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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

There’s More Than One Way To Be Black And An American

Elijah McClain of Aurora, Colorado, was many things. The slight 23-year-old, who looked younger, was a massage therapist one client described as "the sweetest, purest person I have ever met." He was a vegetarian who taught himself to play the guitar and violin and shared his musical gifts with shelter animals to calm them. Family members said he sometimes wore a ski mask because he was anemic and always cold, and perhaps to create some distance in a world he found overwhelming. (And aren't we all supposed to be covering our faces these days.) In his final trip to a convenience store, though, he interacted with the clerk and customers, it seemed from video, offering a bow on his way out.

Did he look "sketchy" and "suspicious" to a 911 caller and police because he sang to himself on the walk home and waved his arms, perhaps conducting a symphony only he could hear? McClain told the police who stopped him, "I am an introvert, please respect the boundaries that I am speaking."

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Will Cries For Justice Resonate With Trump’s Voters Of Faith?

For so long, the Supreme Court was the deal-maker and -breaker for white evangelicals and, to a lesser extent, white Catholics and their unshakable partnership with the Republican Party. The GOP knew it in ways the Democratic Party never did, to its peril come election time. In 2016, with a narrow victory, President Donald Trump won the right to transform the federal judiciary and, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's help, has delivered.

But with the court's decision this week protecting the rights of gay and transgender workers, written by Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, Trump's prime-time appointee, some of those voters were a little shook. This would not be the only reason to wonder if Trump is losing his grip, if only a bit, on his most faithful (no pun intended) voting base.

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‘Law And Order’ Is Trump’s Only Play

The Queen of Soul sang it clearly. The "Respect" Aretha Franklin was craving — yes, demanding — in that classic is still in short supply for black Americans. More protesters have been arrested than police officers involved in the death of George Floyd, the black Minneapolis man who died after now-former officer Derek Chauvin held his knee on the handcuffed man's neck for nearly nine minutes while three fellow officers stood by or assisted.

Would there have been protests across the country and the world if Chauvin and his fellow officers had been charged immediately? There is no way to know for sure. But it is clear that the anguished reaction has been about much more than the death of one man, and has been generations in the making.

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Did Pandemic Change America, Or Reveal Its Heart?

On the same day, it was two very different scenes from Michigan.

The Detroit funeral last week of 5-year-old Skylar Madison Herbert, the young victim of COVID-19, received some notice, though in days that followed, other victims rapidly filled the screen and news pages. Yet it was impossible to forget young Skylar's beautiful face, soulful eyes and enchanting smile. Thinking that she would never again get to dress up in the Disney princess dresses and her mom's high heels that family members said she favored, or grow up to fulfill her dream of becoming a pediatric dentist — well, how could your heart not ache?

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Amid Pandemic Chaos, Burr And Graham Stand Out

North Carolina is never content playing second fiddle to any other state, for good or ill. Of course, that would be the case during a pandemic and its aftermath. A partial list: Any politicians out there being accused of taking advantage for personal gain? Check. Questions on how states will accommodate voters skittish about choosing between their health and their right to cast a ballot? Check. Fights over expanding Medicaid after a health crisis forces a hard look at who can and cannot count on insurance coverage? Check.

Oh, and a touch of Franklin Graham as a hero with reservations. Our state never disappoints.

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Our Reality-Show President Needs To Get Real

It was selfish to even ask the question: Will Broadway turn the lights back on in a month, as promised?

Turns out that’s doubtful, despite a goal of an April 12 reboot. Those tickets I had scored are worthless either way, since that particular show in previews, “Hangmen,” has announced it has permanently closed before it officially opened.

Considering New York’s many troubles — the mounting human toll of the coronavirus, the shortage of hospital beds and protective equipment for health workers, the many thrown out of jobs — the fate of one show is just one item on a long list of things shaken by the global pandemic. Many who are rationing supplies and struggling to replace lost wages couldn’t afford a Broadway ticket in the best of times.

So, yes, selfish. But understandable, when in a world of uncertainty and danger in possibly the air we breathe, and on every object or human we touch, escape and connection are things we crave. Friends are trying new recipes, joining online dance parties and yoga classes, adopting dogs and often channeling unexpected free time into worthy activities, like my talented niece sewing face masks for the medical health pros who desperately need them.

Still, for those Broadway ushers, vendors, street buskers and others who depend on New York City hustle and bustle, a darkened Times Square is no diversion. When word came this week that playwright Terrence McNally, whose prolific portfolio had provided so many, including me, with thoughtful entertainment through the decades, had died from complications from the coronavirus, reality and the theater world painfully collided.

When I pivot to culture when trying to make sense of politics, it’s not because I take the workings of Washington or life lightly. Rather, it’s because culture is something everyone can share in during partisan times: the hot movie, the new music, the addictive television experience.

That still happens, though Americans no longer live in a time of three networks, the local movie palace with heavy velvet curtains or next-day conversations about antics on Johnny Carson or Carol Burnett. A petition started by the Metropolitan Museum of Art calling for the inclusion of art institutions, along with their employees, in any federal aid package, is getting support from folks who regard culture as a necessary part of life.

Though our culture often seems as fragmented as our politics, that bond has not completely disappeared, something I’ve seen in recent social media conversations as all sorts of people come together to, for example, offer suggestions for TV shows to stream in a crisis or movie lists to soothe bored teens stuck in the house for goodness knows how long. The New York Times just reported that those evening news shows are finding increased and new audiences as Americans revert to straight down-the-line reporting, no histrionics needed when a virus throws you unexpected plot twists.

Yes, this is one time when the escape of entertainment can be both soothing and dangerous, when the moment calls for something much more serious. Just take one look at the soused expressions on the faces of devil-may-care spring breakers looking for fun, unaware or unconcerned of the risk they may pose to themselves and the unsuspecting parents and grandparents they could infect.

Leading the way

Maybe they get it now. But do our leaders?

Some do. It’s no coincidence that Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, and Dr. Deborah Birx, the response coordinator for the task force, have become unlikely stars. During a global pandemic that came to America as it inevitably would, the good doctors have earned the spotlight and the benefit of the doubt.

Governors have also taken the lead, including New York’s Andrew Cuomo, previously known for his combative streak, which has come as a refreshing splash of cold water, as he has provided leadership for a state that is hurting, with the bulk of new COVID-19 cases.

This crisis has revealed cracks in our “exceptional” American system, with spotty health care that may discourage sick people from visiting a doctor, a lack of paid sick leave that encourages those who still have a job to drag themselves to work no matter what. Too many children get the bulk of their nutrition from school meals, and too many parents can’t afford safe child care.

There is no escaping these shortcomings that have been years in the making.

The House and Senate, Democrats and Republicans, sparred over details of a $2 trillion package that came together in the wee hours of Wednesday; but, though hopeful, many fear the money will not trickle down nearly enough or last long enough.

There are the bright spots of Americans pitching in, of the mail carriers and grocery clerks and sanitation workers pushing through, of the health care pros working through exhaustion and risks. The Rev. William J. Barber II’s daily tweets remind politicians of their duty to all Americans, including those often forgotten, without the wherewithal to shelter in place, the homeless, the poor. Barber promises the Poor People’s Campaign’s planned June 20 march in Washington, needed now more than ever, is going digital.

