Billy Joel & His Family vs. The Nazis

 

Two years ago in late August, 2017, Billy Joel walked out on stage at Madison Square Garden, where he is the Artist-in-Residence performing monthly to standing room only crowds. On the left side of his dark suit jacket, a yellow Star of David was pinned prominently over his heart. For the singer/songwriter who has performed more than 100 times at one of the world’s premiere concert arenas, sold more than 150 million records and won virtually every music award, it was a bold and dramatic action, surprising some of his fans, since Joel is known for not being overtly political.

 

Joel’s jolt came less than ten days after the White Supremacist/Nazi march in Charlottesville, Virginia, where a young women walking to peacefully protest the anti-Semitic and racial hatred spewed by the “Unite the Right” mob, was deliberately run down and killed by a White Supremacist driving a car into the group of counter-protestors.. To compound the terrible and deadly events in Charlottesville, Donald Trump went on television and refused to place responsibility on the Nazis and White Supremacists, but instead, stated there were “very fine people on both sides.”

 

Trump’s despicable statement “enraged”, Joel, as he told The Times of Israel.

“No, Nazis aren’t good people, “ Joel said. “My old man, his family got wiped out. They were slaughtered at Auschwitz. Him and his parents were able to get out.”

Joel’s comments about his family’s treatment by the Nazis was an understatement.

 

In Billy Joel: The Definitive Biography, by Fred Schruers (Crown Archetype Books, NY, NY, 2014), the author details the systematic campaign by the Nazi’s against Joel’s ancestors, simply because they were successful Jews living in Nuremberg, Germany, where Billy Joel’s father (Helmut, later Americanized to Howard) was born.

 

Joel’s paternal grandfather, Karl Amson Joel, started a business in household linens in 1927, which he called the Karl Joel Linen Goods Company. His business was so profitable that he, his wife and their young son — Billy Joel’s father — were able to move into a wealthy section of Nuremberg. As Karl Joel’s business rose in prominence and the Nazis rose in power, the Nazis fixed their sights on eliminating the Joel’s business and the family operating it.

 

The Billy Joel biography reports that “in the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum database titled ‘Index of Jews whose German Nationality was Annulled by Nazi Regime, 1935–1944, Billy’s grandfather is falsely accused of “monetary and currency offenses” in the records of two separate files.

 

“After taking part in the making of the documentary The Joel Files,I realized what the film’s director, Beate Thalberg had discovered,” Billy told the book’s writer, Fred Schruers. “ My relatives were hounded out of Germany at an absurd price — a paradigm of the economic casualties during the Nazi takeover.”

 

But Karl Joel was not simply an “economic casualty: he and his family were specific targets of the Nazis and were used as examples by Nazi propagandist Julius Streicher in the virulently anti-Semitic publication Der Sturmer. Streicher ran front page articles calling Billy’s grandfather a “Yid,” and falsely accused him of underpaying and sexually harassing his workers. The Nazis made up thousands of lies against Germany’s Jews to dehumanize them and turn their political base against them.

 

Billy Joel’s father was one of four Jews in his Nuremberg classroom, forced to sit apart from their classmates, and forbidden from using the public swimming pool. As circumstances for Jews in Germany became more dire, and Karl Joel was arrested three times while being called the “Jew Joel,” a “bloodsucker,” and “oppressor,” young Helmut (Billy’s father) was sent to a boarding school in Switzerland. Meanwhile, Der Sturmer continued its relentless Twitter-like name calling attacks on Karl Joel, labeling him the “Nuremberg Linen-Jew Joel.”

 

Karl Joel was ordered by the Nazis to stamp all of his outgoing packages with a “J”, a German plant manager was installed at his company, and suppliers began to boycott him. In June, 1938, a new law was passed requiring all Jewish businesses to be forfeited to Aryan ownership. Karl Joel’s linen business was taken from him at one-fifth its’ actual value.

 

“My grandparents fled in the night,” Billy Joel told author Schruers, “using fake passports, and escaped across the Swiss border to Zurich. They got in touch with my father at his school and told him they had left Germany for good.”

 

To escape Europe, Billy Joel’s grandparents and his father “secured places aboard a cruise ship called the Andora Star, for a 1939 passage across the Atlantic to Cuba, where they resided for two years before the United States — strictly limiting the immigration of Jews to protect “the ideal of American homogeneity — allowed them entry. Karl Joel’s brother Leon and his family were not so fortunate. They boarded the SS St.Louis, and after the Voyage of the Damned was refused entry in Havana and at every US Port, Billy Joel’s aunt, uncle and family were send back to Europe, and executed in the gas chambers at Auschwitz.

