans – significantly more than any other nation – have died. So far.
It seems ironic that the notion of patriotism is turned on its head in 2020.
Trump supporters believe individual discretion supersedes the public interest. It’s not just the masks. I want a drink at a bar. I want to get together with my biker friends at a rally. I want football games.
And the ultimate: If I don’t like what somebody is protesting, I can bring my AR-15 to town and shoot them.
Not e pluribus unum. Ubi est mea.
When I see Trump’s inability to criticize the actions of the shooter in Kenosha, when I hear his stooges defend the suspect – one said we need more like him and fewer like Greta Thunberg – I want to vomit.
When I see no compassion for Jacob Blake, no arrest in his case or that of Breonna Taylor, I want to cry.
When I see this push to minimize the COVID-19 pandemic, I wonder if the Trumpites figured out that the disproportionate toll the virus has taken on Black and Latino Americans is winning by attrition. The inevitable day that white America is no longer a majority pushed back if not erased.
Like the white miners of Rock Springs, the 40-something percent that has stayed with Trump persistently is not about being part of a grand national community that works together to solve problems.
It’s about getting what you want by any means. It’s about pointing to others and saying they don’t belong.
It’s affirming your own existence and denying the humanity of the other 328 million of us.
Denying humanity is what happened in Rock Springs 135 years ago.
But, as President Obama pointed out in his brilliant speech at the Democratic convention, Chinese people like the ones who survived Rock Springs didn’t give up on the promise of America spelled out in the Constitution. As others who faced diversity didn’t, either.
“(I)nstead of giving up, they joined together and said somehow, some way, we are going to make this work,” Obama said. “We are going to bring those words, in our founding documents, to life.”
Martin Luther King Jr said the arc of the moral universe is long and bends toward justice.
It’s Sunday, August 23, 2020. It’s 72 days until Election Day.
On this day in 1831, the Virginia slave rebellion instigated by Nat Turner was suppressed.
The rebellion killed about 55 white men, women and children. The reaction to it led to the murder of scores of Black people, even harsher anti-fugitive laws and the ridiculous concept that slavery was a benevolent way to treat African Americans.
Turner himself evaded capture for two months. But once he was caught, it didn’t take very long – less than two weeks – for him to end up on the end of a noose.
The recording itself shouldn’t have made me sad.
It’s a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here with You,” from a Dylan tribute designed to raise money for Amnesty International.
The performance is by the country group Sugarland. I’m not a big country fan and this is the only thing by Sugarland I own.
The song itself is as ostensibly happy as Dylan gets. I’ve fallen so much for you that I’m willing to give up everything – throw my ticket and suitcase out the window! – to spend this evening in your embrace.
So why does this version make me sad enough to write 213 words so far – and clearly more to come?
It’s because it’s a live recording. It was made at the New York State Fair in Syracuse in 2011.
I didn’t go to that one. But I’ve been to the state fair periodically since 1986, with my wife, my kids and even my brother.
We love it.
That’s weird because we’re from downstate. New York City, Long Island and the city’s northern suburbs. Most people who we’ve lived among have no idea New York has a state fair – much less that it’s in Syracuse in late summer.
New York’s a strange state. The people downstate don’t grasp any commonality with people north of Bear Mountain. If you can’t get there by Metro North, it’s upstate.
In fact, for people who live in the city, if you can’t get there on the No. 1 subway, it’s upstate – anything north of 244th Street in the Bronx.
But New York is a beautiful state, full of gorgeous vistas, wondrous agriculture and hard-working people.
And that’s what the state fair celebrates. If New York City isn’t part of it, so what? The butter sculpture, the Christmas tree judging, the state agencies’ booths, the baked potato stand. Not to mention gaudy food stands and, if you’re really brave, rides.
We went to the State Fair last year and loved it.
We’re not going this year. Because there isn’t one to go to.
Now you figured out why I’m sad.
Summer is a time of little joys that you wait a whole year to relive. Street festivals. Concerts. The beach. The Mets at Citi Field. Their farm teams in Binghamton and Syracuse. Restaurants. Historical sites.
I’m probably omitting one or two of yours. Feel free to insert.
This summer, those joys are lost. A precious summer – I’m 66 and I’m starting to realize that my number of summers is getting smaller – is gone.
And then, to compound this feeling, there’s this idea:
How many of the 176,464 people who have died as of this moment from COVID-19 dreamed, when winter was its fiercest, about the joys of summer. And thought that if they could endure the cold and snow and dark that corn-on-the-cob and meeting friends at the soft swirl stand and a trip to Williamsburg or Yosemite were not so long away?
That, most of all, is why the song made me sad. There are people cheering in Sugarland’s version of “Tonight I’ll Be Staying With You.”
Nobody’s cheering now.
It didn’t need to be this way. It. Did. Not. Need. To. Be. This. Way.
Tonight, I’ll be staying here. Throw my suitcase back in the closet.
It’s Thursday, September 17, 2020. It’s 47 days until Election Day.
Starting on July 26, I’ve been counting the 100 days from then until the election with something I call Trump’s A.S.S. – Acts of Shame and Stupidity.
The reason this list is hard to compile isn’t that it requires a lot of effort to find 100 acts of shame and stupidity committed by Trump in office.
It’s that Trump isn’t going to stop doing shameful or stupid things. How do you evaluate them with less perspective than some of the egregious things of the first two years?
It’s a challenge.
Why does it matter? Well, for starters, it helps pass the time until the day of reckoning for this cetriolo.
And, with all the efforts he’ll make to divert attention from all the shameful and stupid things he’s done since the Russians helped hand him the keys to the White House, it’s a reminder that we have receipts.
Anyway, here’s the top 100, in reverse order. I’ll add to this each day until the end.
Which, hopefully, is with this jackass getting thrown out of office. Bigly.
100. Crowd claim
A day after his inauguration, Trump claims 1.5 million people attended.
Photographs completely disprove the assertion.
In fact, a march to support women’s rights the next day drew more people, according to crowd scientists.
99.Just a little bit early
Most new presidents embrace a honeymoon period, avoiding strident politics to maintain the goodwill the nation naturally feels.
Less than a month after taking office, he brings Air Force One to Melbourne, Florida, for the first of many re-election rallies, avoiding the problems facing him in Washington to alternately brag and whine about a range of topics.
In November 2017, Trump retweets videos from a British ultranationalist group purportedly showing acts of violence by Muslims.
Naturally, the videos are suspect.
One of them, in which Muslim migrant supposedly beats a Dutch boy on crutches, the assailant isn’t Muslim. The others are four-year-old events with no explanation.
Trump’s tweets incur the wrath of – among others – then-British Prime Minister Theresa May.
That leads, of course, to Trump telling her to stop criticizing him and do more to combat “Radical Islamic Terrorism.”
97. Bannon cannoned
“I’m going to surround myself only with the best and most serious people,” Trump told The Washington Post in 2015.
Supposedly, that would include Steve Bannon, the anti-Semitic white nationalist who advised Trump in the campaign and joined him in the White House.
But, after helping shape Trump’s ham-handed response to the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, an administration full of infighting claims Bannon, who slithers off to aid would-be right-wing dictators around the world.
96. Still smarting
The White House Correspondents’ Dinner is an annual event at which the media and president ease some friction and show mutual respect.
But since coming to the White House, Trump has never attended the dinner.
It’s possible that Trump might side with some critics who say the dinner is an unhealthy mix of reporters and those they report about.
