Could this be Donald Trump’s “no sense of decency” moment?

photo CNN

Has Donald Trump finally reached his Joe McCarthy tipping point moment? Trump’s malevolently vicious attack on the memory of Lori Klausitis, which he wielded as a weapon to sully persistent critic Joe Scarborough, took me back to 1954.  It was in that year’s Army-McCarthy hearings that attorney Joseph N. Welch’s famously retorted to bullying behavior by the slimy, red-baiting Wisconsin senator: “You’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you no sense of decency?”

We know the answer were Welch’s question applied to today’s incumbent. Trump  has no sense of decency. There is no bottom to his barrel.  There is no end to his ignoring democratic norms, no limit to his mendacious behavior. Neither pussy-grabbing boasts to insults of POWs and Gold Star parents have troubled Trump supporters. His 18,000 documented lies and misstatements, his vindictiveness, his disregard for the nation’s role as a global model, even his despicable lack of leadership in the  face of the Covid-19 pandemic – none of that has significantly changed the loyalty of his steadfast base.  The only thing that could be different this time is the reaction of his erstwhile supporters.

Decades ago, Lori Klausitis, 28, an aide to then Florida Congressman Joe Scarborough, fainted in his district office due to a previously undiagnosed heart condition. She hit her head going down and died from the injury. Some fringe news stories circulated alleging that Scarborough was having an affair with Klausitis and that he killed her to cover up the indiscretion. It was a patent lie (Scarborough was in Washington at the time, verified by his recorded House votes and the medical examiner confirmed her underlying condition). The President, rediscovering the old conspiracy theorists’ garbage, has recently gone on Twitter to libel Scarborough as a murderer (something he had also done in 2017) and demanded the reopening of the investigation of the MSNBC host, an outspoken critic of the President.

Scarborough’s wife and co-host, Mika Brzezinski, has called on the president of Twitter to remove the President from Twitter because of his mendacity. Klausitis’ widower, Timothy, has written to Twitter president Jack Dorsey to take down the scurrilous tweets that continue to inflict pain on his late wife’s family. Twitter responded by saying it would start labeling lies as untrue; it then proceeded to do it not in the Scarborough situation but only, so far, on a tweet falsely asserting huge voter fraud with mail-in ballots. Trump, of course, doubled down by repeating his cruel lies, attacking Twitter for allegedly stifling his free speech and threatening to sign an executive order restricting social media activities that don’t favor him.

In the fifties, it wasn’t until Welch’s penetrating question reached the collective conscience of the American public that McCarthy sycophants, in and out of Congress, slithered away, public opinion turned against him and his power ebbed. Will this time be different for Trump? Will his deplorable behavior matter for his hard-core base?

There have been some eloquent critiques of what Trump has done, but they are largely from the usual suspects.  Unlike other times, however, there have been some voices from the respectable right, such as the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board decrying his behavior for debasing the presidency.

For the most part, conservative leaders in Washington have scurried for the underbrush, unwilling to face questions about Trump’s calumny. Representatives Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger and Senator Mitt Romney were the sole GOP officials to tell Trump to knock it off. Even the Florida congressional delegation, some of whom served with Scarborough, have refused  to stand up for their former colleague.

Obviously, this is just another distraction gambit, to turn the public away from the heartbreaking 100,000 death toll and other examples of Trump’s wanton presidential mismanagement. Sadly, to date, he has largely been successful in ginning up divisive culture wars to inflame his base.

I would like to be proven wrong, but I fear this latest example of Trump’s malevolent cruelty  will not cool the ardor of his loyal followers, but,  like the coronavirus  will lurk in the body politic until we activate the needed treatment.  With luck and hard work, Nov 3 will bring a vaccine, effective January 20, 2021.