 

Billy’s father, fluent in German and trained as a concert pianist, was drafted into the US Army in 1943, fighting in General George Patton’s Third Army. When Howard Joel’s battalion liberated the Dachau Concentration Camp near Munich in April, 1945, he didn’t know that his relatives had been slaughtered at Auschwitz.

 

I interviewed Billy Joel in Oyster Bay, Long Island, earlier this month, as part of my work on the official biography of his fellow Long Island singer/songwriter Harry Chapin. I wanted to thank him for wearing the Star of David as a powerful statement of protest to what happened in Charlottesville, and as a strong rebuke of Trump’s depiction of “fine people on both sides.” I converted to Judaism 40 years ago, and married a Jewish girl from Joel’s hometown of Hicksville, Long Island, so his bold public action was particularly poignant for me.

 

“There are no good Nazis, “ Joel said. “They killed my family members.”

Then he told me how the Nazis, once they confiscated his grandfather’s linen factory, used the machines in the factory to make the black and white striped prison uniforms which they forced Jews to wear, including his family members who were executed at Auschwitz. It was too macabre and twisted to imagine.

 

“I’ll continue to fight them as long as I can, and to use my voice to speak out against that kind of hate, “ Billy Joel said.

 

I thought back to his simple, straight-forward and quietly, powerful act of pinning a yellow Star of David above his heart on his dark suit, and thought of the decades of family and global history behind it, and the millions of Jews and non-Jews for whom Billy Joel’s voice rang out clear and true, without having to sing one note on that August night in New York.

To Beto, or Not to Beto

 

To Beto, or not to Beto, seems to be the question among all of us who want to support the best candidate, or team of candidates, to beat Trump, flip the US Senate to the Democrats, and put humanity and the environment back to the top of this country’s agenda.

 

My son, Matt Villano and I met Beto last May at a fundraiser in Santa Rosa, California, when he was running against ‘Lyin Ted Cruz to represent Texas in the U.S. Senate. We wanted to meet O’Rourke because we admired his courage to buck the odds, and take on such a despicable symbol of hypocrisy in a heavily “Red” state. We weren’t disappointed.

 

Much like he’s doing now in Iowa, Beto came to a small local restaurant and addressed a few dozen of us about why he was running for the US Senate. He was smart, personable, and well-informed on the issues, and when I asked him what he was going to do about the “cages for children” which the Trump Administration constructed on the Texas/Mexico border, near O’Rourke’s Congressional District, he didn’t shy away from giving an impassioned, detailed and impressive answer. As an El Paso native and Representative, he knew and cared about the issue of immigration more than any other public official of our time.

 

Beto’s charisma and passion for those without the privilege he knew he was fortunate to have, reminded me of Robert F. Kennedy. I told Robert Francis O’Rourke that I had campaigned for Bobby Kennedy in 1964, when he was running for the US Senate from NY against an entrenched GOP Senator when I was 15 years old. Now, more than 50 years later, in the presence of my 43-year old son, I felt we were experiencing another of those unique presences in American political life. Having worked with Mario Cuomo for eight years, I knew them when I saw them.

 

But, it was easy to be for Beto when he ran against the creepy Cruz. It was the quintessential battle of good vs. evil, Don Quixote vs. windmills, and a young, caring and charismatic public official struggling uphill, to unseat a shrivel-souled, cynical, hollowed-out man. Beto for President is not such an easy, nor binary, choice — not just yet. We have many miles to go before we vote.

 

Like many other sensible humans who care about the future of our world, I worked hard in 2016 to defeat Donald Trump, doing voter protection in North Carolina, only to discover that the Clinton campaign in that key state, like the candidate, was a catastrophe, as it was in swing states around the country. Like many other good people, I immediately supported the Resistance to Trump, marching and backing court challenges to his every illegal, inhumane act. And, like other citizen activists, I donated generously of both my money and time to Congressional campaigns around the country to flip the House of Representatives in 2018. We succeeded, and I will again do all I can to defeat Trump in 2020, keep the House Democratic and flip control of the US Senate.

