Trump’s Rallies Didn’t Pay Off For Him At The Polls According To NBC News!

Dear Commons Community,

NBC News yesterday released data showing that Donald Trump lost to Joe Biden in 25 of the 30 counties in which he held a campaign rally.  On the other hand,  research has also linked his rallies to hundreds of COVID-19 deaths.   As reported:

“President Donald Trump’s largely maskless campaign rallies may have boosted the spread of COVID-19, but they didn’t serve Trump well at the polls,  according to a ballot analysis by NBC News.

In an overwhelming number of cases, Trump came up short of his 2016 victory margins in the counties where he held rallies in the two weeks before the election, NBC reported. In a significant number of cases, he either increased his negative margins or lost the counties to rival Joe Biden that he won the last time around.

Trump held 30 campaign rallies the final two weeks before the election in states from Arizona to Nebraska to Pennsylvania, NBC noted. Trump won larger victory margins than he did in 2016 in just five of the counties. In the rest, his negative margins grew and his positive margins shrunk, so much so that some counties flipped blue.

NBC cautioned that Trump may have done even worse in some cases without the rallies.

But the findings present a clear warning against gauging national, or even state, popularity based on rally turnouts, which tend to draw those who would vote for a candidate in any case. The rallies also represent a minuscule fraction of the vote.

Trump and his sons Eric and Donald Trump Jr. have repeatedly expressed astonishment that Trump lost the election, given the president’s campaign schedule and the enthusiasm of people attending his rallies.

Eric Trump is perplexed that anyone could believe the results, according to a tweet he posted Saturday. People responding informed him that rallies are not necessarily a reliable barometer of voter support and that votes and rally attendance are not the same.

What the rallies did accomplish was to increase COVID-19 infections, according to research from Stanford University. The research conservatively tied Trump’s rallies to at least 700 deaths — and counting. Some 30,000 people became sick with the virus because of the rallies and may face lifelong health problems. Communities that hosted Trump’s events “paid a high price in terms of disease and death,” the researchers concluded in a working paper.

Few of those attending Trump’s packed rallies wore masks and clearly did not observe social distancing guidelines. In a number of cases, Trump angrily ignored COVID-19 regulations and pleas from local officials not to hold the dangerous rallies as COVID-19 cases surged.”

It is a travesty and disgrace that Trump infected his most ardent supporters at these rallies.


Bah Humbug! Theaters Are Saving “A Christmas Carol” in Spite of the Pandemic! 

Alastair Sim - A Christmas Carol (1951) - The Many Ghosts of ‘A Christmas Carol’

Alastair Sim in a Movie Version of “A Christmas Carol”

Dear Commons Community,

The New York Times this morning has a featured article entitled,  Bah Humbug!, How Theaters Are Saving “A Christmas Carol.”  It describes theaters throughout the country that will continue their traditions of staging Charles Dickens’s novella.  Here is an excerpt:

“For all his flaws, that cranky old miser Ebenezer Scrooge has been a godsend for American theaters. Through recessions and blizzards and other upheavals, he has drawn small children and big money to his redemption story in “A Christmas Carol.”

Stage adaptations of the tale, which generally run between Thanksgiving and year-end, have been a tradition and a lifeline for troupes big and small, professional and amateur. But now, after decades in which the Dickens classic has sustained them, this year theaters are sustaining Dickens.

Gone are the large-cast extravaganzas playing before cheery crowds in packed venues. Instead, theaters are using every contagion-reduction strategy they have honed during the coronavirus pandemic: outdoor stagings, drive-in productions, street theater, streaming video, radio plays and even a do-it-yourself kit sent by mail.

Many of these theaters are willingly running the long-lucrative show at a loss — they are hungry to create, determined to stay visible and eager to satisfy those “Christmas Carol” die-hards who don’t want to miss a year.

“It’s absolutely an obligation, in the best sense of that word,” said Curt Columbus, the artistic director of Trinity Repertory Company, in Providence, R.I., which has staged “A Christmas Carol” each holiday season since 1977. “The story felt more urgent, and more necessary, than it has in many years.”

A filmed performance by Mr. Mays will be streamed this year to benefit regional theaters, and a second version, with more special effects, will be marketed next year to streaming services. 

A primer for those who don’t know a Cratchit from a Fezziwig: “A Christmas Carol” is an exceptionally durable novella, written by Charles Dickens and published in 1843, about the transformation, via a series of ghostly visitations, of a wealthy businessman (that’s Scrooge) from mean and miserly to caring and charitable.

Dickens himself performed readings of the story for more than two decades, with stops in America as well as Britain, until his death in 1870; it has been repeatedly adapted for stage and screen, and the story, in one form or another, has been a seasonal staple of the American regional theater since the 1970s. Last year a critically lauded adaptation from England’s Old Vic theater reached Broadway; this year, it will be livestreamed from its London home, fully staged but audience-free.

“‘A Christmas Carol’ does everything we talk about when we talk about theater — it builds community, and it tugs us toward our better selves,” said Joseph Haj, the artistic director of the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, which has staged the story since 1975, last year selling 57,900 tickets to the show. This year, the Guthrie will stream a retelling by four actors; it will cost $10 to watch, and will be free for schools.

