Day: February 26, 2017

Ralph Bunche Ran the World Excellently

It’s Oscar night! Let’s throw popcorn at the screen for…the first African-American recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize! (Curveball!) You’ve probably never heard of him! (Another curveball!) And there will probably never be a movie about his life, not because it isn’t interesting but because he did WAY too much. You couldn’t get it narrowed down.
 
(Or I should say that I can’t get it narrowed down. Could not adapt it to a two-hour runtime. Just trying to summarize it here is daunting.)
 
Ralph Bunche was a political scientist and anthropologist who (in roughly chronological order):
 
1. Helped write the landmark study of American racial dynamics, “An American Dilemma.” (Incidentally, he was the first African-American to get a PolySci doctorate from an American university, specifically Harvard, but he also did postgrad stuff at the London School of Economics and the University of Cape Town.)
 
2. Worked in the OSS (precursor to the CIA) during WWII, a fact which was only recently declassified. He worked closely with Algier Hiss, the maybe Soviet spy! Also he was chief of the Africa division. He was in charge of interpreting the intelligence on an entire continent, and was by all accounts brilliant at it.
 
3. Was in fact so brilliant that the State Department grabbed him and made him the first African-American desk officer. He helped draft the UN Charter. He worked closely with Eleanor Roosevelt to create (and lobby for) the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
 
YES. THAT ONE. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. After SETTING UP THE UN.
 
Surely that was enough to get a Nobel prize. But no – it was for something else! (Curveball again!)
 
4. This is the Nobel part. As so many have before and after him, Bunche tried to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict as a mediator. As so often occurred, things seemed to be moving forward and then there was an assassination (in this case of the Swedish count who was supposed to be Bunche’s superior). Bunche pursued the very brilliant strategy of playing a lot of billiards with the Palestinian and Israeli neogiators while talking all casual and clever and suave. (Total better-than-Bond move.) They signed a vital armistice agreement. NOBEL PRIZE.
 
5. Was in the Civil Rights movement, obviously. Was present at the March on Washington. Did the Selma to Montgomery march.
 
6. Simultaneously spent that era serving on the boards of a bunch of universities, and also negotiating the ends of violent conflicts in the Congo, Yemen, Kashmir, and Cyprus.
 
7. Became undersecretary general of the UN in 1968. Took them long enough. He obviously already had the Presidential Medal of Freedom by then.
 
That’s just the high points. This guy, I am telling you. He is exactly the kind of guy I want in charge of the world, and fortunately he was.
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White House Correspondents’ Dinner

Since Trump’s announced pull-out from the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, I’ve seen two main narratives. From the left: “He’s a coward afraid to face the press.” From the right: “He’s standing up to fake media.”

Neither of these is a good representation of reality. Let’s remember what really happened.

Before Trump cancelled, a lot of news organizations and individual reporters had already pulled out. No celebs had announced they were coming. Comedians were hemming and hawing about whether they’d accept if offered the gig. Bloomberg and Vanity Fair cancelled their usual pre-party. Samantha Bee invited everybody to a different party across town at the same time as the dinner.

What Trump opted out of was showing up to a conspicuously empty room. It’s the equivalent of me declaring I’m skipping school tomorrow when tomorrow is a snow day.

Why is that important? Because it’s another signal that protest works, just like the low attendance at his inauguration did, and the low viewer numbers, and Ivanka’s line being dropped because of poor sales.

Although this administration doesn’t seem to care about doing the things that would actually protect and support us, the president himself wants very much to be liked, or to give off the image of being liked, no matter what he does. Not to get all armchair psychiastrist, but these could even be linked: prove how much you love me by loving me even after I hurt you. Most of us have run into that – most of us have done that – occasionally, at a lower level, with lower stakes.

Showing up for demonstrations matters. And not showing up for celebrations also matters.

So keep picking on Trump for cancelling the party instead of trying to reach out and build bridges – for throwing a little kid fit when the adults said no. (“Fine! I didn’t want to throw that party anyway!”) But don’t forget that he’s reacting to something – something he cares about, something outside his control.