 

How do we best achieve that? Who is the best Democrat — and the best team of people — to accomplish those imperatives? If we don’t bust up the Trump Criminal Enterprise, knock out the GOP from the White House and the US Senate, the future of this democracy, the rule of law, and human rights in this country is tenuous, at best, and the future of this planet, environmentally, is lost. That would mean a life of pure hell for my three granddaughters, ages 10, 7 and 3, and I will not sit silently by and allow that to happen.

 

I’ve given early money to the Presidential campaigns of Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar, to the US Senate Campaign of Mark Kelly in Arizona, and the yet-to-be-announced Senate campaign of Amy McGrath of Kentucky against Mitch McConnell. I knew Beto would break all fund-raising records within the first 24-hours of announcing his candidacy for President, so, despite receiving 6 email appeals for money from his team on that first day — and three text messages — I resisted giving to Beto’s campaign just yet. I want to allow a few more flowers to bloom.

 

The truth is, like many Democrats and Independents, I’m not sure who the strongest candidate would be yet, to beat Trump and the GOP. Yes, Biden would be strong, but not without a younger female running mate, like Amy Klobuchar, or preferably a person of color who would electrify the electorate, like Stacey Abrams, or, perhaps, Kamala Harris or Cory Booker.

 

As a 70-year old white male, Biden’s age (76) cuts a couple of ways with me: I love the fact that he, like Bernie (78) and Ruth Bader Ginsburg (85), prove that age is irrelevant to intellect and commitment to do good. But on the campaign trail, I just cannot see Biden bounding up on top of bars — Beto-like — in small pubs in Iowa, New Hampshire, Michigan & Pennsylvania — and I think it will take that kind of unrelenting energy to win. Vigor can’t be faked.

 

I love the depth and breadth of the Democratic field of candidates — from the bright, 37 year old Pete “Buttkicker” (as I’ve come to calling the Mayor of South Bend, Indiana), to 68-year old Governor Jay Inslee of Washington, who has made climate change the central issue of his campaign. No one is more articulate on financial, consumer and banking issues than Elizabeth Warren, nor is any other candidate as well-positioned geographically and politically as Amy Klobuchar, a star on the Senate Judiciary Committee. I want Julian Castro to be less formal than he is, but the thought of Florida’s Cubans voting for a President named Castro is incomprehensible. His twin-brother has a far stronger chance to flip a US Senate seat in Texas, especially with Beto — who has already demonstrated powerful coattails in his home state — at the top of the Democratic national ticket.

 

As someone who grew up in an ethnic, working-class family and whose older brothers detested the privilege of the Kennedys, I was affronted by Beto’s beautiful Vanity Fair all-too posed cover photo by Annie Leibovitz, and by O’Rourke’s Obama-like arrogance that he was “born to be in it.” Please spare us the hubris, especially after being bathed in maniacally false pride by Trump for three years. I’m not about to sarcastically christen him as the “magical man-boy”, as the New York Times’ Maureen Dowd did, but Beto, more than anyone in the Democratic field, has to be meticulously careful to avoid becoming the kind of celebrity candidate that working-families grow to resent, and vote against.

 

Yet, as a writer and media professional who worked with the eloquent Mario Cuomo, I recognize the power and great risk of becoming a media darling, and the potency and danger of skateboarding atop social media, especially when confronting a sick, symbiotic relationship between television, Twitter, and a twisted antagonist, like Trump.

 

Beto’s test, far bigger than the one he faced in Texas, will be to find just the right balance of riding the tiger of media and popular adoration without ending up inside, and taming it to come to this country’s rescue. If he can do that, O’Rourke will not only have earned the Democratic nomination, but the Presidency as well.

“Love is Not Ill-Mannered; Love is Not Happy With Evil…” the Apostle Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians

 

 

 

Martin Luther King Jr. Day, 2019 was marked by two trains running, at top speed toward each other. The phrase, borrowed from the August Wilson play Two Trains Running from his Pittsburgh Cycle of ten plays portraying the African American experience, painfully depicted the powerful forces at work around the Civil Rights movement in the mid-1960’s, at the time of the assassination of Malcolm X. It’s title is appropriate for describing what happened this month, more than 50 years after Dr. Martin Luther King’s own assassination.