Mr. Haj doesn’t expect to make money on it. Nor does Leda Hoffmann, artistic director of the Contemporary American Theater Company in Columbus, Ohio, which, for $20 per device, will stream a contemporary reimagining with Ebony Scrooge at its center. “This is very likely a losing proposition, but we’re telling the story because we want to tell it,” she said.

The financial implications are enormous, especially for those that have opted not to charge at all. Ford’s Theater in Washington last year sold $2.5 million worth of tickets to “A Christmas Carol.” This year, it is releasing a free audio version on its website and on public radio, paid for by corporate sponsorships and donations. “Hopefully it will come back to us in other ways,” said Paul R. Tetreault, Ford’s director.

The money “A Christmas Carol” usually brings in allows theaters to perform more challenging work at other times of the year.

In Raleigh, N.C., where Ira David Wood III, the artistic and executive director of Theater in the Park, has been playing Scrooge in a musical adaptation since 1974 (he missed one year, when he had open-heart surgery), the money earned from the holiday show “enables us to do ‘Uncle Vanya’ and play to maybe 12 people,” he said.

Like many major regional theaters, Providence’s Trinity Rep is enormously dependent on the show, which accounts for half of all annual sales. This year, its one-hour streaming version looks still to be popular — in the first 72 hours, 75,000 people from 46 states signed up to watch. But ticket revenue, which last year topped $1.7 million, will be zero, because the video is being aired for free.

“This thing has kept American theaters alive for decades and decades,” said Charles Fee, the producing artistic director of Great Lakes Theater in Cleveland. “Without ‘Christmas Carol,’ our company would almost certainly have failed.”

I personally love the ending of Dickens’s tale:

“The visit to the future ends as Scrooge faces his own mortality in the form of a tombstone inscribed with his name. He asks the Ghost:

    “Before I draw nearer to that stone to which you point, answer me one question. Are these the  

      shadows of the things that Will be, or are they shadows of things that May be..?”

The Ghost continued to point downward to the grave by which it stood.

      “Men’s courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead,” said

       Scrooge. “But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change. Say it is thus with what you   

       show me!” (Dickens, 1843)



Video:  Fox News Host Eric Shawn Debunks Election Lies Trump Told in an Interview on the Network an Hour Earlier!

Dear Commons Community,

Fox News host Eric Shawn yesterday debunked election disinformation that President Donald Trump shared on the same network only an hour earlier (see video above).

Trump unloaded a stream of baseless claims about a rigged election in his first televised interview since the election to his devout Fox News ally Maria Bartiromo, who encouraged the allegations and allowed them to go largely unchallenged.

But Fox weekend anchor Shawn pointed out on “America’s News Headquarters” that Trump’s campaign has failed to prove any of his accusations in court.

“In fact, your government, election officials, experts and others ― many of them Republican, including Trump appointed officials ― say that the president’s claims are false and unsubstantiated,” he told viewers.

He invited Axios political reporter Hans Nichols to help dismantle many of Trump’s claims, including that ballots counted after the initial tallies on election night were somehow fraudulent.

“Every swing state that we’re talking about, and they did these massive dumps of votes,” Trump said. “And all of a sudden, I went from winning by a lot to losing by a little.”

“Well, officials say these are not illegal dumps,” Shawn said. “That’s just the counting of the many mail-in ballots that are entered into the computer system.”

Biden overtook Trump in several battleground states where Trump initially led on election night as absentee and mail-in ballots were counted in subsequent days, a standard and legitimate procedure.

Trump also asserted that President-elect Joe Biden couldn’t possibly have received more votes than former President Barack Obama.

“It seems that we have a president who, he can’t wrap his brain or mind around the fact, he can’t process the fact that someone who he thinks is so inferior to him won the election,” Shawn said.

Trump’s allies at Fox News, including Bartiromo and prime-time opinion hosts, helped him amplify false claims of election fraud. But some members of the network’s hard news division pushed back and fact-checked the unsubstantiated assertions.

Shawn participated in a similar segment two weeks ago after Bartiromo gave airtime to Trump lawyers who peddled conspiracy theories about voter fraud.

Congratulations, Eric, for telling the truth which isn’t the long-suit of Trump and some of his enablers at Fox News!


Will Wilkinson:  Why did so many Americans vote for Trump?

USA Democrat Vs Republican Election Match Cartoon - Fight For Vote

Dear Commons Community,

Will Wilkinson, a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times, has a piece today entitled, Why Did So Many Americans Vote for Trump?  He does a good analysis of the strategy of  the Democrats depending too much upon the ills of the pandemic while Republicans were exploiting displaced workers who desperately needed a paycheck.  Here is an excerpt:

“Democrats needed to present a competing, compelling strategy to counter Republican messaging. Struggling workers and businesses never clearly heard exactly what they’d get if Democrats ran the show, and Democrats never came together to scream bloody murder that Republicans were refusing to give it to them. Democrats needed to underscore the depth of Republican failure by forcefully communicating what other countries had done to successfully control the virus. And they needed to promise to do the same through something like an Operation Warp Speed for testing and P.P.E. to get America safely back in business.

