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Four Decades Along the Rainbow Road

A look back at my work with the LGBTQ community. I first became active in the gay rights movement in 1980 when I launched my LGBTQ jo...

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Trump's RACE to the Bottom

Of the myriad character flaws that make Donald Trump unfit both as a president and as a human being—corruption, narcissism and vindictiveness, to name a few—the one that is the most troubling is his racism.  For decades Trump has been consistent in his racism from the Central Park Five to leading the birther movement against President Obama to his involvement in discrimination against African Americans in housing. #hocopolitics

Since his descent down the Trump Tower’s escalator to announce his presidential bid in 2015 when he called Mexicans “rapists,” Trump had given the country and the world for that matter a preview of what his 2016 campaign would be about and provided a glimpse of what his presidency would be like.  

While Trump has continued his descent as a racist, increasing numbers of Americans are ascending, rising to the occasion, especially in the wake of the brutal murder of George Floyd and other unarmed Black individuals at the hands of the police. He and most of the nation are moving in opposite directions. The mainly young protesters comprised of all races and backgrounds formed a beautiful mosaic of people trying to bring justice to our society.

Trump can herald his administration’s few accomplishments vis-à-vis African Americans all he wants, it still boils down to one indisputable fact. Trump is a racist and a white supremacist.

I want to be clear, not every Trump supporter is a racist, but many are. He has given hope and life to a white nationalist movement in the country that had been percolating under the surface and in the shadows. His comment in the wake of Charlottesville where neo-Nazis marched with torches chanting anti-Semitic and anti-Black slogans as “very fine people on both sides” was a dagger to the core of the American conscience.

A despondent Trump arrives home following
embarrassing Tulsa rally

He has characterized African countries as “shithole countries.” He called majority Black Baltimore “a rodent infested mess.” He uses the term “thugs” referring to Black males. He frequently calls Black female journalists “nasty.”

Trump’s response to the murder of George Floyd reinforced his racist reputation.  As people took to the streets to protest police brutality the likes of which we have not seen in a half century, Trump labeled the mostly peaceful but angry and determined protesters who were exercising their First Amendment rights as “anarchists,” “rioters,” “arsonists,” “looters” and other disparaging names. 

Yes, there was arson, looting and destruction. But the Black Lives Matter movement and other leaders quickly condemned those acts, and the perpetrators comprised a very small portion of those protesting. They were mostly outside agitators and criminal opportunists who did not represent the largely peaceful protesters.  

Rather than demonstrating sincerity in the desire for much needed police reform, Trump stepped back 50 years and took a page out of another racist president’s playbook. He started tweeting and conjuring up Richard Nixon’s call for “law and order.” Yet, Trump did not condemn the instances of police violence occurring in the streets against the protesters.  Moreover, he seems more concerned about preserving the statues of Confederate soldiers.

With his presidential reelection campaign looking downtrodden, he is using another Nixon-Agnew trope “silent majority” whom he hopes will save his floundering chances. Trump has decided to bank on this group by playing the race card. He knows his base, and they eat this up.

To that end, he retweeted a video, since taken down by him, whereby one of his supporters chanted “White Power” during a protest in The Villages in Florida—a key swing state. Trump had sent this to over 80 million followers on Twitter on June 28. It is shown below. 

“Thank you to the great people of The Villages. The Radical Left Do Nothing Democrats will Fall in the Fall. Corrupt Joe is shot. See you soon!!” he wrote in the tweet.

Trump’s racism is disgusting. He has numerous character flaws but this is his most vile. With every passing day, there is no bottom to his descent.

A good article here on Trump's using racism as an election strategy.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Unmasking Trump’s Biggest Mistake

From his candidacy for president through three plus years in office, Donald Trump has made a host of mistakes. Some have been in the process of governance like the pointless Trump shutdown, separating families at the southern border, the Muslim ban, his response to Charlottesville, his blundering of the coronavirus pandemic response, his taking the wrong position on the George Floyd murder-inspired Black Lives Matter protests, as well as other instances. #hocopolitics

He also made a number of political miscues along the way, such as demeaning the late Sen. John McCain, making fun of a disabled journalist, calling Mexicans rapists, insulting a Gold Star family, and more recently his stroll to the St. John’s Church with Bible in tow for that infamous photo-op after law enforcement broke up a peaceful demonstration using tear gas and other weapons.

So far, Trump, who had been impeached but not convicted for abusing his power to pressure an ally for personal political gain, has more or less weathered the storm, hanging around within single digits of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden in most polls.

But President Trump has made one mistake that arguably is his biggest to this point, and that will do more damage to him politically than any of the others. To put it simply, his dismissive attitude towards wearing face masks during the coronavirus pandemic could have an oversized effect on his reelection prospects not to mention adversely impacting the health of large swaths of the population.

Trump needs a strong economy to make the case for reelection but pesky Covid-19 put a halt to that. The ensuing stay-at-home orders provided by his own administration and the nation’s governors closed most businesses, sent well over 40 million folks out of work and plunged the economy into a recession. For this reason, Trump had first denied the seriousness of the pandemic and eventually downplayed it so that he could pressure governors to open their states’ businesses sooner than health officials advised. Remember, for Trump, "it's the economy, stupid."

While some states are seeing their rates of infection decline, the Sunbelt is experiencing a marked rise. In this environment of “re-opening the economy,” it is more incumbent than ever to practice social distancing, avoid large gatherings and to wear face masks to at least mitigate the spread of Covid-19.

Somehow, these common sense precautions have been politicized by Trump, who refuses to wear a mask in public.  His followers take his cue and view wearing masks as a sign of “weakness” putting everyone around them at risk. To be fair, some of the Black Lives Matter protesters have eschewed masks but that appears to be more of a personal decision (albeit a risky one) rather than following the President’s example.

Early on, when there used to be briefings from the White House Pandemic Response Team, Trump never wore a mask on the podium and was in close proximity with other members of the team. He continues to go without a mask in subsequent public outings, and his supporters are following him. For his part, Vice President Pence tweeted a photo (pictured) of him since deleted at a campaign headquarters in Virginia with no masks in sight.

