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My stomach pain proved to be advanced ovarian cancer, and I didn't like the odds.

By Susan Lisovicz
My stomach pain proved to be advanced ovarian cancer, and I didn't like the odds.
Susan Lisovicz and Lawrence Bijou on their wedding day last November, while she was being treated for advanced ovarian cancer. MUST CREDIT: Courtesy of Jessica Gaber

I'm glad I was lying down when the doctor told me the true cause of my stomach pains.

"Well, you've got a tumor" were his first words to me. I had just awakened in a hospital bed on the morning after emergency surgery. It was Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2017. Halloween.

The doctor's scary outlook came after two agonizing trips to the emergency room that had begun the preceding Friday night. After looking at abdominal X-rays, an ER doctor said constipation was making me feel as though a drawer full of forks was trying to pierce through my belly. He recommended an over-the-counter laxative.

By Saturday evening I was throwing up, and the pain was still relentless. I went back to the ER Sunday, where I was treated with additional laxatives and the first of five enemas. Finally a gastrointestinal specialist, whom my partner had texted in desperation, came on board Monday and performed a partial colonoscopy, then called in the surgeon after discovering that a tumor was causing a nearly complete blockage of my large intestine.

The tumor turned out to be Stage 3 ovarian cancer. It also created another life-threatening situation: the imminent possibility that my colon would rupture. The surgeon relieved the obstruction by performing a temporary colostomy, in which a piece of the colon is diverted to an artificial opening in the abdomen.

The doctor told me he had left the tumor for another day, for which I am forever grateful because this gave me the opportunity to consult with specialists on how to proceed.

Ovarian cancer will kill an estimated 14,000 American women this year. Mine was advanced. Stage 3 means that cancer cells have spread to tissues outside the pelvis or to lymph nodes in the back of the abdomen. Most women diagnosed with Stage 3 ovarian cancer have a five-year survival rate of 39 percent. With statistics like that, I instinctively knew I would opt for an aggressive response and, ultimately, experimental treatment.

You never know how you are going to react when you hear something so devastating. I had been healthy all my life and was literally standing on my head in a 6 a.m. yoga class the day before everything turned upside down in the ER.

All that slow, deep yoga breathing helped keep me calm - and so did my experience as a journalist. I'd covered my share of complicated stories during my 25 years at CNN and CNBC. The ability to line up experts and to make sense of what they're saying in a short amount of time is deeply ingrained. And I felt as though I was on deadline now.

Cancer can move quickly. I wanted my cancer OUT. I wanted it eviscerated. That ultimately meant a drive out of the New York metro area to Baltimore's Mercy Medical Center. A family friend had told me about the surgical oncologist Armando Sardi, who has performed nearly 600 cytoreductive surgeries.

CRS is the aggressive removal or destruction of all or most of the visible tumors in the abdomen. It may also include removal of multiple organs. Some people who have been through it call it MOAS - for "mother of all surgeries." They are complex, meticulous and long surgeries. Sardi says his longest was 19 hours; his average is seven to 10.

I also wanted something else that can come immediately after this surgery: heated chemotherapy on the operating table.

Because it is likely that microscopic disease still remains after surgery, hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy, or HIPEC, is used to deliver treatment directly to cancer cells in the abdomen. It is believed that heating the solution - in my case, to 107.5 degrees - may improve the absorption of the drugs.

HIPEC has been used for years in some abdominal cancers, but researchers are just beginning to test it on advanced ovarian cancer. Mercy says it is the only U.S. institution investigating CRS with HIPEC in women newly diagnosed with ovarian cancer to see if it could be a new standard of care.

One surgical oncologist, whose hospital did not offer HIPEC in newly diagnosed cases like mine, told me during consultation that heated chemotherapy was the "cherry on the cake," that impeccable surgery was what really counted. Well, I wanted the cake AND the cherry on the top.

The anesthesia began at 7:39 a.m. on Nov. 30. The surgery ended at 7:37 p.m. During that time, Sardi and gynecologic oncologist Teresa Diaz-Montes performed a complete hysterectomy, removed my gallbladder, spleen and the fatty tissue that covers the intestines and organs in the abdomen known as the omentum, cut out about a third of my stomach and about three feet of small bowel and reversed the colostomy. All visible traces of cancer were removed.

"We pretty much peeled off the inside of the belly," Sardi said. MOAS, indeed. And then I had the 90-minute chemo bath. No, I was not expecting THAT big of a surgery beforehand, but neither was Sardi. "Until I am in surgery, it is unpredictable and the CAT scan usually shows less than what is found," he said.

It took me more than two months before I had the nerve to read the chilling pathological report and operative note. "You had massive disease," Sardi told me in a recent phone call. "The good thing is, we were able to take it out."

I have had no complications. I was released from the hospital nine days after surgery and then stayed in an apartment nearby for another 11 days. Then the staples from my 12-inch scar were removed and I went home to celebrate Christmas with my family. Sardi said there were only about 10 facilities in the world that did CRS/HIPEC when he began doing it in 1994. While many more places offer it now, it is still not mainstream.

A Dutch study published in January in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that patients with advanced ovarian cancer who were treated with HIPEC had longer recurrence-free survival than those who received surgery alone, and they did not experience higher rates of side effects. The stats are still bleak - the median overall survival was 45.7 months in the surgery-plus-HIPEC group vs. 33.9 months in the surgery alone group - but that is almost a year's difference of life. I'll take that.

The single most motivating thing I read before surgery was a 2013 study that said nearly two-thirds of women with ovarian cancer received substandard care, which is linked to reduced survival rates and underscored the urgency of being your own best advocate. This is just unacceptable for the fifth-leading cause of cancer for women.

Also unacceptable is the fact that there is still no test to catch ovarian cancer early. The vast majority of cases are diagnosed at Stage 3 or 4, so getting it right from the outset is critical. You simply have less time for mistakes.

Patients need to "ask the provider and hospital how many ovarian cancer patients they treat, how many ovarian cancer surgeries they perform and their ovarian cancer patients' rate of survival," said Robert E. Bristow, director of gynecologic oncology at the University of California at Irvine Medical Center and the lead author of the 2013 study.

A common approach to treating ovarian cancer is chemo to shrink the tumor, followed by surgery. One gynecologic oncologist advised me to take that route. He outright dismissed HIPEC.

