Barack Obama and John Lewis Serve a Double Netflix Helping of MLK Day Respect and Dignity

President Barack Obama awards the 2010 Presidential Medal of Freedom to Congressman John Lewis in a ceremony in the East Room of the White House, Feb. 15, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

Last night Bob and I watched Episode 1 of Netflix’s latest entertainment experiment, My Next Guest Needs No Introduction with David Letterman. Though the program is instantly addictive, audiences will not be able to enjoy the familiar, sedentary luxury of binging – at least not for a while. Billed as a “monthly event,” Netflix is taking a light gamble that the next act of David Letterman’s storied career will prove to be destination television. Future A-list guests include Oscar-winner and humanitarian George Clooney, and international social justice icon Malala Yousafzai.

If Episode 1 proves a standard, Netflix has an important, topical non-fiction hit on its hands.  My Next Guest is must-see TV, but don’t expect the old Letterman throwing postcards through fake windows to cheesy sound effects. This is an older, wiser, more confident David Letterman – with magnificently groomed Ralph Waldo Emerson facial hair to underscore the shift. As Esquire’s Matt Miller writes:

“Though the beard might suggest Letterman is in a gives-no-fucks stage of his career, this show is far more mature, more relaxed, and at many times more touching than his previous one…This isn’t a stand-up special. It’s not a late-night talk show. Letterman’s new show is something deeper, more valuable.”

Anytime your guest is former President Barack Obama, value is a given. And not just because of ex-POTUS’s self-deprecating comedic timing. In these troubled times, Obama’s return to the public stage proves a soothing tonic to wounded, exhausted and humiliated political spirits. The quiet wisdom of a Nobel Prize-winning leader, a scandal-free, empathetic human being who’s never done learning and reflecting. Barack Obama is always going to be one of the smartest, most thoughtful people in any room. And in conversation with a transformed, more outwardly self-aware Letterman, an engaging, witty and touching hour unfolds. The communion is a true give and take.

Toward the end of the program, Obama turns the tables on his interviewer, asking Letterman if he ever feels the serendipity of fortune combining with his natural talents. A question to which the former Late Night and Late Show host gives a forceful reply:

“This is what I’m struggling with at this point in my life – I have been nothing but lucky… When John Lewis and his friends, in March of ’65, were marching across that bridge … in April of ’65, me and my friends were driving to Florida to get on a cruise ship to go to the Bahamas because there was no age limit to purchase alcohol, and we spent the entire week – pardon my French – shit-faced. Why wasn’t I in Alabama? Why wasn’t I aware? I’ve been nothing but lucky and the luck continues here this evening.”

Letterman’s honestly earned white guilt is more than academic exercise. Cut throughout the rich Obama interview are segments of the comedian’s visit to Selma, Alabama. There he connected with Civil Rights legend and longtime Georgia Congressman John Lewis to discuss the 1965 Bloody Sunday March, where a 25-year-old Lewis was beaten, and his skull fractured, as he and demonstrators tried to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

Letterman purposely keeps himself out of the conversation’s center. He is there to listen and learn, because Lewis has plenty to teach all of us about courage and conviction. There is no celebrity here. Just Dave the American Everyman (or Woman) looking desperately for reason, humility and a path to salvation from our self-inflicted, xenophobic national predicament.

I watched My Next Guest on the eve of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, just removed from Donald Trump, the anti-Obama in every conceivable way, labeling Haiti and African nations “shithole countries.” It’s a particularly on the nose time to consider the long-term loss the country experienced as a result of last year’s transition of power from 44 to 45.

This is not to engage in Obama hagiography. I was often a dogged critic of the cautious rationalism that prevented bolder action on a number of generational issues. But to compare the basic goodness and global respect enjoyed by our previous President, to the moral cesspool and international laughingstock (when he’s not hated outright) that is Donald Trump? As tragic as it is unfair to the three million plus Americans who popularly preferred Hillary Clinton and the legacy of Obama’s economic, environmental and social policies.

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, David Letterman’s reverence for the sacrifices of John Lewis stand in stark contrast to Trump’s childish taunting of the Civil Rights icon. Lewis’ steadfast refusal to accept a self-aggrandizing, ignorant white supremacist as the legitimate leader of a free and diverse nation chafes the Narcissist-in-Chief. That chafing also drives the current administration’s singular mission to dismantle every achievement of the Obama era, from greater access to healthcare to important steps toward protecting the planet.

Trump’s racist bullying – at least it pertains to Obama and Lewis – stems from a place of naked envy. Because one can’t buy or tweet the way dignity and moral authority. Esteem is built by time and consistency, two currencies of which the racist pseudo-billionaire is acutely short.

