Monday, August 29, 2016

Peter Lamphere on Rosemarie Jahoda: What Does It Take To Get Promoted to Principal in NYC?

A UFT with guts would be picketing over the appointment of Jahoda as principal. And should contact the parents to protest. She is in the same vein of Monika Garg at CPEI  -- a prototypical Farina rewarding people with a history of bad behavior and anti-unionism toward teachers and especially chapter leaders.

Over at NYC Educator, Peter Lamphere, one of the key players in MORE, has some story to tell about his former vicious supervisor, Rosemarie Jahoda, recently appointed acting interim principal at Townsend Harris High School - one of the premier public high schools in Queens.

Read his entire piece at:

Peter ended up with 2-U ratings under Jahoda and Bronx HS of Science principal Valerie Reidy. He fought one off successfully and had to hire a private lawyer for the other. The UFT "solution" was to parachute Peter out of the school, not to engage in a hand to hand combat with Reidy and Jahoda. Peter was the chapter leader and these two engaged in a direct assault on the union.

Today, the UFT should be picketing Farina for this appointment.

One of the roles MORE needs to play is in exposing these people and putting pressure on the UFT to take stronger stands.

Jahoda is a criminal in my mind for destroying the careers of so many teachers and harming so many students in the process.

Peter is leading a MORE initiative to strengthen the ability of school chapters to organize themselves to fight back against abusive principals. Tomorrow MORE is beginning that effort:
With the MORE caucus this coming year, I plan to help run a series of chapter organizer training workshops, to help support educators mobilize the power of their coworkers to defend themselves against the insanities of our education system, and their abusive representatives.  Please join us at tomorrow's forum about the nuts and bolts of chapter organizing, and share your own stories of organizing against abusive administrators below.  Collectively, we can work toward building sanity into this system.
Daily News: Former Bronx High School of Science teacher Peter Lamphere gets ‘unsatisfactory’ rating reversed in Supreme Court
Lamphere was among 20 out of 22 math teachers who filed a special complaint in 2008 against assistant principal Rosemarie Jahoda, alleging repeated harassment. They also charged that Reidy wrongly denied them tenure and gave arbitrary “U” ratings. An independent investigator found that the teachers were being harassed.
And this quote from the brother of a supreme court justice:
“It was understood at Bronx Science that Reidy used ‘U’ ratings and denials of tenure for nonpedagogical reasons,” said Mark Kagan, a social studies teacher who left the school this year.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

A Conversation With a Young (do they have anything else?) Charter School Teacher

"One of the main attractions of my charter school is how much more I am paid than a public school teacher: $64,000 starting salary vs. $49,000 for NYCDOE."... 2nd year charter school teacher
I find it funny to be in a position of defending a system that I always thought was not a good one and desperately needed reform. 

At the beach yesterday we were hanging out with friends and some of their kids and their kids' friends. One of the young ladies is a 2nd year teacher in Brooklyn at a charter chain - she is a former Teach For America. Her first words to me were that she teaches in a charter school but wants to teach in a public school eventually. Why? "Because the charter school model is not sustainable." Neither is TFA the felt.

Here is the good, bad and ugly of our conversation.

She said she likes the school, a grade 5-8 school. It is well-run and she feels they do not use harsh discipline measures. I mentioned KIPP and SLANT. She knew what I was talking about. In fact I think I have heard similar negative stories about her chain but not sure of my facts didn't challenge her.

She teaches a non-testing subject so there is no pressure on her like people teaching tested subjects and she didn't think she could handle that kind of pressure. Her bosses say as much openly. Reading and math are all that count.

She exhibits some of the TFA and ed deform propaganda. "Public schools do not serve black and brown students and charters do." She said that white students were well served by the public schools.

Interesting pulling of the race card that I imagine charter school proponents are using in certain communities which eventually leads to the charge that opponents of charters are racist.
I explained the basic lack of resource issue in public schools where charters, especially chains have enormous funding sources in addition to the public money they get - that I had taught for 30 years in a school of only black and brown students and felt that we had served a lot of them to the best of our ability. She asked me if I thought the school was well-managed. In some ways it was but the leadership was also narrowly obsessed by test scores and it was a top-down situation but that we had a very experienced staff that mostly knew what they were doing.

I raised the issue of the disappearing kids from grade to grade - I asked if she sees classes from 5th-8th grade shrinking. She acknowledged that. I asked if the school back filled and she did not seem to think so. Meaning: The lowest performing students disappeared into the public schools.

We were interrupted and I never got to tell her that our top students were "served" but now they are being lured out of public schools and into charters by the propaganda mill. That the ultimate goal is to extract the highest performing students and leave the rest in the resource-starved public schools.

I find it funny to be in a position of defending a system that I always thought was not a good one and desperately needed reform. For decades before the ed deform attacks I fought that system and the UFT that supported it. So I have to temper any enthusiasm for what was and still is a corrupt public school system because what is being offered is so much worse. It is like the Trump-Hillary story. People feel forced to defend Hillary to stop Trump.

She loves her job with caveats. Her chain has a path to a Masters degree program - maybe with some financial support - an important way to retain teachers - another major charter advantage.

So what's not to like? Why does she want to end up teaching in a public school? The much longer hours and time commitments - her $15000 higher salary to a public school starting salary is really to cover some of those extra hours. Both public and charter teachers still have to put in a lot of extra time in addition to the salary but with a longer day, charter school teacher days are even longer.

"I am very tired at the end of the day," she said. "The charter model is not sustainable." She loves teaching but even with a weak union over the long run she prefers a job with some protections even it means working in the NYCDOE.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Follow-up: Tenure Numbers Climb Under de Blasio - 64% granted in 2014-15

Under Bloomberg, who promised to move toward “ending tenure as we know it,” tenure approval rates plummeted from 89 percent in the 2009-10 school year to 53 percent the year before de Blasio took control of the city school system.  ...
The number of teachers whose tenure prospects were deferred fell slightly to 34 percent, down from a high of 44 percent in Bloomberg’s final year. Under both administrations, rejection rates have hovered around 2 percent….
Six percent of teachers whose tenure decisions were previously delayed faced outright denial, up from 4 percent the previous year, which a department official emphasized as a sign of a rigorous tenure process
A recent post on Ed Notes Vergara be damned: NY Tenure Unofficially Undermined by DOE and UFT Silence
primed some comments, including this one:

Do we know for what percent of teachers tenure is postponed until the fifth or sixth year? 

I assume UFT should have that number - but maybe they don't care enough to track it.