"It's not the standard of care," he said. "If it was, we'd all be doing it." He frowned upon having such a big operation just one month after my emergency surgery. He had a point. Because CRS often involves the removal of multiple organs, there are additional risks, including bleeding, infection and even death. The chemo immediately afterward adds to the danger.

"If you don't know what you're doing, the mortality can be very high," Sardi said.

A 2012 study in the Annals of Surgery said that CRS and HIPEC have a "steep learning curve requiring 140 procedures to acquire expertise."

Diaz-Montes said she and Sardi have worked together so frequently that they often did not need to speak during the long operation. "It's as if we're dancing," she said.

There are also financial factors to consider. While HIPEC is standard of care for appendix cancer, peritoneal carcinomatosis and mesothelioma tumors, it is considered "investigational" for ovarian cancer, said Yolanda Brockington, HIPEC coordinator at the Institute for Cancer Care at Mercy. Many insurance companies don't pay for that portion of the procedure, which costs $5,000, Brockington said.

Mercy performs two or three CRS/HIPEC surgeries a week, according to Michelle Sittig, an oncology research coordinator at the hospital. That modest number is due in part to the length of the surgeries.

"You have to have the stamina to do it and not give up," Sardi says.

After seven weeks of recovery from surgery, I began an aggressive round of chemotherapy at New York's Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. 18 weeks. Every. Damn. Week. My oncologist there, Carol Aghajanian, said she would manage the worst side effect - nausea - with a pre-chemo IV. Not once was I nauseous. But there is still no cocktail for the humbling fatigue synonymous with chemo. My signature achievement on a few days was simply changing out of my pajamas before dark.

But then I would look at the lab results, and I wanted to shout from the rooftops. My CA-125, a cancer biomarker, has been 10 or below since January. Normal is 35 and under. It was just over 300 when I was diagnosed in early November.

"It's as good as it gets," Aghajanian says.

I am grateful for the outstanding medical care that helped save my life. But that is not enough. You need to be an active participant - body and mind - in fighting cancer. You're supposed to stay positive. So I got married in the 31-day window between surgeries. My partner proposed at a time when I was forced to carry a bag of my own waste on my stomach and faced a colossal surgery. Now that's my idea of (Prince) Valiant.

I wore an oatmeal woolen Eileen Fisher dress that I had ordered online a few days before. It was loose enough to cover the temporary colostomy, and it was perfect - except for the plastic magnetic tag that the store had forgotten to remove before shipping. I didn't see it when I first tried it on. Hey, when you've got cancer, you don't sweat the small stuff. I wore the dress during my vows in municipal court with the tag still attached.

For a couple of hours in the morning there was champagne and laughter. And then by early afternoon I was back in a hoodie and leggings on the subway for a call-back on my mammograms, the first time I had ever been called back. I went alone by choice, and as I was riding on the Q train, I thought there is NO WAY I could be told bad news on my wedding day.

I took my place with about a dozen other women, all of us in our blue and white seersucker robes. When the technician called me back for the screening, I told her that I had literally just gotten married. She said, "You mean there's still hope for me?"

Hope. It's so important, whatever our priorities might be. She took exactly one picture. That was the closer look that was needed. I was clean.

Ovarian cancer is a disease with a high recurrence rate. "You had the right operation that will give you the best chance," Sardi told me.

On my last day of treatment on May 15, my chemo nurse, a breast cancer survivor, said, "I never ever want to see you here again."

My CT scan on June 11 was "beautiful, crystal clear," according to Aghajanian.

Now I hope to return fully to an active and purposeful life, which often begins with sunrise headstands - and may include a honeymoon.

What does it mean to be a NASA astronaut in the celebrity space age of Elon Musk and Richard Branson?

By Christian Davenport
What does it mean to be a NASA astronaut in the celebrity space age of Elon Musk and Richard Branson?
Visitors watch an astronaut practice for flight April 26 at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. Despite the end of shuttle flights, astronauts still travel to the International Space Station. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Jonathan Newton

HOUSTON - The journey to outer space for American astronauts for the past seven years has begun at a Soviet-era launch site in Kazakhstan, deep in Central Asia. There, they pay homage to Russian cosmonauts and graciously participate in the rituals of their hosts, even the tradition of urinating on the right rear tire of the bus that ferries them to the rocket.

The landscape is barren and desiccated, resembling the moon or some distant celestial body, a reminder that the astronauts are a long way from Cape Canaveral.

Now, human space flight is returning to the place where the American Space Age was born.

As soon as this year, NASA expects to end its reliance on Russia and launch American pilots from U.S. soil for the first time since the final shuttle mission in 2011. But this time, the astronauts will fly on rockets unlike any NASA has ever seen - built and operated by companies trying to turn spaceflight into a sustainable business.

These first flights will be the fruits of $6.8 billion worth of contracts that NASA awarded to Boeing and SpaceX and mark a fundamental shift in America's human space program - outsourcing access to Earth's orbit to private sector companies, some of which hope to eventually bring tourists to space.

Those chosen by NASA for its upcoming missions are a quartet of former military pilots and NASA veterans who combined have spent more than a year in space over eight flights. They were all carefully selected not just to fly to the International Space Station but to help reinvigorate NASA's often-overlooked human spaceflight program.

Yet unlike their predecessors from the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs - heroes and household names whose "one giant leap" was imprinted in the national lexicon and whose lunar footprints endure undisturbed decades later - today's astronauts are largely anonymous.

The stars of the new Space Age are instead a group of billionaire entrepreneurs, led by SpaceX's Elon Musk and Virgin Galactic's Richard Branson, who value technology over bravery, algorithms over instinct, and whose rockets and spacecraft may one day turn ordinary people into astronauts. In the digital age, the mantle of "the right stuff" is being bequeathed to the engineers and the programmers, who are collapsing the line between pilot and passenger one line of code at a time.

They are the ones calling for the Kennedy-esque vision of space travel, which has attracted the public's attention, and also investors. Musk talks of colonizing Mars. Branson boasts that Virgin Galactic already has 700 people signed up for tourist jaunts to the edge of space. And Jeffrey Bezos' Blue Origin says its goal is nothing short of "millions of people living and working in space." (Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

NASA does its best to promote its astronauts. They are available for interviews and to speak at community events, at businesses and to schoolchildren, especially from the space station, where they perform weightless somersaults and gobble floating M&Ms. They rhapsodize about seeing Earth from space and dutifully answer the question that everyone always asks: How do you go to the bathroom in space?