Instead, they whined that Mr. Trump’s negligence and incompetence were to blame for America’s economic woes and complained that Mitch McConnell wouldn’t even consider the House’s big relief bill. They weren’t wrong, but correctly assigning culpability did nothing to help working-class breadwinners who can’t bus tables, process chickens, sell smoothies or clean hotel rooms over Zoom.

The Republican message couldn’t have been clearer: Workers should be able to show up, clock in, earn a normal paycheck, pay the rent and feed their kids. Democrats were telling the same workers that we need to listen to science, reopening is premature, and the economy can’t be fully restored until we beat the virus. Correct! But how does that help when rent was due last week?

Make no mistake, it was unforgivably cruel of Republicans to force blue-collar and service workers to risk death for grocery money. Yet their disinformation campaign persuaded many millions of Americans that the risk was minimal and that Democrats were keeping their workplaces and schools closed, their customers and kids at home, and their wallets empty and cupboards bare for bogus reasons.

The president’s mendacious push to hastily reopen everything was less compelling to college-educated suburbanites, who tend to trust experts and can work from home, watch their kids and spare a laptop for online kindergarten. Mr. Trump lost the election mainly because he lost enough of these voters, including some moderate Republicans who otherwise voted straight Republican tickets.”

The entire article is below.

Wilkinson provides excellent insight – Listen up Democrats!



New York Times

Why Did So Many Americans Vote for Trump?

By Will Wilkinson

Contributing Opinion Writer

Nov. 27, 2020

President Trump’s disastrous mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic probably cost him re-election. Yet it seems mind-boggling that he still won more votes than any incumbent president in American history despite his dereliction of responsibility at a time of a once-in-a-century health crisis and economic devastation.

Why are President-elect Joe Biden’s margins so thin in the states that clinched his victory? And why did the president’s down-ticket enablers flourish in the turbulent, plague-torn conditions they helped bring about?

Democrats, struggling to make sense of it all, are locked in yet another round of mutual recrimination: They were either too progressive for swing voters — too socialist or aggressive with ambitious policies like the Green New Deal — or not progressive enough to inspire potential Democratic voters to show up or cross over.

But they should understand that there was really no way to avoid disappointment. Three factors — the logic of partisan polarization, which inaccurate polling obscured; the strength of the juiced pre-Covid-19 economy; and the success of Mr. Trump’s denialist, open-everything-up nonresponse to the pandemic — mostly explain why Democrats didn’t fare better.

This shocking strategy worked for Republicans, even if it didn’t pan out for the president himself. Moreover, it laid a trap that Democrats walked into — something they should understand and adjust for, as best they can, as they look ahead.

How could a president responsible for one of the gravest failures of governance in American history nevertheless maintain such rock-solid support? Democracy’s throw-the-bums-out feedback mechanism gets gummed up when the electorate disagrees about the identity of the bums, what did and didn’t occur on their watch and who deserves what share of the credit or blame.

When party affiliation becomes a central source of meaning and self-definition, reality itself becomes contested and verifiable facts turn into hot-button controversies. Elections can’t render an authoritative verdict on the performance of incumbents when partisans in a closely divided electorate tell wildly inconsistent stories about one another and the world they share.

Mr. Trump has a knack for leveraging the animosities of polarized partisanship to cleave his supporters from sources of credible information and inflame them with vilifying lies. This time, it wasn’t enough to save his bacon, which suggests that polarization hasn’t completely wrecked our democracy’s capacity for self-correction: Sweeping a medium-size city’s worth of dead Americans under the rug turned out to be too tall an order.

However, Mr. Trump’s relentless campaign to goose the economy by cutting taxes, running up enormous deficits and debt, and hectoring the Fed into not raising rates was working for millions of Americans. We tend to notice when we’re personally more prosperous than we were a few years before.

But the president’s catastrophic response to Covid-19 threw the economy into a tailspin. That is where it gets interesting — and Democrats get uncomfortable.

Mr. Trump abdicated responsibility, shifting the burden onto states and municipalities with busted budgets. He then waged a war of words against governors and mayors — especially Democrats — who refused to risk their citizens’ lives by allowing economic and social activity to resume.

He spurred his supporters to make light of the danger of infection, made the churlish refusal to wear masks into an emblem of emancipation from the despotism of experts and turned public health restrictions on businesses, schools and social gatherings into a tyrannical conspiracy to steal power by damaging the economy and his re-election prospects.

He succeeded in putting Democrats on the defensive about economic restrictions and school closures. As months passed and with no new relief coming from Washington, financially straitened Democratic states and cities had little choice but to ease restrictions on businesses just to keep the lights on. That seemed to concede the economic wisdom of the more permissive approach in majority-Republican states and fed into Mr. Trump’s false narrative of victory over the virus and a triumphant return to normalcy.

But Democrats weren’t destined to get quite as tangled in Mr. Trump’s trap as they did. They had no way to avoid it, but they could have been hurt less by it. They allowed Republicans to define the contrast between the parties’ approaches to the pandemic in terms of freedom versus exhausting, indefinite shutdowns.