A bipartisan group of senators, including Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., Mike Lee, R-Utah, and more, signed a letter to Attorney General William Barr and Federal Bureau of Prisons Director Michael Carvajal urging the release or transfer to home confinement for the most vulnerable inmates as permitted under the First Step Act. It’s called “compassionate release,” but it has been seldom used since the law passed.

An executive exception

So where is the American president? Can he pivot from the showman persona that is his comfort zone to the take-charge chief offering truth and transparency?

From President Donald Trump, we hear optimistic promises of a grand Easter, in sentiments that are not in line with his medical experts. “Wouldn’t it be great to have all the churches full?” he asked. “You’ll have packed churches all over our country. … I think it’ll be a beautiful time.”

Trump’s press briefings have taken on the appearance of a show, with promises of a vaccine around the corner, a miracle drug, mean-spirited jokes about the “deep” State Department and personal insults to reporters, including one who lobbed a softball question, asking for the president’s message to anxious Americans, a question that almost any sentient human being with an ounce of empathy could hit out of the park by simply saying, “We’re all in this together and working hard for a solution.”

That statement is not grand enough for the entertainer in chief, now robbed of the rallies that are his oxygen.

Americans, with exceptions to be sure, have the capacity to take this new normal seriously, while carving out pockets of joy and even silliness, often joining in spirit if not in person with other members of the weary brigade, to work through a crisis few have seen the likes of in their lifetimes.

The reality show star needs to be real. We’ll handle the rest.

Mary C. Curtis has worked at The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun, The Charlotte Observer, as national correspondent for Politics Daily, and is a senior facilitator with The OpEd Project. Follow her on Twitter @mcurtisnc3.

North Carolina Won’t Be A Footnote In November

OPINION — Yes, Texas and California were the big delegate prizes on Super Tuesday. But don't forget No. 3, North Carolina — politicians of both parties certainly won't.

The Tar Heel State has been a battleground for votes and issues for both parties for years. While South Carolina drew all the attention as the first-in-the-South primary, North Carolina, because of the politics and policies that resonate beyond its borders, will remain in the spotlight through the 2020 election season.

Different from its neighbors — the usually reliably red South Carolina and the increasingly blue Virginia to its north —decidedly purple North Carolina keeps everyone guessing. (Though its Super Tuesday result reflected the primary outcomes in South Carolina and Virginia, with former Vice President Joe Biden winning handily and Sen. Bernie Sanders in second place.)

North Carolina was where former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg spent Saturday night making a pre-primary pitch at the "North Carolina Democratic Party's First Annual Blue NC Celebration," hired seemingly half the state, garnered endorsements from the mayors of Charlotte and Raleigh and Democratic leaders of the state House and Senate, and still failed to meet the delegate threshold. He dropped out Wednesday, throwing his support to Biden.

President Donald Trump certainly gives North Carolina a lot of love. He traveled Monday night to Charlotte, following his pattern of trolling Democrats the night before a big primary. Fans, some of whom camped out overnight to get a seat, filled the Bojangles' Coliseum, which holds close to 10,000, or watched with the overflow crowd in the parking lot.Volume 0%

Trump may be a little conflicted about the very blue Charlotte, as he and the party will return to the "Queen City" this summer for the Republican National Convention that will nominate or crown him, anticipating a second term. The president has praised Mayor Vi Lyles, a Democrat, for the welcome she has shown for the party's business, if not policy.

National trends

In many ways, the state reflects the rural-urban divide across the country, with the split evident from events of the last few days.

At Saturday's Democratic gathering in Charlotte, the mood was subdued but attendees were no less determined than the ramped-up Trump fans. Marquee speakers included Tom Perez, the DNC chairman who knows, as well as the GOP, that 15 electoral votes are at stake and up for grabs this fall. While Republicans won North Carolina in 2012 and 2016, the margins were narrow, and Barack Obama proved in 2008 that the right candidate and campaign can win in a geographically and politically diverse state of farms, manufacturers, banking centers, renowned universities and more.

The rest of Saturday's lineup showcased the down-ballot races that could determine control of Congress. In Cal Cunningham, who spoke along with the primary rivals he handily bested Tuesday night, Democrats see a veteran, former state official and someone who could beat Republican Sen. Thom Tillis in what looks to be a tight contest that could control Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's fate.

Gov. Roy Cooper, up for reelection this year in a closely watched gubernatorial race, was there. The beleaguered Democrat's party in 2018 broke the veto-proof GOP majority in the state General Assembly that had hamstrung his first years in office. But he would love to regain a majority and fulfill his campaign promise to expand Medicaid, opposed by his GOP opponent, Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, a message that has worked for other Democrats in Southern states, such as Kentucky and Louisiana last year.

On Super Tuesday, North Carolina voters did not have to show an ID, though not for want of trying by state Republicans, who pushed a state constitutional amendment to require voter photo ID that North Carolinians later passed. The ensuing photo ID law is now in court after lawsuits by rights groups that contended it disenfranchises poor and minority voters because of the types of identification judged acceptable.

If it seems like a rerun, it's because it is. Since the Supreme Court invalidated provisions of the Voting Rights Act in the 2013 Shelby County v. Holder decision, North Carolina has tested several voting restrictions, including one that was tossed out by a federal court for targeting minority voters with "almost surgical precision."

North Carolina has become the "poster child" for such efforts across the country, being fought by organizations such as Stacey Abrams' Fair Fight.

Because of court intervention, voters also had newly drawn U.S. House districts, with Democrats expected to pick up seats. Democrats had challenged the old maps, citing the breadcrumb trail of evidence left by Republicans who made their partisan intentions quite clear. The 10-3 GOP advantage may shrink to 8-5, key seats as Democrats look to retain their House majority and Republicans try to wrestle it back.

Going big

Even Trump, who likes to be the life of his own party, seemed to realize the importance of North Carolina to his own and his party's 2020 future. He shared the stage this week in Charlotte with Tillis, who thanked the president and egged on the crowd who booed at the mention of Sanders' name. Trump son Eric repeated his father's slurs against political rivals and the media, and Eric's wife, Lara, a North Carolina native, touted her father-in-law's support from women. South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, running for reelection, made a cameo.

Trump himself said little new in a speech that strung together attacks on rivals and opponents, particularly Biden, repeats of past favorites ("Mexico's paying for the wall"), assurances about his administration's coronavirus response ("We're working hard on it, and we're going to come up with some really great solutions"), and murky insinuations about some "quid pro quo" Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg received for dropping out and endorsing Biden.

But in following the example of his State of the Union show and his apparent effort to woo black voters, a crucial part of the North Carolina electorate(more than one in five registered voters), African Americans offered both the pre-speech prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance. One of the few African Americans in the crowd, 57-year-old Raymond Madden of Columbia, South Carolina, was dressed in a Trump cap, a "Keep America Great Always" shirt and a bejeweled belt buckle with Trump's image — and had folks lined up to take selfies.

Madden, who went to Trump's inauguration and expects to "go to the next one," told me he likes "a fighter," a common sentiment at the rally. The minister and truck driver said he admired the president's view on "religious freedom" and believes there will be "a big shift among blacks toward Trump," though he said many friends and family members have yet to come onboard.

