Opinion writer

“If he were to call me, and say, ‘Hey, girlfriend …’”

This is how singing legend Dionne Warwick imagined that a phone call from President Trump enlisting her help in the fight against HIV/AIDS might start. But she said she wouldn’t hesitate. “If he were of a mind to ask me to be of assistance, of course I would,” Warwick told me during a Washington Post Live event commemorating World AIDS Day on Dec. 5 that we turned into the latest episode of “Cape Up.” “I would have no problem in responding to him by saying, ‘Absolutely, this is something that I’ve been an advocate for and will continue to.’ ”

The call may never come. Trump fired the remaining members of the Presidential Advisory Council  on HIV/AIDS via letter on Dec. 27.


For more conversations like this, subscribe to “Cape Up” on Apple Podcasts or Stitcher.

Warwick has been a soldier in the fight against HIV/AIDS since before the epidemic had a name. “Until Rock Hudson put a face on it and gave it a name, nobody knew what it was,”  she explained. “I lost my valet, who worked with me for many years, to AIDS, not knowing exactly what it was. I thought it was cancer, like everybody else did from the very beginning of this epidemic.” In 1987, Warwick was appointed U.S. ambassador of health by President Ronald Reagan.

Even though Warwick was the last interview of the four-panel symposium, she listened to all of the discussions and had things to say about what she had heard. Warwick reacted strongly to hearing about “wonderful results” in other parts of the world. “And so what happened to the United States? Why aren’t we doing those same tests right here in the U. S. of A?” she asked. “If you’re getting results that are positive, why aren’t we getting results that are positive? Because you’re not giving us the opportunity to be a part of these tests. That’s got to stop, too, folks.”

As part of her ongoing work, Warwick has done a public service announcement geared to Americans older than 50. The provocative tagline is “Age is not a condom.” So, I asked Warwick why it was important to state that bluntly. “Because once you reach a certain age, I think we all feel we’re infallible. It’s the same thing with teens, they feel, ‘Nothing’s going to happen to me.’ Well, you reach that age of 60, you feel, ‘Well, I’ve been through it all. I’m cool.’ ”

Dionne Warwick speaks with The Post’s Jonathan Capehart during a Washington Post Live event, “Pathways to progress: Combating the HIV/AIDS epidemic,” on Dec. 5. (Kris Tripplaar for The Washington Post)

Listen to the podcast to hear Warwick sound a continuous alarm throughout the conversation. One that demands our active participation in getting a more active response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic out of Washington.

“Our federal government has … It seems like they’re not doing anything. And that’s … got to stop,” Warwick said. “We have got to rear our heads and let these folks just sitting in there making all these laws that none of us want to be of service to us.” Staying politically engaged was the New Jersey native’s constant refrain. “All we got to do is show up, that’s all we got to do,” she said. “Show up.”

“Cape Up” is Jonathan’s weekly podcast talking to key figures behind the news and our culture. Subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher or wherever else you listen to podcasts.