Democrats needed to present a competing, compelling strategy to counter Republican messaging. Struggling workers and businesses never clearly heard exactly what they’d get if Democrats ran the show, and Democrats never came together to scream bloody murder that Republicans were refusing to give it to them. Democrats needed to underscore the depth of Republican failure by forcefully communicating what other countries had done to successfully control the virus. And they needed to promise to do the same through something like an Operation Warp Speed for testing and P.P.E. to get America safely back in business.

Instead, they whined that Mr. Trump’s negligence and incompetence were to blame for America’s economic woes and complained that Mitch McConnell wouldn’t even consider the House’s big relief bill. They weren’t wrong, but correctly assigning culpability did nothing to help working-class breadwinners who can’t bus tables, process chickens, sell smoothies or clean hotel rooms over Zoom.

The Republican message couldn’t have been clearer: Workers should be able to show up, clock in, earn a normal paycheck, pay the rent and feed their kids. Democrats were telling the same workers that we need to listen to science, reopening is premature, and the economy can’t be fully restored until we beat the virus. Correct! But how does that help when rent was due last week?

Make no mistake, it was unforgivably cruel of Republicans to force blue-collar and service workers to risk death for grocery money. Yet their disinformation campaign persuaded many millions of Americans that the risk was minimal and that Democrats were keeping their workplaces and schools closed, their customers and kids at home, and their wallets empty and cupboards bare for bogus reasons.

The president’s mendacious push to hastily reopen everything was less compelling to college-educated suburbanites, who tend to trust experts and can work from home, watch their kids and spare a laptop for online kindergarten. Mr. Trump lost the election mainly because he lost enough of these voters, including some moderate Republicans who otherwise voted straight Republican tickets.

Democrats need to rethink the idea that these voters would have put Democratic House and Senate candidates over the top if only Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez were less radiantly socialist. They need to accept that they took hits on the economy by failing to escape the trap Republicans set by doggedly refusing to do anything about the uncontained contagion destroying it.

And they need to understand how Mr. Trump saved his party by weaponizing polarization. Conservatives needed a way not to get spun by the president’s destabilizing act of disloyalty, so they steadied themselves by reaffirming their loyalty down the remainder of the ballot. They were voting against a personal crisis of identity, not the Green New Deal.

Democrats might have done better had sunny polls and their own biased partisan perceptions not misled them into believing that backlash to indisputably damning Republican failure would deliver an easy Senate majority — but not much better. Until the mind-bending spell of polarization breaks, everything that matters will be fiercely disputed and even the most egregious failures will continue to go unpunished.


Video: Sarah Fuller Kickoff – First woman to participate in a Power Five conference football game!

Dear Commons Community,

Sarah Fuller made history yesterday when she became the first woman to participate in a Power Five conference football game when she kicked off for Vanderbilt to start the second half at Missouri.

“I just think it’s incredible that I am able to do this, and all I want to do is be a good influence to the young girls out there because there were times like I struggled in sports,” Fuller said. “But I am so thankful I stuck with it, and it’s given me so many opportunities. I’ve met so many amazing people through sports, and I just want to say like literally you can do anything you set your mind to.”

Fuller kicked with a holder rather than using a tee in a designed squib kick, and the senior sent a low kick to the 35-yard line where it was pounced on by Missouri’s Mason Pack. Fuller didn’t get any other opportunities in Vanderbilt’s 41-0 loss to Missouri.

Coach Derek Mason made clear that Fuller kicked for the Commodores due to need, not for history or publicity. COVID-19 protocols and restrictions left Mason with very few options, prompting him to reach out to the soccer team for help.

Fuller, a 6-foot-2 goalkeeper, decided she was up for the challenge.

“I’m not about making statements,” Mason said. “This was out of necessity. You look at our week. Our students had gone home. The ability to have access to students and tryouts was almost nil in terms of like what’s available. … That just happened to be the most viable option.”

After Fuller’s kick, she went straight to the sideline, where she high-fived some of her new teammates and swapped some elbow bumps. Fuller’s parents watched and cheered from the stands along with her boyfriend and best friend.

Fuller practiced with the Commodores this week after helping the Commodores win the SEC Tournament last weekend. Fuller said her longest field goal in practice was 38 yards.

She wore “Play Like A Girl” on the back of her helmet. The senior will get to keep the No. 32 jersey she wore Saturday, the same as her number when playing soccer.

Fuller even gave a halftime pep talk, which she usually left to her soccer teammates, telling her new teammates that Vandy won the SEC soccer tournament title by cheering for each other whether on the field or the sideline.

“We had a different mindset coming out the second half,” quarterback Mike Wright said.

After her kickoff, reaction poured in on social media. Fuller was the No. 2 trending topic on Twitter, followed by Vandy. Her soccer team wrote on Twitter: “Glass. Everywhere.”

As in glass ceiling.

No woman had appeared in an SEC football game or for any Power Five team. Liz Heaston became the first woman to score with two extra points for Willamette in NAIA on Oct. 18, 1997.

Katie Hnida was the first woman to score at the Football Bowl Subdivision level with two extra points for New Mexico on Aug. 30, 2003.

