Walt Whitman saw Donald Trump coming: “Genuine belief seems to have left us. The underlying principles of the States are not honestly believed in”

Donald Trump; Walt Whitman

Donald Trump; Walt Whitman (Credit: Reuters/Carlo Allegri/Wikimedia)

The most wise and visionary analysis of American culture in 2016 and this year’s presidential race comes from 1871. In the profound and prescient essay, “Democratic Vistas,” Walt Whitman addressed a nation struggling to unify after the Civil War, and in the turbulence of its democratic struggle, continuing to fail to extend its promise of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” to all its people.

“Leaves of Grass,” Whitman’s masterpiece, exercised as inspiration the beauty and brutality of any attempt to turn e pluribus unum into reality. The ongoing altercation to amplify what Whitman, in his poetry, called “the password primeval” and “the sign of democracy” has defined the presidential campaign in ways that would surprise even the sharpest of observers. Whitman believed that the sign of democracy included the voices of slaves, prostitutes, deformed persons, the diseased and despairing, and anyone else whose body gives off the human scent — “an aroma finer than prayer.”

Progress for African-Americans, women, various ethnic minorities, immigrants and LGBT people from 1871 to the present has shaped the story of America, giving emphasis to the possibility of personal and political improvement. With each wave of progressive achievement, there is a backlash. The Donald Trump coalition of angry, afraid and often openly bigoted voters helped to create a development that most pundits call “unpredictable.”

Whitman saw it all coming, much as he would have welcomed the then-unthinkable prospect of a woman president and would have provided healing insight into the difficulty and necessity of performing restorative work to protect and preserve the American experiment of self-governance, inseparable from the unique condition of American diversity.

“I say that democracy can never prove itself beyond cavil,” Whitman wrote in “Democratic Vistas, “until it found and luxuriantly grows its own forms of art, poems, schools, theology, displacing all that exists, or that has been produced anywhere in the past.” Democratic politics demand democratic culture, and without the committed cultivation of that culture, a question will forever haunt the new nation: “The people of our land may all read and write, and may all possess the right to vote — and yet the main things may be entirely lacking?”

Homogeneity is impossible in a country as diverse as America. It now seems that there are elements of American culture lacking the main things — curiosity, avidity, hospitality — while there are other elements failing and failing better as people dedicate their time, thought and labor to building a country of Whitman’s imagination; the “beloved community” of Martin Luther King’s dreams. If that project fails, as Whitman warned, “if America is eligible to downfall and ruin,” it is “eligible within herself, not without.”

One of the most amazing, and frightening, aspects of the candidacy of Donald Trump is how much it despises the American spirit. Trump and his supporters see the rapid diversification of the American public as worthy of hatred, fear and legal opposition. They see the emergence of women in positions of power throughout business, broadcast journalism and politics and react with either juvenile chauvinism or the tacit approval of sexual assault.

The American electoral system, according to Trump and his cultists, is nothing more than a massive conspiracy to undermine the will of the people. The entire country is no longer the source of pride, but in the words of the Republican presidential nominee, a “hellhole.”

The threat of ruin buried within has revealed itself. Whitman understood the dangers of cynicism and how such a mental virus can easily mutate into nihilism, as currently visible with the Trump campaign and its defense of anything in the service of elevating an authoritarian messiah to make American great again. “Never was there more hollowness at heart than at present,” Whitman wrote in 1871. “Genuine belief seems to have left us. The underlying principles of the States are not honestly believed in, nor is humanity itself believed in.”

In place of faith in democracy and human development, Whitman saw a corrosive strain of materialistic reduction to commercial utility in operation as criterion for every judgment. He likened money-making to the “magician’s serpent that ate up all the other serpents.” For all the praise that America deserves for “uplifting the masses out of their sloughs in materialistic development,” Whitman worried that Americans had created a “thoroughly-appointed body with no soul.” A soulless culture, Whitman warned, can easily give rise to manipulative tyrants.

Trump’s entrance onto the political landscape took advantage of the American worship of wealth, and now his vision of American greatness, is that of a body without a soul. The words of Abraham Lincoln imagining and celebrating a government “by, of, and for the people” became the benchmark of political excellence to Whitman, but not without the caveat that a culture of democracy is necessary to make the people fit for self-rule.

“The People are ungrammatical, untidy, and their sins gaunt and ill-bred,” Whitman acknowledged but not without the faith that the “miracle” of original identity, the “luminousness of real vision,” is within everyone’s grasp. The requirements for such an achievement are energy and investment. Democracy, Whitman explained, is “life’s gymnasium. “Freedom’s athletes” come out of the “training school” of political democracy.

Breaking with every imaginable convention in 1871, Whitman wrote that life’s gymnasium would suffer from decay and forever prove inadequate if women remained in secondary roles. It was not only important for women to gain equality with men but also to emerge as leaders alongside men. He wrote of women who defied the stereotypes of subordinate to male authority and called even then for “something more revolutionary.”

Whitman wrote, “The day when the deep questions of woman’s entrance amid the arenas of practical life, politics, and suffrage will not only be argued all around us, but may be put to decision, and real experiment.”

Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton is poised to take the presidency and enhance the experiment of women in leadership at the highest level, as many women mayors, governors, senators, CEOs, professors, doctors and mothers demonstrate strength and wisdom. Trump — and the chauvinism that he represents — displays belief in nothing, fear of competition and the untidy sin of vulgar reduction of humanity to category.

Enriching the democracy of America, and overcoming the nihilism that threatens it, necessitates what Ed Folsom, a Whitman scholar, calls “urban affection.” How do you respect and even have affection for strangers walking past you on city sidewalks? How does democracy begin, in Whitman’s words, to “freely branch and blossom in every individual?”

