How The World Sees America

For two decades, the United States presented an official face to the world that reflected the power and promise of a land of immigrants. [When Obama was elected, Kenyans said] A Luo man became president of America before one could become president of Kenya.

Helene Cooper, The New York Times

In a recent article for the New York Times, reporter Helene Cooper points to past secretaries of state whose very presence told the story of the American dream: Czech-born Madeleine Albright, Jamaican immigrants’ son Colin Powell, and Condoleezza Rice, born in the segregated south.

No longer.

In less than four years in office, President Trump has taken that American face back in time. The people who represent the United States at the highest levels abroad are overwhelmingly white and male.

Helene Cooper, The New York Times

The idea of representing America was something that I wanted to do ever since I was a kid. Going to other places and showing what America’s promise is – – I looked at that with a sense of reverence. [After Trump was elected, an audience in Madrid asked] ‘How can you say this is the land of promise and you have this guy in the White House?’

Chris Richardson, former US diplomat, who is African-American

Still, democracy’s institutions — the freedom of speech and of assembly, the rule of law, the separation of powers — have withstood the Trump administration’s drive toward monarchy. And our allies and enemies alike assumed that the world’s oldest democracy would continue, Helene Cooper quotes a former German ambassador.

One president can’t erase that.

Peter Wittig, former German ambassador to the United States

Then the debate happened. Our allies pity Americans and our enemies lick their chops. In a recent article for the Associated Press, reporters Jamey Keaten and Rod McGuirk write about international reaction to the childish display.

Many across the world looked on largely aghast as the first debate between President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden devolved into a verbal slugfest short on substance but heavy with implications for America’s international image

Jamey Keaton and Rod McGuirk, Associated Press

My father spent his career promoting American democracy abroad through the US Information Agency. Dad could point to American elections for real-life examples of people choosing their country’s leader without demagoguery, police violence, and bringing in the military. Election night became a watch party to showcase another peaceful transition of power.

Dad’s successors in the Foreign Service are having to explain what happened Tuesday night. And the planning for November 3’s watch parties has taken on a decidedly somber tone. Imagine the diplomat posted in Kenya, where Obama’s election was such a sign of America’s promise.

This debate would be sheer comedy if it wasn’t such a pitiful and tragic advertisement for US dysfunction.

Patrick Gathara, Kenyan commentator

Our political nemesis, China, sees our democracy being shredded.

Chaos, interruptions, personal and all attacks and insults reflect overarching division, anxiety and the accelerating erosion of the systems are original advantages.

Hu Xijin, editor of China’s Communist party tabloid Global Times

Onlookers are wringing their hands.

How did America reach this level of political decline?

Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, Emirati political scientist

Only by voting can we scale that hill again. We are driving to the elections office and turning our paper ballots in today.

How to Beat Trump: Laugh Him Out

Every joke is a tiny revolution.

George Orwell

Critics of President Trump can learn something from pro-democracy movements in other countries. Just as pointing and laughing deflates flashers, wit deflates dictators. Making the leader a laughing stock wins people over. In his recent column for the New York Times, Nicholas Kristof labels the power of mockery as “laughtism.”

We know it works against Trump. Who can forget the 2011 White House Correspondents’ Dinner when Seth Meyers rolled out his Trump jokes as a grim-faced Donald glared back.

Donald Trump says he would run for president as a Republican, which is odd because I just assumed he was running as a joke.

Seth Meyers, 2011 White House Correspondents’ Dinner

The Kristof notes that the Committee for the Protection of Journalists — which I looked at in a recent post about the Voice of America — has intervened this year to defend seven cartoonists around the world who were arrested, threatened with prosecution, or threatened with death.

It was a cartoon of a the prophet Muhammad in the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo that led to the 2015 attack that killed 11 of its staff. The New York Times’ Norimitsu Onishi reported that the magazine reprinted the cartoon last month as the trial began.