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Remembering COVID-19’s victims on Memorial Day and beyond

Donna Morrissey was a ray of sunshine. She was an authentic humanitarian, beautiful, intelligent, warm, and committed to serving the community. After early work in television, she handled public relations for the Boston Archdiocese in the first year and a half of the priest sex abuse scandal. There were times her life was threatened, and the unfolding story tore her apart. She moved on to work for the American Red Cross and was often dispatched to scenes of horrifying disasters, including Hurricane Katrina, the Newtowne shootings, and the Boston Marathon bombings. She was just 51 years old when she died this week of COVID-19.

Donna is one of the nearly 100,000 Americans who have died since the outbreak of the virus, 6300 in Massachusetts. Each one had a story. Each leaves behind devastated family and friends. The death toll, ever climbing, didn’t have to yield so much tragedy.  If the Trump administration had acted just one week earlier on information in its possession, an estimated 36,000 who became infected in March need not have died, according to Columbia University modelers.   Two weeks earlier could have saved 54,000.

Just imagine if our failed leaders had acted in January at the same time as South Korea did.

Nothing will bring them back, nor any of the others who could have survived if the President hadn’t put his reelection interests ahead of the public good. If, faced with scientific evidence, he hadn’t delayed by a week or more all-important travel alerts. If, while imposing his porous Chinese curtain, he hadn’t ignored the millions of travelers coming to the East Coast from an already-infected Europe. If he had called for social distancing. If he had vigorously activated the Defense Production Act months earlier to drive manufacturers to produce more ventilators, masks, tests, swabs, reagents and other personal protective equipment. If he had listened to the early warnings of the intelligence community. If he had respected the data. If he had followed the advice of experts in the science. If. If. If.

On Memorial Day, we remember, as we have since 1868, those who have died while in military service. On this Monday, we must remember not just those who have died for their country but those who died because of their country, and its long list of failures during this epic crisis.  We should lower our flags to half staff from now until a vaccine is developed, tested clinically, with production scaled up to meet the needs of 320,000,000 Americans and the rest of the world’s 7.8 billion people. This symbolic act should not be a token 3-day tribute, but a lowering of flags on all buildings, private and public, until a time when we don’t have to worry about COVID-19 any more. As we get on with our lives, those lowered flags should be a constant reminder of the lives lost.

However Donald Trump denies the responsibilities of the United States to other peoples and nations, the COVID-19 pandemic drives home the message that Make America Great Again is not a slogan to live by. We are not islands unto ourselves, our world is global, and failure to heed the needs of our fellow human beings will come back to bite us in the end.

Donna Morrissey’s story is tragic, and she is but one of so many. In our rush to get to the beaches and beauty salons and outdoor restaurants, let’s not forget these thousands of individuals and the need to do everything we can to turn out of office in November those whose ineptitude, craven self-interest, greed, mendacity, ignorance and corruption have brought our country, whatever its garden variety and remediable flaws, to the low point where we find ourselves today.

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Time to move on from Tara Reade’s charges

Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump in the popular vote in 2016. But Donald Trump was able to convince enough battleground state voters who disliked both nominees that she was worse. In 2020, he knows  he can’t win re-election running a positive campaign about himself; his only chance is to turn off enough battleground-state Republican and Democratic women leaning toward Joe Biden and  Independents who dislike them both.

Biden was the Democrat Trump least wanted to run against. The Trumpites’ best option is smearing Biden, tarnishing his empathetic nice guy/honorable statesman image, using lies, innuendos, rumors, dark money attacks, Russian and social media disinformation campaigns.

It’s hard to believe the timing of Tara Reade’s evolving claims, including her allegation that, 27 years ago, while she was in his employ, Biden digitally penetrated  her in a public corridor in the US Senate, is not somehow connected to this.

Responding to the # MeToo movement’s legitimate outcry against sexual abuse, most Democrats’ default position was automatically believing every woman making such claims. This justifiably helped the prosecutions of Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein and also colored the Bret Kavanaugh hearings.  It also resulted in drumming Al Franken out of the Senate without a modicum of due process.  As Bill Maher observed last week. “Believing everything doesn’t make you noble. It makes you gullible, especially when it leaves us with the world where Republicans don’t care about this stuff. So, it’s just a unilateral weapon that is used only against Democrats.”