Leonie sent this link to a Chalkbeat piece on tenure numbers that does fill in some blanks.
New York City teachers were more likely to earn tenure last school year than at any point in the previous five years, but approval rates remain far lower than they were just a few years ago, when virtually every eligible teacher won the job protection.
Sixty-four percent of the 5,832 eligible teachers were granted tenure during the 2014-15 school year, up from 60 percent the year before, according to data released Thursday to Chalkbeat. Another 34 percent had their decisions deferred, and 2.3 percent were rejected, effectively ending their teaching careers in the district.
The numbers show that eligible teachers are slightly more likely to receive tenure under Mayor Bill de Blasio’s watch. But they also show that the de Blasio administration has not reversed the approach of his predecessor Michael Bloomberg, whose administration made attaining tenure dramatically more difficult not by rejecting tenure applications, but by delaying a larger share of those decisions to a later year.
Under Bloomberg, who promised to move toward “ending tenure as we know it,” tenure approval rates plummeted from 89 percent in the 2009-10 school year to 53 percent the year before de Blasio took control of the city school system. Bloomberg argued that too many teachers were earning tenure too quickly, and the city began delaying decisions for a large portion of eligible teachers.
Over his first two years, de Blasio has slowly changed course. In his first year, tenure rates inched up to 60 percent, a 7 percent increase that de Blasio said reflected his administration’s interest in rewarding and retaining top teachers. And last year, the approval rate increased again to 64 percent.
The number of teachers whose tenure prospects were deferred fell slightly to 34 percent, down from a high of 44 percent in Bloomberg’s final year. Under both administrations, rejection rates have hovered around 2 percent….
Six percent of teachers whose tenure decisions were previously delayed faced outright denial, up from 4 percent the previous year, which a department official emphasized as a sign of a rigorous tenure process

The education department only released the tenure numbers — which have historically been distributed months earlier — to Chalkbeat after multiple requests. Observers say that reticence could reflect the political reality that both union supporters and advocates who want stricter tenure rules can use the data as a political bludgeon…

A key feature of the national debate is how long teachers should be in the classroom before being considered for the job protection. U.S. Secretary of Education John King recently waded into that conversation, saying that two years is not enough. Under a recent change to state rules, teachers can be considered for the job protection only after four ‘probationary’ years.
Meanwhile, New York City school leaders are already making the next round of tenure decisions. Most of this year’s recommendations were due from principals April 30; teachers should be notified of those decisions by late June.

Memo From the RTC: La Cage… Denouement, Cheri

My last column in The Wave on La Cage... I promise. The love between the cast members goes on though, with some people saying this was one of the greatest experiences of their lives.
Photos by Rob Mintzes.

Friday Aug. 26, 2016
Memo From the RTC: La Cage… Denouement, Cheri
By Norm Scott

A woman in a hot yoga class said, “I would have paid $100 to see the RTC production of La Cage on Broadway.” “Can’t beat 18 bucks and  free parking,” I said.  “And the chance to see a fellow-yoga class member speak French.”

And there was a heckuva lot of French being thrown around during the 10 sold-out performances of the RTC production of La Cage Aux Folles. RTC master yogi and master set builder Tony Homsey, turning from carpentry to acting, epitomized linguistic par excellence with his “ze feesh are rrrrunning well monsieur” as he walked across the stage with his partner in crime, Curtis Wanderer, who was carrying “ze feesh” on “ze feeshing pole”. The appearance of the Tony-Curtis dynamic duo on the RTC stage in their cute French striped tee shirts resulted in peals of delightful laughter among RTC regulars. I had been hoping to see them appear as members of the female-impersonating Le Cagelles. Maybe next time.

We also heard palatable French accents from Jacob the maid, played by Matt Smilardi who brought down the house with every appearance on stage in yet another outfit and  Jaqueline, played by the lovely Jodee Timpone, who adds grace and elegance to every production. Some audience members thought Jodee was really French. Jodee has always been one of my all-time RTC favorites even before I had the opportunity to appear in productions and hang out back stage with her.

“A mother and 2 daughters” theme was played out by the East New York-by way of Trinidad trio of mom Denise Eversley and her singing daughters Renee and Jannicke Steadman, both of whom appeared as part of the chorus in A Little Shop of Horrors. I found out Denise can also sing like a charm when she was saddled with the task of being my dance partner in the “Best of Times”. That I dared try to dance is a tribute to chorographer supreme Nicola DePierro Nellen (whose beautiful year old daughter Shea often graced us backstage, a child whose expressions are so vivid she can stop traffic).

I’ve said it before and I will keep blasting it from the rooftop – the great Chaz Peacock’s performance as Albin/Zaza, a “transvestite/homosexual” blew people away. I didn’t think he could ever top his hysterical Zero Mostel role as Pseudolus in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum or the deep and dark Jud Fry in Oklahoma. Chaz can act and sing in any role and as a stout 30ish black man his talent overrides any hesitancy on the part of directors. If they were casting the role of the Yiddish Tevye for a production of Fiddler, Chaz could pull it off.

He made a wonderful speech in the dressing room before we went on for our final performance last Sunday, thanking co-star John Heffernan who played his lover and life-long partner, Georges (who identifies himself in the play as “just one plain – non-transvestite homosexual”). Chaz said the compliments he has been receiving for his performance were great but John as a stage and acting partner helped make that possible. I haven’t said enough about the professionalism of John Heffernan who held his own as an actor, singer and dancer next to the Chaz powerhouse.  What a pleasure John is to work with. John, appearing to be in his mid-forties, is tall, blond, and a handsome leading man. He is also straight playing a gay man in love with a much shorter, 30ish, stoutish black man who is supposed to be over a dozen years older.  And he/they pull it off superbly. John is the founder of “The Rhapsody Players,” a group of singers who have raised 10s of thousands of dollars each year for charity.

Think of the guts it took not only to put on this daring play in Rockaway but to cast these two together. And the man with the guts is RTC founder and artistic director John Gilleece who managed all aspects of this production with a massive cast superbly. John has been around since the creation of the RTC so at times we take him for granted. A neighbor of mine asked me to introduce her to John and she was not only gushing about the show but also about how  her daughter as a child was in the original RTC on Beach 116th street. Think of that. How John Gilleece’s vision has morphed a tiny theater into a major powerhouse, not only in Rockaway, but attracting talent and audiences from all over the Metro area.

In Tony’s speech in the dressing room he made it clear that none of us would have been there without John and his producing partner Susan Jasper. They not only know how to pick a cast – other than continuing to put me in their musicals – but also choosing immense behind the scenes talents. Musical director Richard Louis-Pierre is a great musician, band leader and musical coach. No one puts in more time and effort for a show than Rich, a selfless unsung hero. Choreographer Nicola DiPierro Nellen does double duty as one of the hair dressers backstage, along with her mom, Phyllis De Pierro, who also appears in the Ensemble. When La Cagelles got standing ovations for their dancing, it was Nicola’s work being cheered. And let’s not forget the professional jobs in the lighting (Andrew Woodbridge) and sound booths (Daniel Fay and Andrew Feldman), along with the mother-hen stage managers Nora Meyers and Jenna Tipaldo, RTC jack of all trades Suzanne Riggs and costumiers Matt Smilardi and Susan Corning.

I can’t close my series of columns without listing the awesome Cagelles – 5 men (Erech Holder Hetmeyer, Anthony Melendez, Max Lamadrid, Atsushi Eda, Brian Sadowski) and 3 women (Kacie Reilly, Jacqueline Caruana and Gabrielle Mangano). And of course their great make-up artist Karlos Roman who made men look like women and women look like men looking like women. The cast bought Karlos a professional make-up case, the kind of thoughtfulness RTC people are known for, bringing Karlos, who had dressed up in drag for the cast party, to tears. Turns out he is a great performer himself. Truly the love flowed over the past 3 months and even days after the cast can’t stop posting on FB how much they love each other.

