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Explore five iconic spacesuits

By Christian Davenport and Robin Givhan
Explore five iconic spacesuits
The Mercury suits developed for flights in the 1960s were modeled after the suits worn by military pilots after World War II. MUST CREDIT: The Washington Post

Explore five iconic spacesuits and more than 50 years of spaceflight in a dialogue between The Washington Post's space industry reporter Christian Davenport and fashion critic Robin Givhan.

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MERCURY SUIT

The Mercury suits developed for flights in the 1960s were modeled after the suits worn by military pilots after World War II. The pilots were beginning to fly at higher altitudes and needed a pressurized suit that could keep oxygen flowing and protect the pilots in the case of a high-altitude ejection. The Mercury suits were not designed to operate in the vacuum of space, but rather to help the astronauts in the case of an emergency.

Christian: The helmet was designed to be tight fitting so that if the astronaut moved his head, the communications equipment inside the helmet would move with him.

Robin: This suit could be from any country, really. You take away the patch there and there is nothing that screams U.S. or that looks particularly patriotic. When I look at it, it seems like it is advertising technology, not advertising patriotism.

Christian: The harness that stretches across the chest was used to help secure the astronaut to his seat and hold him tight through the vibrations he would experience in flight.

Robin: This silver sets the ground rules for how we imagine spacesuits to be - everything that we think is futuristic is always silver and reflective. Whenever there would be anything related to the future in fashion shows and people imagining what the next century would look like, they always started with metallic fabrics.

Christian: The suit was silver for a number of reasons, according to Cathleen Lewis, a curator in the Space History Department of the National Air and Space Museum. First, it would make the astronauts stand out in case they needed to be rescued. It helped reflect sunlight and keep them from heating up, especially in the outer edges of the atmosphere, where the sunlight is unfiltered. Finally, NASA really wanted to set these guys apart from the other pilots with a very space-agey silvery suit.

Christian: The gloves are currently stored detached from the suit and not included in the 3-D model. They had lights on the fingertips so that in an emergency, when the lights in the spacecraft went out, they would be able to illuminate the instruments and control panel.

Christian: The biometric connector was used to monitor the astronaut's vital signs - such as heart rate and body temperature - to see how they responded to the conditions of microgravity. At the time, NASA had never sent a person into space and didn't really have a sense of the effects of space travel on the human body. You could see the nervousness and how scared they were about sending these guys to space in the suit - it looks over engineered, there are all these straps because they worried about anything that could possibly go wrong in an uncharted territory.

Robin: I love these boots, they remind me of Doc Martens, of work boots. But they seem so complicated to get into. Everything seems so complicated to get into, the exact opposite of this idea of aerodynamics of space travel. This looks like someone heavy, earthbound, slogging through something.

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APOLLO SUIT

The Apollo suits worn by the astronauts on the lunar surface were "essentially a spacecraft that is human form and human fitted," said Cathleen Lewis, a curator in the Space History Department of the National Air and Space Museum. The suits were designed to keep astronauts alive outside their spacecraft. Custom made for each astronaut, the suits were based on 47 measurements and tested repeatedly. What you see here is "probably the closest thing of a body print of Neil Armstrong," Lewis said.

Christian: For Apollo, NASA needed a more robust helmet than the kinds used during the Mercury and Gemini missions, one that allowed the astronauts to see their feet. This is important "especially if you're walking on strange new territory," Lewis said.

Christian: The metallic gold visors could be pulled down. Lewis called them "oversized ski goggles."

Robin: You can't really see their face, their name is so small, they were not even trying to turn the astronauts into personalities. Which would be so natural now, just as a way of ginning up interest and getting people excited, by having a personal connection.

Christian: Unlike mission patches for other flights, the patch for Apollo 11 did not have the names of the crew members. Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins felt their names should be left out because the flight represented all of humankind and the 400,000 people involved in the Apollo program.

Christian: Tubes connected to the suits through these nozzles served as connections to life support systems and communication and electrical systems, as well as water to help moderate body temperature.

Christian: Armstrong left his backpack on the moon in order to ensure that the ascent module was well below its weight limit, Lewis said. The pack contained the astronaut's life support system, which provided a supply of oxygen while also taking carbon dioxide away.

Robin: I love that there was so much attention paid to the idea that we are doing this for peace, for exploration and for scientific discovery. Despite how big and potentially intimidating this suit could be, it is not, it looks like a happy uniform. And the patches are so Boy Scout.

Christian: Moon dust is still visible on the legs and boots.

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ADVANCED CREW ESCAPE SUIT

After the Challenger space shuttle orbiter exploded after launch in 1986, killing all seven astronauts on board, safety became paramount. This shows in the design of the Advanced Crew Escape Suit (ACES), which astronauts started using inside the shuttle in the mid-1990s during liftoff and return to Earth.

Robin: They look much more like something you could envision a Navy SEAL wearing, or a NASCAR driver. It doesn't have that otherworldly silver what-could-that-possibly-be aspect to it. And the helmet looks like something a motorcyclist would wear.

Christian: Often referred to as the "pumpkin suit" because of its color, the suit is orange so that in case of emergency astronauts could be easily spotted.

Christian: The suit came with a survival backpack loaded with parachutes, flotation devices, drinking water and even emergency oxygen supplies.

Christian: Astronauts were able to take off their gloves without losing pressure in the suit, so they could work the controls of the shuttle in flight.

Christian: Anything that is not nailed down floats away in space. Astronauts need pockets to stash pens or other objects so they don't lose them.

Robin: This suit reminds me of a military uniform. I think it's the boots; they look like a camouflage-y shade of olive or gray. Also, compared to the previous suits, it doesn't look as space-ish.

Robin: There's nothing cool about it, there is nothing surprising, nothing that some kid would look at and have their imagination sparked by it. It is so mundane that all you have to do is go to the local construction worker uniform store and buy one and stick a motorcycle helmet on it and you have the suit.

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BOEING SUIT

The Boeing suit was designed to be as light as possible, about the same "weight and complexity as a flight suit," said Shane Jacobs, spacesuit design manager with the David Clark Co., which made the suit for Boeing. With gloves, boots and head protection, the suit weighs 16 pounds, almost half the weight of the orange shuttle suit. Astronauts will wear it throughout launch and ascent into orbit, and on the way back to Earth.

Christian: This is a soft helmet, which essentially acts as a hood: It can be unzipped and allowed to flop down the astronaut's back. However, the visor is made of a clear hard material.

Robin: This suit doesn't look special, it reminds me of contemporary men's sportswear. Instead of looking at the spacesuits and seeing this futuristic idea, it seems that the creators of the suit are taking ideas that already exist in our mundane little gravity-rooted life and transporting them into outer space.