Aboard the space station, the orbiting laboratory, they work more as researchers and scientists than explorers, circling the Earth every 90 minutes on an endless loop just 250 miles high, or about the distance between New York and Washington.

Back on Earth, they are no longer feted by Broadway ticker-tape parades. Inside Houston's Johnson Space Center, they are still treated like heroes. But outside those walls, they are recognizable, like soldiers, police officers and firefighters, only when they don their signature blue suits. Otherwise, they are government employees, performing a job that has an entry-level salary for civilians of $69,904 a year, free to roam the grocery store aisles in peace.

This is a good thing, says Scott Kelly, the most famous of the modern astronauts, who spent nearly a year in space. It's hard-won progress that's the result of making space travel routine.

"It's an indication we do it right," he says. "Safely."

More than 500 people have been to space. Not all of them can be famous. John Glenn and his fellow Mercury astronauts were pioneers in the truest sense - the first Americans to go to space, and then to orbit. Then came Gemini and Apollo. Men on the moon, and another ticker-tape parade.

"Everyone knows who Orville and Wilbur Wright were," Kelly says. "But no one knows the second or third person to fly an airplane."


Their names are Robert Behnken, Eric Boe, Doug Hurley and Sunita Williams. They are the ones chosen for NASA's next big missions. But instead of flying on rockets designed and operated by the space agency, their rides will come courtesy of a pair of contractors - SpaceX and Boeing - hired to provide a taxi-like service to the International Space Station.

Even the spacesuits are new and sleek, far different than the traffic-cone orange "pumpkin suits" worn by the shuttle astronauts. Boeing's are ocean blue and comfortable; SpaceX's are white and black, right out of a sci-fi flick.

With the first flights scheduled for later this year - a timeline that will probably slip - NASA is expected to soon announce which astronauts are flying when. That would mark a definitive step for its "Commercial Crew" program, which has been delayed again and again, as the companies have struggled to get their new spacecraft ready and as the ever-cautious NASA overcomes the scarring memories of the shuttle Columbia explosion in 2003.

NASA has already offered a glimpse of four members of the first crews to fly, some of the best and most experienced in the astronaut corps. They have served as high-ranking officers in the Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy who grew up wanting adventure. Combined, they have spent 74 years at NASA. Three have children. All are married. Two, Hurley and Behnken, are married to other astronauts.

At 53, Boe is the oldest, with a vague memory of being nearly 5 years old "when my parents came in and said, 'Come watch this.' " There were men walking on the moon on the black-and-white television. At 47, Behnken, is the youngest, with no memory of Apollo but a vivid one of when the shuttle Challenger exploded in 1986, and how for days afterward he stayed glued to the hearings on C-SPAN, as investigators tried to sort out how the mission had gone so horribly wrong.

Williams, 52, is the veteran of the group, having joined the astronaut corps in 1998, two years before the other three and the only one to fly on both the space shuttle and the Russian Soyuz spacecraft. She grew up wanting to be a veterinarian but ended up going to the Naval Academy and then became a naval helicopter pilot and then an astronaut, who on her first trip to space was "hooting and hollering" and "having so much fun" with her crewmates as the shuttle lifted off.

"The guys on the flight deck were like, 'Would you guys shut up? We can't hear,' " she recalls.

Hurley, 51, is a retired Marine Corps colonel who flew two shuttle missions. He knows the triumph and the majesty of seeing Earth from space. His first mission lasted 16 days, traveling 6,547,853 miles, orbiting the Earth 248 times.

His second mission was shorter, 12 days, and bittersweet. It was the very last shuttle mission, which brought not just sadness but unemployment for hundreds.

Inside the Johnson Space Center, the four astronauts' photos line the walls. But their anonymity among the public doesn't bother them, they say. They fly not for fame but "for the greater good," Hurley says. "We do it for the country. We do it for the agency. And we do it because we are passionate about it."

But today, they do it on Russian rockets from a launch site in Kazakhstan, nearly 7,000 miles from Cape Canaveral, a distance that muffles their launches to the point of obscurity for much of the American public.

Few seem to remember that astronauts have lived on the space station continuously since 2000 and that NASA still operates three spacecraft orbiting Mars and two rovers on its surface. Its New Horizons spacecraft flew by Pluto in 2015; Voyager 1, launched in 1977 is more than 13 billion miles from Earth, the only human-made object in interstellar space.

And still, so many ask: Is NASA closed?

"We get that question constantly," Hurley says. "What do you do now that the (shuttle) program is over?"

That question shows "just how closely tied human spaceflight is to the public perception of NASA," says Michael Lopez-Alegria, a former NASA astronaut.


When they launch on Russian rockets, a world away, NASA's astronauts are like foreign exchange students, strangers soaking up the local culture and customs in a distant and curious land.

They stop first in Star City, Russia, outside of Moscow, where American astronauts pay homage to the Soviet hero Yuri Gagarin, the first human ever to reach space, leaving red carnations at his memorial wall.

Then, two weeks before launch, they head deep into the Central Asian desert, to the Baikonur Cosmodrome, the Soviet-era launch site in Kazakhstan, where the food is heavy and salty, and, like the astronauts who have flown before them, NASA's best participate in rituals both sacrosanct and superstitious.

Before the launch, the astronauts watch the 1970 Russian movie "White Sun of the Desert." They are blessed by an Orthodox priest in a golden robe, who presses a cross to their nose and blesses them with a splash of water to the face that comes, to some, with unexpected force. The astronauts drink a glass of champagne and then, before being transported to the launch site, urinate on the bus's rear right tire because, legend has it, Gagarin did so before his first flight.

Perhaps most disorienting is that at Baikonur the astronauts aren't clued in to the countdown. They get a five-minute warning. Then one minute. But then the seconds tick by in silence, until the engines begin to rumble beneath them.

"There's a lot of superstition," Williams says. "There's a lot of tradition. ... And when you think about it, it's pretty cool."

Even christening the tire, which can be tricky for female astronauts: "I got some of my urine on the tire - put it that way," she says. "I was sticking with tradition."

The Florida Space Coast has its traditions as well, like the prelaunch parties on the beach that may not be as raucous as they once were, but still endure.

"When you're launching from the Kennedy Space Center, you feel the support of the country behind you because there's a ton of people," Williams says. In Baikonur, the number of visitors is limited. But in Florida, "all your friends and family get in their cars and their campers and make their way down."

