How Will the Health Crisis Affect College Attendance?

Sarah Lawrence College professor Samuel J. Abrams wrote an interesting piece for The Dispatch the other day, in which he questioned whether or not, in the midst of the COVID-19 health crisis, students will show back up to school in the fall.

He’s specifically referring to college students, and he makes some pretty good points as to why only a fraction of them may be returning (or arriving for their first semester). In fact, you can probably guess some of his concerns, especially if you’ve been talking to freshly graduated high school seniors or current college students over the past couple of months.

The key issue is value. College is ridiculously (and often unjustifiably) expensive. And at a time when the economy is in steep decline, many colleges are not discounting their tuition… even as they announce burdensome (and unrealistic) distancing measures, restricted dormitories, the cancellation or postponement of sports and other extracurricular activities, and an unprecedented reliance on virtual learning.

In other words, many students would still be paying top-dollar for a college experience that isn’t really a college experience.

While it’s mostly fair game to slam colleges for the price of enrollment, it’s much harder to fault them (and other types of schools) for enacting safety precautions to protect their students and faculty from COVID-19. With any luck, improving health conditions might justify some of these institutions relaxing their current plans by, or shortly into, the fall semester.

But if they can’t provide the type of educational and social experiences that they normally do, many students (and their parents) are going to find it very hard to justify the expenditure… at least until things change. There are far more affordable options that already provide the type of offering that traditional universities will, for the time being, be limited to.

At the front of that list are online colleges. Despite the stigma sometimes associated with them, they tend to be quite good at virtual learning because that’s their entire model. They’ve been providing online courses for a long time, and have well-tested infrastructure in place to facilitate students at a higher virtual level than most brick and mortar schools.

As a parent of a high schooler and middle schooler, I can tell you that the transition from real classrooms to online classrooms in the last few weeks of the spring semester (again, due to the health crisis) has not been an easy or productive one. Not by a long-shot. Traditional universities will of course have the summer to up their online game, but again… Will the end result be of better quality than those much cheaper virtual colleges? It seems unlikely.

If enough students decide that traditional colleges aren’t worth it, Abrams is worried that many such institutions will actually collapse. Some on my side of the aisle might instinctively see that as a good thing, but I sure don’t. I learned a lot from my college experience, and it went well beyond just the courses and teachers. Independence, relationships, critical thinking, opportunities, numerous resources, etc… All contributed to important life lessons — the kind of which I know would be valuable to others. Abrams makes the same point in his piece.

Also, as a conservative, I believe in as many educational alternatives as possible. Having a lot of choices is a good thing.

But right now, we’re living in complicated times that call for tough decisions and unwanted compromises. At this point, in the arena of higher education, students and parents are the ones burdened with those decisions and compromises.

Unless the health situation changes drastically over the next few months, colleges will have to make unfathomable sacrifices too.


Support Musicians Too, If You Can

From the beginning of state shutdowns in the era of COVID-19, calls from communities to support local businesses have been loud, clear, and somewhat effective. Ideas like buying gift cards, ordering take-out food, curbside and online purchasing, and donating to GoFundMe efforts have kept a number of businesses afloat. These are by no means long-term solutions, however, as employers continue to shed workers and make other tough (but mostly necessary) financial decisions.

Even as economies begin to open back up (as they have in some states), we won’t be seeing a return to the proverbial “normal life” anytime soon. With so many people out of work and struggling to get by, consumers will be careful with their spending. Many will also continue to be cautious about the health risks they subject themselves to outside of their home, while lots of businesses operate at only partial capacity for the foreseeable future.

It will be a slog, but communities will eventually come back from this. And individuals who haven’t been hit as hard by the economic downturn (whether it’s due to the nature of their job or some other reason) will continue to have a key role in making that happen.

To those people, I’d like to throw out an additional consideration for your patronage. There’s a sector of the economy that could really use your help right now, and it’s related to the music industry. Specifically, I’m talking about the musicians (and their crews) who — in normal times — travel to your towns, perform for your communities, and have a knack for taking your mind off of life’s worries… at least for a little while.