The biggest test to date is Trump’s upcoming political rally in Tulsa, OK on June 20. The planners have not mandated the use of face masks and we know the thousands of expected rally-goers will not wear masks so they could piss off the liberals.  Those attendees will have to sign a waiver so that they cannot sue the Trump campaign if they are stricken with the very virus they seem to deny.

Nonetheless, Tulsa’s health director is concerned for the well-being of the attendees and the president himself.

“I think it’s an honor for Tulsa to have a sitting president want to come and visit our community, but not during a pandemic,” Dr. Bruce Dart, director of the Tulsa City-County Health Department, told the Tulsa World. “I’m concerned about our ability to protect anyone who attends a large, indoor event, and I’m also concerned about our ability to ensure the president stays safe as well.”

We’ve learned this much about Covid-19.  It doesn’t care about party affiliation or the righteousness of causes. Instead, the virus is hell-bent in finding a host and to penetrate his or her lungs to decimate them. Masks help prevent the spread, and without a workable therapeutic or a vaccine, Covid-19 is going to be around for quite a while.

By Trump’s not taking the coronavirus precautions seriously like wearing a mask, he is putting his own base, his own voters, his own people and everybody who are in contact with them in danger. The further spread of Covid-19 will slow down the re-opening of the economy if not set it back altogether as the public will be less likely be sufficiently comfortable in patronizing those businesses. Therefore, Trump’s cavalier approach will not help his reelection chances since the economy is unlikely to bounce back under these conditions.

Wearing a mask is the prudent thing to do but Trump doesn’t see it that way. It’s his biggest mistake thus far.

Monday, June 01, 2020

Russia, If You're Watching

Dear President Putin,

I know you and your associates are toasting each other with glasses filled with Stolichnaya at the images of the U.S. being torn apart. Once again, a cold-blooded murder of a Black man at the hands of a white police officer has triggered unrest throughout our country.  The footage of the protests is heartbreaking to us because the anger was a result of this senseless tragedy, one that has been repeated for too long, but it must be heartening to you.

Your goal to sow discontent in the U.S. is working. So while the glasses in Russia are clinking now, please know it won’t last.  #hocopolitics

As you are well aware, you helped Donald Trump get elected as President. While he calls the “Russian thing” a “hoax,” we know better. Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III, though limited because of a bureaucratic impediment that prevents a sitting U.S. President from being indicted and whose investigation had been under a direct threat of abolishment by President Trump himself, confirmed what our intelligence agencies concluded. The Mueller Report found that the Russian government “interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion” and “violated U.S. criminal law.”

Accordingly, 26 Russian citizens and 3 Russian organizations were indicted. The investigation also led to indictments and convictions of Trump campaign officials and associated Americans for unrelated charges. The report relayed two methods by which you guys attempted to influence the election: 1) a robust social media campaign to damage Mr. Trump’s opponent Hillary Clinton and 2) the hacking of email accounts by your own GRU and the release of the consequential damaging information by WikiLeaks also to damage Mrs. Clinton. But you know all that.

Thus, Mr. Trump squeezed by with an Electoral College victory though the majority of voters preferred his opponent. With him in the White House, you have what our intel folks refer to as a “useful idiot.” You knew he would be so tethered to his business holdings so that he would put his own interests ahead of our country’s. You knew he would ensure that our Congress and related departments would not be too harsh on your country in retaliation against your interference in our democracy.

Many Americans believe that Mr. Trump as well as leading Senate and Congressional Republican leaders, such as "Moscow Mitch" McConnell, have been compromised by your government and/or have received laundered money in the form of donations for their campaigns. This explains their determined opposition to safeguard our upcoming election and allowing you to repeat the same operation with impunity.

You also helped install Mr. Trump because he is a divisive figure by nature and would cause chaos in our country. In the three and a half years in office, he has validated your assumptions.   

He has never attempted to unify our country; he only serves his base of support. President Trump vehemently attacks the opposition and attacks our free press. Sound familiar, President Putin?

President Trump has served you well by keeping the chasm in the U.S. deep and wide. At no time during his presidency did a majority of Americans approve of him as President.  This divisiveness has continued throughout the Covid-19 pandemic whereby he was slow to react to it, failed to develop a national strategy to address it, assumed no responsibility, and blamed everyone else.

The divisiveness is on full display during the protests concerning the murder of George Floyd. To be
Murder victim Goeoge Floyd
clear, the scourge of systemic racism has existed long before there was ever a Donald Trump.  But throughout his career, he has fomented racial animosity with his calling for the death penalty on wrongly accused Black and Latino men in the Central Park Five case, amplifying the birther crusade against President Obama, his reference to neo-Nazis in Charlottesville as “very fine people,” separating kids from their parents and placing those kids in cages at our southern border, and speaking down to African American journalists among other instances.

He has given a voice to extreme racist groups and individuals whereby they can display with pride their Confederate flags and symbols and at times, swastikas, without any condemnation from our President. White nationalists know President Trump has their backs.

During this sad chapter in our history, instead of rallying the country and attempt to heal it by promising vigorous police reform, he calls for “tougher” response by our state governors.

President Putin, with your puppet Donald Trump doing your bidding by keeping our nation divided and in the throes of chaos, I understand why you are celebrating. However, we expect Mr. Trump will be defeated by Joe Biden in November and with that, we hope the demise of Trumpism will also occur. Our country will slowly heal, come together through competence and a renewed determination, we will once again be the United States of America.

Then it will be our turn to toast with glasses of Stoli.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

A Dress Rehearsal for November?

Concern mounts over how an unstable, volatile Trump may act after being defeated in the election.

