“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.
New Jersey voters face a difficult choice.
It's a tough pill for progressives to swallow that in the age of the Trump GOP, one of our most flagrantly corrupt politicians is a Democratic senator. It's difficult to say when exactly the scandals surrounding New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez began, but it may have been as early as 2006, when "federal prosecutors suspected that the New Jersey senator had steered federal funds to a nonprofit group that was paying him rent." Or in 2014, when Menendez allegedly helped free two accused Ecuadorian criminals in exchange for campaign donations. There have even been rumors that just before Menendez's 2012 election, he was involved with underage prostitutes in the Dominican Republic, though the FBI ultimately found no evidence to support these allegations.
At this point, Menendez has escaped all of these scandals relatively unscathed. The most he has faced in the way of repercussions was the Senate Ethics Committee "severely admonishing" him for accepting over a million dollars in gifts from an affluent Florida eye doctor. But whether Menendez's behavior has been explicitly unlawful or not, there is no question that the Democratic senator has a questionable moral compass unbecoming of a lawmaker, as well as a knack for getting out of trouble. And now, thanks to the virulently anti-Trump attitude of New Jersey, Menendez may just avoid negative consequences once again.
The Star Ledger
In an average year, New Jersey voters would likely settle for a republican Senator instead of appearing to condone Menendez and the corruption he has come to represent. Indeed, in the latest poll conducted by Rutgers University's Eagleton Institute of Politics, only 28 percent of New Jersey voters view Menendez favorably. But, it appears he may just win reelection anyway, as he currently leads Republican Bob Hugin by a narrow margin ahead of Tuesdays midterm election. While Menendez is, in a word, slimy, the historically blue state appears to be willing to grit their teeth and bear him in order to avoid electing a Senator with clear Trump affiliations. Menendez's opponent, Bob Hugin, is a pharmaceutical mogul who raised money for Trump's campaign in 2016, donated $200,000 to Trump, and served as a convention delegate for Trump. As a result, New Jerseyans are facing what many editorials call "the most depressing choice for New Jersey voters in a generation."
The fact is that this is not a normal midterm election, and progressive voters are willing to put up with a lot to take back congress. The extremist rhetoric and erratic behavior that has become characteristic of Trump's presidency is driving people to the polls in record numbers already, and that is expected to remain true during regular voting on Tuesday. Trump's presidency has forced many previously moderate Americans to cling, unquestioningly, to the Democratic Party, because for all of the democrats' flaws, at least they aren't tainted by the White House's toxic run-off. If Menendez does manage to win reelection, he can thank this Trump-fueled reticence towards conservative candidates. As Drew Sheneman writes for the New Jersey paper The Star Ledger, by voting for Menendez, "Are you rewarding a man who in no way deserves a reward? Certainly. Should you do it anyway? Certainly."