Christian: Throughout the suit there are fasteners that will allow the suit to be tweaked to meet the astronauts' particular dimensions or adjust for different postures.

Robin: It still looks male-centric because so much of the language of functional sportswear comes from menswear. Whenever you look at women's clothes and they are defined as being incredibly functional it's usually something that could be unisex.

Christian: The gloves are designed to be used with a touch screen.

Christian: The pocket on the thigh is integrated into the suit, but the ones on the shin are removable.

Robin: The pockets are quite fashionable: the more fitted shape, the way they hang off. I feel like I've seen that on a runway somewhere.

Robin: It seems like this was designed with the thought of knock-offs and derivation in mind. You can see these boots sold out at some hipster sneaker store, in black or silver.

Christian: These Reebok boots weigh less than a pound each. They are designed to be comfortable and tight-fitting. The material is fire-retardant, and the sole is non-slipping, like a basketball sneaker.

Robin: The whole outfit looks very relatable. Actual astronauts wearing these don't look heroic as much as they look accessible. The earlier spacesuits seem completely removed from reality, and there was the sense that all the pockets and the little cords hide some complicated technology. With this one, you're like, "OK, my iPhone is in this pocket, and I've got a Clif Bar in the other one." It's just saying "You, too, can do this."

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SPACEX SUIT

The SpaceX suit is one piece, with the boots, helmet and gloves all connected - minimalist, efficient, inspiring. A version of this suit has been flown to space on a mannequin in 2018, when SpaceX famously launched a red Tesla Roadster into space aboard the first Falcon Heavy rocket, and again on a mannequin earlier this year in a test flight of the Dragon spacecraft. Astronauts will wear the suit throughout launch and ascent into orbit, and on the way back to Earth.

Robin: This is a spacesuit every space tourist wants to wear. It is social-media friendly, you want to take selfies in that, and it screams badass. Even the way the helmet is designed, with that black facade, is a little intimidating, but not full Darth Vader.

Christian: The helmet is 3-D printed, with padding customized to each astronaut's head. The visor is designed to give astronauts a broad field of view and can rotate open.

Robin: Everything is completely understated, which makes it so cool. If you know that is the SpaceX logo you are inside the club.

Christian: The suit's outer layer is made with fire-retardant materials. The gray parts are Nomex, a flame-resistant material. The whites are a Teflon-like material.

Robin: The sides are darker and they create the perfect swimmer's physique, a silhouette of strength. That is a fashion trick, to create the illusion of a particular shape. It could even turn into an hourglass if you are a woman inside that suit. From all five suits, this one is the most amenable to a woman's figure.

Christian: Zippers on the wrists allow astronauts to use their bare hands on the controls. But the gloves also work with the touch screens inside of SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft.

Robin: Aesthetically, it is sleek and incredibly elegant. With the earlier ones, the technology was so obvious in the suit. They looked complicated, and it took an enormous amount of skill to be able to wear them. This looks so easy to wear, devoid of anything that looks highly technical or complicated.

Robin: If you pay a bazillion dollars to go into space and you get this - I'm assuming you get to keep it - you will wear those boots again! It seems you can pull it apart and continue to wear it and keep the bragging rights going.

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About the story: To re-create the spacesuits in 3-D, The Post took 2,500 photos of the original suits and stitched them together through a process called photogrammetry. This involves using an algorithm to analyze the images and find common points to build a 3-D model. The helmets were modeled manually from reference images, not through photogrammetry.

Rural retreats offer traumatized veterans and their families time and support to heal

By Hannah Natanson
Rural retreats offer traumatized veterans and their families time and support to heal
Veteran Chad Stuehlmeyer, left, of Mt. Vernon, Ill., one of the participants in Project Sanctuary, navigates the ropes course at the Pearlstone Center in Reisterstown, Md. MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washington Post by Doug Kapustin

In 2007, Allen Rogers stopped leaving his bedroom.

Public places transported the 49-year-old veteran right back to Afghanistan, where he spent a year on active duty in the mid-2000s. Haunted by memories of women, children and donkeys "stuffed" with explosives, he grew suspicious of passersby.

"I just felt like everyone was out to get me, like I would explode if I went outside," said Rogers, who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. "Over there, you couldn't tell the difference between a soldier and a civilian."

For months, all he did was watch TV and eat meals delivered by his wife, Christina Rogers. He withdrew from his family. He began answering questions with shouted expletives; he stopped looking at his two children. Over three years, Christina Rogers suffered 400 seizures, which doctors told her appeared to be brought on solely by stress.

"For so long, all I knew was just that he was angry," she said.

That's how life went until the Rogerses found Project Sanctuary.

The nonprofit group, based in Granby, Colorado, offers free six-day retreats in bucolic settings for veteran and military families. Participants take a wide range of classes, including on dealing with PTSD, managing household finances and communicating effectively. They also break for recreational activities like rock climbing and fishing.

Since its founding in 2007, the nonprofit agency has hosted 180 retreats in seven states serving about 1,400 families. This month, it held its first retreat in Maryland, attended by the Rogerses and 10 other families.

Heather Ehle, the founder and CEO of Project Sanctuary, said she is helping military families navigate the difficult readjustment to civilian life. Research has shown that U.S. service members and veterans struggle to keep jobs and marriages after deployment, and that this has negative effects on family and friends.

Sometimes, the worst happens. Roughly 22 veterans die by suicide every day, according to data compiled by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

"People commit suicide because they feel disconnected from themselves - they knew who they were as a warrior, but they don't know who they are as a dad," Ehle said. "We offer a sanctuary, a safe space of healing: We're connecting them back to themselves and their immediate family."

Jasmine Townsend, a professor of recreational therapy at Clemson University, said Project Sanctuary is unique in involving the entire family. "If we're only focused on soldiers and their needs, we are leaving out a massive side of the story," Townsend said.

The Rogerses flew seven hours from their Nampa, Idaho, home to Reisterstown, Maryland, eager to repeat the life-changing experience they had at the June 2016 Project Sanctuary retreat in Grand County, Colorado. They had heard of the program from a military friend who participated.

"It was the best thing we could have done," Christina Rogers said of their first retreat. "He realized he's not alone, I realized I'm not alone, the kids realized they're not alone - there are others, and we share a common bond."

Allen Rogers nodded. By talking to other veterans in Colorado, he said, he found a way to explain the one thing his wife had never understood: the reason he could not meet their children's gazes. Now, sitting side by side, the couple said it together.

"When he looks at our children, he sees ..." Christina faltered.

Allen reached over and gripped her hand.