Let’s assume President Donald Trump loses the upcoming presidential election. Now let’s imagine what his concession speech may sound like on the night of November 3:

“Well, the American people have spoken and I wholeheartedly respect their decision. I just called President-elect Joe Biden and congratulated him on his robust campaign and wished him the best of luck. I promised that my staff and I will make the transition to the Biden Administration as smooth and efficient as possible. I want to thank my supporters and my family for their devotion to me as we must seek to unify our country during these difficult times. As for me, I will resume my role at the helm of the Trump Organization and pledge to help the Biden Administration in any way I can for the betterment of our county.”

Now if you believe that this speech could take place I have a beautiful ski lodge in the South Florida Mountains to sell you.

Comedian Bill Maher has famously said over the past couple of years that Trump, should he lose, would never leave the White House. Lots of people dismissed that as pure hyperbole with little evidence to support the notion that Trump would violate the Constitution and cause an unnecessary crisis. #hocopolitics

However, as the coronavirus pandemic has gained a stronghold in the world and in the U.S. in particular, tweets and spoken words by the president over the past two months seemed to have added credence to what was viewed as Maher’s preposterous speculation and has worried many more.

Stumbling out of the gate even when Trump’s own intel and health officials warned him of the pandemic, Trump mismanaged the crisis as he acknowledged it a full two months after he was alerted to it. He offered confusing and contradictory messages, played politics with “blue state” governors, and failed to establish a plan to provide much needed testing and personal protective equipment to health workers on the front lines.  

Trump was in denial and played down the coronavirus as nothing more than a flu, which will disappear, and a new Democratic hoax. He claimed almost simultaneously that he bore no responsibility; he had total authority; and then shoved it off to the states to deal with it. Later, he offered a possible treatment: injecting bleach into one’s system and using UV rays internally with neither lethal activity sanctioned by legitimate physicians and scientists.

Along the way, Trump witnessed the meltdown of his vaunted stock market numbers—one of the measures he planned to use to justify re-election—and now the jobless rate and the total reported unemployed are in Depression territory. His chances for re-election were evaporating, and he was desperate. And a desperate Trump is indeed a dangerous Trump.

Trump egged on demonstrations against stay-at-home orders by state governors in violation of the White House’s own public guidelines for dealing with the coronavirus and preventing the spread of COVID-19 urging them to “liberate” their states. 

Recall how Trump used to say that the military, police and bikers were his people. He must have really been aroused to see demonstrators decked out in cammo or with many donning Trump-Pence 2020 garb and hoisting banners with a few swastikas sprinkled about.

In Lansing, Michigan, demonstrators—all white—entered the state capitol with impunity replete with long rifles and automatic weapons slung over their shoulders as a means to intimidate. This was clearly Exhibit A of white privilege; unarmed Black joggers meet a different fate.  

The summoning of weapon-toting Trump supporters has begun to alarm folks and wonder what Trump would do should he lose.  Certainly, referring to the demonstrators as "warriors" is unsettling, too. What has taken place with these protests could be a dress rehearsal for November.

“If anyone doubts that Trump will ask MAGA to take up arms and defend him at all costs if he loses in November, you don’t know the man,” tweeted former Trump insider turned stand-up comedian Noel Casler who spent six seasons on the set of Celebrity Apprentice. “He would plunge this country in chaos to escape justice or fair election results.”

Many Democrats as well as some traditional Republicans, after witnessing Trump’s erratic behavior over the course of his term and in particular, during the current crisis, fear he would declare the election as rigged by the media and deep state and the mail-in ballots fraudulent.  

At the extreme he could urge militias to storm the streets and government buildings to protest the results. There have been similar threats by right wing extremist groups online so it’s not a concept plucked out of mid-air.  

The next six months promises to be ugly and dangerous politically and economically as will the coronavirus pandemic, especially if there is another surge because states opened up their economy prematurely. A desperate Trump, whose election fortunes rest with how he ultimately is seen managing the crisis, is well aware he faces legal turbulence once he is not a sitting president, should alarm us all.

How such a constitutional crisis would be rectified is uncertain at best.


Images: Reddit,VOX

Monday, April 27, 2020

A Biden-Abrams Ticket Sounds Like a Winner

Image: The Hill

Presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden already narrowed the field of potential running mates last month when he pledged to select a woman. For those who had hoped that Beto O’Rourke, Pete Buttigieg or Julián Castro among others to be selected will have to wait for another shot with this revelation.

The names of several prominent women have emerged as potential candidates including Senators Amy Klobuchar, Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren as well as Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer.  Except for the latter, all of these women vied for the nomination and all had dropped out of the presidential race and endorsed Biden. All would be outstanding running mates. And all indicated they would accept the number two spot if asked.

But the former gubernatorial candidate in Georgia, Stacey Abrams, would be the best pick to help defeat the increasingly defective and dangerous Donald Trump.

For her part, Abrams is unabashedly lobbying for the post, which is a break from traditional waltzes the nominee and prospective running mates dance to leading up to the selection.

“I believe in doing the work,” she said on Meet the Press on Sunday. “I’ve been doing it since the day I did not become governor and I will continue to do so. And I do so at a national level.”

She added, “As a young black girl growing up in Mississippi, I learned that if I didn’t speak up for myself, no one else would, so ... my mission is to say out loud if I’m asked the question, 'Yes, I would be willing to serve.’”

Since Biden is in his late 70’s, a vice presidential candidate takes on added importance. Though she lacks significant executive experience other than leading the Fair Fight national organization aimed at combating voter suppression, Abrams is the best choice. Fair Fight grew out her contested razor-thin loss to Brian Kemp in the Georgia gubernatorial race whereby alleged voter suppression most likely determined the outcome.

The number one priority among Democrats is to defeat Donald Trump. an already impeached president. One could only imagine what a second Trump term would do to the country and the world given his penchant for vindictiveness and incompetence. At a time of a worldwide pandemic, Trump’s performance is shockingly inept and frightening.

Despite Trump’s numerous foibles, his approval numbers continue to reside in the 40’s when they should otherwise be dipping into the low 20’s. His stubbornly loyal base sticks with him through thick and thin, and there has been scant evidence that his support peeling off, according to polls.

