This week, we asked readers of the Politics & Politics Daily to share their favorite characters from political movies and TV. Here are some of our favorite responses:
Neel Lahiri’s pick was Selina Meyer from the TV show Veep, a character “who epitomizes the kind of farcical, utterly vain, and insatiably power-hungry [politician] that the electorate despises.”
From reader Christina Kopp:
My favorite political figure on TV is Laura Roslin, President of the Twelve Colonies in the reboot of Battlestar Galactica. When faced with the annihilation of the human race, she doesn’t give up and doesn’t give in. Ah, only on TV!
Terry Nugent picked Bill McKay from the film The Candidate, “an elegant chronicle of the withering effect of electioneering on ethics.” (Speaking of Bill, another reader analyzed him and his ethical evolution as part of our “Political Theater” series earlier this year.)
Kennedy Avery suggested Josh Lyman, the Deputy Chief of Staff to President Bartlet in The West Wing:
I like how Josh is brash, compassionate, and humorous all at once. Plus, when it comes to his work and policy positions, he is unapologetic and determined.
Joan Conroy also had a West Wing-themed response:
The first one who came to mind was Toby Ziegler, played by Richard Schiff. As the sad, often morose, but brilliant liberal speech writer he refused to compromise his ideals. Nor was he seduced by power and money, as far too many are in the current political climate.
And Deb Bell wrote:
My favorite character is Chauncey Gardner, from the 1979 film Being There. It’s the story of a mentally challenged gardener whose simple-minded utterances and complete ignorance of government, diplomacy, and the outside world as a whole are mistaken for wisdom and bold thought, propelling him toward political superstardom.
We can all agree that 2016 has been a long year, but this week, we asked Politics & Policy Daily readers to explain what they’re most thankful for in the world of politics. Here were some of our favorite responses:
Miriam Helbok said she’s grateful for Bernie Sanders’s campaign because it “energized and perhaps even awakened thousands of young people to the importance of taking an active part in maintaining our democracy.”
For several readers, including David Lippman, Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s loss in Arizona was “the only piece of positive news in a horrifying political year.”
Carl Dennis writes:
One of my favorite political responses this year happened as a result of one of the greatest tragedies in American history. After the shooting in Orlando at a gay bar, the outpouring of support and love expressed by political figures of both parties from President Obama to GOP figures gave me a glimmer of hope that in spite of our differences, we will be able to come together to support one another.
1. Ken Bone. At a time of high tension between Democrats and Republicans, he gave us a couple things we could all agree on: his awesomeness and how adorable he is.
2. That the government didn't shut down this year! The little things go a long way!
3. Saturday Night Live. Larry David as Bernie Sanders and Alec Baldwin as Donald Trump have been nothing short of amazing.
4. That Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton could find something they liked about each other when prompted to do so.
The election is over! Happy Thanksgiving!
On that note, Craig K. Lehman is grateful that at least we’ve reached “the end of the Bush and Clinton dynasties.”
David Caskey, from University Park, Maryland, is thankful for California:
Governor Brown signed a law which will require farm workers to get overtime after an eight-hour day. No developed society I know of has been this committed to a decent life for those who labor for our food.
Trump was defeated in California by over 3 million votes. Big old California gives me hope for America.
And finally, Barry Tarshis wrote in to say that he’s “thankful to be a Canadian.” Thanks for that, Barry.
This week we asked our Politics & Policy Daily readers what they thought the presidential candidates should be for Halloween, and we got a number of great responses. Thanks to everyone—and there were several—who suggested Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump simply dress as each other to achieve peak scariness.
But props to Joanne Allard from Tucson for a truly creative submission: Allard suggested Clinton will dress as Ellen Ripley, the protagonist from the 1979 film Alien, while Trump go as the alien, wearing an orange headpiece. From Joanne:
I will resist the temptation to suggest her obvious catchphrase, except to point out that it would, of course, be delivered upon her reaching in to grab, er, to extract The Donald.
Reader James Miles suggested Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson dress as Elmer Fudd, and John Bianchi said Green Party nominee Jill Stein would be Gaia—“nuff said.”