"The life I took away in Afghanistan," he said.

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At first, Ehle struggled to make people believe in Project Sanctuary.

Some saw her lack of military ties (she is a civilian) as proof she was "just in it to make money off veterans," Ehle said. Plus, she is a woman - and blond, she noted.

But she had fun with it.

"I would walk into a crowded room wearing red high heels, a little pencil skirt, and have my hair big, up, and blond," Ehle, now 51, recalled of early meetings with state officials and veterans groups. "Then I would sit there and suddenly go, 'What about the spouses? The families? Who's taking care of them?' "

Asked why she wanted to help military families, Ehle gave the same answer she gives today: It started in the early 2000s, when she was midway through her former career as a nurse. At the time, Ehle was volunteering at a free health clinic that sometimes saw veterans of the 1991 Gulf War.

She spent hours giving former soldiers steroid injections and drawing blood for lab tests. But she also listened as they spoke of pain nobody seemed to understand. And she watched as families loitered in the clinic's waiting room, unattended.

"I kept thinking, 'Why are they not getting care? Why are we not taking care of our vets?' " Ehle said. "Something is wrong. He's not making this up. But nobody is taking them seriously."

In part inspired by chats with families at the clinic, she came up with the idea of a retreat center for military parents and children. The only way to help, Ehle was convinced, was to "get the whole family together."

For a year, she woke up every morning thinking about the idea. Finally, she took a leap: Pulling the funds from her own pocket, she held the first Project Sanctuary retreat in the spring of 2008 with just one family. The second came a few months later with five families. Word got around, and demand exploded.

Today, Sanctuary hosts 30 retreats a year, each attended by 10 to 12 families. The nonprofit group receives 350 applications annually and accepts as many as it can: about 300, Ehle said. All applicants must do is complete a form online.

Ehle switched to running Project Sanctuary full-time in 2010. Now, she spends her days overseeing the group's 20 employees - including licensed professional counselors, recreational therapists and social workers - seven of whom are full-time. But she also devotes a lot of time to raising money. Project Sanctuary is funded mostly by grants and donations. Last year, it took in $2 million, just about enough to "skid in break-even," Ehle said. Its target this year is $3 million.

"There's never been a place where, 'Oh well, we can relax now,' " Ehle said, adding that Project Sanctuary wants to increase its yearly retreats to 40 by 2024.

As it expands, the nonprofit agency is also tracking how its participants fare post-retreat. Townsend and other professors of recreational therapy conducted a study of Project Sanctuary outcomes in 2016, checking in with attendees right before, right after, three months and six months after their retreat.

The professors found that Project Sanctuary leads to "immediate changes in psychological functioning," Townsend said. Specifically, it reduces depression, anxiety and stress - and those gains persisted throughout the period examined.

Jamie Hoffman, a professor of recreational therapy at California State University at Sacramento who also worked on the study, said the program's success is due partly to its family focus and partly to the professional qualifications of its staff.

"Allowing families to engage in recreational therapy that is purposeful and goal-oriented creates outcomes where people can re-establish interests and commonalities and a sense of community and adventure," Hoffman said. "And that's a really important thing for these families."

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Still, Project Sanctuary can't fix everything.

At their first retreat, the Rogerses learned how to talk through disagreements. Fortified by that and other lessons, Allen Rogers isolates himself less often now, obeying Christina Rogers' requests that he run errands, go for walks, get outside.

But nothing can undo Afghanistan.

"I used to be very outgoing, 'Let's go have a picnic,' 'Let's go to the lake,' 'Let's go do this,' 'Let's go do that,' " Allen Rogers said. "I came home a totally different person. I don't act the same way I did when I met her."

Christina Rogers sighed.

"You just find your new normal," she said.

With the help of Project Sanctuary, another couple - the Lopezes of Jacksonville, North Carolina - are searching for just that.

Juan Lopez, 48, served in the Marine Corps for 22 years before retiring in 2011. He saw 11 deployments over the course of his career, including two active combat shifts in Iraq. When he came home for the last time to his wife, Maria Niriel Lopez, he tried to be a good father to their four sons. But he could not shake the Marine mind-set - could not dispel the conviction that immediate obedience of his every order was required for survival.

"I'm getting frustrated because my children didn't listen the first or second time," said Juan Lopez, who suffers from PTSD. "I'm looking at it as, 'I'm telling you this because you're going to get injured or hurt.' And their mind-set wasn't like that."

When the boys ignored him, he lost it, yelling and scolding. Maria Niriel Lopez, 53, could not understand why her husband was upset. She thought she must have done something wrong.

The family situation deteriorated, prompting Juan Lopez to seek treatment for PTSD. That's where he met a nurse who suggested Project Sanctuary. The couple attended a retreat in April 2018, went again in May and have kept coming back as volunteers ever since - most recently at the Reisterstown retreat.

Juan Lopez, sitting beside his wife at the retreat, said Project Sanctuary has renewed his faith in other people.

"I was hardened at heart. I had just been around the worst of humanity," he said. "Then I realized there's folks that really want to help, and I started to realize that there's a lot of good in humanity."

Maria Niriel Lopez said Project Sanctuary allowed her husband to "let down his guard." It made both spouses feel relaxed and safe. It showed them they were not alone. It reaffirmed their love for one another.

The two stood up and headed out - first to lunch, and then to a campsite where the Maryland retreat participants were clambering over a ropes course. The Lopezes had families to help.

The extraordinary trek of George Takei

By Karen Heller
The extraordinary trek of George Takei
Actor George Takei, 82, spent ages 5 to almost 9 in Japanese American internment camps during World War II.

NEW YORK - As a child, he believed the camp to be a magical oasis, where mythical dinosaurs prowled the woods at night. A native of Los Angeles, he marveled at the "flying exotica" of dragonflies, the treasures of rural life and, that first winter, the "pure magic" of snow.

George Takei spent ages 5 to almost 9 imprisoned by the U.S. government in Japanese American internment camps. A relentless optimist, he believed the shameful legacy of incarcerating an estimated 120,000 Americans during World War II would never be forgotten or duplicated.

At 82, Takei came to understand that he may be mistaken on both counts.

Stories fell into the sinkhole of history, given the omission of the camps from many textbooks and the shame felt by former internees, many of whom remained silent about their experiences, even to descendants. Takei takes no refuge in silence.

The "Star Trek" actor has lived long enough to see thousands of immigrant children jailed near the border. On Twitter, to his 2.9 million followers, he wrote, "This nation has a long and tragic history of separating children from their parents, ever since the days of slavery."