She now hopes they'll gather again just as they used to. On the sunny coast of Florida, where the waves lap not far from the launchpad, the hotels and bars along the four-lane Cocoa Beach strip have, for years, served as a sort of fraternity row for the tourists lining the beach, just down the road from Disney World.

It is here on the beaches and causeways that tens of thousands would gather, all chanting the anthem of the Florida Space Coast in unison: "3 ... 2 ... 1 ..."


Soon, they may gather somewhere else as well: In the deserts of New Mexico and West Texas; in Mojave, California; and along the Gulf of Mexico, in the secluded retreats where the billionaires are building their private spaceports.

The most stunning of these is New Mexico's Spaceport America, which Branson's Virgin Galactic has been promising for years would become a destination for the tourists who for as much as $250,000 a ticket would go on a thrill ride to the edge of space.

So far, more than 700 have signed up, the company says, more than the 560 or so people who have been to space. In 2014, the company suffered a major setback when its spacecraft came apart in midair during a test flight, killing the co-pilot in a blow that set the company back years.

Now it is flying again, and on May 29 its new spacecraft flew supersonic for the second time from its test site in Mojave, roaring closer to the edge of space, making it 22 miles high.

Just over 200 miles away, in the West Texas desert, Bezos' Blue Origin has built its own launch site, where it, too, plans to fly tourists just past the edge of space. Across the state in Brownsville, SpaceX is building a private launch site of its own.

Axiom, a Houston-based company that is building a commercial space station, recently advertised 10-day trips to the International Space Station for $55 million a stay, starting in 2020.

The companies have different approaches and ambitions, but all want to open up space for the masses, to create a new generation of astronauts far different from the ones NASA has been producing since the dawn of the Space Age. It would be an era in which voyages may be not just about collective achievement, but the opportunity for private individuals to go.

"I'm completely supportive of all kinds of people going into space. I mean that's the whole point of what we're trying to go do," says Bob Smith, the CEO of Blue Origin. "We want poets, we want artists, we want journalists, we want all kinds of people to go out there because we believe strongly that there is this thing called the 'overview effect,' where people get a better perspective of where they live."

As she prepares for her third trip to space, NASA's Williams says that she, for one, is all for that.

"I wish everyone on this planet would have an opportunity to take a lap around the Earth, just one time at least," she says. "And just see what it looks like from there."

Both Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin hope to have their first test flights with humans to space later this year.

That breakthrough could come before Williams and her colleagues launch into space. That would mean the people restoring human spaceflight from U.S. soil won't be NASA astronauts at all, but the private executives and their customers who have become the new celebrities of America's foray into the cosmos.


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Video: It's been seven years since astronauts launched from American soil, now NASA has hired SpaceX and Boeing to restore launch capabilities to the U.S and allow private citizens into space.(Whitney Leaming/The Washington Post)

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A new era of political music videos is born

By Sonia Rao
A new era of political music videos is born
The music video for Childish Gambino's

Donald Glover didn't hold back when creating the music video for "This Is America," the most recent single by his rapper alter-ego, Childish Gambino. He didn't have to.

As its name suggests, the video is emblematic of its time - blatantly political in a way that appeals to social media and its love of dissectable visuals. Consider Glover's dancing, presumably choreographed to mimic a minstrel character; the murder of choir singers, evoking the Charleston church massacre; and death riding in on a white horse.

"It's fun to see how people have taken to it, the interpretations," said Larkin Seiple, the video's cinematographer.

Political edge isn't a new addition to the art form by any means, but it's difficult to imagine the recent deluge of videos exploring racial and sexual identity occurring in the MTV era. Beyoncé's visual album "Lemonade" kicked off a recent wave with its emotionally hefty exploration of black womanhood, followed by similarly bold videos by Frank Ocean, Janelle Monáe, Glover and others. The phenomenon is, in part, the result of political trends such as polarization and identity politics rising to the forefront of online conversation, and movements such as Black Lives Matter and #Me Too asserting the equality of marginalized groups. But it also owes a lot to the YouTube revolution and the freedom that video platforms grant artists.

Just ask Larry Miller, director of the music business program at New York University's Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development. In response to the question of whether the purpose of music videos has evolved over the years, he chuckled.

"I'm only laughing out loud because yes, of course," he said. "At one time, the purpose of music videos was to sell albums."

MTV, the first-ever channel dedicated to music videos, took off after its 1981 launch, and record labels used it as a promotional mechanism for new music. The buzz surrounding videos such as Madonna's "Like a Prayer," a Vatican-condemned commentary on race and religion, and Michael Jackson's "Thriller," viewed as a metaphor for sexual awakening, reminded viewers to head out and buy albums.

Television also meant advertising dollars, which translated to enormous budgets for the videos. But, sometimes, the money meant sacrificing creative control. The more that was at stake, according to several directors, the safer labels played it. Strict TV guidelines didn't make things any easier.

Those who worked on Monáe's "Dirty Computer" got a taste of this when preparing a version of the accompanying short film to air on MTV and BET in April. Sexual liberation is a theme throughout the album, especially in songs such as "Pynk." Director Emma Westenberg made sure its video, which references female anatomy through elements like Monáe's so-called vagina pants, reflected that.

"The imagery, because the song is so open and free, was so much fun to develop," she said. "It's already so clear what ('Pynk') is about that the imagery came from the lyrics."

The "Dirty Computer" that aired on television was quite different from its online counterpart, according to Andrew Donoho. He co-directed the narrative portion and said the team had to cut shots that included nudity and stuck-up middle fingers. They even eliminated a "too long and controversial" bit of "Pynk" that featured poetry Monáe read to her on-screen love interest, played by Tessa Thompson.

"It's definitely something that can only exist in the here and now," Donoho said of the online cut. "There were plenty of artists in the '80s and '90s that would have loved to make controversial pieces or videos that pushed boundaries, but censorship and having to cater to TV networks and labels and go through all the hands and politics, I'm sure there's a lot of art that never got made."

"Dirty Computer" shares this "here and now" quality with Frank Ocean's videos, especially the one for his single "Nikes." It critiques hedonistic pleasure by contrasting shallow joy (shots of money and the titular shoes) with harsh realities (photographs of Trayvon Martin and late hip-hop artists). Dueling voices - Ocean's and a higher-pitched version - mimic this juxtaposition, and his androgynous style along with glittery and angel-winged bodies add sexual fluidity to the conversation. (In 2012, Ocean announced on Tumblr that he fell in love with a man at 19.)

