The End of a Dream

In his new book, Trump Must Go: The Top 100 Reasons to Dump Trump, radio host Bill Press provides a sweeping indictment of the President, including his unfitness for office, “Cabinet of thieves,” attacks on the environment and various other dumb and offensive behavior. What follows appears in the book as “Reason 17: He Cancelled Protected Status for Dreamers.”

Years from now, presidential historians will have a field day debating which was the most egregious of Donald Trump’s lies. But all of them will agree that this was one of the worst: “I have a great heart for the folks we are talking about, a great love for them,” Donald Trump told reporters on September 5, 2017, just hours after he had summarily canceled the DREAMers program and challenged Congress to vote to extend it in six months or else.

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, was established by President Barack Obama by executive order in June 2012. It allowed young people who had been brought to the United States illegally to apply for protected status, enabling them to stay in the country without fear of deportation, for two years.

Rules were tough: No one with a criminal record was accepted. DREAMers had to renew their status, at their own expense, every two years. And they were never eligible for U.S. citizenship. By 2017, 800,000 young people had applied for protected DACA status, out of an estimated total 1.8 million who fit the DREAMers definition.

Obama created the DREAMers program after Congress rejected several attempts to pass the DREAM Act. If Congress refused to protect the DREAMers, the least controversial players in the whole immigration debate, Obama decided, then he would do so by executive order.

These are young people who were brought by their parents, through no choice of their own, before they were sixteen years old, and have lived here continuously since 2007. Most are from Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, but know only the United States. They’re in school or have graduated, have jobs, pay taxes, and have families. Many of them have served in the military.

And they have broad public support. According to ABC News, in September 2017, when Trump canceled the program, 86 percent of Americans believed they should be allowed to remain in the country. A separate CBS News poll in January 2018 found 87 percent of Americans still agreed.

When Donald Trump took office, the DREAMers program was running smoothly. Eight hundred thousand young people had signed up. The program gave DREAMers the opportunity to get an education, get a job, or start a family without facing the constant fear of deportation.

And where did Donald Trump stand on the DREAMers program? Was he for it? Against it? Uncertain? Yes. All of the above. Among other promises made on June 16, 2015, when he announced he was running for president, was a pledge to terminate the DREAMers program immediately—a pledge he repeated often during the campaign.

Yet shortly after his election, Trump told Time magazine he sympathized with the DREAMers. Indeed, nobody described their plight more accurately: “They got brought here at a very young age, they’ve worked here, they’ve gone to school here. Some were good students. Some have wonderful jobs. And they’re in never-never land because they don’t know what’s going to happen.”

At other times, he called DACA “a very, very difficult subject” for him because “I love these kids”; he promised to help craft a “bill of love.”

But, in the end, for Donald Trump, there was one big problem with the DREAMers program: It had been started by Barack Obama. Therefore, it must be bad. Therefore, he had to end it. Which he proceeded to do.

In September 2017, Trump effectively killed DACA by shutting it down, and—under the pretext that Obama did not have the power as President to take any unilateral action on immigration, even though Trump was at the same time arguing he had the power to order a unilateral Muslim ban. He gave Congress six months, until March 5, 2018, to pass a law making the program permanent or it would cease to exist.

Then, in typical fashion, Congress did nothing—which Trump should have expected. Neither Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell nor House Speaker Paul Ryan made any effort to pass an immigration bill containing protection for DREAMers. In the one week slotted for debate on the issue, four different bills failed to pass the Senate.

President Trump didn’t do anything, either. In fact, he made it impossible for both sides to come together by insisting that any bill extending the DREAMers program also include $30 billion for the wall he wants to build along our southern border with Mexico. You know, the same wall Mexico was supposed to pay for. No wall, no deal.

All the while, Trump continued to lie shamelessly about what he and his party were up to. “The Republicans are with you; they want to get your situation taken care of,” he told DREAMers at the White House in March. “The Democrats fought us, they just fought every single inch of the way. They did not want DACA in this bill.”

Meanwhile, Democrats in Congress—and even many moderate Republicans—continued to work to save DACA, despite Trump’s constant, blatant lies to the contrary. In May 2018, when a discharge petition that would force a vote on DACA was circulated in the House by Carlos Curbelo, a Florida Republican in an immigrant-heavy district, Paul Ryan and the House GOP leadership worked frantically behind closed doors to block it.

And so, as of this writing, the DREAMers still remain in limbo. Disgusted with the nonstop political games being played with DACA, several of them have remarked, “We feel like bargaining chips.” That’s because, to Donald Trump, that’s all they are.

From Trump Must Go: The Top 100 Reasons to Dump Trump [And One to Keep Him] by Bill Press, St. Martin’s Press, excerpted with permission.