It’s more likely the self-proclaimed tough guy still nurses wounds delivered at the dinner by President Barack Obama in 2011 and 2016.
Trump saw that Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institutes of Health and the leading expert on the pandemic, was invited to throw out the first pitch of the truncated baseball season in Washington.
This apparently riled him – so much so that he announced he was throwing out the first pitch at Yankee Stadium in August.
Which came as a surprise to the Yankees, who had extended a general invitation to Trump but had not understood there was a specific date.
After a couple of days of controversy, Trump retreated, saying he had too much to do that Saturday. https://nyti.ms/3hTXyaE
It’s petulant for Trump to be jealous of the guy who’s trying to help him solve the greatest health crisis in a century.
But, for once, he has it right when he explained why people see Fauci – rather than Trump – as the person they trust in the crisis.
Radicalized by the speeches, Cesar Sayoc decided to take matters into his own hands. He attempted to mail pipebombs to prominent Democrats, including former President Barack Obama and former Vice President Joe Biden, as well as to the New York headquarters of CNN.
Sayoc eventually pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
He isn’t the only domestic terrorist inspired by someone who’s supposed to be the leader in fighting domestic terrorism.
In 2016, then-Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama became the first major senator to support Trump’s presidential bid.
For his loyalty, he was rewarded with the post of Attorney General. In that job, Sessions – who once joked that he liked the Ku Klux Klan until he found out they smoked pot – gleefully enacted all the heavy-handed changes Trump sought.
Finding the one ethical bone in his body, Sessions decided to recuse himself from overseeing an investigation into the Trump campaign’s possible ties to Russia because he might have been a party to it.
That led to the Mueller investigation, Trump’s bête noire for the first two years in office.
Trump never forgave Sessions, badmouthing him at every opportunity.
Once the 2018 midterm election ended, he dumped him as AG. And, when Sessions sought to regain his Senate seat in Alabama, Trump stumped for his primary opponent.
91. Throw some business his way
The United States was supposed to host the G-7 summit in 2020.
Usually, the setting is a resort location. And that gave Trump an idea. Why not steer the summit to one of the resorts owned by the Trump Organization?
In particular, what about the financially struggling Trump National Doral in Miami? In June, when Doral is normally empty because it’s so hot in south Florida?
Why not get six of the world’s richest countries to run up a tab at the family business? And, of course, there would need to be rooms for the other American representatives besides himself and any of his family-member advisers?
More than a few people began to utter the phrase “conflict of interest.”
After two days of controversy, because of what he called the “both Media & Democrat Crazed and Irrational Hostility” (the unnecessary initial caps are his), the summit was moved to Camp David, Maryland.
Except that the coronavirus pandemic probably means it won’t happen at all. Which would disappoint Trump, who wanted to invite his buddy Vladimir Putin.
90. What are friends for?
At a 2018 meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in March 2018, Trump insists that the U.S. runs a trade deficit with Canada.
Trudeau says otherwise. Turns out Trudeau is right.
Also turns out that Trump knows Trudeau is right, bragging to Republican donors in Missouri that he made up the information he gave Trudeau.Nice way to treat your neighbor and biggest ally.
Rex Tillerson was an unlikely choice to be Secretary of State.
He was a career businessman – the CEO of Exxon Mobil – not a diplomat; there’s a different art to those kinds of deals.
Trump didn’t know that when he nominated Tillerson for arguably the most prestigious cabinet post.
Still, Tillerson was perceived as one of the grownups in the room – a clear thinker who could keep Trump’s foreign affairs dealings in check.
Unfortunately, a couple of things happened.
One is that Tillerson discovered that Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, was doing a lot of freelance foreign policy – with far less experience than Tillerson.
And second is that Tillerson discovered the supposed leader wasn’t the shiniest chip in the casino. According to reports, at one meeting of senior staff, Tillerson called Trump a “f—-ing moron.”
In March 2018, Trump let Tillerson go, replacing him with the more supple Mike Pompeo.
About nine months later, Tillerson told a cancer fundraiser in Houston that Trump pressed him to break the law in some instances and never seemed to be up on the topics he needed to know.
Trump said Tillerson – the guy he supposedly vetted and picked for the most important cabinet position – was “as dumb as a rock.”
85. Unfortunately, they couldn’t translate from Clueless
At a ceremony that was supposed to honor Navajo veterans of World War II, Trump takes a political dig at Sen. Elizabeth Warren with a reference to “Pocahontas” in his comments – which, by the way, are made in front of a portrait of Andrew Jackson.
If you’re like most normal people, when someone praises you in public, you get a little embarrassed.
But for Trump, hosannas are air and water – he can’t seem to live without them.
In June 2017, cable networks showed what they thought was the start of a cabinet meeting. It’s not unusual – often, there’s something going on that a president might want to share with the American people.
But this meeting started with Trump saying how great a job his administration was doing. Then he went around the room to solicit comments from department heads and agency chiefs.
From Vice President Mike Pence (still there) to Attorney General Jeff Sessions (no longer there) to White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus (gone, too) to HHS Secretary Tom Price (yup, gone), these supposed leaders kowtowed to Trump with embarrassing sycophancy.
It made responsible people cringe. It kept Trump breathing.
The cruelty of Trump’s immigration stances stared him in the face whenever he went to one of his properties in the first years of the administration.
According to The New York Times, it wasn’t until 2019 that Trump’s properties – including Mar-A-Lago – began eliminating undocumented employees.
Like so many others seeking cheap, exploitable labor, Trump turned to the same desperate workers that he demonized in rallies before and after being elected.
Then journalists uncovered this slice of hypocrisy amid the gaudiness.
So groundskeepers and housekeepers – who were using the meager pay to support families in the U.S. and in their homeland – were turned out.
It’s the intersection of a lot of Trump themes: one-way loyalty, exploitation, expedience and – worst of all – cruelty.
82. Aw, isn’t she adorable?
For one participant, it was Take Your Child to Work Day at last year’s G-20 summit in Osaka, Japan.
For some reason, Trump thought it would be – cool? informative? impressive? – to bring his daughter, Ivanka, to the meeting of world leaders.
The G-20 hadn’t planned any activities for Ivanka like coloring sheets or getting to stand in front of the G-20 backdrop like the real leaders.
Instead, she tried to get into conversations with some of them, as if she knew something about what they were discussing. Only to get shrugs, glares and a memorable stink eye from IMF president Christine Lagarde.
Going to the White House should be a special occasion, especially if you’re a young man whose team just won college football’s national championship.
And, befitting a red carpet occasion, perhaps you’ll get a nice meal or at least some impressive hors d’oeuvres to describe to the folks back home.
So imagine the surprise of Clemson’s football team in January 2019 when they went to the White House to celebrate their national championship – and found stacks of food from McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s and other fast food outlets.
Not only not special, it’s the kind of food the players’ coaches warn them to stay away from if they want to be world-class athletes.
Trump thought he was being generous – he had to pay for the food himself thanks to the government shutdown he helped orchestrate. Of course, since he’s supposed to be such a wealthy sort, you would think he could afford a little something more than burgers and fries.
One Clemson player was heard on a Twitter video saying “I thought it was a joke.”
It wasn’t. The guy responsible, on the other hand…
Trump has been sounding the mantra of “Law and order” a la Richard Nixon since just after the protests against the police murder of George Floyd began.