By Monday afternoon, Tony and crew had the stage clear and ready to build the set for Wait Until Dark. Karlos stopped by to work on Frank Caiati’s makeup as the villain for that show. Trust me – if you saw Frank walking down the street in this make-up you would run the other way.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Driving Down Teacher Salaries: NYC Teacher Erik Mears Unravels Ed Deform

I hope that TFA proponents will grow to regret their snobbish belief that graduating from a good college and interviewing well are better qualifications for teaching than ... actual qualifications and experience..... Public school teachers' relationship to charter teachers is thus analogous to the relationship between US auto workers and Mexican autoworkers.... Erik Mears, Truthout, Education Reformers' Core Beliefs Are Objectionable
I came across this piece on Truthout by NYC teacher Erik Mears who brings an interesting perspective to teaching. A West Point 2003 graduate, he spent five years in the army through 2008.

Education Reformers' Core Beliefs Are Objectionable

Monday, 22 August 2016 00:00 By Erik Mears, Provocations Blog | News Analysis

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Vergara be damned: NY Tenure Unofficially Undermined by DOE and UFT Silence

A lot has been made of the overturning of Vergara in California as Randi and crew celebrated the victory while the UFT remains silent in the face of stories of years of extensions of tenure here in the city.

At the MORE retreat last week the issue of forcing the UFT to address the extension/discontinue issue was raised as a project to take on this year.

Chalkbeat makes this point "state lawmakers have actually changed some of the disputed laws: They lengthened the period needed to earn tenure to four years, and altered the statewide teacher-evaluation system." (They still managed to dredge up a quote from scuzball Moaning Mona Davids whose 15 minutes expired a long time ago.) In California tenure was received in 18 months while in NYC it had been 3 years, now extended to 4.

What Chalkbeat is not reporting is that beyond the 4 years needed for tenure (during which time probably 40% of the teachers have already disappeared) in NY, principals have the power to extend/postpone people with no time limit -- we have heard people are in their 6th or 7th year without tenure, all the time under the threat of instant discontinuance.

A MORE teachers recently was completing her 5th year without tenure and was told by the principal she would not get tenure once again. Having been accepted to law school she decided she had had enough. When she told the principal she was leaving to go to law school in Sept. the principal told her she had to resign immediately (thus losing summer health care benefits) and if she didn't she would be discontinued and lose her teaching license.

At one DA about 2 years ago someone asked Mulgrew what the union was doing if a teacher was extended for a 2nd or 3rd year. He acted surprised as if he had never heard of that.

Principals withhold tenure for political and career reasons - to show that they are tough -- "I don't give tenure to everyone -- some aim at a 50% rate or less. But then again it was they who hired the teachers. Or what happens when there is a change in principal for a teacher say in the 4th year? That principal may automatically extend tenure, claiming he/she needs another year to evaluate the teachers. Or teachers are extended based on Supt. recommendations. I heard one case where most of the entire core of 8 3rd year teachers were denied because the school was a "failing" school -- according to my contact who was the CL these people had worked their asses off to keep the school afloat.

One of the things the MORE Ex Bd  members need to do this year is force the union leadership to address the tenure, or lack of, issue.

And when the scuzballs like Campbell Brown and Moaning Mona go to court the unions can site the tenure denials and extensions that they have allowed as proof there is in effect a weakened tenure law in NY.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Frantic Binge at The NYC Fringe Festival: Favorites so far - Jack Fry's Einstein and Richard III

King for a half hour
I love the quirkiness of the Fringe where you find all kinds of performances and types of shows ---- shows like Seeger, Zuccotti Park -see the full list here.

'Emily Carding’s portrayal of the king who murders his way to the English throne is in a league of its own.' ***** (
I was lucky to fall into this show. Wednesday night, after seeing a 7PM show and having a late night 9PM slot to fill I saw Richard III (A One Woman Show) at a theater on East 4th St.  I could get to it with a short walk from Suffolk and Rivington. This is Shakespeare in an hour so I knew I could handle it. There were about 25 people on line and we were told to wait until Richard III himself (who is a herself) personally escorted each of us to our seats and then would assign you a role in the play. When it was my turn, Richard took me to my seat, put a crown on my head and dubbed me King Edward VI, his brother. I don't know my Shakespeare but have read enough about Richard III to knew I didn't have long to stay alive. On the way in I did comment to Richard, who had his hunchback on and was limping, that he (she) looked marvelous after spending 700 years under a parking lot.

There were 2 rows of white chairs facing each other and every member of the audience was a character in some manner. A delightful hour spent and I would see this again. You can see it too at it's final performance today at 5.

Every year for most of the past decade I've volunteered at the NYC Fringe Festival which takes place over 17 days in the heat of August - 200 shows (each performed 5 times) at 16 venues, all below 14th street at some pretty funky theaters. By volunteering, for each shift, most lasting only 15 minutes, you get a voucher to see a show for free as long as there is room.

Some of my experiences in my 3 days in the city at the Fringe Festival last week, broken up by the 6-hour MORE retreat on Wednesday (which I'll report on separately. I got to interact with so many people from all over the world -- which is one of the major reasons to do the Fringe. I'm going back  Wed through Friday this week. We have tiks with old friends for Murder at the Food Coop on Thursday and another show followed by dinner.

Over the years I would have spent most of the 2 weeks in the city but over time the traveling back and forth from Rockaway every day in the heat of summer became a bit too much. I mean leaving Rockaway in the summer is practically a crime. So the past 2 years I rarely went to Fringe. Besides, over the years I had developed loyalty to the volunteer director, the amazing Tati Sena, and since she had her baby she hasn't been as active so I lost a personal connection.

But now with a place in the city to stay I decided to jump back in. The major problem is that last weekend and this I have to be here in Rockaway for La Cage.

So after missing the opening weekend last week I went in on Monday before returning to Rockaway Thursday afternoon. I took the endless A train which because I need to take the shuttle first and walked to 116th St from my house, was almost a 2 hour trip each way. But who's in a hurry?

I bought tickets to see an old pal's show -- Jack Fry who did the teacher-based show "They Call Me Mr. Fry" years ago which I helped promote - even inviting Jack to come to the Delegate Assembly and stand downstairs to promote his show.

Jack is back with a new show, "Einstein" which he was performing Monday night at "Under St. Marks" performing space at 8:45. My wife was supposed to go but she is feeling the heat and decided to pass.

I really liked Jack's show where he comes back as Einstein and interacts with the modern audience in so many creative ways. Jack is a great performer (he still has his LA teacher license) and outside after the show I met some people who are filmakers and performers themselves who loved the show. Jack thought he might come out to Rockaway to see our show this weekend but he needed to promote his final 2 performances, VENUE #7: Under St. Marks  MON 22 @ 2:30  ||  FRI 26 @ 5.

Definitely worth seeing.

I signed up Monday to work 3 shifts before Jack's show - one at a theater on E. 4th St - where there a whole bunch of venues and 2 at Under St.Marks. Basically that involves handing out a program to people going in (ticketing is basically online now so there are no real will-call tiks to give out like in the past.)

Tuesday I signed up for a 2PM shift at the venues on Suffolk and Rivington where there are 4 theaters. It can be difficult to sift through which shows to see so I figured with 4 venues and 3 or 4 shows at each up to 9PM I could just hang out there for the day and use my vouchers. But a couple of shows I wanted to see were sold out -- The Company Incorporated looked right up my ally.

I began to meet people who were involved in the shows.