The choice between a candidate who can make a healthy contribution to that process and another who can only degrade it is almost too obvious for description. More important is the cultural life that will evolve or devolve after the next president takes the oath of office. Whitman did not seek hope in, what he called, “half-brained nominees, ignorant failures, and elected blatherers.” Instead, he found fortification for his faith in the arts and his belief that the arts could help create the culture of democracy so vital to the full exercise of political democracy.

Good art and good literature share certain features, Whitman argued, and it was these features that would prove most useful in the steady realization of the promise of the United States as a country and united states within each person. In “Leaves of Grass,” Whitman declared that he was the poet of the body and the soul. The temptation to compartmentalize is part of the disease infecting both the pursuit of happiness within each life and within the national life.

There are “invisible roots” connecting all experience, all spirits and forms, and Whitman advocated for the exploration of these roots. “To absorb and again effuse it, uttering words and products as from its midst, and carrying it into highest regions, is the work, or a main of the work, any country’s true author, poet, historian, lecturer, and perhaps even priest and philosopher,” he wrote.

Art that accomplished the discovery and description of our invisible roots is what has the power to strengthen and unite Americans. The critical inquiry then becomes one of cultural agenda. Is America building an infrastructure for artists, historians and even priests and philosophers to find the invisible roots of our citizenship and humanity? If not, future incarnations of Donald Trump – perhaps more politically savvy and less given to self-sabotage — will soon gain control.

There are two hindsight perspectives on Whitman’s prescience in 1871. One is to consider how many problems still persist and adopt a cynicism that leads only to paralysis. The “nothing will ever change” attitude not only ignores history but also shapes history. One can only imagine if the contributors to movements for civil rights, women’s rights and LGBT rights withdrew from American culture and politics because they thought all improvements were out of the question.

The other is to not fixate solely on the distance left to climb but to look back and take scale of the walls already mounted. The Whitman vision of equality and unity through diversity and individuality seems utopian, but it is important to consider how many voices have already found amplification in the “sign of democracy” that were once muted. As simple as it seems to say, things are getting better and they have been for a long time.

In “Leaves of Grass,” Whitman wrote, “Logic and sermons never convince/ The damp of the night drives deeper into my soul.” There is an important election on Nov. 8, and all responsible citizens should vote. It is just an election, though. Then we have the rest of our lives.

The true power of Whitman’s imaginative and inspired hope for America is that it is a rest-of-our-lives hope. How do we want the American night to drive into our souls? Will we feel an elevation of the spirit or further dejection?

The president makes a lasting contribution to the American night, but so does each citizen, and there exists a collective responsibility to construct the culture and cultivate the arts that will make that night starlit, beautiful and sensual, rather than dark, arid and frightening.

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Dakota pipeline protesters say they were detained in dog kennels; 268 arrested in week of police crackdown

A line of police move towards a roadblock and encampment of Native American and environmental protesters near an oil pipeline construction site, near the town of Cannon Ball

A line of police move towards a roadblock and encampment of Native American and environmental protesters near an oil pipeline construction site, near the town of Cannon Ball, North Dakota, U.S. October 27, 2016 (Credit: Reuters/Rob Wilson)

Tens of thousands of people have checked in on Facebook at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation over the past few days. They are expressing solidarity with the protests against the Dakota Access pipeline in North Dakota, which have faced an increasingly brutal backlash from police.

Native American activists on the ground recently told reporters they had been detained in dog kennels after being arrested at protests against the proposed pipeline. Other protesters have been pepper-sprayed by police and targeted with beanbag bullets as the militarized police crackdown has escalated.

For months, indigenous groups at Standing Rock have led protests against the $3.8 billion pipeline, which will transfer oil nearly 1,200 miles, from North Dakota south to Illinois.

Native Americans, who call themselves water protectors rather than protesters, warn that the pipeline will contaminate their lone source of drinking water and pollute their land. Thousands of environmental and social justice activists from around the country have joined their demonstrations in solidarity.

On Oct. 23, protesters reclaimed unceded territory that they said was “affirmed in the 1851 Treaty of Ft. Laramie as sovereign land under the control of the Oceti Sakowin,” the indigenous name for the Sioux. They created a camp on the land, which is in the proposed path of the pipeline.

At least 127 activists were arrested that weekend, in an aggressive police clampdown. Since then authorities have become even more violent, and the National Guard was called in on the peaceful activists.

On Thursday, hundreds of soldiers and police in riot gear raided the camp, aggressively dispersing activists with trucks, armored vehicles and buses, using pepper spray and a sound cannon.

An additional 141 activists were arrested, making the number of arrests for the week at least 268.

“Militarized law enforcement agencies moved in on water protectors with tanks and riot gear today,” David Archambault II, the Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s chairman, said in a statement after the raids. “We continue to pray for peace.”

“As peoples of this earth, we all need water. This is about our water, our rights, and our dignity as human beings,” he added.

Mekasi Camp-Horinek, a protest coordinator, told the Los Angeles Times that he and his mother had been detained in dog kennels. He said authorities also wrote numbers on their arms, adding, “It goes back to concentration-camp days.”

Native American activist Robby Romero also told the newspaper that a horse was shot in the leg with a rubber or beanbag bullet and that the animal subsequently had to be euthanized.

“It looked like a scene from the 1800s, with the cavalry coming up to the doors of the teepees, and flipping open the canvas doors with automatic weapons,” Camp-Horinek said of the police raid.

Archambault has called on the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the police crackdown. Amnesty International USA has said it will also request a Department of Justice investigation.

On Friday Sen. Bernie Sanders sent President Barack Obama a letter, calling on him “to take all appropriate measures to protect the safety of the Native American protesters and their supporters who have gathered peacefully to oppose the construction of the pipeline.”