Sitting in his Manhattan pied-à-terre near Carnegie Hall, the activist for gay rights and social justice calls his government's actions "an endless cycle of inhumanity, cruelty and injustice repeated generation after generation" and says "it's got to stop."

Takei was fortunate. He and his two younger siblings were never separated from their parents, who bore the brunt of fear and degradation in the swamps of Arkansas and the high desert of Northern California. They shielded their children, creating a "Life Is Beautiful" experience often filled with wonder. His father told him they were going for "a long vacation in the country." Their first stop, of all places, was the Santa Anita Racetrack, where the family was assigned to sleep in the stalls. "We get to sleep where the horsies slept! Fun!" he thought.

Takei had little understanding of his family abandoning their belongings, the government questioning their patriotism and their return to Los Angeles with nothing, starting over on Skid Row. As a teenager, he came to understand the toll.

"The resonance of my childhood in prison is so loud," says the actor, who still lives in L.A.

This summer, Takei is accelerating his mission to make Americans remember. Almost three-quarters of a century after his release, he feels the crush of time: "I have to tell this story before there's no one left to tell it."

He has a new graphic memoir, "They Called Us Enemy," intended to reach all generations but especially the young, by the publisher of the best-selling "March" trilogy by Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga.

In August, Takei appears in AMC's 10-episode "The Terror: Infamy," a horror saga partially set in an internment camp. Four years ago, he starred in the Broadway musical "Allegiance," inspired by his personal history.

"That experience in the camps gave me my identity," he says in the apartment he shares with his husband, Brad, which is decorated with Japanese ink drawings and "Star Trek" bric-a-brac: a Starship Enterprise phone, a Sulu action figure in a Bonsai tree.

It's possible those years in the camps subconsciously nudged Takei toward acting. "To me, the theater was life, its artists, the chroniclers of human history," he writes in his 1994 autobiography, "To the Stars." He would star as Hikaru Sulu in a short-lived sci-fi series that would, improbably, spawn more movie and television iterations than furry Tribbles.

In turn, that success created a springboard for social activism. He became "a social media mega-power" - his website's phrasing, as he has 10 million followers each on two Facebook pages - fueled by a six-member influencer agency, which he calls "Team Takei." That influence, to a doting and ever-expanding audience, might ensure his experience in the camps matters.

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Takei frequently refers to his life as "an American story." It is also a singular, improbable one.

Who else enjoys continued success through the curious alchemy of "Star Trek," coming out at age 68 and regular appearances on "The Howard Stern Show"?

"George is a little outrageous, and a little Mr. Rogers. He's sort of where they meet in the middle," says filmmaker Jennifer Kroot, who produced the 2014 documentary "To Be Takei."

After enrolling as an architecture student at the University of California at Berkeley, Takei transferred to UCLA to pursue acting at a time when there was almost no work for Asian Americans except dubbing Japanese monster movies like "Rodan" into English and portraying crass caricatures in the Jerry Lewis vehicles "The Big Mouth" (1967) and "Which Way to the Front?" (1970).

Takei accepted the jobs, the Lewis ones to his everlasting chagrin: "I shouldn't have done it." But he learned. Never again.

Fortunately, he landed "Star Trek," Gene Roddenberry's utopian vision of space pioneers from varied backgrounds working together in harmony and oddly cropped slacks. Two decades after World War II, it showed an Asian American in a positive role.

Jay Kuo, who co-wrote "Allegiance," grew up in a household where television was largely forbidden. Not "Star Trek." Kuo's Chinese American parents knew "we needed to see ourselves represented. We were invisible. George was the only Asian sex symbol. That shirtless sword scene was groundbreaking," he says of the scene in which Sulu believes he's an 18th-century swashbuckler after the crew is infected by a virus.

The Starship Enterprise was tasked with a five-year mission. Five? The original "Star Trek," the mother ship of Trekiana, didn't make it past three, running for just 79 episodes. The final show aired a half-century ago this year.

Takei felt blessed to land the role of the master helmsman. When the show was canceled - "I knew it would be. Good shows were always getting canceled" - Takei was despondent that he would never work again.

Hah! Space became the eternal frontier: six movies with the original cast, an animated series.

Those early TV contracts didn't favor actors. Takei's residuals stopped after the 10th rerun. Which happened, Takei says, "about 10,000 reruns ago."

Fortunately, what the network taketh away, the Trekkies giveth.

Takei jumped on the convention train, across the United States, Canada, Britain, Germany and Japan, signing autographs and posing for photo ops for up to eight hours, his lustrous baritone growing hoarse.

"'Star Trek' has been enormously bountiful to us," Takei says. "We had no idea that this phenomenon of 'Star Trek' conventions would follow."

Now, Takei is one of only four original cast members still alive, along with William Shatner (Capt. James T. Kirk), Nichelle Nichols (communications officer Lt. Uhura) and Walter Koenig (navigator Pavel Chekov).

His professional life flourished, riding the wave of nostalgia and outsize fandom. His personal life, particularly for someone who has always been political and outspoken, was more complicated. Friends and associates long knew Takei was gay. He met Brad Altman, then a journalist, through a gay running club. They started dating in 1987. Brad took George's last name in 2011.

Takei worried that coming out publicly would deep-six his acting career. So he waited and waited, an eternity, 3 1/2 decades.

"The government imprisoned me for four years for my race. I imprisoned myself about my sexuality for decades," Kuo recalls Takei telling him. "You can't imagine what kind of sentry towers you can build around your heart."

Takei came out in 2005 as a statement, after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a bill legalizing same-sex marriage in California. Quickly, he moved from the closet to the front of the pride parade.

"I was prepared that I wasn't going to have an acting career," he says.

Uh, no.

"The opposite happened, and I was more in demand," Takei says, almost in song. "They love gay George Takei!

It was as though gay was an honorific - and Gay George Takei was a reboot. Gay + "Star Trek" - the latter listing toward camp with its community theater props, too-tight tops and Shatner's Hamlet-like readings - was a fitting combination.

Takei was hired as much for his droll persona - his catch phrase, "Oh myyy!" - as his talent. Work was constant: He had appearances on the sitcoms "The Big Bang Theory" and "Will and Grace," and in Archie Comics (as hero to gay character Kevin Keller), plus that surprising gig on Stern's show.

"That was a strategy after I came out," he says of Stern. "We had reached decent, fair-minded people, the LGBT audience. Howard had a huge national audience."

On Stern's show, hired technically as "the official announcer" but also as a routinely pranked foil, Takei surprised listeners by inverting his elegant persona - a man who rarely swears or raises his voice - by being as raunchy as the regular crew.

