A savvy trio will plumb U.S. political depths at ‘Islanders Write’ kickoff

Walter Shapiro —Nina Subin

A trio of national political commentators will sort the U.S. political tea leaves in a freewheeling search for clues about our Trump-era national destiny on Sunday, August 13, at 7:30 pm in the Grange Hall in West Tisbury. “You Can’t Make This Up: The Political Columnists” kicks off “Islanders Write,” an event sponsored by The MV Times and MV Arts & Ideas magazine.

The fourth annual “Islanders Write” (IW) conference will be held on Monday, August 14, at the Grange. The Sunday-night discussion and the Monday conference are free and open to all on a first-come, first-seated basis.

The Monday conference features nine panel discussions on the art, craft, and business of writing, as well as writing workshops, author meet-and-greets, and book signings. Complete details are available at islanderswrite.com.

On Sunday night, Charlayne Hunter-Gault, seasonal Island resident, author, and journalist, will moderate the discussion between three other seasonal Island residents, public media anchor and host Callie Crossley of WGBH in Boston, Richard North Patterson, a political author and columnist for the Boston Globe and the Huffington Post, and Walter Shapiro, the journalistic dean of presidential campaigns. Mr. Shapiro writes a column for Roll Call newspaper and has covered the past 10 presidential campaigns.

Ms. Hunter-Gault sees the event as an opportunity for sharing information and healthy discourse:. “Normally I go into a panel with a sense of how it will play out. But it’s challenging today to present both sides of an issue, because they change every day. Every day a new something else is on our brain. We have never known [an environment] like this, except perhaps in the McCarthy era.

“I hope people come to be informed rather than confirm their position. The Island is idyllic in many ways, particularly in the ways we talk with each other. But we see conversations stop, friendships endangered around [national politics]. My job is to explore why people are feeling the way they feel and thinking the way they think.”

Ms. Crossley has noticed a similar change in the nature of discourse around politics. She said she sees events like the IW political panel as an opportunity to get perspective.

“There are any variety of ways to go here, on topics that resonate across several issues. I’m not a political reporter, so I can work the edges, look at the impact of events on people. We are on a fast-moving train now, and things get lost. We can stop and go back and offer perspective on one or two events — here’s what happened, and here’s what it means.

“Recently, I’ve been shocked by how many people tell me they don’t want to talk about it anymore. But Donald Trump is the president. We have got to talk about it. ‘Islanders Write’ is a great forum, and it occurs in summer, when people have a chance to relax and think.”

Mr. Patterson agrees that the staccato nature of events and presidential verbal bombshells take a toll: “He’s exhausting. But we can’t allow ourselves that luxury. How we will bear up under this and how we will react to it matters to our kids and grandkids.

“This panel is a precursor event if you assume that citizenship matters. We have to address the things we are talking about, social and institutional harm being done. The president himself is the crisis,” he said.

Mr. Shapiro is a veteran observer of politicalspeak. He is articulate and often downright funny, with the timing developed by a former standup comic.

“It is inevitable that this panel will discuss things that happen 48 hours before we take the stage. Some of these things are just unknowable in advance,” Mr. Shapiro said during a phone interview last Saturday afternoon.

“It’s what, 2 o’clock, and [the president] has tweeted seven times already today. What’ll happen between now and 5 pm?” (Ironically, the president’s latest communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, was fired at editing time, after his position was announced a mere 10 days before.)

“This is a period of blithering incompetence and viciousness. It makes me long for the glory days of Richard Nixon,” Mr. Shapiro said.

He noted two encouraging signs of congressional pushback: ”Passage of the Russia sanctions bill and Republicans protecting [Attorney General] Jeff Sessions. They seem to have drawn a line in the sand, people tell me,” he said. “I can’t wait to do this panel again.”

 

“You Can’t Make This Up: Political Columnists” will kick off “Islanders Write” on Sunday, August 13, at 7:30 pm at the Grange Hall in West Tisbury. Admission is free. First come, first seated. There will be a feed of the event downstairs in the Grange for overflow crowd. islanderswrite.com.