I met a South Korean actress named Ji-Young Choi, WHILE OPHELIA'S KOREAN DRUM WEEPS , looking to fill the seats, she handed me a ticket and asked me to come - so I did. She was captivating. Read a good review here. The last performance is today at 1PM.
She is a Columbia grad who speaks perfect English and was looking to fill the theater for her one woman show where she was doing a riff as Hamlet's Ophelia communicating through a drum - a unique perspective -

Another performer I met was a woman named Shyam Bhatt from London who is of Indian descent and was also doing a one-woman show called "Treya's Last Dance" - see review. I went the next day after the MORE retreat and found her enchanting. So interesting to chat with someone one day and then see them transformed when on stage.

Tuesday evening when I got shut out of a show I had wanted to see I was sitting around the Fringe lounge near a couple at the next table when a young woman came over all excited over a 4 star review her show had gotten at Time Out NY.  Her show was The Box Show. The couple were parents of
her friend and we began to talk. They had extra tickets and gave me one. Soon we were joined by 2 ladies who were mothers of some guys involved in the show and I felt part of the family. The show by Dominique Salerno where she does the entire show in a box with different vignettes is so creatively done.

I enjoyed the serendipitous nature of not making too many plans at the Fringe and being willing to go to shows where I meet people.

(Get tickets at Einstein! Einstein!
Sew and Sew Productions
Writer: Jack Fry
Director: Tom Blomquist
War-torn Berlin, 1914, ambitious young scientist Albert Einstein awaits news from a solar eclipse that will finally prove his controversial Theory of General Relativity. Instead, Einstein is sent sideways in a spiral vortex due to professional and personal life disintegration.
1h 20m   Local   Los Angeles, CA
Solo Show   Drama   


VENUE #7: Under St. Marks

War-torn Berlin, 1914, ambitious young scientist Albert Einstein awaits news from a solar eclipse that will finally prove his controversial Theory of General Relativity. Instead, Einstein is sent sideways in a spiral vortex due to professional and personal life disintegration.

Memo from The RTC: The Air Beneath a Soaring La Cage

Final weekend tonight and tomorrow afternoon. Arthur Goldstein and his family are coming tonight. We are sold out but there are always people who don't show - so I told some of my friends if they show up before 7PM and get on the wait list they have a good chance of getting in.

Great audience last night - I could tell from the first moments based on their responses. They got most of the jokes and were laughing and singing along. A standing O. I would say this is the most loved show

Photos by Rob Mintzes

Memo from The RTC: The Air Beneath a Soaring La Cage
By Norm Scott

Last Sunday night when I left the post matinee cast party thrown by the incredibly gracious Susanne Riggs and her husband John many members of the cast of La Cage Aux Folles were still frolicking in the pool. It was almost 9:30 and the non-locals, of whom there are many, still had a long trip home, some up to 2 hours. Many of them had arrived up to 2-3 hours before the 2PM show began to get their extensive make-up and hair done and do all the other essentials in the hours before the show goes on, thus spending 10 hours or more in each others’ company. Oy! You might say, but not to this crew.

So here are a group of performers and support people who make the show work from behind the scenes, many of whom had not met before the show began rehearsals almost 3 months ago seeming to not get enough of each other. Apparently bonding that makes super glue look weak has taken place. The cast and crew of La Cage Aux Folles, which is heading into its final sold-out weekend, are having a magnificent time. Some of the newcomers to the Rockaway Theatre Company say this has been the best experience of their performing careers – the support of the production team and their fellow performers has been taken to new heights. The evening shows end around 11PM and people are still mulling around an hour later, with whole batches going out to a diner after the show. I believe it is not only the opportunities to perform that attract so much high end talent to the far away reaches of the RTC at Fort Tilden but also the support and a bonding where life long friends are made and even some romances – if I tell you about those I have to kill you.

At every show members of the growing RTC alumni show up to see their colleagues perform and they are the very best of audience members, hooting and hollering and cheering everyone on. As an ensemble member I get to sit on the stage at 3 different points in the play and get to surreptitiously observe audience reactions. Even these RTC vets were blown away by Chazmond Peacock’s performance as Albin and raved about the antics of Matt Smilardi as Jacob.

The other night the front two rows were filled with teenagers who have been part of the RTC but are not in this show and they were so excited at what they were seeing, especially when the Cagelles, of mixed men and woman, all dressed up as women, were dancing. They were also there to cheer their friends from the Young People’s RTC Workshops:  Their amazing choreographer and dancer, Gabrielle Mangano, one of the Cagelles and herself a former teen RTCer, and a Kacie Reilly, recent grad of the young people’s workshop and one of the most elegant young dancers I’ve seen on stage. And of course the delightful Dante Rei (you’ll recognize him as his injuries in the show mount) who has aged out of his teen years into manhood so quickly but has not lost that sense of play he always brings to any show he is in.

Then there is quadruple threat (musician, singer, dancer, actress) Leigh Dillon (Anne), a soon to be senior in high school, who graduates to the main stage big time in this romantic grown-up role. Her fiancé, Jean-Michel, is played by the Dorian Gray-like Frank Caiati (now 30), who apparently has a portrait of himself hanging somewhere that is aging. Frank has been a driving force at the RTC since his teen years. When Anne and Jean-Michel in the show smooched it up, the giggling from the front rows couldn’t be contained. Seeing these wonderful kids, the future main stagers at the RTC who will be the Manganos and Caiatis of the future, being so into the theater is as exciting as anything the RTC has managed to accomplish.

I’ll have more to say about the other performers and the backstage crew in my final column on the show next week – at last you must be thinking- which I will write on the day after the show closes as I join Tony Homsey and crew in the sad task of taking apart the set (and beginning to build the next set for the Susan Corning directed “Wait Until Dark,” opening Sept 16 and running for only 2 weekends - so get your tickets early.)

Norm blogs at when he is not staggering out of cast parties.

Friday, August 19, 2016

The Future of the Democratic and Labour Parties: Seeking Comparisons Between Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbin

"Most are simply attracted to the man’s unvarnished style and uncompromising politics.".... The Economist,  How Jeremy Corbyn took control of Labour
Some of you may think this is about Bernie but this article is about the Jeremy Corbyn takeover of the Labour Party in England. Corbyn can make Bernie look like a right winger.

Will be see the day where Bernie or his surrogate(s) take over the Democratic Party? I think not, but let's explore what is happening in England with what the anti-left Economist terms the left takeover of one of the major parties in England.

Which raises some interesting contrasts with the Trump temporary takeover of the Republican Party, which follows the Tea Party takeover of a segment of the party.
it leaves Labour’s moderates—who remain a large minority of the membership and dominate the parliamentary party—with a grim dilemma. Some are toying with declaring independence from Mr Corbyn and sitting as a separate parliamentary group.
One can read "Labour's moderates" as our Republican moderates - are there any out there? An interesting point if viewing Corbyn as a Trump-like takeover of the party instead of Bernie. Oh the complexities in these stories. The left Labour Party is undergoing the stresses the right Republican Party is going through while the Tories are facing threats from the right wing nationalist parties. The wild card is the Dem Party here --- Hillary wins and I don't see it moving left but remaining center as Hillary begins her 2020 re-election run the day after the election - unless the left becomes a massive force to force change.

Remember -- there are some apt comparisons between the parties in the 90s under Tony Blair and Bill Clinton, followed by Obama - both moved to center right triangulation with neo-liberalism at their core --- for we educators, both these leaders initiated the attacks on public ed and teachers and their unions - and also joined in with the assault on labor, even when they sat on the sidelines (see Obama and Wisconsin). Look at the last 24 years, 16 of them under Democrats -- unions took major hits that are leading to their having less and less influence.