The only speakers whose applause perhaps equaled the main event were "Diamond and Silk," Trump supporters Lynnette Hardaway and Rochelle Richardson — from, you guessed it, North Carolina — who chide other African Americans for being on the "Democrat plantation."

When they said "all aboard" the Trump train, the crowd roared, "Choo-Choo."

Mary C. Curtis has worked at The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun, The Charlotte Observer, as national correspondent for Politics Daily, and is a senior facilitator with The OpEd Project. Follow her on Twitter @mcurtisnc3.

Democratic Divide Isn’t Just Moderates Versus Progressives

Are frightened Democrats in the middle of an ugly fight to the death between the so-called progressive and moderate wings of the party? To observe the weeping and gnashing of teeth after the New Hampshire primary, you might think so. Let’s just say, that reaction is premature and missing the point.

Yet there are already calls from some in the Democratic establishment, such as it is, for consolidation of the moderates to fight a Bernie Sanders surge that would presumably cast the party into the electoral wilderness in 2020, when the main focus, the reasoning goes, is to beat Donald Trump. To be fair, that seems to be top of mind for all those who want Trump out of office. When I go to the market or gym, anyone of a certain political persuasion even vaguely familiar with what I do for a living asks me “who can beat Trump” before I get a “hello.”

I get the urgency with each passing day, as an emboldened president interferes with career prosecutors at the Justice Department, gloats as a Purple Heart recipient with shrapnel in his body is marched out of the White House or floats the possibility of overhauling programs such as Medicare, breaking his own campaign promise.

But I’m honest when I answer: “I don’t know, it’s early and anything can happen. Remember 2016.” Well, I guess they do remember, which is why they’re so nervous.

Whose decision?

It’s more than a little insulting, though, to a lot of voters to want to wrap everything up before the Nevada caucus, the South Carolina primary and Super Tuesday, before the diverse electorate that will determine who gets to stand onstage and accept that nomination has had a chance to weigh in. By the way, those are also the voters who could make the difference in November.

With 1,990 delegates needed to clinch the presidential nomination, and a neck-and-neck race with Pete Buttigieg at 22 and Sanders at 21, we should stop counting?

Especially after an Iowa caucus gone awry, the argument that Iowa and New Hampshire, with the power to make or break candidates, should not go first makes sense, despite being dismissed as sour grapes when former hopeful Julián Castro made it.

Before all the votes were cast in the New Hampshire primary, former Vice President Joe Biden was on the ground in South Carolina, perhaps anticipating his poor showing in the first-in-the-nation primary, and shoring up what has been called his “firewall.” Primary winner Sanders was heading that way, with events planned in the Super Tuesday state of North Carolina, preceded by appearances from campaign surrogates Nina Turner and Susan Sarandon. In South Carolina, Tom Steyer was visible in ads and mailings, creeping up in the polls and picking verbal fights with a Biden supporter.

Michael Bloomberg was everywhere, or at least he seemed to be, with ads and staffing across the country and his own Southern swing in the works.

Note that Andrew Yang, the only candidate of color on the last debate stage, has suspended his campaign, squashing the hopes as well as the dreams of the Yang Gang. Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, failing to gain traction, also bowed out, so, “poof,” all the African American candidates have disappeared.

Though the winnowing down is necessary and expected, does anyone wonder if the first states had been shuffled to include, maybe, Georgia and Texas, or New Jersey and California, Castro and Sens. Cory Booker and Kamala Harris — and the issues they put front and center — might have drawn more attention and donor support, and survived to fight another day?

Flipping the script

The question has been asked, why has it been so difficult for Buttigieg and Sen. Amy Klobuchar to gain support from African American and Latino voters? Why not turn that around to ask why white voters have been so eager to support candidates who have shown little traction among black and brown voters?

When I expressed that thought, someone who presumably has it all figured out, testily lectured: “They,” meaning those black and brown voters, “will just have to suck it up.”

Paternalism is an ugly look, for Democrats as well as Republicans. It does not and should not work that way, and newly crowned front-runners should be prepared.

Klobuchar, riding high after a praised debate showing gave her campaign a boost and a strong, third-place New Hampshire finish, is getting another look and stronger vetting, including on the prosecutor past that caused some of Harris’ troubles. When a host on ABC’s “The View” grilled her about her past failure to prosecute officers in police-involved killings and one case the AP has reported on and reviewed that resulted in a young man in jail and lots of questions, Klobuchar’s answers leaned heavily on “systematic racism” boilerplate.

Based on Buttigieg’s deer-in-the-headlights reaction in the last debate when asked about disparate rates of marijuana arrests, based on race, in his time as South Bend, Indiana, mayor and his nonscripted follow-up that linked pot possession to gangs and violence and “slaughtering,” well, it will take more than the endorsement of South Carolina state Rep. JA Moore from Charleston, an African American, to move past his well-documented stumbles with voters of color and the word salad he offers when asked about them.

Guys, when you’re polling lower than the poster child for stop-and-frisk with black voters, you’ve got work to do.

That doesn’t let Bloomberg off the hook. He may have a raft of African American mayors, including Steve Benjamin of Columbia, South Carolina, on his side, and black voters who have been special targets of the current president are nothing if not practical. But as long as he’s a candidate, expect to hear Bloomberg on a loop, saying, “The way you should get the guns out of the kids’ hands is throw them against the wall and frisk them.” As someone who has a black son who has been profiled (and multiply that by a lot of black and brown folks), believe me, those words never lose their sting.

All the breathless prognostication and punditry expended on Iowa and New Hampshire doesn’t make it game over, as much as Democrats looking for unity might want to make it so.

Mary C. Curtis has worked at The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun, The Charlotte Observer, as national correspondent for Politics Daily, and is a senior facilitator with The OpEd Project. Follow her on Twitter @mcurtisnc3.

While Cowardly Republicans Punt, Romney Plays The Long Game

Don’t you just hate it when someone uses a sports metaphor to teach a life lesson? So do I, usually. But with the Super Bowl not a week in the rearview mirror, it would be impossible to ignore the concept of the punt — getting out of a tough situation by moving the ball as far as possible toward the opponent’s end zone.

If you’re playing against a Patrick Mahomes-led Kansas City Chiefs, you’re merely buying some time before the inevitable score. But senators using that tactic in an impeached President Donald Trump’s trial are no doubt hoping any payback comes late, or not at all.

For them, it’s a way to satisfy both their consciences and a Trump-supporting voting base.

Playing it safe

It’s a safe play for Republicans such as Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, clear in her disapproval of Trump’s actions — his asking a foreign government to investigate a political rival before a presidential election, and holding up congressionally approved, much-needed military aid as well as a possible White House visit as leverage.

The nonpartisan Government Accountability Office has said the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, at the president’s direction, violated the law when it withheld military assistance. Transcripts of the president’s call to Ukraine has Trump asking for a favor — acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney belligerently confirmed the attempted transaction and the president himself asked Ukraine and China for more of the same. And that is just a hint of the case laid out by House impeachment managers to the Senate.