A fairer principle is that every woman who makes a claim should be taken seriously, a far cry from when virtually every woman who came forward was disbelieved. But there’s a clear case for reasonable due process, fair-minded investigations and a transparent public vetting of charges. Biden and others set themselves up for eventual charges of hypocrisy by initially agreeing to set the bar untenably high.

Biden’s history of encroaching on people’s personal space and touching in ways that made them uncomfortable is well known. He has acknowledged this publicly and apologized. Whether this is enough or, weighed against everything else, is a disqualifying defect is something for voters to decide. The same applies to Reade’s far more explosive sex crime charge for which Biden didn’t apologize because he unequivocally denied the accusation.

Assaultive behavior should never be condoned. Even if evidence emerged that Biden went further than he admits, he still compares favorably to Trump, who has been credibly accused of serious sexual improprieties and crimes by no fewer than 21 women and has, on the Access Hollywood tapes, boasted about grabbing women by their genitals. To try to create a false equivalency here is outrageous.

There’s an ick factor to this whole discussion, but let’s not forget the differences between the two candidate’s positions on issues of importance to women. Even if he were guilty of the worst, Biden could say compellingly, “Don’t compare me to the Almighty, compare me to the alternative.”

After considering all the public information in the Tara Reade matter, even after observing testosterone-driven Senators as a reporter in 1970’s D.C., I have strong doubts Biden ever sexually attacked her. Most rapists don’t commit their acts only once, but, like Trump, Weinstein, Cosby and others, are serial offenders. They repeat  because their offenses manifest a lust for power and dominance. Apparently, Reade is the only woman ever to accuse Biden of criminal sexual assault.

A former prosecutor has detailed in USA Today the many significant inconsistencies in Reade’s account of Biden’s alleged assault, including the fact that, when she did come forward, she (and other women) said only that Biden made her uncomfortable with physical closeness, nothing more serious.

Obama’s advisers who carefully vetted Biden in 2008 found no scintilla of evidence of sexual misbehavior. Contrary to Reade’s version, Biden’s three top staffers deny her assertion that she complained to them at the time. Marianne Baker, Biden’s longtime executive assistant, said, “I have absolutely no knowledge of memory of Ms. Reade’s accounting of events, which would have left a searing impression on me as a woman professional, and as a manager.”

Reade says she filed a personnel complaint in the 1990’s but, surprisingly for such an important act, kept no copy of it. Biden agreed to waive his own privacy protections regarding personnel records and welcome a Senate directive to have the National Archives open files, where his personnel matters would be stored.  (Mitch McConnell) Senate staff rejected his request. Clearly, it doesn’t serve their partisan interests to say nothing was found there. Now Reade says the complaint didn’t include the assault charge, so finding or not finding it would neither corroborate nor disprove the most serious allegation.

In calling for the University of Delaware to go through Biden’s papers, which supposedly do not contain personnel records, legitimate news outlets like the New York Times and Washington Post have allowed themselves to be suckered into a new variation of the Obama birth certificate authentication game. Who could ever conduct a good faith investigation accepted by all? The DNC? The RNC? A Biden-indebted University of Delaware? The Bill Barr-led FBI? The goalposts would be forever moving.

Anyone who has ever worked with or donated archival materials of this sort knows what a challenge it is to go through hundreds of boxes containing millions of records of sometimes hastily aggregated, uncatalogued and misfiled material. Conspiracy theorists would have a field day with misplaced, suspiciously labeled or incomplete files. Unless it’s planted, I don’t believe anyone is ever going to find a conclusive document.

Frankly, I wonder why Reade waited until now go make her accusation public. Even after 27 years, her charges might have found more traction six months ago when other Democrats were running.