Sanders wrote, “It is deeply distressing to me that the federal government is putting the profits of the oil industry ahead of the treaty and sovereign rights of Native American communities.”

The Dakota Access pipeline, if constructed, will transfer roughly 470,000 barrels of crude oil per day across several states. It is being built by the Fortune 500 company Energy Transfer Partners, which is based in Texas.

Amnesty International USA announced on Friday that it is sending a new delegation of human rights observers to North Dakota to monitor the authorities. The rights group had organized such a delegation in August and had previously sent letters to both the North Dakota Highway Patrol and the Morton County sheriff’s department expressing concern about the militarized response.

“We’re deeply concerned about what we heard during our previous visit to Standing Rock and what has been reported to us since,” Eric Ferrero, director of communications for Amnesty International USA, said in a statement on Friday. The organization emphasized that the right to protest must be respected.

Police have accused the protesters of violent conduct, including throwing rocks and even building Molotov cocktails. Activists have in turn accused the police of spreading lies about them.

“They are armed. We are unarmed. They are trying to spin the narrative,” activist Robby Romero told the Los Angeles Times. “They are fast-tracking the pipeline.”

On Monday, Sanders tweeted another message of support: “We must stand united with our Native American brothers and sisters and say: Stop the Dakota Access Pipeline. Respect Native American rights.”

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, has refused to openly support the protests. Her campaign released a brief statement on Thursday that tried to placate “all of the parties involved.”

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“Inferno” isn’t a box office disaster: Dan Brown’s overseas hit may be the future of movies, whether we like it or not

Inferno

Tom Hanks and Felicity Jones in “Inferno” (Credit: Columbia Pictures)

“Inferno” went up in flames during its first weekend in release. Starring Tom Hanks and Felicity Jones, the third adaptation of Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon series bowed to an anemic $15 million in theaters. Projections show it on track to tap out with about $48 million domestically — a far cry from the blockbuster $217.5 million that “The Da Vinci Code” grossed in U.S. theaters in 2006.

This has been an extremely slow fall at the box office. “Inferno” is just one of a string of domestic underperformers —including “The Girl on the Train,” “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back,” “Storks” and “Deepwater Horizon.”

The latter, a disaster flick about the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, had blockbuster written all over it. “Deepwater Horizon” stars Mark Wahlberg, one of the most reliable draws in Hollywood. Earning surprisingly strong reviews, the film also reunites him with his “Lone Survivor” director, Peter Berg. Their previous collaboration was a surprise smash — its $125 million gross boosting January 2013 to record numbers. “Deepwater Horizon,” though, has made just $58 million to date.

“Inferno” might seem to be just another certified flop in a year that has been burdened by so many, but Columbia Pictures has an ace up its sleeve: Ron Howard’s movie is cleaning up abroad. It has, thus far, made $132 million outside the U.S., the biggest international launch of the season to date. “Inferno,” which posits that Dante Alighieri’s vision of hell was a prophecy not fiction has been open overseas for weeks. Given the film’s modest $75 million price tag, what could have been a financial disaster will make back its money in a matter of days. (Note: Most projects have to earn twice their production budget to recoup costs.)

This year could be the biggest ever for the international box office, not in earnings but in weight. While “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” carried the global box office to an earth-shattering $40 billion last year, overseas markets have never had more impact on a film’s overall fortunes. In 1990, just half of the year’s 20 highest-grossing movies made a majority of their box office earnings abroad.

This year, all of them did. Increasing foreign revenue speaks to a future in which the U.S. film market holds diminished importance — which could have a huge impact not only on how movies are marketed but also on what kinds of movies are made. It’s great news if you hate talky comedies and love big-budget blockbusters with white people in them — but potentially bad news for the state of moviegoing as we know it.

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If “Inferno” didn’t need American audiences to become a hit, neither did “Perfume: Story of a Murderer.” Tom Tykwer’s critically divisive adaptation of an 1985 novel about a serial killer with a heightened sense of smell decided to forego the U.S. market, receiving an extremely modest release domestically. Despite shelling out one of the largest budgets in history for a European film ($65 million), Paramount sensed that there wasn’t a demand for it in the U.S. Whether that was true, the film made $135 million anyway.

That might have seemed like a huge gamble for Paramount back in 2006, when flopping in the U.S. could make or break film franchises. But today the domestic market is a drop in the bucket. In 2015 studios earned 73 percent of their profits abroad, and that figure is expected to only increase this year, one in which foreign grosses have proved to be a crucial lifeline for ailing franchises.

September’s “Bridget Jones’s Baby” maxed out with $24 million in the U.S. That’s by far the lowest total in the series. The Sharon Maguire-directed film, however, earned $149 million abroad, which included $56 million in the U.K. “Now You See Me 2” and “Warcraft,” both viewed as major duds in the U.S., earned 81 percent and 89 percent of their grosses overseas, respectively.

While the U.S. has suffered through one of the biggest box-office lulls in recent memory, countries like China and Russia are experiencing record returns.

This has been a breakout year for Chinese film — with homegrown blockbusters like “The Mermaid” and “Monster Hunt” grossing nearly a billion dollars combined. That’s largely due to increased investment from the country’s government. In 2016 the number of movie screens shot up 40 percent, increasing to 32,000. By 2018, China’s box office revenue is expected to overtake the U.S. for the first time.

Because of the erosion of DVD sales in the U.S., Hollywood studios have had no choice but to continue pumping money into foreign markets to further that development. Most recently, that has included countries like Argentina, Colombia and Brazil, as chains like Cinemark have expanded to South America. Currently, the film company operates 173 theaters on the continent and is expected to roll out more.

