The primary issue of every leader in any democracy is to protect and preserve free speech based on credible facts and information to ensure that the people control the government rather than the government controlling the people.
When faced with Covid, the Democratic Party defined leadership by asking “What is the best way to solve this national crisis?” They insisted the answer was to follow the best available science. Trump, however, defined the issue by asking “Why should American freedom be curtailed by overbearing mask wearing liberals and political correctness?”
For Trump, the primary issue has always been how to define the Democrats. He vilifies them on Twitter and supports media that broadcasts conspiracy theories, unsupported false information and propaganda in order to polarize his base. The Democrats have always been blind to this. It is really not a policy dispute.
Trump lost the election but this argument isn’t over.
Trump received 74 million votes and remains the voice of the Republican Party. It has been reported that over half of all Republicans believe that the election was stolen and Trump won.
The issue now is how can the country address this polarization in order to preserve its democracy.
The First Amendment broadly protects anything related to free political speech, so a democracy cannot rely on the government to police and protect the voting public.
In the alternative, the president of a publicly-held company would be liable for a breach of fiduciary duty for the Covid loss of life which could’ve been prevented if not for his self-dealing at the public’s expense.
Could the Justice Department create a special prosecutor to investigate and prosecute Trump for obstruction of justice, violations of the Hatch Act and many other examples of malfeasance? Yes.
What if Trump pardons himself? This has never been tested and the authorities are split, but I am virtually certain that he could not. There are endless Constitutional textual analyses available, but a self-pardon would imply the founders granted an American president more power than the king they hated, and placed the President above the law.
The people could, through their legislators, lift the protection preventing civil law suits against private companies, such as social media in defamation cases. That is not government shutting down political speech — it is just permitting damages for false speech at the expense of a private citizen or companies. But it sure could change behavior if their revenues were put at risk for profiting from the political polarization.
The only solution is that the people must protect their own government.
Public discussion to change public opinion is the only solution. It is our own individual responsibility to find ways to revive public speech.
Democrats need to listen and may need to forego prosecution or vindication rather than prove to themselves they were always right. The Democrats have always been blind to this. It is really not a policy dispute. It is a private obligation.
America, when it was created by its Constitution, mandated free political speech as a necessity for an open and free society.
All of that is at risk now, given the past administration. The most damaging is the legacy of “fake news” and the resulting propaganda.
Prior to the Internet, political news was sold by a press that was dependent on the reputation of the newspaper which sold it. The source and credibility of the information is what gave it value to the consumer and the advertiser.
Since the Internet and social media, these safeguards have been largely lost because the credibility of the writer and supporting facts need not be disclosed at all and therefore anything can be pitched as credible including propaganda and fabricated conspiracy theories. It is all the same unless the factual credibility and bias can be challenged reliably.
A newspaper Publisher is presently liable for “actual malice,” as liable as the writer of the article. However, social media platforms are legislatively protected from this same liability by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. What makes it worse is if there is no liability there is little or no incentive for these media platforms to police the speech they publish. And what makes it even worse is political advertising in a polarized country has been very lucrative.
The media platforms claim that they cannot possibly police all those who publish anonymously on their portals. But they can and the price to our country is too great if they don’t.
If we file to create a corporation, drive a car on the highway, use the court system, or do just about anything affecting the health and safety of our city or country, we as individuals are accountable for the truth of our identity and the information we provide in order to get licensing. But anyone, American or not, can publish on the Internet and disappear.
This is a battle which is about to go into full swing and where we live will be determined by the outcome. Our free speech and our democratic government are not “free.” We assume responsibility for preserving them or we all lose together.
For almost 45 years, I have lived in Baltimore. As a family, we always went to Orioles games together. However, I grew up in Boston and every once in a while, my son looks at me and says, “You’d better not be a closet Red Sox fan!”
I said nothing under the heavy weight of the unspoken politically correct vote to make Baltimore great again: There would be no Red Sox swag or such propaganda allowed in our house!
What is this propaganda, this loyalty that shuts down discussions of the merits of the Red Sox, my former home team, and why can’t I have this debate in my house?
A long time ago, a law professor asked me, “What is the difference between a catcher who receives the pitch and moves it over the plate to convince the umpire it was a strike and a football player who fakes an injury to stop the clock?” The catcher was an advocate, because the umpire always could see the pitch. But the football player was a propagandist — a marketer of misinformation and a liar — not an advocate.
Has propaganda fed the polarization for the last 30-plus years at the expense of the love of the game?
The victorious Democratic Party had better start celebrating the game, not the team, because the game is at stake. It will be very hard to do, because the Democratic Party has done nothing to understand the 70 million people who voted for Trump. The party has furthered polarization by caricaturing and mocking the Trump Republicans. Maybe they are not all racists, sexists, hayseeds, or billionaires?