Oh, and let's not let our esteemed union leaders off the hook as they suck at the teat of the Dem Party. (See Labor's Stockholm Syndrome: Why Unions Must Stop Backing Anti-Labor Candidates in the Primaries - "Helping to elect anti-worker politicians who attack the rest of the working class in exchange for narrow immediate gains for the union is self-defeating. .")

And then there was the Bernie effort to shift the Dem party leftward. It is too bad that the boogey man Trump so-called threat has silenced Bernie and so many of his supporters who have become "Defeat Trump first and then let's talk." (Another link to the article above in the last para for this discussion.)

But I fear the Bernie moment may have passed, as we see more articles about how the liberals/progressives are disturbed by Hillary who sure she has secured her flank on the left, has shifted to wooing Republicans, who must be assured that Hillary's move "left" is being done with a wink.
Hillary Clinton’s Edge in a Donald Trump-Centric Race Has Liberals Wary
Maureen Dowd with a surprising column about Hillary, The Perfect G.O.P. Nominee.
And then there is the role the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) in England is playing in the Labour Party takeover. British SWP was once closely aligned with the American International Socialist Organization (ISO) which has played a prominent and leadership role in the UFT opposition within MORE - a complex internal relationship that deserves a separate commentary.

As you read this piece do not forget this The Economist is a vicious anti-left publication and this is a biased article. If you were reading something like this in The Guardian there would be a different slant.

The Labour Party

The metamorphosis

How Jeremy Corbyn took control of Labour

ON A sunny afternoon in the garden of the Bristol Flyer pub, a gang of Jeremy Corbyn fans are gathered around a table discussing the Labour Party leader’s rally in the city the day before. “Three thousand people? Was that it?” asks one. “Yeah, you think Corbyn and you think 500,000!” replies a man in a Ramones T-shirt. Still, on to the next battle. Leaflets are circulated, which cheer on Labour’s leader and attack Tories and Blairites. Yet these Corbynistas are not Labour supporters. They are members of a rival outfit: the tiny Socialist Party.

Since he won Labour’s leadership contest last September, Mr Corbyn and his once tiny band of allies on the party’s hard left have taken control of Labour. Partly this is the product of an effort by gnarled agitators from outside it to flood the party with activists and challenge the moderates in its institutions. But it is also thanks to a mostly unorchestrated surge of previously disillusioned new members, many of them young, into the party.

A new leadership contest, triggered after a vote of no confidence in Mr Corbyn by moderate MPs in June, illustrates the transformation. Mr Corbyn deserves to flop. In the past 11 months Labour has lost seats in local elections, failed to hold the government to account, become infected with anti-Semitism, tumbled in the polls and, thanks to its lacklustre campaign to Remain, contributed to Britain’s vote for Brexit. Following the referendum, most of Mr Corbyn’s shadow cabinet resigned. Despite all this, he is heading for a solid win in the leadership contest over Owen Smith, the moderates’ actually-quite-left-wing candidate, on September 24th. This week a court ruled that the 130,000 Labour members who have signed up since January should be allowed to vote in the contest, making Mr Corbyn’s victory all but certain.

How did the formidable centrist party of Tony Blair end up in the hands of Mr Corbyn, an admirer of Hugo Chávez? Entryism has played a part. Mr Corbyn’s victory brought back veterans of Labour’s battles in the 1980s, when Militant, a Marxist group, tried to take over the party. One trouper of the hard left, Jon Lansman, now runs Momentum, a powerful Corbynite movement. Its local groups have come to dominate many local Labour branches and chivvy MPs to support Mr Corbyn. On August 10th Tom Watson, Labour’s deputy leader, alleged that the party was being infiltrated by Trotskyists from groups like the Socialist Party (whose website boasts of its members addressing Momentum events). Some in Momentum want to reinstate “mandatory reselection”, enabling local members to boot out sitting Labour MPs.

Momentum’s efforts are intertwined with those of far-left parties such as the Socialist Workers Party (SWP). John Ferrett, who leads Labour’s group on Portsmouth Council, describes how things have changed: “[Party] meetings used to be friendly and focused on local politics and local campaigning. Now they are dominated by Momentum activists. Most moderate members no longer turn up and those that do get harangued if they criticise Corbyn.” Most astonishing “is seeing the Socialist Worker [the SWP’s paper] being sold outside and inside the meeting.”

The takeover is mirrored at the national level. The National Policy Forum, a policymaking body created by Mr Blair, has been sidelined in favour of the National Executive Committee (NEC), which has tilted left; at elections on August 8th all six of the seats reserved for constituency representatives went to Corbynistas, who now fill 16 of its 33 places. A document circulated by Mr Lansman in December (titled “Taking control of the party”) proposed giving the NEC a veto on candidate selections. If he is re-elected, Mr Corbyn is expected to purge the party’s headquarters, dumping Iain McNicol, its moderate general secretary.

Yet Labour’s transformation owes as much to circumstance as conspiracy. The conditions for Mr Corbyn’s victory were ripe: years of austerity concentrated on the young, an outgoing leader (Ed Miliband) whose compromises with electability had failed to save Labour from electoral disappointment and, crucially, new rules enabling non-members to vote in the leadership contest for £3 ($4).

Idealistic lefties poured in, tripling the party’s electorate and propelling Mr Corbyn, initially a no-hoper, to a crushing victory.
Some of the new joiners are former members who quit during the Blair years. Others are young folk with no experience of party politics. But only a minority, albeit a well organised one, are entryists. Most are simply attracted to the man’s unvarnished style and uncompromising politics. That is evident on his Facebook page (which has more “likes” than that of Labour itself) and at his rallies. In Bristol speakers excoriated Thangam Debbonaire, a local Labour MP who had criticised Mr Corbyn, to cries of “Deselect!” from the crowd.

This points to a hard truth for Labour moderates: the party’s metamorphosis is as much a bottom-up swell of enthusiasm as a takeover at the top. Without “the movement”, the top-down changes would be unthinkable. The mass of new members protects Mr Corbyn and forces those who want to make their way in the party to bow to him: of three Labour mayoral candidates selected on August 9th and 10th, one (Steve Rotheram, the unexpected winner in Liverpool) is a Corbyn ally and another (Andy Burnham in Manchester) is a moderate who has pandered to Corbynistas. As long as he has this large, growing base Mr Corbyn can face down his MPs and continue remaking the party for as long as it pleases him.
This is excellent news for the Tories, who are contemplating calling an early election to cash in their poll lead (14 points, according to the latest YouGov survey). And it leaves Labour’s moderates—who remain a large minority of the membership and dominate the parliamentary party—with a grim dilemma. Some are toying with declaring independence from Mr Corbyn and sitting as a separate parliamentary group. But Labour is a tribal party and most MPs are inclined to dig in. They are in for a long wait.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Trump: Tribune Of Poor White People | The American Conservative

Michael Fiorillo sent this follow-up piece on the poor white working class.