Such videos feed our culture's demand for art shaped by politics in today's antagonistic environment, where the stakes feel particularly high for both sides of every culture war. Music videos help artists clearly define where they stand on issues such as gun violence and race relations, and Westenberg hopes this strong messaging can influence public opinion, too. She received some homophobic feedback about "Dirty Computer" in an Instagram comment but still thinks the film's celebratory feel has the ability to "change some people's views."

YouTube is ideal for this kind of video. It emerged as a new platform for artistic expression in 2005, ending what director Andrew Thomas Huang called the "dark period" after MTV pivoted to reality programming in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Initially devoted to amateur videos, the site began to host popular music and became an on-demand MTV of sorts. Digital downloads became more popular as CD sales declined, and both were eventually supplanted by streaming.

Zia Anger, who has directed videos for Mitski and Angel Olsen, said YouTube makes it easy to figure out exactly what fans want, giving artists a more personalized look at their base.

"There's a certain amount of visibility involved with seeing a viewer on YouTube," since everyone can see viewer figures and comments, Anger said. "I guess there were Nielsen ratings for MTV back in the day, but this ... is a totally different beast."

The ad money from the MTV era has vanished, with video budgets dropping from as high as the millions to the $50,000-100,000 range, according to Kate Miller, senior vice president of visual content at Republic Records. But technology has become cheaper and more efficient, allowing for everything from Drake's star-studded "Nice for What" to John Mayer's remarkably low-budget "New Light" - which he made with a company that does birthday and Bar Mitzvah videos - to end up on the same website.

"These days, with the advent of online, the power really is in the artists' hands," said Devin Sarno, vice president of creative services at Warner Brothers Records. "They can put out a piece of content whenever they want," and at whatever length they want.

Beyoncé, the queen of crafting an image, surprised fans in 2016 by dropping "Lemonade" on the Jay-Z-owned streaming service Tidal and the 46-minute film version on artist-friendly HBO. "Formation," the work's most-discussed power anthem, calls on black women to stand together and features the singer in an abandoned plantation and atop a sinking police car, among other memorable images. The video is woven into the narrative of Beyoncé navigating an environment often hostile to women of color, which a Malcolm X voice-over expresses early on: "The most disrespected woman in America is the black woman."

Musicians have always told stories,but these albums are inextricably linked to the accompanying moving images, and are far less powerful without them. "I think a lot of artists are really educated at filmmaking and interested in it as a creative extension from music," Miller said. "I think the curtain has been drawn back. In the '90s, not as many people knew how to make film, and now it's so much more accessible."

The short film route is tricky, as attention spans for online content always seem to be shorter. So the videos have to grab you. Viewers can't look away from "This Is America" because of Glover's magnetic presence the first time they watch, and the background chaos the second time. There's so much to unpack, said Seiple, the cinematographer - and that helps give the video a viral quality.

"You can't just shoot someone performing in a cool venue, you have to make something unique or outlandish," he added.

It's a lot to ask for. But according to Huang, bold statements will usually do the trick.

"Artists need visuals and videos to communicate the persona they're trying to get across more than ever," he said. "There are certain musicians where the minute their video comes out, you want to know who (worked on) it. That's the mark of a great musician, someone who is selective and cares very much about the entire package."


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Video: Childish Gambino, a.k.a. Donald Glover, released a powerful new music video examining the gun violence epidemic in America.(Nicki DeMarco/The Washington Post)

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Pulitzer-winning opinion from the most respected voices in the world.

How to sleep at night when families are being separated at the border

By alexandra petri
How to sleep at night when families are being separated at the border



(For Petri clients only)


The trick is forgetting they are children.

If you remember that they are children, you will not be able to go on with any of this. If you remember when you were a child, and frightened, and everything seemed impossibly big and loud and sharp and hard except a certain pair of familiar arms, this will have to stop.

The trick is forgetting that there is such a word as "child." To remember words like "bad hombre" and "thug" instead. You do not have to say "animals," if you do not want to. There are other ways. "To assume that just because of someone's age or gender or whatever that they don't pose a threat would be wrong," Sean Spicer bumbled last year.

"Deterrent" is a good word, too. "Zero-tolerance" is even better. And no one likes the idea of a "human shield."

The trick is to wrap this up in words so tightly that you cannot see the child inside.

The trick is to reassure yourself that this is what they deserve, that what makes you different, that what makes your children children and not threats or thugs is something within your control. That the fact that you have nothing to run from is because of your particular virtue. ("You're a parent. Don't you have any empathy? Come on, Sarah, you're a parent!" Brian Karem tried during the White House press briefing last Thursday. "Brian, God, settle down. ... I know you want to get some more TV time, but that's not what this is about.")

The trick is to remind yourself that this could be worse. That some of them are, of course, not in cages. (This is a fact of which is quite proud. They are not all in cages.) When they are literally torn from their mothers' breasts, which you thought happened only in the careless metaphors of people losing online arguments, they are not also smeared with soot like Dickensian orphans and given coarse rags to wear, at least not on the footage released to media. They are orphans, sure, but there is nothing Dickensian about them.

The trick is not to admit that this is happening. The trick is not to see pictures of it, except the footage the Department of Health and Human Services provides that barely shows any children at all, mostly long shots of murals (a poster of the Justice League; a lingering shot of a seasick-looking Superman, himself an illegal alien, smiling miserably down from a wall) with the occasional glimpse of children that do not show any of the running and screaming and attempting suicide.

None of this requires magic that has never been performed before. We were adept at it for centuries. If we squinted just right, it was possible to look and see not a child but a commodity ("For Sale ... A Girl, Eleven years old, used to the care of children. A Boy, Ten years old"), or a threat that needed to be locked behind barbed wire ("The whole Japanese population is properly under suspicion as to its loyalties ... they need to be restrained for the safety of California and the United States").

We are still adept at it when it is convenient. When the alternative would be to admit that we have put a bullet into a child, it is amazing how the child transforms into a man and the toy in his hand mutates into a dangerous weapon.

It is only true that we have never done this, that this is not what we do, if you forget that they were children, too, before.

But these are children, now, and they have not been here very long, and they are still learning where everything is, and they are still at an age where something can be unthinkable because there has simply not been enough time to think it yet, where a thing that has only happened for a year can be a thing that has happened for as long as you can remember.

Time is different when you are a child. Every day stretches into forever. New worlds can be invented and discarded in the course of a single afternoon. And America can be a place that has always done a thing or America can be a place that has never done a thing except in stories or in nightmares.