The editorial cartoons that run in my newspaper, The Palm Beach Post, have hit the nail on the head, lampooning the White House’s coronavirus containment claims and strident electioneering. Cartoonists David Horsey and Clay Bennett are among the cartoonists that I’ve featured in my recent posts.

The grins of the people are the nightmares of the dictators.

Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo

Kristof closes with a final quote of Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo that seems particularly well-timed. In the international embarrassment that was the first presidential debate, Vice President Biden called Trump a liar, but we have come to understand this as a fact, along with his cheating and other corruptions. Trump has been discredited so frequently, most recently in the NYT tax expose, that cartoonist Andy Marlette was ready with this within hours of the debate.

What did make the headlines was Biden calling Trump a clown.

Kristof quotes Liu Xiaobo in assuring us that a clown is much easier to dispose of.

A clown needs less revenge than a monster does.

Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo

… satirizing an authoritarian is good for the nation because it makes the eventual downfall and transition softer and less violent.

Nikolas Kristof, The New York Times

Practice laughtism. With apologies to Stephen Sondheim, send out the clown.

America Pitied By Allies, Trump Embraced By Far-Right

The world has loved, hated, and envied the US. Now, for the first time, we pity it.

Fintan O’Toole, Irish Times

The United States’ response to the Coronavirus has been marked by leadership failure, science denial, and political manipulation, such that, seven months into the pandemic, our country has had 6.5 million cases of the virus, and we are closing on 200,000 American deaths. According to the Republican National Convention, all of this is in the rear view mirror. According to reality, the virus continues to spread. As students go back to school this month — with the courts reviewing Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran’s order to open brick-and-mortar schools — health directors and epidemiologists forecast renewed ignition.

The journal Foreign Policy released a report gauging the performance of 36 nations in responding to COVID-19. The United States ranked 31st, ahead only of Indonesia, Turkey, Mexico, Iran, and China.

Senegal, a country of 60 million people ranking near the top of Foreign Policy’s list, has had only 14,000 cases and 284 deaths to date in this pandemic. The state of Florida, with about twice as many people, has nearly 50 times the number of cases. An American living in Senegal says that her Senegalese friends are flabbergasted that Americans are arguing over whether to wear masks and questioning the severity of the virus.

There hasn’t been a moment where my family was thinking that we should have evacuated. We always felt being here was the better choice.

Shannon Underwood, American living in Senegal, quoted by Deirdre Shesgreen, USA Today

America, for the first time in its history, is pitied and viewed with disdainful condescension. And the person at the helm — who the conservative commentator George Will calls “the most frivolous person ever to hold any great nation’s highest office” — has his hands off the wheel while our nation is on a downward spiral.

No, that’s putting it too passively. The nation’s floundering government is now administered by a gangster regime, and that’s not just America’s problem. Trump is emerging as a far-right cult figure in other countries, writes Katrin Bennhold, The New York Times’ Germany correspondent.

His message of disruption — his unvarnished nationalism and tolerance of white supremacists coupled with his skepticism of the pandemic dangers — is spilling well beyond American shores.

Katrin Bennhold, The New York Times

This really sticks in my craw. An “America first” tin-pot dictator modeling fascist behavior for a far-right German audience is the antithesis of the role of American president. It begs the contrast with another American president who spoke to a German audience. In his 1963 rock-star tour of Europe, President John F. Kennedy affirmed America’s solidarity with West Germany in resisting the Russians. “I am a Berliner.” Pro-democracy. Pro-NATO. Pro-allies.

My father represented our country in the US Foreign Service. In 1963, he was posted at the American Embassy in Rome, Italy, where he handled the press when President Kennedy visited a few weeks after being in Germany.

The plans went off without a hitch. Kennedy emerged alone from Air Force One, glamorous and handsome, waving to the small knot of observers. His open-air limousine was escorted by the handsome Carabinieri on horseback. He made his protocol visit to the Quirinale Palace, the seat of the national government. Kennedy’s call on Pope Paul VI came just days after his installation upon the death of John XXIII. The media noted this historic meeting between the first Catholic American president and the head of the Catholic Church.