But Trump’s definition of “law and order” is a little skewed, as Peter Baker’s story in the Times illustrates.
When peaceful protesters gather to complain about police mistreatment – such as the elderly Buffalo man who got knocked to the ground and disregarded by the supposed bringers of law and order, Trump is quick to show his support for the bad cops.
But when law enforcement officials go after him or his cronies (see Stone, Roger or Manafort, Paul) for actual violations of the law, those officials are “human scum” or “dirty cops.”
Hopefully, law and order will actually be restored on January 21, 2021 – when real law enforcement officials begin to investigate whether any crimes have been committed in the White House the past four years.
It’s safe to say that nobody who’s occupied the Oval Office has been as preoccupied with toilets as Trump.
The john is supposed to be where he does much of his morning tweeting – sometimes laboring to write a tweet.
But his sustenance – his rallies before crowds of admiring apparent co-sufferers – are where he really jiggles out his frustration with low-flow plumbing.
“Ten times right, 10 times. Bah bah,” Trump says, referring to the number of flushes he apparently needs.
He’s also lashed out at low-flow dishwashers and faucets – and just last week his administration proposed increasing limits on the amount of water that can flow from a shower head after he said he has trouble washing his hair. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-53761744
Trump also has issues with newer lightbulbs that last longer and don’t use a lot of energy, claiming they – and not the goop he spreads all over his face – are responsible for his orange glow.
Of course, the whole idea behind these changes in plumbing and lighting is to save water and electricity. Conservation is not an idea that holds water with Trump.
The American doughboys who manned the trenches of France in 1918 confronted their own nerves and endless German artillery.
But when it came time to honor their sacrifice in 2018, some terrifying raindrops kept Trump away – or at least that’s what we thought for more than a year.
The purpose of Trump’s trip to France was to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I. On the day of the ceremony at the American cemetery , rain and fog were given as the reason his helicopter couldn’t take Trump to the site.
It was the same rain and fog that confronted the leaders of France, Britain and Canada visiting gravesites of their countrymen in the French countryside.
Their solution: Take a car. For Canada’s Justin Trudeau, it was about a two-hour drive from Paris – a small sacrifice especially compared to the trips they were honoring.
Trump instead visited a cemetery closer to Paris.
Britain’s defense secretary took a swipe at this so-called leader. “Rain was a regular feature on the Western Front,” said Tobias Ellwood. “Thankfully it did not prevent our heroes from doing their job.”
As it turned out, Trump’s real excuses for not going, according to Jeffrey Epstein’s recent piece in The Atlantic, were 1) he didn’t want to muss his hair and 2) he thought the soldiers who he was supposed to be honoring were “losers” and “suckers.”
One would think that, after eight years out of power, Republicans would be lined up for posts in the new Trump administration.
But, in 2017, to say Trump took his time filling executive branch posts is putting it mildly. According to Michael Lewis’ book, “The Fifth Risk,” Obama administration officials waited in vain to assist the Trump people in the transition – because no Trump people showed for there to be a transition.
Two weeks into the new administration, major government posts remained unfilled as Trump vetted would-be appointees for suitable loyalty.
This administration – if you can call it that – has been plagued by turnover and unfilled positions. The word “acting” appears more on a roster of this administration than in the cast of a Hollywood movie.
70: Unhealthy choice
The idea of ensuring the “sexual and reproductive health” of women around the world doesn’t seem that controversial, right? After all, it doesn’t just refer to childbirth – it also seeks to protect women against such things as rape and genital mutiliation.
Obviously you don’t think like Trump. Or any of the other religious or political autocrats out there.
Last year, the administration joined some of the more unfriendly nations toward women in demanding that United Nations agencies eliminate the term from their missions.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar calls the term and others like it “ambiguous” and says it can “undermine the critical role of the family and promote practices, like abortion, in circumstances that do not enjoy international consensus and which can be misinterpreted by U.N. agencies.”
How does it feel to live in a nation whose government is pro genital mutilation?
Of course, given that we’re talking about Trump, is it any surprise?
He promised them during the 2016 campaign. Then he told us they were too complicated to understand.
Here’s what’s easy to understand: Trump’s failure to release his tax returns hides whatever financial shenanigans he’s been up to – both before and after Jan. 20, 2017.
And it obscures whatever forces – foreign governments, banks and moguls – have provided financial backing to a man who has spent more time in bankruptcy court than you and I have spent at the motor vehicle bureau.
This year, both the New York County District Attorney and the House Democrats went to the Supreme Court to get the returns. Trump claimed that, as president, he had the God-given right to withhold them.
The court ostensibly ruled against Trump, denying his assertion. But, aided by the fact that at least two of the judges are his hand-picked sycophants, the prosecutor and Congress need to be more specific about what they’re looking for.
New York County is making some progress, although a subpoena for Trump’s accountants is delayed until a forthcoming court ruling.
The mission of Medicaid is to help low-income and unemployed people get the medical help they need.
This bothers conservatives for some reason. They feel that people are getting something for nothing or for not enough.
So rather than being concerned that everyone is getting care, they want them to pay some sort of price. Forget that some of them aren’t working because they aren’t healthy enough to do so. Unless you’re not working because you have a trust fund or a portfolio, you are not entitled to be well.
This is one of those issues on which Trump – one of the biggest actual moochers in American history – goes along with the hard right. His administration announced its support of work requirements for Medicaid recipients.
The deal here is that Medicaid is administered by states. Twenty-eight states, most of them Trump lost in 2016, ignored the idea – refusing to impose work requirements.
The good news is that the effort to roll back the cruelty is making progress. In three conservative states – Oklahoma, Missouri and Nebraska – voters have approved Medicaid expansion, overturning the limits imposed by tame GOP lawmakers. In other states, court victories have at least halted the effort. https://nyti.ms/32Bo96b
66. Comes to shove
Dusko Markovic is a big deal in Montenegro. He’s its prime minister.
And that makes him a big deal to NATO, which in 2017 was in the process of adding the Balkan nation to the alliance.
But when Trump is in a room, there can only one big deal in his eyes.
So, at the NATO meeting in Brussels, when it came time for member and soon-to-be-member leaders to pose for a photo, Trump knew he had to get to the front of the stage fast. And something – Markovic – was in the way.
He shoved him aside without an “excuse me” or even taking notice of the man.
Markovic was cool – he said he understood Trump needed to be in the front and prominent.
At the very least, he certainly understood grace and manners better than the fool representing the United States. https://cbsn.ws/31EsGFS
65: Ethics limit
Walter Shaub had enough.
He served as director of the Office of Government Ethics under two prior administrations – George W. Bush and Barack Obama – and considered that a honor and privilege. Mainly because he didn’t have a lot of adjudicating ethical issues.
When Trump came in, Shaub realized that the normal standard of ethics couldn’t stand up to the relentless assault. He resigned – which left Trump free to pick an ethics chief that no one’s ever heard about or reasonably expects to.
Even conservatives were shocked when Trump announced in October 2018 – as he was about to attend a rally, of course – that the U.S. was pulling out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia.
The treaty eliminated short and intermediate-range missiles from land. It made it harder for either side to launch a surprise strike that obliterated the other before there was any chance to respond.
It was an accomplishment of Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, which is one reason why Trump’s unilateral withdrawal bothered conservatives.
But you know who liked the idea? Vladimir Putin, of course. The withdrawal gave him free rein to develop the weapon capability he seeks to intimidate his neighbors in eastern Europe.