Takei revealed more about his sex life than perhaps anyone anticipated. Mentions of Brad became a constant. Takei's once-closeted life was broadcast by the master of all media all over Sirius XM.

In 2017, former model Scott R. Brunton alleged that Takei drugged and sexually assaulted him in 1981. No charges were ever filed. Takei denies the incident, which was never substantiated. The actor says, "It's a fabrication of somebody who wanted to have a story to regale people with."

Takei moved past it. "It was a very upsetting experience, but it's never come up again."

His optimism buoyed him. And he had important causes to serve.

- - -

The first time I met George and Brad, at a party in Los Angeles last year, they were bickering.

When we meet in Manhattan, they bicker again over lunch, over the smallest details. Brad worries about almost everything. George does not. It was somewhat refreshing - a cult icon and his spouse being themselves in front of a reporter. Takei's openness contributes to the continuing embrace by fans five decades after "Star Trek" was canceled and why he's a natural for Stern. He presents authentically as himself, a man who extols life's fortunes. Why isn't he angry with the country that imprisoned his family?

"Because it would be another barbed-wire fence around my heart," he says.

The Civil Liberties Act of 1988 formally apologized to former Japanese American internees. Takei received a reparation check for $20,000. He donated it to the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles, which he helped found and for which he serves as a trustee.

Takei has witnessed his country change, often for the better. "When I was growing up, I couldn't marry a white woman," he has said, due to anti-miscegenation laws. "And now I'm married to a white dude!"

In 2012, when he was on "The Celebrity Apprentice," he invited host Donald Trump to lunch at "any of Trump's properties" - smart move - with the intention of discussing marriage equality. Trump accepted the offer. Takei recalls that Trump told him "he believed in traditional marriage between a man and a woman. This from a man who has been married three times!"

Takei was in New York recently for Pride Month, attending the Stonewall anniversary concert and City Hall ceremony. The events are as vital to his identity as acting.

"I was active in almost every other social justice cause as well as political candidates," he says. "But I was silent about the issue that was most personal to me, most organic to who I am, because I wanted my career."

Time was generous. He began life in internment camps and came out in his late 60s. At 82, he's flourishing in a field that had little use for him when he started.

But time can punish memory. Takei wants to ensure we know the story of what happened to his family, in his country.

The worst day of internment was the first one, he recalls. Soldiers marched up the driveway with bayonets on their rifles, pounded on the door and took the family away to who knew where and for how long. Says Takei, "It was a terrifying morning."

Bayonets and a 5-year-old boy. It is, as Takei says, an American story - a frightening and lamentable one.

All we can do is learn.

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America must reject Trump's racism at the ballot box

By eugene robinson
America must reject Trump's racism at the ballot box

EUGENE ROBINSON COLUMN

(Advance for Friday, July 19, 2019, and thereafter. Web release Thursday, July 18, 2019, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Robinson clients only)

By EUGENE ROBINSON

WASHINGTON -- When the racist chant began Wednesday night -- "Send her back! Send her back!" -- President Trump paused to let the white-supremacist anger he had stoked wash over him. George Wallace would have been so proud.

That moment at a Trump campaign rally in North Carolina was the most chilling I've seen in American politics since the days of Wallace and the other diehard segregationists. Egged on by the president of the United States, the crowd was calling for a duly elected member of Congress -- Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., a black woman born in Somalia -- to be banished from the country because Trump disapproves of her views.

This hideous display followed Trump's weekend call for Omar and three other House Democrats, all of them women of color, to "go back" to the "totally broken and crime-infested places from which they came." All of this is an unmistakable echo of the racist taunts that used to be leveled at minority groups that had the temerity to demand civil rights and the gall to achieve political and economic success -- go back to Africa, go back to Mexico, go back to China.

After the election and reelection of the first African American president, one might have thought we were beyond such ugly, desperate racism. To the contrary, perhaps Barack Obama's tenure surfaced long-buried fear and loathing that made Trump's ascension possible.

We can leave that for the political scientists to figure out in the fullness of time. Right now, we have an emergency to deal with. Trump has decided to seek a second term by making a naked appeal to white racism. I didn't think we'd ever see anything worse than his 2016 campaign, which he launched by slandering Mexican immigrants as drug dealers and rapists. Obviously, I was wrong.

The 2018 midterm election, which saw a Democratic blue wave that flipped control of the House, gave a clear sense of what voters think about the Trump presidency. Despite the lies he frequently tells on Twitter about his approval ratings, they have never reached 50%. Trump has to know his reelection bid is in trouble, and he is already in what looks like panic mode.

He has never made a serious effort to expand his base. Instead, he seeks to inflame it.

Trump no longer pretends to be the voice of forgotten working-class Americans. He has become the voice of insecure white Americans, whom he encourages to resent foreigners, immigrants and uppity minorities. His border policy -- separating babies from their mothers, putting children in cages -- is the fulfillment of an ugly revenge fantasy. Cruelty isn't an unfortunate byproduct of Trump's crackdown on asylum seekers. It's the whole point.

The president apparently believes he has found a perfect foil in "the Squad" -- the four newly elected members of Congress he told to "go back" to where they came from. Omar is a refugee from civil war in Somalia who became a U.S. citizen in her teens. The others were all born in this country -- Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., in Detroit; Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., in Cincinnati; and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., in New York.

But Tlaib is Palestinian-American, Pressley is African American and Ocasio-Cortez is of Puerto Rican heritage. Trump has decided to try to paint four young, progressive women of color as the enemy. Trump's message to his aging, white base is clear: (BEG ITAL)This is the future you should fear. These are the people you should hate.(END ITAL)

The Republican Party goes along meekly as Trump struts around like a dime-store Mussolini. As for Democrats and independents, history teaches us that the way to deal with hateful demagoguery is not to ignore it, not to downplay it, not to hope it somehow exhausts itself, but to confront it. Trump's fomenting of hate has to be called out. It has to be denounced. It has to be resisted.

Democratic presidential candidates need to realize that elaborate policy positions are necessary but not sufficient. Trump is a bully who will push and push and push. The party is unlikely -- and would be unwise -- to nominate someone too timid to push back.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., needs to rethink her strategy as well. I know she understands how much is at stake. I know she worries that impeachment may be a trap. But if Trump is going to preside over what amount to white-power rallies, the time for measured restraint is past.

The next 16 months must be a referendum on Trump's weaponized racism. The answer must be a resounding no.