Murkowski has never described the Ukraine call, as the president has, as “perfect.” She called his behavior “shameful and wrong,” adding that he did not always act “with the respect and dignity that the office demands.” But then, after her “no” vote on witnesses, she said it would be “no” on removing Trump from office.

She punted.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, on his way out, came to a similar conclusion. “I think he shouldn’t have done it. I think it was wrong. Inappropriate was the way I’d say, improper, crossing the line,” the Tennessee Republican told NBC’s “Meet the Press.” He said he didn’t need more witnesses because he’s pretty much convinced that the Democrats have already proved Trump did everything he’s accused of doing.

But Alexander punted, leaving it up to the voters, though the Constitution gives that job to the Senate.

That would make a little bit of sense if there were some guarantee that the president would be chastened enough to cease and desist his efforts to game the 2020 election by any means he deems necessary. (Though his lawyer Alan Dershowitz floated the monarchical theory that cheating on his own behalf would leave Trump in the clear.)

Yet that’s the route Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins ran when she laughably suggested that impeachment itself was enough to scare Trump into walking the straight and narrow from now on. “I believe that he will be much more cautious in the future,” Collins, who is up for reelection this year, told CBS News. Has she ever met this president? Even he reportedly brushed away that rationale.

His own drum

Trump is nothing if not brazen. World G-7 leaders would be planning to meet in June at Trump National Doral in Miami if not for howls from members of both parties about the obvious conflicts.

Expect more from an emboldened Trump. Though dudes named Lev and Igor are otherwise occupied, he can count on personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, looking after his own interests and the interests of clients not named Trump in his globe-trotting schemes. In an NPR interview, Giuliani said he has no intention of halting his quest to dig up dirt in Ukraine or anywhere else, and said (wink, wink) the president has not held him back.

Also expect Trump-style retribution trained on Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican standard-bearer, soon-to-be pariah. He voted to hear from witnesses and to convict the president on abuse of power, calling his actions “an appalling abuse of public trust.”

Romney is playing the long game — history.

On the Democratic side, Alabama Sen. Doug Jonesfacing an uphill reelection battle in a Trump-loving state, said Wednesday, “After many sleepless nights, I have reluctantly concluded that the evidence is sufficient to convict the President for both abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.”

No game-playing there, in a decision that will probably cost him power but may help him catch up on that sleep, uninterrupted by bad dreams.

You have to give it to Trump. He is a high-risk, high-reward player, going for it all on fourth down, even when yardage and the odds are long. But he can depend on a compliant GOP Congress blocking for him and occasionally shoving an opponent or making a late tackle, no matter the evidence that is sure to continue to surface.

To hear Trump tell it, as in his State of the Union speech Tuesday night, he wins every time. Well, that is if you don’t notice how he takes credit for the recovery that began under President Barack Obama; how he highlights more black people in the audience than he has appointed to the judiciary or his Cabinet; and how he praises the military whose members he calls “dopes and babies” behind closed doors, according to revelations in the book “A Very Stable Genius.”

When the president who trashes the Affordable Care Act in words and in court promises to protect those with preexisting conditions, when he name-checks Harriet Tubman after his administration has put a hold on a stamp honoring her, you get the feeling he actually believes his own hype and forgets what he said or did the day before.

The president flaunts his power, which he believes is unlimited, and that is more than you can say for timid senators, tasked with maintaining a balance of power between the legislative and executive co-equal branches of government — and failing.

Faced with an admittedly tough choice, but one that their oath compels them to make, so many senators have combined disapproval with looking the other way.

They have punted that responsibility to hold the president to account to the American people, who may be too exhausted to care. In February, it’s working, especially considering Trump is riding pretty high in the latest polls and Democratic 2020 contenders look as confused as, well, Democrats.

And it may be a winning strategy. But then, the 49ers looked like champions after the third quarter.

Mary C. Curtis has worked at The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun, The Charlotte Observer, as national correspondent for Politics Daily, and is a senior facilitator with The OpEd Project. Follow her on Twitter @mcurtisnc3.

What Kind Of Country Do Americans Truly Want? It’s Your Choice

That was presidential hopeful Tom Steyer, when I spoke with him recently, during his second stop through North Carolina in two weeks.

Yes, there are primary and caucus states after Iowa and New Hampshire. And Democratic candidates are realizing success in those two states is not necessarily destiny. That means appealing to the diverse voters who will have to make peace with the candidates and one another by November, and realizing that as the primaries move South, West and beyond, inequality is an essential part of the debate.

But paying attention is not just electoral expediency, it is a matter of political philosophy as well — the “vision” thing. While other nations are still fighting ancient rivalries and coming up with solutions guaranteed to leave someone unhappy — see this week’s proposed Middle East peace plan — America has reason to fret over its own longtime divisions, laid starkly bare in this contentious election season.

A complex experiment

An impeachment trial is not the only thing that has the parties and the country looking at the same evidence and landing on different conclusions. There is disagreement on what the American experiment really means, and where do we go from here.

While Democrats are wrestling, sometimes clumsily, with complex issues of inclusion, the Republican Party’s message, through policy and vocabulary, is much clearer when it comes to appealing across lines of race, faith, national origin, socio-economic status and orientation.

In recent weeks, a Supreme Court dominated by conservative justices has given the go-ahead to the Trump administration to implement “wealth test” rules for legal immigration, while challenges work their way through the courts, making it easier to deny immigrants residency or admission because they have used or might use public-assistance programs. How many current citizens’ immigrant relatives would pass the test, and are Americans comfortable making wealth the defining judge of hard work and character?

The president is also considering expanding the travel ban that was criticized for targeting Muslim-majority countries. According to a Politico report, Nigeria might be added to the list, despite the many Nigerian Americans doing very well when it comes to education and income. Trump, of course, dismissed the country with a profanity.

States fear cuts in food assistance that don’t consider that pockets of limited employment opportunities leave many hurting, even in a good economy. Though poverty cuts across all lines, Americans disadvantaged by society’s obstacles — the poor, the disabled, minorities — acutely feel cuts in the safety net.

Abnormal times

The California Steyer speaks of with pride is the state Trump disparages. Homelessness and income inequality — problems not limited to the West Coast — are not viewed as American challenges to be met but as useful cudgels for political-opponent bashing. Trump does the same for other locales, eschewing the usual presidential gesture of assuring those who chose someone else or none of the above that the commander in chief has their backs.

In contrast, billionaire Democratic candidate Michael Bloomberg recently announced his Greenwood Initiative, a plan to address the systemic bias that has kept many African Americans from building wealth, in the Greenwood neighborhood in Tulsa, Oklahoma, known for its role in the historical destruction of black wealth in America. Its “black Wall Street” was destroyed in a 1921 race massacre; mass graves are still being discovered.

Yes, Bloomberg is bedeviled by his New York City “stop and frisk” history, and some cynicism is warranted for his repeated efforts to persuade voters reluctant because of it. Nonetheless, that gesture acknowledged that America’s celebrated greatness has always been complicated and conditional.

When chided by a protest led by pastor and human rights activist Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II before the Iowa debate, Democratic candidates talked about poverty and the Poor People’s Campaign, a current reimagining of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s crusade. King’s day and contributions received the most cursory of acknowledgments from the current White House, if you don’t count counselor Kellyanne Conway’s suggestion that he would oppose impeachment — and why would you count it? What kind of welcome will the campaign’s Poor People’s Assembly and Moral March on Washington, planned for June 20, receive, I wonder?