Wars, Wars, and More Wars

Bonus excerpt from Reason 74:“He’s Continued and Expanded America’s Wars.”

When it comes to ending wars, as we all know from long, sad experience, presidential promises can’t always be trusted. Barack Obama campaigned on a promise to end the “bad” war in Iraq and to work toward shutting down the “good” war in Afghanistan. Except, when he left office eight years later, we were not only still fighting the “good” war and the “bad” war, we were also fighting a new war in Syria. With Donald Trump, it’s more of the same.

“Ron Paul is right that we are wasting trillions of dollars in Iraq and Afghanistan,” he tweeted in 2011. “Afghanistan is a complete waste. Time to come home!” he wrote the next year. In 2016, he (rightly) blamed George W. Bush for the “big fat mistake” of the Iraq War during a GOP presidential debate.

And yet the Iraq War, now under the banner of Operation Inherent Resolve against ISIS, lingers on. He has sent more American troops to Afghanistan. There are more American support troops in Syria, and we are also secretly militarily engaged in several countries in northern Africa— with most of that activity taking place under the radar and barely, if ever, reported.

In other words, like Obama, Trump hasn’t ended any of America’s wars, he’s just started new ones. Most Americans would be surprised to learn, for example, that civilian deaths in the Middle East have soared under Trump. His first year in office, 2017, was the deadliest year ever for civilian casualties in Iraq and Syria, with as many as six thousand people killed in strikes by the U.S.-led coalition.

Yet the media’s been so consumed with Trump tweets, Stormy Daniels, Roseanne Barr, or whatever the newest daily outrage is, they rarely report on these casualties. In March 2018, for example, the media spent virtually no time reporting on 150 civilians, including scores of children, killed when U.S. forces repeatedly bombed a school in Syria, or dozens of other civilians killed in bombings of mosques and markets.

Without a doubt, the uptick in civilian casualties was a direct result of Trump’s campaign promise to “bomb the shit out of ’em”—a directive he gave the Pentagon once in the White House. Indeed, in direct contravention of the Geneva convention, Trump has been cheering on more collateral damage.

“We’re fighting a very politically correct war,” he complained during the election campaign. The “thing with the terrorists—you have to take out their families. When you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families!” In fact, on his first day in office, when he was told by the CIA that they had waited on a drone strike until the target was away from his family, Trump angrily harrumphed, “Why did you wait?”

— Bill Press

Meghan Markle’s Rescue Dog Guy Gets Book

Meghan Markle’s beloved rescue beagle, Guy, is getting the royal treatment!

The regal pup, who was spotted sitting alongside dog-loving Queen Elizabeth before the royal wedding in May, is getting his very own book. His Royal Dogness, Guy the Beagle: The Rebarkable True Story of Meghan Markle’s Rescue Dog, which will be released on Nov. 20, tells the rags to riches story of Guy’s journey from the woods of Kentucky to Kensington Palace.

And just like Meghan, Guy has also had to get used to life across the pond. From learning to go to the bathroom on the other side of the fire hydrant to accidentally eating half of Prince Charles’ Cornish Yarg sandwich, the book shares humorous adventures of the royal family’s new four-legged member.

Although it’s not the first book written about royal pets (Prince William and Kate Middleton’s dog Lupo has his own series, and the Queen’s corgis have been featured in children’s books), it is the first time a royal rescue dog has taken center stage.

Chris Jackson/Getty; Courtesy A Dog’s Dream Rescue

Guy’s real-life story began in the Montgomery County Animal Shelter, a kill shelter in Mt. Sterling, Kentucky. From his home state in America, Guy was transported by volunteers to Ontario’s A Dog’s Dream Rescue, after the American facility contacted the rescue group to see if it had room to take in and adopt out Guy.

Shortly after Guy arrived at A Dog’s Dream Rescue in 2015, Meghan emailed the rescue after finding its page on Petfinder. She thought that a beagle, known for being energetic, kind and gentle, would be a good match. Dolores Doherty, the founder and owner of A Dog’s Dream Rescue, agreed and emailed Meghan an adoption application to fill out. She returned it completed 10 minutes later.

Doherty invited her to stop by an upcoming adoption event her organization was having at a local pet store. As promised, Meghan came to the event, and, while Doherty didn’t know who she was at the time, she was struck by Meghan’s politeness, sense of self and because “her beauty really stood out,” she previously told PEOPLE.

Shortly after arriving at the event, Meghan zeroed in on Guy and quickly became smitten with the rescue dog after going on a trial walk with him.

Source: Meghan Markle/Instagram

Doherty adopted out Guy to Meghan herself and knew she made the right choice when the former Suits star posted several photos of herself cuddling with Guy to her (now-deleted) Instagram account.