If we stop this now, right now, this instant, after a year or two or three there will be children who know that America would never do such a thing. And then we must keep not doing it. We must stop this until they are not children any longer, and then never do it again.

The trick is not forgetting they are children. The trick is never forgetting again.

Follow Alexandra Petri on Twitter, @petridishes.

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group

The shadow across the picture

By richard cohen
The shadow across the picture


(Advance for Tuesday, June 19, 2018, and thereafter. Web release Monday, June 18, 2018, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Cohen clients only)

WRITETHRU: 3rd graf, penultimate sentence: "Sessions defended the policy" STED "He defended his policy"


EDITORS: Note the quoted language in the 8th graf.

John Moore may have lost the midterm elections for the Republican Party and badly damaged the re-election prospects of President Trump. Moore is the Getty Images photographer who snapped a viral picture of a crying 2-year-old Honduran girl at the U.S.-Mexico border. It's not clear if the girl was separated from her mother, and, in fact, she had just been set on the ground so her mother could be searched. The details, though, are unimportant. The picture, in effect, was of Trump -- his cruel policy, his cold heart, his lack of empathy.

A picture is worth a thousand words, the saying goes. But this one is worth a million tweets. In political consequence, it is like the one taken of President George W. Bush surveying the devastation of Hurricane Katrina -- by peering out the window of Air Force One. As Bush himself later acknowledged, the photo made him look "detached and uncaring." It reinforced his frat boy image.

Of course, Trump is nowhere near the crying Honduran girl. But his fingerprints are all over the picture. It was the stern implementation of his policy that separated children from their parents -- "zero tolerance" in the stirring words of Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Sessions defended the policy by citing a biblical verse historically used to defend slavery -- in essence, that the government is always right. Not then, certainly, and not now.

The outcry against the policy is such that it cannot last. It has been denounced by leading Republicans, most notably former first lady Laura Bush. Even the current first lady has spoken up -- sort of. In keeping with a Trump family tradition, she essentially attributed the problem to "both sides" -- Democrats as well as Republicans -- evoking the formula her husband used to lay blame for the neo-Nazi violence in Charlottesville last year. She is wrong about that. The policy is her husband's. When she sees him, she should ask.

Moore's picture is of a very special category -- the pain of innocent children. It is reminiscent of the one Nick Ut of The Associated Press took of a 9-year-old Vietnamese girl, Phan Thi Kim Phuc, fleeing a napalm attack in 1972. The picture summed up the horror of that war and the toll being taken on civilians.

Similarly, the plight of Syrian refugees was indelibly caught by Turkish journalist Nilufer Demir with his photo of 2-year-old Aylan Kurdi, lying face down on the beach at Bodrum, Turkey, drowned. He and his family were trying to reach Greece when their boat capsized.

And there was the boy in the cap being rounded up by German soldiers as they cleared the Warsaw Ghetto of its remaining Jews in 1943. He is surely under 10, his hands held high in surrender, a newsboy's cap on his head, a terrified expression on his face as he sets off to his almost certain murder. He remains unidentified, but, once seen, unforgettable.

It's odd that Trump, who rose to the White House on the power of image, did not grasp how he would be hurt by the tears of a little girl. The picture captures both his policy and his persona. He is a man without empathy, after all. He belittled the hideous torture of John McCain, mocked the physical disability of a reporter, called Mexicans rapists, denigrated all Muslims and referred to impoverished nations as "shithole countries." His narcissism is heroic. His sympathy, like much of his charity, is reserved for himself.

Cruelty has its selective appeal. Some confuse it with strength. Surely some in Trump's base will see Moore's picture and cheer. It will prove to them that Trump is serious about eliminating illegal immigration, returning America to a land of Saturday Evening Post covers, making it robustly heterosexual, white in color and culture and flag-loving in a way that he approves. They might blame the child's parents for her plight and castigate them as illegal immigrants who deserve no rights, even if they irreducibly have the ones we were all born with.

This time, it seems, Trump has gone too far. His White House stooges defend his policy, but we are a nation of parents. Parenthood humbles us all, makes us tremble from the immense power of tiny hugs. This -- the need to comfort a child -- is what we have in common with all human beings and why we are simultaneously moved by the girl in the picture and unforgiving of the man looming outside the frame.

Richard Cohen's email address is

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

The Trump administration defends border cruelty with heresy

By michael gerson
The Trump administration defends border cruelty with heresy


(Advance for Tuesday, June 19, 2018, and thereafter. Web release Monday, June 18, 2018, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Gerson clients only)


WASHINGTON -- Logic not being the strong point of the Trump administration, it claims that it is not to blame for the separation of families at the border, and that a just God is pleased it is happening.

The first claim is a lie. Without the administration's "zero-tolerance" policy, there would be no surge in detained children at overwhelmed facilities. And President Trump has incurred further responsibility by employing confused, frightened children as leverage in negotiations over a border wall. All of this is taking place as a direct result of Trump's command to get tough at the border. And what shows toughness better than mistreating little boys and girls?

The second claim, made most prominently by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, is that Romans 13 -- a biblical passage written by the Apostle Paul urging everyone to be "subject to the governing authorities" -- is an endorsement of the administration's hard-line enforcement of immigration laws. Sessions is effectively claiming divine sanction for the idea that people who break laws may be punished and deterred by subjecting their children to mental anguish. This is cruelty defended by heresy.

The Bible, like a gun, is a dangerous thing in the hands of a bigot. Segregationists and autocrats throughout Western history have claimed that Romans 13 covers oppressive or unjust laws. But the centerpiece commitment of Christian social ethics is not order; it is justice. For a good introduction to the concept, Sessions might read Martin Luther King Jr.'s "Letter from a Birmingham Jail." "A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God," King argued. "An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law." And how should justice be defined? "Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust."

Trump's immigration policy is a carnival of degradation. At one facility, hundreds of children have been confined (according to an Associated Press story) "in a series of cages created by metal fencing." At another place (according to a Los Angeles Times report), "children were running away, screaming, throwing furniture and attempting suicide." At a small shelter on the Texas border (according to The Washington Post), screaming toddlers were isolated from their parents and caregivers were "not allowed to touch the children."

The controversy over family separation has accomplished at least one useful thing. It is an act of inhumanity by the Trump administration so gross -- so rotting, worm-ridden and hair-covered -- that many evangelical leaders have refused to swallow it. Even Franklin Graham, awakened momentarily from his ideological slumbers, has called the practice "disgraceful."