Trump defeated the far more qualified Hillary Clinton in 2016 with similar numbers. Therefore, it behooves the Democrats to take nothing for granted, dot every i and cross every t to defeat Trump.
With Stacey Abrams on the ticket, Biden’s chances improve. Abrams will excite the African American base especially women who are the most reliable Democrats and they do vote in large numbers. Imagine if that energy among African Americans during the 2016 election existed in cities like Philadelphia, Detroit and Milwaukee. Trump would have not won the battleground states of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, and we wouldn’t be in this position today.

Her selection should warm the hearts of Bernie Sanders supporters, which would further unify the party and the ticket.  Biden needs a vast majority of these supporters, especially young voters, if he is to succeed. Abrams being three decades younger than Biden would go a long way.

Electorally, this excitement provided by the charismatic Abrams as the vice presidential candidate could put Georgia into play as well as North Carolina, Florida and even Texas. Down ballot, she could help the Dems as Georgia will have two open Senate seats. And there is an open seat in South Carolina; it’s time for Jamie Harrison to defeat Trump sycophant Lindsey Graham. A massive African American turnout there could do the trick and provide help for Doug Jones in Alabama.

In March a poll conducted by Data for Progress, a progressive think tank, showed that a Biden-Abrams ticket would match up best against Trump-Pence. Joe Biden would not be in this position were not for the strong support he’s received from African Americans and especially the game changing endorsement from Representative Jim Clyburn.

To defeat Trump, Democrats will need to turn out in large numbers. Biden-Abrams: that’s the ticket.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Trump's Leadership Takes You Back to the Land of Oz

Trump's leadership during the Coronavirus pandemic lacks intellect,
courage and heart.

As we watch the President Trump’s daily monotone, lie-filled campaign rally disguised as a Coronavirus press briefing, it is remarkable how his reaction to and the handling of the virus parallels the characters in the classic film The Wizard of Oz. While that story was a fictionalized fantasy, the current situation is serious and deadly with no end in sight. Yet, it is hard to escape the comparisons.

There was the Scarecrow who lacked a brain. Trump has a brain to be sure, but he has not utilized it the way the leader of the free world should. He pretends he is capable of offering medical advice and touting drugs and other therapeutics that have no scientific basis for success. In fact, they are considered dangerous. 

And his brain failed him again when he pushed to “re-open the country” to further death and hardship against the best medical advice by experts and the better judgment of most of the country’s governors.  Most recently he offered the astoundingly stupid suggestion of injesting disinfectants to fight off the virus.#hocopolitics

There was the Lion who lacked courage. This deficiency is manifested by Trump’s declination of responsibility while blaming others, such as Democratic governors who are “complainers” as opposed to Republican governors who are “doing a great job,” the World Health Organization, President Obama, and the media among others.

The lack of courage also shows up while Trump demonstrates an unwillingness or incapability of telling the truth.  His first misstep was to deny the existence of the pandemic and in his true divisive style called it “another Democratic hoax,” even after he was warned about it by his own administration including intel organizations.

Then in an attempt to quiet the nervous stock market, he downplayed the severity of the outbreak. 

 “We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China, and we have it under control. It’s going to be just fine.” 

"Looks like by April, you know, in theory, when it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away.” 

“It’s going to disappear. One day, it’s like a miracle, it will disappear.”   

He has consistently lied about the readiness of the country for dealing with the pandemic and the availability of testing and personal protective equipment for the front line medical workers who are toiling to save American lives as they risk their own. Trump has overstated the work his administration has accomplished and congratulates himself almost on a daily basis by falsely claiming the great job he has done. The lies and misinformation spewed from these briefings are breathtaking. 

Finally, there was the Tin Man who lacked a heart. Whenever there has been a tragic moment in Trump’s presidency (Charlottesville, Parkland shooting, wildfires and natural weather disasters especially his disgusting response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico as examples), Trump has shown an incredible lack of empathy towards the victims.

Saying repeatedly that we are doing better than other countries is small consolation to all those families and friends of those who perished from COVID-19.

I cannot recall a single time during the Coronavirus briefings when Trump convincingly and sincerely expressed his compassion for not only the victims of this pandemic but also for the courageous work of the healthcare professionals.
Trump holding notes during his empathy-deficient listening session
following the Parkland mass shooting.

He doesn’t seem to grasp the magnitude of the loss and believes so many more lives would be lost if he did nothing. 

Then what about the over 50,000 lives lost since COVID-19 first surfaced in the U.S. when he was made aware? Think about that. If the average baseball stadium was filled to capacity and included standing room only, every single person in that packed ballpark represents an American death due to COVID-19. That is a lot of people for the president to be patting himself on the back.

As mentioned earlier, he treats these briefings as campaign rallies brimming with self-congratulatory hyperbole, touting his TV ratings, comparing the crowd size at the Mall in D.C. last 4th of July with the Martin Luther King “I have a dream” speech from 1963, ripping Democrats every chance he can, doing absolutely nothing to unite the country as all other presidents have done in previous crises, and more.

“He has failed abysmally in that and he has also failed just in the notion of what he’s telling people. Saying liberate - free Michigan, Virginia. Encouraging people to come out and trying to turn this health crisis into a political rally for himself,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren on MSNBC.

“That is absolutely the wrong kind of leadership. It is the kind of leadership that puts lives at risk, and it is the kind of leadership that undermines the very strength of this country.”

This lack of intellect, courage and empathy has proven to be dangerous. This is, of course, far more serious than the imagined dream in The Wizard of Oz. Trump reminds me of those characters, though, but based on his leadership or lack thereof, he’s certainly not a wizard.

Saturday, April 04, 2020

Exposed by the Virus

Trump’s character flaws spring up during the coronavirus pandemic.
Photo: AJImpact
Throughout our history, presidents have often used their intellect, judgment and the expertise of advisors to rise to the occasion when called upon to meet the challenges of a crisis facing our country. Franklin D. Roosevelt in World War II and John F. Kennedy in the Cuban Missile Crisis immediately come to mind. George W. Bush failed his test when dealing with Hurricane Katrina, for example, though he demonstrated leadership in unifying the country following 9/11.  #hocopolitics

President Donald Trump has failed miserably so far in addressing and managing the novel coronavirus pandemic, which, as most are aware, is simultaneously an existential threat to the health of the population, to our economy, and to our well-being as a nation and world leader.