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Guy just got a new playmate over the summer when Meghan and Prince Harry added a new addition to their family: a black Labrador.

Guy, meanwhile, has been embedded into Meghan’s new royal life, and was at her feet as she sat for her hair and makeup on her wedding morning.

In ‘Dream Country,’ Minnesota Book Award-winner Shannon Gibney confronts ‘history that hasn’t been confronted’ – Twin Cities

“The African-American story cannot be told fully without also telling the Liberian one,” Shannon Gibney says of her new young-adult novel “Dream Country.” It’s a smart, many-layered and sometimes challenging book for smart people who want to learn as they read.

In this story, which took Gibney 20 years to research, think about and write, she exposes a little-known secret embedded in the early days of that West African country — freed American slaves who were early settlers (known as Americo-Liberians or the Congo people) colonized the undeveloped land, pushing indigenous Africans out of the way.

“It’s fascinating to me, as an African American, that we were the oppressors,” says Gibney, who lives in Minneapolis with her two American-Liberian children. “In ‘Dream Country,’ I, as an American, am confronting history that has not been confronted.”

“Dream Country” moves between the United States and Liberia from 1827 to 2018, following five generations of young people in one African-American family. The novel received starred reviews from Booklist, Kirkus Reviews and School Library Journal.

“Africa’s history is underrepresented in American literature,” Gibney points out, and she knows what she’s talking about. She earned a master’s degree in 20th century African-American literature and an MFA from Indiana University’s graduate creative-writing program. Now a member of the English faculty at Minneapolis College (formerly Minneapolis Community and Technical College), Gibney teaches African diaspora studies as well as composition, which incorporates arts, literature and creative activity.


Her novel begins in Minneapolis in 2008, when 17-year-old Liberian refugee Kollie is about to explode under the pressure of  being both too African but not black enough for his peers. There are fights in his high school between African and African-American boys, who refer to the Liberian boys as “stupid jungle bitches.” When Kollie becomes involved in selling drugs, his parents decide to send him back to Liberia.

“This is (another) story not being told,” Gibney says. “In  some immigrant families, parents don’t know what to do about their sons who are getting into trouble.” As one father in the novel says, “He can be angry at us but he will be alive” if he’s sent back to Liberia.

One of Gibney’s strengths as a writer, along with vividly setting scenes, is her spot-on depiction of  young people such as Kollie. At Minneapolis College, which is 60 percent students of color, young Somali women tell her, “we know Kollie.”

Next, we meet Yasmine, who endures hardships after she and her children run away from a Virginia plantation in 1827, bound for a new colony in the so-called homeland they’ve never seen. Many, like her, were persuaded to make the journey by the American Colonization Society, made up of white elites who wanted the freed slaves out of this country.

The story returns to Liberia in 1926 when Togar, an 18-year-old indigenous husband and father, flees into the bush to escape a militia determined to force him to work the plantations of the descendants of the African-American slaves who colonized Liberia a century earlier. When Togar is caught, he witnesses soldiers’ horrifying brutality that recalls cruel slave days in the United States.

Then the narrative jumps to 1980, when young lovers Ujay and Evelyn are caught in Liberia’s fast-approaching revolution. Sparked by the assassination of the president, the country is destabilized, and in 1989, the first of two civil wars begins, leading to 15 years of warfare. (Gibney includes a helpful two-page selected timeline of major events in Liberian history.)


Gibney’s writing career began with a bang, when she won a 2016 Minnesota Book Award for her debut novel, “See No Color,” drawn from her life as a transracial adoptee.

Born in 1975 in Ann Arbor, Mich., Shannon was adopted by Jim and Sue Gibney, along with her biological brothers, one older and one younger.

“My parents were fantastic, supportive of me in every aspect,” she recalls. “I didn’t experience any overt racism growing up in the era of colorblindness. But ‘I don’t see color’ was not helpful to a black girl in a majority white community. It was more that I knew I was different.”

When Gibney was 15, her father gave her James Baldwin’s “Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone,” a book that changed her life, making her “see possibilities of the written word.” So it was natural for her to major in creative writing and Spanish at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, graduating with highest honors.

Thanks to the school’s Alumni Study/Travel Award, Gibney was able to travel to Ghana, where many Liberians were in refugee camps after fleeing their country during the civil war.

“When I stepped into the Gomoa Buduburam Refugee Camp just outside of Accra, Ghana, in 1998, I had no idea that it would change the trajectory of both my life and my writing,” she writes in an Author’s Note. “I was twenty-three years old, on a year-long research fellowship in West Africa, searching out connections between African Americans and continental Africans. The knowledge and history I stumbled onto talking to the Liberian refugees at Gomoa Buduburam would haunt me for years to come, and later compel me to struggle through the many drafts, voices, and narrative threads that finally became ‘Dream Country.’ ”

Shannon was befuddled when she saw what she thought was the American flag strung up on a pole in the middle of the make-shift camp. Her hosts told her that was the flag of Liberia and  wanted to know why she didn’t know that Liberia had been colonized “by your own people,” freed American slaves.

