He has only been in office a short time, but Donald Trump has already proven himself to be the worst president in the history of the United States. The reasons why now number in the hundreds.
The fact that such an unqualified, egocentric, hot-tempered, childish, thin-skinned, mean-spirited, dangerous person occupies the Oval Office is a huge embarrassment, a disgrace, and represents a new low for America, all the more so following the intelligence, class, skills, tenacity, inclusive nature and likability of President Barack Obama.
Vivica A. Fox described Trump as “the jerk who conned America into winning the presidency.” And Rolling Stone magazine noted that Trump has “stuffed his Cabinet with tyrants, zealots and imbeciles.”
No doubt the worst is yet to come.
But sometimes societal inequities and turmoil in high places can snap people out of whatever complacency is there and compel them to take action. In times past — especially during the tumultuous 1960s and 1970s — many entertainers answered the call, so to speak.
Nina Simone was among the most committed and most effective. In her Afrocentric attire and with a commanding presence, she fearlessly dealt with racism head-on. Racists had nowhere to hide and, surprisingly, a substantial number of her most ardent followers were whites in their twenties (many were college activists) and thirties.
No stone was left unturned. For example, in the wake of the murder of activist Medgar Evers in Mississippi and other atrocities, Simone boldly wrote and sang “Mississippi Goddam.” And immediately after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., she sang the poignant “Why? (The King of Love is Dead).” She asked, “What’s going to happen now?” — perhaps a harbinger of the riots that were to come.
This is not to suggest that Nina Simone only sang protest songs because she certainly did not; her repertoire was diverse and eclectic.
Stevie Wonder is a man with a big heart and a big conscience. If there is a worthy cause, and the spirit moves him, he will be on the case. In one song, he told politicians (and others of their ilk) what they didn’t want to hear: “We are sick and tired of hearing your song, telling how you are gonna change right from wrong. ’Cause if you really want to hear our views, you haven’t done nothing.”
Also, Wonder was as responsible as just about anyone else regarding the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. becoming a federal holiday. Congressman John Conyers and Senator Edward Brooke had introduced a bill in 1979, and it was signed into law in 1983 with the holiday going into effect in 1986.
Wonder’s joyous King tribute, “Happy Birthday,” recorded in 1981, was an integral part of the whole process.
It is hard to know where to begin when the subject is Harry Belafonte. For the entirety of his career, starting in the 1950s, he has been a never-let-up civil rights activist and humanitarian.
At no time has he ever merely “talked the talk,” and he has always been on the front line. He was a confidant of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and, in fact, once paid King’s bail so he could be released from a Birmingham, Alabama jail.
Belafonte also led a contingent of A-list celebrities, white and black, who flew to the nation’s capital to participate in the historic 1963 March on Washington. Among the famous faces were those of Sidney Poitier, Charlton Heston, Lena Horne, Paul Newman, Josephine Baker, Marlon Brando, Sammy Davis, Jr., James Baldwin and Burt Lancaster.
After the march, Horne said, “I had to be with my people.”
Speaking from a world perspective, Belafonte once said, “American policy is written on the walls of oppression everywhere.”
Due to space limitations, we cannot spotlight all of the show business activists, and that would include Dick Gregory, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Danny Glover, Oprah Winfrey and Curtis Mayfield, among others.
Although entertainers today are generally far less active in social causes than many of those in the past, some are making their voices heard, and stepping out of the celebrity comfort zone.
Kerry Washington, at a career peak due to the immense popularity of the TV series “Scandal,” makes herself available for causes she believes in involving black rights, women’s rights, gay rights and more. She also did her part to get and keep Barack Obama in the White House.
Russell Simmons, highly successful entrepreneur, producer and author, traveled to Flint, to help distribute water to the citizens who were, and remain, badly in need of clean water. He is also a part of an organization that promotes ethnic understand and he too is a supporter of gay rights.
Mos Def, the rapper and actor who is now known as Yaslin Bey, formed an organization called Hip Hop for Respect, the purpose of which was to help alleviate police brutality against African Americans. He also spoke out on the government’s handling of Hurricane Katrina victims.
Jay Z and Beyoncé sent a huge amount of money (reportedly in the tens of thousands) to bail out protesters in Ferguson and Baltimore. Jay Z has also worked for prison reform. When Beyoncé’s dazzling “Formation” video was released in 2016, one publication described it as a “decidedly political celebration of blackness.” Some alarmed whites complained about the video.
Harry Belafonte not long ago criticized (and by extension, challenged) most of this generation of celebrities, saying they had “turned their back on social responsibility.”
That was over the top, and an example of essentially painting a whole group of people with one brush. But, that said, more activism is called for — and the horrendous presidency of Donald Trump just might provide the motivation.
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