“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.
Threatening "Birthright Citizenship," Trump's Rhetoric Alienates All
Trump has expressed his intention to repeal the 14th amendment.
President Trump's latest attack on immigration targets the children of undocumented persons by threatening to nullify the writ of birthright citizenship, also known as the 14th Amendment. Legislatively, this is nearly impossible and unheard of; but, most damningly, its patent ridiculousness is alienating both sides of the aisle.
While fatuous celebrity rants may err in understanding constitutional law, as was the case of Kanye West's Twitter fodder to "abolish" the 13th Amendment, a United States President's defective understanding of the constitution is as alarming as it is shameful.
But on Wednesday Trump once again aimed his tweets directly at his blind spot for facts, underscoring that he's impenetrable to shame. He claimed that "so-called Birthright Citizenship...is very unfair to our citizens. It is not covered by the 14th Amendment because of the words 'subject to the jurisdiction thereof."
So-called Birthright Citizenship, which costs our Country billions of dollars and is very unfair to our citizens, w… https://t.co/TDGBLMUNAh— Donald J. Trump (@Donald J. Trump) 1540992317.0
The tweet was precipitated by an interview with Axios on HBO, which was released on Tuesday. Trump evinced his ignorance on constitutional law by stating, "It was always told to me that you needed a constitutional amendment. Guess what? You don't." Convinced, he added, "You can definitely do it with an act of Congress. But now they're saying I can do it just with an executive order."
No, of course he can't. In brief, the U.S. policy of jus soli dictates that an individual has a right to citizenship in the country he/she is born. This "Citizenship Clause" is codified in the 14th Amendment, which reads, "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside." Depending on your interpretation of the constitution, no matter if you see it as elastic or fixed, legal precedent set by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1898 has upheld the Citizenship Clause as we know it.
Trump went on to misattribute the "law of soil" as a singularly American mistake, stating, "We're the only country in the world where a person comes in, has a baby, and the baby is essentially a citizen of the United States for 85 years with all of those benefits." That's incorrect; over 30 other nations recognize birthright citizenship. "It's ridiculous. It's ridiculous. And it has to end," Trump went on.
Of course, rudimentary awareness of American history reminds us that constitutional amendments are complex pieces of legislation which are subject to checks and balances. If President Trump truly believes he can solely command an amendment change, House Speaker Paul Ryan clarified in a radio interview that he "obviously cannot do that." In fact, Ryan spoke on behalf of all conservatives as fully dissenting from Trump's views.
"You obviously cannot do that. You cannot end birthright citizenship with an executive order. We didn't like it when Obama tried changing immigration laws via executive action, and obviously as conservatives, we believe in the Constitution," Ryan told WVLK radio. "I'm a believer in following the plain text of the Constitution, and I think in this case, the 14th Amendment's pretty clear, and that would involve a very, very lengthy Constitutional process." Ryan added, "I believe in interpreting the Constitution as its written."
With midterm elections approaching, Trump's turgid misrepresentations of immigration law can only be in hopes of rallying votes from anti-immigration supporters and encouraging strife between republicans and democrats. Dem. Sen. of Virginia, Mark Warner said, "This is simply an attempt for Donald Trump, who wants to do anything possible to bring back fears around immigration, to use that as a political tool in this last week before the election."
He adds, tellingly, "This is again, where a President's words matter. The Constitution is quite clear that no one, including the President of the United States, is above the law."
Indeed, the President's stream of inflammatory rhetoric only serves as a distraction from his unfulfilled promises and his administration's failings. For instance, two new studies reported by The New York Times indicate growing anti-Trump sentiments in the top GOP district, suggesting that voters are alienated by "endless lies and hate-mongering." Greg Sargent at The Washington Post adds, "One likely answer is that the story Trump has told about the economy - and the country - just isn't resonating in many of these districts."
That Trump took to Twitter to repudiate Paul Ryan's reality check is par for the course, as was his ad hominem attack questioning Ryan's credentials to comment on birthright citizenship.
Paul Ryan should be focusing on holding the Majority rather than giving his opinions on Birthright Citizenship, som… https://t.co/fWpqNevAGI— Donald J. Trump (@Donald J. Trump) 1541004199.0
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