April Goss was the second, with an extra point for Kent State in 2015. Tonya Butler was the first woman to kick a field goal in an NCAA game for Division II West Alabama on Sept. 13, 2003.

“Welcome to the club, (at)April Goss and I are waiting with snacks!” Hnida wrote on Twitter on Friday.

Missouri coach Eli Drinkwitz visited with Fuller before kickoff and repeated a message that Fuller has heard a lot in recent days. The father of four daughters told Fuller it was incredible they watched her make history.

“I’ve had girl dads come up to me and they’re like, ‘You’re inspiring my little girls, and I want them to know that they can do anything and you’re proving that point.’ And I think that has been the coolest thing,” Fuller said.

Fuller also made clear she’d be up for continuing to help the football team if needed. She believes she can refine her timing and technique with more practice.

Vanderbilt (0-8) visits No. 13 Georgia next week.

“If she wants to kick and she’s available, we’d love to have her,” Mason said.

Congratulations Ms. Fuller!



New Book:  Isabel Wilkerson’s “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents”

Dear Commons Community,

I have just finished reading Isabel Wilkerson’s new book, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents.  As the jacket cover states, “Beyond race, class or other factors, a powerful caste system influences people’s lives and behavior and the nation’s fate.”  She links the caste system in the United States to those of 1930s Nazi Germany and India.  She uses stories including her own personal experiences to support her thinking and positioning of caste as a dominant social phenomenon in the three countries.  Some of her stories, especially those in the American South, are riveting and bring to light  the legacy of racism that has existed and continues to exist in our country. 

I had read her earlier work, The Warmth of Other People’s Suns, and was so taken by it that it is recommended reading for students in my graduate courses at Hunter College.  However, as interesting as her stories in Caste are, I had trouble with her comparisons of the American version of caste to those in Nazi Germany and India.  In my view, racism in the United States surely exists but I don’t know that it is similar to those in 1930s Germany and India.  To me, racism and slavery in the United States was based originally on the economic exploitation of African Americans, who served as the foundation of our agrarian economy. And here in the United States, to this day, we have never adequately addressed our problem with race and skin color.  In Nazi Germany, Adolf Hitler used the persecution of Jews as a mechanism to create a fervor for hate and his warped sense of Aryan superiority.  In India, caste has been in existence for thousands of years and is culturally ingrained in the Hindu religion.  

I have read several reviews of Caste and the one that resonates best with me is  by the anthropologist, Arjun Appaduri that appeared in The Wire in September.  He struggles with the comparison of caste to race and also questions whether there are similarities of the American, German, and Indian versions.  His entire review is below.

Caste is surely an important book and makes for good reading, but its central thesis about caste can be questioned.



The Wire

Comparing Race to Caste Is an Interesting Idea, But There Are Crucial Differences Between Both

Arjun Appadurai


Isabel Wilkerson’s book ‘Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents’ uses anecdotes and allegory to advance her thesis, which however does not stand on a strong structural foundation.

In my early twenties, I was a graduate student working on my doctorate at an obscure but prestigious department at the University of Chicago called The Committee on Social Thought. The programme required all students to read a small list of ‘Great Books’, usually 12 or 13, which we called the ‘Fundamentals’ and our course work was intended to help us master the right way to read these books.

According to our teachers, that way was to read the books in as close to the original as possible (even if in translation) and to avoid (at all costs) the vast secondary literature of commentary, criticism and interpretation which surrounded them. We thus confronted Plato and Augustine, Machiavelli and Marx, Shakespeare and Tolstoy, all in the raw, without any friendly secondary assistance.

This method is what I adopted when I read Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, without wading through the luxuriant forest of reviews of it that have already appeared, several by writers I know and admire. Accompanied by Oprah Winfrey’s hailing of this book as a work for the centuries, the nomination of Kamala Harris as running mate to Joseph Biden, as well as the renewed rage about race and racism sparked by the Black Lives Matter movement, Wilkerson’s book was pre-sold as a bestseller.

So, let me say right away that reading it was a strange experience. From the very first few pages, which describe the deadly effect of a heatwave on a nomadic population in Siberia, I sensed I was in a genre I knew but did not quite recognise.

As I read on, through a series of allegories about climate, animals, and epic battles between mythic groups, as well as of metaphors about houses, foundations, roofs, sills, and more, I gradually realised that I was experiencing a pedagogic genre of writing. This book is about big, bad things like race, caste, cruelty and torture presented as a series of modern epics. Wilkerson’s book is a guide to race and racial brutality in the US, told through the allegory of caste, the latter viewed as the skeleton under the flesh of black-white relationships in the 400-year history of what became the US. Its primary audience seems to be the mass liberal reading public of the US.

Once I understood the genre, I had no trouble understanding why every chapter, often every page, contained facts, anecdotes, reports and examples with which many of us are already familiar. This is not a book which claims to be based on original research. It is a polemical and pedagogical work, the single-minded aim of which is to show that what we mistakenly think of as race in the history of the US is, in fact, better thought of as caste, an underlying code, programme, skeleton, or structure which accounts for racist behaviour and institutions, which are simply its primary instrument and expression.