In 2017 Reade had praise for her former boss and his work on violence against women. Last year, she turned on him and supported Bernie Sanders. Could it be that Reade is not yet ready to concede  Sanders’s loss of the party nomination and is doing all she can to boost his comeback before the convention?

Faced with multiple reports of inconsistencies, Reade bowed out of a serious Chris Wallace interview scheduled for Fox last weekend.  She proceeded instead to do a softer, more flattering  interview with Megyn Kelly on YouTube. I expect this is the way this issue will play out.  Reade’s charges have been reasonably vetted. That should be the end of it unless, more darkly, Tara Reade is another of Vladimir Putin’s instruments of chaos as Jill Stein was in 2016?

Consider the rapturous article Reade wrote 2018 about Putin’s “alluring combination of strength and gentleness”  and his having “brought a chaotic and failed nation to become a vibrant, creative, economic force within a decade.”  She admired “his obvious reverence for women, children and animals, and his ability with sports is intoxicating to American women.”

Is this Tara moment just a preview of another GOP stolen valor gambit like the 2004 “Swift Boat” attacks perpetrated on Democratic nominee John Kerry? Donald Trump will grab anything to distract the public, slime Joe Biden, and make the campaign so sordid it turns off everyone but his base.

Most elections are a referendum on the incumbent, and, if current polls assessing Trump were dispositive, we’d have nothing to worry about. I can’t imagine that Biden’s real or imagined sexual improprieties will outweigh the President’s handling of COVID-19 or its economic fallout when people vote on or before November 3. But practically no one, including Trump himself, expected him to win in 2016, and the 2020 election is still nearly half a year away.

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More COVID-19 response outrages

An April 29th letter from American Airlines to its Advantage Gold Card members announced, “Caring for Your is Our Priority.”  I’m so touched.  The Airline wrote that it would “begin to distribute sanitizing wipes or gel and face masks to passengers, as supplies allow. Our flight attendants will be required to wear face masks on all flights, beginning May 1.”  May 1? Folks, we’ve been in quarantine for 7 1/2  weeks. We’re supposed to be impressed by this “caring?”

Air quality of planes has long been suspect, despite airlines’ protestations to the contrary.  Clearly there are more steps that could be taken if the companies deigned to make the investment.

In the weeks ahead, American Airlines said, they’d expand their cleaning by  “wiping down customer high-touch surfaces (seat belts, armrests, window shades and seat-back screens) before every flight.” Heck, we did that ourselves when we flew back from Florida nearly two months ago. What rock have they been hiding under?

Speaking of hiding under rocks, our reptilian Vice President, Mike Pence, showed himself for the sycophant he is when he visited the Mayo Clinic Tuesday without wearing  a protective mask, in clear violation of the hospital’s policy. As a sign of fealty, I suppose, to the President, Pence sent a horrible message to millions who are heeding public health experts and wearing masks.  The Vice President’s office had even told reporters they’d have to wear masks during the visit.   Pence defended his action by claiming he didn’t wear one because he wanted to visit the front-line health workers, ”look them in the eye and say thank you.” Does he really think a mask is supposed to cover his eyes?

New definition of chutzpah: Mitch McConnell’s support for the idea of giving states the right to go bankrupt.  (Forty-nine states are required to balance their budget, most by their Constitutions and four by state statute.)  McConnell sees help for cities and towns as a “blue state bailout” and asserts that those with the greatest COVID-19 burdens are unworthy of federal help in the next stimulus. The hell with ’em, he’s saying in effect. He doesn’t bother to say that every year his home state of Kentucky takes tens of billions more from Washington than it pays into the federal government. And where does Kentucky’s federal bailout money come from?  Every year it’s from the same blue states that are now desperate for federal assistance to defray coronavirus-related expenses, especially costs related to health care providers. As New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said of McConnell’s remarks, “That’s one of the really dumb ideas of all time.”