Returning to the United States, Gibney learned everything she could about Liberia, struggling for years with understanding the relationship of the black American settlers to the indigenous Africans they oppressed.

“How might I explore it in fiction?” she asked herself. “Did I even have the writing chops to do so? More important, did I have the right to represent this subject matter in a novel, given my black Americanness.”

Because the idea of “Dream Country” wouldn’t let Gibney go, in 2008 she returned to West Africa and to Liberia, where she talked to everyone about the run-up to the 1980 coup that plunged the country into its long civil war.

While Shannon was in Monrovia (the capital), she met Ballah Corvah, a Liberian college student who helped her navigate the culture as her research assistant. They fell in love and were married in Ghana a year and a half later.

“He says I was wandering around looking confused and he thought he should help,” Gibney recalls with amusement. The couple is divorced, but Corvah lives two streets away so their children, 8-year-old Boisey, a third-grader at Bancroft Elementary School, and daughter Marwein, who will be 4 in October, see their dad often in what Gibney calls “the distinctly Liberian home” Corvah shares with his sister. His parents are here now, having arrived in spring. Because it’s so difficult to get a visa, Liberians who come to visit stay awhile.

Gibney moved to Minneapolis in 2002 and learned the history of issues in the Twin Cities black community by working for three years as managing editor of the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder newspaper.

“I enjoyed reporting. Writing is all about telling stories,” Gibney says. “I have always been a multi-genre writer and always will be. Every story has a different flavor depending on the way you put it.”


Gibney is an outgoing woman who’s straightforward about the things she cares about — racism, classicism, historical treatment of those who are “queer, nonconforming, differently abled.”

In 2009, several white students charged her with discrimination because she suggested that hanging a noose (hung by a white male as a joke to prompt his reporters to get their copy in on time) in the newsroom of the campus newspaper might alienate students of color. In 2013, she led a discussion on structural racism in a mass communications class and three white students filed a discrimination complaint because they felt uncomfortable. She was reprimanded by the school under their anti-discrimination policy.

Gibney, who loves teaching, fought back. She ignored advice of friends that she should keep quiet and got out in front of the story by going to the media and framing it her way.

“In my estimation there were many political and racial crosscurrents that precipitated this,” Gibney says, including the fact that some students had never seen a black woman in a position of authority and that there are widespread institutional practices against professionals of color.

Gibney was exonerated and there is new leadership at the school. So she can get on with what she feels so strongly about, “working with our students, some older, first generation, exploring how they can tell stories of their own lives.”

Returning to “Dream Country,”  the final section takes place in Minneapolis in 2018, bringing the novel full circle. A young lesbian in love (her identity is a surprise) finishes a manuscript that tells her family’s story. She shops for a wedding dress with her mother and is a happy dreamer who offers hope for the future.

A question Gibney could answer in another book is whether the descendants of the freed slaves and the indigenous Africans in Liberia have made their peace in the 21st century.

“A lot depends on who you talk to,” she says. “I am not a historian. I write fiction. At the end of the day, I am most interested not in historical truth but emotional truth.”


What: Shannon Gibney gives launch readings for “Dream Country.”

When/where: 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 12, St. Catherine University Recital Hall, 2004 Randolph Ave., St. Paul; 6:30 Monday, Sept. 17, Red Balloon Bookshop, 891 Grand Ave., St. Paul, with Bryan Bliss (“We’ll Fly Away”); 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 18, Shoreview Library, 4560 N. Victoria St., Shoreview, in conversation with Taiyon Coleman, professor of English at St. Catherine University.

Publisher/price: Dutton ($17.95)

Admission: Free

‘I Dream of Jeannie’ Actor Bill Daily Dies at 91

Bill Daily, the comic actor perhaps best known for his role as Major Roger Healey in the classic TV series I Dream of Jeannie has died. He was 91.

The actor’s son, J. Patrick Daily, confirmed his father’s passing to The Hollywood Reporter, noting that Daily died of natural causes on Tuesday, September 4, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. His son, in confirming his death to Variety, remembered Daily as a man who loved everything.

“He loved every sunset, he loved every meal — he just decided to be happy about everything,” J. Patrick said.