Eugene Robinson's email address is eugenerobinson@washpost.com.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

If they won't pass his trade deal, Trump should make Democrats own NAFTA

By marc a. thiessen
If they won't pass his trade deal, Trump should make Democrats own NAFTA

MARC A. THIESSEN COLUMN

(Advance for Friday, July 19, 2019, and thereafter. Web release Thursday, July 18, 2019, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Thiessen clients only)

By MARC A. THIESSEN

WASHINGTON -- Here we go again. This week, President Trump appeared to renew his threat to withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) if Democrats do not pass his new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). His threats may worry pro-trade Republicans, but they are music to the ears of anti-NAFTA Democrats, who would love nothing better than to get rid of NAFTA without giving Trump a trade victory.

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, has a better idea: Trump should tell Democrats that they will own NAFTA if they oppose his deal to replace it. The message should be "if you're a Democrat, you essentially are voting for NAFTA if you vote no on USMCA," Portman explained in an interview on the American Enterprise Institute's new podcast, "What The Hell Is Going On," which I co-host. If the USMCA fails, he says, "you go back to the status quo, which is NAFTA."

Besides, Portman says, there is no good reason for Democrats to oppose the USMCA because "it is such a much better agreement for Democrats than NAFTA. ... It's everything that they've been asking for, in terms of improving the NAFTA accords." Take the automobile industry for example. America has lost about 350,000 auto jobs since NAFTA was ratified in 1994, which is a third of all jobs in the industry. Meanwhile Mexico has gained hundreds of thousands of auto jobs during that time.

The USMCA will reverse that decline and bring auto jobs back to America. It increases the percentage of a vehicle that must be made in North America from 62.5% to 75%. It requires at least 70% of a vehicle's steel and aluminum to be from North America. And it requires between 40% and 45% of a vehicle be produced by workers earning a minimum of $16 per hour. Portman's office estimates that, given Mexico's low wages, this will significantly shift auto production from Mexico to the United States.

"Look at the details of this agreement," Portman says. "There's a minimum wage in Mexico for autoworkers. That's not a Republican approach, but it's very helpful for autoworkers. ... The rules of origin, where you have to have more things made in North American countries. ... That's something Democrats have been asking for years." How, he asks, can Democrats vote against that and in favor of the NAFTA status quo?

Portman points out that the U.S. International Trade Commission estimates that the USMCA would raise U.S. employment by 176,000 jobs. And the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) says the USMCA would result in $23 billion in new U.S. auto part purchases and create 76,000 U.S. auto jobs. Would Democrats prefer those purchases and those jobs go to Mexico?

Or, take labor and environmental standards -- longtime Democratic priorities. There are none in NAFTA. Labor and environment commitments were added only after the fact, as "side letters" by President Bill Clinton, but since they were not in the actual agreement, they are not enforceable. USTR says the USMCA "includes the strongest, most advanced, and most comprehensive set of environmental obligations of any U.S. trade agreement" and "unlike the NAFTA, the USMCA's environmental provisions have been incorporated into the core text of the agreement [and] are fully enforceable."

As for labor standards, the USMCA guarantees secret-ballot votes by workers on collective bargaining agreements, and according to USTR, it requires the three countries to "practice core labor standards as recognized by the International Labor Organization, including freedom of association and the right to strike, to effectively enforce their labor laws." Do Democrats want to throw all that away in favor of an agreement with zero enforceable labor and environmental standards?

Portman says Trump should tell Democrats, "Wait a minute, this is all the stuff you said you wanted." If Democrats block the USMCA, so long as NAFTA remains in place Trump can it hang around their necks in key battleground states such as Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Ohio, which they need to win the presidency. He can tell working-class voters that Democrats voted to keep sending auto jobs to Mexico, and against the environment and the right to strike.

Democrats understand this, which is why Portman thinks the USMCA will pass. "I think it's going to get done for a very simple reason, which is logic will ultimately prevail." But logic will prevail only if Trump stops threatening to leave NAFTA.

Follow Marc A. Thiessen on Twitter, @marcthiessen.

(c) 2019, The Washington Post Writers Group

The contagion of rationalization

By michael gerson
The contagion of rationalization

MICHAEL GERSON COLUMN

(Advance for Friday, July 19, 2019, and thereafter. Web release Thursday, July 18, 2019, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Gerson clients only)

By MICHAEL GERSON

WASHINGTON -- Susan Brooks. Brian Fitzpatrick. Will Hurd. Fred Upton.

You may have read or heard these names in passing, but they are worth lingering upon. These are the four Republicans who supported a resolution condemning President Trump's plainly racist taunt urging four House members to "go back" to their countries of family origin. These are the only House Republicans for whom decency still has a political application. These are the last, scattered exceptions to the rule of malice and bigotry in the GOP.

Vote for them. Send an email to thank them. Give generously to their campaigns. Shake their hands in the street.

If we want more of a virtue in public life, it is important to praise it, and praise it properly. Brooks, Fitzpatrick, Hurd and Upton (along with ex-Republican Justin Amash) possess political courage, but of a particularly rare and important type. They refused to rationalize.

Rationalization is the default setting of the human mind. We can't reconsider our whole view of the world with every new piece of information. So we tend to accept evidence that supports our predispositions, and filter out evidence that does not. All of us do this to one extent or another.

But in politics, rationalization can take disturbing forms. The tendency can become a habit. And this habit can harden into a rigid ideology in which all questioning is disloyalty. And this cult-like ideology, if all the maleficent stars align, can become a cable network like Fox News.

If politics is really the never-ending warfare between tribes, then information is only useful as ammunition. The consideration of conflicting ideas and views only gives aid and comfort to the enemy.

The most depressing historical example of rationalization can be found in Mark Noll's brilliant "The Civil War as a Theological Crisis." In the mid-19th century, prominent ministers in the North used the Bible to justify abolitionism, while prominent ministers in the South employed the Bible to justify slavery. According to South Carolina minister James Henley Thornwell: "That the relation betwixt the slave and his master is not inconsistent with the word of God, we have long since settled. ... We cherish the institution not from avarice, but from principle."

"American national culture," Noll argues, "had been built in substantial part by voluntary and democratic appropriation of Scripture. Yet if by following such an approach to the Bible there resulted an unbridgeable chasm of opinion about what Scripture actually taught, there were no resources within democratic or voluntary procedures to resolve the public division of opinion that was created by voluntary and democratic interpretation of the Bible. The Book that made the nation was destroying the nation; the nation that had taken to the Book was rescued not by the Book but by the force of arms."

On the issue of slavery, Southern religious leaders almost uniformly took the position that supported the oppressive and unjust economic arrangements of their community. There were very few examples of unexpected or heroic resistance. Instead, ministers built a complex series of arguments to rationalize a system based on theft and abuse. And the issue was not eventually resolved by the triumph of superior arguments. "It was left," Noll says, "to those consummate theologians, the Reverend Doctors Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman, to decide what in fact the Bible actually meant."