It’s also worth noting that, as Nobel-winning economist Paul Krugman said this morning on MSNBC, the high-income states like New York and California will not lose their economic footing as precipitously as red states like Texas and Florida, which depend on sales tax revenues instead of the income taxes that under-gird wealthier blue state budgets.

I’d put McConnell’s remark right up there next to Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick’s comment in March that he’d rather die than see the state’s economy crushed by keeping businesses closed any longer. “There are more important things than living, and that’s saving this country.” He called on those 70 years old or older to be willing to die in order to get the country back to work   !!*!**##

Republican Rep. Trey Hollingsworth told radio station WIBC-FM of Indianapolis he’d also be willing to  pay the cost of more deaths in a second wave to get business started again. I wonder what’s in the water in Indiana.  They’re the ones who want to protect all life from conception up to the point of birth but not afterward, and certainly not lives of the elderly.

Narrow-mindedness isn’t limited to government officials.  Tesla CEO Elon Musk, whose company still managed to show a profit of $16 million in the first quarter, decried stay-at-home mandates as “fascist.”  He has been tweeting “Free America Now.

Selfish, stupid, dangerous and deadly responses abound, perhaps few as bad as Trump’s deceptions and inappropriate action regarding testing. But the responses of large corporations trying to game SBA loans to the detriment of legitimately small businesses in great need warrant condemnation and sanctions.

I’d list more of these outrages, but everyone knows stress raises cortisol levels, which raises blood pressure and compromises the immune response.  You’re welcome to share your most disturbing COVID-19 response outrages.

I welcome your feedback in the comments section below. To be alerted when a new blog is posted, click on “Follow’ in the lower right of the home page on marjoriearonsbarron.com.

 

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COVID-19 – lessons to be learned?

Worrying about those, including close friends and relatives, suffering from the pandemic virus itself,  fretting about its economic fallout and spending up to eight hours a day in assorted Zoom meetings, I have lacked the focus to write  a single-theme blog but wanted to share some concerns and invite your reactions.

I am struck by the symbolism of tomorrow, April 30, the 45th anniversary of the fall of Saigon. It took 20 years, from 1955 to 1975, for the United States to lose 58,220 men and women — 47,434 in combat — in the Vietnam war. In less than four months, more Americans have died from the Covid-19 pandemic, 59,256  according to  today’s probably underestimated total body count.  What should be today’s equivalent chant to “ Hey, Hey LBJ…?”

As Fox Butterfield wrote yesterday in the NY Times, both Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon chose to ignore expert advice and bend facts to fit their world views. Today, each COVID-19 death report represents a sorrowful story that will ripple forward in time,  first with immediate friends and family of the deceased, later in the resolve of others to deconstruct what we have been through. To lay bare what could and should have been done earlier, what still can be done now and in days to come to save lives.   One need look no further than the rise in case numbers of Singapore and Germany to understand why we can’t open up our economy too fast. I worry that we will not learn from this cataclysmic plague and fail to take transformational action across society to ameliorate suffering and make this a better world for our children and grandchildren.

Now is the time to put in place the framework for an independent  non-partisan “after action” investigation and report, akin to the 9/11 Commission. Let’s also re-envision and transform health care, education, worker and workplace safety protections, social safety nets, domestic production capabilities, supply chains and globalization and more. Which of  the assorted areas, large and small,  is a priority for you?

States and cities desperately need flexible federal support to respond to unprecedented expenses. Trump consigliere, Treasury Secretary  Steve Mnuchin, wants to severely restrict where federal dollars can be used. Trump insists on restricting federal dollars to Sanctuary Cities. And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has walked back from his justly- pilloried advice to states to go into bankruptcy, now proposes aid be tied to liability protections for companies that put their workers and customers at great risk and even cause serious harm. These narrow-minded ideas could be merely opening negotiating gambits or, more seriously,  poison pills designed to delay, dilute and block needed federal  action.