Daily was a regular face on television between the 1960s and the 1980s. After appearing in various guest spots on series such as Bewitched, Daily’s breakout role was in I Dream of Jeannie where he starred alongside series leads Larry Hagman and Barbara Eden for five seasons. He later went on to play Bob Newhart‘s goofy neighbor on The Bob Newhart Show and later appeared as Dr. Larry Dykstra on ALF. Both Eden and Newhart remembered Daily on Twitter after news of his passing broke.

“Our favorite zany astronaut, Billy Daily has passed,” Eden wrote. “Billy was wonderful to work with. He was a funny, sweet man that kept us all on our toes. I’m so thankful to have known and worked with that rascal. Until we meet again Billy, xo -B.”

Newhart, who had actually worked for Daily as his accounting in Chicago before the pair made it in Hollywood, remembered Daily as one of the “most positive” people he knew.

“Bill Daily and I go back to Chicago in the 50s,” Newhart wrote. “He and I were both trying to get into standup. Later, he joined the Bob Newhart Show. He was our bullpen guy — you could always go to him. He was one of the most positive people I’ve ever known. I will miss him dearly.”

Daily was born August 30, 1927 in Des Moines, Iowa. He grew up in Chicago where he turned to comedy as a way to distract people from his dyslexia, a condition he battled by memorizing all of his lines for performances, though Newhart writer-producer Jay Tarses recalled that he would “move his fingers” when he couldn’t remember his lines — something that frequently led to comedy.

“It was funny when it happened,” Tarses said. “Sometimes we’d be able to leave what he said in the show, and sometimes someone laughed, and we had to stop.”

Daily is survived by his son J. Patrick, who is a key grip for motion pictures.

‘Lifelong dream’ — Capital Gazette victim’s novel is published posthumously

WASHINGTON — A novel written by Rob Hiaasen, one of five people killed in the Capital Gazette newspaper shooting in Annapolis, Maryland, will be released in the coming days.

The book, “Float Plan,” is being published posthumously by Apprentice House Press at Loyola University Maryland in Baltimore. Hiaasen had been developing the novel for several years.

“When I say publishing fiction was a lifelong dream of Rob’s, I mean it,” Hiassen’s widow, Maria Hiaasen, said in a statement. “He crafted ‘Float Plan’ by writing at night and on weekends, and he spent years attempting to perfect his creation.”

The book will be available in paperback, hardcover and e-book formats when it is released Sept. 15.

“We take great pride and joy in seeing the fulfillment of Rob’s dream,” said Maria Hiassen, who called the situation “bittersweet.”

“Float Plan” tells the comical story of Will Larkin, an algebra teacher in Annapolis going through a midlife crisis who must pick up the pieces of his life after losing his wife, job, dog, boat and even his freedom all in one year.

Apprentice House Press plans to donate all proceeds from the sale of the book to Everytown for Gun Safety, a group that advocates for stricter gun laws.

“It is a privilege to publish Rob’s work,” said Kevin Atticks, director of Apprentice House Press. “’Float Plan’ is a long-form example of the writing that endeared so many readers to his columns.”

Hiaasen was a columnist and assistant editor at the Capital Gazette newspaper and was killed along with four of his colleagues when a gunman opened fire in the newsroom in late June.

The other victims included Rebecca Smith, Gerald Fischman, John McNamara and Wendi Winters.

There have been numerous efforts to raise money for the victims’ families, including a daylong benefit concert in Annapolis called Annapolis Rising and a GoFundMe page that has generated more than $200,000.

The alleged shooter, Jarrod Ramos, has pleaded not guilty to multiple counts of murder and has a trial scheduled for January.

Investigators say Ramos had a long-running vendetta against the newspaper.

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Public school teachers turn to crowdfunding for supplies, ‘dream’ school projects

(NEW YORK) — Many public school teachers across the country are looking to go above and beyond to educate the next generation, and they’re turning to Donors Choose to raise money for school supplies and projects.

“About half the projects on our site are basics: paper, pencils, dictionaries, art supplies for an art teacher,” Donors Choose CEO Charles Best told ABC News’ T.J. Holmes.

The other half of the projects are “dreams,” Best added, such as “to take students to Washington, D.C., to do an incredible science experiment, to build a robot.”

Jane Viau, a high school teacher at the Frederick Douglass Academy in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City, said she’s raised “over $82,000 worth of resources that go directly into the hands” of her students.

“I want kids to come in and feel the energy and feel the brightness — and want to learn,” she said.

Viau said the donors are from “all over the country,” and for many teachers, the site can be a major resource to fill funding gaps at a time when public school budgets are often tight.

Over three-quarters of her students come from low-income households, Viau added.

Without the resources and projects she was able to fund using Donors Choose, “I don’t think the kids would have reached their full potential,” Viau added. “They are hungry to learn. They’re eager to learn. I want to instill in them that ability to persevere, and to not quit, and be determined, and have grit, and know that they can do hard stuff — because they can.”