In 2014, I ran for office as a Democrat in a gerrymandered Republican district and was summarily defeated. I knocked on well over 5,000 doors, and almost everyone I met was open and friendly until I disclosed I was a Democrat. Then they slammed the door in my face.
In 2016, my neighborhood was flooded with Trump signs. This election, there were far fewer Trump signs, but often in their place were signs for a Republican candidate running for Elijah Cummings’ vacant Congressional seat. The Republican candidate was African-American and a woman. Was the Republican Party more important to my neighbors than her race or sex?
In a democracy, there is little or no protection against propaganda. Because we value free political speech, we cannot legislate against it. One person’s advocacy is another person’s lies. The only defense we have to protect the game is to talk to each other, discover the propaganda on both sides, and reject it together.
When my son was seven or eight years old, I took him to Fenway Park to see the Red Sox play the Orioles. He insisted that he deck himself out in full Orioles regalia, orange hat and shirt. He was loaded for bear, as were the Red Sox fans all around us. For about three innings they heckled each other, which ultimately turned into a mix of respect and laughter. As we were walking out, he turned to me and pronounced, “Dad, their fans aren’t that bad. And Ted Williams? They may be right about him… maybe.”
Baseball is America’s pastime and maybe that’s why there are so many innings. Maybe it’s a long game because everyone around you must talk to you, if only just a little, no matter who they are or what their political party may be. It’s part of the game.
If we let them, they will argue about everything: balls, strikes, the wisdom of that pitch or this player — but there is no propaganda. Everyone has a seat at the game. You argue for what you actually see. If you buy obstructed vision, you pay less.
I want to get back to the American pastime. To start talking to strangers again when we meet and we are reseated at a game where we have come to cheer on our team, yes, but are also celebrating the game itself and its longevity and history. After all, we are Americans who have historically thrived on disagreement and compromise. It is what has made us who we are.
Maybe it’s time to throw out the first pitch, ask the first question, and then listen and learn.
Last Sunday’s Zoom performance of a staged reading of The Grace of God & The Man Machine may offer an introduction to the future of theater.
The new format was advanced by a remarkably effective merger of the immediacy of live theater and the dramatic impact of the cinematic closeup.
The actors Duke Williams, Toni Seawright, C.E. Smith, Austin Sky Parker, Sheila Joon Azim, Tait Ruppert, Dexter Haag, and Peter Mendes brilliantly rose to the occasion with only four rehearsals and Van Dirk Fisher, the director of the Riant Theater, before a large and universally appreciative but invisible audience, magnificently shaped a new art form.
Judging from the chat rooms and the talk back after the performance, it was a huge success.
Maybe this is the future of theater even after the pandemic is over. Theater has always been an art form for live audiences. Cameras were reserved for the waiting room for those who were late to the performance and videos of theatrical performances always fell flat but maybe it will be different now.
Director Van Dirk Fisher and the Riant Theatre placed virtual backdrops behind the actors and the actors, all separated and in some cases in different states, reached out and past a joint between each other and exited and entered as they stepped in or out of the camera in front of which they performed alone.
The traditional narrator became a character in the performance, offering stage directions and blocking instructions as if he was organizing his remembrances of the story.
The reading took on an immediacy that a staged reading cannot provide, but the degree of difficulty remained almost unnoticed for an audience which tuned in from New York to California.
The infectious immediacy of theater and the dramatic impact of the cinematic closeup? Why not? Live sports events come to life for the fans in attendance and at the same time offer the close up for those viewing the game at home.
Van, always the scholar, always the innovator, always pushing ahead, told me that Zoom is perfecting moving backgrounds, such as a view of the highway from the car in motion. Imagine theater sets that move to support the live action of the performances on stage.
This could be coming as the innovation created by these remarkable creative artists.
It is unfair, but once again I am the lucky one. These people are unique!
This Sunday, October 25 at 8:00 pm (ET) my play, The Grace of God & The Man Machine, will be performed in a Zoom/virtual public reading by director Van Dirk Fisher and the Riant Theatre. CLICK HERE to get tickets.
When the theaters open up, it will be presented live on an open stage with audiences seated to watch it, but for now this performance is an example of an industry‘s remarkable ability to maintain itself and continue to create.
In early March of this year, we had just finished a table reading of the latest draft when New York started to shut down because of the pandemic. Just two days ago, nine months into this, Kevin R. Free, the New York director who ran that reading, begged on Facebook for people to please wear masks as he described the devastation on the performing arts industry and its 12 million artists:
“This is personal to us, our whole livelihood depends on social solidarity and we will not be labeled ‘non-essentials.’”
Artists have always been essential. They are the counterpoint to propaganda.
Now in an American election year which will define who we are, the theaters are closed. But this industry defines itself like no other: “The show must go on.”
In these times, an amazing cast of professionals (several of whom have Broadway credentials and all of whom are brilliant) are the ones to uphold this responsibility under these very difficult situations.