To what extent have any of you or those close to you  eligible  for the stimulus payments still not received the promised checks? Who has not even gotten written confirmation that their small business loan applications under the Paycheck Protection Program have been approved? Think Trump will criticize any of his administration officials with the venom he spewed after implementation problems bollixed the Affordable Care roll out? How much better will transparency and oversight of spending be this time than in 2008?

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Books to consider in flight from viral infection

During our sheltering from the COVID-19 virus, reading can provide a meaningful escape from the constant hand washing, planning our grocery orders and listening to the news. The following are some of my recent immersions in fiction and non-fiction.

FICTION

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones is an extraordinary novel about an upwardly mobile young black man, Roy,  his artistic and spirited young wife, Celestial, and their longtime friend and neighbor, Andre. The style relies initially on an exchange of letters between the husband and wife, then broadens into chapters told from their changing perspectives around a single, turbulent narrative. Celestial is from a well-to-do Atlanta family; Roy from a poor family from Eloe, Louisiana.  After just 18 months of marriage, they travel from Georgia to visit his family, staying at a nearby motel.  Roy is wrongly accused of rape and sentenced to 12 years.  The letters between inmate husband and wife unveil their relationship and backgrounds, and the later chapters broaden to include Andre’s dramatic role. An American Marriage reveals much about living while black, no matter what one’s socio-economic status. It’s also about relationships between men and women as they mature, become better able to communicate and sort out their lives and the meaning of marriage. There’s a lot of rich material, well told, for anyone who has been in a marriage, is contemplating getting married, or knows someone who has been.

Dutch House by Ann Patchett is regularly described as a fairy tale, one with a Hansel and Gretel flavor. The Dutch house is an enormous ornate mansion built by a Dutch couple in Elkins Park, PA, purchased by real estate developer Cyril Conroy as a gift for his wife, Elna, who hates the house. Elna, feeling compelled to serve those in need, departs for India, abandoning her husband and two children, Maeve and Danny, whose sibling bond is the driving force for the book. Enter a (seemingly) wicked stepmother with two stepsisters, who displace the Conroy children. The father dies. The stepmother ejects Maeve and Danny, and takes over the Dutch house and the father’s business empire, leaving only a trust fund set up for the children’s education. Maeve and Danny continue to be drawn to the house for years, lurking outside it, sitting in Maeve’s car, smoking cigarettes. Like many a fairy tale, eventually there is reconciliation and, in the next generation, restoration. Themes of enduring sibling devotion, rage, revenge, loss and resolution keep the reader spellbound.

NON-FICTION

My Glory Was I Had Such Friends: a memoir by Amy Silverstein, is the first-person account of a 51-year-old woman’s fight to survive terminal heart disease.  She had her first heart transplant at 25 years old and moved from one health crisis to another over the intervening years. As the memoir begins, she is poised on the brink of death due to the failure of her replacement heart.  You know from the start how the narrative ends because Silverstein was able to write the book, but her story is about more than the clinical challenges, heart-stopping in the details. It is about how her friends, especially nine amazing women, came to support her, one at a time, for several days at a time, to be with her in the hospital as she waited for a new heart. Her physical and emotional suffering is profound; her courage, awesome.  Her friends were heroic, many of them leaving behind demanding professional and personal commitments to fly across the country to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, where she was hospitalized for many months. How they created a spread sheet so that Amy had round-the-clock coverage, how they stayed awake during her sleepless, pain-filled nights, how they took care of her most intimate physical needs, will pull at your heart strings.  Their actions and the book itself are a deep dive into the meaning of true friendship.