Viau just began her 17th year as a teacher. Before that, she worked on Wall Street as an investment banker. After the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, she said she had a crisis of conscious, which led her into education.

“I thought there’s a whole world out there, there’s a lot of good I can do, like how can I leave my mark on the world,” she said.

Shortly after, Viau found herself “in a classroom in Harlem teaching math,” she said. “And that’s what I’ve been doing very happily ever since.”

Carlos James, one of Viau’s former students, said he has been touched by the way strangers have shown that they care.

“Strangers coming out of their way to donate so an entire class can have a book,” he said, “it opens up your eyes on how much people really care about you.”

Another former student of Viau’s, Fati Fousseni, added that witnessing the generosity of donors “serves as an inspiration for me to give back if I can.”

At least seven of her former students have gone on to give back, donating to projects at their old school.

Elsewhere across the country, public school teachers of all subjects have also shared how they have used the site to help make a difference in their community.

Music teacher Genein Letford at the New Academy Elementary school in Canoga Park, California, said she has had 54 projects funded on the site, which includes everything from buying musical instruments to taking students on college visits.

Elementary school teacher Damon Qualls from Greenville, South Carolina, said that after noticing many of the young boys in his class didn’t have positive male role models, he turned to Donors Choose to fund the “Men Who Read” program, which invites male community leaders to visit his students and read to them. He also raised money to buy his students blazers and ties.

Through Donors Choose, educators across the country are making a difference in their communities and inspiring the next generation.

Viau called the strangers who support educational goals “our angels.”

“They help us create an oasis of hope in this room,” she said from her Harlem classroom. “When we come in this room, we know that anything is possible.”

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Gary Shteyngart explains his new book on the self-delusion of Wall Street

Gary Shteyngart boarded a Greyhound bus in summer 2016 as research for his latest novel, Lake Success — a journey that his protagonist, the hedge fund manager Barry Cohen, would take as well. He wanted to learn about the America between the coasts. Shteyngart’s cross-country Greyhound trip lasted four months and included stops at eight cities, including Raleigh, North Carolina; Atlanta, Georgia; Jackson, Mississippi; and El Paso, Texas.

The resulting book is a critical and humanizing portrait of the people who work in Wall Street, as well as an insightful view about what Americans were feeling leading up to the 2016 election.

Shteyngart, who immigrated to the US from Russia, is the best-selling author of Super Sad True Love Story, Little Failure, and other works that frequently take aim at elite American culture. His latest novel is equally critical of Wall Street, rural America, and liberal writers. Cohen, the protagonist, grew up blue-collar, married a first-generation Indian woman, and “considered himself entirely self-made,” a rationalization he uses throughout the book to justify his work in the financial sector.

When I asked Shteyngart why he wanted to explore the idea of being self-made in America, he told me, “I saw many people in finance who would say, ‘I hate Occupy Wall Street, all these people. They don’t know how hard I work’ — as if hard work was the justification for everything that they do.”

I spoke to Shteyngart about what being an American means to him, his thoughts on Russia’s involvement in American politics, and why you, too, should get on a Greyhound bus.

Our conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Hope Reese

Your story begins with Cohen tossing his cellphone and wallet into the trash and boarding a Greyhound bus. Is the Greyhound an equalizer for Americans?

Gary Shteyngart

I think the East Coast or West Coast existence is a very particular kind of existence. We really are protected from what life is like for most people in this country. I think the Greyhound is, as you said, the great equalizer. You get on and a whole world opens up. Every single type of person was on the bus. It was an eye-opener. Some of those people were horrifying; I met white supremacists along the way, just as Barry meets them during his trip. In 2016, it gave me a clearer snapshot of this country than almost anything I’d ever done.

By the time I got off the bus, in the summer of 2016, I wasn’t sure Hillary [Clinton] was going to win. It was my first inkling that things might not go the way everybody thought they were going to go. Get on that bus is my advice.

Hope Reese

What did Barry learn from traveling on the Greyhound? Do you think he got an accurate picture of the country?

Gary Shteyngart

By the time he gets off the Greyhound, I don’t think Barry has learned very much. He wanted to have this experience that he could talk about. The next thing you see, he’s at a posh hedge fund party on Central Park West and he’s talking about his experience. Because so much of what people who are really wealthy try to do is capture some sense of authenticity — so they’ll fly to some poor village in Uzbekistan and hang out with the baker and something like that.

Barry kind of does that. But after a certain number of years have passed, the experience starts to catch up with him. It’s not that he learns; it’s almost like a sense of harm reduction. “Do no harm,” as they say. He, hopefully, becomes this less harmful person.

