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

The Power Of Jill Biden — And The Women Her Husband Trusts

When Barack Obama won the presidency, many tipped a hat to Michelle Obama, his wife and partner, including Barack Obama himself. It was true in 2008 that the candidate was a smart man, a gifted orator and an exceptional politician as he broke through to become the first Black president of the United States. But he could not have done it without Michelle Obama.

That's my take, anyway.

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What’s In Kamala's Name? Identity, Pride, And Love

Every person's name is special. It demands respect.

I learned how seriously I felt about that at a pre-coronavirus conference, when a speaker who fancied himself Don Rickles but came off more like the rude uncle at a holiday party, prefaced his remarks with a self-styled roast. It supposedly poked "fun" at the attendees, including, apparently, those he barely knew. (And frankly, except for an occasional greeting at conferences past, I did not know this man from a can of paint.)

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Trump’s Reckless Conduct Endangers White House Workers

Despite the late nights and long hours that took my father away more than this daddy's girl would have liked, he never stopped being my hero. I knew that when he finished his day job, changed clothes and headed to his extra shifts tending bar or waiting tables for local caterers, he was doing it for a reason. Lots of them, actually —my mom, two sisters, two brothers and me.

For someone as proud as he was, it was a sacrifice because of what he had to put up with from people with a lot more money and a lot less character. They treated him like he was "invisible," or worse, and he put up with it, for us.

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Shut Up And Act? Tell That To Donald Trump

After refusing to weigh in on previous presidential contests, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson has endorsed Joe Biden and Kamala Harris in the 2020 race, lending his star power — while looking quite buff after a coronavirus scare — to a video with the Democratic ticket.

Cue the naysayers with the familiar refrain of "who cares" and "stick to acting," conveniently ignoring the reality show-starring, tabloid-exploiting résumé of the man in the White House. Donald Trump's Tuesday night debate performance was light on policy, but heavy on drama and fireworks, which is how he and his supporters like it. Though when the president encouraged the far-right Proud Boys to "stand back" and "stand by," the act became all too real for anyone who cares about the "United" States.

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Trump’s ‘Good Genes’ Remark Is A Harbinger Of Unending Struggle

It was one of lawyer Ruth Bader Ginsburg's cases before she took her place on the Supreme Court or in pop culture memes. It is only occasionally mentioned, perhaps because the details illuminated a truth people prefer to look away from, so they can pretend that sort of thing could never happen here.

But something terrible did happen, to a teenager, sterilized in 1965 without fully consenting or understanding the consequences in a program that continued into the 1970s in the state of North Carolina. The girl became a woman whose marriage and life crashed before her story became the basis of a lawsuit Ginsburg filed in federal court that helped expose the state's eugenics program. While North Carolina's was particularly aggressive, other states implemented their own versions, long ago given a thumbs up by the U.S. Supreme Court in a 1927 decision written by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.

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How To Keep The Faith When Religion And Politics Divide Us

In a recent phone conversation — a catch-up during COVID isolation — a longtime friend talked of a memory that seemed especially relevant these days. A fellow cradle Catholic, whom I met at a Catholic university, she recalled how startled she was on entering my childhood parish for my decades-ago wedding and finding herself surrounded by statues of the saints and Christ on the cross, familiar to her but so very different. The faces and hands and pierced feet were painted black, so unlike anything she had experienced growing up.

It stopped her, until she realized how appropriate the scene was. Of course, these representations would be reimagined in the image of those who gathered and worshipped in this particular holy place, located in the heart of West Baltimore.

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Returning To His Roots, Trump Promotes Racial Discrimination In Housing

As polls show his base stagnant and his poll numbers dropping, Donald Trump has decided to replay an old favorite. While trying to strike fear of the invading "other" is right out of the 1968 playbook of both Richard Nixon and George Wallace, it's also a tactic Trump honed at his father's knee. It makes perfect sense for Trump in trouble to return to what he knows — and he knows all about shutting the literal and figurative door on Black folks moving into white neighborhoods.

In the 1970s, Trump and his father, Fred Trump — president and chairman, respectively, of Trump Management — were named as defendants in lawsuits brought by the Justice Department, accusing them of turning away African Americans who applied to rent apartments in some of the company's buildings. That would be breaking the letter and spirit of the Fair Housing Act of 1968, something that was by no means the exception among property owners of the time.

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Democrats Offered An Inclusive Vision For America — It’s Your Turn, Republicans

It turns out the crowds, the balloons and confetti were merely froufrou, just window dressing. Stripped down, it was even easier for the themes of this week's Democratic National Convention — and the party's vision for the future — to break through.

The Democrats' unity on display could be a bit ripe for parody, for sure, a little like seeing Sylvester and Tweety Bird declaring a temporary truce before the inevitable chase continues. The scenes of comity — Republicans crossing over to extol the character of Joe Biden, progressives vowing to work with moderates — would most certainly be replaced by the usual infighting and struggles for policy influence even, or especially, if Democrats win big in November. That's the Democratic and (small "d" democratic) way.

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How To Remember The Real John Lewis — And His Righteous Struggle

Many Americans, when they remember the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, reflexively turn to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, quoting selective passages about content of character. But my sister Joan, who stood under a shaded tent that day, making signs with freedom slogans for out-of-towners to raise high, had a different answer when I asked for her thoughts. Not to take anything away from King, she told me, "It wasn't just that speech. It was all the speeches." And what impressed her teenage self most were the words of a man who was just 23, a few years older than she was.

On that day, John Lewis was already stirring up the "good trouble" he favored when he said: "To those who have said, 'Be patient and wait,' we have long said that we cannot be patient. We do not want our freedom gradually, but we want to be free now!"

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Turning Our Very American Postal Service Into A Partisan Pawn

When I was a little girl, the youngest of five children in a family with parents who made ends meet while never letting us see them sweat, the U.S. Postal Service was as welcome as Santa during the holidays. While dad was tending bar and waiting tables at parties after he signed off from his 9-to-5, mom picked up shifts at the post office, handling the packages and cards that swamped the system in December.

God bless the Postal Service, an essential piece of America's history before it was America and included in the U.S. Constitution, which gave Congress the power "to establish post offices and post roads." Founding father Benjamin Franklin was the first postmaster general under the Continental Congress, and a young Abraham Lincoln was appointed postmaster of New Salem, Illinois, in 1833.

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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 Change.org 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.