Saving America’s Cities by Lizabeth Cohen, Harvard professor of American studies, analyzes our successes and failures at urban renewal through the prism of the career of “master rebuilder” Ed Logue.  While the focus is on Logue’s years in New Haven, Boston and New York, the book is a primer of what to do and not do to create  structures, services, and social programs to rebuild our crumbling cities, redress glaring inequities, and engage advocacy groups.  The reader learns, as Logue learned from mistakes he made in New Haven’s Chapel Square Mall, about the hopes and limitations of vast government planning in the 1950’s after the 1949 Housing Act, the eventual abdication of federal responsibility, the emergence of public/private partnerships, and the increasing clout  of community groups and citizen organizations to have a say in how they live.  The battles fought with the destruction of Boston’s West End-to-Government Center urban renewal – displacement to gentrification -were echoed in South Bronx, Roosevelt Island and elsewhere in New York.  Hailed as epic but later forgotten, such renewal issues are still debated in Boston’s Seaport District and in rezoning for multi-use site plans in cash-strapped suburbs.  As we fight about architecture and social issues, this tome helps us relearn the lessons of the past.  Whether it’s the bullying style of Robert Moses or the more socially enlightened hubris of Logue under Boston Mayor John Collins in Boston, New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller and Mayors John Lindsay and Ed Koch, the book is about politics, people, progress and protest, about money, economic growth and quality of life for ordinary citizens at the most granular level.

Somewhere Towards the End is a thoughtful memoir written in 2008 by Diana Athill as she approached her 90th birthday.  The British writer, editor and memoirist lived to 101, and one imagines her longevity is due in part to the spirit she evinced in this book – spirit to live unconventionally, courage to defy societal norms, candor in acknowledging her shortcomings and limitations in old age. She spent half a century in publishing (was founding director of Andre Deutsch), retiring only when she turned 75.  In this memoir, winner of the Costa Prize for Biography,  Athill reflects on her life as a writer, what she looks for as a reader, her pleasures as a gardener, her developing skills in drawing.  Mostly she writes about having to accept the physical deterioration that comes with aging, even when the mind remains sharp and the spirit creative and adventurous.  Throughout the book Athill shares her thoughts about dying and death as their approach becomes increasingly imminent.  Her honestly, combined with good cheer, is inspirational.

Ninth Street Women by Mary Gabriel is a brilliantly researched look at Lee Krasner, Elaine de Kooning, Grace Hartigan, Joan Mitchell, and Helen Frankenthaler, as the subtitle describes them, “Five Painters and the Movement That Changed Modern Art.”  Most art critics and gallery owners dismissed these giants as women artists, not as great artists in their own right.  Lee Krasner, wife of Jackson Pollock (founding abstract expressionist of the New York School), was not only her husband’s publicist and coach but a highly successful artist in her own right. So, too, with Elaine de Kooning, wife of Willem de Kooning.  Frankenthaler, at one time, was married to noteworthy artist Bob Motherwell, but these women would have been important in the art world if they had never married.  Gabriel’s meticulously researched book chronicles the emergence of abstract expression from the 1930’s into the 1960’s. She brings to life the personal successes and struggles of this extraordinary group, who time and again sacrificed their relationships, physical comfort and their families because their art was not merely their profession; it was their life.

Sailor and Fiddler: Reflections of a 100-year-old Author by Herman Wouk is a delightful little book for anyone who likes to read and enjoys insights into life and making a living as a writer.  Wouk, enormously prolific and hugely successful, gave us Marjorie Morningstar, Youngblood Hawke, The Winds of War, and War and Remembrance. His The Caine Mutiny won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, and his war books were made into popular and successful TV miniseries. Others of his literary works became theatrical productions. Wouk reflects on the real-life sources of his stories, (including especially his World War II experiences), his career decisions – some good, others not so much – and his love of his wife of 63 years, who also functioned as his sounding board and agent. His spiritualism (The “Fiddler” part of the title a nod to his Jewish identity) and his commitment to the state of Israel are an important part of his life story. Wouk had also done well as a comedy writer, and his sense of humor infuses his recollections.  His honesty as a centenarian, unfiltered by etiquette, informs some colorful descriptions of familiar names, many of whom have predeceased Wouk.  The author died in 2018 at the age of 103.