Hope Reese

Many people on the left are critical of Wall Street, of people like Barry. Yet you were able to turn him into a somewhat sympathetic character. Do you think the Wall Street critics are missing something?

Gary Shteyngart

No, I don’t think so. I think they’ve got it right about what [the finance industry] does to the world, the inequality they create. To the way they generate income, very loosely taxed income for a very small number of people — obviously it’s a zero-sum game in some ways, and it takes money away from other people.

The challenge I pose to myself is how do you write about somebody who has his own hedge fund for whom you can still, toward the end of the book, capture a glimmer of this humanity? Look, Barry’s not Pol Pot exactly, but at the same time, he has very few redeeming qualities.

Mostly, it’s a book about self-delusion. The way Barry perceives himself — socially liberal, fiscally conservative — is so at odds with the footprint that he actually leaves upon the world. The book is an examination of that. My biggest dream is that somebody comes up to me after reading it and says, “You know, I work in finance and I read your book and I love it. Maybe I should try something else.” That would be the icing on the cake.

Hope Reese

Barry’s neighbor Luis Goodman, a writer, is also subject to scrutiny in the novel. He turns out to be a narcissist who makes huge fees giving talks at universities. During dinner one night, Barry asks him, “How do you monetize your art?” As a writer yourself, how do you view that scene?

Gary Shteyngart

The book takes place all over the country, but in many ways it’s a satire and a put-down of a certain branch of a certain New York society, which includes hedge funders, media people, successful novelists like Luis. Everyone is almost a part of the same problem. Obviously, someone like Luis does a lot less harm than Barry. But Luis also is on the make culturally, economically, and every way possible. Barry lacks a self-awareness, but Luis has this self-awareness, and he uses it for ends that are not necessarily great.

The people I met on my journey across this country, the people that I loved and whose lives seemed the most balanced, were people who didn’t live in New York or San Francisco. They lived in slower communities where they actually made a difference, where they lived middle-class lives but they actually participated in their communities — professors at public universities is an example. People working with the first generation of working-class groups. Of course, you can work and teach in a community in New York and have a similar experience.

New York is a corrupting city in many ways. The proximity to this kind of wealth, I think, takes away some sense of reality and authenticity from good people too.

Hope Reese

What does the American dream mean to these characters? What does it mean to you?

Gary Shteyngart

In the book, there’s not much American dream left as Barry goes across the country. He doesn’t encounter very much. It’s sort of the leftovers of the American dream. The book says the American dream exists only for this urban, chiefly New York, perhaps Silicon Valley sliver of society where somebody can make enough of an outside income that there’s hope for the next generation and for the generation after that.

Barry’s clinging to the remnants of the American dream, but he’s still under the illusion that everything’s hunky-dory in America — that the rest of the country still has a chance. Meanwhile, people like him and his wife and their colleagues are hogging all of the opportunity.

There’s this constant feeling of, “Well, I’ve worked so hard and it’s a meritocracy, and that’s why I achieved so much.” I think you hear this a lot from people [in] finance and other fields. But I think the book in some ways deflates this idea that it’s a meritocracy. Barry meets a fellow, a former hedge funder named Jeff Park, who says, “Look, you got lucky and you were in the right place at the right time. You’re a white guy. That’s how you got to where you are.”

Hope Reese

Going back to the immigrant experience, this [came] to the surface in a really dramatic way when the Trump administration separated immigrant children from their families at the border, which was later reversed. A recent federal filing stated that 565 children are still separated from their families. What are your thoughts on that, especially as an immigrant yourself?

Gary Shteyngart

That may be the gravest sort of thing that America could ever experience — the idea that it is no longer a country welcoming to immigrants. We’ve had this before as well. There’s been many times in American history where people have stood up and complained about the Irish, the Jews, the Italians, etc. This is just a part of who we are. But having children ripped out of the hands of their parents is something that, in modern history, shows a kind of anger and aggressiveness that’s always been there but was never in direct power.

We’re a violent country. We always have been. There’s always people who have been hurt and killed. Large parts of this country are loving it. They love the idea that parents and children are being separated and sent home and all of this stuff. Even as this country relies on labor from Mexico and Central America for everything. Even in the rural counties, so much of the hard work that nobody else will do — agricultural work, handiwork, all of it — is being done by people from Mexico and other parts of Latin America.

It’s just this incredible burst of anger that as an adult, I’ve certainly never thought would happen in this country.

Hope Reese

Another major issue in current politics is the ongoing Russia investigation. How do you see this, as a Russian immigrant yourself?

Gary Shteyngart

I was raised as a Republican kid, and Russia was considered the most dangerous country in the world [by both parties]. But the fact that the [Republicans] changed, they’ve shifted their opinion so radically and are now supporting the right-wing regime of Russia, is really just amazing and so cynical. There’s no greater danger right now than Russia’s influence across the world.