 

A group of predominantly white Catholic boys from a Catholic High School in Kentucky traveled to Washington, DC, to participate in the March for Life—an annual gathering of opponents to the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision of January 22, 1973, which protected a women’s right to privacy on the enormously personal issue of deciding under what circumstances (for example, rape) and when to abort a fetus. The students made the trip with the full support of their Catholic school, which provided adult chaperones, and did nothing to discourage the teenaged boys from wearing Trump Campaign “Make America Great Again” hats, which have become a symbol of intolerance, misogyny, and racial and ethnic hatred, as Trump’s rhetoric on issues of race, women rights and keeping Mexicans and Muslims out of the USA has become more and more incendiary—reminiscent, in fact of the anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant hate speech of the KKK throughout the last century..

 

This particular weekend of the MLKing Holiday 2019, the annual rally to protest Roe v. Wade—where Christian churches bus in thousands of protesters–coincided with the Women’s March , and with the 30th day of the Trump Shutdown of the US Government, over the issue of  building a border wall on the Mexican/American border to keep non-whites out of the country. Taking place at the same time around the Lincoln Memorial, long a symbol for racial equality, was a rally of Indigenous Peoples, attended by several prominent Native American leaders. As is frequently the case during major demonstrations in the Nation’s capitol, fringe groups pop up to spread their vile messages, like the so-called “Black Hebrew Israelites”, purveyors of homophobia, anti-Semitism and racial hatred.  They’ve been showing up in NYC’s Times Square for decades where they scream into a portable PA system and insult everyone who walks past them. No one—Blacks, Jews, Gays or law enforcement personnel– takes them seriously, since they are little more than deranged street theatre.

 

The trains traveling in opposite directions ran into each other on Martin Luther King weekend in Washington, DC., and the image that rocketed around the nation was of a pink-cheeked White Boy from the Kentucky Catholic School, wearing a “MAGA” hat, smirking at a Vietnam Veteran and Native American elder, Nathan Phillips, and surrounded by his laughing Catholic School classmates, all sporting red & white MAGA hats,  taunting the non-white Native American elder.

 

I’ve watched at least a dozen different videotapes on the encounter, read countless stories, and have been barraged by the blather put forth by the PR firm (yes, PR firm) hired by Catholic White Boy’s family, that he was a good, tolerant kid, just trying to keep the peace, encouraged by his adult chaperones to do so.   That message simply doesn’t square with the fact that he and his all-white friends from their privileged religious school, kept their MAGA hats on throughout the entire encounter, with not one student—nor an adult guiding them—recognizing that to non-whites in this country MAGA hats have become the symbolic Swastika or Confederate Flag of the 21stCentury.  To whine for sympathy while continuing to wear those symbols of hate, is to throw sand into the eyes of the nation.

 

Still worse, is the fact that none of these teenage boys—nor their adult chaperones from the Kentucky Catholic School, nor the school administrators—seem to have learned or understood the Apostle Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, 13, where he writes:

 

“ Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous, or conceited or proud; love is not ill-mannered, or selfish, or irritable; love does not keep a record of wrongs; love is not happy with evil, but is happy with the truth. Love never gives up: it’s faith, hope and patience never fail….Meanwhile, these three remain: faith, hope and love; and the greatest of these is love.”

 

Perhaps if these good Catholic boys studied and understood the words of Christ and his Apostle more, or read the Twitter Feed of Trump less, they might become better humans, and truly make American greater and more humane than its’ ever been.  Or, they could just follow the peaceful, love-driven actions of Nathan Phillips, Vietnam Veteran, who was fulfilling the dreams of Martin Luther King, Jr., and the teachings of Paul on a holiday weekend intended for service to others—an inclusive message at the center of Catholicism.

American Ninja Father

 

 

My two oldest granddaughters, ages 9 and 7, are obsessed with the TV programs American Ninja Warrior Junior and American Ninja Warrior.  

 

Since their father, my son, restricts their screen time, they make the most of the limited windows of opportunity they have to watch the tube. They scream like cheerleaders for their favorite competitors—girl, boy or adult.    The obstacles put in the way of each contestant are always physical:  swinging on ropes, swinging on a big “hot dog,” (as their 3-year old sister describes one game), climbing walls, or swimming under water and opening doors.

 

This past week, they were bummed when a young adult with an asthmatic condition missed winning the contest by a few seconds, slowed under water by shortness of breath.  Yet, right under their noses, there was another Ninja Warrior with a breathing problem who was vanquishing obstacles right and left, as they popped up in all forms, physical and emotional.