Among the statesmen bothered by the move was Gorbachev himself. He said Trump’s decision to withdraw from the treaty was reckless and not the work of “a great mind.”
62. Miserables attract
Joe Arapio is a miserable excuse for a human being.
As sheriff of Arizona’s Maricopa County, he abused prisoners, conducted a sham investigation claiming Barack Obama’s birth certificate was forged and, in July 2017, he was found in contempt of court for holding Hispanic immigrants without suspicion they committed a crime.
It was no different in 2020, as Trump chose to describe the virus infesting America as the “Chinese virus” and “Kung flu.”
The problem is that there are very real consequences. Attacks on Asian Americans, particularly those of Chinese ancestry, increased sharply as Trump’s feeble-minded supporters respond with violence to Trump’s scapegoating.
“They’re parroting Trump’s language; animus that’s tied to China being the source and spread of the virus and the pervasive use of orientalist stereotypes and racist demagoguery,” said Cynthia Choi, a co-founder of Stop AAPI Hate.
DACA – Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals – is designed to prevent a humanitarian tragedy. It’s a program promising undocumented people who came to the U.S. as children that they wouldn’t be deported from the only country they’ve ever really known.
Of course, why should that stop Trump from trying to throw them out?
His administration went to court to try to erase the DACA program and gain the right to eject those eligible. The thinking of the mastermind of this – Stephen Miller – was that Democrats would be so desperate to keep those affected from deportation that they would cave on the administration’s draconian immigration demands.
The Supreme Court foiled the plan for the most part when it ruled in June in favor of keeping DACA – although Trump’s acting Homeland Security stooge Chad Wolf said the program would stop taking applicants and limit renewals to one year.
“Infrastructure week” is a running joke in the Trump administration that, in reality, is not so funny.
Trump promised when he won election that he would seek bipartisan consensus in rebuilding the nation’s crumbling infrastructure, a major impediment to sustained economic growth. But whenever his administration plans a rollout of ideas, Trump does something to overshadow it.
Some examples: The existing rail tunnels between New York and New Jersey are antiquated and falling apart. A new tunnel is desperately needed.
But Trump announced on a Friday in March 2018 that he asked Republican leaders to withdraw federal support for the project.
Why? Supposedly, in a fit of pique at Chuck Schumer, the Senate minority leader from New York. https://nyti.ms/2Z7dXBO
Schumer and Nancy Pelosi were his targets again in 2019. He invited them to the White House to discuss infrastructure, walked into the meeting, berated them about congressional investigations into his administration and then walked out to issue a statement in the Rose Garden.
And if you don’t think that was a planned stunt, maybe you’re interested in buying the Brooklyn Bridge. https://politi.co/3h1jlwc
58. Those scary starving kids!
All through the fall of 2018, Fox News viewers got the warning daily: They’re coming!
A so-called caravan of about 15,000 poor, displaced people seeking relief from the danger in their Central American homelands marched slowly through Mexico. They believed that stuff on the Statue of Liberty about tired, poor, masses yearning to breathe free and a lamp by a golden door.
Trump saw this tragedy in motion as an opportunity. With the midterm elections coming up, demonizing these people – many of them women and children – was an opportunity to protect Republican majorities in the House and Senate.
So he sent 5,600 U.S. troops to the border to make sure these demons didn’t invade.
Actually, these migrants posed no threat to anyone. Except for the troops’ well-being.
The soldiers were forced to spend much of November, including Thanksgiving, away from their families for this dubious threat.
It was a waste of money, a morale zapper and – in the end – the Republicans lost the House anyway. https://nyti.ms/3h1LIu7
57: Birth of a, uh, word
Covfefe became a word on May 31, 2017, when Trump tweeted, in toto, “Despite the negative press covfefe ”.
That was it. People had no idea what he meant.
It reminded people that he seems to have nothing else to do but pick out these thoughtless thoughtlets on a mobile device and share them with the rest of the world.
It’s a Twitter presidency. Unfortuately.
Since taking office in 2017, Trump has tweeted thousands of time, sometimes more than 100 times a day. It’s the one thing we know he actually does, since his announced schedule is often just plain empty to allow for tweeting and watching cable news.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with a president using social media. Sometimes. it’s a way to wisely convey a message to the people of the nation and the world.
But Trump’s overuse of the medium – to sound off about what he sees on “Fox and Friends,” to use as a trial balloon on policy, to go after the media – diminishes the office and the nation for which he’s supposed to be working.
The man and three women who have served as Trump’s press secretaries have been nothing remotely resembling Allison Janney’s character on “The West Wing.” They’ve willingly spread Trump’s lies, berated reporters doing their job, and otherwise done their best to obfuscate and harass.
At least three of the Fib Four: Sean Spicer, Sarah Huckabee Sanders and the incumbent, Kayleigh McEnany, actually held briefings.
The third, Stephanie Grisham, never did – the only press secretary in the 91-year history of the job not to do so. https://nyti.ms/2ZgCe8zl
55. That old gangster of mine
Hangin’ with the bad boys seems to be Trump’s theme when it comes to meeting heads of state.
But perhaps the worst offender has been president Recip Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey.
When he came to visit in 2017, members of his security detail charged into a group of protesters outside the Turkish embassy in what Washington police called “a brutal attack.” Nine of the protesters were injured.
Fifteen members of the detail were arrested. In the end, however, the charges were dropped against all of them through the apparent intervention of the Justice Department.
Trump himself said nothing about it as he went about praising Erdogan for winning a referendum to increase his power – most observers called it a sham – and gave Erdogan “very high marks” for leadership.
Erdogan returned in 2019. At a joint news conference, Trump sought a question from “only friendly reporters” from Turkey – where Erdogan has been a world leader in jailing journalists.
As Sen. Lindsay Graham of South Carolina said “There aren’t any others left.”
Trump himself was – to be kind – reluctant to serve in the U.S. armed forces during the Vietnam era, even though he attended military school.
So you would think he would be happy to see anyone else take that responsibility.
Despite their willingness to serve their country, and over the objections of military leaders, transgender people were banned from service to a country they love.
It’s just one of many ways his administration has placated the extreme views of religious fundamentalists concerning the rights of LGBTQ people.
That includes arguing in court that employers can discriminate on the basis of sexual preference and gender identity, scaling back civil rights enforcement for LGBTQ students, and supporting the legal case of a Colorado baker who sought to refuse service to a gay couple.
They were retired military leaders – the fact that Trump relied so much on military types was concerning. But they were expected to be the “grownups in the room” as Trump went about playing at being president.
By the end of 2018, Trump rebelled.
Kelly, a retired Marine four-star general who became White House Chief of Staff in July 2017, was forced out after growing frustration with Trump’s erratic behavior.
Mattis, also a retired Marine general, resigned as Secretary of Defense in December 2018 effective the following February. That resignation got moved up to Jan. 1 after Trump actually read – or had someone read him –
Mattis’ resignation letter that basically condemned his world view of belittling traditional allies and showing obeisance to the leaders of Russia and China.
Trump tried to do the “you can’t quit, I fire you” schpiel of wounded bullies, but no one accepted the idea.It does appear as though Kelly and Mattis got their revenge in The Atlantic’s piece published last week.
The Consumer Financial Protection Board was created by the Obama administration to help Americans ravaged by the 2008 financial crisis.