You know, in a way, they were able to accomplish what they could never accomplish during the Cold War. Of course, there was always what they called active measures and ways to influence the Western world to create divisions and schisms. But this time, they nailed it. They couldn’t have nailed it, I think, without the existence of social media, without those channels. They finally found the technology that most matches their methods of disinformation.

Hope Reese

Seema, Barry’s wife, says she wants to be “a little less American” because she believes America is “dying.” Is that an extreme view?

Gary Shteyngart

You basically have a ban that’s been approved by the Supreme Court against people of a certain religion. Today it’s Muslims. Tomorrow, it’s somebody else. Remember, until 1965, there were laws like limits to immigration from Asia. For a while, it seemed like we were becoming a society that could appreciate people from everywhere. But the multiculturalism really centered in specific parts of the country. It didn’t extend throughout. Now we see the backlash to that — but if that changes, people will go somewhere else.

People forget that societies rise and fall. The idea that America was a superpower for 100 years — who’s to say it’s destined to be a superpower for the next 200 years or 100 years or 10 years? Everything that’s being done now is being done to dismantle our position in the world.

Hope Reese

Do you struggle with your own American identity?

Gary Shteyngart

My parents did one right thing, for sure, which was they took me out of Russia when things got bad. [In America,] we all know right now we’re on the path of authoritarianism. There’s no question about it, with certain authoritarian tendencies already kicking in. When does one leave?

It’s not easy, as my own experience shows. It’s not easy to be an immigrant for the adults or the children involved. But one thing I know is that now that I have a kid; I don’t want to raise them in a society that I wouldn’t admire.

Hope Reese is a journalist in Louisville, Kentucky. Her writing has appeared in the Atlantic, the Boston Globe, the Chicago Tribune, Playboy, Vox, and other publications. Find her on Twitter @hope_reese.

HOMETOWN COLUMN: Lake George is setting for new book | Local

LAKE GEORGE — For Suzanne La Voie, the Jersey Shore doesn’t compare to the shores of Lake George.

The author, who read the first chapter of her book “Knight Shift” at the Caldwell-Lake George Library on Wednesday evening, has been visiting Lake George with her family since she was 6 years old.

“I’ve been to half the United States and overseas and I still consider this my favorite area in the world,” La Voie told the audience.

Now in her 40s, the New Jersey resident is making the lakeside village the setting of her “Knight” book series.

“The biggest question I get is, ‘Well, what do you do there? It’s a lake,’” La Voie laughed. “I said, ‘Well, it’s a really, really big lake,’ and I said, ‘What can’t you do here? There’s everything.’ I’ve been coming here over 30 years and there’s still things I haven’t done.”

La Voie, who has a master’s degree in social work, always loved to write but worked in education and the hospitality field before embarking on her literary journey. A few years ago, she fell ill and found herself house-bound.

She decided to fulfill her dream of writing a book, and she set to work on her laptop writing the first few chapters of “Knight Shift,” set in her favorite place — Lake George.

“Knight Shift” tells the story of Sage Knight, who, after a major life upheaval, seeks solace in her beloved town of Lake George. The book is about the power of starting over and overcoming adversity. It is available on Amazon for $13. 

Writing the book has taken La Voie on a journey.

“When everything just falls apart in your life, it may seem scary, but that is the best time to really take that huge leap of faith and dig into something that you’re really passionate about,” she said. “And for me it was writing.”

While the characters are fictional, their experiences are based on her personal and professional life and the novel mentions specific places in Lake George, Glens Falls and the whole Adirondack region.

“There’s something divine about these mountains,” she said. “Every time I come here I always feel healthier, I feel calmer, more relaxed.”

She coaches people on social media about what they should do when they visit Lake George, like eating pizza at Giuseppe’s or feasting on the prime rib at The Log Jam or Ridge Terrace. She lauds the area’s many activities, like parasailing, whitewater rafting, hiking and miniature golfing.

“As a writer and an author,” she explained, “I won’t put anything in my books that I haven’t experienced myself.”

Hoping to make Lake George her permanent residence someday, La Voie will be spending a lot more time in the area, doing research for the next two books in the series.

Her second book in the series, “Falling into the Knight,” will come out in November. The third in the series will have a winter theme and incorporate the Lake George Winter Carnival.

“I want my readers to feel that they want to be here,” she said, “that they feel like they’ve been here.”

While “Knight” is the main character’s last name, “Shift” in the title also has a double meaning, La Voie said.

“Being sick was really the best shift that happened to me because it forced me to really look at what I wanted to do,” La Voie said. “I have a life today that I never would have imagined for myself.”

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