Last week we published the review of the book by J.D. Vance
from the American Conservative. Michael who is left gets credit for his wide-ranging reading. Vance grew up poor white and ended up at Yale law school after serving in the marines. This is the follow-up interview where so many interesting points about both white and black poor are made. The Trump appeal he points out while including elements of racism, not in the least bit inspired by the fact that the white poor are often totally ignored, also touches on some things that resonate. Like the arrogance and condescension of liberals and people on the left. I actually saw an example of that at the MORE retreat yesterday. And this article reminds me of Mike Schirtzer who entered MORE 4 years ago with a white working class mentality and how some people rolled their eyes. Mike has gotten to see a lot of angles he was not aware of before but he also has maintained his gut level white working class instincts. While I never viewed myself as coming from white working class roots - both my parents were ILGWU garment workers - but Jews never seem to feel they would get stuck and not be able to rise out like the despair described in these articles.

An interesting thought on my part: Is it ever possible to unite the black and white poor? Maybe an FDR type but we always seem to need a massive crisis. Obama looked to be a possibility but as a neo-liberal and also being black made that impossible. He talked FDR but was more Regan.

Trump: Tribune Of Poor White People

I wrote last week about the new nonfiction book Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and a Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance, the Yale Law School graduate who grew up in the poverty and chaos of an Appalachian clan. The book is an American classic, an extraordinary testimony to the brokenness of the white working class, but also its strengths. It’s one of the best books I’ve ever read. With the possible exception of Yuval Levin’s The Fractured Republic, for Americans who care about politics and the future of our country, Hillbilly Elegy is the most important book of 2016. You cannot understand what’s happening now without first reading J.D. Vance. His book does for poor white people what Ta-Nehisi Coates’s book did for poor black people: give them voice and presence in the public square.