From the very outset of this crisis, Trump squandered the opportunity to act swiftly to help combat the effects of COVID-19 and to acknowledge the dangers posed. His denial of the seriousness of the virus and his generally cavalier attitude towards it led to critical delays in getting much needed supplies and equipment to hospitals and health officials and establishing widespread testing so that scientists and medical experts can determine the scope of the pandemic.

His every word, every statement and yes, every tweet, were uttered with his re-election bid in mind. He played down the seriousness of the situation lest the financial markets get even more rattled than they had from the beginning of the crisis. The gaudy stock market numbers prior to the news of the coronavirus and the overall strong economy were keys to Trump’s re-election rationale. They have since evaporated, and the country is facing a severe recession and historic unemployment despite a $2 trillion relief package passed by Congress. And that stock market continues to tank with no floor in sight.

As the number of cases in the U.S. and the world spread and the shocking number of fatalities was increasing exponentially, Trump no longer could paint a rosy picture and blame this as a new Democratic hoax. His response to the crisis has been abysmal, incompetent, dangerous and a manifestation of his numerous character flaws that he has demonstrated throughout his term. But they have been laid bare and have come into focus especially when this pandemic hit the U.S.
The following is a breakdown of how several of these flaws have been detrimental in dealing with the crisis:

Lying. Trump is a pathological liar, and even his most ardent supporters recognize he has a wobbly relationship with the truth. His lies, mistruths or whatever you want to call it has been detrimental in providing clear direction to a frightened population.

He lied about the temporary nature of the virus in that it will simply disappear, that it was Obama’s fault, that anybody who needs a test gets a test, that Google engineers were building a testing-related website, that we have outpaced South Korea’s COVID-19 testing, and on and on.  

Then there was this gem: “I’ve always known this is a real—this is a pandemic. I felt it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic … I’ve always viewed it as very serious.”  This even as he claimed it was a flu and minimized the seriousness.  

And this one: This kind of pandemic “was something nobody thought could happen … Nobody would have ever thought a thing like this could have happened.”  Prior to Trump’s taking office, the Obama administration warned him about a potential pandemic and the World Health Organization as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned administration officials about the danger of the coronavirus hitting the U.S. well before Trump acted.

There have been many other such whoppers over this period that have led to a confused public.

Narcissism. Nobody can name a more narcissistic president than Donald Trump. At a time when he should be concerned about the welfare of the American people and demonstrating even a modicum of empathy, like everything else, he makes the coronavirus situation about himself.

He dubbed himself a “wartime president” to demonstrate strength and leadership prowess but unlike other strong leaders past and present, he refuses to take responsibility for the lateness of the response to the virus and blames governors (mainly Democrats) instead.  He probably used the moniker of wartime president as a shield against criticism.

He actually states that governors desperately in need of supplies should be more appreciative of his efforts and be more deferential to him.

Then there was his bragging about his TV ratings from his rambling, contradictory, confusing, dreary and uninspiring daily briefings and boasting that he has done a tremendous job.

Partisanship.  Ever since Trump showed up at a CDC meeting wearing his red campaign cap, he continues to be partisan during the crisis. As mentioned above, Trump faults Democratic governors for not being able to obtain much needed supplies, masks, ventilators and other equipment.  Trump attacked such Democrats as Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo as well as Sen. Chuck Schumer.  

He has praised Republican governors including Florida’s Ron DeSantis even though he allowed spring break parties on Florida’s beaches violating social distancing guidelines and being late in issuing a stay-at-home order.

Trump has directed needed resources to Republican governors over Democratic governors. Cuomo has been begging Trump for ventilators and other supplies as the coronavirus toll mounts in New York, but DeSantis had no trouble acquiring immediate help for Florida, a battleground state in the 2020 election.

And as also mentioned above, initially he called the coronavirus a new Democratic hoax.

Nepotism.  Despite any qualifications or government experience, Trump saw fit to make his daughter Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner principal advisors to the president. Kushner became the latest in a succession of individuals to be the front person for the coronavirus response team.
Never mind that Kushner has no experience in medicine in general or epidemiology specifically or crisis management for that matter, he was given the reins nonetheless. America will now have to turn its lonely eyes to him. With all the military leaders and medical experts to choose from to take charge, the only reason for Kushner’s presence is the fact he is married to Trump’s daughter.

Photo: Reuters
Vindictiveness. Throughout Trump’s presidency, he has displayed a level of vindictiveness that is beyond normal. In 2018 Trump disbanded its National Security Council pandemic team most likely as a result of it being President Obama’s creation.

He continues to spar with members of the press at his daily briefings labeling questions as “nasty” and “gotcha” when they were essentially softballs lobbed to him to help make Americans feel hopeful. It is almost like his retorts were pre-conceived without even listening to the question. Trump has been particularly harsh with female reporters and especially towards one who is a person of color when he responded to her with the indelicate phrase, “you people.”

When Navy Captain Brett Crozier was relieved of his duty by the Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly because he did not follow strict protocols in complaining about the outbreak of coronavirus on the 5,000 crew aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, many observers believed that Trump had his fingerprints all over it. Count me in on that suspicion.

President Trump has demonstrated he lacks the bandwidth, intellectual acuteness, curiosity and temperament to effectively deal with complex situations, such as the coronavirus pandemic. However, when you add in his myriad character flaws, the results can be potentially catastrophic.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Even the Coronavirus Can’t Avoid the Partisan Divide

Pres. Trump appearing at a meeting at the CDC donning his campaign cap

Our politics are so divisive that even the coronavirus pandemic, which has no political allegiance, can’t be viewed through a non-partisan lens. From the outset, President Trump has shifted his interpretation of the effects of covid-19 from near denial of a problem to a “wartime” footing.
During this unsettling process, in which the financial markets have reacted viciously against the uncertainty of the economic impact mixed with the often contradictory messaging from the White House and medical experts tasked with mitigating the pandemic, people who are Republicans and those who are Democrats differ markedly in their perception.