It’s a good bet, as rising incomes in Latin American nations have increased consumer spending. In 2008, just nine movies grossed more than $10 million dollars in Brazil. So far this year, 17 hit that mark. Eight years ago, just four movies made more than $5 million in Argentina. In 2016, 11 have done so, and four movies even topped $10 million.

Given the number of international markets that investors are now tasked with pleasing, producers have many masters. This is a gargantuan task when producers are attempting to make a movie that will appeal to as many people as possible. China’s film censors, for instance, are notoriously restrictive when it comes to what movies are allowed to be distributed in the country. Depictions of the supernatural — including ghosts — are verboten, as are films that include homosexuality and masturbation.

American comedies rarely translate in Russia, although the Ruskies love Jason Statham, and a particularly bloody shoot-’em-up flick is likely to get slapped with the equivalent of an NC-17 in France. While Nicolas Winding Refn’s hyper-violent “Drive” earned the country’s harshest rating, “Shame,” which features full-frontal nudity, was a PG-13 movie.

Catering to those peccadillos often leads to an overabundance of caution, as well as playing to the middle. That means that studios are more likely to green-light projects viewed as “universal,” ones that deal with subjects and themes familiar to foreign viewers. When the Oscar-winning “12 Years a Slave” opened in Italy, its star, Chiwetel Ejiofor, was eclipsed on the film’s posters by his white co-stars — Brad Pitt, Michael Fassbender and Benedict Cumberbatch. The film’s European distributors thought that they would connect better with potential ticket buyers. When the civil rights dramedy “The Help” played in Sweden and Denmark, it was rebranded as “Niceville” to play down its racial subject matter.

These decisions are also based in an old Hollywood myth that black actors don’t sell to foreign audiences. That, of course, isn’t true. “Furious 7,” whose ensemble cast features Vin Diesel, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges and Tyrese Gibson, made $1.5 billion worldwide. Seventy-seven percent of those grosses came from countries like Germany, South Korea, Russia and Thailand, where its predominantly black and brown cast might be considered to be a liability. In China, the film grossed $390 million, even more than it did in the U.S. Nonetheless, movies like “Ride Along” and “The Best Man Holiday” are rarely distributed abroad.

Some have argued that factoring in these myriad tastes is a boon to cinema. “You have to start taking in other cultures and things that they value and how they view the world and incorporate that into your storytelling,” Caleb Pinkett, who was a producer on “After Earth,” told the BBC in 2014.

But rather than increasing the complexity of Hollywood product, thinking globally has led to paying shallow lip service to major markets. “Independence Day: Resurgence” kowtowed to China by casting Angelababy, a popular actress and singer, as one of the fighter pilots trying to prevent aliens destroying the earth. “Transformers: Age of Extinction” went even further with its setting part of the film in the Asian country, even though this made little sense for the narrative.

Worse yet, the emphasis on foreign markets often prizes noise and spectacle over narrative. Although the “Transformers” films have experienced diminishing returns in the U.S., the series has stayed extremely popular around the world precisely because watching robots fight doesn’t require much in the way of translation, unlike your latest Judd Apatow comedy.

The billion-dollar grosser, which earned 78 percent of its final sum outside the States, exemplifies all the worst trends of globalized filmmaking: It’s a film that’s so culturally nonspecific that it amounts to almost nothing. It might as well be extremely expensive background noise.

“Inferno” will likely be viewed as a disaster in a year where every month witnesses its own box office Hindenburg go up in flames. Dan Brown’s latest tale of white people saving the world from biblical menace is receiving brutal reviews, and its poor reception may spell doom for the decade-old franchise. It might be the end for Robert Langdon, but unfortunately for Hollywood, it’s just the beginning.

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Donald Trump’s minions: “The Gilded Rage” delves deep inside the lives of Trump supporters

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Election day is quickly approaching, and many are still in disbelief that Donald Trump has a legitimate shot at winning the presidency. Journalist and sometime Salon contributor Alexander Zaitchik embarked on a nationwide journey to gain some insight on who Trump’s supporters are, what they stand for, and why they unconditionally support a man who has defied the status quo for public officials.

As recounted in his recent book “The Gilded Rage: A Wild Ride Through Donald Trump’s America,” Zaitchik spent months crisscrossing the country, attending Trump rallies and meeting with individual supporters in states like Pennsylvania, Arizona, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and California in the hopes of getting to know the people who support the Republican nominee.

Zaitchik engaged in an “ask me anything” post on reddit where users were able to directly ask him questions on his book and his work. When asked what he thought the general tone was at Trump rallies, he responded by saying, “The rallies could be scary. No doubt. I was struck by how once you got people away from those environments, they sounded very different, often having critical views of applause lines they were cheering an hour before. Those are gladiatorial events, almost monster truck rallies, and people attend them in that way I think.”

However, he believes that the stereotypical Trump supporter often portrayed by the media is not an accurate representation of all.

“I encountered some bigotry, of course, it streaked through a lot of the other concerns people had, but almost never was that at the top of people’s lists about why they supported Trump. I gave people plenty of time to reveal themselves, and they most wanted to talk about cratering economies, lost industries, elite condescension and betrayal, etc,” Zaitchik told a reddit user who asked him how much left wing discourse about Trump supporters is actually justified.

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Ted Cruz is so hated by Texas Republicans that Rick Perry plotted a GOP primary against him

Ted Cruz, Rick Perry

(Credit: Reuters/Carlos Barria/AP/Jacquelyn Martin/Photo montage by Salon)

A new survey released last week found that even though Texas Republicans favored their own senator, Ted Cruz over eventual GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump during the state’s primary, they’ve since significantly soured on sourpuss Cruz. Now a new report alleges that anti-Cruz sentiment is running so strong among Lone Star Republicans that former governor Rick Perry encouraged a challenge to the infamous freshman senator.