 

Their dad has inherited my sinus condition, and has layered on top of it a few allergies, a slight asthmatic condition and three daughters, each of whom makes their own set of demands on his attention and time.  I was a pretty good father, but he is far, far, far better and always present for them in all things, big and small.

 

Earlier in the day of their Ninja disappointment, their father dealt with a back-upped toilet, and an ant invasion—the kind of obstacles you never see in competition game shows on TV.

 

Then, a few hours later, we all went out to dinner, heading to a favorite pizza and pasta place.  All three girls were very excited.  We arrived at the no-reservations place shortly after they started serving dinner, and there was an hour-long wait.  Undeterred and still in high spirits, we walked up the block to another pizza/pasta place, and discovered there was no open table for 3 hours.

 

The girls started to whine and moan about being hungry, and while we walked back to the Honda Odyssey which would carry us all home, the girls’ grandmother tripped and fell while she was holding the 3-year old tightly in her arms.  We were all momentarily stunned, and the American Ninja father soothed the frightened feelings of all three of his daughters who were worried about the safety of their baby sister and their Grammy.

 

We piled into the car for the odyssey home, while the American Ninja Father quickly ran through several strategies to overcome the latest obstacle put in our path.  Remarkably, and while breathing deeply to keep his cool, he fashioned a way toward the finish line, while the youngest was insisting upon pasta, “because I fell,” and the two older girls were howling over being hungry.  These obstacles had teeth and tempers.

 

We walked in the front door of his house, and the American Ninja Father set a world record for sprinting to the stove and simultaneously whipping up a dinner of scrambled eggs, croissant rolls and pasta for dinner.  The obstreperous obstacles had been tamed, and the day had been saved.  For the American Ninja Father, operating without the glare of TV cameras or the financial rewards of winning a commercial competition, it was just another day, as tomorrow would be.

 

 

Trump, Tabloid TV & The Truth

 

I had trouble sleeping last night.

 

I made the mistake of viewing Leslie Stahl’s October 14, 2018, “60 Minutes” Interview on-line, before bedtime, and it gave me a terrible case of agita all night long.

 

Here was Trump, back for the second time in two years, with an A-list TV journalist, Leslie Stahl, who confers credibility upon the subjects of her interviews.  Just appearing on camera with her elevates the Self Made Fraud’s status, and he knows it.

 

Trump dominated his time on the Tube with his endless stream of lies—lies that flow as endlessly as his breath—and Stahl’s comebacks were too little, too infrequent, or non existent. Here are just a few examples:

 

 

  • Trump matter-of-factly lied about the country being more divisive under Obama, and Stahl failed to question the lie, or demand proof;

 

  • Trump bragged about being responsible for the best economy in the nation’s history; Stahl failed to point out that it has been a 10-year long recovery, started under Obama, following the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression, when unemployment hit 10% as Obama took office;

 

  • Trump made light of getting his Mob during his Mississippi Hate Speech to laugh at Dr. Ford, and despite Stahl’s pushing back on his inhumanity in doing so, she was silent in the face of Trump’s justification that it was payback for the treatment of Kavanaugh.  When Trump voiced the rich, white man’s lament that Kavanaugh’s life was “ruined,” Stahl failed to ask “What about Dr. Ford?”  She also failed to mention the 100,000 documents on Kavanaugh’s background that were suppressed, or the severe limits place upon the FBI’s investigation, or the recently filed formal judicial complaints against Kavanaugh by a number of Federal Judges.

 

  • In the context of Trump’s verbal abuse of Dr. Ford where he openly mocked her before his own angry Mississippi Mob, Stahl failed to bring up the charges of sexual harassment or abuse against Trump by 19 women, all of whom he has dismissed as “liars.”  Stahl also failed to ask Trump why he always sides with men accused of sexual assault or harassment (Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, Rob Porter, Judge Roy Moore, and Brett Kavanaugh).

 

  • Stahl failed to question Trump about the in-depth New York Times investigative report about the Trump family’s massive tax evasion scheme going back 30 years, and their scheme of defrauding federal, state and NYC taxpayers as well as illegally raising the rents on their own tenants for decades.

