“A tree is best measured when it is down,” the poet Carl Sandburg once observed, “and so it is with people.” The recent death of Harry Belafonte at the age of 96 has prompted many assessments of what this pioneering singer-actor-activist accomplished in a long and fruitful life.
Belafonte’s career as a ground-breaking entertainer brought him substantial wealth and fame; according to Playbill magazine, “By 1959, he was the highest paid Black entertainer in the industry, appearing in raucously successful engagements in Las Vegas, New York, and Los Angeles.” He scored on Broadway, winning a 1954 Tony for Best Featured Actor in a Musical – John Murray Anderson's Almanac. Belafonte was the first Black person to win the prestigious award. A 1960 television special, “Tonight with Belafonte,” brought him an Emmy for Outstanding Performance in a Variety or Musical Program or Series, making him the first Black person to win that award. He found equal success in the recording studio, bringing Calypso music to the masses via such hits as “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)” and “Jamaica Farewell.”
Harry Belafonte - Day-O (The Banana Boat Song) (Live)www.youtube.com
Belafonte’s blockbuster stardom is all the more remarkable for happening in a world plagued by virulent systemic racism. Though he never stopped performing, by the early 1960s he’d shifted his energies to the nascent Civil Right movement. He was a friend and adviser to the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. and, as the New York Times stated, Belafonte “put up much of the seed money to help start the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and was one of the principal fund-raisers for that organization and Dr. King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center notes that “he helped launch one of Mississippi’s first voter registration drives and provided funding for the Freedom Riders. His activism extended beyond the U.S. as he fought against apartheid alongside Nelson Mandela and Miriam Makeba, campaigned for Mandela’s release from prison, and advocated for famine relief in Africa.” And in 1987, he received an appointment to UNICEF as a goodwill ambassador.
Over a career spanning more than seventy years, Belafonte brought joy to millions of people. He also did something that is, perhaps, even greater: he fostered the hope that a better world for all could be created. And, by his example, demonstrated how we might go about bringing that world into existence.
Democrats Took Back the House of Representatives, So Now What?
It was an election night of firsts.
While the midterm elections didn't bring the overwhelming blue wave Democrats had hoped for, they managed to win an important moral victory, electing several representatives from demographics that had never before been represented in Congress.
In the 2018 midterms, the U.S. elected its first Muslim congresswomen, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, both Democrats. Kansas and New Mexico elected the nation's first Native American women to join congress, Democrats Deb Haaland (KS) and Sharice Davids (NM). South Dakota and Maine elected their first female governors, Tennessee and Arizona sent women to the Senate for the first time, and Massachusetts and Connecticut elected their first-ever black women to the House. These milestones are joined by America's first lesbian mom in congress (Angie Craig, Minnesota), the first openly gay man elected as a state's governor (Jared Polis, Colorado), and the youngest woman ever elected to Congress, twenty-nine-year-old Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY).
As NPR reports, "record numbers of Native Americans, Muslim Americans and women, including many women of color, ran for office in 2018. A 'rainbow wave' of LGBTQ candidates also sought office. And after the ballots were cast, all those groups notched notable firsts."
These candidates can likely thank a record turnout by women and young people for their victories. The polls found that voters under 30 favored Democrats by a 35-point margin over Republicans, compared with an 11-point margin in 2014, and women chose the Democratic Party by 19 points — the largest margin in the history of US midterms — compared with their margin of four points in 2014, according to network exit surveys from CNN.
Despite these Democratic victories, Trump can take comfort in the fact that Republicans managed to retain control of the Senate, exposing an America deeply divided. As CNN points out, the midterm results "underscored a political and cultural gulf among diverse and affluent liberals living in big cities and their suburbs and the mostly, white, working class and rural conservative bloc of voters for whom Trump remains an iconic figure." The midterm elections proved that the extreme polarization of political leanings, to which many attribute Trump's 2016 election, are still alive and well in America.
But even with consistent support from his base, this new influx of progressives to Washington spells bad news for the Trump administration, as Democrats are prepared to closely scrutinize Trump's policies on immigration, education, and healthcare. But progressive leaders have also made it clear that they don't plan to immediately pursue impeachment, as former House Majority leader Nancy Pelosi said that a call for impeachment "would have to be bipartisan, and the evidence would have to be so conclusive."
Despite this, Trump has already begun threatening Democrats with retaliation if they move to investigate him, tweeting:
If the Democrats think they are going to waste Taxpayer Money investigating us at the House level, then we will likewise be forced to consider investigating them for all of the leaks of Classified Information, and much else, at the Senate level. Two can play that game!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 7, 2018
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has also picked up this defensive tune, telling reporters Wednesday morning that he cautioned Democrats against engaging in "presidential harassment."
In response, Democratic Rep. Jerrold Nadler, the likely leader of the House Judiciary Committee, cautioned Republicans that the election was about accountability for Trump. "He's going to learn that he's not above the law," Nadler said.
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