Dustin DiPaulo is a writer and musician from Rochester, New York. He received his MFA in Creative Writing from Florida Atlantic University and can most likely be found at a local concert, dive bar, or comedy club (if he's not getting lost somewhere in the woods).
“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.
Could her Democratic Debate win unseat frontrunner Biden?
The second night of the 2020 Democratic primary debates gave American voters a glimpse into the policies, platforms, histories, and personalities of 10 more candidates, all vying to stand out in a crowded 25-person race to challenge Donald Trump in the next presidential election. Following up a spirited debate the night before, during which Elizabeth Warren ran much of the show, the second showdown featured the party's two frontrunners, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders. Biden and Sanders, however, were not the brightest shining stars on the stage by the end of the night. For many Americans, Thursday's debate served as a formal introduction to many of the other candidates in the race, some of whom made quite a name for themselves.
The general consensus, at least according to liberal-leaning media outlets, is that California Senator Kamala Harris won the debate. Harris was exceptionally poised and confident throughout the entire night, answering questions directly and succinctly—a refreshing break from the single-note catchphrasing, discursive meandering, and sometimes chaotic squabbling of many of her opponents.
At one point of heightened bickering (of which there were several), while nearly every other candidate was trying to yell over one another, Harris addressed her colleagues and competitors, reminding them that "Americans don't want to witness a food fight, they want to know how we're going to put food on their tables." She then seamlessly shifted the discussion back to the matter at hand: jobs. Although quick-witted and clever, sure, I would posit that this was not merely a quippy soundbite. It demonstrates a seemingly natural proclivity for leadership, as well as an ability to behave with cool diplomacy in the face of contentious disarray—all of which are traits one might call "presidential."
That, however, was not even the most defining moment of the night for Harris. About halfway through the debate, she aired her grievances with Joe Biden's sordid political relationship with civil rights. Harris addressed Biden directly and with candor. Instead of trying to smear the former vice president, she simply informed him that she was personally hurt by recent comments he made regarding his positive working relationships with now-deceased segregationists in the Senate.
"It was hurtful," Harris said to Biden, "to hear you talk about the reputations of two United States senators who built their reputations and career on the segregation of race in this country. And it was not only that—you also worked with them to oppose busing."
She then went on to relay the story of a young girl in California being bused in order to integrate into public schools. "And that little girl was me," Harris concluded, "So I will tell you that on this subject, it cannot be an intellectual debate among Democrats. We have to take it seriously. We have to act swiftly,"
Even though he probably should have seen this coming, given the public outcry and a call from fellow Democratic primary hopeful, Senator Cory Booker, for an apology, Biden was clearly rattled by Harris' statements.
In short, he fumbled it. Instead of wielding an opportunity to mirror Harris' sincerity and take her concerns seriously, using the debate platform to finally make an apology, he doubled-down and condescendingly lectured (actually, his tone seemed, at least to this writer, to be teetering on the brink of scolding) Harris, stating that his stance on Civil Rights-era busing was about states' rights, not a tepid attitude towards racial equality.
"I did not praise racists," Biden retorted, "That is not true, number one. Number two, if we want to have this campaign litigated on who supports civil rights and whether I did or not, I'm happy to do that." The former vice president, however, still refuses to issue an apology.
In fact, upon hearing Cory Booker's initial call for an apology, he issued a statement outside of a fundraising event in Washington on June 19th, saying, "Apologize for what? Cory should apologize [...] He knows better. There's not a racist bone in my body. I've been involved in civil rights my whole career. Period."
Joe Biden, who has been the primary frontrunner for the Democratic primary nomination thus far, appears to be largely impenetrable in the face of criticism and scandal, despite being comparatively conservative among a pool of majority-progressive candidates. Only time will tell whether or not Harris has, indeed, finally found Biden's political Achilles Heel.
Either way, though, the first Democratic debate was all about Kamala Harris and the underdogs. In addition to Harris' impressive performance, Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana also stood out as intelligent, composed, and unflinching. And Andrew Yang, best known for his somewhat controversial platform of Universal Basic Income (giving every American citizen a monthly stipend of $1,000), also held his own—offering straightforward, no-nonsense, and logically sound answers, even if seldom few questions were directed at him.
A lot can happen between now and February 3rd when the first Democratic primary caucus is scheduled to take place in Iowa. And there will be plenty of chances for candidates to rise and fall in the meantime. If Thursday's debate is any indication of what's to come, however, it appears as if a paradigm shift may be on the horizon, with Senator Kamala Harris leading the charge.