According to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll taken between March 11 and 13 (noting attitudes may have shifted since), the following findings appear:

Worried that someone in your immediate family with catch the coronavirus?
All voters: 53 percent
Urban Dems: 70 percent
Suburban Dems: 68 percent
Rural Dems: 65 percent
Urban GOPers: 44 percent
Suburban GOPers: 37 percent
Rural GOPers: 41 percent

Stop attending large public gatherings?
All voters: 47 percent
Urban Dems: 59 percent
Suburban Dems: 63 percent
Rural Dems: 59 percent

Amazingly, there are plenty of deniers still out there fueled by commentary on FOX News at the beginning and by the president himself who at his rally in South Carolina on February 28 called the situation “the Democrats’ new hoax.”

According to the Washington Post on Instagram:
Even as President Trump has asked Americans to stay at home and has called on the nation to come together to fight the “invisible enemy” known as covid-19, virus doubters persist. They call reports of more than 200,000 sickened and 9,000 dead worldwide a sham. Republican legislators have continued to brag about their dinners out, some beaches remain packed with spring breakers and Hollywood starlet Vanessa Hudgens was forced to apologize for complaining on Instagram that “people are going to die, which is terrible, but like, inevitable?” 

Virus deniers vow to continue on with their daily activities with little adjustment, convinced that the unprecedented reaction to the virus is nothing more than a plot by the media or liberals out to get Trump. The Pew Research Center released a poll Wednesday that found that 62 percent of adults say the media is exaggerating the risk of the virus.

The NBC/Wall Street Journal poll referenced above seems to suggest that these deniers are more likely to be Republicans.  #Hocopolitics

Anecdotally, Trump supporters see this as another attempt by Democrats and the media to make

Trump look bad after the Mueller Report and the impeachment trial failed to lower the president’s approval numbers. I have heard this from Trump supporters that the coronavirus is exaggerated to drop Trump’s numbers.
As the markets tank to a level that existed before Trump took office and that the economy will undoubtedly slide into a recession, Trump’s main re-election campaign arguments have gone down the drain.  But Trump is doing this to himself.  The stock market dives with every lie, contradiction and factual error he spews from the White House briefing room adding to the already built-in medical uncertainty of this new virus.

Though Republicans and the president himself have called for unity and non-partisanship (meaning no criticism of the president), it must be pointed out that Trump attended a CDC meeting two weeks ago sporting his familiar red campaign cap.  That alone undermines his plea for nonpartisanship; there is no justification to wear that cap at such an event.

Plus he made comments, such as the stock market will rebound in time (for the election, he implied); and cruise ship passengers should not be allowed to return to the U.S. because he didn't want the number of cases to rise; or consciously calling it the "China virus."

People have the right to criticize the handling of the crisis; perhaps and hopefully, it would be taken more seriously. It was reported, for instance, that one of the FOX News commentators urged Trump to take it more seriously lest there will be political hell to pay.

Here is the problem: If we cannot get 100 percent on board to see this as a major health crisis and stop worrying how this will affect the November elections, the results could be catastrophic. This is not the time for bravado and machismo as we often see when the tough guys speed on snowy roads or do other stupid stuff.

To amplify this point, there is the viral clip of the doophus on spring break with the backward cap saying, "If I get Corona I get corona. At the end of the day, I won't let this keep me from partying." How selfish is that?

Even as our local officials take strong actions and we comply by taking the necessary precautions, the deniers are putting all of us in danger with their cavalier, selfish and careless behavior.  This is not political pandemic but it sure feels like one.


UPDATE:  On March 27 President Trump signed into law a $2 trillion stimulus package that was passed in a bipartisan manner. to provide relief to those businesses and individuals affected by the coronavirus pandemic.  Despite the bipartisan passage of the bill in Congress, the White House purposely excluded Democrats from the signing ceremony.  And Republicans accuse the Democrats of politicizing the coronavirus crisis!

Friday, March 13, 2020

For Biden this is a Big Fu****g Deal

Joe Biden addressing the nation on the coronavirus
Under the cloud of uncertainty stemming from COVID-19, the primary races are continuing albeit without the grandeur of big crowd rallies and other forms of interpersonal campaigning. Even the debate on Sunday between Senator Bernie Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden will take place at CNN’s Washington studio with no live audience to distract from the candidates’ ability to enunciate their points. #hocopolitics

Biden is clearly the front runner following a jaw-dropping comeback that has every pundit on earth scratching his or her head.  While Sanders is mathematically in contention, the landscape looks bleak for the Democratic Socialist with the upcoming debate the last realistic opportunity to change the trajectory of the race.

To repeat the sentence Biden uttered into a hot mic to a cringing President Obama following the signing of the Affordable Care Act, this is a big fu****g deal.  Where we stand now in the primaries and caucuses, that sentence is apropos for Biden and, of course, Sanders.

How aggressive the now underdog Sanders will go after Biden in this one-on-one matchup, the first of the primary season, is unclear. Some Sanders’ supporters along with Trump supporters led by Donald Trump, Jr. have been pushing the narrative that at a minimum, Biden is no longer on his game and at the extreme end, he suffers from dementia. They site Biden’s malapropisms, gaffes, and confusion at times as evidence. It’s sad that people would use such a personal attack, but in the age of Trump, there are no longer any rules.

Unquestionably, this debate will provide the opportunity for Biden to prove the critics wrong. The less frenetic, more casual setting should be better terrain for Biden. However, he is still prone to mistakes and in the age of social media, the slightest slip-up will be magnified and will be cycled through Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and what-not. And they will be compiled into a montage for ads as the election cycle proceeds.