From When the Dictator Flew Over Our House & Other True Stories, not yet published, Jane Kelly Amerson López

Like diplomats before and after him, my father’s loyalty was to the United States and its elected leader, regardless of policies or political party. It was not always easy — Dad came to disagree with the Vietnam War, which very much colored America’s overseas relationships — but being a diplomat today comes with unprecedented challenges. A July Democratic staff report to the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations — Diplomacy in Crisis: The Trump Administration’s Decimation of the Department of State — concluded:

The President has undermined the United States’ role as a global leader, withdrawing from international organizations, agreements, and commitments, seeking to walk back our responsibilities to allies and partners, and retreating from leading the response to global crises.

Democratic Staff Report to the Committee on Foreign Relations, US Senate.\

The facts speak for themselves. Or, to quote Trump, “It is what it is.” We will vote in November.

Voter Fraud is a Hoax

My husband and I are voting by mailing in a paper ballot this year. We live in the President’s official county of residence, Palm Beach, the only place in the country, according to him, in which paper ballots will represent legitimate votes in November.

The county is on the up and up, we agree. The Palm Beach County Board of Elections actually mailed out application forms for mail-in ballots over the summer, and we received ours a month before the August primary. We were glad to have the extra time with the ballot to educate ourselves on who we were being asked to elect.

Palm beach county elections

Although I supported Democrat newbie Guido Weiss in the primary, incumbent Lois Frankel won, and supporting her in November is critical — her opponent will be racist, anti-Islam Laura Loomer whose dangerous language has been banned from social media platforms. Please ignore her.

In the other races, it was satisfying to see a Florida Senate race with our Democratic candidate, fellow New Yorker and current Florida Representative Tina Polsky, on the ballot, and we have a Palm Beach County Judge Jaimie Goodman, who’s been blasted for his lack of decorum, in a November run-off with lawyer Adam Myron to retain his seat. Voting matters.

I have covered banana republic dictators who are more subtle than that in attempting to rig the elections or undermine votes for their opponent.

Thomas L. Friedman, The New York Times

Voting by mail is secure

Hoaxster Trump is selling the lie that mail-in ballots are fraudulent votes. Every county in this country is on the up and up, and — because the Trump Administration has failed to protect us from the Coronavirus— more people than ever before will be voting by paper ballot.

Voting is our civic duty

We’ve been given ample notice to not assume that the US Postal Service will adjust its schedule to accommodate our procrastination. When our November ballots arrive, we will fill them out and send them in. If you are an American, please use this link to find your county election office to request yours today. If you are not an American, pray for us to remember our civic duty.

I don’t care who you vote for. But don’t let this election be stolen by people trying to deliberately engineer it so not everyone can vote – – or so that not every vote will be counted.

Thomas L. Friedman, The New York Times

Has the Coronavirus Ended Dressing Up?

Most of the clothes in my closet have not been touched in more than a year, largely due to my illness last year. During my three-month hospitalization, I lost one-quarter of my weight, so my clothes hung on me when I was finally home. As I regained my strength, I slowly regained my weight, and am right back to where I was before my ruptured aneurysm. In theory, I can wear anything in my closet.

But I haven’t. Just about the time I felt like myself again, ready to enjoy a night on the town and maybe even doing a little traveling, the pandemic hit. I haven’t been inside a retail shop or a restaurant since mid-March. My bank is doing business only in the drive-through window. I’ve been to FedEx twice, feeling moved to share physical possessions with family and archival repositories — my mother’s collection of family letters, poetry and other paper ephemera is going to the Winona County Historical Society.

So, I’m home, laundering the same small pile of clothing over and over. Workout clothes for the morning, one of three pairs of shorts and a t-shirt for the afternoons, sweats or even pajamas by dinner time. Now and then, a pair of jeans. A suit and cover-up for a couple of careful beach visits. Sketchers. Running shoes. Flip flops.