I welcome your feedback and book recommendations in the comments section below. To be alerted when a new blog is posted, click on “Follow’ in the lower right portion of your screen.

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Grasping bits of optimism and glimmers of hope

(Boston, MA 3/30/20) Mayor Martin Walsh updates the city on the coronavirus outbreak during his press conference outside of City Hall. (Mayor’s Office Photo by John Wilcox)

Today is One Boston day, the seventh anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing, when the Tsarnaev brothers set off two crude pressure cooker bombs that resulted in three deaths, wounded hundreds of others and sheared off limbs brutally and indiscriminately.  The terrorist attack bloodied one of Boston’s most iconic events and shattered our sense of security. Yet what we also remember today is the courage of our first responders, the generosity of strangers, and the resilience we demonstrated, both individually and as a community. Mayor Marty Walsh today captured that spirit empathetically.

The COVID-19 pandemic is another such opportunity.  While we are consumed with rage at the man whose name I refuse to speak today, and others who enable him, part of remembering our own essence is to clasp to ourselves signs of hope.

Tears came to my eyes when the results of the recent Wisconsin primary race for a state Supreme Court seat were announced. The liberal challenger, Judge Jill Karofsky, convincingly defeated incumbent Justice Dan Kelly, appointed by Republican Governor Scott Walker in 2016. The last time a liberal had unseated an incumbent in a state known recently for obscene gerrymandering and voter suppression was in 2008. Last week’s outcome was only the second such upset in more than half a century.

The Republicans, against all common sense given the public health crisis, had maneuvered to block the postponement of the election because they thought the in-person vote as scheduled would depress turnout in favor of the GOP.  The tactic was blessed by conservative majorities on both the Wisconsin Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court. As an elated Wisconsin friend of mine noted, after years of suffering under the influence of arch-conservative Governor Scott Walker, “despite our pandemic election, misplaced absentee ballots, and massively shuttered polling sites, voters spoke and dealt a real blow for truth.”  A glimmer of hope for the whole country? Perhaps.  But it will take a lot of work.

Another reason for hope, though more ephemeral given Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s iron grasp over the U.S. Senate, Senator Ed Markey is putting forth a legislative proposal to prevent the dismissal of Dr. Anthony Fauci for political reasons. That evil man, whom I refuse to name in this posting, all the while protesting he isn’t planning to dismiss the highly respected head of the National Institute of Allergy and  Infectious Disease division, re-posted a tweet labeled #FireFauci. If the Markey proposal passes, the firing of any head of NIH center or institute could only be for malfeasance, neglect of office, or incapacity of the director. Fauci has been nothing less than heroic in guiding the Coronavirus Task Force through the thicket of White House submission to one person’s selfish interests, despite the overwhelming evidence of science-based public health expertise.

Also cause for cheer, progressive Senators Bernie Sanders’ and Elizabeth Warren’s endorsements of Vice President Joe Biden.  This is earlier in the process than when Sanders endorsed Hillary Clinton in 2016. Optimally they will stay engaged, bring their supporters along with them and squelch the toxicity of such Sanders die-hards as press secretary Briahna Joy Gray. The last thing we need is a divisive third-party candidacy like  Ralph Nader in 2000 or Jill Stein in 2016. President Barack Obama’s well-crafted, full-throated endorsement was welcome but probably less significant, unless he also brings his fundraising prowess and the online skills of his organization.

Consuming the news is in my DNA. It was my profession. But I confess there are days when I want not to watch, not to listen, and just to crawl into bed, turn on the electric blanket and assume the fetal position. But I know we can’t abdicate in that way. Like many journalists, I’ve been a registered Independent most of my life and have felt comfortable voting for qualified candidates of different parties. But these are different times.  If we care about the democracy that hangs in the balance, we need to do everything within our power to make sure that the incumbent and his enablers lose resoundingly on November 3 and that the damage they have done can begin to be reversed.

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