The place which exemplifies caste is India, and Wilkerson succeeds in marshalling many descriptive and analytic verities about caste in India that we have heard for a century: its rigidity, its fixity, its tyranny, its permanence, and the quasi-religious foundations which define both its foundation and its reach over daily life.

I cannot resist the temptation to criticise Wilkerson’s book from the vantage point of a specialist in the anthropology of India, who has spent the better part of four decades poring over hundreds of books and essays about caste. That might seem both too easy and somehow beside the point for a book in which caste is mostly a device to offer a new picture of the racialised world of the US.

Yet, it is important to point out a few differences which make a difference, between caste and race. Caste crystallised over several millennia of Indian history, primarily as a cosmology which allowed pastoral and agricultural colonisers from the Northwest of the subcontinent to gradually colonise thousands of groups and communities who were previously not organised into castes. The new framework allowed many locally dominant groups to organise their local subordinates into a system which conflated rank, occupation and purity into a single status system. This is very different from the creation of whiteness as a category of domination in the context of the colonial and later independent US.

Then, there is the matter of purity and pollution, also discussed by Wilkerson, which many of us see as the driving source of caste ideology in India, whereas in the US, the polluting status of black Americans is an effect of racialised ranking and not a cause. Also, the Indian caste system is geared to an infinity of caste ranks, and many Indian villages have 30 or more hierarchically ranked castes (jatis), all keenly aware of who is above them and who is below.

Finally, while the top of the Indian caste system, usually composed of Brahmins, is permanent, closed and unquestionable, the bottom, which is certainly defined by Dalits (Untouchables) is strangely porous, since every Indian caste, including the lowest, has someone or some group, usually in a neighbouring village, who performs polluting services (like cremation, scavenging and hair-cutting) for them, and is therefore lower than they are. In short, no group in India, however low, lacks a group beneath them that lets them feel purer. This is very different from the exclusionary logic of race, which is binary (black versus white) and lacks any cosmological basis for one black person to feel racially superior to another black.

For these reasons, mobility at every level has been part of the history of caste in India, (contra the myth of its rigidity) and here the semiotics of pigment in American race relations is a massive obstacle to such mobility, actual or aspirational. Even in the past 50 years in India, the entry of Dalits into Indian political parties, elections and in the bureaucracy has been both numerically impressive and irreversible, even if the upper caste backlash against this mobility, in terms of rape, arson and public humiliation of Dalits has also intensified.

Wilkerson is right to note the flow of ideas between Dalits and African Americans, involving figures as different as Martin Luther King, W.E.B. Dubois, Angela Davis, Ambedkar and groups such as the Black Panthers and the Dalit Panthers. This is one of many cases of such mutual admiration in human history among both oppressors and oppressed. The mutual identification of various kinds of proletariat in the long period of socialist internationalism is a major example of such traffic. But such mutual admiration cannot be the basis for the sort of deep structural comparison that Wilkerson is keen to make.

I must raise one other question, since Wilkerson expends a great deal of effort to show why the similarities between caste in India and race in the US are so striking, so relevant and so much more important than the differences. My question is this: if caste in the US is a kind of code, which is buried deep under the surface of race (and of the brutal etiquette and institutions of race and racism), how can we compare it to a society like India, where caste is both the code and the everyday reality? Put another way, either India has no underlying social programme, grammar and theory, and its social world is simply caste all the way up and down (something I doubt) , or Wilkerson’s dramatic unearthing of caste under the surface of race in the US is just a literary device to tell a familiar American story in an unfamiliar way, and is not based on a genuine similarity.

I lean towards the latter reading.

And then there is the joker in the pack, the case of Nazi Germany and its appearance in Wilkerson’s book as the third example of the value of caste as a lens into a story which is not normally discussed in caste terms. The objections here have been made by others but they are crippling: the relative shortness of the dominance of Nazi ideology; the entirely different history of antisemitism in European history, by comparison with colourism in the US and casteism in the Indian subcontinent; the Nazi wish to truly exterminate Jews, rather than to simply exploit, degrade and isolate in the Dalit and African-American cases, as cogs in some sort of economic machine.

The value of Wilkerson’s book is in the dignity of her narration, her refusal to vent excessively about her personal wounds as an African American writer and thinker, her clarity about the ethics of structural racism, and her highly accessible style.

But the biggest challenge that Wilkerson does not address, speaking from my vantage point as a social scientist in 2020, is one about race and caste as social constructions. Wilkerson is at pains to show, in stunning detail, that the ideology and practices of racism in the US are crafted, built, shored up, repaired, restored and updated, on a continuous basis: in short, they are socially constructed.

The puzzle that I and many others would have loved to see Wilkerson tackle is hardly touched on. And that puzzle is why some constructions acquire the sort of durability that resists all counter-evidence, all discovery, all qualification, all falsification, while others are as fragile as a flower and as quick to disappear as a rainstorm. Caste and race are monsters of resilience, and for this we need some third point of leverage for a truly powerful explanation.

Meanwhile, we can be grateful to Wilkerson for reminding us of their affinities.

Arjun Appadurai  is an Indian-American anthropologist and theorist in globalization studies.  He teaches in New York and Berlin. His most recent book, co-authored with Neta Alexander, is Failure (London: Polity Press, 2019)


Science: Public Needs to Prep for Vaccine Side Effects!