When Richard Cordray, the agency’s head, stepped down in 2017, Trump appointed his budget director – Mick Mulvaney, who once called the agency “a sad, sick joke” – as acting chief while keeping him in his job as budget director.
In the Oval Office last September, Trump wanted to prove that Alabama – a state loyal to him – was on the path of Hurricane Dorian as it prepared to hit Florida and the Carolinas.
So on an enlarged National Weather Service map of the storm’s track, someone – most people think it was Trump itself – used a Sharpie to draw a little black abutment included Alabama.
Let’s be clear: Trump didn’t want Alabama to get hit by the storm.
It’s just that he wanted Alabamans to know he was thinking of them as the storm approached the East Coast – on which Alabama is not.
The problem is the National Weather Service need people to accept the credibility of its forecasts in order to save lives endangered by serious weather.
Thus there was tension between Trump and the weather service. One official changed the service’s position to reflect Trump’s view, which caused the professionals in the service to protest political interference – and pretty stupid interference at that.
He’s not a doctor – although he bizarrely claims he has an aptitude for medicine inherited from a relative.
But a desperate Trump, looking for some way to stop a pandemic that jeopardizes his presidency, came down big on hydroxycholoroquine.
The drug is an approved treatment for malaria and lupus. And a French study initially indicated that it might – might – be suitable for treating COVID-19.
But the study raised doubts almost immediately. And the FDA determined – more than once – that hydroxychloroquine is not an effective treatment for the virus.
That didn’t stop Trump from touting it. “What have you got to lose?.” he asked, a medical ignorant throwing up unproven solutions from the worst health crisis of our generation.
He stockpiled it, gave it to other countries suffering from the pandemic and even said he was taking it as a prophylactic.
And some people found out they had a lot to lose – use of the drug led to complications, including death, for some patients.https://cnn.it/3kkE8Ni
That’s just one of Trump’s “miracle cures” that he thinks will make him seem a hero in this tragedy very much of his making.
He forced the FDA to issue an emergency authorization for the use of blood plasma as a COVID-19 treatment – an authorization on hold after scientists of integrity said data on the treatment was too weak to justify the approval.https://nyti.ms/2GUDOq6
And he gave credence to a treatment promoted by one of his most prominent supporters, MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, that’s derived from a deadly plant. Trials of the treatment were halted when they were determined to be inconclusive. https://bit.ly/2Fons97
And, yet. that shouldn’t be surprising. He garnered attention by promoting the idea that Barack Obama wasn’t really born in the United States. Having won the presidency, he doubled down on the crazy.
He really won the popular vote because undocumented immigrants voted – multiple times – in California. Obama tapped his phones during the campaign. Antonin Scalia was murdered. Bill and Hillary Clinton arranged for Jeffrey Epstein’s murder in a New York jail cell. The “deep state” is promoting the coronavirus to hurt his re-election chances.
And so on.
Most recently, he’s given credence to the wacky QAnon theorists who believe that somebody working deep in the government is trying to uncover how Democrats are running massive pedophile rings. Since they support him, his reasoning goes, he can’t find anything wrong with them.
By the way, Wikipedia, you’re missing one: Trump promoting the idea that talk show host Joe Scarborough, who became a critic after supporting Trump in 2016, was involved in the death of aide – who actually died of natural causes. https://wapo.st/32xQzPY
It’s the fodder of late night comedians. But it’s more scary than funny.
47. A Doocy of intelligence
The person with the title President of the United States gets, by all accounts, the best available intelligence.
It’s usually condensed into something called the President’s Daily Brief (PDB).
Alas, it doesn’t seem as though the PDB is the source of Trump’s information about the world.
Instead, it’s the on-air personalities at Fox News.Trump has been known to tweet incessantly as “Fox and Friends” spreads its party line each morning. He’s also known to parrot the talking points of Fox personalities Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson. Laura Ingraham, Jeanine Pirro and Lou Dobbs.
It’s Friday, July 17, 2020. It’s 109 days until Election Day.
It’s the 118th anniversary of air conditioning.
Willis Carrier unveiled the first plans for a devised that lowered both the temperature and humidity in the space in which it operated.
As we in New York prepare to hang out at home in the midst of the summer’s worst heatwave, appreciation of Carrier is in order.
Your kids carry your hopes and dreams. They’re the extension of your families into – hopefully – the 22nd century. They’re the manifestation of love itself.
So it’s quite understandable that many of you are pissed about having to decide whether or not to send them to school in the midst of this cursed pandemic.
If my kids were young enough, I’d be very leery of sending them back. And that leeriness would come as a surprise to them, since they thought of me as the evil parent who would have them in school 24/7/365 if he could.
And I live in New York. The virus, right now, isn’t nearly as bad here as it is elsewhere – or as it was here just a few months ago. School districts in areas where schools will be allowed to open have until the end of the month to develop plans for the safety of the kids attending.
So those of you around the country in places where COVID is rampant are probably even more reluctant to risk it.
The problem is that kids need an education. They need to go to school. And you know that.
When COVID-19 led to shutdowns in March, we first thought the disruption would last a few weeks. Maybe. Then we thought it would last a few months. Then we realized the rest of the 2019-2020 school year was lost.
But even then, there was no conception of what to do about the 2020-2021 year. Because no one knew what would happen to the virus. Would it just disappear with the warm weather or would it do, well, what it’s done, spread further and wider?
So there’s been no effort to plan for this school year in the event so many of us decided to keep our kids safe at home.
What’s needed here is some guidance on a national level. It would be nice if there’s some kind of federal Department of Education to establish curriculum standards and facilitate methods of delivery. That might help state and local officials develop plans they could adapt to their own requirements.
Instead, we have some organization with the title Department of Education. But its purpose under Trump collaborator Betsy DeVos is to fulfill her master’s political wishes.
So instead of solving the problem, DeVos’ mission is to parrot the open-at-all-costs mantra Trump believes he needs to win re-election.
Forget about them.
The lack of coordination and emphasis on kids learning, rather than on getting their bodies into a possibly virus-infested building, is another failure in this crisis.
State and local education departments – in conjunction with teachers and other professionals – should be establishing on a child-by-child basis the alternatives to in-person learning. Taking into account grade level, economic situation and special needs, and then formulating a plan to make that work.
Parents can’t be expected to teach kids themselves – particularly if they either work at home or actually have to go to a job. With sufficient planning and follow-through from educators, a little creative use of technology, it’s hard to believe kids can’t learn effectively.
But it was going to take an effort – a real effort – to accomplish this. And more than a little money.
Which goes back to how much of a priority education is. Unfortunately, it’s not that much,
For now, I don’t know that it helps any of the parents wrestling with what to do about their kids this fall. But someone should be thinking about how to help them out, instead of making them feel as though they can’t help the most precious parts of their lives.
For many years, the game was listed in the record books as a perfect game. But the people who decide this stuff ruled that a perfect game really should be up 27 batters up, 27 batters down – no errors, no reaching base by walk, hit by pitch or catcher’s interference.
So Shore and Ruth are credited with a combined no-hitter.
The biggest change I want is, of course, the unceremonious ouster of the incumbent seat warmer in the Oval Office.
But Trump’s stay at the White House might have served a valuable purpose. (And, yes, I just inflicted pain on myself for writing that, but I’ll continue.)
Despite this nation’s deep political polarization, who really thought that the fundamental American political system was rife for a wannabe dictatorship?