Forget heels. Even in my professional 1990’s business days, the height of my heels was never more than 3 inches. I last wore a pair of pumps to read at the annual luncheon of a Boynton Beach book club a year and a half ago, and my daughter assured me that they had seen better days. Into the garbage they went.

Who knew that I’d have something in common with opera diva Renee Fleming, who has traded her 5-inch heels for clogs. Yes, clogs! In her recent article in USA Today, reporter Carly Mallenbaum quotes the star:

I don’t think I’ll ever wear high heels again.

Renee Fleming

The sales of dress shoes has plummeted 70 percent, Mallenbaum cites. Slippers and Crocs are the Coronavirus shoes-of-choice. Crocs were my go-to shoes in the hospital. About half-way through my three-month stay, one of my many roommates left behind a pair of worn pink Crocs and they became mine. Although it took a minute, I could get them on and off without ringing for assistance. The day I first walked, they were on my feet.

Walking for the first time, OLVG Physical Therapy. A fellow-patient took the video on my phone, for which I thank her: Dank u wel!

And socks. Mallenbaum tells us that socks are now qualifying as shoes.

Socks certainly make a statement. My gift of palm tree socks to the nurses and doctors who saved my life in Amsterdam was a huge, optimistic thank-you!

The nurses at OLVG, 7-A!

This pandemic has people wondering if dressing up is a thing of the past.

In April, clothing sales fell 79 percent in the United States, the largest dive on record. Purchases of sweatpants, though, were up 80 percent.

Stephanie Gonot, The New York Times Magazine

I’m right on-trend with the slob-chic style Patricia Marx wrote about in The New Yorker:

People are feeling that they are getting away with something. We’re conducting business and making money, but — ha ha! — we’re in our pajamas.

Polly McCall, psychotherapist

It is bad enough that everyone is dressing like a hospital patient, but now I’m realizing that it’s worse: the working cohort has stolen the retiree wardrobe.

No. You are supposed to earn loose-fitting lounge wear by suffering through years of tight waistbands and pantyhose and high heels. That’s why they call it work. Slob-chic has lowered the bar.

I worry that the lowering of the bar threatens retirees with losing our special status until I remember that there is still one thing that we can call our own: carping about change. “Why, when I was employed we wore slips and padded shoulders and heels…”

It’s good to know that you’ll still know us, not by our outfits but by our endearing whining.

Water As Corona Calming Balm

I floated today for the first time in months and emerged from the ocean renewed. It was a baptism of sorts.

To be held by something so big and so gentle was a profound relief. Perhaps in that moment, I returned to the womb, or perhaps it’s just that gravity, and the very grave situation that has surrounded us all for six months, was temporarily absent, and all that was asked of me was to be still. I breathed with the waves, noticing but not controlling myself being lifted and lowered by each small swell.

There were a few other bathers in the water today, the first day since the non-event of Hurricane Isaias that we’ve returned to the beach. A young boy, perhaps 12, and his mother were in the water when we arrived. I noticed him hanging off her, thinking back to the days that my daughter and I were also water pals. Then, I saw his wheelchair.

A year ago, I was just learning how to walk again after my close-call in Amsterdam ( How I Survived My Amsterdam Vacation, Part One: We Got Kicked Off the Ship.) For months, I lay in a single bed, unable to move my legs. When you’re in bed all the time, your body doesn’t work enough to give you that nice ahhhh of relaxing at the end of the day, and how I longed to feel that release.

When I taught water exercise classes, I finished each class with a relaxing meditation, to this Hawaiian tune. Kawaipunahele repeats the refrain, “inseparable, secure connection.” Yes, that’s what I felt the moment I released myself into the salty water today. And I knew that, even for a few minutes, the boy was free of his wheelchair and supported by that secure connection in the ocean’s salty vastness. His mother, too.

I’ve just finished reading Why We Swim by Bonnie Tsui. I love this book for all its takes on the connection between humans and water — it’s broken into sections on survival, well-being, community, competition, and flow. Check out this glowing review by Mary Pols in The New York Times. Tsui’s research on her subject brings all sorts of connections to the topic and I know I’ll be dipping into it frequently. Here’s today’s connection.