Much like sports, music is a unifying force in societies. It brings people of all kinds of backgrounds and beliefs together. It provides an escape from the things that divide us.

These performers have not only been sidelined by COVID-19 like so many others, but the nature of their art and trade assures that they will be among the very last to return to their prior working capacity. Performing in front of live audiences is where many bands make the bulk of their revenue, and/or generate exposure to move onto bigger and better things. And because the premise of a live audience is particularly dangerous these days, and will be for some time, countless summer tours and music festivals have been postponed or cancelled.

Now, before I go on, I should make it clear that I’m not as concerned about major acts with enormous fan-bases who typically sell out arenas or even stadiums. Their work is no less meaningful, but those performers are in a far better financial position to weather this storm.

I’m talking about those who play relatively small auditoriums or night clubs — starving artists working toward their big break, and also once popular singers and bands who now play under dimmer spotlights for the remaining fans who still enjoy their music.

The fact of that matter is that you have to be particularly hot and current in the industry in order to make a decent amount of money from music royalties; the age of downloadable and streaming media has assured that. Most musicians are not wealthy people. A lot of acts survive on touring, and a good chunk of the money they make comes from the sale of merchandise at their shows.

Needless to say, being stuck at home for months and months (some aren’t seeing a path forward until next year) makes for some hard times.

So, what can music lovers — those who are living relatively comfortable right now — do to help out their favorite artists? Well, there are a few things.

Ordering their music (maybe some singles or albums you’d never picked up) from major online retailers like Amazon, iTunes, and Google Play certainly won’t hurt, but artists get a much larger cut of the sales when you order items directly from their official website. There, you’ll typically find shirts, hats, digital downloads, CDs, vinyl records, and other types of items that you’d normally be able to buy at their concerts. Some products are even autographed, which is an added bonus.

Also, seek them out on social media. A lot of musical artists have actually been doing online concerts from their homes, performing live, streaming sets on digital platforms like Facebook Live, Instagram Live, and Stageit. In between songs, they answer questions from the chat room and even take requests. It’s pretty cool, and some platforms even let you tip the performers, which they certainly appreciate.

Personally, I’ve been enjoying regularly scheduled live shows from Justin Furstenfeld of Blue October and Vinnie Dombroski of Sponge:


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Absolutely loved the live #JustinFurstenfeld concert on @stageit. Perfect remedy for the #stayathome blues. #familynight @blueoctoberband #blueoctober

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The Rembrandts have been doing some cool things too, with the band’s members performing their music together from different locations. The socially distant results have been remarkably good:

Lastly, just share their music with others on social media. It takes minimum effort, and with most people still not venturing out much, it’s a great time to introduce your online friends to bands and songs they’ve never heard before. The performers may be sidelined, but the gift of their music doesn’t have to be. And who knows, maybe you’ll help them earn a few new fans — fans who will be awaiting their eventual return to the road.

As a frequent concert-goer, I can’t wait to get back to the energy of concerts — the real, in-person ones. One good thing about the hiatus is that, when shows do start happening again, it will mean that we as a society will have effectively marginalized COVID-19 (at least to an acceptable measure). And that will be a cause to celebrate.

In the meantime, let’s help out those who will lead the celebration.


What Trump Could Learn From a Trump Impersonator

Editor’s Note: This is a brief “add-on” to my last piece. I’ll be back with a full-length column on a different topic later in the week.

Last week, I wrote about an online video from George W. Bush that received a lot of attention — overwhelmingly the positive kind. It was the former president’s address to the nation as we deal with the coronavirus crisis. As I wrote in the piece, it offered “an inspiring, compassionate, message that championed America and called on citizens to put partisanship and other differences aside, and find creative and caring ways to support each other.”