A handful of other costume ideas came from Jane Wilson, who got really into word play. For Trump:
1. Putin’s Puppet / Moscow Muppet
3. Hot Mic
4. Mr. Bigly
And for Clinton:
2. ALT + Right + DELETE
3. Swamp Queen
Last weekend, Donald Trump tweeted his distaste for Alec Baldwin’s portrayal of him on Saturday Night Live, calling the show “boring and unfunny.” But SNL, which has been poking fun at presidential elections since 1976, is experiencing its highest ratings in eight years. Back then, during the 2008 election, Tina Fey famously guest-starred to play then-vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin.
This week, we asked readers via Politics & Policy Daily to share their favorite SNL election sketches. Here are some of the best responses.
Thanks to David H. Lippman for suggesting the 1992 episode where Dana Carvey and Phil Hartman—portraying Ross Perot and Jim Stockdale, respectively—discuss Stockdale’s erratic behavior at the vice-presidential debate:
Jeff Harris offered up his favorite SNL presidential debate skit: a spoof on the 53rd Republican Debate in 1988:
Dan Aykroyd is fantastic as Bob Dole on the heels of a televised spar with George Bush (“I know it. You know it. The American people know it.”) Dana Carvey as George Bush is great too, but Al Franken as Pat Robertson seals the deal for me.
And while not election-related, we really enjoyed Martin Ward’s suggestion of Dan Aykroyd as President Carter accepting unscreened calls from listeners on a call-in talk show:
This week in our Politics & Policy Daily newsletter, we asked readers who should represent the Red Planet if President Obama’s goal is accomplished and humans are able to “remain there for an extended time.” We got some great responses via hello@. Michael Wood reminds us that Dennis Kucinich, a former Democratic congressman and presidential contender, once saw a UFO and claimed he had “felt a connection in his heart and heard directions.” Wood said Kucinich is “clearly best positioned to continue his role as liaison.”
Props to reader Michael Zarrelli for recommending the late James Traficant, another Democratic congressman from Ohio, who used to end speeches with the phrase “Beam me up!” Zarrelli’s idea is echoed by regular question-answerer Howard Cohen: “Perhaps the ashes of former Rep. James ‘Beam me up, Scotty’ Traficant have already reached Mars and they already have a ‘congressman’”?
Another reader, Dirk Bloemendaal, suggested that California Governor “Moonbeam” Jerry Brown might make a good Mars representative:
He has always had a fascination with outer space and once proposed that California launch its own space satellite. Of course, he’d have to run for Congress, on the “far out” plank, and his advanced age may slow him down a bit—but his California Dreamin’ Drive would see him through!
Lastly, Catherine Martin has some 2016 election snark: “I think we should send Donald Trump to ‘remain there for an extended time.’”
As our own Megan Garber leads The Atlantic’s movie club in the weeks leading up to Election Day, we asked what politics-related film our Politics & Policy Daily readers consider to be mandatory viewing for all Americans. We got loads of submissions for classics like The Candidate, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and Advise & Consent. Big props to Michael J. Sweat for reminding us about the 2006 film Idiocracy, starring Luke Wilson.
And to Alicia Shepard for All the President's Men, which she calls “a fascinating window into the changing world of journalism and the nefarious world of Nixon’s presidency.”
And from avid Daily reader Howard Cohen: “Given the conspiracies that Trump has been putting out going back to the birther issue—including that the election will be rigged if he loses—there is no better political flick to watch before November 8 than The Parallax View.”
Another reader offered a movie for both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, letting us “guess for which candidate each film is germane”:
1. Hitler: A Career: The rise and fall of a firebrand and despot who uses pure emotion to rile the masses
2. Evita: Wife of a dictatorial president who yearns to break out on her own
The common thread? In both cases, film and real-life, it’s all about them.
And thanks to John Donovan for offering a selection of more obscure political films based on genre:
Satire—Bulworth: A flawed film but dead-on depiction of the nihilistic political hucksters gutting our democracy. Worth a watch just for Warren Beatty rapping and romancing Halle Berry, and Oliver Platt’s brilliant portrayal of a craven Hill staffer.
Serious—Battle of Chile: Historic documentary filmed as the overthrow of Allende happened. You’ll never forget the footage of a soldier firing at and killing the cameraman filming him.
Classic—The Great McGinty by Preston Sturges. Corruption has never been funnier … until maybe Chris Christie.
Cult—Maidstone: written, directed, and starring Norman Mailer who plays a presidential candidate. Famous for scary, semi-real assassination attempt by hammer-wielding method actor Rip Torn. Pure madness.