This policy debate has also demonstrated the broad streak of extremism at the center of the Trump administration. "It was a simple decision by the administration," explained presidential adviser Stephen Miller, "to have a zero-tolerance policy for illegal entry." Simple. Simple if you are untroubled by nagging empathy. Simple if you are hardened against the temptation of mercy. Simple if you have lost the ability to feel anger when abused children weep. One gets the impression that Miller, Trump and White House chief of staff John Kelly regard the fears of migrant parents and the anguish of migrant children as evidence of a good day's work.

This is a contagion. In a recent poll, a strong plurality of Republicans (46 percent) supported the policy of family separation at the border. They have been given permission for their worst instincts by the leader of their party -- a party whose right flank is now held by the neo-Confederate protestors at Charlottesville.

Dehumanization has a natural progression. It starts by defining a whole race or ethnicity by its worst members -- say, rapists or criminals. It moves on to enforce generally applicable laws and rules that especially hurt a target group. Then, as the public becomes desensitized, the group can be singled out for hatred and harm. It is the descent, step by step, into a moral abyss.

The Bible, a rich and sprawling book, offers another angle on these matters. At one point in the New Testament, Jesus calls a child over and says, "Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me; but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea."

Sometimes those who invoke God's justice would do better to fear it.

Michael Gerson's email address is

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

Inhumanity rules the border

By kathleen parker
Inhumanity rules the border


(Advance for June 17, 2018, and thereafter. Web release Saturday, June 16, 2018, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Parker clients only)

WRITETHRU: Swaps in new 6th graf to update with announcement by DHS that 1,995 children have been separated from accompanying adults.


WASHINGTON -- Put yourself in the room with immigration officials and try to imagine exactly which argument would convince you that separating children from their migrating parents would be a good idea.

Would it work for you because you're a stickler for obedience to rules -- no exceptions? Would it be OK because the U.S. must convey to others that illegal migration comes with severe consequences? How about because it's the law (as of recently), as press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters in a hollow attempt to justify what can't be justified.

Does no one remember the atrocities that have been committed under the law?

Sanders explained that because the Trump administration has initiated a zero-tolerance policy toward illegal immigrants crossing our border, immigration agents have no choice but to enforce the law.

Zero tolerance means that people caught crossing the border are treated as criminals, charged accordingly and incarcerated pending trial and sentencing. As one would expect, children don't go to jail with their parents. Thus, the children are separated and housed in secure, makeshift shelters, including a converted former Walmart in Brownsville, Texas.

On Friday, the Department of Homeland Security said the Trump administration separated 1,995 children from the adults they were traveling with at the U.S. border between April 19 and May 31.


Maybe some hard-core Trump supporters, who elected him president on a promise to get tough on immigration, can swallow this collateral cruelty as a necessary unpleasantness. But I can't imagine that many of them are parents. As a mother, my heart breaks at the thought of a frightened and confused child being taken away from his or her parents and stashed like an orphaned animal in what amounts to a holding pen.

To be blunt, I don't recognize this country anymore.

This "solution" to stanching the human exodus from Latin America across our border takes a toll not only on those arrested and detained but also on our own humanity. To insist that traumatizing children is the way to deal with the problem is a failure of imagination. To not anticipate the consequences of children being detained under a zero-tolerance policy that imprisons their parents is a failure of leadership.

Most troubling is the inherent lack of empathy -- as (BEG ITAL)policy(END ITAL) -- and what that not only reveals but possibly foreshadows. The only way to rationalize these events is to view these immigrants as less than human. In the abstract, some Americans may be able to convince themselves that "they asked for it." Or, "nobody invited them. What were they expecting, a parade?"

But there must be some posture between "lock 'em up," which Trump supporters find easy enough to say, and "let's find a better solution." How about convening the Philanthropy Roundtable and see what the billionaires can come up with?

Meanwhile, allow me to put a human face on a few people I've interviewed in recent years. Maria (not her real name) left Honduras and walked for five nights through the desert, the only woman among 26 men, to seek a better life. She left behind her two little girls, who were sick with life-threatening diseases and had no means to seek medical treatment. Thanks to the money Maria was able to send home from cleaning houses in America, her daughters survived and are college-bound.

Next, meet Uncle "Jose" and his nephew, "Julio," both laborers from Nicaragua. They, too, walked the distance. They told me of the many human carcasses, desiccated and bleached by the relentless sun, that punctuate the landscape. To my expression of horror, the young one shrugged as he lit a cigarette. "They just weren't strong enough," he said.

Jose, who told me he's made the crossing at least a dozen times to visit his family in Nicaragua and return here to work, plans just one more trip home, this time for good.

These stories and these people aren't rare. And though we have to find ways to slow the flow of illegal migrants, empathy allows one to consider the desperation that motivates so many -- and even to admire Maria's heroic courage and devotion to family. To the extent that we're willing to dehumanize them so that we may inflict suffering upon children without the burden of conscience, we have far greater problems than illegal immigration.

Kathleen Parker's email address is

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

GOP moderates fold to Trumpism

By e.j. dionne jr.
GOP moderates fold to Trumpism


(Advance for Monday, June 18, 2018, and thereafter. Web release Sunday, June 17, 2018, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Dionne clients only)

WRITETHRU: Updating 12th graf (Their retreat means...) following news that President Trump would in fact support the GOP's 'compromise' immigration bill.


WASHINGTON -- "Moderate Republicans are the people who are there when you don't need them."

It was one of former Rep. Barney Frank's many devastating zingers, and it certainly applies to the fiasco unfolding in the House of Representatives on immigration.

A headline last week on Roll Call's website might have been channeling Frank, the acerbic Massachusetts Democrat: "Moderates Punt on Immigration Petition as GOP Goals Drift."

Drift indeed. What we saw last week embodied the spirit of capitulation that has allowed a once-great party to move toward the extremism and irrationality represented by President Trump. As recently as 2007, a significant share of the GOP, led by former President George W. Bush himself, sought a humane answer to the problem of illegal immigration.

Now, the party of family values is caught up in the forcible separation of children from their parents. Members of the GOP, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, try to rationalize the spectacle of kids torn away from their moms and dads at the border by blaming court decisions or (in Trump's case) Democrats.

Thus do Republicans compound their inhumanity with a lie. The only reason this is happening is because of Attorney General Jeff Sessions' decision to incarcerate those who enter the country illegally and to take their young children away on the that'll-teach-'em theory.