 

  • Stahl failed to ask Trump about the allegations in the new book out by a Pulitzer Prize winning reporter documenting Trump’s decades long relationship with the Russian Mafia, and the Mueller indictments of many Russian Oligarchs and organizations;

 

  • Trump stonewalled about the Saudis murder of a Washington Post Journalist  and American resident, and Stahl failed to ask him the obvious question of whether his own “Enemy of The People,”  Stalin-esque rants vs. journalists and specifically, the Washington Post,  might have emboldened the Saudi Prince to order the brutal murder of this journalist;

 

  • Stahl failed to question the Kushner & Trump financial entanglements with the Saudis, and how that might be impacting Trump’s own response to the case; She also failed to press on the issue of whether US Intelligence officials knew ahead of time of the threats on the journalist’s life, and what information, if any, Jared Kushner may have shared with the Saudis.

 

  • Stahl asked Trump for a”pledge” not to fire Robert Mueller, and when he refused to give it, she failed to follow-up with a question on the guilty pleas, indictments and convictions of his former Campaign Manager, National Security Director, top aides and personal attorney.

 

  • Trump claimed to know more about NATO’s importance to world peace than Defense Secretary James Mattis, and Stahl failed to challenge Trump on that empty assertion.

 

Tragically, Leslie Stahl’s gift of free prime-time television to Trump, reminded me of Meredith Viera’s similarToday Show gift seven years ago, when the Self Made Fraud lied to her about having sent investigators to Hawaii to dig up information on Obama,  “proving” he wasn’t born in the USA.  Viera, a kind-hearted, good soul,unaccustomed to such bald-face lying on national television by the people she interviewed, blinked incredulously a few times—like a deer in the headlights– but did not challenge Trump’s lies, giving him the golden opportunity to launch his pernicious and racist  “birther movement,” during breakfast  to millions of Today’s viewers.

 

Trump, a creation of tabloid tawdriness and fictitious TV over-exposure, intuitively understands the same thing about American television that trial lawyers–like his scummy chum Roy Cohn–understand about juries: say anything, and it cannot be unheard. In a fast-moving TV interview, there is no judge to overrule such lies; only a journalist, overwhelmed by the time constraints of the medium. In fractions of seconds, an impression is made, and when repeated often enough, it takes on the trappings of truth. Trump knows this better than anyone since Roger Ailes—the man who sold a repackaged Richard Nixon to the nation in 1968– and he has Bill Shine—the sex abuse apologist from Fox News—at his side each day to reinforce it.

 

With the stakes so high for all of us who believe in human decency, the importance of truth and the rule of law, the solutions for good journalists and credible media organizations are draconian: deny Trump airtime altogether until he stops lying, or call him out on every single lie, each and every time he or a member of his administration utters one. Only ABC’s George Stephanopolous, CNN’s Chris Cuomo,  and MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow and a handful of others have shown a willingness to do this among television journalists.

 

Alternatively, we can continue to push hard to have Trump’s lifetime of lies and fraud tested in Courts of law at the national, state and local levels and before Grand Juries, as well as in the court of public opinion at the polls.  Trump knows full well that each of those remedies take more time than a quickie TV interview, and that his constant hate speech, lying, and inhumane public polices can do enormous damage to individuals and institutions before any final verdict comes in, and while his cash flow continues.

 

Years after the public grew tired of The Apprentice, NBC cancelled it, yet the corrosive effect of brainless, low cost/high profit “reality” programming on television—and on public life—is still being felt.   Television adapted and survived, with many viewers changing the channel to other forms of entertainment, like HBO and Showtime, and now Amazon.  The question is, can democracy survive the onslaught of a fact-free universe, fast and obscene amounts of money, and increasing inhumanity, and if it doesn’t, what alternative form of government will we turn to?

 

Enlisting for Life in the Fight for Women

 

The closest Mario Cuomo ever came to running for President was during the United States Senate Judiciary Committee Hearings on the nomination of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court, in October, 1991.

Cuomo was so furious over the timidity of the Democrats, who controlled the Senate Judiciary Committee at the time—Chaired by Senator Joe Biden—and their failure to leap to Anita Hill’s defense, that it almost pushed him into the 1992 Presidential race. Cuomo was outraged over how terribly he believed women—personified by the dignified Professor Hill—were being mistreated by Republican Senators on the Judiciary Committee, how the Democrats failed to stop the GOP bullying of her, and how they didn’t make Professor Hill’s war into their own.

