I am enormously proud of my friend Alice Roberts for this interview she did on CNN, along with the longer one she did on MSNBC, both follow-ups to the Op-Ed she wrote earlier in the week for the Newark Star-Ledger.
What I particularly love about this interview is Alice’s forthright, even laughing admission that if Trump were to call her, she’d hang up on him. Knowing Alice, I’m pretty sure she’d be as good as her word. That one sentence of hers captures the essence of the person–always the most forthright voice at any town council or school board meeting to which, invariably, she’d take her kids. When I think or write about citizen participation in politics, particularly local politics, the model I have in mind is Alice.
A couple of random thoughts go through my mind.
One is that like Alice (though obviously less intensely), I often find Rob’s death hard to accept at a simple factual level. Every now and then, I still have occasion to drive through Glen Ridge, where we were neighbors. He was so much a fixture of our neighborhood that it seems as though one might magically will him into existence, given the sheer oddness of his non-existence. A smile that broad, one thinks, can’t simply vanish from the world without a trace. But, I suppose, there’s a sense in which it has, and a sense in which it hasn’t.
Another is that it’s depressing to think that Rob’s death could have arisen in part from a clerical error–the mixing up of one test result with another. Shortly after I resigned my academic job, I considered taking a job as a data entry clerk for a lab processing COVID-19 tests. I ended up not taking that particular job (it was too far away), but the idea of making a consequential data-entry error while doing it weighed on me as I considered it. Even now, I’m not sure whether to feel anger or mere resignation at the error that led to the mix-up in question.
Third point: the MSNBC interview features a wonderful montage of the Roberts family, and does a good job at showcasing how attractive a family they were and are. But it bothers me when the news media addresses a tragedy like this by fixating on the photogenic qualities of those involved, as though beautiful people suffer more intensely than physically unattractive ones, or as though the tragedy itself were deepened by the loss of so handsome a man to such a beautiful family. There’s nothing wrong with appreciating physical beauty, but it’s beside the point here. It’s not as though the tragedy would be diluted in the case of a less photogenic family, or worse yet, could legitimately be ignored for that reason. Physical appearance shouldn’t be playing the oversize role in this story that it ends up playing.
All that said, I guess the main point is the one Alice makes with such passion. Rob’s death is emblematic of a national failure, one with Donald Trump directly at its center. It’s unfortunate that he’s lost so little while others have lost so much. But at the very least, he deserves to lose this election.
Thanks to William Ortiz and Chris Paglinco for bringing various parts of this story to my attention.