I also described how President Trump and a number of his supporters took exception to Bush’s gesture. The premise of their criticism was pretty ridiculous, but I think there was a broader reasoning behind it. They recognized that Bush struck a chord with people on an emotional level. He spoke with authenticity, and sounded the way many believe a president still should sound in a time of crisis. He quenched people’s thirst for leadership, delivering a unifying message that Americans wanted (and perhaps even needed) to hear.

We haven’t gotten such a message from President Trump, nor is there much reason to believe we will. During this crisis, he’s given us some policies (including some good ones), recommendations (though often coupled with conflicting directives), sales pitches, rather strange microphone musings, and of course those obligatory sparring matches with the White House press corps. But an inspiring sense of strength, spirit, and national unity? He has yet to prove himself capable.

So when Bush momentarily filled that vacuum (and pretty much everyone recognized it), Team Trump got a little defensive and felt inclined to try and take him down a notch.

But what if they had no reason to be spiteful? What if Trump had a solid, realistic sense of America’s tender psyche in the era of COVID-19? What if he not only recognized the value of an inspiring, hopeful message during a time of national suffering, but was also adept enough to deliver one? And what would it even sound like?

Oddly enough, we now have an idea… thanks to an unlikely source.

I’ve written about my friend John Di Domenico before. He’s a professional actor/comedian out of Las Vegas who also happens to be the world’s greatest Donald Trump impersonator. That’s not an exaggeration. He really is the best. His Internet videos have drawn millions of views, and his Trump impersonation has landed him all kinds of professional speaking gigs, along with numerous international television appearances (including recurring visits on Conan O’Brien’s show, Fox News, and The View).

John’s pretty apolitical (or at least keeps his political beliefs private). He has portrayed Trump in both positive and negative light (depending on the job he’s hired for), but it’s almost always in the context of satirical comedy. Yet, in recent weeks, he’s been receiving a very different type of request from people — a non-comedic one. According to John, fans have been urging him to “shoot a positive, uplifting, video with words of hope they wish Trump would say.”

Some might find such a request strange, but like I said… Americans are looking to their leaders for hope, empathy, and solidarity right now. And they’re frustrated that they aren’t getting it from the nation’s top leader. The demand is there, but the supply isn’t.

So… John answered the call. With the help of a producer friend of his, he put together the type of message, in Trump’s voice, that America could really use right now from its president. It provides a glimpse of what Trump could sound like if he were able to rise above rhetorical pettiness, and strengthen national morale.

Here it is below. Give it a look, and let me know what you think:


Why Trump Was Offended by Bush’s Message of Unity

Last weekend, social media lit up over an online “Call to Unite” video released by George W. Bush, in which the former president spoke of the challenges our nation faces during the health crisis. He offered an inspiring, compassionate, message that championed America and called on citizens to put partisanship and other differences aside, and find creative and caring ways to support each other.

Check it out:

“I have no doubt — none at all — that the spirit of service and sacrifice is alive and well in America.”

“Let us remember that empathy and simple kindness are essential, powerful tools of national recovery.”

“In the final analysis, we are not partisan combatants — we are human beings, equally vulnerable and equally wonderful in the sight of God. We rise or fall together and we are determined to rise. God bless you all.”

The video (just under three minutes long) was accompanied with images of everyday Americans, and it was well received by many on both sides of the political divide who lauded Bush for his thoughtful and inspiring words. It even reminded some of his addresses to the nation in the wake the 9/11 attacks, when America was going through a different kind of crisis… and was in desperate need of comfort, hope, and leadership.

Nearly 3,000 people died that day. As of the time I’m writing this, nearly 70,000 Americans have been killed by the coronavirus. Any message of unity and encouragement should be a welcome one right now, including (or perhaps especially) from a former president who guided our nation through a storm once before.

But some didn’t see it that way. President Trump was predictably among them, and he took to Twitter to point out what he believed was hypocrisy. He led with a quote from pro-Trump Fox News commentator, Pete Hegseth:

Others quickly piled onto the narrative:

The response was so obscene that it’s worth exploring a bit. Let’s start with a basic Rorschach test that I’ll go ahead and pose to my readers:

When you hear a former President of the United States delivering an uplifting, non-political message of hope and unity as we deal with a highly contagious disease that has already killed hundreds of thousands of people worldwide, what pops to the forefront of your mind?