Finally, Mark Febrizio offers up the 1974 classic Chinatown which, despite not being about politics, he writes, “offers a dark, yet realistic, depiction of the repercussions of eroded political and legal institutions.”
More from Mark:
On a basic level, the water shortage is a consequence of institutional—not just environmental—problems (I think this is something most can agree on regardless of one’s preferred solution). Furthermore, we also see the results of a government bureaucracy (the L.A. Department of Water and Power) captured by business interests, and the paralyzing effects of the distorted incentives for law enforcement officials.
Chinatown isn’t a movie that provides political solutions but instead offers substantial food for thought, especially for the many Americans who may feel that contemporary political and legal institutions have similarly eroded. Additionally, it’s worth watching just for the exceptional screenplay, gripping performances, and taut direction.
Jeb Bush, one of the Republican presidential candidates this year, made a cameo as a limo driver during the Emmy Awards last Sunday night. Rick Perry, who also briefly ran for the White House, is now a contestant on Dancing With the Stars. This week, we asked readers where they expect to see the former 2016 presidential contenders on television, and we got some great answers.
Props to reader Jeremy Glenn for predicting Libertarian Party presidential nominee Gary Johnson will end up on “the next installment of Survivor”—assuming he doesn’t win in November, that is.
But our personal favorite comes from reader Joanne Allard, who expects Dr. Ben Carson to show up in an ad for the sedative Ambien, although “through the list of possible side effects, he’ll have moved on to an ad for luggage.”
And even though House Speaker Paul Ryan never ran for president, Joanne would not be surprised if the CrossFit fanatic ended up performing promotional videos “for extreme-fitness programs that air at 2 a.m.”
Finally, here’s a whole slew of ideas from one of our regular contributors, Dirk Bloemendaal:
Donald Trump: Modern Family, ’cause he’d fit right in. (Alternative: Game of Thrones, because Winter is Coming.)
Hillary Clinton: The Voice, ’cause hers is so melodic and smooth when she raises it.
Critics pounced on Today Show host Matt Lauer for his handling of NBC’s Commander in Chief forum featuring Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, foreshadowing the level of scrutiny the moderators will face during this fall’s presidential debates. The scheduled moderators are Anderson Cooper of CNN, Lester Holt of NBC, Martha Raddatz of ABC, and Chris Wallace of Fox News—and they’re already feeling the heat.
So, this week we asked readers to offer their thoughts on who might make the best presidential debate moderator and why. Several readers suggested MSNBC host Rachel Maddow. Here’s Marguerite Beaudoin’s reasoning:
It is my opinion that Rachel Maddow would be a great moderator, despite the fact that she is a Democrat. She is capable of conducting herself in an unbiased and professional manner and can “handle” both of them without doubt.
Here’s Maddow in action:
There was also a lot of support for Democracy Now! host and producer Amy Goodman. Why? Reader Lisa McDaniels picked Goodman because she’s “smart, has an amazing breadth and depth of knowledge, is even-tempered, is independent/not owned by corporate media, and looks like a real human being, not an air-brushed celebrity.”
A particularly great suggestion came from reader Steven Durham, who really wishes Judge Judy could moderate the presidential debates:
She would destroy Trump for having no substance; she would destroy Clinton for her terrible campaigning skills; and she’d be entertaining, which is what the American voter apparently needs in order to be engaged.
Reader Joe Bookman suggested The Atlantic’s very own Molly Ball: “She is smart, fair, has demonstrated knowledge of the issues as well as the candidates, and is likely not well-known by the candidates themselves.” Another reader, David Murray, described what a talented debate moderator would bring to the stage:
The best moderator, in my opinion, will:
a) Hold the speaker accountable for a clear answer and do not allow a speaker to side-step a question.
b) Prevent speakers from using personal attacks on their opponent and remain solely on the issues and questions. Any form of name calling or derogatory remarks are to be halted and called out (example: “Crooked Hillary”). The moderator must insist on respect for the person.
c) Ensure speakers stay in the time allotment and be firm in cutting them off especially if their response is not addressing the question, is attacking their opponent, or is posturing.
In my opinion, the moderator in these important presidential debates is not a simple bystander, especially with these two candidates. The issues are too great and these two have been skirting them for too long. And if the media is ever to restore any semblance of credibility, the moderators must be strong, clear journalists asking straightforward questions, not allowing the candidates to fudge or skirt an answer. The questions must be precise and to the point. They must be realistic. They must address current, complex issues in a way that allows for clear, concise, and thoughtful responses. The moderator, in my opinion, must seek responses that answer the basic journalist’s framework: 5 Ws and an H.