This interview I just did with Vance in two parts (the final question I asked after Trump’s convention speech) shows why.
RD: A friend who moved to West Virginia a couple of years ago tells me that she’s never seen poverty and hopelessness like what’s common there. And she says you can drive through the poorest parts of the state, and see nothing but TRUMP signs. Reading “Hillbilly Elegy” tells me why. Explain it to people who haven’t yet read your book. 
J.D. VANCE: The simple answer is that these people–my people–are really struggling, and there hasn’t been a single political candidate who speaks to those struggles in a long time.  Donald Trump at least tries.
What many don’t understand is how truly desperate these places are, and we’re not talking about small enclaves or a few towns–we’re talking about multiple states where a significant chunk of the white working class struggles to get by.  Heroin addiction is rampant.  In my medium-sized Ohio county last year, deaths from drug addiction outnumbered deaths from natural causes.  The average kid will live in multiple homes over the course of her life, experience a constant cycle of growing close to a “stepdad” only to see him walk out on the family, know multiple drug users personally, maybe live in a foster home for a bit (or at least in the home of an unofficial foster like an aunt or grandparent), watch friends and family get arrested, and on and on.  And on top of that is the economic struggle, from the factories shuttering their doors to the Main Streets with nothing but cash-for-gold stores and pawn shops.
The two political parties have offered essentially nothing to these people for a few decades.  From the Left, they get some smug condescension, an exasperation that the white working class votes against their economic interests because of social issues, a la Thomas Frank (more on that below).  Maybe they get a few handouts, but many don’t want handouts to begin with.  
From the Right, they’ve gotten the basic Republican policy platform of tax cuts, free trade, deregulation, and paeans to the noble businessman and economic growth.  Whatever the merits of better tax policy and growth (and I believe there are many), the simple fact is that these policies have done little to address a very real social crisis.  More importantly, these policies are culturally tone deaf: nobody from southern Ohio wants to hear about the nobility of the factory owner who just fired their brother.
Trump’s candidacy is music to their ears.  He criticizes the factories shipping jobs overseas.  His apocalyptic tone matches their lived experiences on the ground.  He seems to love to annoy the elites, which is something a lot of people wish they could do but can’t because they lack a platform.  
The last point I’ll make about Trump is this: these people, his voters, are proud.  A big chunk of the white working class has deep roots in Appalachia, and the Scots-Irish honor culture is alive and well.  We were taught to raise our fists to anyone who insulted our mother.  I probably got in a half dozen fights when I was six years old.  Unsurprisingly, southern, rural whites enlist in the military at a disproportionate rate.  Can you imagine the humiliation these people feel at the successive failures of Bush/Obama foreign policy?  My military service is the thing I’m most proud of, but when I think of everything happening in the Middle East, I can’t help but tell myself: I wish we would have achieved some sort of lasting victory.  No one touched that subject before Trump, especially not in the Republican Party. 
I’m not a hillbilly, nor do I descend from hillbilly stock, strictly speaking. But I do come from poor rural white people in the South. I have spent most of my life and career living among professional class urbanite, most of them on the East Coast, and the barely-banked contempt they — the professional-class whites, I mean — have for poor white people is visceral, and obvious to me. Yet it is invisible to them. Why is that? And what does it have to do with our politics today? 
I know exactly what you mean.  My grandma (Mamaw) recognized this instinctively.  She said that most people were probably prejudiced, but they had to be secretive about it.  “We”–meaning hillbillies–“are the only group of people you don’t have to be ashamed to look down upon.”  During my final year at Yale Law, I took a small class with a professor I really admired (and still do).  I was the only veteran in the class, and when this came up somehow in conversation, a young woman looked at me and said, “I can’t believe you were in the Marines.  You just seem so nice.  I thought that people in the military had to act a certain way.”  It was incredibly insulting, and it was my first real introduction to the idea that this institution that was so important among my neighbors was looked down upon in such a personal way. To this lady, to be in the military meant that you had to be some sort of barbarian.  I bit my tongue, but it’s one of those comments I’ll never forget.  
The “why” is really difficult, but I have a few thoughts.  The first is that humans appear to have some need to look down on someone; there’s just a basic tribalistic impulse in all of us.  And if you’re an elite white professional, working class whites are an easy target: you don’t have to feel guilty for being a racist or a xenophobe.  By looking down on the hillbilly, you can get that high of self-righteousness and superiority without violating any of the moral norms of your own tribe.  So your own prejudice is never revealed for what it is.
A lot of it is pure disconnect–many elites just don’t know a member of the white working class. A professor once told me that Yale Law shouldn’t accept students who attended state universities for their undergraduate studies.  (A bit of background: Yale Law takes well over half of its student body from very elite private schools.)  “We don’t do remedial education here,” he said.  Keep in mind that this guy was very progressive and cared a lot about income inequality and opportunity.  But he just didn’t realize that for a kid like me, Ohio State was my only chance–the one opportunity I had to do well in a good school.  If you removed that path from my life, there was nothing else to give me a shot at Yale.  When I explained that to him, he was actually really receptive.  He may have even changed his mind.
What does it mean for our politics?  To me, this condescension is a big part of Trump’s appeal.  He’s the one politician who actively fights elite sensibilities, whether they’re good or bad.  I remember when Hillary Clinton casually talked about putting coal miners out of work, or when Obama years ago discussed working class whites clinging to their guns and religion.  Each time someone talks like this, I’m reminded of Mamaw’s feeling that hillbillies are the one group you don’t have to be ashamed to look down upon.  The people back home carry that condescension like a badge of honor, but it also hurts, and they’ve been looking for someone for a while who will declare war on the condescenders.  If nothing else, Trump does that.  
This is where, to me, there’s a lot of ignorance around “Teflon Don.”  No one seems to understand why conventional blunders do nothing to Trump.  But in a lot of ways, what elites see as blunders people back home see as someone who–finally–conducts themselves in a relatable way.  He shoots from the hip; he’s not constantly afraid of offending someone; he’ll get angry about politics; he’ll call someone a liar or a fraud.  This is how a lot of people in the white working class actually talk about politics, and even many elites recognize how refreshing and entertaining it can be!  So it’s not really a blunder as much as it is a rich, privileged Wharton grad connecting to people back home through style and tone.  Viewed like this, all the talk about “political correctness” isn’t about any specific substantive point, as much as it is a way of expanding the scope of acceptable behavior.  People don’t want to believe they have to speak like Obama or Clinton to participate meaningfully in politics, because most of us don’t speak like Obama or Clinton.
On the other hand, as Hillbilly Elegy says so well, that reflexive reverse-snobbery of the hillbillies and those like them is a real thing too, and something that undermines their prospects in life. Is there any way for it to be overcome, other than getting out of the bubble, as you did?
I’m not sure we can overcome it entirely. Nearly everyone in my family who has achieved some financial success for themselves, from Mamaw to me, has been told that they’ve become “too big for their britches.”  I don’t think this value is all bad.  It forces us to stay grounded, reminds us that money and education are no substitute for common sense and humility.  But, it does create a lot of pressure not to make a better life for yourself, and let’s face it: when you grow up in a dying steel town with very few middle class job prospects, making a better life for yourself is often a binary proposition: if you don’t get a good job, you may be stuck on welfare for the rest of your life.
I’m a big believer in the power to change social norms.  To take an obvious recent example, I see the decline of smoking as not just an economic or regulatory matter, but something our culture really flipped on.  So there’s value in all of us–whether we have a relatively large platform or if our platform is just the people who live with us–trying to be a little kinder to the kids who want to make a better future for themselves.  That’s a big part of the reason I wrote the book: it’s meant not just for elites, but for people from my own clan, in the hopes that they’ll better appreciate the ways they can help (or hurt) their own kin. 
At the same time, the hostility between the working class and the elites is so great that there will always be some wariness toward those who go to the other side.  And can you blame them?  A lot of these people know nothing but judgment and condescension from those with financial and political power, and the thought of their children acquiring that same hostility is noxious.  It may just be the sort of value we have to live with.  
The odd thing is, the deeper I get into elite culture, the more I see value in this reverse snobbery.  It’s the great privilege of my life that I’m deep enough into the American elite that I can indulge a little anti-elitism.  Like I said, it keeps you grounded, if nothing else!  But it would have been incredibly destructive to indulge too much of it when I was 18.  
I live in the rural South now, where I was born, and I see the same kind of social pathologies among some poor whites that you write about in Hillbilly Elegy. I also see the same thing among poor blacks, and have heard from a few black friends who made it out as you did the same kind of stories about how their own people turned on them and accused them of being traitors to their family and class — this, only for getting an education and building stable lives for themselves. The thing that so few of us either understand or want to talk about is that nobody who lives the way these poor black and white people do is ever going to amount to anything. There’s never going to be an economy rich enough or a government program strong enough to compensate for the lack of a stable family and the absence of self-discipline. Are Americans even capable of hearing that anymore? 
Judging by the current political conversation, no: Americans are not capable of hearing that anymore.  I was speaking with a friend the other night, and I made the point that the meta-narrative of the 2016 election is learned helplessness as a political value.  We’re no longer a country that believes in human agency, and as a formerly poor person, I find it incredibly insulting.  To hear Trump or Clinton talk about the poor, one would draw the conclusion that they have no power to affect their own lives.  Things have been done to them, from bad trade deals to Chinese labor competition, and they need help.  And without that help, they’re doomed to lives of misery they didn’t choose.  
Obviously, the idea that there aren’t structural barriers facing both the white and black poor is ridiculous.  Mamaw recognized that our lives were harder than rich white people, but she always tempered her recognition of the barriers with a hard-noses willfulness: “never be like those a–holes who think the deck is stacked against them.”  In hindsight, she was this incredibly perceptive woman.  She recognized the message my environment had for me, and she actively fought against it.
There’s good research on this stuff.  Believing you have no control is incredibly destructive, and that may be especially true when you face unique barriers.  The first time I encountered this idea was in my exposure to addiction subculture, which is quite supportive and admirable in its own way, but is full of literature that speaks about addiction as a disease.  If you spend a day in these circles, you’ll hear someone say something to the effect of, “You wouldn’t judge a cancer patient for a tumor, so why judge an addict for drug use.”  This view is a perfect microcosm of the problem among poor Americans.  On the one hand, the research is clear that there are biological elements to addiction–in that way, it does mimic a disease.  On the other hand, the research is also clear that people who believe their addiction is a biologically mandated disease show less ability to resist it.  It’s this awful catch-22, where recognizing the true nature of the problem actually hinders the ability to overcome.  