Will these COVID-19 vaccines come with side effects?

Dear Commons Community,

Today’s issue of Science has an article alerting readers that the public needs to be prepared for side effects from the coronavirus vaccine.  Essentially the article warns that a subset of people taking the vaccine may face intense, most likely temporary, side effects which are termed “reactogenicity.”  The article cautions these side effects may include swelling of joints, fever, cold and hot rushes.  The article also advises that these transient reactions should not dissuade people from getting vaccinated.  The full article is below.

As I have said a number of times on this blog – I will take the vaccine (side effects and all) only if Dr. Anthony Faucie says it is okay.



Donald Trump Holds News Conference on Thanksgiving and Only Fox News Carries It!

President Trump gives Thanksgiving address to troops, reiterates election  grievances

Trump Loses it at Thanksgiving Day Press Conference

Dear Commons Community,

Donald Trump held a news conference last night at about 6:00 pm during which he answered questions from reporters and only Fox News aired it.  CNN, MSNBC and the major networks did not carry  it.  And it is good that they didn’t as his comments were nothing but the same bunch of election fraud lies that he has been telling for the past three weeks.

Trump completely flipped out when asked a follow-up question by Reuters White House correspondent Jeff Mason who asked him if he will concede when the Electoral College votes for President-elect Joe Biden. 

“Well if they do, they made a mistake, because this election was a fraud,” Trump replied, before launching into a tirade about the number of votes Biden got compared to former President Barack Obama.

When Mason interrupted this lengthy digression, Trump snapped, “Don’t talk to me that way.”

″You’re just a lightweight. Don’t talk to me that way. I’m the president of the United States. Don’t ever talk to the president that way,” he added.

This tone typified much of the press conference, in which the president evaded questions about whether he will attend Biden’s inauguration, persistently alleged widespread voter fraud, attacked election officials, and complained that his successor shouldn’t be allowed to take credit for a COVID-19 vaccine.

Following the Mason exchange, Trump said: “It’s going to be a very hard thing to concede, because we know there was massive fraud…This was a massive fraud, this should never take place in this country. We’re like a third-world country.”

The president said he wouldn’t comment on his attendance at any inauguration event on Jan. 20, adding: “I know the answer to that, but I don’t want to say it yet.” When pressed by other reporters, Trump said that he would leave the White House in January.

“Certainly I will. … Certainly I will, and you know that,” Trump said before adding, “There will be a lot of things happening between now and January 20th, a lot of things.”

Trump and his attorneys have lost virtually all of their court challenges to the results of the presidential election in the key battleground states of Georgia, Pennsylvania and Michigan.

Biden won more than 80 million votes in the election, a historic number, and currently leads the president by more than 6 million votes.

“I know one thing, Joe Biden did not get 80 million votes,” Trump said without evidence. “This race is far from over.”

Electors will meet on Dec. 14 to cast their votes in their respective states, a move that constitutionally determines the next president.

Biden holds 306 electoral votes to Trump’s 232. Congress counts and certifies the results on Jan. 6. Biden will be inaugurated on Jan. 20.

Trump even demeaned Republican election officials in Georgia and said he “didn’t lose” in the state despite a hand recount that confirmed Biden led in the state by just over 12,000 votes. That recount, Trump said, was “meaningless.” (It is not.) He said his loss in the Electoral College would be “fraud,” a statement not supported by any evidence.

“If they do, they’ve made a mistake,” the president said, referring to the Electoral College certifying Biden as the winner next month.

I think it was a smart move on the part of the news media not to air this press conference.  Trump should be happy too because it showed viewers that losing the presidential election is eating away at his sanity!


Five Ways That David Dinkins Shaped New York City!

Former New York City Mayor David Dinkins dead at 93

David Dinkins with his wife Joyce, who predeceased him last month

Dear Commons Community,

David N. Dinkins, the 106th mayor of New York City from  1990 to 1993 died on Monday at the age of 93.  He served a single four-year term as the City’s first and only Black mayor. His tenure has been judged harshly at times, but it was also filled with accomplishments.

Mr. Dinkins had a significant influence on the city, shaping its physical infrastructure and beginning criminal justice initiatives that started to reduce crime.

He was remembered as a gentleman who led the city during a difficult period of fiscal crisis and racial tension — themes that the city and the nation are currently grappling with once again.

“David Dinkins simply set this city on a better path,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said yesterday.

The New York Times has an article this morning listing five of his contributions. Here is a look:  

A mentor who inspired others to run for office

Mr. Dinkins helped inspire a generation of Black leaders to run for office, including Laurie Cumbo, the majority leader of the New York City Council.

“His campaign inspired and ushered in the new wave of Black elected leaders, which then opened up opportunities for all people to know that they can also lead,” she said.

Carl Heastie, the speaker of the New York State Assembly, said Mr. Dinkins “was an example that although you may be the first, you must push open the doors for those who will come after you.”

Mr. Dinkins was a mentor to Mr. de Blasio, a Democrat in his second term who said Mr. Dinkins deserved credit for his marriage. He met his wife, Chirlane McCray, while both were serving in the Dinkins administration.