We need to know how the next president will govern, how he or she will make decisions, how he/she will collaborate, how he/she will reduce the influence of special interests and how he/she will stand up to special interests; how he/she will lift up the poor, improve the safety nets of Americans, and help foster a more just society.
The moderators must be more prepared than the candidates, be firm, be courageous, and be mindful of the American people and not the ratings of a broadcast company.
This next reader, Donald Haskell, also made an interesting point about the unique role of a moderator:
I don’t know enough to respond to the debate moderator choice question, but I believe that the guidelines for a moderator should be quite different from those of a news interviewer. I think that the moderator is tasked with generating a list of questions that challenge the debaters to clarify their positions on a broad range of topics, and it is the debate opponent's responsibility to challenge the response, not the moderator’s (in contrast to the responsibilities of a news interviewer).
Secondly, both, but especially the debate moderator, must exercise control over the process, even if it means using an on/off switch to cut off a debater or interviewee when they exceed the parameters of the event (similar to the minister who redirected Mr Trump at the Flint church).
And finally, props to reader Patricia Heaps for keeping it light: She suggested that Donald Duck should moderate the presidential debates because “this race is a cartoon.”
Congress returned to Capitol Hill this week, and Candice and I posed a new question to our Politics & Policy Daily readers: What book should be required reading for every senator and representative? We got an overwhelming number of responses, but here are a few of our favorites:
Martha Allen was the first of many to suggest Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson’s widely acclaimed memoir detailing his career as a young lawyer, fighting against injustice in America’s criminal-justice system.
Another popular submission was The Prince, Niccolo Machiavelli’s 16th-century manual on manipulating your way to power. Thanks to Jerry Purmal for being the first to suggest it.
In case you’re curious: Michael Ignatieff examined The Prince more closely in his piece for The Atlantic back in December 2013, asking whether President Obama is “Machiavellian enough.”
One particularly thoughtful response came from Briauna Barrera:
If I could assign one book for every member of Congress to read (and perhaps everyone period) it would be Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer.
The book explores the current state of food systems in the US, and to a lesser extent the world, and the historical events that led up to its current status, its successes, and more importantly, its failures, shortcomings, and problems. However, Foer approaches the issue from the lens of being a new father and simply wanting to do what's best for his newborn son. He also grapples with being a son himself, and a grandson, and dealing with the emotional implications that meat has for him and his family (his grandmother was a Holocaust survivor who wastes nothing and shows her love through food).
I think if Congress would read this book, it would show that what we are doing with agriculture—the way we get our food, the way we interact with animals—isn’t sustainable and that something needs to be done now. This is connected to climate change, it’s connected to resource management, land use, population growth, the economy, everything. Food touches most—if not every—aspect of our lives. Beyond that, it’s deeply ingrained in our cultures, our nationalities, our religions, our lifestyles, our very psyches. This isn’t some writer preaching against meat, this is a data-rich narrative with plenty of complementary and opposing perspectives discussing this complex and complicated subject. This book is filled with just as much hard facts as it is feeling.
I’ve been grappling with my own ethical issues with eating meat for a while now and this book gave me words and concepts and facts for a lot of the feelings and abstract thoughts I’ve had. This isn’t a liberal issue or a conservative issue or a moderate issue or what have you. Ironically enough, eating meat, farming, our food systems, animal rights, they are all human issues. We are forced to confront our humanity and what we consider what it means to be human when dealing with eating animals. As hard as it is to face that, to confront it and name it and come to terms with it, it needs to happen and it needs to happen from all of us.
The presidential debates are fast-approaching, and last week, we asked who might make a good stand-in for Donald Trump in Hillary Clinton’s debate prep. This week, we turned the tables, asking our Politics & Policy Daily readers who could cleverly portray Clinton during Trump’s rehearsal. We had a handful of great responses, but here are our favorites:
Jane Curtin, suggested by Howard Cohen
Since Trump is liable to borrow the famous Dan Aykroyd line “Jane, you ignorant slut” from the old Saturday Night Live's “Weekend Update” segment (which was a parody of the old 60 Minutes “Point-Counterpoint” with Shana Alexander and James J. Kilpatrick), there is no one better to play Hillary than Jane Curtin.