In the last elections for president and both houses of Congress, Democrats received more votes than Republicans. Of course, because of the nature of our system, Republicans hold the White House and the Senate.
I understand that. Those are the rules we played by. If Hillary Clinton had won with 3 million fewer votes than Trump, I would have defended her election, too.
But instead of seeking to sway more Americans into supporting him with popular policies and conciliatory leadership, Trump seems to have driven through every loophole his henchpeople can find to enrich himself and entrench his power.
And that extends to the circle around Trump. In no advanced country would anyone as unqualified as Jared Kushner be allowed anywhere near the exercise of authority.
When I lie awake at night upset at the state of American democracy, it’s because of the fear that Trump could care less about its survival.
Lots of progressives talk about making changes to make sure an election like 2016 never occurs again.
Most of these center around eliminating the Electoral College and electing a president by popular vote.
There’s two problems with that.
One is that it’s not going to happen. The Electoral College is there just to thwart what we think should have happened in 2016 from happening. While Clinton won more votes overall, Trump was the candidate who got the most votes in more states.
It’s why a individual voter in Wyoming has more say about who’s in the White House than an individual voter in California. And it’s unlikely that Wyomingers are giving up the power.
Here’s the other problem: Changing the way we elect someone isn’t going to solve the abuses of someone like Trump.
Because in addition to him, Mitch McConnell’s Senate has been complicit in his power grab, So have the complicit judges railroaded onto the bench by McConnell.
And if – this is what’s most important – if these abuses were committed by progressive Democrats, they wouldn’t be any less heinous.
So people throughout the political spectrum might see the benefit of making the following two changes.
Put some teeth in the Constitution’s emoluments clause
Thanks to reporting led by David Fahrenthold of the Washington Post, we have a pretty fair idea of how much Trump’s businesses have benefitted from his presidency.
Actually, we don’t need to see the reporting. Trump violates the emoluments clause every time he takes a wretched swing at a golf ball on one of his courses.
That shouldn’t happen. That’s corrupting. And it applies equally if someone with a liberal bent – let’s say, for argument’s sake, Tom Steyer – was elected and conducted his presidency in a way that steered or encouraged his business to prosper.
So let’s make violation of the idea that the president should not have any business ties of any kind a sticking point. He or she would have to divest themselves and their entire family from those businesses within 60 days of inauguration or forfeit their presidency to the vice president.
2. Create an independent anti-corruption body to assess and, possibly, adjudicate the performance of elected leaders
And this might be a way to use technology to solve the problem.
The agency could decide on an objective set of principles to determine degree of corruption. Does the president fire a federal prosecutor who was investigating his business? Did a House member from Pennsylvania take money from government contractors for a reelection campaign? Does the senator from Missouri have relatives working in the St. Louis office?
Put these into algorithms and spit out an annual integrity score. If the score is below the standard for honest governance, it would trigger an inquiry from the commission’s members – non-partisan choices from all 50 states and Washington, D.C.
If the commission finds an official acted corruptly, the matter is first referred to the appropriate remedial body – if it’s the president, for example, the House would get the case as grounds for impeachment.
But, if no action is taken, the matter goes to a referendum among the voters of that jurisdiction, national, state or congressional district. And that will be done by popular vote – if the president loses, the vice president succeeds him or her.
Because right now, there is no check on Trump’s abuse of power. He – or more likely, the people around him who actually know how government works – can run roughshod on normal presidential behavior and ethics.
And this Senate, as it proved in February, won’t hold him to account.
I want the Trump era to end now. But I also want there to be nothing like this time in our country ever again.
I don’t know that there’s any sure way to do that – but it would be a failure on our part not to try.
Today is the 57th anniversary of the murder of Medgar Evers outside his Jackson, Mississippi, home.
Evers fought at Normandy before coming home to the same old Jim Crow crap when he tried to exercise his right to vote. So he spent the rest of his life trying to get it and other basic rights for African Americans.
Just before he died, he heard President John F. Kennedy give his strongest speech on the need to pass national civil rights legislation. Then he pulled into his driveway, emerged from his car and got shot in the back by a racist coward.
He died 50 minutes later, but not before his frantic family convinced a Jackson hospital to make Evers its first-ever black patient. It was about to turn him away because it was whites only, but somebody in the place remembered the Hippocratic Oath thing.
To see Evers’ gravesite. don’t go to Mississippi. He’s buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
Because he’s an American hero.
Andrew Cuomo, my state’s governor, tackled the question of whether New York City should join the movement to topple the statue of Christopher Columbus in Columbus Circle.
And by “tackled,” I mean he knocked it down hard – much like what those bothered by the statue would do to it given the chance.
“I understand the feelings about Christopher Columbus and some of his acts, which nobody would support, but the statue has come to represent and signify appreciation for the Italian-American contribution to New York,” Cuomo said.
“So, for that reason, I support it.”
This is tricky ground for me.
I’m not only Italian American, but my paternal grandfather is from Savona, where Columbus spent his boyhood. He’s practically a homie.
So, over the years, I’ve tried to find ways of defending Columbus. I’ve wrestled with this the past few days as Native Americans state their case for demonizing him.
Now that might bother you. Like the governor, I get it – and that’s why you’re now in the midst of my rumination of how to reconcile two things:
Columbus symbolizes Italian American pride.
Columbus enslaved, murdered, sickened and colonized the people he supposedly “discovered.” That, understandably, bothers Native Americans and other indigenous people of this hemisphere.
There are seething injustices for which the craven murder of George Floyd is merely the tipping point.
African Americans, in particular, have reason to be aggrieved.
Add all the unpunished police or wannabe police killing with less-than-human treatment by society, substandard service by government, economic inequality and a disproportionate amount of death from COVID-19 – and I’m still not sure that sums it all up.
So I get this idea of righting wrongs – those from last month and those from the last four centuries. And not just African Americans – everyone else in my household is wholly or partly Asian, and watching videos of jerks blaming Chinese people in America for the pandemic gets all of their blood boiling.
What complicates this is why there’s a Columbus Day and Columbus statues in the first place.
Brent Staples, the Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial board member of the Times, wrote an amazing piece last fall.
In 1891, 11 Italian immigrants were lynched in New Orleans because a jury didn’t convict some of them for the shooting death of the city’s police chief. The city’s leaders had no problem with this. Neither, Staples points out, did his employer, the Times – it called the mob’s victims “a pest without mitigations.”
If the lynched had been black, it wouldn’t have raised much fuss. As African Americans know all too well.
But the Italian immigrants had allies – la patria.
The Italian government was so incensed by the incident that it broke off diplomatic relations with the United States and threatened to go to war over it.
President Benjamin Harrison – a Republican with such a peculiar obsession with his wife’s niece that he married her after his wife died – caved to the Italians. Kinda like Sen. Pat Geary of Nevada in “The Godfather Part II.”
He paid an indemnity and declared a one-time holiday to mark the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ arrival in the hemisphere.
The holiday stuck. The powers that were realized that Italians are white people, too, and wanted to bring them on board. They might not be as desirable as the British and the Norwegians, but at least they’re not Asian or black.
Why Columbus? After all, he never sailed close to what became the United States.
I guess Harrison had the anniversary in mind, when he wasn’t thinking about his wife’s niece, and there wasn’t anyone else who fit the role.
So that’s where I am. I get why it’s hard for Italian Americans to let go of Columbus. He represents our begrudged acceptance in this country.