Sessions has spoken of this thuggishness with pride. He is, you see, creating a new incentive. "If you don't want your child separated," he said last month, "then don't bring them across the border illegally." This is cruelty by design.

The Republicans who purport to be above Trumpian nativism briefly threatened to show some spine by taking a stand in defense of immigrants brought to the United States without authorization when they were children. Referred to as Dreamers, they are functionally American in every way except in their legal status.

Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., organized what is known as a discharge petition to force votes on a series of immigration bills. One of them was a clean effort to give the Dreamers a path to citizenship that was favored to pass if it got a vote.

Every one of the 193 Democrats in the House signed the petition and so did 23 Republicans. It needed only two more GOP signatures to force action.

And on the cusp of victory, the so-called moderates caved in to Ryan. The last two endorsements would never come.

Their retreat means that Ryan can bring two bills to the floor this week, a hardline proposal from Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., likely to fail; and a policy mishmash that would achieve many of Trump's goals - although Trump briefly embarrassed Ryan on Friday by saying he'd veto the so-called compromise before he reversed himself later that afternoon.

While offering a less generous approach to the Dreamers' problem, that second bill would also provide billions for Trump's "beautiful wall," a series of new restrictions on legal immigration, and tougher rules for asylum seekers.

Its "solution" to the family separation debacle would be to end court-mandated legal protections for children brought across the border so entire families could be jailed together. Now there's humanity for you.

The moderates claim they could still fall back on their discharge petition strategy. But having flinched once, there's little reason to believe they won't balk again.

It gives me no joy to say all this about the GOP's moderates because my dirty little secret is that I was a teenage liberal Republican -- about the most boring thing you can be as an adolescent. My high school yearbook picture is in front of a re-election poster for the late Sen. Jacob K. Javits, a New York Republican who was one of Congress' great progressives and counted Abe Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt among his heroes.

Before my teen years were out, I decided that progressive Republicanism had a dim future, which turned out to be true. Javits saw it coming in his book "Order of Battle," published in the mid-1960s. He warned his party against a "radical right" he described as "the rancorous enemy of the politics of civility that marks the authentic conservative temperament."

And here we are.

Last week, South Carolina state legislator Katie Arrington ousted stoutly conservative U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford in a Republican primary by arguing that he was insufficiently loyal to the president. Arrington proudly declared: "We are the party of President Donald J. Trump."

She's right. And those Republicans who still proclaim their allegiance to moderation and civility lack the gumption to do anything about it.

E.J. Dionne's email address is Twitter: @EJDionne.

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

Trump's cult of barbarism

By dana milbank
Trump's cult of barbarism


(Advance for Sunday, June 17, 2018, and thereafter. Web release Saturday, June 16, 2018, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Milbank clients only)


WASHINGTON - "It's becoming a cultish thing, isn't it?" Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., mused this last week about his Republican Party under President Trump.

As if to prove Corker's point, the Trump administration the very next day claimed that it had the divine right to rip children from their parents' arms at the border.

Officials justified the unique form of barbarism -- taking infants from parents and warehousing children in tent cities and an abandoned Walmart -- by saying they are doing God's will.

"I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order," Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Thursday. "I am not going to apologize for carrying out our laws."

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, asked about Sessions' remarks, said: "It is very biblical to enforce the law."

This isn't religion. It's perversion. It is not the creed of a democratic government or political party but of an authoritarian cult.

The attorney general's tortured reading of Romans is exactly the strained interpretation that others have used before to justify slavery, segregation, apartheid and Nazism. The same interpretation could be used to justify Joseph Stalin, or Kim Jong Un.

Romans 13 does indeed say to "submit to the authorities," because they "are God's servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer." But this is in the context of what comes before it ("share with the Lord's people who are in need. Practice hospitality") and after ("owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law") -- and, indeed, admonitions to care for the poor and the oppressed that come from Isaiah, Leviticus, Matthew and many more.

Evangelical leaders who looked the other way when Stormy Daniels and the Access Hollywood tape surfaced this time have denounced Trump's month-old "zero-tolerance" policy that, as the National Association of Evangelicals, the Southern Baptist Convention and others wrote to Trump this month, has the "effect of removing even small children from their parents."

"God has established the family as the fundamental building block of society," they wrote. The leaders urged Trump to end zero tolerance and use "discretion" as previous administrations did.

- But a cult, by definition, is not about mainstream theology. I looked up characteristics of cults in the sociological literature to see how Trump's stacks up.

- "Presents a distinct alternative to dominant patterns within the society in fundamental areas of religious life." Grab 'em by the p -- y!

- "Possessing strong authoritarian and charismatic leadership." I alone can fix it!

- "Oriented toward 'inducing powerful subjective experiences.'" Alternative facts. Fake news!

- "Requiring a high degree of conformity." See: Flake, Jeff and Sanford, Mark.

- A tendency "to see itself as legitimated by a long tradition of wisdom or practice." It is very biblical to enforce the law.

Check, check, check, check and check.

And members of the Cult of Trump, formerly known as the GOP, follow him over the cliff and onto the spaceship. They swallowed their heretofore pro-life, pro-family and pro-faith views to embrace Trump's travel ban on several Muslim-majority countries ("Such blatant religious discrimination is repugnant," said the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops) and applaud him tossing paper towels at Puerto Ricans as they died by the thousands because they didn't get adequate hurricane relief.

They've joined his efforts to shred food, income and health programs that help the least among us while giving tax cuts to the wealthiest. They've accepted his abandonment of human rights abroad. They've joined his attempt to end family-based immigration and to threaten deportation of "dreamers," immigrants brought here as children.

It appeared, briefly, that things might be different this time. House Republicans drafted legislation allowing children to be detained with their parents. But Trump on Friday signaled that he would veto the bill, and, as House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said this last week, the "last thing I want to do is bring a bill out of here that I know the president won't support."

This is the way of the cult.

Will the vivid cruelty of taking babies from parents, coupled with the obscene use of Scripture to justify it, finally lead some Trump supporters to abandon the compound? God knows.

But the rest of us don't need to drink the Kool-Aid. Give to groups such as the Florence Project, which provides legal aid and social services to immigrant families in Arizona, and Catholic Charities USA, which provides crucial help to immigrant families in the Rio Grande Valley.

You don't have to be a theologian to see the difference between people who do God's work on earth and those who pervert God's word to justify inhumanity.

Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

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