“Crooked Hillary, you lying witch.”
"Donald, you go from giving Bill and the D’s money to running for president as a Republican while stiffing charities and your own contract workers...”
In the coming months, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton will face off in what will surely be some of the most riveting television showdowns of all time. But many campaign watchers are wondering how Clinton is going to prepare for a debate with such a notoriously brash and unpredictable candidate. She is reportedly struggling with that question herself.
So this week, we asked readers to recommend who they think could artfully play Trump in a debate rehearsal. Turns out, you have given this a lot of thought, as nearly a hundred responses came in. Props to reader Marc Boissonneault for the winning suggestion of actor Alec Baldwin. You probably remember Baldwin from his role as wealthy businessman/news exec Jack Donaghy on NBC’s 30 Rock:
Alec Baldwin has the physical presence and acting ability to be a believable Trump. Also, he is smart and politically savvy, so he would know what Trump would say and how he would act. He would totally kill this gig.
But who else could take on Clinton without holding back?
Reader Alison Deck suggested actor Kevin Spacey because of his experience playing conniving politician Frank Underwood in House of Cards. Alison took us through her thought process:
First thought, Donald Duck: His scattershot, nonlinear speaking style; tendency toward gratuitous repetition; very dubious factual grounding. The “not wearing pants” thing probably too distracting, though.
I then considered Mel Gibson and Charlie Sheen; they’re clearly narcissists, after all. Each has had significant negative interactions with women, massive impulse-control issues, problems with substance abuse not dissimilar to Trump’s egomania (branding, incessantly referencing himself in both first and third person). Still, their personal lives/leanings tend to be such roller-coaster rides that compelling them to stay in “Donald” character (for 60-90 minutes!) might be just too much to expect.
So, ultimately, Kevin Spacey. He’s a gifted actor, has played an array of roles, all over the map really. His work on House of Cards may have given him some serious grounding in political skullduggery and at least peripheral understanding of policy. Surveying the roles he's taken on, he seems like a guy who'd be up for the challenge.”
Ultimately, the ideal debate sparring-opponent would be able to channel “The Donald” while not becoming sublimated to the schtick. I truly can think of no actual person in politics who could do this.
Hence, “The Kevin.”
Alison is right that “The Kevin” would probably play a phenomenal Trump. But would he have the guts to attack Clinton personally? Reader Dan Meyer thought that Triumph the Insult Comic Dog would be better. Here’s Triumph at this year’s Democratic National Convention:
But reader Chris McCann was less optimistic, saying that “one substitute, no matter how talented in his or her realization of Trumpness, will not capture the element that makes Trump Trump.” More from Chris:
The Clinton campaign should employ hundreds of folks who will love everything he says and a Trump substitute who will be fed on the love. It's the World Series, she's down 3 games to none, she's playing in her opponent’s stadium in front of an adoring fanbase—a fanbase that will roar approval every time he swings the bat, even when he misses.
Our newly revamped newsletter Politics & Policy Daily (formerly The Edge) started a new little feature on Monday, “Question of the Week.” In the inaugural entry, Elaine—who runs P&PD—asked:
Last week, Britain voted to break with the European Union—a decision known as “Brexit.” If the United States were to leave the United Nations, as Sarah Palin suggested, what would that exit’s nickname be?
Readers sent scores of submissions throughout the week, and today the Politics team picked a winner: Amerigo, submitted by Bob Kerr. The two runners-up are Conscious UN-coupling from Julian Ha and Saranara from Art Kane. Some honorable mentions:
Lee C. Fanshaw with my personal favorite: Yankxit
Barry Popik would text the United Nations: UNmeRnot2B
Chris Leggett goes social media: UN-friending
John Wetzel goes with the Italian word for “exit”: Uscita
Connor Phillips might be a servicemember: USAWOL
Kenny from California: USAway
Howard P. Cohen: USAloha!
Aloha indeed, and happy Fourth! When 240 years ago, Americans exited Britain.
(To sign up for Politics & Policy Daily, and to see what it looks like overall, go here. For the rest of our newsletter offerings, head here.)
What happens when a meme becomes a terrorist movement?