It is akin to attending the Indy 500 looking for a crash as opposed to the caring who the ultimate winner is after dozens of laps.  People will be scrutinizing Biden’s style and fluidity of thought more than his actual policy positions.  Bernie’s style is already baked in so he won’t be under that sort of microscope. And he is no longer the frontrunner.

There is considerable irony that Trump supporters are pushing the dementia button on Biden. This is especially so following Trump’s pathetic dumpster fire of a nationally televised speech from the Oval Office this past Wednesday in a Hail Mary attempt to quell the nervous financial markets. 

Slurring many of his words, seemingly out of it, speaking like it was a hostage video, Trump piled up lie after lie, mistake after mistake while not seriously addressing the public health measures that the coronavirus requires.

The markets responded with the futures dropping during each utterance like leaves falling from trees in November. And on Thursday, the markets rewarded Trump, who sees the coronavirus and its ensuing economic impact as a significant threat to his re-election chances, with the worst day on Wall Street since the huge crash of October 1987.

Joe Biden receiving the critical endorsement from Rep. Clyburn
By stark contrast Joe Biden, as did Bernie Sanders, showed what presidential leadership is all about. Both described the situation in calm, measured tones while articulating the correct course of action to be taken. For Biden, this was a huge moment and he delivered.

Facing this debate where Biden is only one of the two last standing is, in itself, a miracle of sorts. Left for dead along with other Democratic hopefuls after the first three contests, Biden received arguably the most consequential endorsement in modern election cycles.

Normally, endorsements have minimal effect; not this one. James Clyburn, the highly respected Congressman from South Carolina and Democratic Majority Whip gave an emotional endorsement of Biden that propelled the 77 year-old candidate to a crushing win in South Carolina. That victory, powered by African-American voters, launched this comeback, also powered by that demographic, to major victories on Super Tuesday and the primaries the following week. Other Dem hopefuls joined the post-South Carolina parade by endorsing Biden and seeing him as the best chance to defeat Trump.
For Joe Biden, who ran unsuccessfully twice before and didn’t win his first primary ever until the South Carolina game-changer, is at the precipice of finally reaching that goal. Clearly, Trump doesn’t want to face him in the general election as he was impeached for his efforts to sully Biden’s reputation.

Joe Biden needs to seal the deal this Sunday. He doesn’t have to “win” the debate as that assessment will come from the electorate who will view the debate through the lens of their candidate. But he must be able to hold his own. If he does, the finish line will be near as upcoming primaries loom favorable to Biden.

This is indeed a big f*****g deal.

Sunday, March 01, 2020

Paranoia Overtaking Trumpworld

Photo: The Guardian
At a time when there is an external crisis, such as the Coronavirus, that can potentially affect an untold number of Americans and the world’s population (and already has), we need strong, competent, scientific-based leadership. Unfortunately, Donald Trump and his acolytes have not only bungled the rollout of a “plan” to combat the spread of the virus by minimizing its seriousness but are viewing the outbreak through the lens of politics.

Observing how the Stock Market dipped a whopping 12 percent in just a week making the fall the largest since the 2008 financial crisis, Trumpworld who has yet to experience a crisis not of his own making and testing the competency and leadership of an administration which has demonstrated neither, sees the threat of contagion, not to mention an economic slowdown as a result, as serious threats to the president’s re-election.

Measures, such as Trump assigning the lead to help combat the spread of the Coronavirus to Vice President Pence rather than to medical experts, did not help gain the confidence of the American people.  And making Pence the gatekeeper for messaging or spin did not help. Nor did Trump aid his cause by lying about the number of actual cases in the U.S. and portraying a cringe-worthy blasé attitude laced with false optimism.

In an effort to preempt criticism, Trump’s allies have taken to the airwaves accusing the Democrats and the media for exaggerating the scope of the crisis (the fact is, it could very well turn into a pandemic) and trying to “take down the president.”  Toadies from newly decorated  Medal of Freedom recipient Rush Limbaugh to Rep. Steve Scalise have attempted to make the conversation about politics.

None other than Donald Trump, Jr. added to the “non-politicization” of the discourse with this gem on CNN:

“But for them to try to take a pandemic and seemingly hope that it comes here, and kills millions of people so that they could end Donald Trump’s streak of winning, is a new level of sickness. You know, I don't know if this is Coronavirus or Trump derangement syndrome, but these people are infected badly.”

Former Under Secretary of State and Managing Editor of TIME magazine Richard Stengel responded to Pence’s reaction to the Trump Jr. diatribe in this tweet:

In Trumpworld, everyone is always trying to take down the president: the Russia Hoax, the Mueller Hoax, the Impeachment Hoax, the Climate Change Hoax, the Evolution Hoax, and now the Coronavirus Hoax—all manifestations of the underlying paranoia gripping Trump and his followers. The evil Democrats led by “vicious” Nancy Pelosi and “corrupt” Adam Schiff, the media (except for FOX News, Breitbart, Drudge, Limbaugh, etc.), the “Deep State,” the leakers, the dis-loyalists, the book authors exposing the Trump White House—are  part of an effort to defeat Trump’s desperate desire to cling to power.

This paranoia surfaced back in August when there were early signs of an economic downturn, Trumpworld accused the Democrats and media for “rooting for a recession”  as a way to stop Trump in November 2020.

We are facing a serious public health crisis whose damage and effects are frighteningly unknown at this point. We should not panic but instead turn our hopes for guidance to a government effort to curtail the impact of the Coronavirus to the best of its ability. 

This is no time for politics from either side, and clearly not the time for Trumpworld to demonstrate weakness and uncertainty through their never ending paranoia. 

Friday, February 14, 2020

'Wicked' at the Hippodrome Will Leave You Spellbound

Talia Suskauer and Allison Bailey

Hello, you munchkins out there. Do I have news for you! One of the most endearing and enduring Broadway musicals of all time, the touring production of Wicked, is making its fourth stop at Baltimore’s Hippodrome Theatre. And just like the previous iterations, this production is as enchanting as ever. #hocoarts

Scored by Stephen Schwartz and a book by Winnie Holzman, Wicked is based on the 1995 Gregory Maguire novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, itself a retelling of the classic 1900 novel, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum and the iconic 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. Who hasn’t seen at least once The Wizard of Oz?