If it’s Donald Trump’s impeachment, you assuredly need help. (Really, call a doctor.)

One is a global pandemic. The other is a constitutionally enabled political process — one that Trump invited on himself.

No one died as a result of Trump being impeached. No one was hospitalized and put on a ventilator. No one feared for their life and the lives of others. No businesses, schools, or churches were shut down. No one lost their job (well, except those who testified under subpoena during the hearings). The economy didn’t go into free fall. No one was barred from visiting sick friends or family members. No one had to stay indoors, or wear masks, or struggle to find common household items like toilet paper.

Yet, Trump and some of his fawners see them as comparable situations — comparable national crises. If Bush spoke out on one, why on earth was he silent on the other?

My friend Angela summed up the mindset pretty well:

One of the most popular arguments made by Trump defenders is that our president shouldn’t be judged by his words, but rather his actions. It’s a politically convenient way of dismissing a lot of the infantile and ignorant statements that routinely leave his mouth. It’s also a dirt-low standard that those same people would never extend to anyone else, let alone another U.S. president.

But at times like these, a leader’s words matter more than ever. And my guess is that what particularly irritated Trump and his crew about the video is that it struck a chord with people. It touched people on an emotional level. Bush sounded how many believe a president still should sound in a time of crisis. His faith in God and the country he loves came across as authentic as it assuredly was. There was no bragging. No whining. No trashing of others. No images of supporters cheering at rallies. Just hope, praise, and encouragement.

His message was what a lot of Americans wanted and even needed to hear at this moment in history, and that includes many who trashed Bush (casting him as an idiot, liar, and war criminal) when he was still in office. It was a message our current president has proven incapable of delivering, at least with sincerity and consistency. And everyone knows it… including Trump.

For that reason, Bush’s words were taken as a personal slight, and perhaps an overstepping of one’s bounds. Thus, they were cheapened and met with absurd equivalencies by small people whose egos or political loyalties won’t allow them to consider the merits of a selfless, meaningful gesture during very hard times.

But that’s okay. The message was appreciated by millions. And even if it hadn’t been, I doubt W. would have minded. He certainly wouldn’t have complained about being disrespected, or treated unfairly, or anything like that.

As is the mark of a dignified American patriot, he didn’t do it for himself. He did it for his country. And I for one am glad such leaders still exist.


No, Masks Aren’t Part of an Anti-Trump Conspiracy

Those who follow me on Twitter know that one of my irritations with the government response to the COVID-19 crisis was the early insistence from the Surgeon General and CDC that wearing masks (that cover the nose and mouth) was completely ineffective at protecting people from the coronavirus. At times, there was even the suggestion that doing so was counterproductive.

The narrative didn’t make a whole lot of sense at the time. After all, we were talking about a respiratory disease. And it’s not as if wearing a mask around infected people to block the spread of germs was a new or uncommon practice. It’s been done all over the world since before any of us were born.

As it turned out, the government was indeed being disingenuous. Dishonest is the better word.

At the time, federal agencies were concerned with a national shortage of medical-style masks for our country’s health care workers (who would be treating an increasing number of coronavirus patients). If regular folks had gobbled them all up, the problem would have gotten much worse. Thus, the answer was a disinformation campaign designed to discourage consumers from buying them.

It apparently worked. And in late March, as infection rates skyrocketed and our national strategy switched from containment to mitigation, the CDC reversed itself. The agency began recommending that everyone cover their face when out among others.

While I’m sympathetic to the situation the government was in, outright lying to Americans was a bad move. It assuredly kept people who already had masks from wearing them, as well as removed any incentive for people to make their own masks, or even wear something as simple as a bandana when they left their home.

Masks aren’t as effective as social distancing, but they do put up a barrier between the droplets that fly out of people’s mouths (when they talk, cough, or sneeze) and individuals within close proximity, which is a common transmission route of COVID-19.