After Cruz refused to endorse Trump at the Republican National Convention this past summer, Perry was apparently so enraged that he pushed for a Republican challenge to Cruz’s senate seat, the Texas Tribune reported Monday.

Perry, who endorsed Cruz after dropping out of his second failed bid for the White House last year, reportedly backed Rep. Mike McCaul as a possible primary opponent for Cruz.

In his comment to the Tribune, Perry spokesman Stan Gerdes did not deny the story. “Rick Perry holds Michael McCaul in the highest esteem,” he said.

While McCaul hasn’t said whether he’ll challenge Cruz for his Senate seat in 2018, the six-term congressman definitely has not ruled it out. “I think any elected official, you don’t close off your options,” McCaul said at a Texas Tribune event in the state’s capital last week.

At the same event last week, McCaul criticized Cruz for spending the majority of his first four years in the U.S. Senate with an eye toward the White House.

“I think he’s spent a lot of time since Day One running for president,” McCaul said. “I think we deserve somebody in the Senate who is going to be representing the interests of the state of Texas.”

For his part, Cruz is still out of the state, campaigning on behalf of Republican Senate candidates in battleground states across the country.

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Dating after Hepatitis C: Hope on the horizon for the 1 in 30 boomers estimated to be infected

Blood Sample

(Credit: Getty/dem10)

Recently I went on a first date — a stroll in a city park — that went rather well. We had so much in common, from a love of reading to a history of youthful troublemaking. If I wasn’t convinced already he was someone I could relate to, my new friend shared that he’d been cured of Hepatitis C.

I could hardly believe it. Instead of having to awkwardly explain my medical history, I’d met someone who shares it. It was a first. The only other time I’d met people who’d been cured of Hepatitis C, I was at an event at Johns Hopkins celebrating the first 1,000 successes of the new drugs. Some of my fellow drug program participants had gotten it from blood transfusions, some from vaccinations in the military. Some had no idea how.

In any case, our unicorn status can’t go on much longer. According to the director of the Centers for Disease Control, who spoke that day, one in 30 baby boomers has Hepatitis C. Forty percent of those people will die of the virus, at an average age of 59.

Close call. I am 58.

In 1994, I tested positive for Hepatitis C. As a person whose excesses in the 1980s included injectable drugs, it was no mystery to me how I contracted the virus. I was lucky I didn’t have HIV. I had no symptoms — many don’t — and my doctor said I might never have any. Since Hepatitis C was only identified in 1989, there was no long-term data.

There also wasn’t a very good treatment. You could take Interferon and Ribavirin for a year and suffer depression, flu-like symptoms and rashes, and you probably wouldn’t be cured anyway. Forget it, I thought.

I made it all the way to 2011, and then the outlandishly good health I had enjoyed all my life started to crumble. I was exhausted. My blood counts plummeted and my spleen swelled to three times its normal size.

The good news: Because I live in Baltimore, I became a patient at the Hopkins Infectious Disease group, where new and radically more effective drugs for Hepatitis C were being studied and prescribed.

The bad news was, I was about one year too early. I took a precursor of the current generation of drugs, but as part of the protocol I also had to take the Interferon and Ribavirin as backup, for a year, no matter what.

I started in January of 2012. By February, my viral load had disappeared. I was cured! Too bad the rest of the year was not so great. I worked my way through just about every one of the nasty side effects. But as it turns out, I was pretty much the last one to do so.

The drugs now available for Hepatitis C have a 96 percent cure rate. The treatment is 8-12 weeks long, and few people report side effects. Because there is a widely available and efficacious cure, and because baby boomers are six times more likely to be infected than other adults, the CDC recommends that everyone born between 1945 and 1965 be tested for HCV.

They also recommend testing for anyone who has injected drugs — a group swelling as we speak with young people and other victims of the current opioid epidemic — and anyone who had a blood transfusion before 1992. All told, it’s about 3.5 million people.

Much of the press on the new drugs has focused on how expensive they are, and on questions about insurance coverage. Hepatitis C treatment is covered by Medicare, though, and by 95 percent of commercial insurers. As an employee of the state of Maryland, my treatment was fully covered by Blue Cross/Blue Shield. Most, but not all, Medicaid programs cover treatment with some restrictions, too. There are also a number of pro bono programs for uninsured people. Competition and negotiation among payers and pharmaceutical companies mean costs are declining. It isn’t perfect, but it’s getting better.

You may feel that if you never shot drugs, you don’t have to worry about Hepatitis C. But a significant proportion of infected people have no idea how they got it. Maybe you got it in a medical environment. Maybe you got it from unprotected sex. Maybe you got it from a rolled-up dollar bill that was put up more than one nose — you know, back when there was that big money-sniffing craze.

If you have Hepatitis C, the inflammation in your liver may already be affecting your energy level and your quality of life. Almost certainly, things will get worse.

And since my date didn’t work out in the end, we really need to expand the pool.

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Watch: Marion Winik on the stigma of Hepatitis C, which could be fatal

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Potential lovers search for all types of connections on first dates. Does she like the same movies as me, do we share a zodiac sign? And if not, are our signs compatible? As he a cat guy or a dog lover?

Anything and everything could lead to a lasting connection. But author, NPR contributor and University of Baltimore professor Marion Winik had an unconventional connection with her last love interest — they were both recently cured of Hepatitis C.

Salon caught up with Winik to talk love, relationships and advancements in medicine, and why you should get tested for Hep C and cured as quickly as possible. Watch the interview.

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Don’t revive “Will & Grace”: We don’t need its limited portrayal of gay life anymore

Will & Grace

Will & Grace (Credit: NBC)

Start practicing your Cher impression, everyone: “Will & Grace” is reportedly coming back to TV.