Wicked, which opened on Broadway in 2003, captured three Tony Awards and a host of other accolades.  The prevailing color throughout is green. You see it in the lighting, the costumes, the skin color of a main character, the color of a potion that created the skin color, the Emerald City, even envy.

And speaking of green, Wicked is the second highest grossing Broadway musical of all time trailing only The Lion King. Why? Because both musicals offer high quality entertainment and appeal to children as well as adults thus broadening the audience.

Talia Suskauer in "Defying Gravity"
Multiple Tony Award winner Joe Mantello helms a sterling spectacle at the Hippodrome presenting optimal stage magic and effects that when combined with a talented cast and great music, it results in a captivating, one could say a jaw-dropping, theatrical experience.

Under the musical direction of Conductor Evan Roider, the orchestration is wonderful and well-balanced. The wizardry on the stage is highlighted by the signature production number “Defying Gravity” that brings down the curtain (and the house) at the end of the first act. It is worth the price of admission just to see that performed.

The story of Wicked takes place prior to Baum’s novel and before the fictional Dorothy was even alive. In an unusually plot-heavy musical, there are so many twists and turns one might get whiplash. Nonetheless, the story is easy to follow despite the rapid pace of the action particularly in the second act.

It tells of two young girls from the Land of Oz in which one was born with green skin named Elphaba who is played exceptionally by Talia Suskauer. The other, Galinda, who changes her name later to Glinda, played by Allison Bailey, simply radiates beauty. They cross paths in school but to say their relationship was complicated is an understatement.

Possessing disparate appearances, outlooks and personalities, the two begin as rivals then end up as close friends. Their evolution includes a rivalry over their common love-interest, Fiyero, played effectively by Curt Hansen as well as their reactions to the corruption of the Wizard’s government.

Allison Bailey and Talia Suskauer 
The contrasts between Elphaba and Glinda couldn’t be starker. Elphaba was smart, intense, an advocate for animals and possessed the skills of magic though limited in that capacity.  Glinda was bubbly, pretentious, gorgeous, self-centered and manipulative. Where Elphaba’s green skin that was caused by a potion given to her mother by the mother’s lover caused her to be basically rejected by her non-biological father and ostracized at school, Glinda was extremely popular, and she had no trouble reminding people of that.    

Friendship and trust are the underlying themes as well as prejudice and tolerance. Government corruption also plays a role in the story. And what may appear wicked or good to some may actually be the reverse. As the saying goes, never judge a book by its cover. The story makes you think as well as being entertained. If you haven’t seen Wicked before, you’re in for a treat. If you have, the magic will continue.

Talia Suskauer as Elphaba is simply outstanding. Who among us haven’t felt they were the underdog at some point? We can certainly relate to Elphaba to a degree, and Ms. Suskauer’s  acting skills draw empathy from the audience.

But her Mezzo-Soprano vocals are undoubtedly Broadway caliber.  She shines in every song she participates in, notably “The Wizard and I,” a duet with Sharon Sachs playing the role of Madame Morrible; “I’m Not That Girl;” “As Long As You’re Mine,” a sensational duet with Curt Hansen; and a bona fide showstopper, “No Good Deed,” a brilliant solo that evoked a thunderous ovation from the appreciative audience the evening this performance was reviewed.

Stunningly beautiful Allison Bailey effectively conveys the complex personality of Galinda/Glinda. Ditzy when she wants to be, smart when she needs to be, Ms. Bailey portrays the character with relish.  Her beautiful Soprano voice is on display in “Popular,” the reprise of “I’m Not That Girl” and in the emotionally charged duet with Ms. Suskauer “For Good.”

My only quibble has to do with the sound design. It wasn’t clear if Ms. Bailey’s mic wasn’t turned up sufficiently or if she needed to project more especially during dialogues in the first act.  Whatever the cause, hopefully some sound adjustment will take place in subsequent performances.

Curt Hansen as Fiyero
Having appeared in the Broadway production of Wicked, Curt Hansen is quite familiar with the part of Fiyero, another complex character. He plays the role of the handsome common love-interest of Elphaba and Glinda with verve and enthusiasm. Mr. Hansen showcases his potent tenor voice in the duet with Ms. Suskauer “As Long As You’re Mine.”

Other fine performances are turned in by Cleavant Derricks as The Wonderful Wizard of Oz; Amanda Fallon Smith as Nessarose; Elphaba’s younger sister born paralyzed from the waist down and who was her father’s clear favorite; the aforementioned Sharon Sachs as Madame Morrible, Tom Flynn as Doctor Dillamond, the fatherly professor-goat who could speak but was silenced by the powers that be; and DJ Plunkett as the munchkin Boq who as of this writing, is still looking for love.

The leads are supported by an energetic ensemble that performs proficiently to the choreography of James Lynn Abbott.

Kenneth Posner’s lighting design is beyond superb in its creativity and execution. Susan Hilferty’s costume design is so imaginative and eclectic it is indescribable.

The set designed by Eugene Lee while aesthetically appealing, could be confusing. The prevailing background theme is a Time Dragon Clock from the book. If you didn’t read the novel (I didn’t), you would not understand its significance. However, other scenery has more clarity and the one depicting the crashed house form the tornado with the cornfield in the background (pictured) is gorgeous.

Wicked is an entertainment bonanza with interesting characters, eye-pleasing staging, a lush score and sterling performers. Parents should be eager to bring their children if for nothing else, there is good messaging within the plot with lessons to be learned. It is highly recommended.

Running time. Two hours and 45 minutes with an intermission.

Wicked runs through March 8 at the Hippodrome Theatre at the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center, 12 N. Eutaw St, Baltimore, MD 21201.  For tickets, visit here or here , call 800-982-ARTS, or visit the Hippodrome Box Office located at 12 N Eutaw St, Baltimore, MD 21201.

Photos: Joan Marcus