I have no intention of equating the surpassing evil of slavery to the rise and rule of Trump in the GOP. I raise the example to show how hard it is -- and how important it is -- to examine the settled convictions of your own community and resist them when they are wrong.

Resisting rationalization is often too difficult for the common day. But not all days are common. July 16, 2019, should be remembered for its up or down vote on political and moral decency. The rationalizations in this case -- that Trump's statement was not (BEG ITAL)technically(END ITAL) racism, that the resolution violated House rules, that Democrats are guilty of similar offenses -- had nothing to do with the morality of the situation. They were transparently self-serving and political.

As a society, we would punish racist taunts of this type if done on the school grounds or the playing field. We can't accept them in the president of the United States without doing great damage to public norms of respect and inclusion.

There is a point when rationalization reaches the soul, and human beings lose sight of simple right and wrong. And 187 House Republicans have now officially reached it.

Michael Gerson's email address is michaelgerson@washpost.com.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

The cancerous consensus in today's politicized Washington

By fareed zakaria
The cancerous consensus in today's politicized Washington

FAREED ZAKARIA COLUMN

(Advance for Friday, July 19, 2019, and thereafter. Web release Thursday, July 18, 2019, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Zakaria clients only)

By FAREED ZAKARIA

You often hear that in these polarized times, Republicans and Democrats are deadlocked on almost everything. But the real scandal is what both sides agree on. The best example of this might be the defense budget. Last week, the Democratic House, which Republicans say is filled with radicals, voted to appropriate $733 billion for 2020 defense spending. The Republicans are outraged because they -- along with President Trump -- want that number to be $750 billion. In other words, on the largest item of discretionary spending in the federal budget, accounting for more than half of the total, Democrats and Republicans are divided by 2.3%. That is the cancerous consensus in Washington today.

America's defense budget is out of control, lacking strategic coherence, utterly mismanaged, ruinously wasteful and yet eternally expanding. Last year, after a quarter century of resisting, the Pentagon finally subjected itself to an audit -- which itself, in true Pentagon style, cost more than $400 million. Most of its agencies -- Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines -- failed. "We never expected to pass," admitted then-Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan.

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction has identified $15.5 billion of waste. But that is after reviewing only $53 billion of the $126 billion appropriated for Afghan reconstruction through 2017. He wrote in a 2018 letter, "[We] have likely uncovered only a portion of the total waste, fraud, abuse and failed efforts."

Outside war zones, there are the usual examples of $14,000 toilet seat lids, $1,280 cups (yes, cups) and $4.6 million for crab and lobster meals. Remember when then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates noted that the Pentagon had about as many people in military bands as the State Department had active foreign service officers? Well, it's still true today.

Donald Trump says he is a savvy businessman. Yet his attitude toward the Pentagon is that of an indulgent parent. "We love and need our Military and gave them everything -- and more," he tweeted last year. Far from bringing rationality to defense spending, he has simply opened the piggy bank, while at the same time trying to slash spending on almost every other government agency. The Pentagon is the most fiscally irresponsible government agency, but the Republicans' response has been to simply give it more.

The much deeper danger, however, is spotlighted by Jessica Tuchman Mathews in a superb essay in the New York Review of Books. Mathews points out that we tend to think about the defense budget as a percentage of the country's gross domestic product, which is fundamentally erroneous. The defense budget should be related to the threats the country faces, not the size of its economy. If a country's GDP grows by 30%, she writes, it "has no reason to spend 30% more on its military. To the contrary, unless threats worsen, you would expect that, over time, defense spending as a percentage of a growing economy should decline."

The United States faces a world in flux, to be certain, but surely not a more dangerous world than during the Cold War. The U.S. now spends more than the next 10 countries in the world put together, six of which are close allies -- Britain, France, Germany, Japan, Saudi Arabia and South Korea. And the real threats of the future -- cyberwar, space attacks -- require different strategies and spending. Yet Washington keeps spending billions on aircraft carriers and tanks.

There are even more fundamental questions about the structure of the Pentagon. Why do we have an Air Force if the Army, Navy and Marines all have their own air forces? Why does each service have its own representatives to essentially lobby Congress? When he was Defense Secretary in the early 2000s, Donald Rumsfeld tried to force some coherence onto the department (a legacy overshadowed by his disastrous handling of the Iraq War), but he was mostly outmaneuvered by the Pentagon and Congress. ''You refer to closing unneeded bases,'' Rep. Rob Simmons of Connecticut said to Rumsfeld. ''I only have one base, and I do need it." Multiply this response by 535 members of Congress to understand the depth of the problem.

Dwight D. Eisenhower was the kind of Republican who had a pragmatic skepticism about government. He was the kind of seasoned general who understood that peace came from a combination of military strength and diplomatic engagement. That was why in his presidential farewell address he spoke about the dangers of the "military-industrial complex." Sixty years later, it looks like one of the most prophetic warnings any president has ever made.

Fareed Zakaria's email address is fareed.zakaria.gps@turner.com.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

Let's stop treating community colleges like the ugly stepsisters of four-year universities

By michelle singletary
Let's stop treating community colleges like the ugly stepsisters of four-year universities

THE COLOR OF MONEY COLUMN

(Advance for Wednesday, July 17, 2019, and thereafter. Web release Tuesday, July 16, 2019, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Singletary clients only)

WRITETHRU: In 2nd graf, fixes typo in 1st sentence. Now reads: "And then I need you to..."

By MICHELLE SINGLETARY

WASHINGTON -- Repeat after me: My child is not a failure if he or she has to start out at a community college.

And then I need you to stop saying, "Community college is like the 13th grade" -- meaning it's a continuation of high school. This expression is derogatory and disparages students who attend a community college as a more affordable option than starting their college career at a four-year university.

And saving money on tuition is more important than ever. Outstanding student loans for the first quarter of 2019 were $1.49 trillion, according to the latest Federal Reserve Bank of New York's Household Debt and Credit Report.

"The prevalence of student loans grew steadily between 2004 and 2016," according to a recent Federal Reserve Bank of New York blog post. "Since 2016, about 18% of the population has held student loans, up from only 10% in 2004."

The evidence still shows that a college degree can significantly boost lifetime earnings. But that higher income is increasingly offset by the burden of debt.

In a 2015 blog post, Fed researchers wrote the following: "Until 2009, student loans had been the smallest form of household debt. During the Great Recession, Americans reduced their other debts but continued to borrow for education, making student debt the largest category of household debt outside of mortgages since 2010. Since 2004, student loan balances have more than tripled, at an average annualized growth rate of about 13% per year."