Yes, as everyone knows, meditation and water are wedded forever.

Ishmael, Moby Dick by Herman Melville

It did me good to get out, drive along roads I used to frequent daily, and see people (at a safe distance) enjoying the paradise we live in here. The ocean breeze, the sound of waves, the salty air, and the largely empty beach returned me to my real self. The one who writes to figure out what’s going on. The one who’s very grateful to be here at all.

Is America losing its moral authority?

American diplomats who are the global face of the United States are struggling with how to demand human rights, democracy and rule of law abroad amid concerns overseas and criticism at home over the Trump administration’s strong arm response to the protests across the country.

Lara Jakes and Edward Wong, The New York Times

My father was one of those faces of the United States in Europe and Latin America during his career in public diplomacy during the Cold War. As part of the United States Information Agency, his job was to project America’s image overseas, when much about our country was misunderstood, and even distorted, by our adversaries.

Dad’s career began in 1955 Caracas, when a military dictator ruled Venezuela. As he wrote in his 1995 book How Democracy Triumphed Over Dictatorship, America’s support of President Marcos Pérez Jimenez was predicated on stability — preventing Communist inroads and protecting American business investments in that oil-rich country — but went against our country’s democratic ideals. Dad’s personal feelings bled through in his conversations with journalists and university professors who chafed under the oppressive Pérez Jimenez regime. The dictator’s eventual flight into exile is the first story in my memoir-in-progress, When the Dictator Flew Over Our House.

Dad presented facets and facts about our country to counterbalance negative stereotypes. Sometimes, the stereotypes were lifted right off American television. Southern police officers turning fire hoses on civil rights protesters were offset by interracial jazz groups, candid conversations by leading American writers and other cultural leaders took on special importance.

From Minneapolis, Minnesota, arrived accompanied by his wife and his daughter Jane [yeah, the baby trumped the mommy in getting named here] Mr. Robert Amerson, who will work at the Embassy of the United States of America as Information Manager. For the distinguished travelers, we give our cordial greetings of welcome.

It may well be that the example of this nation will be more important than its dollars or its words.

Edward R. Murrow, USIA Director, US Senate confirmation hearing, 1961

American diplomats today are charged with carrying out the challenging assignment of holding a mirror up to this country while proclaiming the tenets of democracy. What would my father have said when it was his country’s own president that hid in his fortified compound and threatened to deploy the military against peacefully protesting citizens?

The White House is now so heavily fortified that it resembles the monarchical palaces or authoritarian compounds of regimes in faraway lands …

Matt Zapotosky, The Washington Post

The Trump White House called in the National Guard, Custom and Border Protection, Immigration and Custom Enforcement, and the Bureau of Prisons, and active duty military were put on standby in response to the Washington DC protests. On June 1, smoke, tear gas, pepper balls, and, according to protesters, rubber bullets, were used to clear peaceful protesters from Lafayette Square across from the White House just before President Trump’s bible photo opportunity.

The use of the military to violently disperse peaceful protesters in front of the White House was the biggest gift we could possibly have given to Putin or Xi Jinping and to every other dictator around the world who delights in arguing that America’s government is no different than theirs.

Congressman Tom Malinowski, former Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor

The Trump administration has been a godsend for Xi, if only in making him seem like a reasonable leader.

Steven Lee Meyers, The New York Times

And yet, American diplomats continue to hold up the values of our country, to demonstrate that is it the people, not one president, who are America’s keepers.

We will not try to hide our painful struggle, and instead believe that on his public debate will help us to emerge better and stronger.

US Embassy, Ankara, Turkey

May we continue to hold our country in our hands, protecting it from abuse by the ignorant bully in the White House.

American people are using our voices to demand change, and that is something that could not happen in so many countries where I served.

Ambassador Dana Shell Smith, former career diplomat

We must insist on change. Hourly. Daily. Weekly. Until we have restored the White House to thoughtful, intelligent, alliance-building leadership once again.