Weighing their options

Voters have a choice, and are paying attention, from the enthusiastic and supportive crowds at Trump rallieslike in New Jersey this week, to folks who came prepared with questions at that Steyer town hall at a Charlotte, North Carolina, boys and girls center.

Carol Archibald, 67, a retired ICU nurse, said she had seen a lot in her 46-year career, from health professionals dropping dead from burnout to young people traumatized by violence and interactions with law enforcement in her New York City home. She said she appreciated Steyer’s “heart for the poor,” evidenced by the nonprofits and community bank he and his wife established before his presidential run. Issues on the list for her and her daughter, Faye Brown, who accompanied her, included clean air and water, health care and affordable housing.

Even my usual go-to theater escape is often about more serious things these days.

This week, I watched “The New Colossus,” a theater event written by actor/activist Tim Robbins and his Actors’ Gang, in Charlotte at the start of a national tour. The dozen members of the ensemble are guides in an immersive, harrowing journey of refugees — some related to the actors, we learn — who found hope, relief, escape in America.

Led by Robbins in an after-show talkback, audience members shared, sometimes with emotion, their own American stories, with roots that ranged from indigenous to new arrivals to Mayflower descendants. I shared the story of Addie Price, my great-grandmother, just 6 years old and clinging to her mother’s skirts when the Emancipation Proclamation was signed, a part of that history passed down so as not to forget.

“There is so much divisiveness, so much hateful rhetoric, that is dividing us,” Robbins told me after the show. “I think it’s important to tell stories that remind us of our shared humanity, our shared history, and what we have in common.” The idea, he said, “is to make people think in a different way, open their hearts a little bit.”

After seeing a show that takes its name from an Emma Lazarus sonnet, whose lines appear on the Statue of Liberty, it’s clear what her words mean to him.

The jury is still out on the rest of us.

Mary C. Curtis has worked at The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun, The Charlotte Observer, as national correspondent for Politics Daily, and is a senior facilitator with The OpEd Project. Follow her on Twitter @mcurtisnc3.

When Science Fiction Becomes Fact, Start To Worry

How did you spend your holiday? If you’re like me, one guilty pleasure was devouring TV marathons, designed to offer relief from the stresses of the season. Reliable favorites include back-to-back episodes of The Twilight Zone and, on Turner Classic Movies, one whole day devoted to science fiction, imaginings both cautionary and consoling of what the future holds for our world.

But usual escapes didn’t quite work this year, not when fact is scarier than anything Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling might have dreamed up, though the serious Serling who introduced each episode of his iconic series, all furrowed brow and cigarette in hand, did signal he suspected what was coming if mankind didn’t shape up.

Hint: Mankind did not listen to that sober sage.

Let’s list just some of the gloom and doom greeting the world at the start of a new decade.

The end of the year brought surprising news from the Trump administration’s own experts — you know, those folks hired to replace scientists from the previous administration, presumably to more closely reflect the views of the boss and because of their ties to industry.

They showed some independence, with members of the EPA’s Scientific Advisory Board posting draft letters laying out the disconnect between policies they are tasked with adjusting and real science. The statements criticized the administration’s proposed overhaul of Obama-era regulation of waterways, efforts to curb vehicle tailpipe emissions to fight climate change and plans to limit scientific data when drawing up health regulations.

That news coincidentally paired with the umpteenth showing of the 1973 movie Soylent Green, featuring one of Charlton Heston’s less wooden performances and a future world devastated by pollution, global warming, too many people and too few resources, where the privileged use their riches to escape harm and where — spoiler alert – “Soylent Green is people!”

The start of January brought a preview, reported in The New York Times, of proposed changes to the 50-year-old National Environmental Policy Act that would mean “federal agencies would no longer have to take climate change into account when they assess the environmental impacts of highways, pipelines and other major infrastructure projects.”

Those supportive of the move contend economic and employment opportunities must be considered, while environmentalists worry about the future of air, water and wildlife. The public and courts will get the chance to weigh in on the changes to the law, expected to be formally announced this week.

Caring about air, water and wildlife is inescapable when every day brings new pictures of a continent and country burning. Man has certainly helped pull the trigger in Australia, with dozens of arrests of those charged with intentionally setting fires. But scientists and researchers have said that climate change has worsened the effects of the wildfires, which have killed many, destroyed thousands of homes and devastated flora and fauna.Climate change activists take to the streets to demand action.

“Climate change is increasing bushfire risk in Australia by lengthening the fire season, decreasing precipitation and increasing temperature,” according to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology

Australia’s leaders, including its prime minister, remain largely unmoved, insisting that despite drought and bushfires, the country does not need to cut carbon emissions. Energy and Emissions Reduction Minister Angus Taylor told Reuters, “When it comes to reducing global emissions, Australia must and is doing its bit, but bushfires are a time when communities must unite, not divide.”

To be fair, Serling’s brainchild series remains iconic, in part, because it was prescient in its view of the dark side of humanity, of the greed and xenophobia that trump good sense and charity when the going gets a little bit tough. He shone a light on contentious family dynamics and neighbors turning against neighbors, proving only too well his fictional alien force’s informed hunch that when it comes to defeating the human race, no outside aggression is necessary. We will do it to ourselves every time.

His science was never truly fiction.

Still, what once seemed ironic and clever comes as a shock as the fantastical scenarios increasingly play out in real time. The writing is smart, the concepts clever — and all of it is frightening.

In the 1960 film The Time Machine — not exactly H.G. Wells’ 1895 vision, but entertaining nonetheless — Rod Taylor’s character returns to his Victorian present, chastened and woeful after his “machine” offers a glimpse into the future, full of passive citizens cut off from the knowledge of the past and content to be happy and entertained, and ultimately unable to confront danger.

When I watched this time around, I sympathized with those trapped underground, perhaps more in line with Wells’ sentiment about the plight of the working class during industrialization, though they serve as the movie’s villains. That allows for a last act that contains hope for a new day.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to imagine any sort of happy ending when the future is now.Thunberg: ‘Don’t listen to me, listen to the scientists.

Mary C. Curtis has worked at The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun, The Charlotte Observer, as national correspondent for Politics Daily, and is a senior facilitator with The OpEd Project. Follow her on Twitter @mcurtisnc3.

In A Fractious Holiday Season, Glimmers Of Hope?

In Washington, Santa’s naughty and nice list will be mighty lopsided this year. Donald Trump sealed his fate when he went after Speaker Nancy Pelosi — for her teeth. Then he followed with a six-page letter, a rant that projected many of his transgressions onto those he has labeled his accusers, targeting Pelosi, again, and mentioning the Salem witch trials for good measure.

Perhaps you have to step away from politics for some relief. Well, not this year, as even escapist Hallmark Channel fare has been sucked into arguments over love and family and the true meaning of the holiday.

It isn’t pretty.

Christmas itself has taken on the mean and partisan tone of a country that often seems at war with itself. This week, Trump and Vice President Mike Pence were off to Michigan for a “Merry Christmas” rally — and you better not slip and say, “Happy holidays.”