But here’s the thing:
Two wrongs, three wrongs, 27 wrongs, thousands upon thousands of wrongs – no number of wrongs make a right.
The evidence is overwhelming that Columbus did what historians say he did. That’s horrible.
He deserves the vitriol he gets. As an American, Italian- or otherwise, injustice is anathema in whatever form it takes.
Even – no, especially – when it’s done by a homie.
However, before we knock down Columbus’ statues and change the name of Columbus, Ohio, and Columbia University and the District of Columbia, can I make a suggestion about Columbus Day?
Let’s keep it.
Except that we should honor the original idea behind it rather than who it honors.
Let’s make it a day to celebrate the immigrants who make this country what it is. All of them, not just us Italians.
Let’s make it a day to celebrate where we all come from. A feast day with a dizzying array of food, music and ritual.
A day to celebrate my Italian heritage and my wife’s Chinese heritage and your Mexican heritage and your Senegalese heritage and your British heritage and your Cherokee heritage.
A day for parades down Broadway in New York and Market Street in San Francisco and High Street in whatever we end up calling Columbus, Ohio.
And that statue in New York that Gov. Cuomo opposes tearing down?
I’m perfectly happy replacing it with one of his grandfather. Andrea Cuomo came from southern Italy to run a grocery store in Queens and start a family that gave our state two governors. He’s certainly a more honorable man than Christopher Columbus.
But if that seems vain, maybe a rotating series of statues in the renamed Immigrants Circle reflecting the diversity of New York.
The point here is this:
I get why you might object to a statue of a slaver and murderer in a vaunted spot of your hometown.
But he’s there to show compassion for the struggles of one of the groups that helped make this country.
If we can be more virtuous about who we honor – and generous about sharing that virtue – sending that statue a tumblin’ down might work.
It’s the 125th anniversary of the birth of Hattie McDaniel.
She was the first African American to win an Academy Award, the best supporting actress for “Gone with the Wind.”
McDaniel played Scarlett O’Hara’s maid in the movie. Indeed, her movie career, which lasted until she died at age 59 in 1952, was predominantly filled with maid roles. Because black women were pretty much restricted to subservient roles – subservient except to the black men who were portrayed as too weak to stand up to even them.
Even in the 1940s, McDaniel faced some pushback from other African Americans who thought she perpetuated negative stereotypes. In that way, she couldn’t win – criticized by black people on one side and not allowed to attend the movie’s premiere in Atlanta because of Jim Crow.
But, after her death, McDaniel’s reputation improved. When Mo’Nique won the best supporting actress Oscar for “Precious” in 2010, she praised McDaniel for putting up with Hollywood’s racism so that other actresses could be free of it.
It’s funny how history works.
I think it’s a coincidence that McDaniel’s birthday is when HBOMax – the latest streaming TV service you didn’t know you needed – announced it’s pulling “Gone with the Wind” temporarily.
This has been a surprisingly big year for “Gone with the Wind” news.
You’ll remember that at one of his last rallies before stopping them due to the COVID pandemic he said was a hoax, Trump lamented the best picture Oscar going to “Parasite.” And he wondered why they don’t make movies like “GWTW” any more.
Just an aside, my guess is that Trump is one of those assholes who talks during a movie.
Anyway, I believe the first time I saw “Gone with the Wind” was in college. I had heard about it all through childhood – it was the seminal movie event of my parents’ generation and, until “The Sound of Music” came around in the 1960s, was the biggest grossing film of all time.
I remember being unimpressed.
Movie buffs would say that “Gone with the Wind” was the state of the art of movies in 1939, incorporating CGI-type effects without the benefit of the C. The burning of Atlanta – with Rhett rescuing Scarlett, Melanie and Prissy as the fires rage – is considered the Death Star destruction of its time.
OK, but the story sucks.
It sucked even before our current reawakening of racial tension that led to HBOMax’s decision.
Unless your sense of history is that the wrong side won the Civil War, this movie asks you to sympathize with the biggest collection of losers ever.
Scarlett is a spoiled brat. Ashley is a mindless dolt who gives himself to this supposedly noble cause. Melanie is a dope who’s always letting Scarlett get off the hook with her lecherous approaches toward her husband.
And Rhett would be a total jerk – he rapes his wife and exploits the side he’s supposedly on for financial gain – if it weren’t for the fact that he’s played by Clark Gable.
Then there’s the black characters. I’m sympathize with Hattie McDonald, Eddie Anderson and the rest, but it’s hard to watch this and accept the idea that these characters are content with life in bondage. Especially to the people I mention above.
But, I have to say, I long accepted the idea that this was considered a classic film. In the American Film Institute’s initial ranking of the top 100 films of all time, it came in fourth – only behind “Citizen Kane,” “Casablanca” and “The Godfather.”
The re-ranking in 2007 put it sixth, raising “Raging Bull” and “Singin’ in the Rain” above it.
So a couple of things happened after that.
When I wonder why I raised two kids who are embarked on show business careers, I think back to the Dad Film Festival – my attempt to show my youngsters what real movies were after being forced to watch “The Doug Movie” and other wastes of my time.
So I showed them movies perceived as classics. Some of them are – “Singin’ in the Rain” remains my son’s favorite movie of all time.
Then there’s “Gone with the Wind.”
They were bored. Not a lot really happens by today’s standards. It’s a freakin’ long movie, almost four hours with the intermission – and they wondered what was up with that.
The other thing that bothered them was the fact that this story is told from the point of view of the Confederate losers I mentioned above. Who cares what happens to them? They were fighting to keep people enslaved and got exactly what they deserved.
It’s a disorienting film for your kids if they’ve been raised to think the good guys won the Civil War.
One other thing to consider.
When I’ve taught my journalism class, I’ve given students an assignment to watch a movie that depicts the profession and critique it. Most of these are the standards: “All the President’s Men,” “Spotlight,” “Citizen Kane” and “Network” are among them.
One movie I considered was “His Girl Friday,” the adaptation of “The Front Page” that featured Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell. It’s considered a classic screwball comedy of the 1940s and a depiction of old-time newsrooms.
So I watched it. It certainly has a lot of virtues.
It also is chockablock with racism. Mercifully, it doesn’t use the n word, but any other slur you can think of shows up.
And it’s not even as if it’s essential to the plot – as if the story is even about black people. It’s just casually dropped in there for what I imagine the writers thought was an easy laugh.
I could not imagine any of my students – especially, any of my African American students – considering this movie anything but insulting. What serious discussion could I have about what the movie tells us about journalism when unseen African Americans are so disregarded?
Obviously, this is a time of reflection about our multiracial society.
The COVID-19 pandemic, with the preponderance of African American victims – should have pushed us toward it. The murder of George Floyd did.
One of the things to think about is what is art.
There are people bothered by HBOMax’s decision to pull the film because of “GWTW’s” vaunted status.
But do black people see art when they see the movie?
Or do they, as Malcolm X said about the movie, feel “like crawling under the rug”?
At the very least, HBOMax is right to frame this movie in some sort of context.
Because there’s a reason Trump sees this as the kind of movie Hollywood should be making – and it’s not because the cinematography stands out in the burning of Atlanta scene.
As far as I’m concerned, keeping “Gone with the Wind” off HBOMax might be a good reason to subscribe.
Tell the truth: You didn’t think he was that young.
You also haven’t seen him around much lately. Why do you think that is?
The Johns Hopkins-compiled COVID-19 death toll officially reached 100,000 last night.