Artists in all forms are examples of independent courage. I found the same grit and determination when I first started to learn about writing for theater in Baltimore at the Baltimore Playwrights Festival years ago. I have come to love these people and this world which these artists create even though I am forever new to it.
There is a tenacity and courage in every member which is profound. Repeatedly, as I have met and worked with Van Dirk Fisher and the Riant Theatre on this production, and with others like Christian De Gré Cardenas and Mind the Art Entertainment, Sue Conover Marinello, Katie Marinello, and Parker Bennett, I have learned grit and courage from them.
For this production on Sunday night, I benefit from this resilience and creativity. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Van has responded to this nightmare by developing the art of virtual backgrounds and performance skills for virtual reality theatrical productions.
Think about that. You get knocked down you get back up.
Please join me and watch these remarkable people offer a counterpoint to the propaganda of an election year.
Come if you can. And if you can’t, please donate to support the theater if possible.
I’m thrilled to share that a reading of my play, THE GRACE OF GOD & THE MAN MACHINE (formerly known as Onaje), will be presented by the Jocunda Festival this Sunday, October 25th, at 8:00 p.m. (ET). There will be a Q&A afterward with the playwright (yours truly), the director, actors, and audience, led by Van Dirk Fisher, the director and founder of the Riant Theatre.
I would be doubly thrilled if you could join us — and help support live theater.
For tickets, register in advance on Zoom:
Donation: $15.00 to benefit The Riant Theatre. After registering, you will receive a confirmation email with details about joining on Zoom.
THE GRACE OF GOD & THE MAN MACHINE, a Black Lives Matter play, is an intricately plotted thriller that explores the consequence of racism on two individuals and their families.
Set in Eastern Maryland in the 1960s and 1987, two sons — one white, one black — meet by chance on the road, unaware that their families shared a life-altering connection years before. Now, their fate and their families’ futures may depend on the choices they will be forced to make.
THE GRACE OF GOD & THE MAN MACHINE allows the audience to ponder: is the die forever cast by a one-time choice we make?
“Having run this Zoom Play Reading Series since the pandemic began, I’ve developed directorial and visual techniques that make our Zoom productions visually, emotionally, and viscerally stimulating,” director Van Dirk Fisher said. “It’s something people haven’t always associated with the play reading format. Audiences also love the interactive and spirited Q and A that follows,” he added.
An O’Neill Theater Center semi-finalist, Onaje appeared at the 2018 Fringe Festival to rave reviews and sold out audiences. Theatre Is Easy gave Onaje its Best Bet designation and described its “high stakes story” as “the most dramatic, fleshed out near-cinematic play I have seen.” Onstage Blog said Onaje “brilliantly brings a sense of warmth,” and Blog Critic described the play as embodying “exquisite conceptualizations and themes.”
CLICK HERE to download the Press Release.
While waiting for a single engine plane
By a grass runway at the edge of Hell
I feel the evening come and watch the rain
And when the last flight is, at last cancelled,
I feel the breeze from an open window.
It gathers and it recreates its self
Perhaps from its beginnings, I don’t know,
In that primal place which remakes its self.
How much I love you is what you must know.
It gathers and it recreates its self
At the center of my own cold zero
In that primal place which remakes itself.
Comfort only comes from our common ground
When eye meets eye to pass a smile around.
“You be in this box of artificial light.
It feels like a hot house where nothing blooms
Under this neon ceiling that burns all night.
Where is the daylight in this damn courtroom?
Why doesn’t the jury already know?
My lawyer says ‘let them deliberate’
And then goes out with the D.A. for a smoke.
I heard them laugh about ‘it getting late.’
Tell me, what is a crime against the State?
The guy bitch slapped my girlfriend and took her hat.
Trust me, he had this death wish that couldn’t wait
But my lawyer never told it just like that.
God I want to leave this room and be free.
The jury enters but does not look at me.”
I woke up this morning in the darkness
And I woke with the need for morning light.
All night my mind made people that I guess
Were made up for the dreams I had last night.
Maybe my brain is like some bag lady,
Controlling, self-examining, so smart;
Gathering bits and pieces on her way:
The Greek Oracle with a shopping cart.
But what if she flunks her own quick quizzes,
And dreams some life that isn’t, and never was,
And I’m caught between my life as it is
And her dreaming and what her dreaming does.
Her crazy friends are having too much fun!
I’m just real glad they head home with the sun.
A tall shadow controls my autumn pond.
It moves on long legs and will stare and wait.
After the late March ice had come and gone
And the exchanged songs of the frogs that mate,
The lily pads rise through the clear water
To shelter the colonies of black tadpoles
That are born as eggs, like pupil eyes, pure,
And, like the rest here, uncompromising souls.
The summer heat reveals the baby fish
Spawned by the survivors of last winter.
By August it is like my winter wish:
Blooming like some Eden, ready to enter.
The heron knows nothing of what I mean.
By noon it will have picked the pond all clean.