On May 29, two federal security officers guarding a courthouse in Oakland, California, were ambushed by machine-gun fire as elsewhere in the city demonstrators marched peacefully to protest the killing of George Floyd. One of the guards, David Patrick Underwood, died as a result of the attack, and the other was wounded. For days, conservative news broadcasters pinned the blame on “antifa,” the loosely affiliated group of anti-fascist anarchists known to attack property and far-right demonstrators at protests. But the alleged culprit, apprehended a week later, turned out to be a 32-year-old Air Force sergeant named Steven Carrillo, the head of a squadron called the Phoenix Ravens, which guards military installations from terrorist attacks.
In France, where I live, the virus is under control. I can hardly believe the news coming out of the United States.
I returned to Paris with my family three months after President Emmanuel Macron had ordered one of the world’s most aggressive national quarantines, and one month after France had begun to ease itself out of it. When we exited the Gare Montparnasse into the late-spring glare, after a season tucked away in a rural village with more cows than people as neighbors, it was jarring to be thrust back into the world as we’d previously known it, to see those café terraces overflowing again with smiling faces.
My first reaction was one of confused frustration as we drove north across the river to our apartment. The city had been culled of its tourists, though it was bustling with inhabitants basking in their reclaimed freedom. Half at most wore masks; the other half evinced indifference. We were in the midst of a crisis, I complained to my wife. Why were so many people unable to maintain even minimal discipline?
Imagine if the National Transportation Safety Board investigated America’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Coping with a pandemic is one of the most complex challenges a society can face. To minimize death and damage, leaders and citizens must orchestrate a huge array of different resources and tools. Scientists must explore the most advanced frontiers of research while citizens attend to the least glamorous tasks of personal hygiene. Physical supplies matter—test kits, protective gear—but so do intangibles, such as “flattening the curve” and public trust in official statements. The response must be global, because the virus can spread anywhere, but an effective response also depends heavily on national policies, plus implementation at the state and community level. Businesses must work with governments, and epidemiologists with economists and educators. Saving lives demands minute-by-minute attention from health-care workers and emergency crews, but it also depends on advance preparation for threats that might not reveal themselves for many years. I have heard military and intelligence officials describe some threats as requiring a “whole of nation” response, rather than being manageable with any one element of “hard” or “soft” power or even a “whole of government” approach. Saving lives during a pandemic is a challenge of this nature and magnitude.
The president’s mindless nationalism has come to this: Americans are not welcome in Europe or Mexico.
There is a lot of learned material written about nationalism—scholarly books and papers, histories of it, theories of it—but most of us understand that nationalism, at its heart, at its very deepest roots, is about a feeling of superiority: We are better than you. Our country is better than your country. Or even—and apologies, but this is the precise language deployed by the president of the United States: Your country is a shithole country. Ours isn’t.
In this sense, nationalism is not patriotism, which is the desire to work on behalf of your fellow citizens, to defend common values, to build something positive. Nationalism is not community spirit either, which seeks to pull people together. Nationalism has nothing to do with democratic values: Authoritarians can be nationalists; indeed, most are. Nationalism has nothing to do with the rule of law, justice, or opportunity. At its core, nationalism is rather a competition, an ugly and negative competition. There’s a reason nationalists build walls, denigrate foreigners, and denounce immigrants: Because our people are better than those people. There’s a reason nationalism has so often become violent in the past. For if we—our nation—are better, then what right do others have to live beside us? Or to occupy land that we covet? Or even, maybe, to live at all?
In the beach towns south of Melbourne, everyone, it seems, knows someone who’s been attacked.
About a week after Steven Mikac began taking antibiotics for the strange spot on his leg, the flesh around his ankle started to tighten and swell. The moist orifice of a wound opened up and took the form of a small bullet hole. A plug of tissue had gone missing—dissolved into pus and slime. Walking was excruciating. Working, unbearable. In early October of last year, Mikac showed his ankle to a colleague at the hospital where he works in Melbourne, in the Australian state of Victoria. She suggested that it might be Buruli ulcer—a disease caused by a strain of flesh-eating bacteria.
Though Mikac had seen local television reports about an outbreak of this tropical disease in Victoria, it sounded so freakish, so unlikely, that he hardly considered it a possibility. But like hundreds of Australians before him, he was about to become all too familiar with Buruli, a slow-moving horror show that has proved, in many ways, even more baffling to infectious-disease researchers than the novel coronavirus. After decades of research, scientists still aren’t certain who, or what, is spreading this strange malady around the world.