Interestingly, both in my conversations with poor blacks and whites, there’s a recognition of the role of better choices in addressing these problems.  The refusal to talk about individual agency is in some ways a consequence of a very detached elite, one too afraid to judge and consequently too handicapped to really understand.  At the same time, poor people don’t like to be judged, and a little bit of recognition that life has been unfair to them goes a long way.  Since Hillbilly Elegy came out, I’ve gotten so many messages along the lines of: “Thank you for being sympathetic but also honest.”
I think that’s the only way to have this conversation and to make the necessary changes: sympathy and honesty.  It’s not easy, especially in our politically polarized world, to recognize both the structural and the cultural barriers that so many poor kids face.  But I think that if you don’t recognize both, you risk being heartless or condescending, and often both.  
On the other hand, as a conservative, I grow weary of fellow middle-class conservatives acting as if it were possible simply to bootstrap your way out of poverty. My dad was able to raise my sister and me in the 1970s on a civil servant’s salary, supplemented by my mom’s small salary as a school bus driver. I doubt this would be possible today. You’re a conservative who has known poverty and powerlessness as well as wealth and privilege. What do you have to say to your fellow conservatives?
I think you hit the nail right on the head: we need to judge less and understand more.  It’s so easy for conservatives to use “culture” as an ending point in a discussion–an excuse to rationalize their worldview and then move on–rather than a starting point. I try to do precisely the opposite in Hillbilly Elegy.  This book should start conversations, and it is successful, it will.  
The Atlantic‘s Ta-Nehisi Coates, who I often disagree with, has made a really astute point about culture and the way it has been deployed against the black poor.  His point, basically, is that “culture” is little more than an excuse to blame black people for various pathologies and then move on.  So it’s hardly surprising that when poor people, especially poor black folks, hear “culture,” they instinctively run for the hills.  
But let’s just think about what culture really means, to borrow an example from my life.  One of the things I mention in the book is that domestic strife and family violence are cultural traits–they’re just there, and everyone experiences them in one form or another.  I learned domestic strife from the moment I was born, from more than 15 stepdads and boyfriends I encountered, to the domestic violence case that nearly tore my family apart (I was the primary victim).  So predictably, by the time I got married, I wasn’t a great spouse.  I had to learn, with the help of my aunt and sister (both of whom had successful marriages), but especially with the help of my wife, how not to turn every small disagreement into a shouting match or a public scene.  Too many conservatives look at that situation, say “well that’s a cultural problem, nothing we can do,” and then move on.  They’re right that it’s a cultural problem: I learned domestic strife y648from my mother, and she learned it from her parents.  
But to speak “culture” and then move on is a total copout, and there are public policy solutions to draw from experiences like this: how could my school have better prepared me for domestic life? how could child welfare services have given me more opportunities to spend time with my Mamaw and my aunt, rather than threatening me–as they did–with the promise of foster care if I kept talking?  These are tough, tough problems, but they’re not totally immune to policy interventions.  Neither are they entirely addressable by government.  It’s just complicated.
That’s just one small example, obviously, and there are many more in the book.  But I think this unwillingness to deal with tough issues–or worse, to pretend they’ll all go away if we can hit 4 percent growth targets–is a significant failure of modern conservative politics.  And looking at the political landscape, this failure may very well have destroyed the conservative movement as we used to know it.
And what do you have to say to liberals?
Well, it’s almost the flip side: stop pretending that every problem is a structural problem, something imposed on the poor from the outside.  I see a significant failure on the Left to understand how these problems develop.  They see rising divorce rates as the natural consequence of economic stress. Undoubtedly, that’s partially true.  Some of these family problems run far deeper.  They see school problems as the consequence of too little money (despite the fact that the per pupil spend in many districts is quite high), and ignore that, as a teacher from my hometown once told me, “They want us to be shepherds to these kids, but they ignore that many of them are raised by wolves.”  Again, they’re not all wrong: certainly some schools are unfairly funded.  But there’s this weird refusal to deal with the poor as moral agents in their own right.  In some cases, the best that public policy can do is help people make better choices, or expose them to better influences through better family policy (like my Mamaw).  
There was a huge study that came out a couple of years ago, led by the Harvard economist Raj Chetty.  He found that two of the biggest predictors of low upward mobility were 1) living in neighborhoods with concentrated poverty and 2) growing up in a neighborhood with a lot of single mothers.  I recall that some of the news articles about the study didn’t even mention the single mother conclusion.  That’s a massive oversight!  Liberals have to get more comfortable with dealing with the poor as they actually are.  I admire their refusal to look down on the least among us, but at some level, that can become an excuse to never really look at the problem at all.
In Hillbilly Elegy, I noticed the parallel between two disciplined forms of life that enabled you and your biological father to transcend the chaos that dragged down so many others y’all knew. You had the US Marine Corps; he had fundamentalist Christianity. How did they work inner transformation within you both? 
Well, I think it’s important to point out that Christianity, in the quirky way I’ve experienced it, was really important to me, too.  For my dad, the way he tells it is that he was a hard partier, he drank a lot, and didn’t have a lot of direction.  His Christian faith gave him focus, forced him to think hard about his personal choices, and gave him a community of people who demanded, even if only implicitly, that he act a certain way.  I think we all understate the importance of moral pressure, but it helped my dad, and it has certainly helped me!  There’s obviously a more explicitly religious argument here, too.  If you believe as I do, you believe that the Holy Spirit works in people in a mysterious way.  I recognize that a lot of secular folks may look down on that, but I’d make one important point: that not drinking, treating people well, working hard, and so forth, requires a lot of willpower when you didn’t grow up in privilege.  That feeling–whether it’s real or entirely fake–that there’s something divine helping you and directing your mind and body, is extraordinarily powerful.  
General Chuck Krulak, a former commandant of the Marine Corps, once said that the most important thing the Corps does for the country is “win wars and make Marines.”  I didn’t understand that statement the first time I heard it, but for a kid like me, the Marine Corps was basically a four-year education in character and self-management.  The challenges start small–running two miles, then three, and more.  But they build on each other.  If you have good mentors (and I certainly did), you are constantly given tasks, yelled at for failing, advised on how not to fail next time, and then given another try.  You learn, through sheer repetition, that you can do difficult things.  And that was quite revelatory for me.  It gave me a lot of self-confidence.  If I had learned helplessness from my environment back home, four years in the Marine Corps taught me something quite different.
The other thing the Marine Corps did is hold our hands and prevent us from making stupid decisions.  It didn’t work on everyone, of course, but I remember telling my senior noncommissioned officer that I was going to buy a car, probably a BMW.  “Stop being an idiot and go get a Honda.” Then I told him that I had been approved for a new Honda, at the dealer’s low interest rate of 21.9 percent.  “Stop being an idiot and go to the credit union.”  He then ordered another Marine to take me to the credit union, open an account, and apply for a loan (the interest rate, despite my awful credit, was around 8 percent).  A lot of elites rely on parents or other networks the first time they made these decisions, but I didn’t even know what I didn’t know.  The Marine Corps ensured that I learned. 
Finally, what did watching Donald Trump’s speech last night make you think about this fall campaign, and the future of the country?
Well, I think the speech itself was a perfect microcosm of why I love and am terrified of Donald Trump.  On the one hand, he criticized the elites and actually acknowledge the hurt of so many working class voters. After so many years of Republican politicians refusing to even talk about factory closures, Trump’s message is an oasis in the desert.  But of course he spent way too much time appealing to people’s fears, and he offered zero substance for how to improve their lives.  It was Trump at his best and worst.
My biggest fear with Trump is that, because of the failures of the Republican and Democratic elites, the bar for the white working class is too low.  They’re willing to listen to Trump about rapist immigrants and banning all Muslims because other parts of his message are clearly legitimate.  A lot of people think Trump is just the first to appeal to the racism and xenophobia that were already there, but I think he’s making the problem worse.
The other big problem I have with Trump is that he has dragged down our entire political conversation.  It’s not just that he inflames the tribalism of the Right; it’s that he encourages the worst impulses of the Left.  In the past few weeks, I’ve heard from so many of my elite friends some version of, “Trump is the racist leader all of these racist white people deserve.” These comments almost always come from white progressives who know literally zero culturally working class Americans.  And I’m always left thinking: if this is the quality of thought of a Harvard Law graduate, then our society is truly doomed.  In a world of Trump, we’ve abandoned the pretense of persuasion.  The November election strikes me as little more than a referendum on whose tribe is bigger.
But I remain incredibly optimistic about the future.  Maybe that’s the hillbilly resilience in me.  Or maybe I’m just an idiot.  But if writing this book, and talking with friends and strangers about its message, has taught me anything, it’s that most people are trying incredibly hard to make it, even in this more complicated and scary world.  The short view of our country is that we’re doomed.  The long view, inherited from my grandparents’ 1930s upbringing in coal country, is that all of us can still control some part of our fate.  Even if we are doomed, there’s reason to pretend otherwise.
The book is Hillbilly Elegy. You really, really need to read it.
UPDATE: Best e-mail I’ve yet received about this interview:
Mr Dreher, I am writing to thank you for the impressive and thoughtful interview of JD Vance on his book. I am not a conservative. I am a black, gay, immigrant who has been blessed by the dynamic and productive American society we live in. So I am not the average reader of the American Conservative. I came to your article through a friend. So I just wanted to share how refreshing I found to have two white men being able to speak about class, their family experience and acknowledging an experience that is often not visible in our society. The poor rural south that you described and the communities that Mr.. Vance write about are familiar to me. Born in Haiti, growing up in Congo, Africa. I recognize that poverty, I recognize the marginalization and I SO APPRECIATED the conversation about individual agency! That is ultimately where the American dream (if it exists) lives. That deep belief that I as an individual am not a victim and can engage with the world around me! That has been my American lesson. That is the source of the dynamism of this society! Thank you!