“He was my mentor, he was my friend, and his steadfast commitment to fight for that ‘gorgeous mosaic’ inspires me every single day,” the mayor said, referring to Mr. Dinkins’s motto — and the name of his biography — that symbolized the city’s mix of people of different races, faiths and sexual orientations.

Mr. Dinkins also had the most diverse administration up to that point. Two women became deputy mayors, and he appointed the city’s first Puerto Rican fire commissioner. For police commissioner, he chose Lee P. Brown, a Black veteran of the Atlanta and Houston forces.

He was a racial reconciliator

Mr. Dinkins was elected not long after Yusef Hawkins, a Black teenager, was chased and murdered by a white mob in the Bensonhurst neighborhood of Brooklyn, and a white jogger was beaten and raped in Central Park, leading to the conviction of five Black and Latino teenagers who were later exonerated.

It was a time of great racial strife in New York City and Mr. Dinkins issued a call for unity.

Stacy Lynch, the daughter of Mr. Dinkins’s chief political strategist, Bill Lynch, said her father often talked about how difficult it was to lead with that message of reconciliation.

“You had entire neighborhoods in the city that didn’t believe in his gorgeous mosaic,” said Ms. Lynch, now an aide to Mr. de Blasio. “The expectation that one person could resolve all of that was unrealistic. What he tried to do was create a space where people could work it out.”

But he also struggled to respond to racial violence in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, after a car in a rabbi’s motorcade killed a Black boy — an episode that came to define his mayoralty.

Patrick Gaspard, president of the Open Society Foundations, who served as a senior aide to Mr. Dinkins, recalled being a young man who was constantly enraged at the racial injustice that he encountered. But Mr. Dinkins, who was also outraged by racial injustice, had a different approach.

Mr. Gaspard, who referred to Mr. Dinkins as a “political Jackie Robinson,” recalled one St. Patrick’s Day parade where the crowd hurled beer cans at the mayor along with racial epithets. As he was rushed to his car, a beer can almost struck Mr. Dinkins. Mr. Gaspard saw a flash of anger on Mr. Dinkins’s face.

“I saw him breathe deeply, compose himself and wave to the crowd,” Mr. Gaspard said. “I know what he wanted to say and the response he wanted to give back but he was not going to debase himself or the office.”

The Rev. Al Sharpton said that he had urged Mr. Dinkins to be more strident and confrontational on issues of race, but was rebuffed.

“He was a racial reconciler without giving up what he believed,” Mr. Sharpton said. “He never stopped being a warrior, he just fought in ways that sometimes those who agreed with him didn’t understand.”

He laid the groundwork for a record drop in crime

Mr. Dinkins added police officers to combat the city’s troubling murder rate and raised taxes to make it happen.

His “Safe Streets, Safe City” plan increased the size of the police force to roughly 38,000 officers. Homicides hit an all-time high on his watch — there were 2,245 murders in 1990, including the subway killing of a tourist from Utah named Brian Watkins. They fell by 13 percent during his tenure to 1,946 in his last year in office and declined much more under Rudolph W. Giuliani, who succeeded him.

Michael R. Bloomberg, who served as mayor after him, said on Tuesday that he often reminded people that Mr. Dinkins’s successors “stood on his shoulders and built on his legacy.”

“He entered City Hall at a difficult time in New York’s history, and he helped set the city on a course for success — and a reduction in crime — that no one at the time imagined possible,” Mr. Bloomberg said.

He improved the National Tennis Center and Times Square

Mr. Dinkins, an avid tennis player, expanded the National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, Queens. Mr. Bloomberg later called it “the only good athletic sports stadium deal, not just in New York but in the country.”

Mr. Dinkins made other impressions on the city’s physical infrastructure.

He began the remarkable transformation of Times Square, even though Mr. Giuliani is often given credit. A key deal with the Walt Disney Company to rebuild the New Amsterdam Theater on 42nd Street was agreed upon on the last day of the Dinkins administration in December 1993.

Mr. Dinkins fought for years to pull together the parties that would spark the revitalization of the area because he knew what it would signal, Mr. Gaspard said.

“He knew that it would become a beacon that demonstrated to the world that New York City was open for business,” he said.

He championed policies that helped poor New Yorkers

Mr. Dinkins was known for programs that helped the city’s poorest residents, including the after-school program known as Beacon centers, and putting health care clinics in medically underserved neighborhoods.

Beacon centers, which were created in 1991 as part of “Safe City, Safe Streets,” offer sports, tutoring and crafts in an effort to keep children out of trouble. The city now has 91 centers.

Mr. Dinkins also started an innovative plan to add health clinics in struggling neighborhoods to give poor children another option instead of expensive emergency room visits.

Eric Adams, the Brooklyn borough president and one of several candidates hoping to be the city’s second Black mayor, said Mr. Dinkins’s successes were not merely symbolic.

“Through his actions on behalf of lower-income people, he was both our effective advocate and confirmation of a long-held hope that our lives mattered to our government,” he said.

In sum, New York is a better place because of him.

May he and his wife rest in peace!