What once was an innocuous and inclusive way to offer good wishes to those of any or no faith during this time of year has become a litmus test for a subset of militant believers, so “Season’s Greetings” becomes an assault on all that is holy and good.

As for a “war” on Christmas, isn’t putting war and Christmas in the same sentence its own kind of blasphemy?

Almost as ridiculous and disheartening is the war over chicken, a major food group. Last month, Atlanta-based Chick-fil-A announced its foundation would focus its philanthropy on education, homelessness and hunger, its statement said, “to create more clarity and to better address three critical needs facing children across the communities we serve.”

Who could argue with that? Well, more folks than you might think. People took the company’s new direction as capitulation to protests from LGBTQ activists over statements by its CEO and past support of organizations that worked to ban same-sex marriage. While it might have been in part a business decision from a company that this year closed a restaurant in the United Kingdom after protests and is also facing competition from media-savvy Popeyes, helping children was nevertheless gracious.

Many conservative groups, however, saw the move and the foundation’s decision not to renew financial commitments to the Salvation Army and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes as betrayal. Evangelist Franklin Graham encouraged his social media followers to pray for the company and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, suggested Chick-fil-A had “lost its way” over a donation to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tangles with conservatives over which organizations it classifies as “hate” groups.

Damning emails don’t lie

Not a peep from these same quarters when the SPLC exposed a trove of emails from White House senior adviser Stephen Miller to a former Breitbart editor, the majority of which parroted white nationalist rhetoric on race and immigration. Many Democrats demanded Miller’s resignation; the White House defended its architect of immigration policy and Republicans stayed mum.

While the SPLC has had its own set of scandals this year, those damning emails don’t lie. That Miller reportedly had input into Trump’s fact-challenged, exclamation-point strewn Pelosi letter is not at all surprising.

The holiday classics we rely on don’t exactly work anymore. With the president in the lead, the new version of one of my favorites, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” would end with the Grinch’s heart shrinking as he steals Cindy Lou Who’s slice of roast beast while shouting, Mick Mulvaney style, “Get over it.”

So, how about a Hallmark movie refuge, as the insistent card-store clerk kept asking as she pressed a schedule into my reluctant hands? This season, a commercial featuring two women at a same-sex marriage ceremony kissing caused more drama than any plot point in one of the channel’s all-too-predictable programs. (Full disclosure: I’ve never been a fan of their overwhelmingly white Christmas fantasies, but to each his or her or their own.) The channel’s decision to pull the ads, and, after backlash, to reinstate them managed to upset everyone.

Peering into Pelosi prayers

What folks believe and how they choose to worship (or not) is so personal, especially in America, a country not founded on religion or bound by it, that you would think that corner, at least, would be respected. But in his screed to Pelosi, Trump went there: “You [Nancy Pelosi] are offending Americans of faith by continually saying: ‘I pray for the president,’ when you know this statement is not true, unless it is meant in a negative sense.”

So now, Trump speaks for all persons of faith and, along with his other superpowers, can see into people’s souls.

Moving from Washington to holiday dinner conversation, it means the “no religion or politics rule” has been permanently obliterated.

Somehow, though, I find the transparency refreshing, as Americans are free to witness leaders engaging in a conversation about the Constitution and what it requires. They can also observe a president embraced by white evangelicals who seem impervious as he insults women and a young climate change activist, and calls for duly elected congressman Adam Schiff to receive Guatemala-style justice (and we can only imagine what that is).

Even if you choose to ignore politics, it will affect you, a lesson I learned as I watched family members put their lives on the line to make America live up to its promise; they made my life better though I hardly understood that during that divisive and dangerous time. In America, you can do something, as pro and con impeachment protesters showed this week.

And amid all of the acrimony, in an event crowded out by impeachment and the rest, there was Speaker Pelosi, acting more presidential than the president, leading a bipartisan delegation marking the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge.

“In an afternoon ceremony at Luxembourg American Cemetery,” her statement said, “we paid our respects to the thousands of American soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice in the name of freedom and democracy.”

Fighting back during that wintry siege seemed hopeless, too.

There’s always time for a holiday (excuse me, Christmas) miracle.

Mary C. Curtis has worked at The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun, The Charlotte Observer, as national correspondent for Politics Daily, and is a senior facilitator with The OpEd Project. Follow her on Twitter @mcurtisnc3.

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The Double Standards That Trapped Kamala Harris

There is a particular line that stuck with me in the just-opened film Queen & Slim, about a black couple on the run after an altercation with a white police officer goes awry in the depressing and terrible way you might imagine. During their perilous road trip, in a quieter moment, he (a retail worker) asks her (an attorney) if she is good at her job. “I’m an excellent lawyer,” she replies, to which he answers with a question that’s really a statement: “Why do black people always got to be excellent? Why can’t we just be ourselves?”

Since the pre-mortems were written a bit ago, it’s time for a post-mortem on the presidential campaign of  Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), who never seemed to quite discover who she was or at least convey authenticity and excellence to enough voters or donors to make a difference.

Did she have trouble settling on why exactly she wanted to be president — the vision thing? Sure. Uneven debate performances certainly hurt. Even many of the voters of color she depended on didn’t warm to her confused message on her record as a prosecutor. And that detailed letter of resignation from a former campaign staffer was blistering. (Though if I were that staffer’s new boss at Michael Bloomberg headquarters, I would watch my back.)

But was that all it was? It’s not as though other campaigns were flawless. Didn’t a Tom Steyer guy pilfer some Harris volunteer data and resign without the campaign suffering more than a bad headline or two? Rough spots linger more for some than others, with Bloomberg and Steyer and their deep pockets more than able to weather any storms.

Harris, however, faced unique hurdles from the start, some of it personal. White counterparts had only to defend their records, not their racial identity or the race of their spouse. Does anyone know or care who Amy Klobuchar or Bernie Sanders is married to? Yet there were actually questions about whether Harris was black enough or why she had a white husband.

In her shoes

As her foes almost too gleefully celebrated her exit, others had thoughts.

Glynda C. Carr, the president and CEO of Higher Heights for America PAC, a national organization that focuses on mobilizing and elevating the voices of black women, said in a statement about the candidate her group had endorsed: “Senator Harris raised issues, such as health care and equal pay during her candidacy that resonated with women of color, particularly Black women. Her voice will be missed on the road to 2020.”

Aimee Allison, the founder of She the People, “a national network connecting women of color to transform our democracy,” said, “As a Black woman, I know from personal experience that Kamala has to work three times as hard as some of the other candidates in this race to get half as far.”

Reminds me of a mantra a wise black woman, my mother, repeated throughout my childhood: “You have to be twice as good to get half as far,” warning there would be little margin for error.

Are a few remaining Democratic 2020 hopefuls having similar flashbacks, wondering about the reasons white candidates are getting most of the money, attention and poll numbers. Is it because of the qualities of the particular candidates, the breadth of their résumés, the effectiveness of their campaigns, hard-to-define charisma? Of course.

It’s also clearly more than that, a case of who gets the benefit of the doubt, even after the last two-term Democratic president was a black man with the name Barack Hussein Obama who was down double digits in the polls to front-runner Hillary Clinton in 2007.