During a recent online discussion about parents taking on enormous amounts of parent PLUS federal student loans for their children, one reader championed community college as an option to reduce the cost of college.

"My parents could not afford to send a third child away to college at the same time; so I started out in community college," the reader wrote. "At first, I was pretty upset. But to everyone's surprise, it was a fabulous experience."

Here are some observations from this community college graduate:

-- "My classes were way smaller and taught by faculty, not teaching assistants, and I had better grades and was better prepared for the rest of my education than my peers who went off to sit in classes of 200 to 300 students. "

-- "I forged a stronger bond than did my siblings with my parents, who used the two more years I was at home to try their best to treat me like an adult."

-- "I was able to participate in lots of extracurricular activities, made friends of multiple age groups and backgrounds and saw why education mattered to them."

-- "Saved tons of money. No student loans for me." (A number of community colleges offer free tuition to academically talented students.)

-- "I have a far better career than my two sisters, and now out-earn them both by about two times."

To have a successful transfer from a community college to a four-year university, here are some things you should do:

-- Forge a good relationship with an academic counselor so that the two of you can develop a plan to continue your education.

-- Be sure you are taking classes that will transfer to the university you want to attend. For example, many community colleges have transfer partnerships referred to as "articulation agreements" with four-year colleges and universities.

-- Consider staying within your state school system. "It is often easier for students to transfer credits when transferring to a school in the same state, especially in states that have policies outlining how credits should transfer," the Government Accountability Office wrote in a 2017 report on the challenges of transferring college credits from one school to another.

For example, Florida has a statewide articulation agreement that generally guarantees that students who earn an associate's degree from a Florida community college can transfer at least 60 credits to one of the four-year public schools in the state. But nearly one in five students who started at a two-year public school transfer to a school in a different state, the GAO reported.

-- Don't rule out professional certificate or apprenticeship programs that can help you get employment without having to get a bachelor's degree.

"When friends with kids are approaching their college years, I tell them that community college worked well for me," the reader wrote. "It gave me a terrific debt-free start to adulthood."

With the cost of college having reached record highs, many families feel they have no other recourse than to take on large loans. But have your child consider community college -- not as a last resort, but as a more economical first choice.

--0-- --0-- --0--

Readers can write to Michelle Singletary c/o The Washington Post, 1301 K St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20071. Her email address is michelle.singletary@washpost.com. Follow her on Twitter (@SingletaryM) or Facebook (www.facebook.com/MichelleSingletary). Comments and questions are welcome, but due to the volume of mail, personal responses may not be possible. Please also note comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer's name, unless a specific request to do otherwise is indicated.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

Marianne Williamson is the only true anti-Trump

By megan mcardle
Marianne Williamson is the only true anti-Trump

MEGAN MCARDLE COLUMN

(FOR IMMEDIATE PRINT AND WEB RELEASE)

(For McArdle clients only)

By MEGAN MCARDLE

New Hampshire may be the Granite State, but it appears to have a wee soft spot for long-shot presidential candidate Marianne Williamson. The best-selling self-help author garnered 1.5% support in a new Democratic primary poll by St. Anselm College.

Critics will quibble that 1.5% is … not anything close to a majority. Indeed, it's within the poll's margin of error. But that still beats "serious" candidates such as New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker (1.2%) and New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (0.7%). Besides, Williamson tells us in "A Return to Love," "the world of the human storyline ... is a veil in front of a more real world, a collective dream." So let's take a moment to dream about, well, a collective return to love, if only because her candidacy offers so many interesting parallels to that of our current president.

One can sketch a path for Williamson to the presidency, though it's a narrow, meandering one through remote mountains and high cliffs. Her sort of metaphysical spirituality has a distinguished pedigree in American culture, and as Norman Vincent Peale and Joel Osteen could attest, the deity she invokes -- a cosmic grandparent, affectionate and undemanding -- appeals across the political spectrum.

She's also a celebrity. Especially in a divided field, celebrities can sweep to an unexpected victory thanks to name recognition and unimpeachable outsider credentials, as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jesse Ventura, Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump all did.

Williamson's celebrity has been underremarked because her work sits at the profitable intersection of spirituality and self-help, two genres disdained by the political class. Which leaves the political class with an unfortunate blind spot: capable of naming every third-tier conservative radio host but often drawing a blank on figures such as Dave Ramsey, the evangelical personal-finance guru who attracts 14 million radio and digital listeners a week. Williamson isn't quite in Ramsey territory, but she has sold millions of books, and her fan base could push her through at least the September debates.

With some difficulty, one can then imagine Williamson's gripping and unconventional debate performances earning her a plurality in a crowded primary field. That would retrace Trump's path in 2016 -- one reason it's unlikely, because Democrats are forewarned. But Williamson has some of Trump's other strengths: no inconvenient record of unpopular political decisions to explain, no political relationships yoking her to an ossified party consensus, no policy experience.

That last is a great disadvantage once you're in office, as President Trump keeps demonstrating. But before that, he showed us an unexpected upside. When you don't know how hard policy is, you're not afraid to make big promises and to phrase those promises for voter appeal, not for verisimilitude.

Williamson is already deploying many of the tactics with which Trump covered his policy deficits and is using them more deftly. She avoids the embarrassment of mangled detail by shunning specifics in favor of general statements of principle. Or she changes the subject entirely, as when she dodged a debate question about prescription drug prices by detouring into environmental degradation and poor diets.

Yet we should note that in one respect, Williamson is the only true anti-Trump to emerge thus far. The core of Trump's campaign was rage: at the foreigners, the media and the Republican establishment who had collectively destroyed American greatness. Appalled Democrats went on the debate stage last month and offered us instead . . . rage at the Republican establishment. Along with bankers and pharmaceutical executives and Trump himself, who loomed larger on the stage than any actual candidate.

The targets might be different, and some of them are better, but the promise is essentially the same: (BEG ITAL)Vote for me, and I will smite the unrighteous with fire and brimstone. Then I will deliver their ill-gotten gains unto thee(END ITAL).

Only Williamson declined to fight the enemy on the ground of his choosing. She exuded an ineffable, almost otherworldly positivity, even when attacking multinational corporations or Trump. "So, Mr. President, if you're listening, I want you to hear me, please. You have harnessed fear for political purposes and only love can cast that out . . . I will meet you on that field. And, sir, love will win." If the United States is truly hungering for something different from the past few years, then Williamson should win in a landslide.

Likely? Not remotely. But it seems possible, though only barely, that voters might eventually conclude, "We could do worse than a four-year love-in."

After all, we just did.

Follow Megan McArdle on Twitter, @asymmetricinfo.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

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