The disease’s “long-haulers” have endured relentless waves of debilitating symptoms—and disbelief from doctors and friends.
For Vonny LeClerc, day one was March 16.
Hours after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson instated stringent social-distancing measures to halt the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, LeClerc, a Glasgow-based journalist, arrived home feeling shivery and flushed. Over the next few days, she developed a cough, chest pain, aching joints, and a prickling sensation on her skin. After a week of bed rest, she started improving. But on day 12, every old symptom returned, amplified and with reinforcements: She spiked an intermittent fever, lost her sense of taste and smell, and struggled to breathe.
When I spoke with LeClerc on day 66, she was still experiencing waves of symptoms. “Before this, I was a fit, healthy 32-year-old,” she said. “Now I’ve been reduced to not being able to stand up in the shower without feeling fatigued. I’ve tried going to the supermarket and I’m in bed for days afterwards. It’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced before.” Despite her best efforts, LeClerc has not been able to get a test, but “every doctor I’ve spoken to says there’s no shadow of a doubt that this has been COVID,” she said. Today is day 80.
The writer and activist has the painful, powerful words for this political moment. America just needs to heed them.
“There are days—this is one of them—when you wonder what your role is in this country and what your future is in it. How, precisely, are you going to reconcile yourself to your situation here and how you are going to communicate to the vast, heedless, unthinking, cruel white majority that you are here. I’m terrified at the moral apathy, the death of the heart, which is happening in my country. These people have deluded themselves for so long that they really don’t think I’m human. And I base this on their conduct, not on what they say. And this means that they have become in themselves moral monsters.”
James Baldwin made this somber observation more than 50 years ago. I included these words in my film I Am Not Your Negro, which explored Baldwin’s searing assessment of American society through the lens of the assassination of three of his friends: Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King Jr., and Malcolm X. It is a film that cruelly shortens time and space between acts of police brutality in Birmingham in 1963 and images of the 2014 protests in Ferguson, Missouri, after the killing of Michael Brown; recent images of protests over the death of George Floyd extend that tragic connection to the present-day.
People complain that going to the shore is a careless act during a pandemic, but the science so far suggests otherwise.
We’ve entered another risky, uncertain phase of America’s pandemic summer. COVID-19 cases are surging across most states, and once again, intensive-care units are filling up. Eighteen states have either paused or rolled back their plans to reopen, and even Republican governors who previously resisted public-health guidelines about masks are now asking people to mask up.
So why on Earth do so many articles about this crisis feature pictures of people frolicking on wide-open beaches? Why is an attorney dressed as the grim reaper bothering beachgoers in Jacksonville, Florida? Why are cities such as Los Angeles shutting down beaches?
The answer, unfortunately, goes a long way to explain why, of all the developed, rich nations, the United States may well be stuck in the worst-case scenario, and for the longest amount of time.
Power comes before freedom, not the other way around.
His impatience had thinned like the length of his letters back home to his wife, Abigail, in Boston. On June 7, 1776, John Adams finally had the opportunity to second the resolution that led to the Declaration of Independence at the Second Continental Congress. Though it was drafted by Thomas Jefferson, the declaration’s editors and defenders behind history’s scenes piloted its approval on July 2, mostly notably Adams.
He pleased his wife, Abigail, impatient, too, as she was about declaring independence that year. But she desired more. “In the new Code of Laws … I desire you would Remember the Ladies,” she wrote to him on March 31, 1776. “If perticuliar care and attention is not paid to the Laidies we are determined to foment a Rebelion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no … Representation.”
Revolutionary imagery is ubiquitous right now. But real structural change involves more than the toppling of statues, and what happens next is a matter of chance.
Three months ago, a global pandemic and a sudden economic crisis looked grave enough to suggest that something—if not a revolution, then at least the stirrings of a revolutionary era—was under way. Since then, the revolt against the pre-coronavirus status quo has only gained force. Crowds chanting “Black lives matter” and “Enough is enough” have marched all across the country. Statues have been toppled, buildings have been renamed, and pollsters report that public opinion has shifted with almost unprecedented speed. In Ferguson, Missouri, and San Juan, Puerto Rico, protesters carried a guillotine. As a historian of the French Revolution, I can’t help but pay attention to guillotines (adopted in the 1790s as an alternative to the cruel and unusual punishment of death by hanging). If the United States right now is not in the early months of a revolution, Americans are certainly surrounded by the signs of past ones.