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With 2018 Cubs Convention in Swing, Theo Tells Fans “We’re Not Done” at Pitching

“Even if we didn’t have a 2016 World Series World Series trophy safely tucked away to remind us that times have changed, the words and post-season actions of Cubs’ President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein would do the trick. The 2018 Cubs Convention kicked off this week, and attendees of the annual event were abuzz with the team’s latest moves to shore up a struggling 2017 pitching staff…

With free agent hurlers Yu Darvish and Alex Cobb still swirling in the Cubs orbit, it’s clear that Epstein’s assurance is more than bluster. The trapped and panicked offseason mistakes of years past have been completely displaced by methodical, considered logic.”

Read the full post at Wrigleyville Nation.

2018: It’s Here, It’s Blear and Full of Sneer

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2018 burst out of the gate spraying bizarre and unpleasant phenomena like so much buckshot. At the national level, it’s fairly clear that our President is an unstable, corrupt, half-literate, white supremacist. Understated facts seem to pass for fashionable dissent this year, as congressional cynics and ignorant voters pretend this is patriotic American status quo. So here goes. Donald J. Trump is bad for the country in every conceivable moral, secure and rational sense – 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365. He needs to be removed from office while we still have a country left.

At the regional level, Chicago has been so uninhabitable this first week of January, our famous rats are freezing to death. Back in the late 1990s, there was a joke making the pop cultural rounds (memes were not yet a thing): in the end times, we’ll still have rats, cockroaches and Cher. With the ex-Mrs. Bono/Allman strutting through a 2018 concert tour while Windy City rodents give up the fight, she is now the likeliest of resilient species to survive deadly climate change.

The first week of the new year has also presented a variety of personal challenges for me. Some of these were consciously chosen, for example selecting January as the month to simultaneously give up carbs, sugar and alcohol. Others hurdles are happenstance, like my estranged, mentally ill father bombarding my inbox with four senseless Yahoo! E-cards in five days.

All I can tell you is that the confluence of crap that flew this week (which assuredly includes the national and regional stressors) resulted in a cleansing Friday morning sob – catalyzed by a missing sock. Equilibrium is in short supply.

Perhaps this week’s jarring, frigid threats have adopted a heightened intensity because they follow the most mellow and unstructured 10-day accord in recollection. Online and in real-life, I rarely stop moving. Depending on which day you ask, I’ll say this is because I’m hustling to create community and opportunity, or that I’m the victim of my own subconscious dysfunction. A darker self addicted to achievement, operating in perpetual fight or flight mode to avoid some undefined danger. Either way it’s productive.

This way of life also produces acute periods of burnout. And when I bid my day job a 2017 adieu on Thursday, December 21, I felt fully particularly singed by the following events:

  • Bob and I married on August 19, an only-in-the-movies perfect summer day that was nonetheless the culmination of a three-month engagement and planning gauntlet.
  • We took exactly one day off after the wedding weekend before I was asked to leave the husband to deal with a monthlong, international corporate crisis. The trip was canceled three days before boarding owing to a separate, more acute, local panic that lasted until Thanksgiving. In between there were rush immunizations, a flurry of shopping and packing, and much hand-wringing over a long separation from the man to whom I’d just said “I do.” All that adrenaline for naught.
  • At the same time post-wedding employment chaos unfolded, I co-wrote a non-fiction book and met an October 1 manuscript deadline. Anyone who’s ever completed a long form work of journalism, which requires interviewing, transcribing and developing coherent, connected stories from numerous sources, knows the unique mix of excited rush and sheer terror.
  • The #MeToo movement. I don’t need to explain to women what this season-long and still unfolding sociopolitical movement has asked of each of us – publicly and privately. The grappling with the horrors large and small that dot our pasts, the pre-holiday thrill of watching ensconced, menacing, powerful perverts topple like so many fetid dominoes, even as we wondered if there would be real, lasting change after the purge.
  • Did I mention Donald Trump stubbornly remains the humiliating, heartless and vacuous President of the United States?

By contrast, during the last glorious week between Christmas 2017 and New Year’s Day 2018, time and cold reality suspended. For the first time in years, languishing through unplanned, relatively news-free days (by deliberate choice), I rested. I lived in the moment. I had an indoor honeymoon with my best friend and the love of my life. I read the most recent issue of The Atlantic cover to cover; binged watched quality television while Bob and I held hands. We were an island of simple pleasures, removed from winter’s assault and the frenzied business of an exhausted mind in perpetual motion.

The peace was so – to use an incongruous word that is no less accurate – intense, that 2018’s opening sprint of national, local and personal madness still assumes manageable proportion. I’m clinging to the shards of a zen hangover with everything I’ve got.