The NBC sitcom, which ran for eight seasons on the Peacock Network, is in talks to return as a limited series following fan excitement over a viral video in which the characters reunited to endorse Hillary Clinton. In the nine-minute segment, Will (Eric McCormack) and Grace (Debra Messing) are horrified to discover that Karen (Megan Mullally) is a Trump supporter, while Jack (Sean Hayes) is still on the fence. The reunion was so well received that it stirred up interest in a full-fledged revival — similar to the recent reboots of Fox’s “24” and “The X-Files,” as well as Netflix’s forthcoming “Gilmore Girls” special.

Eighteen years after the show premiered, “Will & Grace” remains a trailblazer. As the first sitcom to feature a gay male lead, the program has been cited as a major turning point in shifting America’s views toward the LGBT population. Vice president Joe Biden famously said of the show, “I think ‘Will & Grace’ did more to educate the American public than almost anything anybody has ever done.” Among the top 20 most-watched shows for four seasons, its enormous popularity paved the way for “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,” “Modern Family,” “Glee” and “Looking,” as well as television’s flourishing queer renaissance. If there was no one like Will on TV in 1998, there are dozens of characters today who bear his distinct imprint.

Even while recognizing the cultural impact of “Will & Grace,” its narrow, insular view of the LGBT community is extremely out of touch with the progress queer people have made since it debuted. LGBT representation, which today includes such programs as “Transparent,” “How to Get Away with Murder” and “Empire,” has come a long way in depicting the wide spectrum of diversity that comprises the queer umbrella. While “Will & Grace” may have helped open the door to allow those stories to be told, its existence in the TV landscape is no longer necessary.

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Just months before “Will & Grace” debuted on television, Ellen DeGeneres made history — and paid the price for it. The stand-up comic famously came out in a cover story for Time, telling the magazine: “Yep, I’m gay.” Her character on “Ellen” followed suit in the show’s third season, coming out in 1997’s “The Puppy Episode.” Ellen Morgan (DeGeneres) develops feelings for a free-spirited producer, Susan (Laura Dern), thus realizing that she’s a lesbian. Although Susan, who is also queer, is spoken for, the two share a poignant moment when Ellen attempts to come out to her at the airport and accidentally broadcasts the declaration over the intercom.

The episode, which features a fleeting kiss between its female stars, was hugely controversial. JCPenney refused to sponsor it, and DeGeneres received death threats after “The Puppy Episode” was broadcast. She was even stalked, followed to her car by angry fans. The headlines garnered huge ratings for ABC, drawing 42 million viewers, but the show’s audience rapidly eroded after Ellen Morgan’s lesbian epiphany. “Ellen” would be cancelled less than two years later.

Following the show’s implosion, network executives were skeptical of greenlighting another program that would test America’s queer tolerance. “Will & Grace”—about the codependent relationship between a heterosexual woman and a gay man—was based on executive producer Max Mutchnick’s relationship with his own real-life best friend. Execs often asked why Will Truman, a lawyer reeling from a recent breakup, couldn’t just be straight. But following the success of “The Birdcage” and “My Best Friend’s Wedding,” there was hope that gay farces could sell on television. Will and Jack were clearly cut from the Rupert Everett mold—white, attractive and witty, always ready with a snappy comeback.

What made “Will & Grace” so popular is also one of the many reasons it proved divisive among LGBT viewers: The show puts forward a view of gay men that’s extremely non-threatening to straight audiences. “Will & Grace” upends comic tropes by making sex between its leads impossible, instead positing gay men as the perfect companions for straight women. Will and his longtime friend, Grace Adler, do all the things that married people do—reading the paper together, drinking coffee, and discussing their feelings. But as the show’s tagline reminds viewers: “They’re not a couple. They’re a couple of best friends.”

Will and Jack are chaste and sexless. The idea that they have intimate lives is hinted at, but seldom explored. Jack McFarland, a flighty theater queen who loves scarves and worships Cher, is never in a relationship for more than an episode. Will, a long-suffering singleton, doesn’t get a steady boyfriend until the show’s sixth season, when he gets together with Vince D’Angelo (Bobby Cannavale). Any hint of sexual tension between the two friends is played for laughs, as when Jack and Will drunkenly wind up in bed together on a Caribbean cruise. Don’t worry, though! Nothing happened.

“Will & Grace” also struggled with respectability politics. Jack, who was memorably described by Entertainment Weekly’s Ken Tucker as “Paul Lynde trapped in the body of Daffy Duck,” is a classic sissy character. Jack—vapid, self-interested and effeminate—is so swishy that he’s a one-man conga line, a counterpoint to the more “straight-acting” Will. When he asks Grace if she knew Jack was gay when they first met, she retorts, “My dog knew.” Jack is the butt of the joke, not someone you should want to be like. Will—with his handsome, leading-man looks—is presented more aspirationally.

What makes the show good, and sometimes great, is how it gradually upends these stereotypes by making its gay heroes both flawed and lovable. If the sissy character is usually presented with the depth of a thimble (see: “Brüno”), “Will & Grace” allowed Jack to grow in dimension and in soul—akin to Emmett on “Queer as Folk” or Cam on “Modern Family.” Outfest, the nation’s largest LGBT film festival, recently presented its Legacy Award to Hayes. Christopher Racster, the executive director of Outfest, argued that the portrayal was deeply empathetic: “Jack lived in a land where it was OK to simply be Jack—open, honest, funny, and real.”