In the last debate, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, perhaps feeling a little of that “What do I have to do to get noticed around here?” vibe, slipped in his Rhodes scholar bona fides. Whining? Consider that a HuffPost search last month found that in 2019, U.S. news outlets cited Pete Buttigieg’s Rhodes scholarship 596 times while Booker’s had 79 mentions.

Julián Castro is no slouch, either, with degrees from Stanford and Harvard Law. On The Daily Show, with host Trevor Noah, Castro continued the back-and-forth that had the former San Antonio mayor answering Buttigieg’s invitation to walk with him through the streets of South Bend, Indiana, to observe what a mayor can accomplish. “I was mayor of a city that’s 14 times larger than South Bend,” Castro said. Yet the former HUD secretary had not qualified for the last debate stage when a question about housing policy, one of his signature issues, was raised.

The road ahead

Both Castro and Booker have expressed regret at Harris dropping out, in remarks that may resonate with minority voters Democrats need to win but that too many party leaders unfortunately may dismiss as so much sour grapes from low-polling hopefuls.

Now while it’s true that Buttigieg’s failure to connect with minority voters has been the subject of innumerable think pieces, including from me, he often gets an “A” for effort when he stumbles. He was praised for his blunt debate assessment that he failed to diversify South Bend’s police department. But when he said he “couldn’t get it done,” I wanted to know, as then-candidate Rep. Eric Swalwell did, why not, and what he was going to do about it?

And though the drama over Buttigieg’s 2011 quote that failing black students lacked role models who valued education has seemingly passed, the sting remains for many like me, with a dad with an eighth grade education and a reverence for learning that he used to teach himself and send five children to college — law school, in my brother’s case.

Voters are judged differently as well, with Klobuchar, Buttigieg and others offering so many paeans to the “real” people in the “heartland,” a word that has come to mean solid values as much as geography, you’d think citizens on the coast and in urban areas across the country are barely American.

It’s inevitable this early in the process that campaigns will stall and candidates will, like Harris, decide to cut their losses and concentrate on the future. Current top-tier contender Joe Biden had plenty of setbacks before becoming vice president.

But how will voters with the most at stake judge what is shaping up to be an all-white December debate lineup and what could become a race with more billionaires than minorities?

It’s about the issues, which matter as much as representation; it’s about something else, too, because, as my mom knew, life is not sunshine, lollipops and rainbows for everyone.

That also goes for politics.

Mary C. Curtis has worked at The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun, The Charlotte Observer, as national correspondent for Politics Daily, and is a senior facilitator with The OpEd Project. Follow her on Twitter @mcurtisnc3.

Should Black Voters Accept White Politicians’ Apologies?

OPINION — Of course, Michael Bloomberg went there — there being a black church to ask for forgiveness. As he tentatively dips his toe and his billions into the Democratic presidential race, joining a scrum that expands even as it shrinks, Bloomberg, perhaps realizing that the path to the presidency must include the enthusiastic support of black and brown voters, has rethought his enthusiastic support of “stop and frisk.”

“I got something important really wrong,” he told the congregation at the Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn on Sunday. “I didn’t understand back then the full impact that stops were having on the black and Latino communities.”

As New York City mayor, Bloomberg insisted that in order to fight crime, police must have the power to stop anyone judged a potential lawbreaker, which translated to ritualizing a practice that humiliated hundreds of thousands of black and brown New Yorkers who were detained, questioned and patted down because of “furtive movements” or some other vague justification. The number of stops rose to more than 685,000 in 2011, with no citations made or charges brought nearly 90 percent of the time.

The law-and-order president of the Police Benevolent Association, Patrick Lynch, issued an I-told-you-so statement after Bloomberg’s about-face: “We said in the early 2000s that the quota-driven emphasis on street stops was polluting the relationship between cops and our communities.”

After community members and civil liberties activists howled and sued, and a judge deemed stop-and-frisk unconstitutional, and after crime continued to drop when the practice ceased and police had to solve crimes by doing actual police work, Bloomberg continued to defend it, as recently as this year.

Not a coincidence

While I won’t be the one to question the sincerity of Bloomberg’s Saul on the road to Damascus conversion, the timing is suspicious.

If Bloomberg’s apology seems familiar, it’s because he’s not the only Democratic candidate with regrets. Others are using the same playbook as they recognize the party’s loyal base. (Remember, Mitt Romneywon about 59 percent of the white vote in 2012, but it was Barack Obama who reupped as president.)

While former Vice President Joe Biden has defended what he has characterized as some good outcomes of a 1994 crime bill that he helped shape, he has also accepted responsibility for his role in legislation that toughened sentencing and helped lead to a mass incarceration crisis that disproportionately affected African Americans and Hispanics.

When questioned about her criminal justice record as former California attorney general, Sen. Kamala Harris said: “Was I able to get enough done? Absolutely not.” But she has said that her proposed policy to reform the criminal justice system has been hailed by activists as a “bold and comprehensive plan.”

Yes, plans, what all the candidates are offering now, including South Bend’s Pete Buttigieg, topping polls in Iowa and New Hampshire but well aware that his presidential hopes could tumble when primaries and caucuses move to more diverse states. His Douglass plan, “a comprehensive investment in Black America,” offers reform in education, health care and, yes, criminal justice. But he, too, has racked up a few apologies, including for a statement listing the names of supporters of the plan, mistakenly presented, some on the list feel, as an endorsement of the candidate himself. It followed him owning his part in a sometimes rocky relationship between a less than diverse police department and South Bend citizens during his time as mayor.

It’s not that criminal justice and policing are the only issues of importance to African American voters, who are not monolithic and are still weighing their electoral options. But disparate treatment from surveillance, arrest and punishment traumatizes the lives of people of color in ways that many white Americans will seldom experience.

Unequal system

America’s history in building inequity into its criminal justice system becomes clear to anyone who has read The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, or heard its author, Michelle Alexander, as I did this week in her Charlotte, North Carolina, speech, sponsored by the Learning Society of Queens University of Charlotte. That this unequal system continued to expand while the country was awash in post-Obama post-racialism illustrates the contradiction between what the country is and what it imagines itself to be, she said.

A drug war focused almost entirely on black and brown citizens, she said, rounded up young people through stop-and-frisk, “swept into prisons and jails for the exact same crimes going unpunished on the other side of town.” After imprisonment, they were released into second-class citizenship, Alexander said, where their records often prevented them from getting jobs, voting or being eligible for public housing or benefits. When the opioid crisis hit, she pointed out, affecting more diverse communities, it was deemed a “public health crisis,” not an occasion for a war.

Alexander posed a question, asking if the country is “willing to challenge the soft bigotry that’s silent and unspoken, that allows us to care more for our kids than ‘them?’”

Whether for the country’s sake or to bolster their own chances for election — am I being too cynical? — candidates are examining their own records and making promises. Expect a plan from Bloomberg soon.

Even President Donald Trump is appearing at historically black colleges and universities to tout his support of last year’s criminal justice reform bill, though one wonders if that’s less an appeal to black voters than a sign to white suburbanites to forgive and forget his many racist statements about crime, immigrants and minorities.