In other words, masks do provide some protection for people. One can only wonder how much slower the virus’s spread could have been, had Americans understood weeks earlier the benefits of wearing them.

Anyway, that fiasco is behind us. Most Americans now get that masks are helpful. Unfortunately, some popular right-wing political commentators seem to want to take us backwards on the issue.

Earlier this week, Vice President Mike Pence took a good amount of criticism over a trip he made to the Mayo Clinic. News footage of a meeting with medical workers and patients revealed that Pence, unlike everyone else on camera, wasn’t wearing a mask. This amounted to a violation of Mayo’s health policies.

Unsurprisingly, Trump defenders in the media felt inclined to defend Pence. And the only way to defend a guy not wearing a mask, in a medical facility that requires masks, is to discount the notion that masks are even important in the first place.

Fox News’s Laura Ingraham was up for the task.

On her show Wednesday night, Ingraham explained that “social control over large populations is achieved through fear and intimidation and suppression of free thought. Conditioning the public through propaganda is also key, new dogmas replace good old common sense.”

Ironically, Ingraham wasn’t referring to the dishonesty campaign I described above, where federal officials under the Trump administration fooled Americans into believing masks were of no benefit in our battle against the coronavirus. No, she was instead taking aim at members of the mainstream media who criticized Pence for his negligence.

“They’ll say this whole mask thing is settled science, just like they do with climate change,” Ingraham said. “Of course, it’s not and they know it. Our own experts have gone from ‘masks aren’t necessary’ to ‘masks are essential, you have to wear them when you go jogging’ in just a few weeks’ time.”

Of course, Ingraham had it somewhat backwards. It wasn’t “settled science” that compelled federal officials to tell us that “masks aren’t necessary.” It was supply and demand concerns. Medical science didn’t factor into it at all. And that’s unfortunate, because if these people had presented the settled science to the public, I think Americans would have been better prepared for the crisis, and our country would be in a better position right now.

As for telling people that masks are “essential,” and that they must be worn while jogging, I’m not sure which “experts” Ingraham is referring to. I’ve certainly heard recommendations, from officials like President Trump himself, that Americans should wear masks when they’re out in public (as in close to other people). And that guidance, as I described above, makes perfect sense. But I haven’t heard any dire warnings about a need for joggers to wear masks — not if they’re maintaining a distance of at least six feet from others. It sounds to me like Ingraham was just tossing out a straw man there.

Regardless, Ingraham thinks she knows the real reason for why masks are now being widely promoted, and to explain it she quoted (or perhaps summarized) something Rush Limbaugh recently said on his radio show:

“The virus itself, as it weakens and states start reopening… The media that has been selling this panic, panic, panic for weeks and weeks and weeks — they have fewer images to sell their hysteria to justify continued lockdowns. But the masks, they’re kind of a constant reminder… You see the masks, and you think you’re not safe. You are not back to normal, not even close.”

Well there you have it, I guess. Masks aren’t being hyped because they block contagious droplets from noses and mouths. It’s because of some U.S. media conspiracy to end capitalism, or to end Trump’s presidency, or maybe both! And the conspiracy is so far-reaching that the rest of the world is doing it too!

I’m sorry, but this is just plain stupid. Worse than that, it’s dangerous. Millions of people watch Ingraham’s show every weeknight (along with the rest of Fox News’s prime-time lineup), and they buy into a lot of such nonsense.

Most of these viewers are rather old, and therefore are at a particularly high risk of serious health complications (and even death) if they get the virus. Why on earth would anyone who values the human condition be suggesting to them that they (or those around them) are contributing to our country’s economic ruin, and the unseating of a president they like, just by taking the simple preventative measure of wearing a mask?

Is defending a gaffe by Mike Pence really worth convincing our most vulnerable citizens to take unnecessary chances with their health and the health of others? Are the ratings spawned by tribal politics and our grievance culture really that important?

Unfortunately, I think I know the answer to both questions.