Those tensions—between tearing down stereotypes and simply reinforcing them—were emblematic of the burden of representation during a TV era when there were few LGBT characters of any kind. If its viewpoint toward someone like Jack feels contradictory, that’s because “Will & Grace” was allowed such a limited view of the queer life in general. The show had no recurring lesbian or transgender characters, and its foray into bisexual representation was an unmitigated dumpster fire. Will briefly begins seeing a cute pastry chef, Edward (Stuart Townsend), who also has eyes for Karen. Will doesn’t understand how this could be possible, referring to bisexuality as a “rest stop on the highway to homo.” Because bi people just can’t help themselves, Edward ditches them both to have sex with Karen’s maid, Rosario (Shelley Morrison).

So much has changed since 1998, partially because shows like “Will & Grace” and “Queer as Folk”—which were very white and male—helped create greater demand for the kinds of stories that weren’t being told. In the early aughts, there was “The L Word” and “Noah’s Ark,” cable shows that depicted the fraught interpersonal dramas between lesbian and black gay male friend groups, respectively. ABC’s button-pushing “How to Get Away with Murder,” which features an interracial gay relationship, marked the first time that analingus was shown on broadcast TV—frankly and without apology.

Flaws and all, “Will & Grace” helped start a conversation about LGBT lives on television when even the possibility of a gay kiss was taboo. While Shonda Rhimes has claimed it was next to impossible to get ABC to greenlight a steamy lesbian shower scene—presented as a fantasy—back in 2007, “Modern Family” fans were upset that Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) and Cam (Eric Stonestreet) didn’t kiss sooner. Outrage about same-sex intimacy, the kind that spelled doom for Ellen DeGeneres two decades ago, is almost nonexistent today. In 2015, Freeform’s “The Fosters” featured a gay kiss between two 13-year-olds (played by Gavin MacIntosh and Hayden Byerly), the youngest such lip-lock in history. Backlash was minimal.

“Will & Grace” will forever stand as an important milestone in the fight for LGBT acceptance, illustrating the importance of bringing queer people into America’s living rooms. Although Biden was perhaps hyperbolic in his praise for the show, his wider point rings true: By showing the humanity of gay men like Will and Jack, the show compelled viewers to see their gay friends, neighbors and family members as more human. But in 2016, the tolerant, accepting America “Will & Grace” fought for simply doesn’t need it anymore.

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Deep in the heart of TrumpLand — even Texans want our national nightmare to be over

Republican Presidential Nominee Donald Trump Holds Rally In Austin, Texas

Trump rally in Austin, TX (Credit: Getty/Drew Anthony Smith)

Fort Worth, TEXAS — Some Texans are pining for the days of Ann Richards. Others miss the Bushes. Still others are enamored of Donald Trump’s role as the “non-politician” in this election, thinking he will be the person to break the Clinton influence streak.

Surprisingly, in the middle of all this there are pockets of Hillary: small neighborhoods typically inhabited by young, modern and affluent people, like Fort Worth’s upscale Ryan Place.

There you will indeed see the only Clinton signs for miles in any direction. But one thing you will find in spades is the reluctance of older adults to talk openly about voting choices, or politics in general. Party pride, once a mainstay of election cycles, seems subdued, if not forgotten.

Visiting my family on their beautiful ranch off the beaten path some 30 miles from Fort Worth, a few Trump-Pence signs glinted in the sunlight on utility poles, though not as many as one might expect. Still, one relative married to a local Texan whose family has owned ranches for generations refused to talk about politics. She shook her head in disgust. “I’m just not going to vote,” she said. She didn’t want to talk about either candidate, and neither did others in cities outside of the larger and more progressive Dallas.

At no time in recent or longer-term memory have American voters been more polarized, disappointed and genuinely afraid for our country’s future on both sides of the aisle. Each thinks the other party’s candidate will lead to World War III, and no one wants to talk about it in specific terms … except young people.

Pam Laukaitis, 27, a hotel bartender in Fort Worth with a degree in English, describes herself as “a walking hate crime.” Of multiethnic heritage that includes Egyptian and Spanish, she is olive-complected, with a long braid of dark hair and expressive brown eyes. Laukaitis is engaged to a U.S. Marine stationed in the area, and says their private conversations at home about the candidates are probably unique among military families, noting that the armed forces are directly impacted more than other workers by whoever wins the presidency.

A recent transplant to Texas from her native North Carolina, Laukaitis was happy to talk about her observations. Her job, she said, provides plenty of opportunity to people-watch and talk to business travelers just passing through.

“A lot of people here are from Fort Worth and have not left Texas, or have only been to Oklahoma or surrounding states, so everything is very grassroots, very local,” she told me. “There are a lot of Trump supporters here.”

But it’s a transient place as well because of the military base and several colleges, so Laukaitis thinks the area “will see a lot of third-party voters.  I am a big fan of Jill Stein. A lot of people, like my neighbors, are voting for Trump because they don’t like Bill Clinton, and feel Hillary is an extension. They are only looking at one aspect of it.”

Asked about social media’s influence on young people in this election, she mused, “I was on Pinterest yesterday, and I saw a lot of political ads, which I thought was an interesting way of reaching women, because a lot of them go on there and just look at pictures of cats. You have to reach people where they are.”

Nearby, at the Justin Boot outlet, it’s wall-to-wall cowboy boots, belt buckles and other assorted Americana.

A song called “Redneckin’” plays on the radio as Harmony Atchley, a well-spoken blonde and recent Halton High School graduate — she was captain of her school’s debate team — threads plastic hang ties through big metal belt buckles. “Once Obama called all people from Texas ‘swamp crazy,’ people pretty much decided to vote for Trump next time,” she said matter-of-factly. There’s a germ of truth there: At an Ohio Democratic dinner on Oct. 13, President Obama said that some Texas officials who had believed that a routine military exercise might lead to martial law belonged to the “swamp of crazy.”

“We learned in our economics and government class that politicians are usually a certain kind of people,” Atchley said. “Donald Trump is not a politician, so he’s different and that is important — that’s how we see it. Basically, you could be homeless and have a chance to become president. There were some Hillary supporters in our class, but not many. Usually it was because they come from a Democratic family.”