Can the Democratic establishment get it right this time?
With the first Democratic primary still about eight months away, the Democratic party establishment appears prepared to throw all of their weight behind Joe Biden.
To hear MSNBC or CNN tell the story, Joe Biden has been the Democratic party's frontrunner since before he even declared his candidacy. Whether or not this is entirely true, however, is debatable. Misleading polls are being conducted and then misrepresented by many liberal news outlets as a means of solidifying Uncle Joe's frontrunner status early on in hopes of swaying voters toward the "more electable" candidate in the primaries. If Joe Biden can be made to look like he actually has the best chance of clinching the nomination or winning against Trump in a general election, then, voters will be more likely to vote for him as the safe bet.
IVN, or the Independent Voters Network, self-described as "a platform for unfiltered political news and policy analysis from independent-minded authors," has highlighted the biased nature of many political polls. IVN writer, Rudolpho Cortes Barragan reports:
"FiveThirtyEight, which is owned by ABC/Disney, functions as a sort of gatekeeper for polling, and polls are extremely important for candidacies. The public is told that polls judged as A+ by FiveThirtyEight are to be seen as real bellwethers of popular opinion. In reality, 'the polls' are manufactured to produce the results that the pollsters (and their corporate funders) want to see."
Barragan goes on to cite a recent Mammoth University poll as evidence. "The results showed Biden 9 percentage points ahead of Sanders," he writes, "but if you look closely you will see that more than 70% of the people polled are over the age of 50. Any honest person would be able to tell you that the 2020 electorate will be far younger than 50." The data is seldom presented within its full context on mainstream news outlets like MSNBC or CNN, and instills in voters a false sense of Biden's electability and props him up as the "safe" vote.
If this sounds eerily familiar, it's because the same thing happened in 2016. Hillary Clinton, like Biden, was prematurely propped up as the most electable candidate, even though an anti-establishment candidate like Bernie Sanders may have stood a better chance against Trump's "outsider" persona, which resonated with many voters (particularly across the midwest). This was proven in the wake of Trump's victory when analyses showed that many Bernie supporters either did not vote in the general election or jumped on the Trump ticket, preferring the radical change suggested by Trump's "drain the swamp" narrative over Clinton's years of experience as a politician.
Joe Biden, like Clinton, is firmly rooted in the Democratic establishment. While Trump's approval rating has wavered over the last few years, hitting its low at 35% in 2017, it has remained around 40 to 45% — a number that should be alarming for Democrats going into 2020, as there have been only three single-term presidents since World War II.
Either way, the Democratic party and its voters must avoid making the same mistakes if there is any hope of preventing a Trump reelection. Poll manipulation was not the only issue in the 2016 election. The Democratic National Committee (DNC) was also exposed for unfairly tipping the scales toward Clinton in 2016, effectively rigging the primary against Bernie Sanders.
Donna Brazile, former interim chair of the DNC, revealed in her book, Hacks: The Inside Story of the Break-ins and Breakdowns that Put Donald Trump in the White House, the nefarious– although not technically illegal, according to US District Judge William J. Zloch, who dismissed a class action lawsuit against the DNC – actions of the Committee.
"Hillary would control the party's finances, strategy, and all the money raised," writes Brazile. "Her campaign had the right of refusal of who would be the party communications director, and it would make final decisions on all the other staff. The DNC also was required to consult with the campaign about all other staffing, budgeting, data, analytics, and mailings."
It's unclear whether the DNC's current chair, Tom Perez, will run an honest and fair ship as we approach the 2020 election cycle. Perez held the position of labor secretary during the Obama administration, and Biden publicly threw his support behind Perez during his campaign for DNC chair; whereas Sanders preferred Keith Ellison, who lost by a narrow margin. Only time will tell if Perez will tip the scales in Biden's favor due to their favorable history together, but the Democratic party is no stranger to nepotism, so Perez – especially in light of 2016 – should be watched carefully in the months to come.
Even if the DNC does run a fair election this time around, electing Joe Biden would be a grave mistake. A mistake that the party already made last time around in the form of gifting the primary to Hillary Clinton. This election will not be one for tepid, center-of-the-road policies. We've already seen how an establishment centrist performs against Donald Trump. The Democratic party must embrace and adopt the progressive push to the left provided by candidates like Sanders and others if they have any hope of winning in 2020. Playing politics as usual will cost the Democratic party, and the nation, another four years of a Donald Trump White House.