Minority voters have settled on imperfect candidates because they’ve often had little choice. This election season, if polls are to be believed, many are undecided, asking questions, studying policy and being utterly strategic about who will win and who might deliver on the promise of justice. This is a year when black citizens, minding their own business in their own homes, have been killed by police officers sworn to protect and serve. So to that traditional pragmatism, add a little anger into the mix for 2020.

When candidates such as New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, former HUD Secretary Julián Castro and others challenge the front-runners on their criminal justice records, voters with clout are listening. So pundits would do well not to use low poll numbers to count them or any hopeful out just yet.

While testimony in a church might wash away past sins, will it convince a voter to cast a ballot?

Mary C. Curtis has worked at The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun, The Charlotte Observer, as national correspondent for Politics Daily, and is a senior facilitator with The OpEd Project. Follow her on Twitter @mcurtisnc3.

How Can Buttigieg Solve His South Carolina Puzzle?

ROCK HILL, S.C. — Why was South Bend, Indiana, mayor and Democratic presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg in South Carolina over the weekend, with a busy schedule that included tailgating at a historically black college homecoming and delivering remarks at an AME Zion worship service?

“To say that I want to be the president who can pick up the pieces, that we’ve got to be ready not just to defeat this president but to guide the country forward,” he confidently told me. “I have my eyes on that moment and what America’s going to need.”

It’s quite a tall order for a candidate polls show in single digits in the first-in-the-South primary, where he is still largely unknown to the African Americans who make up the majority of the state’s Democratic voters, even as his campaign coffers and Iowa poll numbers rise. In a weekend packed with public appearances, he and a diverse group of campaign workers and surrogates, including some from South Bend, were trying to catch up — and distribute those “African Americans for Pete” buttons.

After a pep talk to a not so racially diverse group of volunteers who gathered in a black-owned meeting space in downtown Rock Hill before spreading out to canvass on Sunday afternoon — “Let’s have some fun,” he told them — we spoke in the (closed for the day) beauty parlor and spa in the back. It will be more hard work than merriment for Buttigieg and his supporters in South Carolina, where former Vice President Joe Biden still holds the lead and a lot of loyalty with African American voters.

What would canvasser Buttigieg say to those voters who answered the door? He said he would “share the story of my experience as somebody whose life has been shaped by politics in ways both good and bad. There was a decision in Washington that sent me to war; there was a decision in Washington that made my marriage possible. At so many moments, my life and my community’s life has been shaped by all the things that they talk about on Capitol Hill.” He would “make sure they understand that that’s what propels me and what makes me tick.”

“We can’t go on like this or we won’t recognize our country.”

Enthusiasm was high among those who are already committed.

“I love that he’s kind and compassionate and patriotic,” said Janie Westenfelder, 56, who manages a women’s clothing store in Charleston, and had traveled to Rock Hill to volunteer. She has been a supporter, she said, since she read Buttigieg’s “Shortest Way Home,” copies of which were a common sight in the room, and heard him at the South Carolina Democratic Convention in June. While not many mayors could make the leap to the White House, she said, Buttigieg is “smart enough to get the right people in the room.”

Other voters will need more convincing.

For Buttigieg, the weekend, which included a criminal justice forum, provided an opportunity to tout his Douglass plan — “a comprehensive investment in Black America,” the info card said — to address everything from health policy and education to voting rights and the racial wealth gap; and his comprehensive criminal justice reform program, which includes not only assistance for those in prison, during and after incarceration, but also training for law enforcement on issues specific to marginalized communities such as restrictions on use of force by officers.

Why should black voters believe he would be able to implement his plans nationally when tensions between police and minority citizens in South Bend, which escalated after a police shooting, remain, and Buttigieg himself, when asked at a debate why the proportion of black officers dropped during his tenure, said, “Because I couldn’t get it done.” It was not just my question but one I’ve heard from quite a few black voters, and not just in South Carolina.

“We’re not out saying that it’s ever been perfect, and South Bend’s journey has been a complex one,” he said, “but we’ve also taken a lot of these kinds of steps in South Bend making sure that we’re supporting people in low-income neighborhoods that were under-invested.” He said the city is involving the entire community in accountability on policing. “It’s part of what motivates what we seek to do nationally with the Department of Justice.”

“But if we don’t have the presidency, if we don’t have the federal government aligned around these issues, if we’re not insisting that the White House be a force for equity, then I don’t think we’re ever going to get there.”

South Bend experience

Two African-American women spotlighted their own South Bend experiences. Arielle Brandy, 29, the campaign’s Indiana state director, spoke to me about the mayor’s leadership on creating generational wealth and strong leaders in the community. When she became involved in Indiana politics, she said, “Anytime I needed resources, he was always my first contact.”

It was the first time as a campaign surrogate for Janet Evelyn, a consultant, project manager and coach. She said she first met Buttigieg after she moved to South Bend several years ago as campus president of the local community college. Though Evelyn had to wait for a face-to-face until Buttigieg returned from active duty, when they met, she said he asked, “How are they treating you in South Bend?” Two weeks later she was in the mayor’s office. She said he brought monthly meetings of his staff to the college and spoke with students and parents. Evelyn, who served on the city’s diversity task force and the My Brother’s Keeper board, said the mayor is “genuine, humble and knows the issues,” adding that she would urge black voters, “Please, just listen to his message.”

That may be complicated because of information leaked — not from his campaign, it says — that black voters, particularly if they are older, socially conservative and Southern, may not be as welcoming to a gay candidate. In the ensuing reaction and backlash, some black voters with many questions about Buttigieg’s experience and candidacy wondered if incomplete information from a very small focus group would be used to blame low poll numbers on the perceived prejudices of an entire group, and build a divisive narrative.

“I think honestly anyone who’s been — and I’m not trying to say there’s an equivalency here because everybody’s experience is different — but I think anybody’s who’s been on the wrong end of a pattern of exclusion can find a lot of solidarity right now,” Buttigieg said.

“And so even though some of the traditional political advice would say not to do this, it’s actually part of my outreach, too, making sure black voters know where I come from and my story. Not because my experience lets me know exactly what it is like to be black in America, but because I know what it’s like to have my rights come up for debate, and I know what it’s like to wonder if I will be denied opportunities because of who I am, and because I know that I have rights that came not only because of the activism of people like me but because of the alliance of people not like me.”

In South Carolina, where voters of all races take their politics and early-primary status seriously, people are listening, even if they have not quite made up their minds. On Sunday, that included building owner Antonio Barnes, who advised Buttigieg to “show his face” and “be present.”

Retired librarian Mary Sanders, 63, has seen changes in her Rock Hill and fears the folks she half-jokingly called “relics” are being forgotten amid gentrification. Her concerns include health care costs and opportunities for those on a fixed income.

So far, Sanders, who is African American, said she has attended events featuring Biden and Sens. Kamala Harris and Cory Booker. She sat right up front to hear what Buttigieg had to say, to be “aware of what’s going on in the community.”

“I’m just looking around,” she said, and smiled.

Mary C. Curtis has worked at The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun, The Charlotte Observer, as national correspondent for Politics Daily, and is a senior facilitator with The OpEd Project. Follow her on Twitter @mcurtisnc3.

IMAGE: Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and Democratic presidential candidate in Charleston, South Carolina.