I thought of Cuomo’s visceral reaction to the Thomas Hearings while I was watching the Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee Hearings on the Supreme Court Nomination of Brett Kavanaugh.  I carefully listened to the wrenching testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, sometimes choking back tears at the pain she had endured as a 15-year old girl, and the trauma that haunted her for the next 36 years.  I intuitively understood Dr. Ford’s years of repressing a bad memory, since I had done the same thing for more than three decades concerning a gun-related incident in my own family, that did not involve sexual abuse, only uncontrolled anger.

So when Judge Kavanaugh descended into raw aggression and a toddler-like tantrum from the beginning of his testimony, I again thought of my father’s out-of-control temper as his way of trying to bull himself through any bad news.  Only, my father wasn’t a federal judge, nor a nominee for the highest court in the nation.  He was a working stiff, a maintenance man, with a drinking problem, and all of his children bore scars from his explosive anger.

Instead, here was Kavanaugh, a spoiled, Prep School rich boy, who lived a gilded-life like the President who nominated him, and chose to answer an allegation of sexual abuse and attempted rape with the kind of aggressiveness and uncontrolled behavior some of his high school and college peers remembered about him.  Only this time, he wasn’t under the influence of alcohol, which made his ugly un-judgelike behavior even more bizarre.

Kavanaugh’s outburst also stripped bare his inherent partisan hatchet-man role, and his fealty to conspiracy theories.  He channeled Donald Trump when he screamed at Democratic Senators for never getting over Trump’s election, and went after the Clinton’s for a “revenge-grudge” against him.  Odd, since it was Kavanaugh, as an assistant to Special Prosecutor Kenneth Star, who spent two years and three million dollars pursuing a nut-case conspiracy theory that the Clintons were behind the suicide of Vince Foster.

But Kavanaugh’s crazed carrying-on was not the only distressing part of the Senate Judiciary Committee showdown between Dr. Ford and Trump’s mini-me.   The failure of Senate Democrats to get equally emotional and hard edged was just as disturbing.  I could hear Mario Cuomo’s voice in the back of my head, raising the following questions:

  •  Why the hell didn’t at least one Democratic Senator put the bullying Kavanaugh in his place, and tell him that HE was under investigation, NOT them?
  •  Why didn’t the Democratic Senators have a cross-examination strategy?  Why didn’t all the Democrats cede their time to the two female Prosecutor Senators among them, Kamala Harris and Amy Klobuchar—the Senators who made Kavanaugh most uncomfortable—to have a consistent, continuous and coordinated cross-examination?
  • ·Why didn’t the Ranking Minority Member on the Committee, Senator Diane Feinstein, object on Personal Points of Privilege EVERY time any GOP Senator referred to or disparaged her. Feinstein, my own Senator whom I am supporting for re-election,  should have insisted on speaking and correcting GOP lies each time they misrepresented what she did with Dr. Ford’s letter, and should have dared Grassley to shut her up.
  •  Why didn’t Richard Blumenthal use his great quote on “credibility” to bring up Kavanaugh’s lack of credibility in his past testimony and his lying, under oath, about stolen Democratic documents, and the Bush Administration’s torture policy?

 

  •   Why did Democratic Senators quietly sit by and not scream Points of Order, when Senator Lindsey Graham unilaterally took another 5 minutes—after ceding his 5 minutes to Phoenix Sex Crimes Prosecutor Rachel Mitchell?
  •  Why did Senator Mazie Hirono not scream out “Point of Order,” at Judiciary Committee Grassley when the GOP abandoned the use of  Prosecutor Mitchell despite Senator Grassley’s commitment to Hirono and all Senators that ALL GOP Senators had ceded their time to Prosecutor Mitchell to cross-examine Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh?
  •  Why didn’t one single Democrat leap to Senator Klobuchar’s defense when the overly aggressive, nasty Kavanaugh sneered at her and asked if SHE  ever became “black out” drunk?
  •  And why did not one Democratic Senator raise the issue of how Kavanaugh’s aggressive, out-of-control manner, behavior and histrionics were exactly like the aggressive behavior of every out-of-control alcohol driven sexual predator?

I remembered Mario Cuomo’s white-hot anger at injustice on this historic day of testimony by Dr. Ford and Kavanaugh. I could see Anita Hill’s quiet dignity in the face of a cascade of insults from crapulent white men, satisfied in their own self-righteousness.   I thought of all of that, and of the bright, hopeful eyes of my three young granddaughters, and resolved even more to fight with my last breath to repair the world for them.