You thought we hit the milestone over the weekend after The New York Times published the stirring list of 1,000 fatalities beginning on Sunday’s front page.
No. We just got close last weekend. We got there last night.
And it wasn’t as if we weren’t going to hit 100,000 deaths. There was nothing to indicate that the tragedy would just come to a stop at whatever number was on the Johns Hopkins page when the Times went to press Saturday night.
Just as there’s no indication that number won’t seem quaint before too long. We’re coming to a point when May 27 will be the day when there were only100,000 people dead from COVID-19.
That seems cold, doesn’t it?
But if you think 100,000 deaths is jarring and tragic, how are you going to feel at 200,000?
Is there going to be the same gasp that afflicted Americans who care about this crisis? Or are we going to be numb to this level of unimaginable and unnecessary death?
There are people who already are.
The people jumping up and down in the streets outside the capitals of states where governors have taken this thing seriously. They’ve been conditioned to think this whole thing is overblown, a massive political hit job. At the very most, a bad flu season.
Obviously, 100,000 deaths isn’t a big deal to Trump. He didn’t seem to have a lot to say yesterday about the milestone, instead choosing to nurse the wounds inflicted Twitter dared to say the garbage he spewed was inaccurate.
And his bet – and it’s one he could very well win – is that you and I and everyone else in the country is going to accept that 100,000 number and move on.
So that when we reach 110,000 sometime next week, 125,000 sometime in June and 150,000 by early August, who’ll care? It’s just a number – forget the victims and the lives they led and the families and loved ones they left behind – and there’s some other shiny object to focus on.
But we’re going to get to 200,000 dead Americans, because while the pace of death across the country is slowing a little, it sure as hell ain’t stopping.
And this administration and the people who support it – yeah, that’s right, all of the people who support it – are not interested in whether or not it goes on.
Trump doesn’t give a good goddamn about 100,000 or 124,576 or 147,832 or whatever number pops up on the TV screen every night. He’s got his agenda and some people who were going to die anyway aren’t worth stopping to attain it.
He would be in a better place if he even pretended to care. When he even gave a hint of doing that, the cable networks – even the ones he maligned – fawned over the new Trump as if he were Scrooge after the ghosts visited. Just taking that tact would defuse so much of the vitriol hurled at him.
But he didn’t have the discipline or, more important, the empathy.
You and I do.
No one I love has died from COVID-19. But I know people who have lost loved ones and I’ve heard the sirens wail down the highway that leads to the nearest hospital.
I’ve read the painful tales of parents denied the comfort of their children or spouse as they passed in a cacophony of tubes and machines.
My students saw the mundane jobs they work as a way to pay for college become essential to our communities’ survival.
I care. I would love to have the power to slam the brakes and stop this death wave before it gets any further. I know you would, too.
We’ll try. We’ll wear the mask. We’ll stay home as much as we can. When we shop or take out food, we’ll only patronize places with strict mask-wearing policies.
We’ll stay up to date on the latest developments in searches for treatments and vaccines. We’ll be ready to do whatever it takes, as a community, to stop the death counter.
Even though we can’t.
When I ran in the park near my home this morning, just 40% of the people I encountered wore a face covering. And this is New York, where mask-wearing in public is supposed to be mandatory.
That’s not nearly enough. You and I might stop some of the spread. But what are the other 60% doing.
And that’s why that 100,000 deaths is merely a mile marker on a long highway. The deaths aren’t stopping because there are too many Americans who have moved on to the next episode. They’re tired of this – as if the virus cares about their ennui.
For the people who love these next 100,000 victims, I’m sorry. I’ll do what I can – I’m going to assume the people reading this will do what they can.
When the country – all of the country – does it, the counter will stop.
On this day 3,302 or 3,303 years ago, depending on the source, Troy fell to the Greeks, who used the old Trojan horse trick – which, then, was the first-time-ever Trojan horse trick.
Do you find yourself angry a lot these days?
It’s OK. You’re among friends.
I know I do. I’m angry a lot.
There are circumstances that make me angry and feel powerless to change or control.
There are people who make me angry, but railing at them today would defeat the purpose of this. So the prior sentence is the last you’ll see of anger on the page you’re reading. I hope.
So I’m doing a little experiment today.
I’m reaching deep to see joy and grace and beauty at a time when those virtues are as direly needed as a roll of paper towels.
I’ve been lucky – no family member I know of has been afflicted with COVID-19.
I know that’s not true of others. My friends. My students.
And for them, the tragedy of caring for a sick loved one is compounded by the maddening frustration that they must leave that loved one by face this disease alone.
So the first gift of grace I would want to bestow is on them. That those they love can feel that love amid the wires and the tubes and the noisy machines. Not only their love, but ours by proxy – both for the afflicted and the affected.
That extends to the people in the hospitals and nursing homes caring for them.
I can’t imagine the trauma of dealing with so much tragedy.
But when you see them on TV crying for those they couldn’t save and clapping for those they did, I think something a curmudgeonly friend of mine long passed once said – “You’re a freakin’ stone if you’re not crying.”(Ed. note: He didn’t exactly say “freakin.”)
I’ve said I want a ticker-tape parade for these people when this is all over. But I do realize a ticker-tape parade is not optimal anytime soon given the circumstances.
So let’s be creative and think of something wonderful and, at the same time, healthy to show how much all of us appreciate the grace and beauty of health care workers and all the others rightly lionized in this crisis.
How about a new national holiday – a real one, in which everyone has the day off, combining the joyous elements of Independence Day with the somber moments of Memorial Day?
I’d call it Life Day – honoring and remembering the people who enhance and protect it.
And there should be a monument on the Mall in Washington for those who fight this war and win it, and for those who have persished in it.
Grace is not limited to those who are deemed essential workers – many of whom never thought of themselves or were treated as that – in this crisis.
It comes in the signs in people’s yards – some mass produced, others individual and humble – extolling those essential workers.
I see them when I walk or run near where I live and – when I do – I know the people who live there get it. They want themselves and the workers – and even you and me – to live and share joy.
Grace also comes from the good things of life that were there all along – but are appreciated more now that we’re limited to them in our homes.
Five years ago tonight, my wife, some friends and I saw Vienna Teng sing at a club in New York. She’s a wonderful singer-songwriter – and listening to her music today reminds me that there’s beauty in a lyric, in a melody, in the arrangement.
I’m reading a terrific biography of Frederick Douglass by David W. Blight. A work of incredible scholarship that won the Pulitzer Prize last year.
Great writers of all types bring knowledge and joy – especially now that we have more time to read. And that is grace bestowed on us.
Finally, of course, because it is how I spent most of the first 66 years of my life, grace comes from the journalism we see every day.
The reporters standing in the hospital hallways and calling sources. The editors working at home to make copy readable.
And, in a special state of grace, are writers and editors trying to do this while a young child 10 feet away needs help with school work, a toy fixed or a diaper changed.
It’s easy to despair right now. It’s easy to see the mounting death toll and worry about ourselves and those we love. It’s easy to fear that the cratering economy will wreck our homes and our way of living for a very long time. It’s easy to get frustrated with not being able to go where we want.
And it’s OK to be angry about a lot of it.
Not me – today, anyway. I’ll be angry tomorrow.
Today, I’m going to think about the grace of the people helping us survive, and the grace of the people who entertain and inform us, and the grace of those whose love is given to those who need it – even when those who need it can’t see those giving the love.