The Atchleys are a mixed-opinion family: Dad is Republican, and Mom’s Democratic. But Harmony says her mother doesn’t want to vote this year. “She feels like she’d rather not have the right to vote right now, because either way she votes it’s going to happen in the end … that the world’s gonna end, terrorists. She thinks it won’t make a difference, no matter which one wins.”

Harmony’s colleague Sofia, whose family is of Mexican descent, looked on quietly. She didn’t give me her last name and said little, but when asked responded that she cannot discuss politics in her family. “My aunt and mother were talking the other day about voting for Trump and how great he is, and I just couldn’t say anything. I’m amazed that my family will vote for him. We’re Mexican!”

Atchley noted, “My school is predominantly Mexican. We did full-on debates, and we had some people who weren’t really understanding the election the way others were. Once those from Mexican families found out that Trump wasn’t going to deport all races, just the illegal immigrants, they changed their mind to Trump. These Mexican-American kids were born here, they are safe. It’s all the others.”

What do the people of rural North Texas seem to have in common? Election fatigue. Most say they can’t wait for Nov. 9. Wherever the chips fall, much of the election-related dissension in families and among friends will dissipate. As the flush of disagreement fades, talk will turn to the holidays, children and work as before. But here and everywhere else across the country, the bitterness associated with the election of 2016 will not soon be forgotten.

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Is America more racist, or more sexist? Admittedly, it’s a tough call

Democratic National Convention: Day Three

(Credit: Getty/Aaron P. Bernstein)

Want a scary thought? There are people in this country who believe that America is a nonsexist place in a post-racial world. They agree that our country is a place of infinite growth and equal opportunity for advancements that has come a long way. Maybe what they really should be asking is this: Is America more sexist or more racist?

That’s a question I’m often confronted with, and struggle with myself. There are a number of things to consider­­ — issues and policies that could pull the argument in either direction. Examining our own government and our hiring practices are key indicators. The first issue to consider is universal suffrage — at least for men.

The 15th Amendment, ratified in 1870, was supposed to prohibit governments, whether state or federal, from denying men the right to vote based on race, color and their history of servitude. It’s important to mention that African-Americans didn’t get to vote in large numbers until the Voting Rights Act was passed under Lyndon Johnson almost 100 years later. (There was a small core of black voters in the Northern cities; in the Jim Crow South, essentially no blacks voted.)

Women were granted the right to vote through the 19th Amendment, which was ratified in 1920. Even though it took African-Americans a century to get a fair shake at the polls, black men were still considered legal citizens years before women of any race were.

John F. Kennedy introduced affirmative-action policies in 1961, in hopes of leveling the playing field, by creating equal opportunity for everybody, regardless of race. Johnson added gender to the list in 1967. Countless studies have been published since, tracking the effectiveness of affirmative action — or lack thereof. Many have concluded that white women have been the biggest beneficiaries, although they are still paid less than white men in most cases.

The ugly truth plays out in state and local government. There are only two black U.S. senators out of 100 right now, and there have only been nine in our history. (Furthermore, only five of them were actually elected by the voters.) There are no black state governors in 2016, and only four have ever been elected. The numbers for women are much better, but still not impressive — 46 women have served as U.S. senators and 37 have served as state governors. Under our first nonwhite president we have had the first and second African-American attorneys general — first a man, Eric Holder, and now a woman, Loretta Lynch.

We have elected our designated “cool black guy” as president twice, and Hillary Clinton is very close to becoming our first female president. If she manages to squeak past you-know-who, who isn’t finished quite yet.

Our country’s race problem becomes more obvious when we look at what it took to elect Barack Obama as our first black President. John McCain, the 2008 Republican nominee, took to the stage and said a number of troubling things that should have really scared potential voters. Beyond the terror of imagining a man as leader of the free world who seemed less tech-savvy than a 5-year-old, McCain didn’t appear to know that Spain was a member of NATO and cosigned George W. Bush’s failed policies, which had almost sunk our nation forever.

To top it off, McCain picked Sarah Palin as a running mate — a person who says she reads but cannot name newspapers or books, proved to know nothing about foreign policy in general, helped kick off modern race-baiting with her Tea Party affiliations, quit her job as governor and probably would have destroyed our country had something happened to McCain during their time in the White House. Palin was potentially the most dangerous vice-presidential nominee ever, and she was only selected because the Republicans were up against history — the McCain campaign put winning ahead of country.

Obama and Joe Biden looked like Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen playing against some high school freshmen ­– they crushed McCain and Palin in every category ranging from knowledge, common sense and policy to jokes and likability. It didn’t even resemble a fair fight, and still Obama won by only 7 percent of the vote. It’s sad that America almost chose blatant incompetence over black skin.

The 2016 election is even worse. Donald Trump has a new scandal every day ­­– he’s done everything from groping women to encouraging Russia to hack us to lying to his supporters, encouraging racism and sexism, making up history as he pleases and hiding his tax returns. And it’s still possible that he could be our next president. Donald Trump may be the most unqualified person to ever run for office in America. He’s the only person I can think of less qualified for high office than Sarah Palin — at least she’s held political positions before. But he still has a shot, because Hillary Clinton is at the top of the opposing ticket and she is a woman.

Is this country more sexist or more racist? That can be argued both ways. We all have different perspectives, and can only judge from our own context. The fact is that the country is both extremely racist and extremely sexist. We shouldn’t be so fast to pat ourselves on the back, talking about how far we have come­. Consider the plight of the black woman, who doesn’t have a choice. Black women can’t question whether this country is more racist or more sexist; they must deal with both. We all need to do more to support them as we work to sort out America’s historical madness.

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